Did UN chief’s global ceasefire call boost the coronavirus fight?

Did UN chief’s global ceasefire call boost the coronavirus fight?
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed out that vulnerable groups such as women, children, people with disabilities, the marginalized, displaced and refugees typically pay the highest price during any conflict. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 21 July 2020

Did UN chief’s global ceasefire call boost the coronavirus fight?

Did UN chief’s global ceasefire call boost the coronavirus fight?
  • Antonio Guterres says there should be only one fight  — “our shared battle against COVID-19”
  • Fighting has not flared in Syria’s Idlib and in the Gaza Strip, but in other places it has raged on

DUBAI: Since a deadly coronavirus outbreak in China’s Wuhan city late last year began to spread to the rest of the world, most of humanity has had no choice but to cope with the blows of a pandemic without a vaccine.

While the crisis has affected people’s lives cutting across political and geographical boundaries, few groups have proved more vulnerable than the world’s large population of displaced and dispossessed living in conflict zones.

At the same time, the wellbeing of billions of people hangs in the balance, with unemployment rates projected to soar and potentially affect the lives of 1.6 billion “informal economy” workers worldwide.

The international community has seldom faced such a perfect storm of challenges in living memory.

“The pandemic exacerbates so many of the world’s problems — war, racial and economic inequalities, gender inequality, poverty and more,” Kerry Anderson, writer and political risk consultant, told Arab News.

Several countries in the Middle East were already lagging behind in socioeconomic development due to conflict, drought, political unrest or environmental degradation.

With the advent of the pandemic, however, they had to quickly take on mankind’s latest common enemy: The novel coronavirus.

In response to the unfolding crisis, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a worldwide cease-fire in March, urging parties to lay down their weapons.




Houthi fighters in Yemen’s capital Sanaa have not ratcheted down their rhetoric despite rising coronavirus cases. (AFP/File Photo)

In an emotional appeal, he warned: “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

He pointed out that vulnerable groups such as women, children, people with disabilities, the marginalized, displaced and refugees typically pay the highest price during any conflict. They were now at risk of suffering “devastating losses” due to the pandemic, he said.

Guterres’ March 23 call got the UN Security Council’s backing on July 1, when it passed a resolution that asked all armed groups to begin a “humanitarian pause” for at least 90 days to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance and medical evacuations. It also demanded a ceasefire at all conflicts it was discussing, such as those in Syria, Yemen and Libya. 

Four months on, did Guterres’s appeal make any difference to the lives of the people he had in mind?

To Anderson, cease-fires are important tools, but they must be followed up with action. A preliminary cease-fire is an “essential” but “temporary” approach, “not a solution to a conflict,” she said.

“A pandemic-related truce would help buy time to mitigate the effects of the virus in some of the world’s most vulnerable places. However, both the pandemic and the causes and consequences of conflict are likely to outlast a cease-fire.”

To develop longer-lasting solutions (such as definitive cease-fires), the international community must use this moment to build a more “cooperative approach to entrenched problems,” Anderson said.

In other words, a pause in fighting only presents an opportunity to pursue more durable diplomatic solutions to a conflict.

“It’s a window of opportunity to provide humanitarian aid, and an opportunity to try to both prepare for and mitigate the spread of coronavirus,” Anderson said.

Gueterres’s plea to “silence the guns” and raise “the voices for peace” resonated worldwide. Eleven countries mired in protracted conflicts agreed to observe a cease-fire, and 170 signatories endorsed the appeal by June.

FASTFACT

70

Number of non-state actors, civil society networks, organizations that endorsed UN chief’s global cease-fire call.

On the face of it, they supported the UN chief’s call to silence all guns and stand united against the world’s first pandemic in decades.

But as Guterres himself noted later, the support for his cease-fire call was nominal in some countries, and “there was still a distance between declarations and deeds in many countries.”

In some of the most volatile parts of the world, namely the Middle East and North Africa, the appeal of cease-fires proved fleeting.

Reports of airstrikes and clashes between rival sides poured in from Libya, Iraq and Yemen, while the health-care situation deteriorated further in war-torn Syria.

In Yemen, reeling from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, a two-week cease-fire proposed by the Saudi-led coalition backing the UN-recognized government went into effect on July 9.

But just days after the agreement, seven children and two women died in an incident that marked the start of a fresh round of tit-for-tat attacks that have defied the UN’s appeals for a cease-fire.




UN chief Guterres has urged combatants to lay down their weapons and focus on the ‘true fight of our lives.’ (AFP/File Photo)

Laura Petrache, a senior adviser to the Paris-based Migrant Integration Lab, said Yemen is in “urgent” need of a pause in the fighting in view of the increasing coronavirus cases in the war-torn country.

She views a cease-fire as a “perfect opportunity” to end the conflict as well as contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Less than 50 percent of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics are operational, and most lack qualified staff, medicine and often electricity,” she told Arab News.

Another country where the UN’s cease-fire call has failed to make a dent in the violence level is Libya.

On July 4, overnight strikes destroyed military equipment when they struck Al-Waitya in Tripoli’s outskirts, a base that had just fallen to Turkey-backed forces.

The attack took place even though both the Turkey-aligned Government of National Accord (GNA) and the rival east-based Libyan National Army had publicly welcomed the UN’s cease-fire call, according to Petrache.

One place where a cease-fire appears to have largely held is in Syria’s Idlib province, even though the situation there remains “fragile,” said Anderson.

“Idlib has seen its first confirmed COVID 19 case (in July), raising serious concerns about the potential for the virus to spread through a region overcrowded with Syrians displaced by war,” she added.




Kurdish-majority northeastern Syria is one of the many conflict zones vulnerable to COVID-19’s ravages. (AFP/File Photo)

The UN estimates that Syria’s public-health infrastructure, devastated by war, requires $10 billion in aid to combat the impact of conflict and the pandemic.

“Further fighting would only exacerbate an already dire situation and undermine any efforts to address the pandemic,” Anderson said, adding that it is vital that key border crossings are kept open for humanitarian aid to pass through.

For over a month now, an eerie calm has prevailed in the Gaza Strip, marking a sharp departure from the usual flare-ups in the besieged Palestinian territory.

“There has been no official cease-fire, but Israel and Palestine have put aside their disputes and made joint efforts to fight COVID-19,” said Petrache.

However, attacks have been reported at checkpoints in the West Bank as tension remains high over the Israeli government’s threat to annex parts of the occupied territory.

Despite the reduction in violence in parts of the world since the onset of the pandemic, the condition of children in conflict situations continues to be a cause for concern.

The cease-fires during the pandemic, if adhered to, are predicted to protect 250 million children.

“There’s going to be a generation of people who have suffered severe loss, now known as ‘human devastation syndrome,’ due to the absolute refusal of combatants to uphold any recognized standards of behavior during war,” Kimberly Gleason, associate professor at the American University of Sharjah, told Arab News.

“Unfortunately, the conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen involve a heavy flow of foreign fighters. So although it looks as though COVID-19 hasn’t spread significantly there yet, fighters coming from countries with known coronavirus epidemics can easily infect local populations.”

Gleason also worries about the repercussions of the practice of targeting health facilities in war zones by combatants, which the Middle East has witnessed in recent years.

“Every additional day that these conflicts drag on, and every health-care worker who is lost to COVID-19 or conflict, is a tax on future economic recovery,” she said.

----------------

Twitter: @jumana_khamis


Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam

Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam
Ethiopia began work on the dam in 2011. Egypt and Sudan are calling for a binding and comprehensive deal with Ethiopia that guarantees the rights and interests of all three countries. (AFP/File)
Updated 14 June 2021

Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam

Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam
  • Cairo fears the GERD will threaten its water supply from the Nile

CAIRO: Egypt has sent a letter to the head of the UN Security Council to highlight developments in the Grand Ethopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) dispute, as it and Sudan drafted a resolution about the dam to be presented to Arab foreign ministers next week.

Ethiopia began work on the dam in 2011. Egypt fears the GERD will threaten its water supply from the Nile, while Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety and its own water flow.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s letter to the UN Security Council included the country’s objection to Ethiopia’s intention to continue filling the dam during the upcoming flood season. It also expressed the government’s rejection of Ethiopia seeking to impose a fait accompli on the downstream countries through unilateral measures.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez said the letter aimed to reveal the truth about the intransigent positions Ethiopia was taking as these were stalling the efforts made over the past months to reach a fair, balanced and legally binding agreement on the issue.

HIGHLIGHT

The Council of Arab States, at the level of foreign ministers, is scheduled to hold an extraordinary session in Doha on Tuesday at the request of Egypt and Sudan to discuss developments regarding the dam issue.

Hafez said that an integrated file was also deposited with the UN Security Council to serve as a reference for the international community on the issue, as well as to document the constructive and responsible positions taken by Egypt.
Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general of the League of Arab States, said there was an Arab consensus supporting Egypt and Sudan’s rights in the Nile waters and that there was not a single country outside this consensus.
He indicated that Ethiopia’s attempt to “drive a wedge” between Arab and African countries on the Renaissance Dam issue would not succeed.
The Council of Arab States, at the level of foreign ministers, is scheduled to hold an extraordinary session in Doha on Tuesday at the request of Egypt and Sudan to discuss developments regarding the dam issue, he added.
Zaki said the session would be held on the sidelines of the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers that was being held in Doha.
Egypt and Sudan are calling for a binding and comprehensive deal that guarantees the rights and interests of all three countries.


Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel

Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel
This handout picture released on January 29, 2020, by the Turkish Defence Ministry Press Service shows migrants in a rubber boat rescued by Turkish navy soldiers on January 28, 2020, off the Libyan coast. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2021

Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel

Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel
  • Greece in April had accused Turkey of seeking to “provoke an escalation” in the Aegean with “dangerous” maneuvers and illegal assistance to migrants

ATHENS: The Greek coast guard said that one of its patrol vessels was “harassed” by a Turkish patrol boat on Sunday, causing minor damage, a day before the Greek and Turkish leaders hold talks in Brussels.
There were no injuries in the incident, which occurred east of the Aegean island of Lesbos, the coast guard said in a statement.
It said “a patrol vessel of the Turkish coast guard harassed a patrol boat of the Lesbos coast guard, causing minor damage.”
Such incidents are common in the Aegean Sea during patrols for boats carrying migrants from Turkey to Greece.

SPEEDREAD

• A patrol vessel of the Turkish coast guard ‘harassed a patrol boat of the Lesbos coast guard, causing minor damage.’

• Such incidents are common in the Aegean Sea during patrols for boats carrying migrants from Turkey to Greece.

• Greece had accused Turkey of seeking to ‘provoke an escalation’ in the Aegean with ‘dangerous’ maneuvers and illegal assistance to migrants.

Greece in April had accused Turkey of seeking to “provoke an escalation” in the Aegean with “dangerous” maneuvers and illegal assistance to migrants.
Athens wants Ankara to better police migration routes and take back hundreds of asylum seekers found ineligible for refugee protection.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is to hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels.
Mitsotakis said on Friday that good bilateral relations will depend on de-escalation efforts and on whether “Turkey participates constructively in the dialogue and respects the conditions set by the EU” in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.


Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections

Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections
Algerian elections staff count ballots for parliamentary elections at a polling station in Bouchaoui, on the western outskirts of the capital Algiers, on June 12, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2021

Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections

Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections
  • The movement has urged boycotts of all national polls since it mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in early 2019 to force longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his cronies from power

Algeria on Sunday awaited the results of a parliamentary election boycotted by the long-running Hirak protest movement and marked by widespread abstention.
Turnout was just 30.2 percent, electoral commission chief Mohamed Chorfi announced after Saturday’s vote — the lowest in a legislative poll at least 20 years.
He said it would be “96 hours” before official results are announced.
Fewer than 1 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in Kabylie, a mainly Berber region east of Algiers, and the cities of Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou.
“As expected, the majority of Algerians snubbed the ballot boxes. The low turnout confirms the strong trend toward rejecting the vote,” read the front page of French-language daily Liberte.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, himself elected on an official turnout of less than 40 percent in late 2019, put a brave face on the figures.
“For me, the turnout isn’t important. What’s important is whether the lawmakers that the people elect have enough legitimacy,” the president said.
The Hirak protest movement, which apart from a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic had held twice-weekly demonstrations for reform until they were effectively banned last month, rejected the polls as a “sham.”
The movement has urged boycotts of all national polls since it mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in early 2019 to force longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his cronies from power.
But voting day was mainly calm, except in Kabylie, where ballot boxes were ransacked and security forces detained dozens of people, rights groups said.
Two prominent journalists detained on the eve of the election and released Saturday, Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi, condemned their “arbitrary” arrests.
“I believe you have the right to know that two journalists ... were subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention for no apparent reason,” Drareni wrote on his Facebook page.


IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital

IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital
A member of Syria’s Civil Defence service inspects the damage caused by the shelling at Al-Shifaa hospital in Afrin, Syria. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2021

IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital

IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital
  • Saturday’s attack on the opposition-held northern town of Afrin killed at 21 people

BEIRUT: The International Rescue Committee on Sunday condemned the shelling on the Syrian city of Afrin that put a hospital out of service and killed civilians and medical staff.

Saturday’s attack on the opposition-held northern town killed at least 21 people, mostly in shelling on the hospital, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
“We utterly condemn this deadly attack on Al-Shifaa Hospital, one of the largest medical facilities in northern Syria,” said IRC’s Syria director Wolfgang Gressmann.
“This is the 11th attack on healthcare that has been recorded so far this year, and brings the total number of verified attacks on healthcare since January 2019 to 124.”
Of the 21 killed, 17 were civilians, including at least 4 hospital staff members, the Observatory said, adding that 23 people were also wounded.
The IRC said the attack completely destroyed the emergency room and the labor and delivery room.

This is the 11th attack on healthcare that has been recorded so far this year.

Wolfgang Gressmann, Syria director of IRC

“The hospital is now out of service,” the statement said. “It is vital that these attacks stop.”
According to the Observatory, Saturday’s artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province where militias backing Iran and the Syrian regime are deployed near a region run by Kurdish forces. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued a statement denying any involvement in the shelling.
The Afrin region, like all areas held by pro-Turkish rebels, regularly witnesses targeted killings, bombings and shootings.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly 500,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations.
Separately, the Lebanese army on Sunday said it intercepted a small boat carrying 11 people, mostly Syrians, attempting an illegal sea crossing out of the crisis-hit country. A statement said a naval force spotted the boat off the northern port city of Tripoli and that its passengers were all detained and referred for investigation, the army added.
The boat was carrying “10 people of Syrian nationality and a Lebanese national,” it said.
Their journey’s end was not specified but neighboring Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has been a popular sea smuggling destination in recent months.
In May, the Lebanese army intercepted a boat near Tripoli carrying 60 people, including 59 Syrians.
Lebanon, home to more than 6 million people, says it hosts more than a million Syrian refugees.
They have been hit hard by widening poverty rates and growing food insecurity brought on by the country’s economic crisis.

 


Netanyahu ‘might be down but he’s not out’

Netanyahu ‘might be down but he’s not out’
(L to R) Israel's outgoing PM Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with his successor incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2021

Netanyahu ‘might be down but he’s not out’

Netanyahu ‘might be down but he’s not out’
  • Celebrations by Netanyahu’s opponents to mark the end of his premiership began outside his official residence in Jerusalem, the site of weekly protests for the past year

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year hold on power ended on Sunday after a parliamentary vote on a new coalition government headed by a right-wing hawk.

Embattled Netanyahu earlier vowed that “if it’s our destiny to be in the opposition, we’ll do so with our heads high until we take down this bad government and return to lead the country our way.”

Khaled Elgindy, nonresident fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, told Arab News: “Netanyahu might be down but he’s not out.”

Elgindy said Netanyahu and his supporters “will do everything they can to bring down this highly fragile (new) government whether it takes a week, a month or a year.”

The new Cabinet was cobbled together by centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid and ultranationalist Naftali Bennett.

The latter, a hawkish hi-tech millionaire, is likely to serve as prime minister for two years before former TV host Lapid takes over.

Wadi Abunassar, director of the Haifa-based International Center for Consultation, told Arab News that it is difficult to talk of the “end of the Netanyahu era” because he is expected to be the leader of an aggressive opposition.

“Many things could happen in the Israeli political arena, including the collapse of the Bennett-Lapid government,” said Abunassar.

Celebrations by Netanyahu’s opponents to mark the end of his premiership began outside his official residence in Jerusalem, the site of weekly protests for the past year.

Dimitri Diliani, spokesman for the Democratic Reform Current — a Palestinian movement — told Arab News that the new Israeli government was not born out of a struggle between pro- and anti-peace camps.

“In general, both the previous government and the newly sworn-in one are in favor of expanding settlements and further Israelization of Palestinian Jerusalem, and against the two-state solution,” he said. “Palestinians aren’t placing any hope or expecting any change in policies concerning them.”

Bennett, a former defense minister, has promised that “Israel won’t let Iran have nuclear weapons.”

But Netanyahu said “Iran is celebrating” the prospect of a “dangerous” and weak new government.

It is the most unusual of coalitions, spanning the spectrum of Israeli Zionist parties and including Ra’am, an Arab party.

Mansour Abbas, head of Ra’am, succeeded in getting $16 billion pledged for Arab communities and recognition of a number of Bedouin towns in southern Israel.

Aaron David Miller, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Arab News: “From his perspective, Netanyahu’s most stunning achievement was his success in expanding Israel’s relations in Asia, Africa, Latin America and with great powers, while expanding settlements and putting the Palestinian issue in the deep freeze.”