Israel takes ‘cautious’ steps of second virus lockdown

Israel takes ‘cautious’ steps of second virus lockdown
Israeli anti-government protesters rally against the second nationwide lockdown imposed by PM Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem. (AFP)
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Updated 19 October 2020

Israel takes ‘cautious’ steps of second virus lockdown

Israel takes ‘cautious’ steps of second virus lockdown
  • The current lockdown, imposed on Sept. 18, remains in place in several mainly ultra-Orthodox Jewish areas around the country

JERUSALEM: Israel started “cautiously” emerging from a second coronavirus lockdown Sunday after a month of tight restrictions, reopening preschools, kindergartens, beaches and national parks, with numbers of new infections falling.
Public radio said about a million young children were set to return to kindergartens and other facilities on Sunday.
Talia Zinkin, 40, said she “hesitated a lot” before sending her two-year-old son to daycare.
“But I felt he would enjoy being with other children,” she told AFP. “We have to try to live normally.”
Zinkin, playing with her younger child in a Jerusalem park, said it had been full of children last week — but had emptied with the reopening of kindergartens.
Businesses not involving face-to-face contact with the public were allowed back to work, and a contentious ban on individuals moving more than 1 km from their homes was lifted.
That rule had sparked anger among some Israelis who claimed it was designed to stem a wave of protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Since July, a number of protest movements have joined to publicly oppose Netanyahu’s management of the pandemic and the accompanying economic havoc, including spiraling unemployment.
One group, the “crime minister” movement, focuses on demanding the resignation of the prime minister over the allegations of corruption on which he is currently on trial.
People are now also able to visit friends or relatives, as long as gatherings are of no more than 10 people if inside, and 20 outside.
Jews were also allowed to pray at the Western Wall, in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray.
Worshippers will be separated into socially distanced “pods” of up to 20 people, an official statement said.

HIGHLIGHT

About a million young children were set to return to kindergartens and other facilities on Sunday, according to public radio.

The nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were also reopened.
Entry to the mosque compound was previously limited to residents of the Old City, which fell within the 1-km limit.
The latest lockdown was the second since Israel recorded its first Covid-19 case in February.
Tough restrictions introduced in March were lifted after about two months, but critics of the government have said the easing was premature.
“This time we are moving cautiously,” Netanyahu said on Saturday.
Ronni Gamzu, Israel’s national coronavirus response coordinator, urged people to keep up their guard.
“The main challenge is still ahead of us,” he said in remarks aired on radio Sunday. “Keep observing the rules.”
According to a decision on Thursday, a phased lifting of restrictions will take place through to February.
The current lockdown, imposed on Sept. 18, remains in place in several mainly ultra-Orthodox Jewish areas around the country.
They are designated “red” zones of infection.
But influential rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who himself recently tested positive for the virus, ordered ultra-Orthodox boys’ schools to reopen, despite a government ban. On Saturday, Netanyahu appealed directly to the most religiously observant.
“Our Torah sanctifies life. We have a Torah of life and we need to safeguard life and health,” he said. “I ask the ultra-Orthodox public to follow these rules.” Israel boasted about its early virus response, which included a quick nationwide lockdown and travel restrictions.
By mid-May, after new daily cases had dropped off considerably, the government had moved to expedite the reopening of schools, bars, eateries and places of worship, as well as allowing weddings, with restricted numbers. Infections quickly resurged.
By the end of September, the number of new daily cases had soared, at times to over 8,000 — among the highest rates in the world per capita according to an AFP tally.
But this past week, daily infections largely fell below 2,500, and an official update on Sunday morning showed just 397 new cases recorded the day before. Israel, a country of about nine million people, has recorded 302,911 coronavirus cases, including 2,202 deaths, as of Sunday.


Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
Updated 20 September 2021

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
  • Regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that he would meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York.

The NATO members and regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration.
Mitsotakis said on Friday that Turkey was an important partner in tackling any new migration challenge to Europe and needed support.
Speaking at a news conference before departing for New York, Erdogan said Turkey, which hosts some 4 million refugees — most of whom are Syrians — was “suffering the biggest burden and the heaviest downsides” of migration, adding that Turkey would take the necessary steps if its counterparts did not.
The Turkey’s president also said his country was ready for talks with Armenia but added Yerevan needed to take steps toward opening a controversial transport link through its territory.
Armenia and Turkey never established diplomatic relations and their shared border has been closed since the 1990s.
The ties have deteriorated due to Turkey’s support for its regional ally Azerbaijan, which fought with Armenia last year for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
But earlier this month, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Yerevan was prepared to hold discussions on repairing relations with Ankara.
“If he (Pashinyan) would like to meet with Tayyip Erdogan, then certain steps should be taken,” Erdogan said.
He was referring to the creation of a transit corridor that would have to go through Armenia to connect Azerbaijan to its Nakchivan enclave that borders Turkey and Iran.
“We are not closed to talks (with Armenia), we will hold the talks,” Erdogan said.
“I hope that not a negative but a positive approach will prevail there,” he said. “God willing, the problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be overcome with the opening of the corridors.”


Morocco’s Justice and Development Party decries ‘violations’ at polls

Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2021

Morocco’s Justice and Development Party decries ‘violations’ at polls

Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
  • Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has named businessman Aziz Akhannouch to lead a new government after his National Rally of Independents, considered close to the palace, thrashed the Justice and Development Party, winning 102 seats

RABAT: Morocco’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party, which was thrashed at last week’s elections, on Sunday denounced “violations and irregularities” at the polls.
The party had headed Morocco’s governing coalition for a decade but saw its support collapse at the Sept. 8 vote, dropping from 125 of parliament’s 395 seats to just 13.
Local elections held the same day confirmed the party’s crushing defeat.
The party “denounces the violations and irregularities” at the polls, including “massive use of money,” “manipulation of reports” and “names crossed off the electoral lists or appearing twice,” it said in a statement following Saturday’s extraordinary session of the party’s national council.
These “forms of electoral corruption ... led to the announcement of results that do not reflect the substance of the political map and the free will of the voters,” the statement added.
Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit has said the voting process took “under normal circumstances” apart from isolated incidents.

SPEEDREAD

• Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit says the voting process took ‘under normal circumstances’ apart from isolated incidents.

• On voting day, the Islamists had alleged ‘serious irregularities,’ including ‘obscene cash handouts’ near polling stations and ‘confusion’ on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has named businessman Aziz Akhannouch to lead a new government after his National Rally of Independents, considered close to the palace, thrashed the Justice and Development Party, winning 102 seats.
On voting day, the Islamists had alleged “serious irregularities,” including “obscene cash handouts” near polling stations and “confusion” on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.
The National Rally of Independents has started coalition talks, but the Justice and Development Party has announced that it would switch to its “natural” position as the opposition.
The party “is at an important turning point,” outgoing secretary-general Saad-Eddine El-Othmani said Saturday at the party’s closed-door meeting.

 


Lebanon has not asked for fuel from Iran: Mikati

Lebanese police stand guard in front of the central bank building, where anti-government demonstrators protest against the deepening financial crisis, in Beirut. (AP/File)
Lebanese police stand guard in front of the central bank building, where anti-government demonstrators protest against the deepening financial crisis, in Beirut. (AP/File)
Updated 20 September 2021

Lebanon has not asked for fuel from Iran: Mikati

Lebanese police stand guard in front of the central bank building, where anti-government demonstrators protest against the deepening financial crisis, in Beirut. (AP/File)
  • Introduction of Iranian diesel tankers goes against integrity of the state, says Al-Rahi

BEIRUT: A source close to Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati told Arab News on Sunday: “The state of Lebanon has not asked Iran for fuel. This position had been officially expressed and has not changed.”

In response to a question about Hezbollah bringing Iranian fuel into Lebanon, Mikati told CNN on Saturday: “I am saddened by the lack of Lebanese sovereignty.
“The Lebanese government didn’t approve this … so I don’t believe the (it) would be subject to any sanctions,” he added.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh commented on Mikati’s statements to CNN, saying on Sunday that sending Iranian fuel to Lebanon “happened according to a standard purchase process by Lebanese merchants. If the Lebanese government also wants to buy fuel from Iran, we would be happy to oblige.”
During Sunday mass, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi denounced the fact that Hezbollah entered Lebanon through the party’s illegal crossings on the Syrian border with tankers loaded with Iranian fuel.

The state cannot be built on practices or
positions that contradict its entity and institutions.
Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch

“The state cannot be built on practices or positions that contradict its entity and institutions,” he said, adding that the recent entry of fuel tankers and the obstruction of the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion were “among such practices.”
Al-Rahi expressed the hope that the new government would “work as a united national team to stop the collapse and confront the continuous attack attempts against the state and its democratic system.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• On Monday, PM Mikati’s government is expected to receive parliament’s vote of confidence with approximately 100 votes out of 128. It is expected that a vote of no confidence will be limited to the MPs of the Lebanese Forces bloc and several independent MPs.

• The Lebanese are still floundering with a series of never-ending crises, the foremost of which is the fuel crisis. Long queues at gas stations have remained the same, and the power rationing hours have not improved either.

He further called on the government to “carry out reforms, mobilize the financial and economic cycle, solve the fuel and electricity crises, and close the smuggling crossings on the border.”
On Monday, Mikati’s government is expected to receive parliament’s vote of confidence with approximately 100 votes out of 128. It is expected that a vote of no confidence will be limited to the MPs of the Lebanese Forces bloc and several independent MPs.
The Lebanese are still floundering with a series of never-ending crises, the foremost of which is the fuel crisis. Neither the arrival of Iraqi fuel to Electricité du Liban nor that of Iranian diesel has yielded positive results yet. Long queues at gas stations have remained the same, and the power rationing hours have not improved either.
A 20-liter canister of gasoline is being sold on the black market for 500,000 Lebanese pounds ($327), while the official new price is 180,000 Lebanese pounds.
The long queues at gas stations continue to pose security risks. On Sunday, armed men attacked a gas station in the town of Beit Chama in the Bekaa, opening fire and threatening to kill the owner.
Politicians, meanwhile, were preoccupied with the repercussions of Halliburton winning a contract to explore oil and gas in the disputed maritime border area between Lebanon and Israel.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “take urgent and immediate action before the Security Council and the international community to verify the possibility of a new Israeli attack on Lebanese sovereignty and rights because any exploration contract with Halliburton or other companies in the disputed area undermines the framework agreement sponsored by the US and the UN.”
Lebanese-Israeli negotiations over the disputed area were held under US auspices and stopped in April after the Lebanese delegation insisted that negotiations start from Line 29 of the border, which enlarges the size of the disputed area to 2,290 km instead of 860 km.
This area was based on a map sent in 2011 to the UN, but Lebanon later considered this map to be based on wrong estimates, so it demanded an additional area of 1,430 square km, including parts of the Karish gas field, in which a Greek company works for Israel.
The current Lebanese proposal is known as Line 29, and Israel has accused Lebanon of obstructing negotiations by expanding the disputed area.


Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman
Updated 19 September 2021

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman

Syria’s defense chief meets Jordan’s army commander in Amman
  • Meeting was “to increase coordination in the field of border security”: Hala Akhbar news site
  • Petra said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border situation in southern Syria and fighting terrorism

AMMAN: Syria’s defense minister met Sunday with Jordan’s army chief in Amman after after Syrian troops captured several rebel-held areas near Jordan’s border, state media reported.
The Hala Akhbar news site, which is linked to Jordan’s military, reported that the meeting between Jordanian Gen. Yousef Huneiti and Syrian Gen. Ali Ayoub was “to increase coordination in the field of border security to serve the interests of the two brotherly countries.”
The recent push by Syrian troops in the country’s south is the biggest since government forces captured wide areas along the border in 2018, including the Nassib border crossing.
The crossing with Jordan was reopened in 2018, months after it fell under Syrian government control. Syrian rebels had seized the site in 2015, severing a lifeline for the government in Damascus and disrupting a major trade route linking Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the oil-rich Gulf countries.
Ayoub’s visit came nearly two weeks after Syrian forces entered the rebel-held district of the volatile southern city of Daraa as part of a truce negotiated by Russia to end weeks of fighting. In the days that followed, Syrian troops captured rebel-held parts of several villages near Daraa.
The latest push by Syrian troops brings all parts of southern Syria under full government control.
Petra, Jordan’s state news agency, said Huneiti and Ayoub discussed border security, the situation in southern Syria, fighting terrorism and confronting narcotics smuggling.
Syrian state TV said the visit came at the invitation of Jordan’s army commander, adding that Ayoub was accompanied by top army officers. It said the talks focused on “fighting terrorism and border control.”
Jordan is a close Western ally and has long been seen as an island of stability in the turbulent Mideast. The kingdom hosts more than 650,000 Syrian refugees.
Earlier this month, ministers from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt said after meeting in Amman that Egyptian natural gas should reach Lebanon through Jordan and Syria as soon as next month, after maintenance of pipelines and the review of a deal interrupted 10 years ago.


TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway
Updated 19 September 2021

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway
  • The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday
  • Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty

DUBAI: A third tanker has sailed from Iran carrying Iranian fuel for distribution in Lebanon, TankerTrackers.com reported on Twitter on Sunday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments, imported by the Hezbollah movement, constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
The Iran-aligned group says the shipments should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday.
Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.