Activists protest against total closure in Lebanon

Activists protest against total closure in Lebanon
Lebanese policemen check cars at a checkpoint in the Sanayeh district of the Lebanese capital Beirut a day after the country went into lockdown. (AFP)
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Updated 18 November 2020

Activists protest against total closure in Lebanon

Activists protest against total closure in Lebanon
  • The protesters said they were not against the decision to close businesses due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic

BEIRUT: Activists from civil movement groups staged a sit-in outside the Ministry of Interior in Beirut on Wednesday afternoon to protest the deteriorating economic situation in light of the lockdown imposed until the end of November.

The activists carried the Lebanese flag and chanted slogans, including “the revolution will go on.” A large number of Internal Security Forces (ISF) personnel were deployed in the vicinity of the ministry to prevent protesters from entering its premises.

The protesters said they were not against the decision to close businesses due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, but were calling on the state and authorities to help the most impoverished people in light of deteriorating difficult living conditions.

Khalid Abu-Ismail, head of economic development and poverty at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said a few days ago that Lebanon’s ranking had dropped and poverty rates had doubled, hitting 55 percent of the total population.

Abu-Ismail said that there was a loss of food security, most pronounced in the poorest areas in northern and southern Lebanon, especially among workers with daily wages.

Just as the protests took place, Nicolas Chammas, president of the Beirut Traders Association, conveyed to Caretaker Interior Minister Brig. Gen. Mohammed Fahmy that “traders are angry due to the decision to completely close businesses, the disparity in the implementation of this decision in different regions, and the impact of the closure on traders in light of the deteriorating economic situation.” He asked the minister to reconsider the decision.

Chammas told Arab News: “Hunger can spur riots that lead to dangerous consequences. We are fully aware of the decisions taken to protect the public’s health, but there is also hunger (to take into consideration). Some of those affected (by the closure) are calling for civil disobedience or the violation of the closure decision.”

Tony Eid, head of Achrafieh’s Merchants Association, told Arab News: “Traders are demanding greater discipline during the period of complete closure, and we are keen to implement the measures to contain the spread of the virus.

“We hope that things will improve next month as it is full of holidays, and we count on this to compensate for our losses,” he added.

On Wednesday the civil movement groups denounced the arrest of Makram Rabah, a political activist and lecturer at the American University of Beirut, at Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut as he was leaving for Dubai on Monday.

The groups, affiliated with Liqaa Teshrin (the October Meeting), condemned “the security practices, the suppression of freedoms, and the negativity adopted by the corrupt system to impede the prospects of achieving the desired reforms to save the country.”

On Wednesday Rabah expressed his concerns about “tyrannical practices and the fabrication of files” against him.

He explained in a statement to the Central News Agency (Al-Markazia) that he was arrested without a judicial warrant, and a security file was fabricated against his due to his political stances.

Rabah said: “I am against any person or party that violates Lebanese sovereignty, and the first of these are Israel and Hezbollah because, in my view, they are equal in their violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty.

“My political position is very clear, and even if I raised any suspicions, there are standard procedures that are supposed to be implemented,” he said. “However, in my case, I am a lecturer at the American University of Beirut and a consultant, and my father is a former member of the Supreme Judicial Council, and all my stances are known. Therefore, whoever wants to obtain the contents of my phone can access my social media pages and follow my media appearances, but requesting the confiscation of my passport is not acceptable.”

He added: “If there is a reason for my arrest, the decision must be issued by the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation, not by an officer in the security services.”


Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles
Updated 21 sec ago

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles
  • Earlier in February, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee approved closing all cinemas
  • Dubai authorities have banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi will reopen its cinemas at a reduced 30 percent capacity while adhering to coronavirus precautionary measures, state news agency WAM reported.
Earlier in February, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee approved closing all cinemas.
Meanwhile, Dubai authorities have banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Dubai Economy said in a tweet.
“The Commercial Compliance & Consumer Protection (CCCP) Sector in Dubai Economy directed coffee shops to stop serving drinks in baby bottles,” DED said.
There has been a spike in new daily cases since the beginning of the year, largely due to the high number of tourists traveling to the country over the holiday period.


Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source
Updated 6 min 11 sec ago

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source

DUBAI: Fierce fighting between Yemeni pro-government forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels has killed at least 90 combatants on both sides in the past 24 hours, a government military source said Saturday.
The clashes in the oil-rich province left 32 dead among government forces and loyalist tribes, while 58 Houthi rebels were killed in air strikes by the Arab-led coalition, the sources told AFP.


Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace
Updated 06 March 2021

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace
  • The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history
  • Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,”

NAJAF, Iraq: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the authority for most of the world’s Shiite Muslims, told Pope Francis in a historic meeting in the Iraqi city of Najaf Saturday that the country’s Christians should live in “peace.”
The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history.
Pope Francis is defying a second wave of coronavirus cases and renewed security fears to make a “long-awaited” trip to Iraq, aiming to comfort the country’s ancient Christian community and deepen his dialogue with other religions.
The meeting between the two elderly men lasted 50 minutes, with Sistani’s office putting out a statement shortly afterwards thanking Francis, 84, for visiting the holy city of Najaf.
Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,” it said.
His office published an image of the two, neither wearing masks: Sistani in a black turban with his wispy grey beard reaching down to his black robe and Francis all in white, looking directly at the grand ayatollah.
Sistani is extremely reclusive and rarely grants meetings but made an exception to host Francis, an outspoken proponent of interreligious dialogue.
The Pope had landed earlier at Najaf airport, where posters had been set up featuring a famous saying by Ali, the fourth caliph and the Prophet Muhammad’s relative, who is buried in the holy city.
“People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity,” read the banners.
The meeting is one of the highlights of Francis’s four-day trip to war-scarred Iraq, where Sistani has played a key role in tamping down tensions in recent decades.
It took months of careful negotiations between Najaf and the Vatican to secure the one-on-one meeting.
“We feel proud of what this visit represents and we thank those who made it possible,” said Mohamed Ali Bahr Al-Ulum, a senior cleric in Najaf.
Pope Francis, a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue, has met top Sunni clerics in several Muslim-majority countries, including Bangladesh, Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Sistani, meanwhile, is followed by most of the world’s 200 million Shiites — a minority among Muslims but the majority in Iraq — and is a national figure for Iraqis.
“Ali Sistani is a religious leader with a high moral authority,” said Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, the head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a specialist in Islamic studies.
Sistani began his religious studies at the age of five, climbing through the ranks of Shiite clergy to grand ayatollah in the 1990s.
While Saddam Hussein was in power, he languished under house arrest for years, but emerged after the US-led invasion toppled the repressive regime in 2003 to play an unprecedented public role.
In 2019, he stood with Iraqi protesters demanding better public services and rejecting external interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs.
On Friday in Baghdad, Pope Francis made a similar plea.
“May partisan interests cease, those outside interests who don’t take into account the local population,” Francis said.
Sistani has had a complicated relationship with his birthplace Iran, where the other main seat of Shiite religious authority lies: Qom.
While Najaf affirms the separation of religion and politics, Qom believes the top cleric — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — should also govern.
Iraqi clerics and Christian leaders said the visit could strengthen Najaf’s standing compared to Qom.
“The Najaf school has great prestige and is more secular than the more religious Qom school,” Ayuso said.
“Najaf places more weight on social affairs,” he added.
In Abu Dhabi in 2019, the Pope met Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and a key authority for Sunni Muslims.
They signed a text encouraging Christian-Muslim dialogue, which Catholic clerics hoped Sistani would also endorse, but clerical sources in Najaf told AFP it is unlikely.
While the Pope has been vaccinated and encouraged others to get the jab, Sistani’s office has not announced his vaccination.
Iraq is currently gripped by a resurgence of coronavirus cases, recording more than 5,000 infections and more than two dozen deaths daily.
Following his visit to the grand ayatollah, the pope will head to the desert site of the ancient city of Ur — believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, common patriarch of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths — where he will host an interfaith service, with many of Iraq’s other religious minorities in attendance.


Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo
Updated 06 March 2021

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

CAIRO: A trailer-truck crashed into a microbus, killing at least 18 people and injuring five others south of the Egyptian capital, authorities said.
The country’s chief prosecutor’s office said in a statement the crash took place late Friday on a highway near the town of Atfih, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Cairo.
The Cairo-Assiut eastern road, located on the eastern side of the Nile River, links Cairo to the country’s southern provinces and is known for speeding traffic.
Police authorities said the truck’s tire exploded, causing it to overturn and collide with the microbus. The victims were taken to nearby hospitals, the statement said. The truck driver was arrested.
Traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
The country’s official statistics agency says around 10,000 road accidents took place in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, leaving over 3,480 dead. In 2018, there were 8,480 car accidents, causing over 3,080 deaths.


Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday

Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday
Updated 06 March 2021

Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday

Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday
  • Green passport holders can enter cafes and restaurants and choose to sit indoors or outdoors
  • At the airport, Israel will only allow 3,000 Israelis to enter the country per day

DUBAI: Israel announced it will further ease its coronavirus measures from Sunday, national daily The Jerusalem Post reported.
Students between grades seven and 10 will attend classes physically in green, yellow and orange cities, the report said.
The country’s “traffic system” has identified “green” cities as those with lowest COVID-19 cases, while the second lowest infection rates are “yellow,” followed by “orange” and “red.”
Israel had also required people entering cafes, restaurants and hotels to submit a green passport, which can be obtained through the health ministry for anyone who has taken the two shots of the coronavirus vaccine for at least a week.
But “children below the age of 16, who are not allowed to be vaccinated, will not be able to accompany their vaccinated parents,” the report added.
Green passport holders can enter cafes and restaurants and choose to sit indoors or outdoors.
Non-vaccinated people can only sit outside. Hotels will also reopen, allowing holders of the passport to access a wide range of activities.
At the airport, Israel will only allow 3,000 Israelis to enter the country per day.
New arrivals will be required to quarantine and must present a negative COVID-19 test result and be tested on arrival.
Meanwhile, the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center has warned that the country may witness another outbreak, as around 5 percent of Israel’s population have tested positive each day.
The health ministry said more than 4.9 million people have taken at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 3.6 million who have already taken their second shot.
More than half of the country’s 9 million-strong population have already received the two recommended doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine since the inoculation drive began in December.
Israel has registered more than 796,000 cases of Covid-19, including over 5,800 deaths.