1 dead, dozens wounded in tribal clashes in southern Tunisia

1 dead, dozens wounded in tribal clashes in southern Tunisia
This handout picture released by the Tunisian Presidency on December 14, 2020 shows Tunisian President Kais Saied visiting Ain Sekhouna, south of Tunisia, where a land dispute between two tribes escalated. (AFP)
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Updated 15 December 2020

1 dead, dozens wounded in tribal clashes in southern Tunisia

1 dead, dozens wounded in tribal clashes in southern Tunisia
  • The inhabitants were fighting over the ownership of an area called Aïn Sekhouna

TUNIS: Tunisian authorities ordered a curfew in regions in southern Tunisia after at least a man was killed and dozens of people wounded, two seriously, in tribal clashes that broke out over a land dispute.
According to the official TAP news agency, the curfew from 4 p.m. to 5 a. m., starting on Monday, was decided by governors of Medenine and Kebili to prevent further violence.
The inhabitants were fighting over the ownership of an area called Aïn Sekhouna, which is located between the two and boasts a hot spring in the middle of the desert. The governorates of Medenine and Kebili are close to the Libyan and Algerian borders.
According to the official TAP news agency, security forces backed by military units used tear gas to disperse those involved, many of whom were armed with sticks and shotguns.
The security forces union reported 83 wounded who were transferred to nearby hospitals using ambulances from surrounding areas. TAP reported that four security officers were injured in the clashes and a security vehicle ransacked.
Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi gave instructions to the ministers of the interior and of defense to hold a crisis meeting in the hope of finding a solution to the dispute “by legal means.”
Tunisian President Kais Saied traveled by helicopter to the disputed area. He urged residents to make reason prevail over violence and warned against internal threats to the Tunisian state, without providing details.
Meanwhile, Mechichi, on a visit to France on Monday, said he agreed with French Prime Minister Jean Castex on the need for a greater cooperation between the two countries on migrant issues, especially through development and investment policies in Tunisian regions where people entering illegally into Europe come from, according to TAP.
France said the visit comes out of solidarity between the two countries following an Oct. 29 Islamic extremist knife attack that killed three people in a Nice church. The chief suspect is a Tunisian man who illegally entered into Italy and then traveled to France.
Mechichi, who is on his first trip abroad since he took office on Sept. 2, is scheduled to visit Italy on Tuesday.


Iraqi Kurdistan conference pushes Baghdad-Israel normalization

Iraqi Kurdistan conference pushes Baghdad-Israel normalization
Updated 6 sec ago

Iraqi Kurdistan conference pushes Baghdad-Israel normalization

Iraqi Kurdistan conference pushes Baghdad-Israel normalization

IRBIL: More than 300 Iraqis, including tribal leaders, attended a conference in autonomous Kurdistan organized by a US think-tank demanding a normalization of relations between Baghdad and Israel, organizers said Saturday.
The first initiative of its kind in Iraq, where Israel’s sworn enemy Iran has a very strong influence, the conference took place on Friday and was organized by the New York-based Center for Peace Communications (CPC).
The CPC advocates for normalizing relations between Israel and Arab countries, alongside working to establish ties between civil society organizations.
Iraqi Kurdistan maintains cordial contacts with Israel, but the federal government in Baghdad does not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
Four Arab nations — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — last year agreed to normalize ties with Israel in a US-sponsored process dubbed the Abraham Accords.
“We demand our integration into the Abraham Accords,” said Sahar Al-Tai, one of the attendees, reading a closing statement in a conference room at a hotel in the Kurdish regional capital Irbil.
“Just as these agreements provide for diplomatic relations between the signatories and Israel, we also want normal relations with Israel,” she said.
“No force, local or foreign, has the right to prevent this call,” added Tai, head of research at the Iraqi federal government’s culture ministry.
The 300 participants at the conference came from across Iraq, according to CPC founder Joseph Braude, a US citizen of Iraqi Jewish origin.
They included Sunni and Shiite representatives from “six governorates: Baghdad, Mosul, Salaheddin, Al-Anbar, Diyala and Babylon,” extending to tribal chiefs and “intellectuals and writers,” he told AFP by phone.
Other speakers at the conference included Chemi Peres, the head of an Israeli foundation established by his father, the late president Shimon Peres.
“Normalization with Israel is now a necessity,” said Sheikh Rissan Al-Halboussi, an attendee from Anbar province, citing the examples of Morocco and the UAE.
Kurdish Iraqi leaders have repeatedly visited Israel over the decades and local politicians have openly demanded Iraq normalize ties with the Jewish state, which itself backed a 2017 independence referendum in the autonomous region.


Morocco gets 1st batch of Turkish armed drones: report

Morocco gets 1st batch of Turkish armed drones: report
Updated 18 min 44 sec ago

Morocco gets 1st batch of Turkish armed drones: report

Morocco gets 1st batch of Turkish armed drones: report
  • Morocco already uses drones for intelligence and surveillance operations along its borders

RABAT: Morocco took delivery earlier this month of Turkish combat drones, the Far-Maroc unofficial website dedicated to military news reported.
The report, also carried by several local media outlets, comes as tensions have spiked between Morocco and neighboring Algeria in recent weeks.
The two countries are mainly at odds over the disputed Western Sahara territory, and Algeria severed ties with Morocco in August claiming “provocations and hostile” action by its neighbor.
Relations took another blow this week when Algeria on Wednesday said it has closed off its airspace to all Moroccan civilian and military traffic.
According to Far-Maroc, the North African kingdom ordered 13 Bayraktar TB2 drones from Turkey in April and a first batch of the unmanned aircraft arrived this month.
Rabat, said the report, seeks to “modernize the arsenal of the Moroccan Armed Forces (FAR) in order to prepare for any danger and recent hostilities,” but did not elaborate on these topics.
It did however add that Moroccan military personnel have trained in Turkey in recent weeks to work with the drones.
Media reports said Morocco signed a $70 million contract with the private Turkish company Baykar.
The firm is run by one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-laws and has been exporting its Bayraktar TB2 model to Ukraine, Qatar and Azerbaijan for some years.
According to the company’s website, the Bayraktar TB2 is a “medium altitude long endurance tactical unmanned aerial vehicle capable of conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and armed attack missions” with a range of up to 27 hours.
Morocco already uses drones for intelligence and surveillance operations along its borders, according to military experts.
The Western Sahara dispute pits Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front which fought a war of independence with Rabat from 1975 to 1991.
Morocco laid claim to the former Spanish colony with rich phosphate resources and offshore fisheries after Spain withdrew in 1975, and controls around 80 percent of it.
Rabat has offered autonomy there and maintains the territory is a sovereign part of the kingdom but the Polisario is demanding a referendum on self-determination, in line with the terms of a 1991 UN-backed cease-fire deal.
Tensions rose sharply in November when Morocco sent troops into a buffer zone to reopen the only road linking Morocco to Mauritania and the rest of West Africa. The road had been blocked by the separatists.


UAE daily COVID-19 numbers continue to decline as country readies for Expo 2020 kickoff

UAE daily COVID-19 numbers continue to decline as country readies for Expo 2020 kickoff
Updated 30 min 17 sec ago

UAE daily COVID-19 numbers continue to decline as country readies for Expo 2020 kickoff

UAE daily COVID-19 numbers continue to decline as country readies for Expo 2020 kickoff
  • The country’s COVID-19 total number of cases recorded since the start of the pandemic now stands at 734,275

DUBAI: The UAE’s daily coronavirus cases continue to decline, with health officials on Friday confirming 303 new infections and three virus-related deaths.

The country’s COVID-19 total number of cases recorded since the start of the pandemic now stands at 734,275 with 2,086 fatalities related to the disease. 

The government’s inoculation program, coupled with an active testing policy for the early detection and intervention for coronavirus cases, has provided at least a dose of COVID-19 vaccines to 90.8 percent of the UAE population.

The recent decline in daily infections comes just days before the opening of the Expo 2020 Dubai, which the emirate hopes will draw millions from around the globe.


’Soon’ in Iranian parlance differs from West’s in nuclear talks, Iran’s top diplomat says

’Soon’ in Iranian parlance differs from West’s in nuclear talks, Iran’s top diplomat says
Updated 42 min 30 sec ago

’Soon’ in Iranian parlance differs from West’s in nuclear talks, Iran’s top diplomat says

’Soon’ in Iranian parlance differs from West’s in nuclear talks, Iran’s top diplomat says
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Saturday that when his government says it will return soon to talks on resuming compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, it means when Tehran has completed its review of the nuclear file.
On Friday, Amirabdollahian told reporters in New York that Iran would return to talks “very soon,” but gave no specific date.
In remarks broadcast on state TV channel IRINN on Saturday, Amirabdollahian said, “People keep asking how soon is soon. Does it mean days, weeks or months?”
“The difference between Iranian and Western ‘soon’ is a lot. To us,‘soon’ means really in the first opportune time — when our reviews (of the nuclear file) have been completed. What is important is our determination to return to the talks, but those that are serious and guarantee the Iranian nation’s rights and interests,” Amirabdollahian said.
He was speaking to IRINN in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
On the other hand, he said: “I remind you of the West’s promises, such as repeatedly promising they would ‘soon’, ‘in a few months,’ implement the Instex” — a trade mechanism set up to barter humanitarian goods and food after the US withdrawal from the deal.
Iran has said the channel with Europe has been ineffective.
Under the 2015 deal that Iran signed with world powers, it agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions. Washington abandoned that deal in 2018 and unilaterally reimposed financial sanctions.
Talks that began in April between Iran and the five other nations — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — to revive the deal have been stalled since hard-line cleric Ebrahimi Raisi was elected president in June.
European diplomats have served as chief intermediaries between Washington and Tehran, which has refused to negotiate directly with US officials.

Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push

Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push
Updated 25 September 2021

Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push

Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push
  • Israel raced out of the gate early this year to vaccinate most of its adult population

JERUSALEM: Israel is pressing ahead with its aggressive campaign of offering coronavirus boosters to almost anyone over 12 and says its approach was further vindicated by a US decision to give the shots to older patients or those at higher risk.
Israeli officials credit the booster shot, which has already been delivered to about a third of the population, with helping suppress the country’s latest wave of COVID-19 infections. They say the differing approaches are based on the same realization that the booster is the right way to go, and expect the US and other countries to expand their campaigns in the coming months.
“The decision reinforced our results that the third dose is safe,” said Dr. Nadav Davidovitch, head of the school of public health at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University and chairman of the country’s association of public health physicians. “The main question now is of prioritization.”
The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of the year so that more people in poor countries can get their first two doses, but Israeli officials say the booster shot is just as important in preventing infections.
“We know for sure that the current system of vaccine nationalism is hurting all of us, and it’s creating variants,” said Davidovitch, who is also a member of an Israeli government panel of experts. But he added that the problem is “much broader than Israel.”
Israel raced out of the gate early this year to vaccinate most of its adult population after striking a deal with Pfizer to trade medical data in exchange for a steady supply of doses. It has also purchased large quantities of the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Most adults had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine by March, causing infection levels to plummet and allowing the government to lift nearly all coronavirus restrictions.
But in June, the highly infectious delta variant began to spread. After studying the matter, experts concluded that the vaccine remained effective against the virus, but that its efficacy waned roughly five months after the second shot.
In late July, Israel began distributing booster shoots to at-risk citizens, including those over 60. Within weeks, it expanded the campaign to the general population.
More than 3 million of Israel’s 9 million citizens have gotten a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, according to the Health Ministry.
In a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, Israeli experts said that in people who had been vaccinated five months earlier, the booster increased vaccine efficacy tenfold compared with vaccinated patients who didn’t receive it.
That study tracked about 1 million people 60 and older and found that the booster was “very effective at reducing the rate of both confirmed infection and severe illness,” the Health Ministry said.
A senior Israeli health official, Dr. Sharon Alroy Preiss, was among the experts testifying before the US Food and Drug Administration panel last week in favor of the booster shot. But the regulator decided against boosters for the general population, opting only to authorize it for people aged 65 or older and those in high-risk groups.
Experts cited a lack of safety data on extra doses and also raised doubts about the value of mass boosters, rather than ones targeted to specific groups. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a similar endorsement Thursday.
The Israeli Health Ministry said the FDA decision “gave validity to the third vaccine operation” underway in Israel, which “decided to act responsibly and quickly in order to treat growing infections.” It said statistics show the booster dose has “restored protection.”
Recent weeks have seen “a declining rate of new infections among the elderly,” the vast majority of whom have received booster shots, and “a continuous increase in the proportion of unvaccinated individuals within the new severe cases,” Dr. Ran Balicer, head of the government’s expert advisory panel on COVID-19, told The Associated Press.
In recent weeks, as the booster campaign has been rolled out, the percentage of unvaccinated among serious COVID-19 cases has climbed, and the overall new cases among people with at least two shots has dropped.
As of Friday, around 70 percent of Israel’s 703 serious cases of COVID-19 were among the unvaccinated, and about 20 percent had not received a booster. A month earlier, after Israel vaccinated 1.5 million people with a third dose, those two groups were equally represented among the serious cases.
Over 60 percent of Israelis — the overwhelming majority of the adult population — have received at least two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
Some experts noted that the US and Europe were several months behind Israel’s vaccination campaign and predicted those countries would follow suit in the months ahead.
“We are experiencing first a phenomenon that will become apparent likely in many other countries in the coming months and create a similar challenge there,” Balicer said. “Few, if any at all, other countries are walking in our shoes right now.”
The UK already is rolling out a booster campaign, with third doses to be offered to anyone over 50 and other vulnerable groups.
The WHO has called on rich countries to refrain from exhausting vaccine stockpiles on boosters while much of the world has yet to receive any. A third shot may be necessary for people with certain health conditions, but “boosters for the general public are not appropriate at this stage of the pandemic,” it said.
“The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will circulate and change, the longer social and economic disruptions will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective,” it said in a statement Friday.
Balicer said that Israel, as a small country, has little effect on global supplies and that its role as the world’s laboratory provides “a very important source of knowledge” for other countries.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has exhorted the public to get vaccine boosters as part of his aggressive public relations campaign since taking office in June.
“Israel is the only country in the world that is giving its citizens this gift of the possibility — both legally and in terms of supply — of a booster,” he said last week.
Balicer said other states should ready national plans for the rollout of booster shots.
“Countries that vaccinated more recently should be prepared for the impact of waning vaccine immunity manifesting in midwinter, further intensifying the challenge,” he said.