Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away

Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away
A picture shows the Christmas tree outside the Church of the Nativity, in the Palestinian holy city of Bethlehem, on December 23, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 24 December 2020

Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away

Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away
  • Earlier this month Bethlehem lit the Christmas tree to mark the start of the Christmas holidays

GAZA CITY: Palestinian authorities will continue following the “usual protocol” in their Christmas celebrations, despite the increasing number of people infected with coronavirus in the Palestinian territories.

But the celebrations will not happen in their normal form - in the presence of pilgrims from around the world and Palestinian Christians. Instead they will be limited to a small number of officials and clerics.

Anton Salman is the mayor of Bethlehem, where the largest Christmas celebrations are held. 

He said this year would be different because the city would not witness the regular festivities, despite the decision to go ahead with the religious rituals.

“We cannot cancel all celebrations, but the usual protocol will continue to be followed, but the public's attendance will be limited while following safety and prevention measures,” Salman told Arab News.

Normally there are many celebrations, starting with the lighting of Christmas trees and continuing until religious rites are held in the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve in addition to other activities, the most important of which is the holding of carols in Manger Square by international and local groups. These performances are canceled this year.

Earlier this month Bethlehem lit the Christmas tree to mark the start of the Christmas holidays, with the participation of Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh via video call.

The tree was lit without public participation or revelers in the square, in compliance with the health measures being followed to tackle COVID-19. Attendance was limited to social media and the presence of a few people and members of the municipality.

“Together we defeated international plans to annex our land and legalize settlements, and we will defeat settlement and occupation, and we presented a message about political steadfastness in the face of the colonial occupation pandemic, and the seizure of our money, and a message on national steadfastness in the face of the disease pandemic,” Shtayyeh said during the ceremony. “The Palestinian has lived the pain of the past, with courage and defiance, living the present, and hoping for a better future surrounded by patience and resistance toward the state, toward a free and full Palestine united with its people.”

This Christmas, Bethlehem is empty of the foreign tourists who used to flock to it and other Palestinian cities throughout the year.

“Last year this square marked Christmas with a solemn celebration, with a distinguished presence, and with official, popular and international participation and today, as we celebrate Christmas, we seek it with hope and optimism,” Salman added. “So we resorted to modern technology and the virtual world to celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree, hoping that hope and optimism would continue to flutter around Palestine and the world.”

The mayor said there was a commitment to safety standards in order to protect everyone and that the city had chosen a slogan that differed from previous years.

“We wish the light of life for everyone on our level as Palestinians, and the world, to get rid of the pandemic.” 

Other Palestinian cities, Ramallah and Jerusalem, witnessed the lighting of Christmas trees during December in the presence of a limited number of church officials and clerics.

The Palestinian territories have recorded more than 120,000 cases of coronavirus since March, with the first cases being recorded in Bethlehem, while the number of infections has recently increased in West Bank cities.

The Palestinian government imposed strict measures during the past two weeks in West Bank cities to limit the spread of coronavirus, including the comprehensive closure of some cities, the separation of governorates, and the partial closure of official institutions.


Oman reinstates movement ban to curb coronavirus spread

Oman reinstates movement ban to curb coronavirus spread
Updated 19 June 2021

Oman reinstates movement ban to curb coronavirus spread

Oman reinstates movement ban to curb coronavirus spread
  • The ban will remain in place until further notice
  • Public spaces and commercial establishments will also remain closed

DUBAI: Oman’s Supreme Committee will reinstate a movement ban between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. starting June 20, state news agency ONA reported.

The ban will remain in place until further notice.

Public spaces and commercial establishments will also remain closed as a continuing precaution against the spread of coronavirus.

The committee also said that the national immunization program will continue as planned.

It has also called on the relevant target groups to take the initiative to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and the rest of the society from COVID-19.


Amnesty accuses Iran’s newly-elected president of ‘crimes against humanity’

Amnesty accuses Iran’s newly-elected president of ‘crimes against humanity’
Updated 19 June 2021

Amnesty accuses Iran’s newly-elected president of ‘crimes against humanity’

Amnesty accuses Iran’s newly-elected president of ‘crimes against humanity’

DUBAI: Amnesty International released a report Saturday saying that Iran’s newly elected leader Ebrahim Raisi is involved in crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and forced disappearances.

The report, which came out a few hours after Raisi was named the winner of the Islamic republic’s presidential election, denounces his rise to presidency instead of undergoing investigation.

Citing Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard, the report said: “Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”

“In 2018, our organization documented how Ebrahim Raisi had been a member of the ‘death commission’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988. The circumstances surrounding the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their bodies are, to this day, systematically concealed by the Iranian authorities, amounting to ongoing crimes against humanity.”

The report also said: “‘As Head of the Iranian Judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi has presided over a spiralling crackdown on human rights which has seen hundreds of peaceful dissidents, human rights defenders and members of persecuted minority groups arbitrarily detained.

Dressed in a black turban and cleric’s coat, Raisi casts himself as an austere and pious figure and an corruption-fighting champion of the poor.

Critics charge the election was skewed in his favor as strong rivals were disqualified, but to his loyal supporters he is Iran’s best hope for standing up to the West and bringing relief from a deep economic crisis.

Raisi is not renowned for great charisma but, as head of the judiciary, has driven a popular campaign to prosecute corrupt officials.

Raisi is set to take over from moderate Hassan Rouhani in August.

(With AFP)


Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir
Updated 19 June 2021

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir
  • For 10 years Ethiopia has failed to reach an agreement with Egypt and Sudan on how quickly the reservoir should be filled
  • On the eve of the summer rains on the Ethiopian Highlands, the dam is all but complete and filling is about to begin

LONDON: In the decade since Ethiopia announced it was going to build Africa’s biggest hydropower dam on the Blue Nile, the source of the bulk of Egypt’s water, the prospect has loomed over Egyptians as an existential threat.

For 10 years Ethiopia has failed to reach an agreement with Egypt and Sudan, its two downstream neighbors, on how quickly its vast reservoir should be filled, and how the electricity-generating Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be operated in the years to come. Now, on the eve of the anticipated annual summer rains that fall on the Ethiopian Highlands, the dam is all but complete and filling is about to begin in earnest.

DEEP DIVE: For a longer, interactive version of this story: https://www.arabnews.com/BattleForTheNile

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Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote
Updated 19 June 2021

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote
  • Hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi was seen as all but certain to emerge victorious
  • Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined those who said they would not cast their ballot

TEHRAN: Congratulations poured in for Iranian ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday for winning presidential elections even before official results were announced.
Iran’s outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani said his successor had been elected in the previous day’s vote, without naming the widely expected winner, Raisi.
“I congratulate the people on their choice,” said Rouhani. “My official congratulations will come later, but we know who got enough votes in this election and who is elected today by the people.”
The other two ultraconservative candidates – Mohsen Rezai and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi – explicitly congratulated Raisi.
“I congratulate ... Raisi, elected by the nation,” Ghazizadeh-Hashemi said, quoted by Iranian media.
And Rezai tweeted that he hoped Raisi could build “a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems”.
The only reformist in the race, former central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, also tweeted his congratulations to Raisi.
Raisi, 60, would take over from moderate Rouhani at a time the Islamic republic is seeking to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a painful economic downturn.
Raisi, the head of the judiciary whose black turban signifies direct descent from Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, is seen as close to the 81-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate political power in Iran.
The moderate candidate in Iran’s presidential election has conceded he lost to the country’s hard-line judiciary chief.
Former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati wrote on Instagram to judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi early Saturday.
Hemmati wrote: “I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran.”
Voting on Friday was extended by two hours past the original midnight deadline amid fears of a low turnout of 50 percent or less.
Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls was winnowed down to seven candidates, all men, excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.
Three of the vetted candidates dropped out of the race two days before Friday’s election, and two of them threw their support behind Raisi.
Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of those who were disqualified by the powerful 12-member Guardian Council of clerics and jurists, joined those who said they would not cast their ballot.
Raisi’s only rival from the reformist camp was the low-profile former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, 65, who had polled in the low single digits before the election.
Iran’s electorate, of now almost 60 million eligible voters, has delivered surprise results before, observers warn. If no clear winner emerges, a runoff will be held next Friday.
On election day, pictures of often flag-waving voters in the country of 83 million dominated state TV coverage, but away from the polling stations some voiced anger at what they saw as a stage-managed election.
“Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected,” scoffed Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie. “They organize the elections for the media.”
Enthusiasm has been dampened further by the economic malaise of spiralling inflation and job losses, and the pandemic that proved more deadly in Iran than anywhere else in the region, killing more than 80,000 people by the official count.
Among those who lined up to vote at schools, mosques and community centers, many said they supported Raisi, who has promised to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of flats for low-income families.
A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed the frontrunner for his anti-graft credentials and on hopes he would “move the country forward... and save the people from economic, cultural and social deprivation.”
Raisi has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.
To opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. The US government has sanctioned him over the purge, in which Raisi has denied playing a part.
Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major influence in fields from industrial policy to foreign affairs.
Rouhani, 72, leaves office in August after serving the maximum two consecutive four-year-terms allowed under the constitution.
His landmark achievement was the 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
But high hopes for greater prosperity were crushed in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and launched a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran.
While Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, Trump charged it is still planning to build the bomb and destabilising the Middle East through armed proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
As old and new US sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted. The economy nosedived and spiralling prices fueled repeated bouts of social unrest which were put down by security forces.
Iran’s ultraconservative camp — which deeply distrusts the United States, labelled the “Great Satan” or the “Global Arrogance” in the Islamic republic — attacked Rouhani over the failing deal.
Despite this, there is broad agreement among all the candidates including Raisi that Iran must seek an end to the US sanctions in ongoing talks in Vienna aiming to revive the nuclear accord

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Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues
Updated 19 June 2021

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues
  • The committee approved the use of text messages to show coronavirus test results for those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi has temporarily suspended the use of green pass on Al Hosn app due to technical issues faced by some users, state news agency WAM reported.
The Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee said it reviewed the possible causes of the problem, as the digital platform received a surge in new subscriptions. It has also ensured the app’s team are working to restore the service as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the committee approved the use of text messages to show coronavirus test results for those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi.
The decision came into effect on June 18 and will continue until the app is updated.
Residents and visitors who want to enter public spaces including shopping malls and large supermarkets, gyms, hotels, parks and beaches, private beaches and restaurants and cafes must have a green status on Al Hosn, to have access in such places.