Lebanese blame ‘brutal’ Syrian regime over refugee attack

Lebanese blame ‘brutal’ Syrian regime over refugee attack
Syrian refugees salvage belongings from the wreckage of their shelters at a camp set on fire overnight in the northern Lebanese town of Bhanine on December 27, 2020, following a fight between members of the camp and a local Lebanese family. (AFP)
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Updated 29 December 2020

Lebanese blame ‘brutal’ Syrian regime over refugee attack

Lebanese blame ‘brutal’ Syrian regime over refugee attack
  • Claims of hypocrisy after Damascus calls for migrant protection

BEIRUT: An arson attack that destroyed a Syrian refugee camp in northern Lebanon has led to widespread criticism of the Assad regime for failing to help or repatriate its displaced citizens.

In the wake of the attack that forced 370 people to flee the camp late on Saturday, Lebanese political leaders accused the Syrian regime of intimidating refugees in the country and deliberately hindering their return.

The accusations came as the Lebanese army confirmed that eight people — two Lebanese and six Syrian nationals — had been arrested in connection with the arson attack, which followed a pay dispute between Syrian workers and their Lebanese employers.

The Syrian Arab News Agency quoted an official source in the foreign ministry calling on Lebanon to “secure protection and care for the displaced Syrians.”

The official source also repeated calls for refugees “forced to leave the country by an unjust war to return to their homeland,” saying that “every effort is being made to facilitate their return.”

However, Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry said that it had received no communication from Syrian officials, either directly or through the embassy in Damascus.

Head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt accused the Syrian regime of hypocrisy over its condemnation of the attack on the camp and calls to punish the perpetrators.

“This regime gang has destroyed entire villages and cities in Syria, and violated Lebanon with acts of terror and assassination,” he said.

However, former Hezbollah chief Sheikh Subhi Al-Tufayli said that the media campaign calling for the return of Syrian refugees “raises fears of a dirty project that aims to solve the refugee problem by handing them over to the murderous regime in Damascus.”

On Monday, UNHCR spokesman Khaled Kabbara visited the charred campsite to inspect damage.

According to the refugee agency, most of the 370 residents have since been housed in other camps in the region or have found accommodation with locals.

About 1.5 million Syrians live in Lebanon, including 1 million registered as refugees with the UN, Lebanese government figures show. However, large numbers of Syrians are also believed to have entered the country surreptitiously and are unregistered.

Syrian refugees make up 25 percent of the Lebanese population, with 17 percent living in camps, UNHCR has said.

A recent referendum showed that 96 percent of the refugees want to return to Syria as soon as they feel safe.

The social media debate over the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland included praise for Saudi Arabia following urgent assistance provided by KSrelief to residents left without shelter after Saturday’s arson attack.

Syria’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul-Karim, told the Syrian Al-Watan newspaper that the Syrian foreign ministry had contacted the embassy to check on the refugees’ welfare.

“Some Lebanese have opened their homes to the Syrians who have lost their shelter,” he said.

The Syrian envoy also called on Lebanon to “punish those responsible and those who caused harm to the displaced Syrians.”

 


Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination

Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination
Updated 3 min 55 sec ago

Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination

Egypt opens online registration for COVID-19 vaccination
  • Text messages will be sent to prompt all those eligible to register for the vaccine as part of the Egyptian president’s initiative to eliminate waiting lists and facilitate the vaccination process

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed announced on Sunday the start of online registration to obtain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination for eligible citizens.

Khaled Mujahid, the ministry’s spokesman, said that registration has begun for eligible groups, including persons with tumors and kidney failure; those who have undergone operations, including open-heart surgery, and kidney and liver operations; and those with cerebral or peripheral catheters.

Text messages will be sent to prompt all those eligible to register for the vaccine as part of the Egyptian president’s initiative to eliminate waiting lists and facilitate the vaccination process.

Mujahid said that offices have been allocated in health units and hospitals across Egypt to register those who are unable to do so online. The spokesman pointed out that the site informs citizens of all details concerning the vaccine and allows them to register their data so that priority is automatically given according to age and chronic disease.

Mujahid said that the categories of people eligible to register on the website are divided into three groups in line with universally recognized priorities. These groups include health workers, those with chronic diseases and the elderly.

He explained that those registering online will have to enter identifying data, including name, ID number and contact information, such as phone number, where a verification code will be sent. Following this, the governorate and nearest health unit where the citizen may be vaccinated are determined.


Iran dismisses idea of talks with EU and US to revive 2015 nuclear deal

Iran dismisses idea of talks with EU and US to revive 2015 nuclear deal
Updated 9 min 48 sec ago

Iran dismisses idea of talks with EU and US to revive 2015 nuclear deal

Iran dismisses idea of talks with EU and US to revive 2015 nuclear deal
  • Iran says US must lift all its unilateral sanctions first

DUBAI: Iran on Sunday ruled out holding an informal meeting with the United States and European powers to discuss ways to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, insisting that Washington must lift all its unilateral sanctions.
“Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries, which was proposed by the EU foreign policy chief,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to Iranian media.
Iranian officials had said Tehran was studying a proposal by European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to hold an informal meeting with other parties to the nuclear pact and the United States, which reimposed sanctions on Iran after then-president Donald Trump quit the deal in 2018.
Iran and the new US administration of President Joe Biden have been at odds over who should take the first step to revive the accord. Iran insists the United States must first lift sanctions while Washington says Tehran must first return to compliance with the deal, which it has been progressively breaching.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sketched out a potential choreography on Feb. 1 to overcome the impasse.


Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all
Updated 52 sec ago

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all
  • ‘Like a dove, he’ll bring a twig of peace to all the people living in this land who’ve suffered for too long,’ priest tells Arab News
  • Pope Francis due to arrive in Baghdad on March 5

ROME: The pope’s upcoming visit to Iraq is a “precious gift” not only for the Christians who live there, but for all those who after years of war want a return to peace and coexistence between religions, a priest who worked for eight years in the diocese of Mosul told Arab News.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Pope Francis is coming … to invite us to all be instruments of peace,” said Jalal Jako.

“Like a dove, he’ll bring a twig of peace to all the people living in this land who’ve suffered for too long.”

Jako, currently in Italy, will return to Iraq for the pope’s visit, which will begin on March 5.

The priest was born in Qaraqosh, a historic Christian city near Mosul, which is part of the pope’s itinerary.

Jalal Jako visiting a church in Qaraqosh after it was badly damaged by Daesh. (Supplied)

He fled the region in August 2014 along with nearly 150,000 Christians and made his way to Erbil in northern Iraq. There, Jako worked in a refugee camp where he said the conditions for those who had fled the extremists were “terrible.”

When he returned to Qaraqosh three years later, “We found that everything had been destroyed,” he said.

The pope will be welcomed by Iraq’s prime minister in Baghdad and then visit the country’s president at the presidential palace, where he will meet with local authorities, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps.

Pope Francis will also meet with bishops and priests at the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad.

On March 6, he will fly to the city of Najaf and meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. The pope will return to Baghdad that day and celebrate Holy Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph.

On March 7 he will visit Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and meet with religious and civil authorities of the autonomous region. He will also visit the city of Qaraqosh. His return to Rome is scheduled for March 8 from Baghdad.

Jako said: “We can’t fail to be there at such an important moment for us Christians — the first visit of a pope to Iraq. He’ll tell us, ‘No more blood, live all as brothers.’ Thus he’ll send out a message that all the Iraqi people need.”

Jako added: “Pope John Paul II was supposed to come on a pilgrimage in 2000 … but it wasn’t possible for him. Pope Francis is keeping his predecessor’s promise to come to Iraq to visit a Christian community that today has only 500,000 faithful, a third of the number who lived there in 2003. He comes as the leader of a Church that respects all religions and aims to build peace.”


Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19
Updated 28 February 2021

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19
  • Palestinian medical teams would be stationed at checkpoints to administer the vaccines
  • Of the 5.2 million people, only 32,000 have received the vaccine to date

JERUSALEM: Israel will administer COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians who work in Israel or in its settlements in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli liaison office COGAT said on Sunday.
The vaccination campaign, which could apply to around 130,000 Palestinians, will begin within days, COGAT said.
Shaher Saad, secretary-general of the Palestinian Workers’ Union, said thousands of Palestinians who work in the Israeli service and industrial sectors had already been vaccinated privately by their employers inside Israel.
He said Palestinian medical teams would be stationed at checkpoints to administer the vaccines, by agreement with Israeli authorities.
Israel has given at least one dose of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine to more than half of its 9.3 million population, including Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
But it has come under international criticism for not doing more to enable vaccination of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
The Palestinians have received around 32,000 vaccine doses to date, for the 5.2 million people who live in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli officials have said that, under the Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian health ministry is responsible for vaccinating people in Gaza and those parts of the West Bank where it has limited self-rule.


Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules
Updated 28 February 2021

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules
  • A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people
  • The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic

AMMAN: Two Jordanian ministers resigned on Sunday for violating coronavirus-containment regulations, days after one of them had vowed “zero tolerance” against COVID-19 rule breakers.

Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh asked Interior and Justice Ministers Samir Mubaidin and Bassam Talhouni to step down for violating the defense order put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

A government source told Arab News that al-Khasawneh's directives, which were immediately endorsed by King Abdullah, came after the two ministers were at an event that brought together more than six people.

A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people, in violation of a defense order that allows a maximum of six.

Mubaidin chaired a meeting with senior security officers last Thursday where he had stressed the need to abide by defense orders, notably following the curfew, wearing masks and physical distancing. 

He vowed “zero tolerance” against violators, adding that these measures were aimed at protecting public health.

A royal decree was issued on Sunday accepting the resignation of Talhouni and Mubaidin. 

Another decree assigned the deputy prime minister and minister of local administration, Tawfiq Kreishan, to take on the Ministry of Interior, and for the minister of state for legal affairs, Ahmad Ziadat, to take on the Ministry of Justice, as of Sunday.

Jordan has toughened its health regulations, reinstating a curfew on Fridays and extending lockdown hours, with the country witnessing a surge in coronavirus cases. It has recorded around 387,000 COVID-19 infections and 4,675 deaths.

The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic.

“The sacking of the two ministers should have been in fact linked to the failure in handling matters related to citizens’ lives, including vaccines, the health situation and food security,” political analyst Amer Sabaileh told Arab News.