Heavy snowfall, gales as winter storm hits Middle East

A Syrian man rides a motorcycle among groves covered with snow in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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A Syrian man rides a motorcycle among groves covered with snow in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
A young Syrian girl runs on a snow-covered street in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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A young Syrian girl runs on a snow-covered street in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
Snow covers a street in the town of Slanfah, in Latakia province, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (SANA via AP)
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Snow covers a street in the town of Slanfah, in Latakia province, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (SANA via AP)
Palestinian women take picture amid snowfall in the West bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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Palestinian women take picture amid snowfall in the West bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
Aysegul Cepoglu, rear, and Ahmet Efe Isik slide down the hill at snow-blanketed Seymenler Park, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (AP)
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Aysegul Cepoglu, rear, and Ahmet Efe Isik slide down the hill at snow-blanketed Seymenler Park, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (AP)
A man walks along Baalbek's ancient ruins during snowfall in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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A man walks along Baalbek's ancient ruins during snowfall in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
A couple walks along the historic site of Baalbek during snowfall in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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A couple walks along the historic site of Baalbek during snowfall in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
People walk in the street during snowfall in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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People walk in the street during snowfall in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
Children try to catch snow flakes from a car window during snowfall in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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Children try to catch snow flakes from a car window during snowfall in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2021

Heavy snowfall, gales as winter storm hits Middle East

A Syrian man rides a motorcycle among groves covered with snow in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province, on February 17, 2021. (AFP)
  • It snowed for the first time in years in Marjayoun in southern Lebanon, and in Bayda in northeast Libya

BEIRUT: Snow blanketed parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel on Wednesday, covering areas it has not reached in years, disrupting traffic and postponing vaccination campaigns against COVID-19 and even exams at some universities.
It snowed for the first time in years in Marjayoun in southern Lebanon, and in Bayda in northeast Libya.
Gale force winds knocked out electricity in vast parts of Lebanon, forcing many Lebanese, already used to power cuts, to rely on generators for longer hours. Rescuers pulled four motorists out of their snow-covered cars, the National News Agency said.
The first snow this winter in the Syrian capital, Damascus, did not prevent the Premier League soccer tournament from going ahead, as Army Sports Club and Al-Karamah faced off despite the snow that covered the pitch, the Syrian Al-Watan daily reported .
In the mountains of Syria’s Sweida province, snow was as high as 15 cm (6 inches), according to the official state news agency SANA. Roads in some provinces were blocked. In the central province of Hama, bulldozers shoveled snow to open roads while vehicles skidded on ice, causing traffic disruption.
The University of Damascus called off mid-term exams scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in all its branches around Syria because of the extreme weather conditions. The country’s ports remained open. Later, local authorities in the provinces of Sweida, Quneitra, Daraa and Tartous suspend school on Thursday due to the storm and heavy snowfall.
In the opposition-held northwestern Syria, civil defense teams have been building dirt mounds since Tuesday around camps for the displaced to prevent rain from flooding the crowded areas. Nearly 3 million displaced people live in northwestern Syria, mostly in tents and temporary shelters. Heavy rainfall last month damaged over 190 displacement sites, destroying and damaging over 10,000 tents.
In neighboring Lebanon, Storm Joyce hit late Tuesday with gale force winds registering between 85 km/h (52 miles/h) and 100 km/h (62 miles/h). The storm is expected to get stronger Thursday.
Breaking a warm spell, the storm brought heavy rainfall, a sharp drop in temperatures and the heaviest snow fall in Lebanon this year. Snow is expected to cover areas of altitudes as low as 400 meters, according to the meteorological department. Nearly a dozen roads in eastern and northern Lebanon were closed to traffic because of the snow. A beachside club and restaurant were submerged in water as waves nearly 4 meters (13 feet) high slammed onto the shore.
The Israeli Meteorological Service forecast heavy thunderstorms and cold temperatures across much of the country, with snowfall at higher altitudes expected later on Wednesday, including in Jerusalem. On Wednesday night, Israeli police closed the main road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem due to snow.
Heavy snowfall covered the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights near the border with Syria.
In Jordan, the COVID-19 vaccination drive was suspended due to severe weather conditions. Schools and universities also put off classes. Jordan’s Prime Minister Bishr Al-Khasawneh announced that Thursday will be an official holiday for both the public and private sector due to the snow storm.
Osama Al-Tarifi, director of the operating room of the Arabia Weather site, said snow has reached 20 cm (8 inches) in the mountains of Ajloun in northern Jordan, where snowfall has been non-stop since Tuesday night. Heavy snow is expected in the capital, Amman, on Wednesday.
Wind exceeded 100 km/hour (62 miles/h) in some areas in Jordan.
In Libya, snow blanketed the country’s northeast mountains as snowfall continued since Tuesday, covering forests and roads in some areas in the North African country.
Residents of the Jabal Al-Akhdar area in the far northeast part of Libya took their children out for fun, some making snowmen and others starting snowball fights.
“I was surprised, actually, by the number of families who came here to take pictures to remember the snow,” said Ali Al-Shairi, an amateur photographer from the eastern city of Bayda, which is known for recurrent snow in Libya but has not seen any for a couple of years.
In neighboring Egypt, heavy rain and windy weather prevailed on Wednesday and was expected to last into Thursday, the country’s meteorological agency said. Authorities in South Sinai province, which includes touristic hubs, canceled touristic activities, including safaris and cruises to weather the storm.


New definition of anti-Semitism that accepts criticism of Israel gathers support

New definition of anti-Semitism that accepts criticism of Israel gathers support
Updated 22 April 2021

New definition of anti-Semitism that accepts criticism of Israel gathers support

New definition of anti-Semitism that accepts criticism of Israel gathers support
  • Jewish Declaration on Anti-Semitism challenges International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition
  • ‘Just like every other state, Israel needs to be subject to criticism,’ Jewish professor tells Arab News

ATLANTA: More than 200 Jewish-studies scholars and academics have endorsed a definition of anti-Semitism that accepts criticism of Israel.

The Jewish Declaration on Anti-Semitism (JDA) challenges the definition proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and adopted by the US government.

The IHRA’s definition treats criticism of Israel, including calls to boycott the country or its products, as anti-Semitic.

The JDA, however, considers valid criticism of Israel and Zionism as a legitimate form of protected speech, and does not consider the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the country as anti-Semitic.

Pro-Palestinian rights activists say equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is an attempt to muzzle discussion about Palestinian suffering.

Prof. Barry Trachtenberg, a scholar of Jewish studies and anti-Semitism at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, told Arab News that he signed the JDA because he thinks enacting a law to protect Jews specifically reinforces the perception of Jewish exceptionalism.

“The pro-Israel crowd wants to prevent any criticism of Israel as entirely anti-Semitic. Obviously this isn’t correct because Israel is a political entity, and just like every other state it needs to be subject to criticism,” he said.

“Israel doesn’t represent the entire Jewish people, but even if it did, because it’s a political entity it should be subjected to valid criticism.”

Joshua Cooper — a mathematics professor at the University of South Carolina, and a member of the US-based group Jewish Voice for Peace — told Arab News that the JDA is “mostly a positive development in countering the harmful definition of the IHRA.”

However, he expressed concern about the JDA’s “vague” Article 10, which opposes “denying the right of Jews in the State of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.”

Cooper said: “If someone believes that the radical Jewish settlers living in stolen homes and terrorizing Arabs … should leave, is this an anti-Semitic stance? Surely not.”

Iyman Chehade, a history professor and pro-Palestinian human rights activist in Chicago, told Arab News that the JDA’s definition is a step up from the IHRA’s.

However, he said the JDA “reinforces the false and misleading idea that Israel and the Palestinians live on the same moral plain.”

He added: “It’s ironic that while the signatories rightfully seek to protect one group, they ignore the rights as well as the suffering of the Palestinians in the process.”


UAE suspends flights from India as COVID-19 cases spike

UAE suspends flights from India as COVID-19 cases spike
Updated 28 min 40 sec ago

UAE suspends flights from India as COVID-19 cases spike

UAE suspends flights from India as COVID-19 cases spike
  • India recorded the world's highest daily tally of 314,835 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday
  • Health officials across northern and western India including the capital, New Delhi, said they were in crisis

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates on Thursday suspended all flights from India, including transit passengers, as coronavirus cases in the country spiked to global records.
Some 300 flights a week were operating between the UAE and India before the ban was announced, according to local media, making the air corridor one of the busiest in the world.
"The decision to suspend flights came after studying and evaluating the epidemiological situation in the friendly Republic of India," the General Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement carried on state news agency WAM.
The GCAA said that those coming from India through other countries must stay in that third destination for at least 14 days.
UAE nationals and passengers in private jets are exempt from that requirement.
Cargo flights between the two countries will continue after the ban, which comes into effect on April 25 for a period of 10 days "that can be extended".
"This comes in response to the proactive precautionary and preventive health measures issued by all concerned authorities in the country to limit the spread" of the pandemic, WAM cited authorities as saying.
The UAE is home to some 3.3 million Indians who make up a third of the population - most of them in Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the federation.
India announced Thursday that nearly 315,000 new cases of coronavirus had been recorded during the past 24 hours, in the highest daily toll in the world.
New Delhi sent out warnings that patients could die if oxygen supplies in hospitals were not replenished.
The country's long-underfunded healthcare system is being stretched to the limit by a devastating second wave of the pandemic blamed on a "double mutant" variant and "super-spreader" mass gatherings.


Turkey probes cryptocurrency exchange for possible $2B fraud

Turkey probes cryptocurrency exchange for possible $2B fraud
Updated 22 April 2021

Turkey probes cryptocurrency exchange for possible $2B fraud

Turkey probes cryptocurrency exchange for possible $2B fraud
  • Thodex cryptocurrency exchange is under probe following complaints from users unable to access their assets
  • Suspected owner could face possible charges of fraud and forming a criminal organization, Haberturk said

ANKARA: Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation into a cryptocurrency exchange Thursday over allegations it may have defrauded some 390,000 investors of an estimated $2 billion.
The office of Istanbul’s chief prosecutor said it was probing the Thodex cryptocurrency exchange following complaints from users unable to access their assets.
Thodex owner Faruk Fatih Ozer deactivated his social media accounts and is believed to have fled Turkey for Tirana, Albania, Turkish broadcaster Haberturk reported.
Ozer could face possible charges of fraud and forming a criminal organization, Haberturk said, adding that a police cybercrimes unit searched Thodex’s Istanbul offices on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the country’s financial crimes investigation agency blocked all Thodex’s funds, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
In a written statement carried by Haberturk and other Turkish media, Ozer denied the allegations of fraud and said he had left Turkey to hold meetings with foreign investors. He said he would return to Turkey within “a few days” to cooperate with the Turkish authorities.
Ozer also maintained that access to the cryptocurrency exchange was temporarily closed down to allow Thodex to investigate an alleged cyberattack.
Earlier in the week, Thodex notified users that it would halt operations for six hours for maintenance and later extended that period to 4-5 days.
Last week, Turkey’s central bank announced that it was banning the use of cryptocurrencies for the payment for goods, saying they presented “irrevocable” risks.
The decision came as many in Turkey have turned to cryptocurrencies to shield their savings from rising inflation and the Turkish currency’s slump.


Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt

Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt
Updated 22 April 2021

Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt

Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt
  • The plan is to take advantage of the vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinovac
  • Sinovac will provide technical support and assistance to Vacsera in building and equipping manufacturing facilities to meet the required standards

CAIRO: Two agreements have been signed between the Egyptian Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (Vacsera), and the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech for biopharmaceuticals, to manufacture the coronavirus vaccine in Egypt.
The signing of the agreements comes as part of efforts to achieve technical cooperation in this vital field.
The plan is to take advantage of the vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinovac, a leader in research, development, production and marketing in pharmaceutical preparations, and exchange experiences to support Vacsera, a specialist in the manufacture of vaccines in Egypt.
The move is expected to contribute to limiting the spread of the virus.
Both agreements were signed by Heba Wali, Vacsera head and Sinovac Biotech vice president.
The first agreement concerns the manufacturing technology for the coronavirus vaccine, Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed said.
Under this deal, the Chinese company Sinovac gives Vacsera a limited license to use manufacturing technology and technical knowledge for the purpose of manufacturing the local final product of the COVID-19 vaccine, in Vecsera’s manufacturing sites inside Egypt — using the ready-made product of the vaccine provided by Sinovac.
This agreement also stipulates that the Chinese company will provide Vacsera with all technical information related to the vaccine and provide technical assistance.
It includes examining the manufacturing places of Vacsera, and manufacturing the local final product using the ready-made product provided by Sinovac.
This is in addition to testing the local end-product, manufacturing methods and technical processes used, as well as equipment, tools or machines, repair and maintenance of Vacsera’s manufacturing facilities.
Quality management and quality control are also part of this process.
The second agreement relates to the local manufacture of the COVID-19 vaccine, Zayed said.
It provides for the Chinese company, Sinovac, to grant a permit to Vacsera to refill, package and manufacture the local final product of the COVID-19 vaccine in Vacsera’s own facilities.
It provides for Vacsera obtaining regulatory approvals, manufacturing technology and technical knowledge for the use of the ready-to-fill product provided by Sinovac, Zayed added.
The agreement stipulates that Vacsera will equip its current facilities or construct, build and equip new facilities to serve as manufacturing facilities.
An effective quality-management system will be set up for each step of production.
It enables the local manufacturer to meet the requirements, specifications and standards of operating procedures of Sinovac.
Sinovac will provide technical support and assistance to Vacsera in building and equipping manufacturing facilities to meet the required standards.
The agreement also stipulates that Sinovac is ready, at the request of Vacsera, to provide the necessary training for Vacsera employees in manufacturing facilities in Egypt or at its own facilities in Beijing, regarding final packaging and final quality-control operations.


Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem

Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem
Updated 22 April 2021

Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem

Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem
  • Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police amid dispute over gatherings at Damascus Gate after iftar
  • Israeli police fired stun grenades and sprayed foul-smelling skunk water to disperse Palestinians, who discharged fireworks

JERUSALEM: Nightly clashes and other violent incidents between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem during Ramadan have laid bare simmering tensions in the holy city.
Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police amid a dispute over evening gatherings at Damascus Gate after iftar, the breaking of the daytime fast during the Muslim holy month.
Meanwhile, a video on social media app TikTok purporting to show a Palestinian slapping an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man on Jerusalem’s light rail train has drawn protests by Israelis and calls by some right-wing politicians for tougher police action.
The incidents, which followed the start of Ramadan on April 13, threaten to break a sustained period of relative quiet in a contested city at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians say police have tried to prevent them from holding their usual Ramadan evening gatherings outside Damascus Gate, a historic landmark on the north side of Jerusalem’s walled Old City.
Israeli police have fired stun grenades and sprayed foul-smelling skunk water to disperse the Palestinians, who in turn have discharged fireworks toward them.
“Palestinians love to relax in this area after evening prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, but the occupation (Israel) doesn’t like it. It’s a matter of sovereignty,” said Jerusalem resident Mohammad Abu Al-Homus, pointing to metal barricades thrown up by police in the area outside Damascus Gate in recent weeks.
Israel’s police have not said why they erected the barriers, and a spokesman did not immediately respond to Reuters’ repeated requests for comment.
In statements issued over the past week, the police said they had arrested several Palestinians for throwing stones and attacking officers.
There have also been some street skirmishes between Palestinian and Israeli civilians. Police arrested four people in one such fight on Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem on Wednesday night, Israeli media reported.
“Jews won’t be scared to walk around Jerusalem!” said a leaflet distributed on WhatsApp calling for Jewish protests at Damascus Gate on Thursday night.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as its capital.
Palestinians seek to make East Jerusalem, including its Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites, capital of a future state.