Kuwait extends curfew, Qatar suspends in-person learning

Kuwait extends curfew, Qatar suspends in-person learning
Kuwaiti policemen set up a check point on King Faisal road to control drivers during a curfew imposed by the authorities in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, in Kuwait City, on April 1, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 01 April 2021

Kuwait extends curfew, Qatar suspends in-person learning

Kuwait extends curfew, Qatar suspends in-person learning
  • The cabinet said deliveries from restaurants, cafes and food stores would be permitted during Ramadan
  • Qatar ordered the suspension of in-person learning at public and private universities and schools as of April 4

DUBAI: Kuwait said on Thursday it would extend a month-long partial curfew that had been due to end next week until April 22 as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The cabinet said in a statement on Twitter that the curfew would be from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. as of April 8.
The Gulf Arab state recorded 1,282 new infections on Thursday. It had seen daily cases fall below 300 in December from close to 1,100 last May.
The cabinet said deliveries from restaurants, cafes and food stores would be permitted during the fasting month of Ramadan, which begins in mid-April this year, between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m.
The Ramadan fast is a time when Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink during daylight hours.
Other Gulf Arab states have also seen a rise in coronavirus cases. Oman, where daily cases recently climbed above 1,000, had imposed a partial curfew on March 28.
On Thursday, Qatar ordered the suspension of in-person learning at public and private universities and schools as of April 4, state news agency QNA said.
Qatar on Thursday registered 840 new infections compared with a daily rate below 200 in December.


Egypt continues to push for political solution in Libya

Egypt continues to push for political solution in Libya
Updated 16 April 2021

Egypt continues to push for political solution in Libya

Egypt continues to push for political solution in Libya
  • Egypt’s foreign affairs minister Sameh Shoukry reiterates support for UN special envoy’s efforts

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry reiterated his country’s support in reaching a comprehensive political settlement to the Libyan crisis in a meeting with UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Libya Jan Kubis.

Shoukry said such a settlement should preserve the unity of Libya, ensure the exit of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from it, and preserve the capabilities of its people and its national institutions.

Egypt’s foreign minister stressed the importance of the UN-sponsored Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which seeks to pave the way for legislative and presidential elections in Libya scheduled for December.

Shoukry also reaffirmed his country’s support for the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission, which includes five representatives from each of the rival sides in the conflict. He is optimistic the commission can unify security and military institutions within Libya.

Ahmed Hafez, a spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Shoukry is also backing the continuous efforts made by Kubis in his mission to reach a political solution that would serve the Libyan people and achieve their aspirations for a stable and prosperous nation.

The UN envoy briefed Shoukry on the results of his recent contacts with the parties involved in the Libyan crisis. The envoy expressed his appreciation for Egypt's efforts aimed at supporting its national neighbors and his aspiration for continued coordination with Cairo.


US official fires warning shot at Lebanese reform blockers

US official fires warning shot at Lebanese reform blockers
Updated 16 April 2021

US official fires warning shot at Lebanese reform blockers

US official fires warning shot at Lebanese reform blockers
  • David Hale: “Those who facilitate progress can be assured of our strong support.”

BEIRUT: The US undersecretary of state for political affairs, David Hale, has issued a warning against “those who continue to obstruct progress on the reform agenda.”

He said that they “jeopardize their relationship with the US and our partners and open themselves up to punitive actions,” adding: “Those who facilitate progress can be assured of our strong support.”

Hale’s statement came after his meeting on Thursday with Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

The political disagreements resulted in the failure of the designated prime minister, Saad Hariri, to form a rescue government of non-partisan specialists to implement reforms demanded by the international community.

President Aoun’s team and his supporters object to the government lineup presented by Hariri last December. Aoun and his political team, represented by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), are demanding that they have the power to name Christian ministers in the government and to have the blocking vote. Hezbollah, which supports a techno-political government, champions some of these demands.

The US administration had previously imposed sanctions on FPM leader Gebran Bassil on charges related to corruption.

Hale stressed that he came to Lebanon “at the request of Secretary Blinken to underscore the Biden administration’s continued commitment to the Lebanese people and our shared desire for stability and prosperity in Lebanon.”

Hale reiterated his condemnation of the performance of the ruling authority.

“The Lebanese people are clearly suffering.  They are suffering because Lebanese leaders have failed to meet their responsibility to put the country’s interests first and to address the mounting socio-economic problems,” he said.

Hale referred to his two previous visits to Lebanon, which were in December 2019 and August 2020. He said: “I heard then an unmistakable call for change from Lebanese from all backgrounds. These demands are universal: For transparency, accountability, and an end to the endemic corruption and mismanagement that have caused such hardship.

“If these demands had been met, Lebanon would be on the road to fulfilling its tremendous potential. Yet today, there has been very little progress. But it’s not too late.”

Hale renewed his call on Lebanon’s leaders “to show sufficient flexibility to form a government that is willing and capable of reversing the collapse underway.”

He said: “The time to build a government, not block it, is now. The time to build a government is now. The time for comprehensive reform is now. And America and the international community are ready to help.  But we cannot help, as I said yesterday, without a Lebanese partner.”

Hale specifically criticized Hezbollah: “Hezbollah’s accumulation of dangerous weapons, smuggling, and other illicit and corrupt activities undermine legitimate state institutions.”

He added: “They rob the Lebanese of the ability to build a peaceful and prosperous country. And it is Iran that is fueling and financing this challenge to the state and this distortion of Lebanese political life.

“This brings me to America’s renewed negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. A mutual return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal is in our interest and in the interest of regional stability, but it would only be the beginning of our work. As we address the other elements of Iran’s destabilizing behavior, America will not abandon our interests and our friends here in Lebanon.”

Hale, who is described in Lebanon as the godfather of the framework agreement for negotiations on demarcating Lebanon’s southern borders with Israel, stressed that “America stands ready to facilitate negotiations on the maritime boundary between Lebanon and Israel on the basis on which we initiated these discussions.”

Hale’s insistence on facilitating negotiations with Israel “on the basis on which we initiated” came as a response to Lebanon’s demand during the 2020 Lebanese-Israeli technical negotiations to amend the area it expects to reclaim due to a calculating error. This amendment will include 2,290 sq. km instead of an area of ​​860 sq. km. This expansion depended on an effort by the Lebanese Army in 2019 to demarcate the maritime borders.

Lebanon drew up a decree to amend this area to submit it to the UN.

This decree has yet to be signed by Aoun, pending the approval of the cabinet. Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab is refusing to hold a cabinet session due to its illegality.

Following Hale’s statement, Aoun stressed “the importance of continuing negotiations on demarcating the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel and fulfilling America’s role as an honest and just mediator.”

He said: “Lebanon has the right to develop its position according to its interest, in line with the international law, and in accordance with constitutional principles.”

Aoun called for “the appointment of international experts to demarcate the line and the commitment to refraining from any exploration work in the Karish field and in the adjacent waters.”

He stressed that he would not abandon “the sovereignty, rights, and interests of Lebanon” and would “make every effort to ensure that the demarcation of the borders is a subject of consensus among the Lebanese and not a subject of division, with the aim of strengthening Lebanon’s position in the negotiations.”

Hale’s meeting with Lebanese Army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun focused on “the extent to which the army was affected by the approved spending rationalization decision and its impact on the army’s performance of the great tasks entrusted to it.”

Hale’s meetings in Beirut coincided with the visit of Hariri to Moscow. The Kremlin announced on Thursday that a phone call took place between President Vladimir Putin and Hariri, who was present at the Russian Foreign Ministry. The call lasted 50 minutes.

The Kremlin’s statement said that Hariri briefed Putin on internal developments and the initial measures to form a government and overcome the economic crisis. Russia affirmed its position in support of Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.

A source among the Lebanese delegation to Moscow told Arab News that the call between Putin and Hariri was “excellent with regard to the government crisis, and it stressed that the government should be formed as soon as possible.”


Ramadan lanterns trade in Gaza: Source of strength for family of five

Ramadan lanterns trade in Gaza: Source of strength for family of five
Updated 16 April 2021

Ramadan lanterns trade in Gaza: Source of strength for family of five

Ramadan lanterns trade in Gaza: Source of strength for family of five
  • Couple dream of opening a handicrafts store bearing their name, for exports

GAZA CITY: Using simple materials like cloth, wood, and electric lighting, Ghadeer, 41, runs a Ramadan business producing lanterns in Gaza, which became the main source of income to her family.

The month of Ramadan is a good source of income for Ghadeer, who lives in Khan Younis in the south of Gaza, and for other women who manufacture lanterns, enabling them to provide for the basic needs of their families in light of their deteriorating economic reality.

Ghadeer started her small home project five years ago, and thinks that her talent for manufacturing handicrafts opened the door for her to start making Ramadan lanterns, with the help of her unemployed husband Khaled Sweidan, 44.

The manufacture of lanterns and other handicrafts related to religious and community occasions such as the Hajj and Umrah seasons, weddings and holidays, is the only source of income for the family.

“The financial return is limited and barely sufficient to meet the family’s requirements,” Ghadeer said.

“We used cardboard at the beginning, but today we use more quality raw materials, and I dream of further development in the future.”

Ghadeer has no place to show her work but she uses social media platforms to promote the products. She is proud of the admiration they receive from customers and shopkeepers, even receiving messages from the West Bank, Saudi Arabia and Jordan enquiring about purchases.

Khaled monitors the market, studies its needs and keeps pace with the customers’ requirements to make improvements to the lanterns in terms of shape, size, colors and quality of fabric used.

“Buying lanterns is not important for many in Gaza because of the poor economic conditions, and we are keen to produce quantities commensurate with the needs of the market so that (unsold stock) does not accumulate,” he said

The couple dream of opening a store bearing their name to display their creations, and long for the opportunity to export them abroad.

Local statistics indicate that the percentage of women who are the main breadwinners for their families in Gaza rose from 7 percent in 2007 to 25 percent until the first quarter of 2020.

Hanan Al-Madhoun, 36, had also been waiting for Ramadan to sell her products. Six years ago, Hanan turned a corner of her modest home in the Shati refugee camp, west of Gaza City, into a workshop, where she works about 12 hours a day to help support her husband and three children.

Since the beginning of last year, after her husband lost his job due to the coronavirus pandemic, her work has become the only source of providing for the family.

Fortunately, Hanan has friends in Egypt, a significant market for Ramadan decorations, and Gaza’s artisans follow the Egyptian market more than other Arab markets, influenced by Egyptian rituals and customs. The prices of her popular Ramadan decorations range from four shekels ($1) to 120 shekels.

“I am satisfied with a small profit margin in order to encourage those who want to buy and bring joy to their families,” she said.


Palestinian families face another difficult Ramadan as aid funding dips

More than two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s population of some 2 million people suffers from poverty or extreme poverty, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). (Shutterstock/File Photo)
More than two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s population of some 2 million people suffers from poverty or extreme poverty, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 15 April 2021

Palestinian families face another difficult Ramadan as aid funding dips

More than two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s population of some 2 million people suffers from poverty or extreme poverty, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • Local statistics show that the unemployment rate was 43 percent before the pandemic, but it has now exceeded 50 percent

GAZA CITY: For the second year running, Hassan Abu Al-Amrain has missed out on relief aid for his family during the month of Ramadan. 

There has been a significant drop in the amount of funding provided to local civil humanitarian charities due to the measures imposed to curb the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Abu Al-Amrain, 47, who lives in Gaza City said: “For the second year, the month of Ramadan has been the most difficult for us. We would usually wait for supplies of goods and food provided by charitable associations because I am unable to buy them.”

Anxiety dominates Abu Al-Amrain, who suffers from illnesses that have kept him out of work for 20 years.

“The situation is very difficult, and I do not know how I will provide my family’s needs,” he told Arab News.

More than two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s population of some 2 million people suffers from poverty or extreme poverty, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Local statistics show that the unemployment rate was 43 percent before the pandemic, but it has now exceeded 50 percent, with heads of families losing their jobs.

For needy families, the month of Ramadan is an opportunity to receive financial donations and food aid, which help them endure the hardships of life in Gaza, which has been deteriorating over the past 15 years as a result of the Israeli blockade and internal division.

“COVID-19 deprived us of the bounties of the month of Ramadan. In previous years, we did not need aid for months after the end of Ramadan,” said Abu Al-Amrain.

Abu Al-Amrain lives with his wife Hala, 35, and their four children in a small and dilapidated house in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, north of Gaza City.

“For many years, we have not tasted fresh meat except during Ramadan, with charitable assistance,” Hala said, adding: “We do not have the ability to buy it.”

In Gaza, a kilo of fresh beef is sold for 50 shekels ($14). According to UNRWA data, about 80 percent of the population depends on humanitarian aid.

Due to a weak diet with little protein and vitamins, Hala suffers from an imbalance in his white and red blood cells, which causes dizziness and a rise in body temperature.

Doctors also discovered that her son Mohammed suffers from bone erosion, while her daughter Malak suffers from weak immunity and skin diseases, caused by malnutrition, as well as dampness and poor house conditions.

Abu Al-Amrain receives assistance from the Ministry of Social Affairs, which it disburses to the poorest families in the Gaza Strip once every three months, and it is estimated at 750 shekels.

But Abu Al-Amrain complains that aid has been irregular in the last two years and is not sufficient for the minimum requirements of life.

Despite the difficult epidemiological situation in Gaza, with a sudden increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, Abu Al-Amrain and his family lack the most basic protective equipment such as masks, detergents, and sterilizers.

The government administration, headed by Hamas in Gaza, has imposed strict measures to reduce infections.

These restrictions impacted the level of services provided by charitable institutions, especially food aid and Iftar.

An official at Al-Khair Foundation, who refused to reveal his name, told Arab News: “For the second year in a row, we will not organize Iftar for the poor, orphans, and the marginalized due to the emergency measures associated with COVID-19, as well as the decline in the level of external financing associated with Ramadan activities.”

Director of the Network of NGOs in Gaza, Amjad Al-Shawa, said that international funding has dropped more than 40 percent due to donor countries focusing on internal concerns and the pandemic.

Al-Shawa told Arab News that the Social Affairs Ministry’s delay in disbursing the dues of the needy people in Gaza has exacerbated their suffering. 

“Money and funding in Gaza are retreating and the poor are increasing,” he said.


15 people hurt as train derails in northern Egypt

15 people hurt as train derails in northern Egypt
Updated 15 April 2021

15 people hurt as train derails in northern Egypt

15 people hurt as train derails in northern Egypt
  • Initial investigations found maintenance work was going on in the area, which might have contributed to the accident

CAIRO: Fifteen people were injured when a train derailed close to Minya El-Qamh station in Sharkia governorate, northern Egypt.

Khaled Mujahid, official spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said that 33 ambulances attended the scene of the accident and took the casualties to Minya El-Qamh Central Hospital. Six of the injured passengers were later discharged, he said, while the rest — who suffered minor and moderate injuries, including fractures, wounds, abrasions and bruises — continue to receive care and treatment.

Two carriages of the train, which was traveling from Cairo to Dakahlia, left the tracks on Wednesday night but did not overturn. The driver of a train traveling in the opposite direction on an adjacent track managed to stop in time to avoid a collision.

An initial inspection by an investigation team from the Egyptian Public Prosecution found maintenance work was going on in the area, which might have contributed to the accident. The injured passengers were being questioned by the investigators to help establish what happened.

The crash came less than three weeks after a collision between two trains in Sohag governorate, Upper Egypt, in which 20 people were killed and 169 wounded.