Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave

Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave
With Zabulon Simintov’s departure, Judaism will come to an end in Afghanistan. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 April 2021

Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave

Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave
  • Last known Afghan Jew who defied the Taliban says he has lost hope for peace

KABUL: Zabulon Simintov is having a Passover meal in a solitary celebration of the Jewish holiday — the last one he is likely to observe in Afghanistan.

Now in his late 50s, Simintov has lived in Kabul through some of the capital’s darkest eras, witnessing a civil war, Soviet and US invasions, Taliban rule and the looming end to America’s decades-long engagement in the country, which he fears will plunge Afghanistan into chaos again.

After losing hope in the peace process, Simintov — the last known Afghan Jew remaining in the country — is preparing to leave.

“I will watch on TV in Israel to find out what will happen in Afghanistan,” he told Arab News.

“I have had enough and plan to leave in the next few months,” he said after reading passages from Jewish scripture at his home in a dilapidated compound that also houses Kabul’s last synagogue.

The Kabul synagogue, established in 1966, has been the only synagogue in Afghanistan for the past two decades, after all Jews have left Herat, the western Afghan city that once hosted four Jewish places of worship.

Although little is known about the origins of Judaism in Afghanistan, it is believed that Jews came to the region about 2,000 years ago.

Until the mid-20th century, hundreds of Jewish families lived peacefully in the Muslim-majority country.

Simintov, a carpet and jewelry merchant, who twice served in the Afghan army, said the best period for Jews in Afghanistan was during the country’s monarchical era, which ended in 1973.

But the gradual departure of Jews began earlier, in the late 1940s, after the creation of Israel. Many left in the 1980s following the Soviet invasion, while others fled during the subsequent civil war under the mujahideen. The remaining ones later escaped Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001.

Simintov spends most of his time in the synagogue compound.

“I managed to protect the synagogue of Kabul like a lion of Jews here, stood against the mujahideen and the Taliban,” he proudly said, adding that now he rarely steps out, fearing increasing crime and bomb attacks in Kabul.

Despite his hostility toward the Taliban, he admitted the city was safer under their administration.

With Simintov’s departure, the synagogue will close, and Judaism will come to an end in Afghanistan.

Although he has relatives in New York and photographs at his home show him with US officials visiting Kabul, Simintov is highly critical of American policies in Afghanistan, which he believes seek to bring down President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

“The US makes a mess of the place wherever it goes — Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan are good examples. It is hypocrital, pursues double policies,” he said.

“America is lying and will not leave soon.”  

“This country has no future and will become worse than Syria,” Simintov added. “There are groups and leaders within Afghanistan and the region who are seeking to benefit from its instability.”


Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise

Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise
Updated 16 May 2021

Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise

Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise
  • All primary, secondary and junior colleges will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday

SINGAPORE: Singapore will shut most schools from Wednesday after the city-state reported the highest number of local COVID-19 infections in months, including several that were unlinked, according to authorities on Sunday.
All primary, secondary and junior colleges will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the school term on May 28.
“Some of these (virus) mutations are much more virulent, and they seem to attack the younger children,” said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.
On Sunday, Singapore confirmed 38 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, the highest daily number since mid-September, of which 18 are currently unlinked.
Singapore has reported more than 61,000 virus cases, with the bulk linked to outbreaks last year in foreign worker dormitories, and 31 deaths. Sunday’s new cases were the highest number of local infections outside of the dormitories in a year.
“The sharp rise in the number of community cases today requires us to significantly reduce our movements and interactions in the coming days,” Chan added.
The Asian trade and financial hub of 5.7 million people had until recently been reporting almost zero or single-digit daily infections locally for months.
Though Singapore’s daily cases are still only a fraction of the numbers being reported among its Southeast Asian neighbors, infections have been increasing in recent weeks. From Sunday, the government implemented its strictest curbs on gatherings and public activities since a lockdown last year.
Over a fifth of the country’s population has completed the two-dose vaccination regimen with vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Authorities will invite people under 45 years of age to receive shots from the second half of May.
The speed of Singapore’s inoculation program is being limited by the pace of vaccine supply arrivals. Experts are studying whether to give one dose of the vaccine and extend the interval between shots, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
The government is also working on plans to vaccinate children below 16 years once regulatory approval is granted.


Pro-Palestinian protests held throughout Italy

Pro-Palestinian protests held throughout Italy
Updated 16 May 2021

Pro-Palestinian protests held throughout Italy

Pro-Palestinian protests held throughout Italy
  • Dockworkers refuse to load shipment of weapons headed for Israel
  • Imam tells Arab News: ‘Israeli army committing crimes against humanity against a people whose only fault is asking for freedom, justice’

ROME: Thousands of people gathered over the weekend in squares in Italy’s main cities and elsewhere in the country to express solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Thousands gathered in Piazza dell’Esquilino, a huge square in Rome, waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans of support.

“We want to send a message to the world about the crimes committed by the Israeli occupation authorities against the Palestinian people, and the policy of racial discrimination, and expansion at the expense of the property and rights of the Palestinian people,” Youssef Salman, a Palestinian community leader in Rome, told Arab News.

Meanwhile, at the port in the city of Livorno, dockworkers belonging to an independent trade union organization refused to load weapons on a cargo ship after discovering that they were headed for Israel.

“Once we knew that containers with weapons and explosives headed for the Israeli port of Ashdod were loaded on the … ship, we decided not to carry on with our work,” said a spokesman for the Unione Sindacale di Base.

“We have no intention to facilitate the transportation of weapons and explosives that will be used to kill the Palestinian people, who are suffering so much and mourn hundreds of innocent civilian victims, including many children.”

Demonstrators also gathered in the city of Vicenza near Venice. “We want people to understand the situation in our land,” Rami Ayoub, a member of the local Palestinian community, told Arab News.

People also demonstrated at the Piazza San Lorenzo in the city of Florence. (Supplied)

He said in Vicenza the Palestinian community is small — about 40 people — “but here there are people of many nationalities, and many Italians, in solidarity with us. We’re so grateful for this.”

He added: “Israel says we’re terrorists, but we’re only defending our land, our homes, our rights. We want to make people understand the difference between Israelis and Jews: It’s the state of Israel that occupies us — it’s not a question of religion but of politics.”

People also demonstrated at the Piazza San Lorenzo in the city of Florence. “The Israeli army is committing crimes against humanity in Palestine, against a people whose only fault is asking for freedom and justice,” Izzedin Elzir, the imam of Florence, told Arab News. “We’re all here to say clearly that we’re on their side, that we’re with them.”

In his speech to the crowd, flying a huge Palestinian flag that was then spread over the steps of the 14th-century basilica, Elzir called for the “support of the politicians for the Palestinian people.”

Thousands marched in the center of the city of Turin. Arabic music was played from speakers and the slogan “Free free Palestine” was chanted.

The island of Lipari, which has no more than 8,000 inhabitants, also hosted a demonstration in the square facing its port.

“As in other cities of Italy, we too wanted to express our indignation at the ethnic cleansing taking place in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank, and the bombing of Gaza,” Paolo Arena, president of local NGO Magazzino di Mutuo Soccorso, told Arab News.

“Once again, we find ourselves reading disconcerting news about Israel’s heinous attacks against the entire population of Gaza,” he added.

“We join all those who condemn without hesitation this new violence, and the death of defenseless and innocent civilians.”


Pope Francis denounces violence between Israel, Hamas

Pope Francis denounces violence between Israel, Hamas
Updated 16 May 2021

Pope Francis denounces violence between Israel, Hamas

Pope Francis denounces violence between Israel, Hamas
  • Pope Francis prays for peace, calm and international help to open a path of dialogue

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has denounced the “unacceptable” spiral of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, saying the deaths in particular of children was a “sign that they don’t want to build the future but want to destroy it.”
Francis prayed for peace, calm and international help to open a path of dialogue during his Sunday blessing, delivered from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
The pope said: “I ask myself: this hatred and vendetta, what will it bring? Do we truly think that we can build peace by destroying the other?”
In unusually pointed comments, Francis added: “In the name of God, who created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity and are called to live as brothers, I appeal for calm” and an end to the violence.
Israeli airstrikes have been pounding Gaza City for days as heavy fighting has broken out between Israel and the territory’s militant Hamas rulers. The Gaza Health Ministry said 10 women and eight children were among the 26 people killed in Sunday’s airstrikes, with another 50 people wounded in the attack.


Afghan cease-fire ends amid calls for fresh peace talks

Afghan cease-fire ends amid calls for fresh peace talks
Updated 16 May 2021

Afghan cease-fire ends amid calls for fresh peace talks

Afghan cease-fire ends amid calls for fresh peace talks
  • Even as the Taliban and government signed on to the cease-fire, violence continues unabated in Afghanistan

KABUL: A three-day cease-fire marked by violent attacks – some claimed by the Daesh group – ended Sunday in Afghanistan amid calls for renewed peace talks between the government and Taliban.
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the negotiating teams of the government and the Islamic Emirate, as the Taliban refer to their ousted regime, met briefly Saturday in the Middle Eastern State of Qatar. They renewed their commitment to finding a peaceful end to the war and called for an early start to talks that have been stalled, he said.
The US has been pressing for accelerated talks as it withdraws the last of its 2,500-3,500 soldiers and NATO its remaining 7,000 allied forces.
Even as the Taliban and government signed on to the cease-fire, which was declared to mark the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, violence continued unabated in Afghanistan. A bombing Friday in a mosque north of the capital killed 12 worshippers, including the prayer leader. Another 15 people were wounded. The Taliban denied involvement and blamed the government intelligence agency. No one claimed responsibility for the attack.
Daesh, however, claimed it blew up several electrical grid stations over the weekend. That left the capital Kabul in the dark for much of the three-day holiday that followed the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
In posts on its affiliated websites, Daesh claimed additional attacks over the last two weeks that destroyed 13 electrical grid stations in several provinces. The stations bring imported power from the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
The attacks have left nine provinces including Kabul with disrupted power supplies, said Sanger Niazai, a government spokesman. There was also concern that local warlords, demanding protection money from the government to safeguard stations in areas they control, may have been behind some of the destruction.
At least one local warlord was arrested last year after demanding protection money.
The seemingly unstoppable violence in Afghanistan has residents and regional countries fearful the final withdrawal of US and NATO soldiers could lead to further chaos. Washington said it wants its last soldier out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11 at the latest, but the withdrawal is progressing quickly and a Western official familiar with the exit said it is likely to be completed by early July. He spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the withdrawal are not being made public.
On Saturday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed concern about the rapid withdrawal of US and NATO forces in a phone call with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Wang called the withdrawal hasty and warmed it would “severely” impact the Afghan peace process and negatively affect regional stability, He called on the United Nations to play a greater role.


India records more than 4,000 daily COVID-19 deaths

India records more than 4,000 daily COVID-19 deaths
Updated 16 May 2021

India records more than 4,000 daily COVID-19 deaths

India records more than 4,000 daily COVID-19 deaths
  • India’s massive second wave of infections began in February, putting hospitals and medical workers under pressure

BENGALURU: India reported a smaller rise in daily COVID-19 cases for the third straight day on Sunday, but the number of deaths in 24 hours was higher than 4,000, taking the country’s death toll to 270,000.
Deaths grew by 4,077, while infections rose by 311,170 – the smallest rise in daily cases in over three weeks, health ministry data showed on Sunday. Total infections have risen by over 2 million this week and deaths by nearly 28,000.
India’s massive second wave of infections began in February, putting hospitals and medical workers under pressure. Cases have fallen steadily in states hit by an initial surge of infections, such as the richest state of Maharastra and the northern state of Delhi, after they imposed stringent lockdowns.
Federal health officials said on Saturday that the overall rate of positive cases per tests had dipped to 19.8 percent this week from 21.9 percent last week, sparking hopes that daily infections have begun to stabilize.
But surges have been seen in states such as Tamil Nadu in the south and rural areas. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday called on officials to strengthen health care resources in rural areas and step up surveillance as the virus spreads rapidly in those areas after ravaging the cities.
Bodies of COVID-19 victims have been found dumped in some Indian rivers, a state government letter seen by Reuters said, in the first official acknowledgement of the alarming practice.
The world’s largest vaccine-producing nation has fully vaccinated just over 40.4 million, or only 2.9 percent, of its 1.35 billion population as of Sunday, according to data from the government’s Co-WIN portal.
India will have 516 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by July, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Saturday.
The South Asian nation’s tally of infections stands at 24.68 million.