WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan

WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan
A man at a restaurant in Najaf, Iraq, beats a drum as Muslims have their predawn meal (sahoor) before they start their fast. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 April 2021

WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan

WHO worried COVID-19 rates could spike during Ramadan
  • In Yemen, where some 14 million doses were pledged through the Covax program that aims to ensure equitable access to COVID vaccinations

CAIRO: The World Health Organization expressed concern on Wednesday that the COVID-19 pandemic could worsen in the Middle East and North Africa during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Detected cases of COVID infection in the region rose 22 percent last week, while deaths rose 17 percent, said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the Cairo-based chief of the WHO for the eastern Mediterranean.

Mandhari said the situation in the vast region reflects a “worrying trend.” “We are especially worried that the current situation may worsen during Ramadan if people don’t follow and adhere to the proven social measures that work,” he told an online news conference.

Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, began in most Muslim countries on Tuesday. Observant Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, and traditionally gather with family and friends to break their fast.

“This year, like last year, people may feel that the spirit of Ramadan has changed because of social distancing and lockdowns,” said Mandhari. “But the actions that need to be maintained to help contain the pandemic are in line with the basic tenets of Islam: Take care of your physical health and do no harm to others.”

Dalia Samhouri, WHO’s regional head of emergency preparedness, said the international organization wanted “countries to do a risk assessment in order to prevent the dissemination of the infection.”

She suggested measures that could be taken around mosques during Ramadan, including physical distancing, ventilation, and regular disinfection. People who felt sick were advised to stay at home, along with the elderly and sufferers of chronic disease, she said.

Mandhari said all countries in the region had received vaccines, but that those with the most limited access were Yemen and Syria.

“Although progress has been made with starting vaccination around the world, there remains a shocking imbalance in the distribution of vaccines,” he said. “This is especially true in our region.”

In Yemen, where some 14 million doses were pledged through the Covax program that aims to ensure equitable access to COVID vaccinations, only 360,000 have been delivered.


US ships fire warning shots to fend off Iranian speedboats in Strait of Hormuz: Pentagon

US ships fire warning shots to fend off Iranian speedboats in Strait of Hormuz: Pentagon
Updated 18 min 11 sec ago

US ships fire warning shots to fend off Iranian speedboats in Strait of Hormuz: Pentagon

US ships fire warning shots to fend off Iranian speedboats in Strait of Hormuz: Pentagon

US ships fire warning shots to fend off Iranian speedboats in Strait of Hormuz: Pentagon


US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya

US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya
Updated 48 min 41 sec ago

US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya

US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya
  • Norland will lead US diplomatic efforts for a negotiated political solution in the North African country

WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday named Richard Norland, US ambassador to Libya, as the US special envoy for the country, the US State Department said, to lead diplomatic efforts for a negotiated political solution in the North African country.
The appointment comes as the Presidency Council, which functions as Libya’s head of state for now, was chosen through a United Nations-facilitated process that also selected a new Government of National Unity that took office in March, replacing rival administrations in east and west.


Iraqi journalist targeted in shooting undergoes brain surgery

Ahmed Hassan, a journliat who worked for Alforat TV, was shot outside his home in Diwaniya province. (Al-Forat TV)
Ahmed Hassan, a journliat who worked for Alforat TV, was shot outside his home in Diwaniya province. (Al-Forat TV)
Updated 10 May 2021

Iraqi journalist targeted in shooting undergoes brain surgery

Ahmed Hassan, a journliat who worked for Alforat TV, was shot outside his home in Diwaniya province. (Al-Forat TV)
  • The attack on Ahmed Hassan came exactly 24 hours after anti-government campaigner Ihab Al-Wazni was shot dead

BAGHDAD: A prominent Iraqi journalist, shot by gunmen Monday in southern Iraq, has undergone brain surgery and is in a critical condition, a Baghdad hospital said.

The attack on Ahmed Hassan came exactly 24 hours after anti-government campaigner Ihab al-Wazni was shot dead, also in the south, sending protest movement supporters onto the streets to demand an end to official impunity.

Hassan was shot several times by an assailant as he arrived home at night near Diwaniyah, in images captured on a surveillance camera as in a string of previous attacks.

He had to be transported to a hospital in the capital that specialises in neurological surgery.

"Ahmed Hassan has been operated on and transferred to intensive care where he will be kept under constant surveillance for a critical period of two weeks," hospital spokesman Mohammed Mouyed said.

He said that Hassan, who works for Al-Forat satellite television, underwent several procedures.

On Sunday, Wazni was shot dead in an ambush outside his home in the city of Karbala.

Around 30 activists have died in targeted killings and dozens of others have been abducted or survived attacks since October 2019.

None of these attacks have been claimed but activists have repeatedly blamed armed groups linked to Iran who wield considerable influence in Iraq.

Authorities have consistently failed to publicly identify or charge the perpetrators of these killings.

Al-Forat's owner Ammar al-Hakim, a prominent Shiite politician, Monday urged the government to "protect freedom of speech" and to "urgently" shed light on the assassinations.

After Wazni's murder, Al-Beit Al-Watani (National Bloc), a movement born out of the anti-government protests, said it would boycott parliamentary elections slated for October.


Families of Iran massacre victims urge world leaders to protect graves

Families of Iran massacre victims urge world leaders to protect graves
Updated 10 May 2021

Families of Iran massacre victims urge world leaders to protect graves

Families of Iran massacre victims urge world leaders to protect graves
  • In 1988, security forces executed tens of thousands of political prisoners
  • ‘It’s time for the UN to hold the regime’s leaders to account,’ opposition figure tells Arab News

LONDON: The families of thousands of Iranians executed and buried in mass graves have written to the UN and world leaders urging them to prevent Tehran’s ongoing destruction of their last resting place.

In 1988, Tehran executed thousands of political prisoners aligned with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), a political group that had participated in the 1979 revolution but was later targeted by the regime.

At the time, Amnesty International said the executions were “a premeditated and coordinated policy which must have been authorized at the highest level of government.”

Estimates for the exact number of people killed range from 4,500 in just one summer to as many as 30,000.

Now, more than 1,100 families of those executed have petitioned the UN and world leaders as their loved ones’ graves are now being destroyed or used as mass graves for religious minorities.

In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella opposition group incorporating the PMOI, said: “Most of us have forgotten where exactly our loved ones are buried, many of them in mass graves. Paranoid of the repercussions of international scrutiny into this horrific atrocity, the Iranian regime has embarked on erasing the traces of the evidence on the massacre by destroying the mass graves where they are buried.”

The NCRI has published a list of over 5,000 names of people it says were executed during the 1988 massacre.

It said the ongoing destruction and repurposing of the mass graves represents another abuse against a people already suffering from the loss of loved ones — many of whom were tortured before their death.

“Previously, (Tehran) destroyed or damaged the mass graves of the 1988 victims in Ahvaz, Tabriz, Mashhad, and elsewhere. These actions constitute the collective torture of thousands of survivors and families of martyrs. It is another manifest case of crime against humanity,” the NCRI said.

The letter urged Guterres, relevant UN bodies and international human rights organizations “to prevent the regime from destroying the mass graves, eliminating the evidence of their crime, and inflicting psychological torture upon thousands of families of the victims throughout Iran.”

Ali Safavi, a member of the PMOI and the NCRI’s foreign affairs committee, told Arab News: “The mass executions of tens of thousands of dissidents in the 1980s, in particular the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners … is without doubt one of the greatest crimes against humanity since World War II.” 

He lamented the international community’s “appeasement” of the regime. Whenever countries ignore Tehran’s human rights abuses, it only serves to embolden the regime, said Safavi.

“It’s time for the UN, as the highest world authority entrusted with upholding human rights, to break its silence, launch an international inquiry into this heinous crime and hold the regime’s leaders to account,” he added.


EU’s Borell says Iran nuclear talks moving to crucial stage

Josep Borrell is chairing the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna. (AFP/File Photo)
Josep Borrell is chairing the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 10 May 2021

EU’s Borell says Iran nuclear talks moving to crucial stage

Josep Borrell is chairing the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna. (AFP/File Photo)
  • “I am optimistic,” EU foreign affairs chief said

VIENNA: Negotiations in Vienna between world powers and Iran are moving into a crucial stage and the next few weeks will be critical to saving their 2015 nuclear deal, the European Union's top diplomat said on Monday.

US officials returned to Vienna last week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its limits on uranium enrichment about a year later.

“I am optimistic, there is a window of opportunity that will stay open for a couple of weeks, (until) end of the month,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who is chairing the talks, told a news conference in Brussels.

“But a lot of work is needed, time is limited and I hope that the negotiations will enter into a phase of nonstop (talks) in Vienna,” he said following a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

The crux of the 2015 agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its uranium enrichment program to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon, in return for relief from US, EU and UN sanctions.

Tehran denies having nuclear weapons ambitions.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the negotiations as tough and laborious, but added that all participants were conducting them in a constructive atmosphere.

“However, time is running out. We aim for the full restoration of the Iran nuclear deal as this is the only way to guarantee that Iran will not be able to come into possession of nuclear weapons,” Maas said in Brussels.