Yemen launches first round of COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Minister of Civil Service Abdul-Nasser Al-Wali, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
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Minister of Civil Service Abdul-Nasser Al-Wali, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Yemenis gather outside a vaccination center in Al-Maala district of the southern city of Aden on April 20, 2021. (AFP)
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Yemenis gather outside a vaccination center in Al-Maala district of the southern city of Aden on April 20, 2021. (AFP)
UN vehicles are seen outside a vaccination center in Al-Maala district in Yemen’s southern city of Aden on April 20, 2021. (AFP)
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UN vehicles are seen outside a vaccination center in Al-Maala district in Yemen’s southern city of Aden on April 20, 2021. (AFP)
A health worker receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
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A health worker receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
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Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 April 2021

Yemen launches first round of COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in Aden, Yemen April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
  • The 12-day campaign was launched in the temporary capital Aden and 13 Yemeni governorates
  • The campaign aims to reach 317,363 people in 133 districts

RIYADH: Yemen launched the first round of its COVID-19 inoculation campaign on Tuesday in the temporary capital, Aden.
The campaign is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief).
Yemeni Minister of Public Health and Population Qasim Buhaibeh, Minister of Civil Service and Insurance Abdul Nasser Al-Wali, Governor of Aden Ahmed Hamed Lamlas, Yemen’s representative for UNICEF Philippe Duamelle, and director of the WHO office in Aden Noha Mahmoud all received the vaccine in a show of support, Saba News Agency reported.
Yemen received 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 31, part of a consignment from COVAX expected to total 1.9 million doses this year.
Buhaibeh said this was the first step toward reaching the ministry’s goal of administering 12 million vaccines by the end of the year, urging doctors, the elderly and those with chronic diseases to register to receive the jab.
Duamelle said frontline workers, the elderly and those with certain health problems would be prioritized.
“The launch of the campaign against the coronavirus is an important day in Yemen’s history,” he said, adding that the health minister and other ministers have taken the vaccination confirming its safety.
The 12-day campaign aims to reach 317,363 people in 133 districts across 13 Yemeni governorates under the control of the internationally recognized government.
There has been a dramatic spike in coronavirus infections in Yemen since mid-February, further straining a health system battered by the conflict.
The government’s health ministry has previously said the COVAX vaccines will be free, and distributed across the country. COVAX is co-led by the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the WHO to provide COVID vaccines to low-income countries.
Tuesday’s rollout covered only government-held parts of the country, said Ishraq Al-Seba’ei who is with the government’s emergency coronavirus committee. But she said 10,000 doses were being sent to Sanaa via the WHO.
Yemen’s emergency coronavirus committee registered 42 confirmed cases and six deaths on Tuesday. It has recorded 5,858 coronavirus infections and 1,132 deaths so far though the true figure is widely thought to be much higher as the war has restricted COVID-19 testing.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls the capital Sanaa and much of the north have provided no figures since a couple of cases last May.
Meanwhile, KSrelief said it has provided support for protection projects within Saudi Arabia’s grant for the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan 2020. 
The center cooperated with UNICEF to provide protection services by enabling children and their families to access psychosocial support and mental health services, totaling $4 million.
(With Reuters)


EU mulls ways to help defuse Israel-Palestinian fighting

EU mulls ways to help defuse Israel-Palestinian fighting
Updated 44 min 55 sec ago

EU mulls ways to help defuse Israel-Palestinian fighting

EU mulls ways to help defuse Israel-Palestinian fighting
  • EU has been united in its calls for a cease-fire and the need for a political solution to end the latest conflict
  • The biggest donor of aid to the Palestinians, the EU holds little influence over the militant group Hamas or Israel

BRUSSELS: European Union foreign ministers debated Tuesday how to use the 27-nation bloc’s political clout to help diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between the Israeli armed forces and Palestinian militants.
The EU has been united in its calls for a cease-fire and the need for a political solution to end the latest conflict — now in its second week — but the nations are divided over how best to help.
No firm decisions involving threats of sanctions or other measures are likely from the ministers’ videoconference.
At least 212 Palestinians have been killed in heavy airstrikes so far, including 61 children, and over 1,400 people wounded, Gaza’s Health Ministry said. At least 12 people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, have been killed in rocket attacks launched from Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel.
Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City, and Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel early Tuesday, the latest in the fourth war between the two sides.
The EU is the biggest donor of aid to the Palestinians but holds little influence over the militant group Hamas or the state of Israel, despite having some trade arrangements that are favorable to the Israelis.
Before the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted that he had an exchange with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on how the United States and the bloc “can jointly contribute to end violence” and to reduce tensions.
“Looking beyond, we also need longer term initiatives to break the dynamics of conflict and revive the prospect of a peaceful future for all,” wrote Borrell, who is chairing the meeting.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stressed that “Israel of course has the right to defend itself” against rocket fire from Hamas.
“With its rocket terror, Hamas has deliberately escalated a situation that was already extremely tense, with terrible consequences for Israelis and for its own civilian population in Gaza,” he said.
“The weapons must finally fall silent,” Maas said. He emphasized the role of the international diplomatic Quartet, in which the EU is represented by its new Middle East peace envoy Sven Koopmans, and said “we are in favor of further expanding his mediation efforts.”
The Quartet’s other three members are the United Nations, the US and Russia.
Maas said the EU needs to look beyond ending the current violence and at how to prevent a repeat. “The EU must play a role here, in political and humanitarian terms,” he said, adding that he would press Tuesday for better humanitarian supply lines into Gaza.
“We must use our relationships with both sides to encourage confidence-building steps that could lead to calming the situation both inside Israel and in the West Bank,” he added. “Only that way will it be possible to talk again about a lasting solution to the Middle East conflict.”


US reaches out to Arab leaders on Israel, Gaza fighting

US reaches out to Arab leaders on Israel, Gaza fighting
Updated 43 min 33 sec ago

US reaches out to Arab leaders on Israel, Gaza fighting

US reaches out to Arab leaders on Israel, Gaza fighting
  • Blinken defends US decision to block what would have been a unanimous UN Security Council statement on the fighting
  • Blinken said he had spoken to the foreign ministers of Morocco and Bahrain

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his envoy reached out to Palestinian and regional Arab leaders on Tuesday as attacks between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers raged on, maintaining what the Biden administration is calling its quiet diplomacy while still declining to press for an immediate cease-fire.
Blinken, speaking during an unrelated trip focusing on Russia and Nordic countries, also defended the US decision to block what would have been a unanimous UN Security Council statement on the fighting and its civilian toll, and the overall US approach to the worst Israeli-Palestinian fighting since 2014. President Joe Biden, speaking to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, expressed general support for a cease fire but stopped short of joining dozens of Democratic lawmakers in demanding one.
“Our goal remains to bring the current cycle of violence to an end” and then return to a process in which a lasting peace can be forged, the US diplomat said.
Blinken said he had spoken to the foreign ministers of Morocco and Bahrain, two Arab countries that recently have moved to normalize relations with Israel, while US envoy Hady Amr in Israel spoke with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The ongoing US outreach — reflecting an administration that has emphasized working with allies, and has refrained from publicly criticizing ally Israel — came as new Hamas rockets and Israeli airstrikes continued for a ninth day. At least 213 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel have died. Efforts by Egypt and others to mediate a truce have stalled.
Biden’s carefully worded statement expressing general support for a cease-fire, in a White House readout Monday of his second known call to Netanyahu in three days as the attacks pounded on, came with the administration under pressure to respond more forcefully despite its reluctance to challenge Israel’s actions in its part of the fighting. The administration also has expressed its determination to wrench the main US foreign policy focus away from Middle East hotspots and Afghanistan.
Biden’s comments on a cease-fire were open-ended and similar to previous administration statements of support in principle for a cease-fire.
Biden also “encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians,” the White House said in its readout.
An administration official said the decision to express support and not explicitly demand a cease-fire was intentional. While Biden and top aides are concerned about the mounting bloodshed and loss of innocent life, the decision not to demand an immediate halt to hostilities reflects White House determination to support Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.
Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers were meeting Tuesday to discuss how to use the 27-nation bloc’s political clout to help diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between the Israeli armed forces and Palestinian militants. The EU has been united in its calls for a cease-fire and the need for a political solution to end the latest conflict, but the nations are divided over how best to help.
Netanyahu told Israeli security officials late Monday that Israel would “continue to strike terror targets” in Gaza “as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens.”
Separately, the United States, Israel’s top ally, blocked for a third time Monday what would have been a unanimous statement by the 15-nation UN Security Council expressing “grave concern” over the intensifying Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the loss of civilian lives. The final US rejection killed the Security Council statement, at least for now.
Blinken said the US was “not standing in the way of diplomacy” and that the UN statement would not have advanced the goal of ending the violence.
“If we thought and if we think that there is something, including at the United Nations that could advance the situation, we would be for it,” Blinken said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki and national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States was focusing instead on “quiet, intensive diplomacy.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday joined dozens of Democratic lawmakers — and one Republican and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders — in calling for the cease-fire by both sides. A prominent Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, the House intelligence committee chairman, pressed the US over the weekend to get more involved.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, took the Senate floor on Monday to assail lawmakers for including Israel in their demands for a cease-fire.
“To say that both sides, both sides need to de-escalate downplays the responsibility terrorists have for initiating the conflict in the first place and suggests Israelis are not entitled to defend themselves against ongoing rocket barrages,” McConnell said.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., led 19 Republican senators releasing a resolution supporting Israel’s side of the fighting. They plan to try to introduce the legislation next week.


At least 57 migrants drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

At least 57 migrants drown in shipwreck off Tunisia
Updated 18 May 2021

At least 57 migrants drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

At least 57 migrants drown in shipwreck off Tunisia
  • As weather has improved in recent weeks, drowning incidents have occurred off Tunisian coast amid increase in trips from Tunisia and Libya towards Italy
  • Security source confirmed that 57 migrants had drowned and 33 were rescued

TUNIS: At least 57 migrants drowned in a shipwreck off Tunis as they tried to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy and 33 were rescued, humanitarian organization Tunisian Red Crescent said on Tuesday.
In recent weeks, drowning incidents have occurred off the Tunisian coast, with an increase in the frequency of trips to Europe from Tunisia and Libya toward Italy as the weather has improved.
“Thirty-three Bengalis were rescued (and) 57 others drowned in a boat carrying about 90 migrants that set off from Libya toward Europe,” Red Crescent official Mongi Slim told Reuters.
A security source confirmed that 57 migrants had drowned and 33 were rescued.
More than 60 migrants have died in recent weeks in similar incidents off the Tunisian coast.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR says fewer than 23,500 people have made it across the sea to Europe this year, with most new arrivals landing in Italy and Spain from Tunisia and Algeria.
The agency estimates that 633 people have died or gone missing in transit this year.


Macron, Egypt’s El-Sisi, Jordan king to hold talks seeking Mideast cease-fire

Macron, Egypt’s El-Sisi, Jordan king to hold talks seeking Mideast cease-fire
Updated 18 May 2021

Macron, Egypt’s El-Sisi, Jordan king to hold talks seeking Mideast cease-fire

Macron, Egypt’s El-Sisi, Jordan king to hold talks seeking Mideast cease-fire

PARIS: France’s President Emmanuel Macron, his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II will hold talks Tuesday aimed at seeking a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas, the French presidency said.
El-Sisi is currently in Paris for summits on Africa while Abdullah will join by video conference, the Elysee said.
“The trilateral meeting aims above all to work for a rapid cease-fire and prevent the conflict from extending,” the presidency said.
 


Truce calls mount as Israel-Palestinian conflict rages on, two Thai workers killed

Truce calls mount as Israel-Palestinian conflict rages on, two Thai workers killed
Updated 10 min 43 sec ago

Truce calls mount as Israel-Palestinian conflict rages on, two Thai workers killed

Truce calls mount as Israel-Palestinian conflict rages on, two Thai workers killed
  • Palestinian death toll at 213, including 61 children and 36 women, since hostilities began last week
  • Twelve people have been killed in Israel, including two children

GAZA/JERUSALEM: Israel bombarded Gaza with air strikes and Palestinian militants resumed cross-border rocket fire on Tuesday after a brief overnight lull during which the UN sent a small fuel convoy into the enclave, where it says 52,000 people are now displaced.
Israeli leaders said they were pressing on with an offensive to destroy the capabilities of the armed factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad, amid calls by the United States and other world powers for an end to the conflict.
Two Thai workers were killed and seven people were wounded in a rocket strike on an Israeli farm just over the Gaza border, police said. Gaza’s ruling Hamas Islamist group and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
Rockets were also launched at the cities of Ashdod and Beersheba, further to the north.
Gaza residents said Israel was keeping up intense air strikes. Witnesses said an Israeli tank shell hit a paint factory in the southern Gaza Strip, setting it on fire.
“The fighting will not cease until we bring total and long-term quiet,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a video statement, blaming Hamas for the worst escalation in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in years.
Hamas began firing rockets eight days ago in retaliation for what it said were Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Gaza medical officials say 213 Palestinians have been killed, including 61 children and 36 women, and more than 1,400 wounded. Israeli authorities say 12 people have been killed in Israel, including two children.
Nearly 450 buildings in the Gaza strip have been destroyed or badly damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary care health centers, the United Nations humanitarian agency said. Some 47,000 of the 52,000 displaced had fled to UN schools.
Israel said more than 3,450 rockets have been launched at it from Gaza, some falling short and others shot down by its Iron Dome air defenses. The Israeli military said it had killed at least 130 militants in the Palestinian territory.
On Tuesday, the army said a soldier was slightly injured when a shell was fired after it allowed the fuel convoy into Gaza. It says its forces have killed around 130 Hamas fighters and another 30 from Islamic Jihad.

On a visit to Iceland, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had received further information requested from Israel about its destruction of a Gaza high-rise that housed the local offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera news organizations.
Blinken gave no further details about the information he said came through intelligence channels about Saturday’s attack.
Ron Dermer, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and now adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Hamas intelligence had been situated in the building, whose occupants were warned by Israel in advance to evacuate.
Hamas were engaged in activity that would have undermined Israel’s ability to target effectively and intercept incoming rockets, Dermer told CNN.
Calling Netanyahu on Monday night, US President Joe Biden said Israel had the right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks but encouraged it to make every effort to protect civilians, the White House said.
Egypt and UN mediators also stepped up diplomatic efforts, and the UN General Assembly will meet to discuss the violence on Thursday.
Germany called for a cease-fire and offered more aid to help Palestinians before emergency European Union talks.
General strikes were held on Tuesday in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, Arab towns within Israel and in cities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with posts on social media bearing a Palestinian flag and urging solidarity “from the sea to the river.”
The Israeli bombardment of Gaza, Ramadan clashes between police and worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and a court case by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem have caused anger among Palestinians.
In the West Bank, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian who tried to attack them with a gun and improvised explosives, and an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was downed near the border with Jordan on Tuesday, Israel’s military said.

Yuval Steinitz, a cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, deplored the general strikes as “another blow to the delicate fabric of relations and cooperation between Jews and Arabs.”
Palestinian businesses in East Jerusalem were shuttered, including in the walled Old City, and in the mixed Jewish-Arab port city of Haifa in northern Israel. Protest organizer Raja Zaatar said 90 percent of businesses were shut in Arab neighborhoods.
Overall in Israel, the strike appeared to have little effect on the general pace of commerce, or on the high-tech industry. An official at a large supermarket chain in which many Arab workers are employed said its stores were operating as usual, though some deliveries were delayed.
Strike participation in Ramallah, in the West Bank, seemed high, a Reuters witness said.
“We closed our shop like everyone else in solidarity with all Palestinians against the acts that are carried out against all of us,” said Mahmoud Jabr, 50, a grocery store owner outside his shuttered shop in Ramallah.
Ra’afat Al-Saman, a business owner in East Jerusalem’s Salahaddin street, named after the Muslim conqueror who seized Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, said: “This is the least we could do for our own people.”