Anger in Iraq as 82 die in blast and fire at COVID-19 hospital

Anger in Iraq as 82 die in blast and fire at COVID-19 hospital
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The fire killed 82 people pre-dawn, sparking angry calls for officials to be sacked in a country with long-dilapidated health infrastructure. (AFP)
Rescuers combed the smoke-blackened building as charred debris and shattered glass littered the ground after a fire ripped through Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital. Reuters
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Rescuers combed the smoke-blackened building as charred debris and shattered glass littered the ground after a fire ripped through Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 April 2021

Anger in Iraq as 82 die in blast and fire at COVID-19 hospital

Anger in Iraq as 82 die in blast and fire at COVID-19 hospital
  • Health minister suspended amid accusations of mismanagement, negligence and corruption
  • 28 of those killed were patients who were taken off critical ventilators to escape the flames

BAGHDAD / JEDDAH: Iraq erupted in anger on Sunday after at least 82 people died and 110 were injured in a fire caused by an oxygen tank explosion at a COVID-19 hospital in Baghdad.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said there was “evidence of negligence” and suspended Health Minister Hassan Al-Tamimi pending an investigation.

The deadly inferno broke out overnight Sunday at Baghdad’s Ibn Al-Khatib hospital, blamed on poorly stored oxygen cylinders.

An official with the Iraqi Human Rights Commission said 28 of those killed were patients who were taken off critical ventilators to escape the flames.

The evacuation was slow, painful and chaotic, with patients and their relatives crammed into stairwells as they scrambled for exits.
 




The fire killed 82 people pre-dawn, sparking angry calls for officials to be sacked in a country with long-dilapidated health infrastructure. (AFP)

President Barham Saleh said the fire was “the result of years of erosion of state institutions by corruption and mismanagement.” The Iraqi Human Rights Commission denounced a “crime against patients exhausted by COVID-19 who put their lives in the hands of the Health Ministry and its institutions. Instead of being treated, they perished in flames.”
Many of the victims were on respirators and were suffocated or burned in the smoke and flames when the blaze began with an explosion caused by “a fault in the storage of oxygen cylinders,” health officials said.
Security forces on Sunday cordoned off the Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital, in the Diyala Bridge area of the Iraqi capital, and rescuers combed the smoke-blackened building as charred debris and shattered glass littered the ground outside.
 

As the flames spread, relatives scrambled to save loved ones, and some patients jumped to safety. 

“I carried my brother out to the street. Then I came back and went up to the last floor that wasn’t burning. I found a girl suffocating, about 19 years old ... she was about to die,” rescuer Ahmed Zaki said.
“I took her on my shoulders and I ran down ... Doctors jumped on to the cars. Everyone was jumping. And I kept going up from there, got people and came down again.”
The blaze spread quickly across several floors while dozens of relatives were at the bedsides of the 30 patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit, where the most severe COVID-19 cases were treated.
Bakr Qazem, son of one the victims, was at the hospital when he felt “a strong explosion.” 
He said: “We saw the fire but we were not able to save the patients.”
Another witness, Mohammed Ali, 23, a student who lost his uncle, said: “As soon as you arrived at the main entrance, it was suffocating. No one could climb upstairs. The whole hospital was gutted, all burnt down.”
One of the victims, Ali Ibrahim, 52, had been treated for coronavirus at the hospital. His family buried his body on Sunday. 
“He had spent 12 days in hospital and was due to be discharged on Saturday evening after recovering. He was just waiting for the result of the last COVID-19 test,” one of his relatives said.
An emergency Cabinet meeting called by Al-Kadhimi ordered an investigation with findings due in five days.
“Such an incident is evidence of negligence and therefore I directed that an investigation be launched immediately,” the prime minister said. 
The governor of Baghdad and another senior Health Ministry official were also suspended and referred to investigators, and the hospital’s manager and heads of security and maintenance had been detained, he said.
The fire triggered outrage on social media, with a hashtag demanding the health minister be sacked. A doctor at the hospital said that “in the whole Covid intensive care unit, there were no emergency exits or fire prevention systems.”

Witnesses and doctors told AFP many bodies had yet to be identified, the remains too charred by the intense flames.

These issues were raised in a 2017 public report on the Iraqi health sector, exhumed overnight in the wake of the fire by the country’s human rights commission.

“It’s mismanagement that killed these people,” the doctor added, who, on condition of anonymity, angrily listed the hospital’s many shortcomings.

“Managers walk around smoking in the hospital where oxygen cylinders are stored,” he said. “Even in intensive care, there are always two or three friends or relatives at a patient’s bedside.”

And, he added, “this doesn’t just happen at Ibn Al-Khatib, it’s like this in all the public hospitals.”

“When equipment breaks down, our director tells us not to report it,” said a nurse, in another hospital in Baghdad.

“He says it would give a bad image of his establishment, but in reality, we have nothing that works.”

Al-Kadhimi declared three days of national mourning, and parliament will devote its Monday session to the tragedy.

(With AFP)

 


Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
Updated 21 min 22 sec ago

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
  • Clashes erupted when Israeli police deployed heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM: A night of heavy clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and elsewhere in Jerusalem left more than 200 Palestinians wounded, medics said Saturday, as the city braced for even more violence after weeks of unrest.
Nightly protests broke out at the start of the holy month of Ramadan over police restrictions at a popular gathering place and have reignited in recent days over threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides in the decades-old conflict.
It was unclear what set off the violence at Al-Aqsa, which erupted when Israeli police in riot gear deployed in large numbers as thousands of Muslim worshippers were holding evening prayers at the sprawling hilltop esplanade.
Throughout the night large groups of protesters could be seen hurling rocks as Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades. At one point, the police entered one of the buildings in the complex, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 88 of the wounded were hospitalized. The Palestinian Health Ministry said 83 people were wounded by rubber-coated bullets, including three who were shot in the eye, two with serious head injuries and two with broken jaws.
The Israeli police said protesters hurled stones, fireworks and other objects at them, wounding six officers who required medical treatment. “We will respond with a heavy hand to all violent disturbances, riots and attacks on our forces,” it said in a statement late Friday.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the biblical temples. It has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was the epicenter of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Some 70,000 worshippers had attended the final midday Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa, the Islamic endowment that oversees the site said. Thousands protested afterwards, waving the green flags of the Islamic militant group Hamas and chanting pro-Hamas slogans.
At the beginning of Ramadan in mid-April, Israel blocked off a popular gathering spot where Palestinians traditionally socialize at the end of their daylong fast. The move set off two weeks of clashes before Israel lifted the restrictions.
But in recent days, protests have grown over Israel's threatened eviction in Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem of dozens of Palestinians embroiled in a long legal battle with Israeli settlers trying to acquire property in the neighborhood.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about both the violence and the threatened evictions, and was in contact with leaders on both sides to try and de-escalate tensions.
“It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace,” the US State Department said in a statement. “This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
The European Union also urged calm. It said the potential evictions were of “serious concern," adding that such actions are "illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground.
Neighboring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has also condemned Israel's actions, as has the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, which normalized relations with Israel last year in a US-brokered deal.
Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more unrest in the coming days.
Sunday night is “Laylat al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny,” the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshippers will gather for intense nighttime prayers at Al-Aqsa.
Sunday night is also the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city. On Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza — territories the Palestinians want for their future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital.


Unmanned aerial surveillance system targets Iraqi air base: US-led coalition

Unmanned aerial surveillance system targets Iraqi air base: US-led coalition
Updated 08 May 2021

Unmanned aerial surveillance system targets Iraqi air base: US-led coalition

Unmanned aerial surveillance system targets Iraqi air base: US-led coalition
  • The US accuses Iran-backed militia groups of launching regular rocket attacks against its troops in Iraq

BAGHDAD: An attack by an unmanned aerial surveillance system on Saturday targeted Iraq’s Ain Al-Asad air base in western Iraq which hosts US and other international forces, but it caused no injuries, a coalition spokesman said.
US Army Col. Wayne Marotto, spokesman for the US-led coalition, said on Twitter that the attack was being investigated but that an initial report suggests that the attack took place at 0220 local time and caused damage to a hangar.
The United States accuses Iran-backed militia groups of launching regular rocket attacks against its troops in Iraq. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday’s attack.


Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
Updated 08 May 2021

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
  • Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule

DUBAI: The Philippines and Egypt were the latest inclusion in Oman’s list where travelers from the said countries are banned from entering the Sultanate.

The decision was issued by the Supreme Committee, which takes lead in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and took effect on Friday, May 7.

Travelers from Egypt and the Philippines, and those who transited in any of the said countries during the 14 days, are particularly affected by the travel restriction a report from Times of Oman said.

Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule but are subject to the procedures adopted upon entering the Sultanate, the report added.

Oman earlier added India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the travel ban list, joining Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom where their residents have been barred from entering since February 24.


UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 08 May 2021

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
  • The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began

DUBAI: UAE health authorities reported 1,766 new coronavirus cases after conducting 211,462 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as well three deaths fatalities from the contagious disease.

The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began, with 1,607 confirmed deaths, a report from state news agency WAM said.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention reiterated its call for residents to adhere coronavirus protocols and maintain social distancing to ensure public health and safety.

Meanwhile, 141,283 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been provided during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of doses provided to residents and citizens to 11,048,547.

The rate of vaccine distribution now stands at 111.71 doses per 100 people.


US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions
Updated 08 May 2021

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions

US calls on Israelis, Palestinians to ‘deescalate’ tensions
  • US State Department: Palestinian families targeted for eviction have "lived in their home for generations"

WASHINGTON: The United States called Friday for de-escalation in annexed east Jerusalem, and warned against carrying out a threatened eviction of Palestinian families that has sent tensions soaring.
“The United States is extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem ... which have reportedly resulted in scores of injured people,” a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“There is no excuse for violence, but such bloodshed is especially disturbing now, coming as it does on the last days of Ramadan.”
He said Washington was calling on Israeli and Palestinian officials to “act decisively to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence.”
And he warned it was “critical” to avoid any steps that could worsen the situation — such as “evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
An earlier State Department statement said Washington was concerned in particular about the “potential eviction of Palestinian families in Silwan neighborhood and Sheikh Jarrah,” two areas of east Jerusalem where tensions have been running high.
It noted that some Palestinian families targeted for eviction have “lived in their home for generations.”
The comments came as more than 160 people were wounded after Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinians at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound late Friday, capping a week of violence in the Holy City and the occupied West Bank.
Earlier Friday, Israeli security forces killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the trio opened fire on a base in the occupied West Bank, police said.
The unrest came on Al-Quds Day – named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem – an annual day of pro-Palestinian rallies held by Iran, the arch-enemy of Israel.
The nation’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel “not a country, but a terrorist base,” and in a televised speech said that fighting the Jewish state was “everyone’s duty.”