Iraq health minister resigns over hospital fire

Iraq health minister resigns over hospital fire
Rescuers combed Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital’s smoke-blackened building after a fire from an exploding oxygen tank. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 May 2021

Iraq health minister resigns over hospital fire

Iraq health minister resigns over hospital fire
  • Cabinet ordered dismissal of the director of Ibn Khatib hospital that had been converted to treat COVID-19 patients
  • The April 24 blaze highlighted the neglect of a healthcare system that was once one of the best in the Middle East

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s Health Minister Hassan Al-Tamimi resigned on Tuesday over a fire from an exploding oxygen tank at a Baghdad COVID-19 hospital last month that killed over 80 people, the government said in a statement.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s cabinet also ordered the dismissal of the director of the Ibn Khatib hospital and other senior hospital officials. The entire hospital had been converted to treat COVID-19 patients.
The April 24 blaze highlighted the neglect of a health care system that was once one of the best in the Middle East, but has been wrecked by conflict, international sanctions, the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and rampant state-wide corruption since then.
Tamimi had been suspended immediately after the fire. The government lifted his suspension on Tuesday but he immediately resigned.
The government has ordered hospitals across the country to review and implement better health and safety procedures.
The incident further eroded Iraqis’ trust in their health care system. During the coronavirus pandemic, that lack of trust has meant many do not seek medical help when infected with COVID-19, and have decided not to be vaccinated at state-run medical centers.


Houthi offensive on Marib weakens as rebels suffer attritions, defections

A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 30 min 1 sec ago

Houthi offensive on Marib weakens as rebels suffer attritions, defections

A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Yemeni news media say Houthis concede to more than 500 deaths among fighters during the holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 13
  • Houthis move troops from less intense battlefields to Marib to shore up depleted forces after fighters abandon their recruitment campaigns, military source says

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthi military offensive on Yemen’s central city of Marib has tapered off as the rebels have suffered heavy casualties, defections and stiff resistance from Yemen’s army and allied tribesmen, three military sources told Arab News.

Houthis have been mounting a major offensive on the city of Marib since February in a bid to seize control of the government’s last bastion in the northern half of the country, which contains rich oil reserves, gas fields and big electricity stations. 

The offensive has claimed the lives of thousands of combatants on both sides and triggered a huge displacement from contested areas in and around Marib. 

This week, Yemeni military officials say the intensity of the Houthi offensive has largely eased up for the first time since February as the rebels have dispatched fewer fighters and military equipment to the battlefields. 

“The Houthi attacks on Marib have decreased in May compared to April,” Yemeni army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Abdu Abdullah Majili told Arab News on Tuesday.

During the past four months, the Houthis have rejected local and international calls for stopping their deadly assault on Marib amid warnings that their invasion of the strategic city would aggravate the already desperate humanitarian situation in Yemen. The city hosts more than 2 million internally displaced people who have fled fighting or Houthi crackdown in their home cities and villages. 

Yemeni officials believe the Houthis in the Marib province have been weakened by heavy casualties, intensive airstrikes, attritions and local tribes’ reluctance to join the fighting. 

Col. Yahiya Al-Hatemi, director of Yemen's army’s military media, told Arab News that the growing number of deaths among Houthis in Marib has prompted many Yemenis to reject Houthi calls for fighting government troops. 

“The Houthi attacks (in Marib) have decreased. People have refused to join their ranks as a result of the massacres that took place in recent battles in Marib,” Al-Hatemi said. 

Arab coalition warplanes have long been credited for foiling Houthi attempts to advance on the ground by targeting rebels’ reinforcements and military locations, Yemeni military officials say.

The government’s news media said the Houthis have officially admitted to the deaths of more than 500 fighters during the holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 13.

Based on Houthi media reports, Al-Masdr Online, a popular Yemeni news site, said the rebels had arranged funeral processions for 522 fighters. That number includes many high-ranking military leaders who were killed in fighting with government troops or by Arab coalition airstrikes in Marib between April 13 and May 12.

A military source with contacts inside Houthi-controlled territories told Arab News the Houthis have moved troops from less intense battlefields to Marib to shore up their depleted forces after fighters abandoned their recruitment campaigns.

“Many people abandoned their weapons and returned to their houses after the Houthis lied about making victory in Marib. Those who are fighting in Marib came from other battlefields,” said the military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

At the same time, the Yemeni government and military officials have warned that the Houthis are trying to cash in on the growing resentment in Yemen toward the Israeli military operations in Gaza. They are using that conflict to recruit new fighters and raise funds for their weakened offensive in Marib.

“We warn citizens in the areas controlled by the Houthi militia against falling victim to the Houthi exploitation and misinformation which uses the Palestinian cause and the tragedy of our steadfast Palestinian people in the occupied territories for making political gains with the aim of prolonging the war in Yemen and continuing to kill Yemenis,” Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s minister of information, wrote on Twitter.

The Yemeni government has once again threatened more military operations if the rebels do not halt their offensive on Marib and continue to reject peace initiatives. 

During a meeting with French Ambassador to Yemen Jean-Marie Safa in Riyadh on Monday, the speaker of the Yemeni parliament, Sultan Al-Barkani, warned that the Yemeni government could intensify military options until the Houthis accept UN- and US-brokered peace ideas and cease their attacks on Yemeni civilians.


General strike against Israel ‘shows Palestinian unity’

A man smokes near closed shops at a market in Jerusalem's old city, during a general strike called by Palestinians (Reuters)
A man smokes near closed shops at a market in Jerusalem's old city, during a general strike called by Palestinians (Reuters)
Updated 39 min 32 sec ago

General strike against Israel ‘shows Palestinian unity’

A man smokes near closed shops at a market in Jerusalem's old city, during a general strike called by Palestinians (Reuters)
  • Haifa-based Arab Follow-up Committee arranges Tuesday protest in response to Israeli attacks on Gaza and the West Bank
  • Different Palestinian factions join the strike as laborers and professionals stay home in an attempt to paralyze the Israeli economy

AMMAN: Residents of Gaza and the West Bank held a historic general strike on Tuesday that reflected the unity of the Palestinian people.

The Haifa-based Arab Follow-up Committee arranged the protest as the call was picked up by all the Palestinian communities that have been targeted by unprecedented and unrelenting Israeli shelling over the past two weeks.

Palestinians laborers and professionals stayed home in an attempt to paralyze the Israeli economy. The Committee of East Jerusalem Merchants put out a statement calling on all shops to close as Palestinians of all walks of life adhered to the protest call.

Mohammad Baraka, head of the Higher Follow-up Committee of Arab Citizens in Israel, told Arab News that the strike idea was agreed upon in a meeting in Jaffa on Sunday.

“As soon as we announced our decision, we got calls from different Palestinian factions, led by Fatah, which wanted to join the strike call,” he said. “Others also followed and the strike encompassed all of historic Palestine.”

Officials said the strike was in response to the brutal Israeli attack on the Al-Aqsa compound, Israeli efforts to evict Palestinian families from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the “attacks against our people in Israel.”

According to Baraka, more than 1,000 Palestinian youth have been imprisoned and 200 have been charged during the conflict while only 150 Jewish people have been picked up and none have been charged.

“The deeper meaning of this strike is that anyone who wants to break the Palestinian spirit because of the weakness of the Arab world will be disappointed,” Baraka said. “Armies may lose a war but people never lose.”

Vera Baboun, former mayor of Bethlehem and member of the Palestine National Council, called the strike historic. 

“The May 18 strike is a protest of our dignity that shines the light on 73 years of violations to our people’s rights in the occupied territories and in the 1948 areas,” she said.

Khalil El-Halabim, whose son was jailed for allegedly diverting money to Hamas, told Arab News that the strike has united all Palestinians. 

“Our goals are clearly united now,” he said. “This strike has illustrated the fact that the Palestinian cause has returned to center stage on the international community’s political agenda.”

Adnan Tarabshe, a Galilee-based theater actor, told Arab News that the strike reflected Palestinian anger but had a much more significant purpose. 

“It destroyed the claims by (former fourth Israeli premier) Golda Meir that older people will die and the young will forget,” he said. “The Palestinian people are here to stay and will not forget.”

Ghassan Khatib, the former Palestinian minister of labor, said the strike was a rejection of the racist Israeli policy toward Palestinians. 

“It is a reflection of the failure of Israel in absorbing Palestinians in the 1948 areas or oppressing Jerusalemites and Palestinians in the West Bank,” he told Arab News.

Khatib blamed the US for the Israeli arrogance “that we are witnessing now.”

Salah Zuheika, a political activist in Jerusalem, compared the strike to the Land Day Protest that was held on March 30, 1976, which is an important date on the Palestinian national calendar.

Jerusalem-based Orthodox Bishop Atallah Hanna told Arab News that the strike sent a message to all Palestinians to protest against unjust Israeli policies, especially the destruction in Gaza. 

“Children and elderly, men and women are all being attacked,” he said. “This strike was a civilized and effective way to send a message to the world that we seek peace with justice.”

William Tarazi, a Gaza-based businessman, told Arab News: “The strike was a simple response. We do not need only a strike or protest. We need a holistic approach that includes political and military actions as well as protests.”

Radi Jirai, a Fatah activist who supports the one-state solution, told Arab News that the strike was another sign that the Palestinian national identity has survived despite Zionist attempts. 

“This unity of Palestinians paves the way for a new Palestinian strategy based on the unity of the people and land in Palestine,” he said. “It is the defeat of the Zionist program and stresses the need for a single democratic state to be established on the ruins of the Zionist apartheid.”

Tourism businesswoman from Jerusalem, Margo Tarazi, believed the strike showed Israel that the Palestinian people are united. 

“Israel and our leaders have seen that after 73 years, the people of Palestine are united from the sea to the river (the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea) and we will get our legitimate rights through our unity,” she told Arab News.


Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza

Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza
Updated 18 May 2021

Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza

Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza
  • El-Sisi has ordered the government to coordinate with Palestinians in Gaza

CAIRO: Egypt is allocating $500 million for reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip following Israeli airstrikes, with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi saying that specialist Egyptian firms would contribute to the rebuilding efforts.

“We will work to solve the crisis,” El-Sisi said on the sidelines of a conference in Paris. “There is hope for collective action to end the conflict.”

El-Sisi has ordered the government to coordinate with Palestinians in Gaza to find out what their needs are and fulfill them.

Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing through which travelers, students and those wishing to receive medical treatment have begun arriving.

Egypt is leading mediation efforts to reach a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians.


UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot
Updated 18 May 2021

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot
  • The move is part of the UAE's "proactive strategy to provide maximum protection for society”
  • The country of some 9 million has vaccinated around 73% of the eligible population

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates said on Tuesday it would offer a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine from China’s state-owned drug-maker Sinopharm for those who have already received two doses.
The move is part of the UAE’s “proactive strategy to provide maximum protection for society,” the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) said, with priority given to those aged above 60 or suffering a chronic disease.
The country of some 9 million has vaccinated around 73 percent of the eligible population, NCEMA said. The UAE is providing four vaccines for free but does not provide a breakdown for each one.
The UAE, a regional business and tourism hub, on Tuesday reported 1,270 new coronavirus infections to take the total to 548,681 cases with 1,637 deaths.
The World Health Organization, which last week approved Sinopharm for emergency use, has said a large Phase III trial of Sinopharm had shown that two doses, administered at an interval of 21 days, have an efficacy of 79 percent against symptomatic infection, 14 or more days after the second dose.
The UAE has started manufacturing the Chinese vaccine under a joint venture between Sinopharm and Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42.


Relentless Israeli bombing campaign keeps Gazans on tenterhooks

Relentless Israeli bombing campaign keeps Gazans on tenterhooks
Israeli soldiers work at an artillery unit as it fires near the border between Israel and the Gaza strip, on the Israeli side May 17, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 May 2021

Relentless Israeli bombing campaign keeps Gazans on tenterhooks

Relentless Israeli bombing campaign keeps Gazans on tenterhooks
  • Israeli warplanes continued to strike various areas in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, including houses, agricultural plots and border areas

GAZA CITY: Heavy Israeli airstrikes claimed more lives in Gaza on Tuesday as tensions flared during Palestinian “day of anger” protests in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, Israel’s intense bombing campaign has killed 213 Palestinians, including 61 children, 36 women and 16 elderly.

Israeli munitions have wounded more than 1,400 people in Gaza during recent clashes with Hamas.

“I fear the night more than any other time, even if it is calm, I feel terrified as soon as the night starts,” said Hadyya Al-Sirsawi, a Gaza resident.

“The sounds of the bombing at night are very frightening. There is a continuous bombing, and it does not stop for a long time. My body shivers with the sound of everything, even if it is not bombing.” Al-Sirsawi, 32, a mother of three, Arab News.

In the night raids, 42 Palestinians died on Al-Wehda Street on Sunday.

Al-Sirsawi is afraid that she and her family will join the dead under the rubble, and that the Ministry of Health will list them as another statistic. “The ministry does not even mention names, we will be a number like others.”

She added: “I try hard every night to put my children to bed so that they sleep early, missing the frightening sounds of the constant nightly bombardment. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes they do not sleep, and sometimes they wake up to the sounds of bombing.”

Israeli warplanes continued to strike various areas in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, including houses, agricultural plots and border areas.

The government media office in Gaza said that the damage to the strip has so far amounted to $243 million.

War is especially galling for children, even after its conclusion. “I try to keep my children busy all the time so that they are not psychologically affected by the bombing going on around them,” said Rawya Humaid, 38, a mother of two.

“During the daytime, we can withstand the sounds of the bombing, but the silence of the night makes the sounds more terrifying for me and my children,” Humaid told Arab News, adding: “I can’t sleep at night, I stay awake. In the early hours of the morning, I fell asleep for a few hours.”

During the night, Humaid keeps herself busy by watching the news, checking her Instagram account on her mobile, or chatting with her friends and relatives over WhatsApp.

Despite Arab and international efforts to end the war and return to the ceasefire agreement, Gazans do not expect a conclusion soon.

Humaid said: “I hear about the news when talking about the calm, but what we are witnessing, hearing and living is horror. There is no calm yet on the ground, which is the most important.

“There will be a ceasefire at any time. This will not last forever, but the pain, sadness and destruction will remain in the Gaza Strip. We will need years to restore our health and our psyche.”