’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area
A man receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at Ibn Sina medical center in rebel-held Idlib city, Syria. (REUTERS)
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Updated 11 May 2021

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area
  • Consignment of 54,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Idlib at April’s end, the first batch for opposition-held Syrian territory
  • The challenge in Idlib goes beyond doubts about vaccines as some question whether the virus itself is a threat

IDLIB: In northwest Syria, where health care is rudimentary and those displaced by war are packed into squalid camps, the arrival of vaccines to fight COVID-19 should have been cause for relief.
Instead, a UN-backed vaccination campaign has met with suspicion and mistrust by an exhausted population, who feel betrayed by their government and abandoned by the international community after a decade of conflict that ruined their lives.
“It’s all a lie, even if the dose is for free I wouldn’t take it,” said Jassem Al-Ali, who fled his home in the south of Idlib province and now lives in Teh camp, one of many in a region controlled by opponents of the Damascus government.
Youssef Ramadan, another camp resident who lived under bombardment for years, echoed the doubts. “Will we be like sheep who trust the herder until they are slaughtered?” he asked.
A consignment of 54,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Idlib at the end of April, the first batch for opposition-held Syrian territory, delivered through the global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX. Inoculations started on May 1.
“There is a large amount of hesitancy and what made it worse is everything in the media continuously about AstraZeneca and blood clots,” Yasser Naguib, a doctor who heads a local vaccine team working in opposition-held areas, told Reuters.
Similar concerns about the coronavirus vaccine have slowed the rollout in Europe and elsewhere amid worries about rare cases of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca shot.
Most governments have said benefits far outweigh the risks, although some have restricted it to certain age groups. But the challenge in Idlib goes beyond doubts about vaccines. Some question whether the virus itself is a threat.
“If there really was coronavirus in Idlib you would hear about tens of thousands of people getting it,” said 25-year-old Somar Youssef, who fled his home in Idlib’s rural Maara region.
Naguib said it was challenging to convince people fasting during Ramadan to take a shot when they can’t take oral medication for any side effects, such as a fever. Eid Al-Fitr, marking the end of the Muslim month, starts this week.
“We are optimistic that after Eid it will be better,” he said, adding that a 55-strong team was working to raise awareness about virus risks and vaccine benefits.
At the same time as doses from COVAX landed in Idlib, 200,000 shots arrived in Damascus, part of the World Health Organization campaign to inoculate about 20 percent of Syria’s population, or 5 million people across the nation, this year.
Officials have not given any indication about take up in government-held areas, where Damascus also aims to use vaccines from Russia, the government’s military ally, and China.
In Idlib, Naguib said 6,070 people out of around 40,000 health care and humanitarian workers on a priority list had been vaccinated by May 9. But even some health care workers are wary.
A Reuters witness saw just seven out of 30 medical workers receiving vaccines on the first day of a campaign at one Idlib medical center. Initially, only three had volunteered.
“As a director of the kidney dialysis unit, I was the first one to get the vaccine and I wanted to encourage the rest, who were scared because of all the rumors about it,” said Taher Abdelbaki, a doctor at another clinic, the Ibn Sina medical center.
By the end of 2021, two more COVAX vaccine batches are expected to arrive in Idlib to inoculate about 850,000 people in a region of about 3.5 million people, a target that leaves the region’s vaccination teams with much work to do.
“We will not be their lab rats here in the north,” said Abdelsalam Youssef, a community leader in Teh camp.


Sudan says it is open to conditional interim deal on Ethiopia dam

Sudan says it is open to conditional interim deal on Ethiopia dam
Updated 8 min 33 sec ago

Sudan says it is open to conditional interim deal on Ethiopia dam

Sudan says it is open to conditional interim deal on Ethiopia dam
  • Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
  • Sudan and Egypt agreed last week to coordinate efforts to push Ethiopia to negotiate "seriously"

KHARTOUM: Sudan is open to a partial interim agreement on Ethiopia’s multi-billion-dollar dam on the Blue Nile, with specific conditions, Irrigation Minister Yasir Abbas said on Monday.
While Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Egypt fears it will imperil its water supply and Sudan is concerned about the impact on its own water flows.
Sudan and Egypt agreed last week to coordinate efforts to push Ethiopia to negotiate “seriously” on an agreement on filling and operating the GERD.
Cairo and Khartoum had been aligned on the need for any agreement to be comprehensive, but Abbas’s comments mark a potential shift in Sudan’s position.
” conditions include the signing-off of everything that has already been agreed on in negotiations, ... provisions to ensure that the talks continue even after the filling scheduled for July, and the negotiations adhering to a definite timetable,” Abbas told a news conference, citing a time crunch.
Ethiopia has said it will begin a second filling of the reservoir behind the dam during the rainy season this summer.
Talks overseen by the African Union, aimed at reaching a binding agreement, have repeatedly stalled.


Bodies of 25 migrants recovered off Yemen after boat capsized

Bodies of 25 migrants recovered off Yemen after boat capsized
Updated 27 sec ago

Bodies of 25 migrants recovered off Yemen after boat capsized

Bodies of 25 migrants recovered off Yemen after boat capsized
  • Fishermen said the bodies were floating in the waters of Ras Al-Ara, an area so rife with human trafficking that local people call it the ‘Gate of Hell’
  • In recent months, dozens of migrants have died in the Bab Al-Mandab strait, a major route for international trade but also for human trafficking

HODEIDAH, Yemen: The bodies of 25 migrants were recovered off Yemen on Monday after the boat that was carrying them capsized with up to 200 people on board, a provincial official told AFP.

Fishermen who found the bodies told AFP that they were floating in the waters of Ras Al-Ara in the southern province of Lahij, an area so rife with human trafficking that local people call it the “Gate of Hell.”

“The boat overturned two days ago and was carrying between 160 and 200 people,” said Jalil Ahmed Ali from the Lahij provincial authority, citing information given by Yemeni smugglers. The fate of the other people on board was unclear.

The UN’s International Organization for Migration confirmed to AFP that a boat sank in the area but said it was still trying to establish the details of the incident.

The fishermen said the victims, found in the Bab Al-Mandab strait that separates Djibouti from Yemen, appeared to be of African origin.

“We found 25 bodies of Africans who drowned when a boat carrying dozens of them sank off the Yemeni shores,” said one of the fishermen.

“We saw the bodies floating in the water 10 miles from the shores of Ras Al-Ara,” added another.

Migrants often find themselves stranded in Yemen with the beaches of Ras Al-Ara being among the areas most targeted by smugglers.

In recent months, dozens of migrants have died in the Bab Al-Mandab strait, a major route for international trade but also for human trafficking.

In April, at least 42 migrants died off Djibouti after the capsize of their boat which had left from Yemen, according to an IOM report. They were likely among those who try to return home after finding themselves stranded or detained.

The IOM reported this month that 5,100 immigrants arrived in Yemen so far this year, while 35,000 traveled in 2020 and 127,000 in 2019 before the outbreak of the coronavirus which suppressed demand for labor in the Gulf.

The UN agency often sends migrants back to their home countries from Yemen. But it said in April that more than 32,000 migrants, mostly from Ethiopia, were still stranded in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.


Egypt upholds death penalty for 12 Muslim Brotherhood members

Egypt upholds death penalty for 12 Muslim Brotherhood members
Updated 18 min 24 sec ago

Egypt upholds death penalty for 12 Muslim Brotherhood members

Egypt upholds death penalty for 12 Muslim Brotherhood members

CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Monday upheld death sentences for 12 Muslim Brotherhood members, including two senior leaders of the outlawed Islamist movement, judicial sources said.
The court of cassation also reduced sentences for 31 others to life in prison, the sources told AFP, adding that the rulings were final and cannot be appealed.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood held power briefly for a year before their military ouster in 2013.


Caution on Iran nuclear deal as G7 leaders vow to stop bomb

Caution on Iran nuclear deal as G7 leaders vow to stop bomb
Updated 14 June 2021

Caution on Iran nuclear deal as G7 leaders vow to stop bomb

Caution on Iran nuclear deal as G7 leaders vow to stop bomb
  • EU coordinators suggested that differences over the 2015 accord limiting Iran's nuclear activities had narrowed further
  • Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister said a deal was unlikely to emerge in the coming week

VIENNA: Diplomats from outside the European Union cautioned Sunday that negotiations with Iran to salvage a landmark nuclear deal still need more time.
Leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations also reaffirmed a commitment to stop the Islamic republic from building nuclear weapons.
Iranian envoys held another round of negotiations with international delegations in Vienna a day after EU coordinators suggested that differences over the 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear activities had narrowed further. But Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told Iranian state media he thought a deal was unlikely to emerge in the coming week. A diplomat from Russia also said more time was needed to work out details.
The Vienna meetings are aimed at rebuilding a nuclear containment agreement between Iran and major world powers that the Trump administration withdrew the United States from in 2018.
US President Joe Biden and other G-7 leaders expressed support for the Vienna process after a three-day summit in southwest England that ended Sunday. The G-7 nations are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“We are committed to ensuring that Iran will never develop a nuclear weapon,” the leaders said in a joint statement.
“A restored and fully-implemented (nuclear deal) could also pave the way to further address regional and security concerns,” the statement said.
A resolution would see Iran return to commitments made in 2015, aimed at making the development of a nuclear weapon impossible, in exchange for lighter US sanctions.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Iran had been “galloping forward” with its nuclear ambitions and violating the terms of the accord since the United States pulled out of the deal.
“I think puts some urgency in seeing if we can put the nuclear problem back in the box,” Blinken said.
Sunday’s bilateral meetings followed joint negotiations held Saturday involving senior diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain. The United States was not directly involved.
An Iranian pro-opposition group held a small protest outside the famed Vienna Opera House, near the downtown hotel where the talks are taking place. Organizers said local police in Austria’s capital instructed them not to protest outside the hotel. The event ended peacefully.


Israel’s new foreign minister Yair Lapid vows to end ‘hostile’ relations abroad

Israel’s new foreign minister Yair Lapid vows to end ‘hostile’ relations abroad
Updated 14 June 2021

Israel’s new foreign minister Yair Lapid vows to end ‘hostile’ relations abroad

Israel’s new foreign minister Yair Lapid vows to end ‘hostile’ relations abroad
  • ‘Our relationship with too many governments has been neglected and become hostile’
  • ‘Shouting that everyone is anti-Semitic isn’t a policy or a work plan, even if it sometimes feels right’

JERUSALEM: Israel’s new foreign minister Yair Lapid on Monday vowed to improve relations with US Democrats while ending “hostile” ties with Europe he accused Benjamin Netanyahu of cultivating.
The centrist broker who forged an unlikely coalition deal to unseat the hawkish former prime minister told foreign ministry staff that under Netanyahu’s 12-year-rule Israel had “abandoned the international arena.”
“Our relationship with too many governments has been neglected and become hostile,” Lapid, a 57-year-old former television presenter, said.
“Shouting that everyone is anti-Semitic isn’t a policy or a work plan, even if it sometimes feels right.”
After coming to power in 2009, Netanyahu has strained relations with former US president Barack Obama, a Democrat, before forming a tight bond with his Republican successor Donald Trump.
“The management of the relationship with the Democratic Party in the United States was careless and dangerous,” Lapid said.
“I’ve warned against it more than once, but the outgoing government took a terrible gamble, reckless and dangerous, to focus exclusively on the Republican Party and abandon Israel’s bipartisan standing.”
He added: “We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate and House and they are angry. We need to change the way we work with them.”
The new Israeli foreign minister said he had spoken with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and that both agreed to “build relations based on mutual respect and better dialogue.”
Lapid succeeds Gabi Ashkenazi, a former army chief-of-staff, who became chief diplomat in 2020 as part of a power-sharing deal between the Netanyahu camp and opposition parties.
Lapid also said he would work to improve Israel’s standing internationally as well as ties with Europeans leaders, adding that he had “exchanged messages” with French President Emmanuel Macron and spoken to the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
He also vowed that Israel “will do whatever it takes to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb” and said he was opposed to a revived nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that could see the United States rejoin the accord.
And one month after a deadly 11-day war broke out between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas militants, Lapid reaffirmed that “Israel has every right to defend itself.”