Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war

Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war
Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes. (AFP)
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Updated 12 May 2021

Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war

Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war
  • Israeli airstrikes have leveled two apartment towers in the Gaza Strip, where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade
  • Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Rockets streamed out of Gaza and Israel pounded the territory with airstrikes early Wednesday as the most severe outbreak of violence since the 2014 war took on many hallmarks of that devastating 50-day conflict, with no endgame in sight.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other militant groups have fired barrages of hundreds of rockets that at times have overwhelmed Israel’s missile defenses, causing air raid sirens and explosions to echo across Tel Aviv, Israel’s biggest metropolitan area, and other cities.
Israeli airstrikes have leveled two apartment towers in the Gaza Strip, where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007. Warning shots have allowed civilians to evacuate the buildings, but the material losses will be immense. Israel faced heavy criticism over the tactic during the 2014 war.
Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes, targeting police and security installations, witnesses said. A wall of dark gray smoke rose over Gaza City. The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said airstrikes destroyed the central police headquarters in Gaza City, a compound with several buildings.
The death toll in Gaza rose to 35 Palestinians, including 12 children and three women, according to the Health Ministry. Some 233 people were wounded. Five Israelis, including three women and a child, were killed by rocket fire Tuesday and early Wednesday, and dozens of people were wounded.
The Israeli military said militants have fired more 1,050 rockets since the conflict began, with 200 of them falling short and landing inside Gaza. The military said it also shot down a drone that entered Israel from Gaza. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said two infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparations for a possible ground invasion.
Samah Haboub, a mother of four in Gaza, said she was thrown across her bedroom in a “moment of horror” by an airstrike on an apartment tower next door. She and her children, aged three to 14, ran down the stairway of their apartment block along with other residents, many of them screaming and crying.
“There is almost no safe place in Gaza,” she said.
The destruction of apartment apartment towers was among several tactics used during the 2014 war that are now the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court into possible war crimes. Israel is not a member of the court and has rejected the probe.
In a brief statement, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she had noted “with great concern” the escalation of violence in the region and “the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute” that established the court.
Conricus said Israeli forces have strict rules of engagement and follow international laws on armed conflict. “We are definitely very mindful of civilian casualties in Gaza and we want to minimize them,” he said. “That’s the priority.”

 

 

 


The latest eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed police tactics during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police. A focal point was the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. The conflicts ended after regional and international powers convinced both sides to accept an informal truce.
While the violence has been widely condemned, there is no sign that either side is willing to back down. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand the offensive, saying “this will take time.”
The unrest in Jerusalem has spread across Israel itself, with an outbreak of communal violence in mixed Jewish-Arab communities, as Hamas has called for a full-scale Palestinian intifada, or uprising. The last such uprising also began with violence at the Al-Aqsa mosque, in 2000, and lasted more than five years.
The Gaza Health Ministry said the 35 dead include 12 children and 3 women, with another 233 people wounded. Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Kidra said the targeting of residential neighborhoods left people “in a state of panic.”
In the Israeli city of Lod, a 52-year-old man and his 16-year-old daughter were killed early Wednesday when a rocket had landed in the courtyard of their one-story home. Their car parked outside was wrecked and the interior of the house was filled by debris.
Lod also saw heavy clashes after thousands of mourners joined a funeral for an Arab man killed by a suspected Jewish gunman the previous night. The crowd fought with police, and set a synagogue and some 30 vehicles, including a police car, on fire, Israeli media reported. Paramedics said a 56-year-old man was seriously hurt after his car was pelted with stones.
“An intifada erupted in Lod, you have to bring in the army,” the city’s mayor, Yair Revivo, said. Authorities have declared a state of emergency and ordered the redeployment of nine paramilitary border police companies from the occupied West Bank as reinforcements.
In neighboring Ramle, ultra-nationalist Jewish demonstrators were filmed attacking cars belonging to Arabs. In the northern port town of Acre, protesters torched a Jewish-owned restaurant and hotel. Police said they arrested more than 150 people involved in “disturbances and riots” overnight in northern and central Israel.
Confrontations erupted last weekend at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism. Over four days, Israeli police fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians in the compound who hurled stones and chairs at the forces. At times, police fired stun grenades into the carpeted mosque.
On Monday evening, Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza. From there on, the escalation was rapid.
In a televised address, Hamas’ exiled leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Israel bore responsibility. “It’s the Israeli occupation that set Jerusalem on fire, and the flames reached Gaza,” he said.
Hamas has not commented on Israel’s claims that it has killed a number of senior militants. Islamic Jihad confirmed that three senior commanders were killed in a strike on their hideout in a Gaza City apartment building.
The Israeli military on Wednesday released footage of an airstrike on what it said was the house of Salih Dahman, a “high-ranking operative” in Hamas, where weapons were stored.
Earlier, the military said it struck a building where Hassan Qahwaji and Wael Issa, two senior members of Hamas’ military intelligence wing, were present. Hamas activists tweeted that the two were killed in the strike in Gaza City, along with a woman and her son.
Netanyahu said Israel had attacked hundreds of targets. The fiercest attack was a set of airstrikes that brought down an entire 12-story building. The building housed important Hamas offices, as well as a gym and some start-up businesses. Israel fired a series of warning shots before demolishing the building, allowing people to flee and there were no casualties.
Israeli aircraft heavily damaged another Gaza City building early Wednesday. The nine-story structure housed residential apartments, medical companies and a dental clinic. A drone fired five warning rockets before the bombing. Israel said the building housed Hamas intelligence offices and the group’s command responsible for planning attacks on Israeli targets in the occupied West Bank.
Fighter jets struck the building again after journalists and rescuers had gathered around. There was no immediate word on casualties. The high-rise stood 200 meters (650 feet) away from the Associated Press bureau in Gaza City, and smoke and debris reached the office.
Soon after the bombing, Hamas announced that it would resume its attacks, and fired 100 rockets at the Israeli desert town of Beersheba. Hamas said the renewed barrage was in response to the strike on the building.
Diplomats sought to intervene, with Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations working to deliver a cease-fire. All three serve as mediators between Israel and Hamas.
The UN Security Council planned to hold its second closed emergency meeting in three days Wednesday on the escalating violence, an indication of growing international concern. Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said the UN’s most powerful body did not issue a statement because of US concerns that it could escalate tensions.

 

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Deal signed to expand Russian presence in Suez Canal Economic Zone

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 5 min 42 sec ago

Deal signed to expand Russian presence in Suez Canal Economic Zone

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • he SCZone chief said that work is scheduled to begin in the Russian zone by the end of 2021

CAIRO: Yehia Zaki, head of the General Authority for the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone), announced on Thursday the success of talks with Russia to expand Moscow’s industrial zone within the SCZone.

An agreement was signed by Zaki and Russian Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade of Vasiliy Osmakov in Moscow after two days of negotiations.

Zaki said the final agreement is expected to be signed before the end of 2021 after an anticipated visit in August by a high-level Russian delegation to tour the new sites in the SCZone.

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters, Zaki said.

The first phase of the project will include an extension of 1 million square meters in East Port Said and 500,000 square meters in Ain Sokhna, he added.

The SCZone chief said that work is scheduled to begin in the Russian zone by the end of 2021 after signing the final contract.

Osmakov said the Egyptian delegation’s visit to Russia gave impetus to the project.

He said the expansion of the Russian zone will allow the entry of more Russian companies, adding that the SCZone is a window to Africa and the wider world due to its strategic location.

In September visits from Russian companies, businessmen and investors — who have expressed their desire to invest in Ain Sukhna — will take place.

The SCZone delegation held meetings in Moscow with major Russian manufacturers of vehicles, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals.


Tunisia’s Ennahda puts off party meeting amid crisis

On Saturday Ghannouchi postponed a meeting of its Choura Council, the party's highest internal authority, shortly before it was due to take place. (Reuters/File Photo)
On Saturday Ghannouchi postponed a meeting of its Choura Council, the party's highest internal authority, shortly before it was due to take place. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 21 min 36 sec ago

Tunisia’s Ennahda puts off party meeting amid crisis

On Saturday Ghannouchi postponed a meeting of its Choura Council, the party's highest internal authority, shortly before it was due to take place. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Dozens of younger party members and some leaders called on Ghannouchi to resign

TUNIS: The head of Tunisia's biggest party, Ennahda, on Saturday postponed a meeting of its highest council after senior members called for his resignation over his handling of the political crisis, party sources said.

Rached Ghannouchi, who is also parliament speaker, has played a central role in Tunisia's democratic crisis this week after President Kais Saied seized executive authority.

The moves have caused the biggest crisis in Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy.

Saied's moves, which also included freezing parliament and dismissing the prime minister, have also thrown Ennahda into turmoil, leading to recriminations within the party over its strategy and leadership.

The party has been the most consistently powerful in Tunisia since the revolution, playing a role in backing successive coalition governments and has lost support as the economy stagnated and public services declined.

On Saturday Ghannouchi postponed a meeting of its Choura Council, the party's highest internal authority, shortly before it was due to take place, three party sources said.

Dozens of younger party members and some of its leaders including Samir Dilou, a parliament member, had called on Ghannouchi to resign, the sources said.

Ghannouchi has led Ennahda for decades, including from exile in Britain before the revolution, after which he returned to a tumultuous welcome at Tunis airport. He stood for election for the first time in 2019, winning a parliament seat and becoming speaker. 


Yemen violence increases as Houthis reject truce calls

A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib. (REUTERS file photo)
A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 31 July 2021

Yemen violence increases as Houthis reject truce calls

A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib. (REUTERS file photo)
  • The Houthi military escalation came as the US rebuked the group for attacking Marib and rejecting peace efforts to end the war

ALEXANDRIA: Violence increased in Yemen during the weekend as the Houthis rejected calls to stop hostilities and comply with peace initiatives.

Dozens of combatants, including a government commander, were killed in the past 48 hours in fighting between troops and the Houthis in the provinces of Marib, Lahj, Shabwa and Al-Bayda with the Houthis scaling up their attacks on government-controlled areas.

The heaviest fighting was reported in Marib, where forces foiled the militia’s attacks in areas outside the city of Marib and claimed limited gains in Al-Rahabah district.

Yemen’s army on Saturday mourned the death of Brig. Abad Ahmed Al-Hulaisi Al-Muradi, who was killed while fighting the Houthis in contested areas south of Marib city.

The Houthi military escalation came as the US rebuked the group for attacking Marib and rejecting peace efforts to end the war.

Commenting on the visit of US special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking to Saudi Arabia, the US Department of State said on Friday: “During this trip, Lenderking called for an end to the stalemated fighting in Marib and across Yemen, which have only increased the suffering of the Yemeni people. He expressed concern that the Houthis continue to refuse to engage meaningfully on a ceasefire and political talks.”

Muin Shreim, acting UN special envoy for Yemen, who also concluded a brief visit to Riyadh on Friday, urged parties to stop military operations in Yemen and Saudi Arabia and resume talks under a UN-brokered peace plan. “This is key to reduce threats to civilians, alleviate the dire humanitarian situation and pave the way for a sustainable, comprehensive and just peace and for reconciliation and recovery in Yemen,” Shreim said.

One expert said the Houthis had intensified their operations to seize control of new areas and improve their bargaining position.

“The Houthis responded to the UN and international initiatives and movement by expanding (militarily) in order to get more points of strength and impose facts on the grounds,” Ali Al-Fakih, editor of Al-Masdar Online, told Arab News.

Diplomatic efforts to end the war had, he said, experienced a “feeling of disappointment” because the Houthis had rejected peace initiatives from the UN and Saudi Arabia, while also snubbing the former UN Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, the US envoy, and Omani mediators.

Yemeni political analyst Saleh Al-Baydani said the Houthis sought to assert full control of the northern half of the country, arguing that simultaneous military and international diplomatic pressure on the Houthis would force them into accepting a peace plan and stopping hostilities.

“Forcing the Houthis to comply with the option of peace can only be achieved through two parallel tracks,” he told Arab News. “The first is mounting military pressure on the ground and the second is applying real international pressures that go beyond condemnations and statements.”

The Houthis have also exploited the government's focus on defending Marib city, its last major stronghold in the north, and leaving other provinces unprotected and vulnerable to the group’s attacks, according to analysts.

Al-Fakih said the Houthis intensified their activity in Lahj, Shabwa and Al-Bayda after failing to make a military breakthrough during their offensive on Marib city, adding that more aggressive and unified strikes against their military targets and drying up their financial sources would help to push them into accepting peace.

Najeeb Ghallab, the undersecretary at Yemen’s Information Ministry and a political analyst, said the group’s ideological leaders who believed they had “a mandate from heaven to rule Yemen, and those who enriched themselves during the war” would resist any move to end the war.

“The Houthi group is convinced that any path to peace in Yemen represents a threat to it. The war extends their rule of areas under their control,” Ghallab said.


Deadly attack on Kurdish family sparks public anger

A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces participates in a demonstration in the northeastern Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli against threats from Turkey. (AFP file photo)
A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces participates in a demonstration in the northeastern Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli against threats from Turkey. (AFP file photo)
Updated 31 July 2021

Deadly attack on Kurdish family sparks public anger

A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces participates in a demonstration in the northeastern Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli against threats from Turkey. (AFP file photo)
  • Similar attacks against Kurds have seen an uptick recently with cases in the provinces of Afyon, Konya and the Turkish capital Ankara

ANKARA: Seven people from a Kurdish family, including three women, were shot dead by armed assailants in the central Anatolian province of Konya on Friday.

The attackers also set the house alight after the daytime massacre.

“We warned the authorities several times,” the family’s attorney Abdurrahman Karabulut tweeted on July 30.

They had been living in Konya for 24 years and were attacked by 60 ultranationalists in May, with four family members grievously wounded by knives, stones and sticks. They were told they would no longer be allowed to live in that district.

Following the May attack, 10 people were detained and seven of them were taken into custody. But many were released.

The Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği) has been following the case for months and was informed that the family members were being harassed. IHD chair Eren Keskin tweeted: “They murdered the family they previously attacked.”

Authorities knew the family were at risk and failed to protect them, Human Rights Watch Turkey director Emma Sinclair-Webb said.

Violence against Kurds has sparked public anger over the past few months. The assaults are believed to be the result of political polarization in the country, where the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has been threatened with closure and hundreds of its politicians have been slapped with a five-year ban.

During an armed assault on the HDP’s office in the western province of Izmir in June, a female party staff member was killed.

Similar attacks against Kurds have seen an uptick recently with cases in the provinces of Afyon, Konya and the Turkish capital Ankara.

Far-right and pro-government media have been fueling conspiracy theories against the HDP with an increasingly hateful and racist discourse against Kurds.

Although witnesses said the attack was racially motivated, authorities rejected this allegation and said the investigation was ongoing and so far without any connection to their Kurdish origin.

Yaşar Dedeogullari, one of the victims, said back in May that the family was attacked because they were Kurds.

“We are nationalists, you are Kurds, we will get you out of here, this is what they have been saying for 12 years, we will not let Kurds live here,” he said.

In a joint statement, 48 bar associations across Turkey recently criticized the pro-government daily Yeni Safak for targeting the 15 bar associations that had condemned the attacks on Kurds.

A Yeni Safak headline read “Barons of Qandil” - a reference to the headquarters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the northern Iraqi mountains.

“We received news of a terrible massacre from Konya. Since the subject is very sensitive, I did not want to talk before the details were clarified. Our delegation is currently in the region. Findings will be shared,” the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party tweeted.

“Our most valuable asset is the Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood. I know that our country faces several problems, but our hearts are together. I call out to the gangs who make the mistake of considering themselves as the deep state: We will definitely not allow your efforts to disrupt the brotherhood of our people!” he added.


From Morocco to Sudan, North Africa grapples with crippling new wave of COVID-19 

A medical worker assists an elderly woman arriving to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at El-Menzah sports hall in Tunisia's capital Tunis. (AFP/File Photo)
A medical worker assists an elderly woman arriving to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at El-Menzah sports hall in Tunisia's capital Tunis. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 31 July 2021

From Morocco to Sudan, North Africa grapples with crippling new wave of COVID-19 

A medical worker assists an elderly woman arriving to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at El-Menzah sports hall in Tunisia's capital Tunis. (AFP/File Photo)
  • North African states are seeing varying degrees of success at containing the coronavirus amid a devastating third wave 
  • Slow vaccine rollouts, lockdown fatigue and the spreading Delta variant stretch health systems and economies to the limit 

DUBAI: First identified in India, the highly transmissible coronavirus delta variant has since been detected in around 100 countries, prompting new waves of infections, travel restrictions and concerns over the effectiveness of vaccines.

One region that has been especially hard hit is North Africa, where the economic havoc caused by lockdowns has forced governments to reluctantly reopen borders and businesses despite the slow pace of inoculation.

Tunisia, with a population of 11.69 million, has reported 582,638 infections and 19,336 deaths since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, making it one of the worst-hit nations in Africa, alongside Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.

The collapse of the health system and severe economic hardship triggered mass protests that in turn have plunged the country into a political crisis.

War-ravaged Libya has also witnessed an alarming surge of COVID-19 cases over the past month. Because of its two centers of political power with parallel institutions, its response and vaccination rollout have been disjointed and sluggish.

The country’s National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) recorded 3,845 new COVID-19 cases on July 25 — at that time the highest daily rate since the onset of the pandemic.

Libya has recorded roughly 246,200 cases and 3,469 deaths, but the true figure is likely far higher given the country’s acute shortage of tests and laboratory capacity.

“We are alarmed at the rapid spread of the virus in the country,” AbdulKadir Musse, UNICEF Special Representative in Libya, said in a statement.

A Moroccan municipal worker disinfects outside a house in a closed street in the southern port city of Safi on June 9, 2020 after Moroccan authorities declared a total lockdown. (AFP/File Photo)

“The vaccination rate is very low, and the spread is fast. We must be quicker in our response. The most important thing we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the variants, is ensure everyone who is eligible gets vaccinated.

“Countries with high coverage of two doses of vaccines have been able to drastically reduce the rate of hospitalization and deaths. We also need to follow and abide by preventive measures.”

Also known by its scientific name B.1.617.2, the delta variant was first detected in the Indian state of Maharashtra in October 2020, but was only labeled a “variant of concern” (VOC) by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 11 this year.

The strain, itself the product of multiple mutations, is thought to be 60 percent more infectious than the alpha (or Kent) variant, an earlier mutation that emerged in southern England in November 2020.

READ MORE

Arab countries of North Africa have particularly felt the economic pain of the coronavirus crisis. Find out why here.

In many countries, including the UK, delta has now become the dominant strain. Although it is thought to cause more severe symptoms than its ancestor variants, placing additional strain on health services, there is currently not enough data to suggest it is more deadly.

More encouraging is the data on the effectiveness of vaccines. A study by Public Health England found the Pfizer vaccine was 94 percent effective against hospitalization after one dose and 96 percent effective after two doses, while AstraZeneca was 71 percent effective after one dose and 92 percent effective after two.

This is all good for countries with high rates of vaccination such as the UK. But for countries in the developing world, including the Arab states of North Africa, the slow rollout of vaccines means there is limited protection against the virus.

Delta is taking a terrible toll in these countries, leaving hospitals overburdened and mortuaries short of space.

Africa as a whole recently recorded a 43 percent week-on-week rise in COVID-19 deaths. Hospital admissions have increased rapidly and countries face shortages of oxygen and ICU beds.

A mask-clad worker measures the body temperature of incoming Muslim worshippers arriving for prayers at the Hasan II mosque, one of the largest in the African continent, in Morocco's Casablanca. (AFP/File Photo)

According to the WHO, the continent has vaccinated around 52 million people since the start of the rollout in March and only 18 million are fully vaccinated, representing 1.5 percent of the continent’s population compared with more than 50 percent in some high-income countries.

South Africa, with its population of almost 60 million, has recorded 2,422,151 cases and 71,431 deaths since the pandemic began. Based on deaths per head of the population, Tunisia tops the region.

However, the picture is not uniform across the region. To date, 1.63 percent of Egyptians and 1.68 percent of Algerians have been fully vaccinated, compared with 27.68 percent of Moroccans, and 8.24 percent of Tunisians. Just 0.43 percent of Sudanese have received two doses, while data for Libya is unavailable.

“Different countries have different epidemiological situations, so we can’t generalize all of North Africa,” Abdinasir Abubakar, head of the Infectious Hazard Management Unit at the WHO regional office in Cairo, told Arab News.

Some countries have “really invested so much in vaccination and this is paying off,” while other countries have focused on enforcing public-health measures to slow the spread of the virus, he said.

“I think Morocco has really made a great investment and progress on administering more people with the vaccine compared to a number of other countries. And the cases you see are actually very minimal compared to previous waves, so I wouldn’t worry much about Morocco,” Abubakar said.

People queue as they arrive outside a make-shift COVID-19 coronavirus vaccination and testing centre erected at the Martyrs' Square of Libya's capital Tripoli on July 24, 2021. (AFP)

Nevertheless, cases in Morocco have been steadily increasing since mid-May, prompting the government to announce an extension of its state of emergency until Aug. 10.

Having already inoculated older age groups, Moroccan health authorities are now offering vaccines to people over the age of 30. But compliance with social-distancing and other hygiene regulations appears to be slipping.

“In Casablanca, I saw many people wearing masks but without adhering to other physical and social-distancing measures,” said Um Ahmad, who recently returned to Dubai following a family visit.

“I saw crowds on the streets and in markets as usual. And when I visited Fez, I saw people living normally with no precautionary actions whatsoever. I even asked my relative ‘are we on a different planet?’”

A Tunisian woman infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus receives oxygen at the Ibn al-Jazzar hospital in the east-central city of Kairouan. (AFP/File Photo)

In Algeria, which decided to close its borders to curb the spread of the delta variant, there is another more pressing problem — a shortage of oxygen in its hospitals to treat the seriously ill, forcing the government to establish a special unit to supervise the distribution of oxygen cylinders.

Egypt has reported a recent decline in the number of COVID-19 cases, with officials recording less than 70 new infections and less than 10 deaths per day. The country has even started sending its surplus medical kits to Tunisia.

But here too, public compliance with social-distancing measures leaves much to be desired. Eman Amir, an Egyptian working in Dubai who traveled to Cairo in May to visit her ailing mother, said she was shocked by the public’s relaxed attitude toward virus containment.

“Those who don’t care whether they die of coronavirus are those who feel they have little to lose given their already precarious existence,” she told Arab News, referring to contract and informal-sector workers most affected by pandemic restrictions.

In neighboring Sudan, cases are surging, particularly in the eastern city of Port Sudan, capital of the Red Sea State.

Abdinasir Abubakar, head of Infectious Hazard Management Unit, WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean. (Supplied)

Dr. Ahmed Dreyer, the state’s director of the Emergency and Epidemic Control Department, has urged authorities to impose a three-week lockdown — known in policy circles as a circuit breaker — to help contain the spread of the delta variant.

Hana, a young Sudanese woman who lives with her family in Dubai, says many people back home are still not convinced the coronavirus even exists — the product, it would seem, of widespread misinformation.

“People have enough problems to worry about,” Hana said. “They don’t want to add to them and worry about the pandemic.

“They try to lead normal lives, by earning their livelihood and putting bread on the table.” 

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Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi