NEW YORK: UN chief Anotonio Guterres appealed on Friday for an immediate halt to fighting between Gaza and Israel.
Secretary-General Guterres warned that the ongoing conflict could “unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism,” not just in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel but also elsewhere in the Middle East region.
A UN spokesman added that Guterres urged the parties to allow mediation efforts to intensify and end the fighting more quickly.
Stephane Dujarric said the UN was “actively involved” in those mediation efforts.
Guterres, who said only a sustainable political solution would lead to lasting peace, also reiterated his commitment to support Palestinians and Israelis in resolving the conflict, through the Quartet of Middle East mediators — the UN, US, EU and Russia — on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.
The EU in March held out a string of incentives to convince Erdogan to make good on pledges to mend fraught relations
Brussels is preparing a plan to provide Turkey with $4.2 billion in extra funding from 2021 to 2024 to help it host Syrian refugees
Updated 25 June 2021
ANKARA: Turkey on Friday expressed disappointment after an EU summit ended with a critical statement about Ankara’s rights record and no clear progress on a customs treaty or committment on aid. The EU in March held out a string of incentives to convince President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to make good on pledges to mend fraught relations. Brussels is readying a plan to provide Turkey with 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) in extra funding from 2021 to 2024 to help it host millions of refugees from Syria. The leaders at their summit on Thursday told the European Commission executive body to present a formal proposal “without delay.” But they outlined no timeframe and added that “fundamental rights in Turkey remain a key concern.” The Turkish foreign ministry said the statement “came well short of what was expected or necessary.” “In order to reduce tensions and start dialogue and cooperation, Turkey has done more than its share,” it said. Ankara has been at particular odds with France and historic rival Greece over Turkish drilling operations near the divided island of Cyprus and search for natural gas in disputed eastern Mediterranean waters. But Ankara and Athens have resumed direct talks about their dispute for the first time since 2016 and Turkey has pulled back its research vessels from the contested areas of the sea. Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron have also tried to calm their war of words by exchanging personal letters and meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit this month. Ankara expressed particular frustration with the limited progress made in Brussels on an upgrade of a customs treaty the sides reached in 1995. The ministry called the lack of clear movement on the pact “a delaying tactic and a lack of goodwill.”
Iran’s top leader receives its home-made coronavirus vaccine
Iranian pharmaceutical company Shifafarmed made the COVIran Barekat vaccine based on deactivated virus
Iran has not published data about efficacy of the vaccine, but claims of about 85 percent immunity to the deadly virus
Updated 25 June 2021
TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader has received the first coronavirus vaccine developed by the Islamic Republic, state TV reported Friday.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that he was not interested in taking foreign-made vaccines, because it is better to “wait for the Iranian vaccine because we have to be proud of this national honor.”
In January, Khamenei banned imports of the American and Britain vaccines, a reflection of mistrust toward the West.
Iranian pharmaceutical company Shifafarmed made the COVIran Barekat vaccine based on deactivated virus, and the first study of the safety and effectiveness began in late December.
The emergency authorization was approved last week after the country, which is the worst-hit nation in the Middle East, faced problems importing enough vaccines.
Iran has not published data about efficacy of the vaccine, but claims that people who get the home-made jab have about 85 percent immunity to the deadly virus.
Iranian officials said the death toll from COVID-19 rose by 115 over the day into Friday, putting the country’s total at 83,588 since the pandemic broke out last year.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said 10,820 new confirmed cases were registered over the same period, bringing that total to 3,150,949.
At least 1,397 people remained hospitalized with the virus, she added.
Lari said that 3,219 of the patients are in serious condition, and that 2,809,595 have recovered so far. Iran remains among the hardest-hit countries in the world.
Iran has also said it is working on a vaccine with cooperation from a foreign country. Iranian authorities said that another vaccine, produced jointly by Iran and Cuba, will join the country’s vaccine package in coming days.
Iran’s local vaccine research has gained urgency as officials allege that heavy American sanctions will hamper the Islamic Republic’s mass inoculation efforts.
Iran retains some access to vaccines, including through its participation in COVAX, an international initiative designed to distribute vaccines to countries regardless of their wealth. But international banks and financial institutions are reluctant to deal with Iran for fear of American penalties. Under COVAX rules, Iran could order enough doses to vaccinate half of its 82 million people.
Expatriate workers at gas stations in Lebanon face insults, threats and assault amid fuel shortage
Some are leaving the country, others are saving up for tickets to return home
One Sudanese worker told how he was shot at for refusing to open the pumps
Updated 46 min 56 sec ago
BEIRUT: Lebanon is suffering massive fuel shortages amid the worsening economic crisis in the country. Long queues outside gas stations have sparked brawls, traffic jams, accidents on nearby roads and even gunfights.
Abdo Mustafa, an Egyptian expatriate working as a gas station attendant in Beirut, revealed that following the announcement last weekend of an increase in fuel prices he has been insulted and beaten by some people among the long queues of drivers waiting to fill up their vehicles.
He came to Lebanon to “earn good money to support his family, not be beaten or insulted,” he told Arab News on Thursday.
“This fuel-shortage crisis has developed so quickly, and its grimness and uncertainty has unfolded vastly and negatively on migrant workers in Lebanon.”
Mustafa, a 37-year-old father of two, has now decided to return home because of the devaluation of the Lebanese currency and the scarcity of dollars amid a worsening economic crisis, along with the personal abuse he is receiving as a result of the worsening fuel shortages.
On Thursday, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that President Michel Aoun was heading a meeting to address the fuel crisis and its effects. The other participants included the caretaker ministers of power and finance, and the governor of Banque du Liban, Lebanon’s central bank.
They discussed a number of proposals designed to prevent any damaging escalations that might affect security and social stability. Local media reported that plans were approved to import subsidized fuel at the higher exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, which is the rate at which customers are currently permitted to withdraw their savings, instead of the official exchange rate of 1,500 pounds.
Ebrahim, the Lebanese manager of a gas station in the Hamra area, said he believes fuel prices will continue to rise.
“This has got to end, otherwise security deterioration is inevitable,” he told Arab News. “A Bangladeshi and a Sudanese worker already left us. They couldn’t tolerate the economic situation, or being attacked by irritated clients.”
He added that the action agreed by the authorities during Thursday’s meeting is merely a temporary solution.
Egyptian worker Abdullah Ahmad said the economic situation in Lebanon was so “good and enticing” when he arrived in the country in 2011.
“When we could purchase the dollar at (the official rate of) 1,500 (pounds) we made good money that we sent to our families. My cousin convinced me to come,” he said.
Now Ahmad, too, is trying to save money so that he can afford to return home.
“I didn’t come here to be humiliated,” he said. “Last week a provoked client cursed my whole family when the fuel ran out before his turn.”
Gas stations have been constantly low on subsidized fuel for many weeks but the shortages got worse this month as fears grew among the public of rationing and pumps running dry. As a result, a large number of petrol stations closed.
“A number of fistfights, heated arguments and shootings have taken place between irritated drivers,” an official from the Internal Security Forces told Arab News. “We have been dispatching two or three policemen at the most-crowded stations to organize traffic flow and enforce security.”
Some workers were reluctant to talk to the media, while others declined to give their names. When approached by Arab News, the manager of one gas station in the Dar Al-Fatwa area said: “Please leave; we don’t want media.”
A few blocks away, in the Msaytbeh neighborhood, Bangladeshi gas station employee Abdul Rahim said that that after being beaten and insulted by waiting motorcyclists last month he asked his boss to move him from pumping fuel to washing cars.
Afraid to give his full name, the 41-year-old added that the area where he works is popular with supporters of the Amal Movement, a Shiite political party led by Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, a major ally of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah.
The moment the gas station opens, Abdul Rahim said, people flock there. He added that he was surprised “how quickly they learn that the station has opened.”
Several brawls among queuing customers have escalated into gunfights, he added.
“Last month, a massive crowd of motorcyclists shouted and yelled and cursed at me to fill their tanks … after I stopped the pump,” he told Arab News. “I don’t remember how many blows I took or how many times my mother was cursed.”
Nour M., who is also from Bangladesh, and declined to give his full name, said that the neighborhood in which he works is full of supporters of Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, “who flock to the gas station in their hundreds wanting to jump queues and fill up with gas.”
He added: “When (it runs out) I have to simply stop. Angry clients, who look like thugs, instantly beat us. Mostly, they come armed with sticks and beat us if we don’t fill (their tanks).”
The 37-year-old also revealed that he has received death threats, and that he knows many people working in gas stations who take kickbacks in return for ensuring drivers can fuel their vehicles.
“Actually we would be lucky to get extra money to permit them to fill their tanks … with the dollar crisis, some of us act boldly and take kickbacks to recover our losses,” he said.
The manager of another gas station, who refused to give his name because he feared for his safety, said that the owners of many stations suffer at the hands of “politically-affiliated thugs who come in motorcycle groups and terrorize the peaceful car drivers who are lined up.”
He added: “They jump lanes, terrify and threaten our workers. We often encounter more than 10 fights a day.”
Nour Awad from Sudan, who works at a gas station in the Mount Lebanon area, told Arab News that he was shot at in May when he refused to fill a vehicle after the pumps closed.
“I phoned my boss, who was shot at and injured because he refused to open the pumps — he was hospitalized,” he said.
Awad added that he, too, is trying to save enough money to fly back home “as I cannot live or survive here anymore.”
With more than 10,000 expatriates employed at about 2,000 gas stations in Lebanon, it seems likely that more will leave as soon as they can afford to do so, given the escalating risk of insults, assaults and even death threats.
Gas station workers, who mostly come from Bangladesh, Egypt, Syria and Sudan, previously earned the equivalent of about $400 a month, but this has been reduced to about $40 by the devaluation of the Lebanese currency and the soaring exchange rate amid an economic collapse a World Bank report described as the “world’s worst since the mid-19th century.”
Thousands of domestic workers from Asia have also left Lebanon since the financial crisis escalated after the 2019 protests in the country, and salaries lost more than 85 percent of their purchasing power.
Israel resumes indoor mask requirement amid coronavirus spike
Jump in new infections is a blow for a country which has prided itself on one of the world’s most successful vaccine rollouts
Updated 25 June 2021
JERUSALEM: The Israeli health ministry reimposed a requirement Friday for masks to be worn in enclosed public places following a surge in COVID-19 cases since it was dropped 10 days ago.
The spike in new infections is a blow for a country which has prided itself on one of the world’s most successful vaccine rollouts.
The head of Israel’s pandemic response taskforce, Nachman Ash, told public radio the requirement came after four days of more than 100 new cases a day, with 227 cases confirmed Thursday.
“We are seeing a doubling every few days,” Ash said. “Another thing that’s worrying is that the infections are spreading. If we had two cities where most of the infections were, we have more cities where the numbers are rising and communities where the cases are going up.”
Ash said the rise in cases was likely due to the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus first seen in India.
Reimposing the mask requirement is a setback for Israel, coming so soon after it was lifted on June 15 on the back of a successful vaccination campaign.
Some 5.2 million people have received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, after Israel obtained millions of doses.
Ash said despite the increased number of positive cases, he did not yet see a parallel rise in hospitalizations or deaths.
“It’s clear it’s a factor of time, that not enough time has passed,” Ash said. “But we hope the vaccines will protect us from a rise in hospitalization and difficult cases.”
The health ministry urged Israelis to wear masks in crowded outdoor spaces too, including at pride events scheduled for this weekend.
A pride march scheduled for Friday afternoon in Tel Aviv is expected to draw tens of thousands of people. The event is resuming after it was suspended last year due to the virus.
Israel became a pioneer in Covid inoculations after then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu obtained millions of doses from Pfizer in exchange for sharing health data on the vaccines’ impact.
In February, Netanyahu celebrated the arrival of a batch of vaccines saying: “We have made Israel a global model for success.”
The resulting fall in new cases allowed much of daily life to return to normal but it did not save Netanyahu his job. He was replaced as prime minister earlier this month by his onetime aide turned foe Naftali Bennett.
Bennett warned Tuesday of a “new outbreak” of coronavirus. On a visit to Ben Gurion international airport, he announced a new Covid testing facility for incoming travelers and strengthened enforcement of quarantine orders for those returning from overseas.
To cut down on the spread of the virus, he asked Israelis to cancel their travel plans. “Whoever doesn’t have to fly abroad, please don’t,” Bennett said.
On Wednesday, Israel announced it was delaying delayed plans to reopen its borders to individual tourists.
Bennett urged parents to vaccinate children aged 12 and older “as soon as possible,” noting that Israel’s stock of vaccines would soon expire.
A deal to trade soon-to-expire vaccines with the Palestinian Authority for new shots arriving in the autumn fell apart last week amid mutual accusations of bad faith.
Israel has faced criticism for refusing to vaccinate most Palestinians living in the West Bank, or in the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli blockade. Israeli citizens living in West Bank settlements have been eligible to take part in its vaccination program, however.
United Nations urges Israel to halt building of settlements immediately
UN officials report on implementation of a 2016 Security Council resolution that declared settlements have “no legal validity"
They also called on Israeli authorities to end the demolition of Palestinian homes and other property and the displacement of Palestinians — another flashpoint
Updated 25 June 2021
UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations on Thursday accused Israel of flagrantly violating international law by expanding settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, saying settlements are illegal and urging the country’s new government to halt their enlargement immediately.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland reported on implementation of a 2016 Security Council resolution that declared settlements have “no legal validity.” It demanded a halt to their expansion in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians want to include in a future state.
Wennesland said in a briefing to the council on Guterres’ 12-page report that he was “deeply troubled” by Israel’s approval of a plan to add 540 housing units to the Har Homa settlement in east Jerusalem as well as the establishment of settlement outposts. He said that is “illegal also under Israeli law.”
“I again underscore, in no uncertain terms, that Israeli settlements constitute a flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions and international law,” the UN envoy said. “They are a major obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
“The advancement of all settlement activity must cease immediately,” Wennesland said.
Israel disputes its settlements are illegal.
Both Guterres and Wennesland also called on Israeli authorities to end the demolition of Palestinian homes and other property and the displacement of Palestinians — another flashpoint — “and to approve plans that would enable these communities to build legally and address their development needs.”
The December 2016 resolution, which the United States abstained on in the final weeks of the Obama administration, also called for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians and urged Israel and the Palestinians to exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.
It also called on all parties to launch negotiations on final status issues and urged intensified international and regional diplomatic efforts to help end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieve a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side-by-side in peace.
Guterres and Wennesland made clear that 4½ years after the resolution’s adoption, none of these appeals have been met.
Wennesland said the period between March and June covered in the report “witnessed an alarming increase in the level of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, including hostilities between Israel and factions in Gaza at a scale and intensity not seen in years.”
He said the cessation of hostilities after last month’s 11-day Gaza war “remains very fragile,” adding that the United Nations is working closely with Israel, the Palestinians and partners including Egypt “to solidify a cease-fire, allow the entry of urgent humanitarian assistance and stabilize the situation in Gaza.”
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has demanded significant easing of the Israeli blockade. Israel has said it won’t tolerate even relatively minor attacks from Gaza, including the launch of incendiary balloons, which triggered Israeli airstrikes last week.
“I urge all sides to refrain from unilateral steps and provocations, take steps to reduce tensions, and allow these efforts to succeed,” Wennesland told the council. “Everyone must do their part to facilitate ongoing discussions to stabilize the situation on the ground and avoid another devastating escalation in Gaza.”
He called on all Palestinian factions “to make serious efforts to ensure the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank under a single, legitimate, democratic, national government,” saying that Gaza must remain part of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.
During the March to June reporting period, Guterres said 295 Palestinians, including 42 women and 73 children, were killed by Israeli security forces and 10,149 were injured during demonstrations, clashes, search-and-arrest operations, air strikes, shelling and other incidents in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The UN chief said 90 members of the Israeli security forces and 857 Israeli civilians were injured by Palestinians during the same period in clashes, incidents in which stones and firebombs were thrown, the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars and other incidents.
The Gaza war was the worst escalation of hostilities since 2014, with Palestinian armed groups firing over 4,000 rockets and projectiles toward Israel and Israeli forces carrying out over 1,500 strikes from air, land and sea across the Gaza Strip, Guterres said, quoting Israeli sources. During the conflict, 259 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and 41 women, while nine Israelis, including two children, were killed along with three foreigners. Hundreds of Israelis were wounded.