Manila suspends departure of Filipino workers to Israel over Gaza conflict

There are 29,473 Filipinos living and working in Israel and 91 in the Gaza Strip. (Reuters/File Photo)
There are 29,473 Filipinos living and working in Israel and 91 in the Gaza Strip. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 20 May 2021

Manila suspends departure of Filipino workers to Israel over Gaza conflict

There are 29,473 Filipinos living and working in Israel and 91 in the Gaza Strip. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Hundreds of Filipino carers were scheduled to leave for Israel in coming days
  • 29,473 Filipinos live, work in Israel along with 91 in Gaza Strip

MANILA: The Philippines on Thursday announced it was temporarily suspending the deployment of workers to Israel due to the ongoing Gaza conflict.

Israeli forces have continued to bomb Gaza with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defying international calls for a de-escalation.

Since the crisis began on May 10, Palestinian health officials said 228 people had been killed in Israeli aerial bombardments that had worsened Gaza’s already dire humanitarian situation. Israeli authorities put the death toll to date at 12 in Israel.

There are 29,473 Filipinos living and working in Israel and 91 in the Gaza Strip. While there have been no reports of any of them being injured, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a radio interview that 400 Filipino carers scheduled to leave for Israel in the coming days would not be allowed to leave “while the tension is still high.”

He added, however, that the Filipino Department of Labor and Employment would continue to process job applicants as there was no ban on departures, but actual deployment would be delayed.

“We have not banned the deployment of our workers to Israel. The processing of those who already qualified continues. We are merely suspending their actual departure while the tension is still high,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, said the president supported Bello’s decision on delaying the departure of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). “This is to protect the safety of our countrymen. Of course, as we prepare to evacuate and repatriate our citizens there, why should we send new OFWs there as well?”

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and embassies in Israel and neighboring Egypt and Jordan were poised to assist Filipinos affected by the ongoing violence in the Middle East and were also on standby to evacuate Philippine citizens. 


1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US
Updated 18 June 2021

1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US
  • Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes

SURPRISE, Arizona: One person was killed and 12 others injured in reported drive-by shootings over a 90-minute span Thursday in three cities west of Phoenix, authorities said.
A suspect was in custody, and authorities said a weapon was found in his vehicle. But it remained unclear if the man was responsible for all of the shootings.
The suspect’s name wasn’t immediately released. Authorities believe he acted alone, although a motive wasn’t immediately known.
“We don’t know the nexus, we don’t know what the motive was, we don’t have an idea of what this person was thinking when he went out and did this,” Peoria police spokesman Brandon Sheffert said at a news conference. “Obviously we want to figure this out because there’s a lot of scared people and people this affected.”
Police departments in Peoria, Surprise and Glendale were investigating the shootings in their cities, along with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the FBI.
Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes, Sheffert said.
Four people suffered gunshot wounds, and one of those victims died, he said. That person was found dead in a vehicle along a Peoria freeway.
The other victims had a range of injuries such as shrapnel from broken glass or injuries related to a car crash, Sheffert said.
Officials at Banner Health said they received nine patients at three of their hospitals. But the extent of the victims’ injuries and their conditions were not immediately released.
Peoria police got the initial call about a shooting shortly after 11 a.m., and eight more incidents were reported in the following 90 minutes, Sheffert said.
Witnesses provided authorities with a description of the getaway vehicle, and the suspect was detained after a traffic stop in Surprise.


Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials
Updated 18 June 2021

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials
  • Bangavax is a new generation mRNA vaccine, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, but is expected to be cheaper
  • Bangladesh Medical Research Council requires Bangavax producer to first conduct trials on monkeys or chimpanzees

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.

The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Developed by Dhaka-based Globe Biotech Ltd. (GBL), the vaccine was approved for production by the country’s drug regulator in late December.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) approved clinical trials of Bangavax under the condition that “before starting any human trial, the vaccine producing company needs to conduct an animal trial on monkeys or chimpanzees,” BMRC director Prof. Dr Ruhul Amin said.

GBL has been waiting for the trial approval since January.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Amin said. “However, we are doing our best to facilitate the trials of Bangavax.”

Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin, head of quality at GBL, said that while the company is now waiting for the BMRC’s written recommendations, it is preparing to start the trials.

“It will take us eight to nine months to complete the whole process,” he said. “Since we are using pure mRNA technology in Bangavax and no virus is used in this process, we are supposedly not required to make an animal trial.” He said that GBL was in touch with organizations abroad as there is no institution conducting animal trials in Bangladesh.

“To run an animal trial, some foreign companies are asking for a G2G — government to government contract. We hope the government should extend help to us in this case,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

As Bangavax is estimated to cost $10-$15, several dollars cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it may help Bangladesh with its immunization drive, in which only 2.6 percent of the country’s 166 million people has been vaccinated so far, mainly due to a shortage of COVID-19 jabs.

FASTFACT

Dr. Mohammed Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh ‘ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.’

GBL says it has the capacity to produce 10 million doses a month, and its lab tests on mice suggest that one dose would suffice.

“We are expecting that it will be a single dose vaccine as we found about 100 percent efficacy rate during lab trial on mice,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh “ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.”

“They (GBL) should be provided with necessary administrative and financial support as and when required. But the highest level of precaution is a must at every stage of the trials,” he said.

“If we become successful in this endeavor, Bangladesh may consider exporting vaccine to other developing countries after meeting local demand.”


Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince

Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince
Updated 18 June 2021

Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince

Pakistani artist employs rare Chinese technique to create portrait of Saudi crown prince
  • Syed Abid Shah has for decades practiced straw painting, a Chinese folk art that dates back 2,000 years to Han dynasty
  • The laborious technique requires artists to trim, dye and polish dried wheat stalks and weave them into images on a canvas

PESHAWAR: Known for his calligraphy and Mughal imagery, a master craftsman from northwestern Pakistan has recently turned to an ancient technique rarely used in portraiture to create an image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

For decades, Syed Abid Shah from Peshawar has been practicing and developing straw painting — a Chinese folk art that dates back at least 2,000 years to the Han dynasty. The laborious technique, which today has few practitioners, requires the artist to trim, dye and polish dried wheat stalks and then weave them into an image on a canvas.

Shah learned the art in Karachi at the age of 12 when he was introduced to a straw painter by an artistically inclined uncle.

After serving for two years as the artist’s apprentice, he started introducing innovations to the art, focusing mostly on architecture, Islamic ornaments or stories from the Mughal era. He did not venture into portraiture as the straw medium was rarely used for that.

But for the Saudi crown prince, Shah, now 60, says he has decided to create a detailed straw portrait.

“I had long wanted to sketch a Saudi royal, but it was only recently that I decided to draw the image of the prince who rose to fame across the world,” Shah told Arab News at his home in the village of Achar, on the outskirts of Peshawar.

It takes more than 3,000 straws and at least two weeks to create a 30-by-24-inch portrait of a human face. The straws are flattened, made smooth, cut into extremely tiny pieces and glued one by one to the canvas.

“I pray the prince accepts my gift,” Shah said.

Shah’s highest-profile work to date was making the family tree of Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, commissioned by the official’s father in 2012. It was also his most expensive piece, selling for Rs50,000 ($320).

But such orders are rare. Shah normally sells small, 8-by-12-inch paintings on the footpaths of Peshawar’s bustling Saddar market.

“On a lucky day, I manage to sell four or five pieces, which earns the bread and butter for my family,” he said.

One painting costs about Rs450 and takes him six hours to complete. Preparing the straw takes at least three days.

While Shah says he always knew there would not be big money in straw painting, his 23-year-old son, Shah Fahad, has bigger dreams. He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and one day open a gallery to display his father’s work, as well as his own.

Fahad has been patiently learning the craft for the past four years.

“It is a slow learning process,” he said, “but I am lucky to spend more time with my father.”

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Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development

Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development
Updated 17 June 2021

Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development

Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development
  • Battersea Power Station has long been a staple of the British capital’s skyline
  • 20% of homes in the complex are being sold to Mideast investors, mostly from the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

LONDON: The redevelopment of one of London’s most iconic buildings has piqued the interest of Gulf buyers, who have snapped up millions of dollars’ worth of properties in what will soon be one of the British capital’s trendiest commercial, residential and cultural quarters.

Completed in 1935, Battersea Power Station has long held a special place in the British psyche.

It dominated the London skyline and powered the UK economy for decades. Plumes of smoke from its iconic four chimneys even guided British fighter planes home after bombing runs during World War II.

Now the building, with its coal-burning past firmly behind it, is taking on a new role as one of the capital’s hottest commercial developments — and Arab buyers have taken notice.

Simon Murphy, CEO of the Battersea Power Station Development Co. — which is redeveloping the unused site into luxury living spaces, retail quarters and offices — told Arab News that around 20 percent of homes in the complex are being sold to Middle Eastern investors.

“Within this, the majority have been from the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We’ve recently received over 100 enquiries mainly from buyers from Saudi and the UAE in the last month,” he said.

“There are a number of reasons why Battersea Power Station appeals to buyers from the Gulf,” he added, including its lucrative financial opportunities, its prime location next to the River Thames, and the abundance of green space provided in neighboring Battersea Park.

“Gulf buyers are also attracted to the project’s mix of uses, which includes homes, offices — including Apple’s new UK campus — shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, cinemas, theaters, a hotel and more. This genuine mix of uses is something that resonates with buyers from the Middle East,” he said. 

“The unique history and heritage of the power station building itself, which welcomed its first residents last month, is of course another point of attraction. The opportunity to buy a slice of British history is greatly appealing.”

Grahame Clist, a consultant at property investment firm Spot Blue, told Arab News that people’s expectation that the London property market would be crippled by the coronavirus pandemic turned out to be unfounded.

“If you’re taking a medium-term view for properties in London, especially for places like Battersea Power Station, then you’ve got a sound investment and something that not just Saudis but everyone in the world wants,” he said.

The pandemic stalled the property market and held back transactions, but when the ability to conduct viewings resumed there was a “massive uptake” of people looking to re-enter the market, he added.

“There’s been, to a certain degree, a property shortage that has held the market up,” Clist said. “In the Greater London area, prices have increased by at least 10 percent in the last six months — and that’s if you can find a property.”

Developments such as Battersea Power Station, he said, are among the first to capitalize on this surge in demand.

He echoed Murphy’s emphasis on the importance of British history in the development’s popularity. 

“It’s an iconic London building,” Clist said. “It’s almost as if Buckingham Palace was turned into apartments and put on the market — people would be rushing in to buy them from all over the world.”


Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag

Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag
Updated 17 June 2021

Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag

Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag
  • Nick Georges: ‘We should all be doing more to promote the cause of peace and freedom for the Palestinians’
  • ‘The Palestinians have no rights. As a Christian who cares, I can’t just stand by and let this go on’

LONDON: A pro-Palestine protestor scaled a 300-foot crane in central London to unveil a Palestinian flag, and spent 30 hours there before being removed by police.

Nick Georges, 69, took two hours to scale the crane, and recorded and released a heartfelt message about the plight of Palestinians from the top of the structure on Tuesday.

 

 

“I’ve climbed this 300-foot tower crane in the middle of London to tell the world about Palestine,” Georges said in the message.

“For three months I was sent to Palestine as a humanitarian witness and protected presence. For three months, on a daily basis, I witnessed the atrocities and the horrors of the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian homeland,” he added.

“I’ve seen a house where a family of four were burnt alive by Jewish settlers with incendiary bombs. I’ve seen land desecrated, olive plantations burned. I’ve seen so many demolitions of homes and houses by JCB machines, British-built machines, in Israel,” said Georges, who is a member of activist group Palestine Action.

“Every day … they’re demolishing more Palestinian homes. The Palestinians have no rights. Even their electricity and their water is taken from them,” he added.

“Israel is the fourth-largest nuclear military power in the world. The Palestinians have nothing.

“As a Christian who cares, I can’t just stand by and let this go on. We should all be doing more to promote the cause of peace and freedom for the Palestinians and stop the horrors that Israel is visiting upon these people.”
Georges used bolt cutters and a portable ladder to break into the building site — which will one day be home to a 650-foot skyscraper — at 4 a.m.
He said the crane stunt was “the most terrifying thing I’ve done in my 69 years of being on this planet — the heights, the fear of falling and breaking into the building site.”

This marks his second arrest by police in a year. In February, he and a team of activists scaled and vandalized a British factory producing drones for the Israeli military.

There has been a flurry of pro-Palestinian activism globally in recent weeks following nearly two weeks of Israeli bombardment of Gaza that claimed the lives of around 250 Palestinians, injured thousands and left tens of thousands homeless.