Israel eases COVID-19 restrictions after mass vaccination

Israel eases COVID-19 restrictions after mass vaccination
More than 90 percent of people in Israel aged 50 and over have been vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 01 June 2021

Israel eases COVID-19 restrictions after mass vaccination

Israel eases COVID-19 restrictions after mass vaccination
  • People are no longer required to show vaccination certificates to enter restaurants and entertainment venues
  • The country remains largely closed to travelers from abroad, however, the tourism ministry said

JERUSALEM: Israel inched closer to lifting COVID-19 restrictions Tuesday as its caseload remains tiny following a sweeping nationwide vaccination campaign.
People are no longer required to show vaccination certificates to enter restaurants and entertainment venues, and capacity limits on businesses have been lifted.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said his office would discuss ending an indoor mask requirement over the coming two weeks.
“The Israeli economy and public may have some more breathing” space, he said in a statement announcing the changes.
The country remains largely closed to travelers from abroad, however, the tourism ministry said, except for first-degree relatives, some experts, and vaccinated tourists participating in a pilot program.
On Tuesday, there were just four new positive cases of the virus, and 350 actively sick people in Israel.
At the peak of the epidemic in early 2021, Israel saw 10,000 new cases a day and 88,000 active cases.
The changes became possible after Israel obtained millions of doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. More than 90 percent of people in Israel aged 50 and over have been vaccinated or recovered from the virus.
Children continue to be required to wear masks in school, as under-18s have yet to be vaccinated in large numbers.
COVID-19 cases among Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank have also declined in recent weeks as vaccines from the Covax campaign for poorer countries have been distributed.
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.
Israel has said the Palestinian administrations in the West Bank and Gaza are responsible for obtaining vaccines.
In Gaza, the coronavirus response has been hobbled by 11 days of devastating Israeli air strikes last month in retaliation for Hamas rocket fire over tensions in Jerusalem.
The enclave’s only laboratory conducting COVID-19 tests was hit in a strike, and two doctors were killed in a bombardment. Tens of thousands of people seeking shelter could not socially distance.
Gaza recorded 246 new cases of the virus Monday, while the West Bank recorded 56.


In Qom, where Iran outbreak began, coronavirus rages on

In Qom, where Iran outbreak began, coronavirus rages on
Updated 27 September 2021

In Qom, where Iran outbreak began, coronavirus rages on

In Qom, where Iran outbreak began, coronavirus rages on
  • While Iran works to vaccinate its 80 million people, many in Qom have not sought out the shots, authorities say

QOM, Iran: In Iran’s holy city of Qom, where Shiite scholars study and pilgrims travel to a shrine believed to be a gate to heaven, the Islamic Republic’s coronavirus outbreak began and still rages to this day.
While Iran works to vaccinate its 80 million people, many in Qom have not sought out the shots, authorities say. In one recent week, the city administered only 17,000 shots daily out of its capacity of 30,000, provincial health department chief Mohammad Reza Qadir said.
One reason for that is a hesitancy by some based on religion. In the outbreak’s first days, religious leaders were reluctant to close shrines and holy sites despite the risks of virus transmission in crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces.
Some sites briefly closed but they later reopened and remained available through repeated, battering phases of the pandemic. Overall across Iran — the Middle Eastern country hardest hit by the pandemic — there have been 5.5 million confirmed virus infections. More than 119,000 people have died, putting tremendous pressure on cemeteries across the country. Officials acknowledge the toll is likely far higher.
Qom’s Behesht-e-Masoumeh cemetery is the final resting place of thousands. Each day, families can be seen weeping as they bury their loved ones, wrapped in traditional shrouds. All have dug new gravesites in which they typically bury the dead very deep in the ground.
Many hospitals are filled with victims, some in medically induced comas, even as authorities warn of a possible sixth surge in infections striking the country.
It was in Qom, some 125 kilometers southwest of Tehran, that the coronavirus first took hold in Iran. Authorities suggest it was spread by an Iranian businessman who returned from China, where the virus first appeared in Wuhan province in 2019. Qom’s Shiite seminaries draw Chinese students. The city is also is located along a $2.7 billion high-speed train route that a Chinese company is building and near a solar power plant Beijing is helping construct.
But whatever started the pandemic here, the virus still rages.


Khartoum says agrees with protesters on resumption of South Sudan oil exports

Member of Sudan’s sovereign council Shams Al-Din Kabashi (C) meets with protest leaders, following his arrival with a delegation to the city of Port Sudan, on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
Member of Sudan’s sovereign council Shams Al-Din Kabashi (C) meets with protest leaders, following his arrival with a delegation to the city of Port Sudan, on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2021

Khartoum says agrees with protesters on resumption of South Sudan oil exports

Member of Sudan’s sovereign council Shams Al-Din Kabashi (C) meets with protest leaders, following his arrival with a delegation to the city of Port Sudan, on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
  • The transitional government sent a delegation to Port Sudan to negotiate with demonstrators objecting to parts of a peace deal with rebel groups
  • Rebels have blocked the main container and oil export terminals in Port Sudan, threatening fuel supplies and revenue

KHARTOUM: Oil exports from South Sudan can resume unimpeded through a Sudanese port, Khartoum’s ruling council said late Sunday after it reached an agreement with protest leaders in the country’s east.
Khartoum earns revenue for its impoverished economy from the South’s oil exports, and the deal came hours after senior government officials flew to Port Sudan, the Red Sea trade hub.
“The joint meeting between the government delegation headed by General Kabashi, a member of the Sovereign Council, and a delegation from the Beja council reached an agreement on allowing the passage of South Sudanese oil exports through the Bashayer port,” Khartoum’s ruling sovereign council said in a statement late Sunday.
Bashayer is the main terminal, close to Port Sudan, from which landlocked South Sudan’s oil supplies are shipped to global markets.
Oil Minister Gadein Ali Obeid had warned Saturday of “an extremely grave situation” with two pipelines blocked by the protesters.
One transports oil exports from South Sudan while the other handles Sudanese crude imports.
The governmental delegation led by Sovereign Council member Shams Al-Din Kabashi included Obeid, Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Mahdi and others.
They put forward proposals to eventually open all ports and roads leading to the city which protesters began blocking early last week.
The Beja tribe elders tentatively agreed and said they would need a week to further discuss the initiatives, the statement added.
The breakthrough came after Information Minister Hamza Baloul confirmed to AFP earlier on Sunday the delegation’s arrival while another senior official, who preferred to remain anonymous, said “the delegation won’t come back (to the capital Khartoum) before solving the crisis.”
A protest leader announced on September 20 that dozens of demonstrators, objecting to parts of a peace deal with rebel groups, had blocked the main container and oil export terminals in Port Sudan.
Neighbouring South Sudan produces around 162,000 barrels of oil per day, which are transported by pipeline to Port Sudan and then exported.
The Khartoum government receives around $25 for every barrel of oil sold from the South, according to official figures.
Sudan formed the joint civilian-military sovereign ruling council months after the ouster of long-time autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019.
It serves alongside a transitional government, headed by civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, which last October signed a peace agreement with several rebel groups.
But the eastern protesters, from Sudan’s Beja minority, say that the deal with rebels from the Darfur region, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states ignored their interests.
Speaking in Khartoum on Sunday, Sovereign Council chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan described the protesters’ demands as “a political matter that must be dealt with politically.”
While impeding access to Port Sudan, the protesters late last week also blocked the entrance to the city’s airport and a bridge linking Kassala with the rest of the country.


Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area

Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area
Updated 26 September 2021

Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area

Sudan says ‘repelled’ Ethiopian forces in border area
  • The dispute feeds into wider tensions in the region, including over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s military said Sunday it had “repelled the incursion of Ethiopian forces” in the disputed border area of Al-Fashaqa, near the conflict-ridden region of Tigray.

“Military forces have repelled the incursion of Ethiopian forces in the district of Om Barakeet, forcing them to retreat,” said Brig. Al-Taher Abu Haga, the army’s media adviser, in a statement.

Om Barakeet lies in the contested Al-Fashaqa area, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan, next to the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Khartoum stationed troops in Al-Fashaqa in November, around the time Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into Tigray to oust the region’s ruling party.

The bloody conflict killed thousands of people and pushed more than 400,000 into famine, according to United Nations. Tens of thousands of Tigrayans have also fled into Sudan.s

The border dispute feeds into wider tensions in the region, including over Ethiopia’s controversial Blue Nile dam.

Sudan, along with Egypt, has been locked in a bitter dispute over Ethiopia’s mega-dam for a decade. Both downstream countries, dependent on the river for most of their water, see the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as an existential threat.

Separately in Sudan, the general who heads the country’s ruling transitional authority on Sunday pledged to reform the army, days after a failed coup.

“We are going to reorganize the armed forces ... Partisan activities are banned in the army,” Sovereign Council chief General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan said at the opening of a military hospital in Khartoum.

“The armed forces are committed to holding elections on the date fixed for ending the transition” in 2023, he said.

“After that, the army will leave the political scene and its role will be limited to protecting the country.”

Sudan is led by a civilian-military administration under an August 2019 power-sharing deal signed after President Omar Bashir’s ouster by the military in April that year following mass protests against his iron-fisted rule.

Sudan’s government said it thwarted a Sept. 21 coup attempt involving military officers and civilians linked to the regime of imprisoned Bashir. At least 11 officers were among those arrested.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has since called for reforms within the army, a highly sensitive issue in Sudan.

A transition to full civilian rule has remained shaky, reeling from deep fragmentation among political factions, economic woes and a receding role for civilian leaders.

Paramilitary leader and Burhan’s deputy in the Sovereign Council, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, has pointed a finger of blame at politicians after the failed coup.

“Politicians are the main cause behind coups because they have neglected the average citizen ... and are more concerned fighting over how they can stay in power,” Daglo said.


‘Ancestor’ of Mediterranean mosaics discovered in Turkey

‘Ancestor’ of Mediterranean mosaics discovered in Turkey
Updated 27 September 2021

‘Ancestor’ of Mediterranean mosaics discovered in Turkey

‘Ancestor’ of Mediterranean mosaics discovered in Turkey
  • It is the ancestor of the classical period of mosaics that are obviously more sophisticated

USAKLI HOYUK, Turkey: The discovery of a 3,500-year-old paving stone, described as the “ancestor” of Mediterranean mosaics, offers illuminating details into the daily lives of the mysterious Bronze Age Hittites.

The assembly of over 3,000 stones — in natural shades of beige, red and black, and arranged in triangles and curves — was unearthed in the remains of a 15th century BC Hittite temple, 700 years before the oldest known mosaics of ancient Greece.

“It is the ancestor of the classical period of mosaics that are obviously more sophisticated. This is a sort of first attempt to do it,” says Anacleto D’Agostino, excavation director of Usakli Hoyuk, near Yozgat, in central Turkey.

At the site three hours from Turkey’s capital Ankara, first located in 2018, Turkish and Italian archaeologists painstakingly use shovels and brushes to learn more about the towns of the Hittites, one of the most powerful kingdoms in ancient Anatolia.

“For the first time, people felt the necessity to produce some geometric patterns and to do something different from a simple pavement,” D’Agostino says.

“Maybe we are dealing with a genius? Maybe not. It was maybe a man who said ‘build me a floor’ and he decided to do something weird?“

The discovery was made opposite Kerkenes mountain and the temple where the mosaic is located was dedicated to Teshub, the storm deity worshipped by the Hittites, equivalent to Zeus for the ancient Greeks.

“Probably here the priests were looking at the picture of Kerkenes mountain for some rituals and so on,” D’Agostino adds.

The archaeologists this week also discovered ceramics and the remains of a palace, supporting the theory that Usakli Hoyuk could indeed be the lost city of Zippalanda.

A significant place of worship of the storm deity and frequently mentioned in Hittite tablets, Zippalanda’s exact location has remained a mystery.

“Researchers agree that Usakli Hoyuk is one of two most likely sites. With the discovery of the palace remains alongside the luxurious ceramics and glassware, the likelihood has increased,” D’Agostino says.

“We only need the ultimate proof: a tablet carrying the name of the city.”

The treasures of Usakli Hoyuk, for which cedar trees were brought from Lebanon to build temples and palaces, were swallowed up like the rest of the Hittite world toward the end of the Bronze Age.

The reason is still not known. But some believe a change in climate accompanied by social unrest is the cause.

Nearly 3,000 years after their disappearance, the Hittites continue to inhabit Turkish imagination.

In an attempt to honor this connection, the excavation team recreated Hittite culinary traditions, trying ancient recipes on ceramics produced as they would have been at the time using the same technique and clay.

“We reproduced the Hittite ceramics with the clay found in the village where the site is located: We baked dates and bread with them as the Hittites used to eat,” says Valentina Orsi, co-director of the excavation.

“It was very good.”


Israel releases Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar from prison

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar talks to reporters in Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar talks to reporters in Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 26 September 2021

Israel releases Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar from prison

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar talks to reporters in Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021. (AFP)
  • Jarrar was sentenced in March 2021 to 2 years in prison for belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Israel and the US label a ‘terrorist’ organization
  • She had been detained without charge since 2019, and her sentence included time served

RAMALLAH: Israeli authorities on Sunday released from jail Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar after two years in detention.
Jarrar, 58, was sentenced to two years in March 2021 for belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which Israel and the United States label a “terrorist” organization.
But the Israeli military did not find evidence Jarrar had taken part in violent acts.
She had been detained without charge since 2019 when she was arrested along with several other Palestinian figures following an attack that killed an Israeli teenager. Israel blamed the attack on the PFLP.
Jarrar was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council, or parliament, as part of the PFLP.
On Sunday the group congratulated Jarrar on her release, describing her as a “comrade in arms” known for her “patience and tenacity.”

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar holds her mother’s hands as she arrives to Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, following her release from an Israeli prison on Sept. 26, 2021.

After leaving jail Jarrar visited the tomb of her daughter Suha who died in July, an AFP correspondent said.
At the time, Israeli prison authorities refused to allow Jarrar to attend the funeral.
Jarrar has been arrested and jailed many times and often held without charge in what Israelis call administrative detention.
Israeli administrative detention orders allow suspects to be held without charge for renewable six-month periods.
Israel says the procedure is intended to allow authorities to hold suspects while continuing to gather evidence, with the aim of preventing crimes in the meantime.
But the system has been criticized by Palestinians, human rights groups and members of the international community, who say Israel abuses it.