UAE, Bahrain make Pfizer/BioNTech shot available to those who got Sinopharm vaccine

UAE, Bahrain make Pfizer/BioNTech shot available to those who got Sinopharm vaccine
Bahrain goes into a two-week semi-lockdown due to high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Bahrain and UAE has made Pfizer/BioNTech shot available to those who got Sinopharm vaccine. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 June 2021

UAE, Bahrain make Pfizer/BioNTech shot available to those who got Sinopharm vaccine

UAE, Bahrain make Pfizer/BioNTech shot available to those who got Sinopharm vaccine
  • The Gulf states initially started inoculating residents and citizens with Sinopharm before later introducing other vaccines
  • Bahrain currently fights its biggest wave of infections and UAE is recording nearly twice as many COVID-19 cases as it was seven months ago

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have made the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine available as a booster shot to those initially immunized with a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).
The Gulf states, which have vaccinated large portions of their populations, initially started inoculating residents and citizens with the Sinopharm COVID-19 shot before later introducing other vaccines.
Bahrain is currently fighting its biggest wave of infections, while the UAE is recording nearly twice as many COVID-19 cases as it was seven months ago.
In Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, a booster shot is available three months after the second shot had been administered, said a representative of Mubadala Health, part of the state fund.
A different vaccine can be provided as a booster shot but it is at the recipient’s discretion and health professionals do not make recommendations, the representative said.
Abu Dhabi has offered the Sinopharm shot to the general public since December and started using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in April. It has been offering third Sinopharm doses since at least last month after it was discovered the shot had not created enough antibodies for some recipients.
In Bahrain, a government representative similarly said those eligible could receive a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Sinopharm vaccines regardless of which vaccine they had initially taken.
“The government is not recommending which booster shot is chosen,” they said.
Bahrain saw daily infections peak last month at around 3,000. The UAE is currently reporting around 2,000 cases a day, down from a February peak of 3,977 but about twice as many as it was reporting in early December.
There have been concerns about the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine, granted emergency approval by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May, due to limited published clinical data being available.
The Chinese vaccine is 78.1 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19, according to a study published last month in the JAMA medical journal.
However, researchers said the data from the study, conducted in countries including the UAE and Bahrain, was insufficient for the elderly and those with chronic diseases.
The Wall Street Journal on Thursday cited Bahrain’s undersecretary of health Waleed Khalifa Al Manea as saying the Sinopharm vaccine provided a high degree of protection.
However, those in Bahrain who are older than 50, are obese or have chronic illnesses were being urged to take a Pfizer booster shot six months after receiving their second Sinopharm dose, he told the paper.


War monitor: Syria regime shelling on Idlib kills 9

War monitor: Syria regime shelling on Idlib kills 9
Updated 21 June 2021

War monitor: Syria regime shelling on Idlib kills 9

War monitor: Syria regime shelling on Idlib kills 9
  • The violence was the latest in a spate of violations of a cease-fire deal that was brokered by Turkey and Russia in March 2020

BEIRUT: Syrian government shelling on the rebel-controlled enclave of Idlib Monday killed at least nine people, including four civilians, a war monitor reported.
The violence was the latest in a spate of violations of a cease-fire deal that was brokered by Turkey and Russia in March 2020 and had largely held since.
Monday’s artillery fire struck several locations near the cease-fire lines and one Syrian soldier was killed in retaliatory fire, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In one incident in the village of Al-Bara, two women were killed by regime shelling, the Observatory said.
In the village of Ihsem, shelling struck a police station, killing one policeman and four members of armed groups opposed to the government of President Bashar Assad and its allies.
Another 13 people were wounded, the monitor said.
Both areas are under the control of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a militant organization that includes ex-members of Al Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.
Smaller factions are also present in those areas, said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the UK-based Observatory.
The northwestern Idlib region, which borders Turkey to the north and is home to more than a million people, is the last part of Syria controlled by rebel or militant groups.
Assad’s regime, backed by Russia and Iran, has vowed to retake the region and the enclave shrank under pressure from deadly land and air offensives.
A cease-fire deal brokered by Ankara — the main rebel backer — and Moscow was reached 15 months ago.
Despite sporadic skirmishes along the cease-fire lines, the truce has largely held, averting a major assault that aid groups warned could cause suffering on a scale yet unseen in the decade-old war.
The past few weeks have witnessed an uptick in violations, mostly by regime and allied forces, Abdel Rahman said.
“The escalation is unprecedented since the start of the truce,” he said.
On June 10, 12 people were killed in regime shelling on the Idlib region, in what was one of the deadliest incidents since the cease-fire came into effect.
According to the Observatory, close to half a million people have been killed by conflict since March 2011, when brutal government repression of pro-democracy protests ignited a civil war that also displaced half of Syria’s population.


Iran’s new president says ballistic program non-negotiable, but restoring ties with Riyadh possible

Iran’s new president says ballistic program non-negotiable, but restoring ties with Riyadh possible
Updated 41 min 20 sec ago

Iran’s new president says ballistic program non-negotiable, but restoring ties with Riyadh possible

Iran’s new president says ballistic program non-negotiable, but restoring ties with Riyadh possible

DUBAI: Iran’s president-elect said Monday there are "no obstacles" to restoring ties with Saudi Arabia, but said he is not willing to negotiate over Tehran’s ballistic missiles or support for regional militia. 
Ebrahim Raisi made the comment Monday in a news conference with journalists, his first since winning Friday’s election in a landslide.

"There are no obstacles from Iran's side to re-opening embassies... there are no obstacles to ties with Saudi Arabia," he said
He called himself “a defender of human rights” after being asked directly about his involvement in the 1988 mass executions of some 5,000 people.
“The US is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran,” he said.
Raisi was part of a so-called “death panel” that sentenced political prisoners to death at the end of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.
Raisi said his country’s foreign policy will not be limited by the 2015 nuclear agreement, in his first news conference since his victory in Friday’s election.
“Our foreign policy will not be limited to the nuclear deal,” Raisi said in Tehran. “We will have interaction with the world.”
“We will not tie the Iranian people’s interests to the nuclear deal.”
The victory of Ebrahim Raisi comes amid the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Millions of Iranians stayed home in defiance of a vote they saw as tipped in Raisi’s favor.
Of those who did vote, 3.7 million people either accidentally or intentionally voided their ballots, far beyond the amount seen in previous elections and suggesting some wanted none of the four candidates. In official results, Raisi won 17.9 million votes overall, nearly 62 percent of the total 28.9 million cast.
Raisi’s election puts hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program, at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at 60 percent its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels. Representatives of the world powers party to the deal returned to their capitals for consultations following the latest round of negotiations on Sunday.

(with AFP, AP and Reuters)


Israeli foreign minister to make first visit to UAE

Israeli foreign minister to make first visit to UAE
Updated 21 June 2021

Israeli foreign minister to make first visit to UAE

Israeli foreign minister to make first visit to UAE
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s visit comes after the two countries normalized relations last year

JERUSALEM: Israel’s new foreign minister will head to the United Arab Emirates next week for the first-ever visit by a top Israeli diplomat to the Gulf country.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s visit comes after the two countries normalized relations last year in an agreement brokered by the Trump administration.
The new governments in both Israel and the United States have said they hope to reach similar accords with other Arab states.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Monday that Lapid will visit the UAE June 29-30, and will inaugurate an Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi and a consulate in Dubai.


Israel allows some Gaza exports, one month after truce

Israel allows some Gaza exports, one month after truce
Updated 21 June 2021

Israel allows some Gaza exports, one month after truce

Israel allows some Gaza exports, one month after truce
  • Gaza’s agriculture ministry said farmers had lost $16 million due to the restrictions on exports

GAZA/TEL AVIV: Israel allowed a limited resumption of commercial exports from the Gaza Strip on Monday in what it called a “conditional” measure one month after a truce halted 11 days of fighting with the Palestinian enclave’s Hamas rulers.
Gaza border officials said the easing of Israeli restrictions would last two to three days and would apply to agricultural goods and some textiles.
Israel keeps tight controls Gaza crossings, with support from neighboring Egypt, citing threats from Hamas. The Israeli restrictions were intensified during the May fighting, effectively halting all exports.
But with the Egyptian-mediated cease-fire largely holding, Israel said some exports would be allowed out through its territory as of Monday morning.
“Following a security evaluation, a decision has been made for the first time since the end of (the fighting) to enable ... (the) limited export of agricultural produce from the Gaza Strip,” COGAT, a branch of Israel’s Defense Ministry, said.
COGAT said the measure was approved by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government and was “conditional upon the preservation of security stability.”
Egypt stepped up its Israel-Hamas mediation last week after incendiary balloons launched from Gaza drew retaliatory Israeli air strikes on Hamas sites, challenging the fragile cease-fire.
But with that flare-up having ebbed since early Friday, some workers in Gaza voiced hope that the easing of Israeli restrictions would last, and potentially be expanded. Some 10,000 people in Gaza, home 2 million people, work in textiles.
“This could be a start ... today we exported clothing, and tomorrow, maybe something else,” said Gaza truck driver Ismail Abu Suleiman, 55, who transports export-bound goods to Israel’s Kerem Shalom border crossing.
Gaza’s agriculture ministry said farmers had lost $16 million due to the restrictions on exports.


Iran says upcoming round of Vienna talks could be the last

Iran says upcoming round of Vienna talks could be the last
Updated 21 June 2021

Iran says upcoming round of Vienna talks could be the last

Iran says upcoming round of Vienna talks could be the last

DUBAI: Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the upcoming round of Vienna talks could be the last one, in remarks quoted by Al Arabiya TV on Monday.

Western officials warned Tehran on Sunday that negotiations to revive its nuclear deal could not continue indefinitely, after the sides announced a break following the election of a new hardline president in Iran. 

Negotiations have been ongoing in Vienna since April to work out how Iran and the United States can both return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which Washington abandoned in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, and Iran subsequently violated.

Sunday’s pause in the talks came after Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner and fierce critic of the West, won Iran’s presidential election on Friday. Two diplomats said they expected a break of around 10 days.