DUBAI: OPEC+ is discussing a further easing of oil output cuts from August as oil prices rise on demand recovery, but no decision had been taken yet on the exact volume to bring back to the market, two OPEC+ sources said on Tuesday.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, is returning 2.1 million barrels per day (bpd) to the market from May through July as part of a plan to gradually unwind last year’s record oil output curbs. OPEC+ meets next on July 1.
“It is highly possible to increase gradually from August,” said one of the sources, adding that no final decision had been made and the exact volumes are yet to be agreed on.
• OPEC+, is returning 2.1 million bpd to the market from May through July as part of a plan to gradually unwind last year’s record oil output curbs.
• The talks mean that OPEC and Russia are likely to find common ground again on oil production policy.
• Moscow has been insisting on raising output further to avoid prices spiking.
The talks mean that OPEC and Russia are likely to find common ground again on oil production policy. Moscow has been insisting on raising output further to avoid prices spiking, while key OPEC producers have given no signals on the next step until now.
Russian producers see August as a good time to further ease oil output cuts despite the expected return of Iranian barrels as the market is in deficit, an industry source told Reuters on Tuesday.
“Limping” US production also supports the case for easing the curbs, the Russian source said.
Crude oil prices retreated on Tuesday, after Brent rose above $75 a barrel for the first time since April 2019 and as OPEC+ begins discussions on raising oil production, but a strong demand outlook underpinned prices.
Historic forum brings together Iraqi scholars in Makkah
The Forum of the Iraqi Religious Scholars was organized by the Muslim World League (MWL)
MWL secretary-general said the Iraqi government has made huge steps to strengthen its country’s identity
Updated 9 min 32 sec ago
MAKKAH: An international forum about valuing the role of Saudi Arabia in strengthening peaceful coexistence concluded on Wednesday by stressing unity and a unanimous position in rejecting the rhetoric of sectarianism, hatred, and clash.
Organized by the Muslim World League (MWL), the Forum of the Iraqi Religious Scholars in Makkah was held in the presence of senior Sunni and Shiite scholars.
The forum’s final statement stressed the need to activate the “Makkah Document” and open channels of constructive dialogue and positive communication among scholars so they can resolve issues and crises.
The final statement also recommended setting a body for cultural communication between sects that the Muslim societies consist of, in addition to a coordinating committee that brings together Iraqi religious scholars and MWL.
The forum stressed the need to confront religious extremism from all sources, in addition to strengthening means of rejecting the rhetoric of intellectual and cultural hatred in the Muslim world.
MWL secretary-general Sheikh Mohammed Al-Issa said that the Iraqi government has made huge steps to strengthen its country’s identity, adding that “in their meeting today, the Iraqi religious scholars have warned of the disease of sectarianism.”
In his inaugural speech, Al-Issa said: “Between Sunnis and Shiites, there is nothing but ideal fraternal understanding and coexistence, and cooperation and integration in the context of sincere compassion, while understanding the specificity of each sect within the same religion.”
Pshtiwan Sadiq Abdullah, minister of endowments and religious affairs in Kurdistan-Iraq, said his government did not spare any effort in building the new and progressive federal Iraq, and that it has contributed to drafting the constitution, which guaranteed the rights of all components.
He also said Kurdistan was — and still is — a safe haven as it enjoys peaceful coexistence and respect for all religions and sects.
Sheikh Ahmed Hassan Al-Taha, a chief scholar of the Iraqi Jurisprudence Council, praised the role of the Kingdom under the leadership of King Salman in strengthening regional and international peace while also thwarting extremism.
He cited the 2006 Makkah Document as the best evidence to stop the bloodshed in a wounded Iraq.
“Kurds were pioneers in seeking good despite the ethnic, religious and sectarian diversity, which made Kurdistan-Iraq a role model at all levels,” Sheikh Abdullah Said Waysi, the head of the Kurdistan Islamic Scholars Union, said.
He also said the efforts of the religious institutions in Kurdistan-Iraq revolve around strengthening the principle of communication and cooperation among all in Iraq, based on serving society and the interests of its citizens.
A delegation of senior Iraqi religious scholars arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday evening to participate in the forum.
Saudi air defenses intercept Houthi drone launched from Yemen
Updated 25 min 12 sec ago
RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Wednesday that Saudi air defenses intercepted an explosive-laden drone launched by the Irahn-backed Houthi militia in Yemen.
The coalition said the drone was targeting the southern city of Khamis Mushait. Developing...
How the coronavirus’ delta variant disrupted Middle East’s ‘return to normal’ plans
Several MENA countries have experienced an explosion of infections linked to the highly transmissible strain
Travel restrictions had to be reimposed once the severity of the threat posed by the spread of delta became clear
Updated 11 min 7 sec ago
Rebecca Anne Proctor
DUBAI: Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with low rates of vaccination against COVID-19 have been experiencing an explosion of new cases and fatalities linked to the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.
The variant has been detected in at least 132 countries, prompting new waves of infection, the resumption of travel restrictions, and mounting concern over the availability and effectiveness of vaccines.
In the Gulf and eastern Mediterranean region, the variant has been found in more than a dozen countries including Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar. Although Saudi Arabia has not yet reported any cases, it has reimposed a raft of travel curbs in additions to bans and penalties for violators.
Also known by its scientific name B.1.617.2, the delta variant of the coronavirus was first detected in the Indian state of Maharashtra in October but was only labeled a variant of concern by the WHO on May 11.
Dr. Abdinasir Abubakar, head of the infectious hazards management unit at the WHO’s Middle East and eastern Mediterranean regional office in Cairo, told Arab News: “It was very easy for delta to spread throughout the region due to the many migrant workers from South Asia living in the Gulf and North Africa.”
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, and as contagious as chickenpox.
According to a confidential CDC document, picked up by US media in late July, delta is more transmissible than the common cold, the 1918 Spanish flu, smallpox, Ebola, MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), has a longer transmission window than the original strain, and may make older people more ill — even those fully vaccinated.
US health officials said people infected with the delta variant could carry up to 1,000 times more virus in their nasal passages than other strains, resulting in higher transmissibility. The WHO predicted there could be at least 200 million new cases worldwide in a matter of weeks.
In many countries, including the UK, the delta variant has now become the dominant strain. In Israel, which has a very high rate of vaccination, delta makes up 90 percent of new infections.
What is perhaps most alarming for health professionals is the number of young people, many of them unvaccinated, who are becoming seriously ill with the variant.
Earlier iterations of the virus were considered more harmful to older demographics and people with underlying health conditions, groups that governments have tended to prioritize in vaccination drives.
Although it appears to cause more severe symptoms than its forerunners, there was currently not enough data to suggest delta was any more deadly.
More encouraging was the data on the effectiveness of vaccines. A study by Public Health England found that 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.
On Sunday, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that New York-based Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech “have tweaked their mRNA vaccine to target the delta variant and will begin testing it on humans” this month.
The global market for COVID-19 vaccines, valued at $70 billion this year, could grow bigger as scientists debate whether people will need booster shots for the delta variant.
Owing to the slow rollout of vaccines in large parts of the developing world, there is limited protection for their populations against COVID-19.
In MENA countries, outbreaks of the delta variant of the coronavirus are adding to the pressure on hospitals, life-saving equipment, and even mortuaries.
Tunisia has been gripped by social unrest, attributable to a mix of political dysfunction, stretched healthcare systems, and mounting economic hardship.
Delta was labeled a variant of concern by WHO on May 11.
Most new cases in eastern Mediterranean are delta variant.
Variant is especially transmissible among the unvaccinated.
Delta may be 60% more infectious than alpha variant.
Surge poses serious challenge to MENA health systems.
Best protection is to receive two doses of the vaccine.
In Iran, a country which has vaccinated just 3 percent of its population, around 35,000 new infections and 357 deaths were recorded on July 27 alone.
In conflict-ridden areas of the Middle East, namely Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, where immunization rates remain low, the surge in delta cases poses a serious challenge to already ailing health systems and fragile government structures.
Abubakar said: “We are extremely concerned about what will happen when the delta variant spreads to emergency countries like Syria and Yemen. Delta will reach all countries in the region. The WHO is trying to work with nations to prepare for the worst, like having more ICU (intensive care unit) beds, oxygen, vaccines, and amplifying our social messaging.
“No country is immune from delta. We cannot afford for other countries in the region to go through what Tunisia is going through right now,” he added.
In Lebanon, for instance, a rise in COVID-19 cases would place an even greater burden on a cash-strapped country already blighted by electricity and fuel shortages.
Pierre Abi Hanna, head of the infectious disease division at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, told Arab News: “The numbers in Lebanon are increasing exponentially, and the majority of coronavirus cases circulating in Lebanon, from the samples taken, are from the delta strain.
“Over the last few weeks, we have also seen an increase in the number of hospitalized patients, all of whom are unvaccinated, as well as a small increase in the number of patients in ICU as well as those requiring mechanical ventilation.”
Patients were being hospitalized because they could not take oxygen at home due to Lebanon’s electricity shortages. Those hospitalized had tended to be younger than before and mostly unvaccinated.
“Some of them have received one shot, but the majority have received none. We are now seeing a higher number of cases in the younger population, aged 20 to 49. In the last three days, we have had an increase in the number of people needing ICU beds,” Abi Hanna said.
On a brighter side of the battle, GCC countries have coped well with the delta wave thanks to high rates of vaccination, high levels of compliance with public health measures, and timely travel restrictions.
At the end of June, the UAE announced it was suspending flights from India after recording its first cases of the delta variant. Emirati authorities said the strain now accounted for around one-third of all new infections in the country.
Although it has not recorded any cases of its own, Saudi Arabia unveiled a raft of new measures on July 3 — including a ban on travel to and from the UAE, the world’s top international-transport hub.
Saudi citizens who visit countries on its red list – the UAE, Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Lebanon, and Turkey – now face a three-year travel ban either directly or indirectly through states on the green list.
In addition to urging its citizens to continue wearing face masks and maintaining a safe social distance in public places, the Kingdom stressed that the best protection against the delta variant was to receive a second dose of vaccine.
Dr. Wail Bajhmoum, an infectious disease consultant and head of the internal medicine department at King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah, told Arab News: “Citizens should have the vaccines which have been provided by the government and the Ministry of Health free of charge and have been available for everyone in more than 587 centers all over the Kingdom.
“Researchers have shown that two doses of the vaccine will provide very good immunity against all variants of coronavirus, including delta.”
The UAE, which has implemented one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns, has issued a delta-detecting PCR test to help isolate the new outbreak. Cases rose at the end of June to more than 2,000 per day, contributing to a daily average of 10 deaths – the country’s highest toll in a single day since March, according to Reuter’s COVID-19 tracker.
The UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority said the increase in deaths was due to the spread of the alpha, beta, and delta variants. Since then, cases have fallen, with 1,536 recorded infections and two deaths on July 27.
“Some countries are better prepared than others. Delta was confirmed earlier in the Gulf countries, but they have a better system in place to handle the variant. This helped limit the spread of the variant, supplemented by the high vaccination rate in Gulf countries.
“We have found that the impact of delta on Gulf countries is low compared with countries with low vaccination rates, notably Tunisia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq,” Abubakar added.
The delta variant is only one of several mutations since the coronavirus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 — and it will not be the final iteration.
“It is not the last variant that we will see. We have to be prepared for new variants as well,” Abubakar said.
Thousands demand justice on anniversary of port blast in Lebanon
Tensions escalated quickly on the inaugural anniversary of the deadly Beirut port explosion as authorities shot off a water cannon and deployed tear gas at protestors
Protesters attempted to storm the parliament building in Beirut as Macron warns about sanctions against corrupted officials within Lebanon
Updated 55 min 51 sec ago
BEIRUT: On a national day of mourning, thousands of Lebanese citizens joined victims’ families and protesters on Wednesday to commemorate the inaugural anniversary of the deadly Beirut port blast.
Tensions escalated quickly as authorities shot off a water cannon and deployed tear gas at protestors who threw stones toward security forces near parliament. Some protestors even attempted to storm the parliament building in the heart of Beirut from the various entrances.
According to the Lebanese Red Cross, more than 50 people were injured in clashes between protesters and the authorities. The army said it arrested a citizen in the Zouk area, who was in possession of a weapon, ammunition, gas masks, and metal chains. They made six more arrests at the Awali checkpoint in Sidon as weapons, ammunition, and military equipment were confiscated.
The protesters called for justice and a swift investigation into who should be held responsible for the blast while a senior Christian cleric demanded to know why explosive chemicals had been stored in the capital.
On Aug. 4, 2020, a massive explosion — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital, killed at least 215 people, and injured more than 6,500. The blast destroyed entire residential neighborhoods and left at least 300,000 people homeless.
The forensic investigator into the crime has not yet issued an indictment to explain what happened but more details about the explosion continue to emerge.
The 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, arrived on a Russian-leased cargo ship that made an unscheduled stop in Beirut in 2013.
An FBI report seen by Reuters last week estimated around 552 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the blast, far less than the amount that had originally arrived.
The protesters on Wednesday demanded that the immunities for the defendants, which include acting ministers, representatives, and security officials be lifted so a proper investigation can be conducted.
“Justice is not just the demand of the families of the victims but of all Lebanese,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric, said during Wednesday’s memorial service.
“All immunities should be lifted. We want to know who brought in the explosives, who allowed for their unloading and storage, who removed quantities of it, and where it was sent.”
French President Emmanuel Macron accused the entire Lebanese political class of having “contributed to the exacerbation of the crisis when it placed its interests above the interests of the Lebanese people.”
Macron warned that individuals involved in corruption in Lebanon “should not doubt our determination to apply sanctions against them.”
The Lebanese parliament is yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs accused in the Beirut port explosion: former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, and Former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.
Caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy refused to lift the immunity of the defendant Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of the Lebanese General Security, last week.
Judge Bitar had previously charged the three MPs, and former minister Youssef Fenianos, with “negligence” and “possible intent to murder” because they were aware of ammonium nitrate “and did not take measures to spare the country the risks of an explosion.”
Security services took strict measures on the roads leading to the heart of Beirut on Wednesday. They allowed only pedestrians to enter the area and prevented motorbikes and cars during the protests.
On Tuesday, civic groups indicated that attempts would be made during the commemorations to storm parliament, homes of ministers, MPs, and public institutions. They said sit-ins would be held until the parliament approved the lifting of immunity.
On the day of national mourning, flags were lowered over the presidential palace and public institutions as all facilities in the capital were closed.
Thousands of citizens gathered near the port in the afternoon waving Lebanese flags. Protesters came from Baalbek, Tripoli, Tyre, and Matn to express their anger at the authorities’ attempts to put obstacles in the way of knowing the truth. Men and women were dressed in black while children and the elderly carried flags and chanted for justice.
The families of the victims carried pictures of their deceased loved ones as they recalled moments of sorrow and tears. They demanded to know why their relatives died.
“What is required is to prosecute all those whom the judiciary accuses of negligence and knowledge of the existence of these tons of deadly materials but did nothing,” Hussein Nassar, a war veteran, told Arab News.
“This includes everyone from the top of the pyramid to the lowest ranking official. The revolutionaries are patient, and we will bring down this parliament in the upcoming elections.”
Nadim Ezz El-Din said he came from Deir Qanoun En Nahr in the south to demand that the ruling authority appears before the judiciary: “I do not want to insult people, but criminals should be behind bars.”
A woman who went by “Lara” went to the Beirut Port to show solidarity with the victims’ families and traveled with her sisters from the Dbayeh area.
“We still believe in the homeland and the revolution, but we hate the parties that took power and brought us to where we are today,” she said. “We will stand in the face of this authority no matter how hard they try to suppress us.”
Elham Awad came with her friends from the Saadiyat region in the south. She said the firing of rockets from the south toward Israel on Wednesday was “an attempt to divert the attention away from the perpetrators of the Aug. 4 massacre.”
A virtual conference to support Lebanon on Wednesday concluded with participants pledging a combined $370 million within the year to support a country ravaged by a failing government, economic collapse, and widespread living crises.