Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say
Palestinian Abdelfattah Abusrour shows his painting at his office in Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 December 2021

Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

BETHLEHEM: A giant Christmas tree takes pride of place in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, between the Church of the Nativity and a mosque adorned with lights cascading down its walls.

But there is more to the Palestinian city than its biblical significance, say organizers of the Bethlehem Cultural Festival, which promotes other aspects of the place revered as the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The annual festival features dance, music, art and culinary events in a city whose main source of income — overseas tourists — has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Around Christmas, the world prays to Bethlehem, but actually most people don’t know that Bethlehem is in Palestine,” said festival participant and chef Fadi Kattan as he selected fresh mint from a vegetable market.

“I cook, Umm Nabil sells herbs, there are dance troops, there are artists.”

Bethlehem lies five miles south of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The city is cut off from Jerusalem by an Israel wall, which Palestinians condemn as a land grab but Israel defends as a security measure to protect itself from attack. Talks between the sides collapsed in 2014.

For festival co-founder, Abdelfattah Abusrour, its aim is to show the world that Bethlehem exists as a living city outside the pages of history and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s not just a religious place,” Abusrour said. “It’s full of life, culture, art, beauty, hospitality and generosity of people — despite living under occupation.”


Egyptian president to discuss regional peace on official visit to Abu Dhabi

Egyptian president to discuss regional peace on official visit to Abu Dhabi
Updated 26 January 2022

Egyptian president to discuss regional peace on official visit to Abu Dhabi

Egyptian president to discuss regional peace on official visit to Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi arrived Wednesday on a state visit to Abu Dhabi  where he was welcomed by United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed.

The Egyptian president later attended a meeting Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. 

Upon arrival, the Egyptian presidency said the president’s visit aims to bolster ties between the UAE and Egypt.

It also said the Sisi reiterated Egypt’s condemnation of the Houthis militant attacks against the UAE.

Al-Sisi intended to “[consult] and [coordinate] on the latest regional developments, in light of what the current stage requires of concerted efforts to protect Arab national security and to counter attempts to destabilize the security and stability of Arab countries,” a statement from Egypt’s presidency read.


UAE records marks 2,369 new coronavirus cases over past 24 hours

UAE records marks 2,369 new coronavirus cases over past 24 hours
Updated 26 January 2022

UAE records marks 2,369 new coronavirus cases over past 24 hours

UAE records marks 2,369 new coronavirus cases over past 24 hours

DUBAI: The UAE health ministry announced Wednesday 2,369 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, marking a reduction in daily infection rates. 

The new figures bring the total number of recorded cases in the UAE to 833,201.

The ministry briefing also announced four deaths due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 2,228.
An additional 1,201 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 771,624.


UAE drone ban violators face massive fine 

UAE drone ban violators face massive fine 
Updated 26 January 2022

UAE drone ban violators face massive fine 

UAE drone ban violators face massive fine 
  • Violators will also face jail terms of six months to five years in addition to the fine

DUBAI: The UAE will issue fines of no less than $27,225 to those who violate the recently introduced ban on flying drones in the country. 

According to the country’s public prosecution, violators will also face jail terms of six months to five years in addition to the fine. 

The UAE Public Prosecution made the announcement on Twitter. 

The country’s Ministry of Interior (MoI) had previously announced on Saturday through its official Twitter account that it has stopped “all flying operations for owners and enthusiasts of drones.”

The decision, which was made in coordination with the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), aims to ensure the safety of both people and properties from “bad practices.” 

“The decision came after the misuse spotted recently, not limiting the practice of these sports to the areas identified in the user permits and trespassing into areas where these types of activities are prohibited,” wrote the ministry in its announcement. 

The statement added that those requiring the use of drones or other flying objects for work, commercial, filming or advertising purposes must obtain a permit in order to carry out their work.


Kurds advance on jihadists in besieged Syria jail, appeal for help

Kurds advance on jihadists in besieged Syria jail, appeal for help
Updated 26 January 2022

Kurds advance on jihadists in besieged Syria jail, appeal for help

Kurds advance on jihadists in besieged Syria jail, appeal for help
  • A tense stand-off has gripped the prison, with Kurdish forces and their Daesh rivals facing either a bloodbath or talks to end the fighting

HASAKAH, Syria: Kurdish forces advanced Wednesday inside a Syrian prison where Daesh group fighters have been holed up with minors for six days, amid pleas for international assistance to contain a jihadist resurgence.
More than 100 jihadists of the Daesh group last week attacked Ghwayran prison in the northeast Syrian city of Hasakah, held by a semi-autonomous Kurdish administration.
The brazen assault on the Kurdish-run facility involved a double suicide bombing and saw the jihadists free fellow Daesh members, seize weapons and take over a series of jail blocks.
It is considered the most sophisticated attack carried out by the group since it was territorially defeated in Syria nearly three years ago.
On Wednesday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and allied fighters “carried out search operations inside prison blocks” and in areas surrounding the facility, where intermittent clashes had broken out overnight, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
US-backed Kurdish forces were “advancing slowly” inside the jail where jihadists were still holed up, said the Britain-based monitor.
Fighting in and around the prison since Thursday has killed 181 people, including 124 Daesh jihadists, 50 Kurdish fighters and seven civilians, according to the Observatory.
With operations inside the facility underway, fears were raised over the fate of minors detained at Ghwayran, which held more than 700 boys among 3,500 Daesh suspects prior to the attack.
“They say they fear they’ll be shot down if they try to come out. They are begging for food, water, medicine,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Letta Tayler, adding she had made contact with three inmates including one minor trapped inside the jail.
They are calling for the United Nations “or other international organization to negotiate their safe exit,” Tayler said.
A tense stand-off has gripped the prison, with Kurdish forces and their Daesh rivals facing either a bloodbath or talks to end the fighting.
“The most likely way this ends is with the total defeat of the Daesh fighters at the prison,” said Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Newlines Institute.
“But the nightmare scenario for the SDF and the US-led coalition is a drawn out standoff that kills hundreds, including many children prisoners.”
Kurdish forces since Monday have freed 32 prison staff, some of whom appeared in video footage that Daesh had shared on social media after launching the attack, the Observatory says.
Around 1,000 men, including rebelling inmates and Daesh jihadists, have so far surrendered to Kurdish forces, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said Wednesday.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said that a Syrian Daesh jihadist was negotiating with Kurdish forces to end the mutiny and secure medical care for wounded jihadists.
Farhad Shami of the SDF media office said the SDF had made calls for Daesh to surrender, but he refused to refer to them as formal negotiations.
Ghwayran is the prison with the largest number of suspected Daesh members in Syria, the Observatory says.
Kurdish authorities say more than 50 nationalities are represented in a number of Kurdish-run prisons, where over 12,000 Daesh suspects are being held.
The Kurdish administration has long warned it does not have the capacity to hold, let alone put on trial, the thousands of Daesh fighters captured in years of operations.
“This issue is an international problem,” Abdulkarim Omar, the administration’s top foreign policy official, told AFP on Wednesday.
“We cannot face it alone.”
He called on the international community to “support the autonomous administration to improve security and humanitarian conditions for inmates in detention centers and for those in overcrowded camps.”
The proto-state declared by Daesh in 2014 once straddled large parts of Iraq and Syria.
After five years of military operations conducted by local and international forces, its last rump was eventually flushed out on the banks of the Euphrates in eastern Syria in March 2019.


Iran arrests 17 over social media horror pranks

Iran arrests 17 over social media horror pranks
Updated 26 January 2022

Iran arrests 17 over social media horror pranks

Iran arrests 17 over social media horror pranks
  • Gags included mock murders and a suicide as well as throwing cakes in the faces of passengers on the escalators of the Tehran metro

TEHRAN: Iranian police have arrested 17 university graduates on suspicion of filming candid camera horror pranks that boosted their social media followings but “sowed panic” in Tehran streets, reports said Tuesday.
Gags included mock murders and a suicide as well as throwing cakes in the faces of passengers on the escalators of the Tehran metro, Iranian newspapers reported.
“Police have arrested some individuals who amused themselves by playing on people’s nerves and the peace and security of the public by filming candid camera footage of horror gags on the streets of the capital,” Tehran police chief General Hossein Rahimi told the Iran newspaper.
“We arrested 17 people who perpetrated these illegal acts.”
The author of the gag filmed on the Tehran metro was open about his motives.
“I wanted to make people happy and increase the number of followers on my Instagram page,” he told the Shahab newspaper.
But the head of Tehran’s cyber police Col. Davoud Moazzami expressed outrage that educated people would scare the public for personal gain in this way.
“They filmed these candid camera videos to attract followers and advertising on Instagram and Twitter,” Moazzami said. “All 17 of those arrested had received university educations and worked for respected companies.”