Jordan reports its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases to date as fourth wave rages

According to government figures, 4,556,988 people in Jordan have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 4,168,651 have received two shots. (Reuters/File Photo)
According to government figures, 4,556,988 people in Jordan have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 4,168,651 have received two shots. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 24 January 2022

Jordan reports its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases to date as fourth wave rages

According to government figures, 4,556,988 people in Jordan have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 4,168,651 have received two shots. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • An additional 11,478 cases have been confirmed, bringing the total in the country since the pandemic began to 1,152,526
  • Nearly 23 percent of tests returned a positive result, 18 percent above the 5 percent rate considered ‘safe’ by authorities

AMMAN: Jordan on Monday reported the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases in the country since the pandemic began, as the kingdom battles to contain a surging fourth wave of coronavirus infections.

Authorities said an additional 11,478 cases have been confirmed, bringing the total to 1,152,526, and another 15 people have died of conditions related to the disease. The death toll now stands at 13,088.

Nearly 23 percent of PCR tests returned a positive result, 18 percent above the 5 percent rate considered “safe” by the government.

A further 158 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital, while 107 have recovered and been discharged. A total of 714 people are currently receiving hospital treatment for the disease.

The government said occupancy rates of isolation beds by COVID-19 patients in the country’s northern, central and southern regions stand at 10 percent, 19 percent and 8 percent respectively.

According to government figures, 4,556,988 people in Jordan have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 4,168,651 have received two shots.


Turkey, Iran race to fill Russian ‘void’ in Syria

A Russian soldier stands guard in the northeastern Hasakeh province, Syria. (AFP)
A Russian soldier stands guard in the northeastern Hasakeh province, Syria. (AFP)
Updated 20 sec ago

Turkey, Iran race to fill Russian ‘void’ in Syria

A Russian soldier stands guard in the northeastern Hasakeh province, Syria. (AFP)
  • Ukraine crisis likely to increase Damascus regime’s dependence on Tehran, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: The withdrawal of tens of thousands of Russian troops from Syria to bolster its forces in Ukraine may mark a turning point in the Syrian conflict, and lead to a race between Tehran and Ankara to fill the void left by Moscow in the country, leading analysts suggest.  

Russia, Iran and Turkey are guarantor countries of the Astana talks on Syria that aim at brokering a permanent peace deal by bringing warring sides together.

However, Russia has been the balancing force in this trio, preventing the uncontrolled entrenchment of Iranian-backed militia.

But now abandoned Russian bases are believed to have been transferred to Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah, while Tehran is expected to send more troops into Syria to fill the gap left by Ukraine-bound Russian military personnel.

In early April, Luna Chebel, a top adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad, told the BBC that assistance and expertise from Iranian forces are welcome, hinting at the possibility of Iran having greater sway in Syria.

Iran is believed to have created a new militia, similar to its elite forces, to assume the tasks previously handled by Russian troops. The new force, under the control of Hezbollah and the IRGC, is stockpiling drones, chemical weapons and ballistic missiles.

Ankara and Tehran back rival sides in the Syrian conflict, with Iran supporting the Assad regime, while Turkey backs the Syrian opposition.  

Russia’s maritime supply of its forces in Syria has been complicated in recent months by Ankara’s decision under the Montreux Convention to restrict the use of Turkish straits by Russian warships based in the Black Sea.

However, Mehmet Emin Cengiz, research fellow at Al-Sharq Strategic Research, believes Russia is unlikely to give up its presence in Syria.

“Russia has invested a lot in Syria over the years, and there has been a long-standing rivalry between Russia and Iran for influence in Syria. Even if Russia relocates some of its soldiers or withdraws them from Syria, it will not leave the field entirely to Iran,” he told Arab News.  

Cengiz believes that with the Ukraine crisis allowing Iran to fill some of the gaps left by Russia in Syria, it is likely that the conflict will increase the regime’s dependence on Iran.

“After the Ukraine crisis, contacts between Syrian and Iranian officials increased. Recently, Bashar Assad paid a visit to Tehran. He might receive economic assistance from Tehran in the face of a deep economic crisis in Syria,” Cengiz said.

According to Aron Lund, a fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation think tank, the Ukraine war has upset the balance between Turkey and Russia in Turkey’s favor, which could be consequential for Syria.

“It could end up destabilizing a long-frozen situation, but it won’t necessarily lead to renewed conflict,” he told Arab News.

“Even under pressure in Ukraine, Russia may be able to deter advances by Turkey-backed forces in Syria, and Turkey may still want Russia’s cooperation to secure its own interests,” he added.

Lund believes that both countries could trade concessions and favors in ways that avoid trading territory, or waging war, in Idlib.

“For example, Russia could agree to be more flexible on humanitarian issues, including an upcoming vote in the UN Security Council in July that Turkey really wants to pass. Or Russia could lend support to Turkish cross-border operations against Kurdish forces, which it has previously been reluctant to do,” he said.

Last week, Geir O. Pedersen, UN special envoy for Syria, recently sent invitations to the Syrian regime and opposition for the eighth round of talks starting in late May.

Lund expects new deals regarding the UN-brokered Syrian constitutional committee.

“But renewed fighting in Idlib remains a live risk, either because of a breakdown in the balance or as a way to test the strength and determination of the other side,” he said.

Noah Ringler, an expert from Georgetown University, believes that although Turkey and Iran have cooperated in the past against PKK-affiliated groups against a shared threat, this time Iran may recognize the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, a Syrian affiliate of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, as a different faction and be open to assuming Russia’s role in negotiation and coordinating between the Assad regime and administrative authorities in northeastern Syria.

“As Iran expands its role in Syria, Turkey will likely seek opportunities to confront Assad regime forces and their partners for expanded territory or trade near Manbij or Tal Rifaat, or even near Ayn Issa, especially as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s previous operations have proven popular and as public support for forced refugee return to Syria has increased,” he told Arab News.

“Assad’s forces still seek to launch another phase of the Idlib operation, and Iran may consider supporting one in the future to destabilize NATO’s southern flank, depending on nuclear negotiations and other factors, but Iran is not prepared to do so at this point,” Ringler said.

However, the current disagreements between Turkey and Iran are not limited to Syria, with disputes over transboundary waters and dam construction further straining bilateral ties.

Turkey’s dam projects on the Tigris and Aras rivers angered Tehran, which fears the schemes could reduce water flow in the Tigris and Euphrates, and pose an environmental threat as shown by recent dust storms.

However Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has said that Ankara is open to any “rational and scientific cooperation” with Iran.

The illegal transit of Afghan refugees to Turkey from its border with Iran has also angered Ankara, which claims that Tehran facilitated the uncontrolled passage.

“Relations between Iran and Turkey have become increasingly strained on a number of files: Dam construction; Ankara’s warming relations with Israel; tensions with Iran-backed militias in Iraq; and now Russia’s shifting of resources from Syria to Ukraine will add further complications,” said Jason Brodsky, policy director of United Against a Nuclear Iran.

A new Pentagon report claimed that Iran-backed militias have been coordinating with the PKK for attacking Turkish troops in northern Iraq.

“All of these developments have the potential to shift the balance in Syria given the crowded landscape there. In 2020, Iran’s advisory center in northern Syria issued a warning to Turkish forces that they could be targeted after they retaliated following 33 Turkish soldiers being killed in a Syrian airstrike in Idlib,” Brodsky told Arab News.

As Russia in the past has tried to reduce tensions between Turkey and the Syrian government in the area, Brodsky believes that Moscow’s troop withdrawal could empower the Assad regime as well as Iran in Idlib.

“This is not to say Russia will be completely absent, but if it is shifting resources to contend with Ukraine, that has the potential to scramble the battlefield dynamics in Idlib,” he added.

 


US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy
Updated 20 May 2022

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy

US calls on Lebanon’s leaders to work with ‘urgency’ to rescue economy
  • Hezbollah and its allies lost a parliamentary majority in the elections

LONDON: The US on Friday welcomed that parliamentary elections in Lebanon were held on time and without major security incidents, but urged the country's leaders to quickly form a government to resolve the ongoing economic crisis.

Last weekend’s elections led to Hezbollah and its allies losing a parliamentary majority.

“We congratulate the Lebanese people on their participation despite challenging circumstances, we also recognize the important role the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces played in supporting the process and maintaining security,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said.

“As Lebanon looks ahead, we urge those elected and the country’s political leaders to heed the Lebanese people’s call for change and to work seriously, and with urgency, to take the necessary actions to rescue the economy,” he added.

 

Price said the US was urging the swift formation of a new government able to carry out the “hard work required to restore the confidence of the Lebanese people and the international community.”

After videos surfaced reportedly showing Hezbollah supporters swapping vote ballots, ripping up others and ransacking voting booths in Baalbek, Price voiced the US’ worries.

“We share the concerns raised by our partners in the international community of allegations of vote-buying, clientelism, and reports of intimidation,” he said.

Lebanon’s cabinet on Friday passed an economic recovery plan designed to pull the country out of a three-year financial meltdown.

Ministers agreed the measure in the cabinet’s final session just before losing decision-making powers, following the election, that is set to designate a new prime minister.

The World Bank has called Lebanon’s financial crisis is one of the worst the world has seen in over 150 years.


Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi

Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi
Updated 20 May 2022

Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi

Widow tells South Africa to help locate body of photographer murdered by Gaddafi
  • UK-based Anton Hammerl was killed by pro-regime forces in Libya 2011
  • Penny Sukhraj-Hammerl says South African government has not made clear how it obtained her deceased husband’s passport

LONDON: The widow of a UK-based photographer murdered by Col. Gaddafi’s forces in Libya in 2011 is urging the South African government to release information she believes is crucial to locating her husband’s body.

Anton Hammerl was held captive for 44 days before being killed in the May 2011 incident that resulted in the kidnap of James Foley, who was later beheaded by Daesh, but despite a years-long campaign by widow Penny Sukhraj-Hammerl, his body has never been found.

The Guardian reports that at issue is how Hammerl’s passport came to be in the hands of the South African government, who returned it to Sukhraj-Hammerl, who believes disclosing that information will help in the efforts to locate the photographer’s body.

“(The passport) was posted to my office in mid-2016. I was quite overwhelmed as I didn’t expect it,” she told the Guardian, explaining that her husband would have been carrying his ID document at the time of his death in a photographer’s waist pouch he wore.

Despite repeated efforts, including a freedom of information request, to find out how South Africa came into possession of the passport, the government has continuously stonewalled requests, with the Guardian claiming this led to Sukhraj-Hammerl going public.

“It’s been nearly a year since I first wrote to you and your government to request a meeting regarding the case of my late husband … who was murdered by Gaddafi forces in Libya in April 2011,” she wrote to South Africa’s high commissioner in London, Nomatemba Tambo, copied to the country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, earlier this week.

“During this time, we have signalled publicly and privately on several occasions that we would like to meet urgently to discuss a matter of serious concern in the handling of our case. More than a decade since Anton’s death, we still don’t know the location of his remains.

“We still don’t have a grave to visit. We still don’t know the truth. Your administration’s response? Silence.”

Sukhraj-Hammerl told the Guardian: “I’m baffled by their response. They’ve demonstrated no regard for accountability. We’ve requested meetings that have not been granted.

“I feel that they had information that they should have shared with us. So many officials involved that I find it hard to believe that someone doesn’t know something as significant as how a passport came to be handed over.”

South Africa’s former president, Jacob Zuma, led the family to believe he would raise the issue on a visit to Tripoli in the last days of Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, although no evidence exists that he did so. 

Zuma has subsequently been caught in a series of financial scandals, including allegations that he received $30 million from Gaddafi, with whom he had a close relationship, to hide on his behalf.

Sukhraj-Hammerl added: “I think we’re calling for justice and truth. We’ve not had the due — as family, we should have had (it). It’s been really distressing. It’s horrid (to) realise (the South African government) had an opportunity to do more and choose deliberately (to) ignore us.

“We have a right to know. They owe us an explanation. It is least that they can do.”


Lebanon cabinet passes financial recovery plan: Ministerial sources

Lebanon cabinet passes financial recovery plan: Ministerial sources
Updated 20 May 2022

Lebanon cabinet passes financial recovery plan: Ministerial sources

Lebanon cabinet passes financial recovery plan: Ministerial sources
  • Ministers agreed measure in cabinet’s final session hours before losing decision-making powers
  • Lebanon reached preliminary agreement with IMF in April

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s cabinet has passed an economic recovery plan designed to pull the country out of a three-year financial meltdown, two ministerial sources told Reuters on Friday.

Ministers agreed the measure in the cabinet’s final session hours before losing decision-making powers, following the election of a new parliament on May 15 that is set to designate a new prime minister.

The plan includes several measures that are prerequisites for an International Monetary Fund bailout, including a plan to restructure the banking sector and reforming a banking secrecy law.

Lebanon reached a preliminary agreement with the IMF in April that listed a number of prior actions that the fund said must be implemented before it could reach a full deal.

In late April, the Association of the Banks in Lebanon (ABL) rejected a draft government recovery plan that it said would leave banks and depositors shouldering the “major portion” of a government-estimated $72 billion hole in the financial sector.

An ABL spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s events.

Lebanon’s banks have been major lenders to the government for decades, helping to finance a wasteful and corrupt state that tipped into financial meltdown in 2019.

The collapse has resulted in depositors being shut out of their savings as the local currency lost more than 90 percent of its value.

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Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row

Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row
Updated 20 May 2022

Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row

Amnesty urges Yemen’s Houthi militia to free journalists on death row
  • The four, Abdul Khaleq Amran, Tawfiq al-Mansouri, Harith Hamid and Akram al-Walidi were arrested in June 2015 in Sanaa
  • In April 2020, a Houthi court sentenced the four journalists to death on charges of "treason and spying for foreign states"

DUBAI: Amnesty International has urged Yemen’s Houthi militia to free four journalists facing the death penalty for “espionage” in the war-torn country, ahead of an appeal court hearing on Sunday.
The four, Abdul Khaleq Amran, Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, Harith Hamid and Akram Al-Walidi were arrested in June 2015 in Yemen’s Houthi-held capital Sanaa.
“Yemen’s Houthi de facto authorities must quash the death sentences and order the immediate release of four Yemeni journalists who are facing execution following a grossly unfair trial,” the rights group said in a statement on Friday.
In April 2020, a Houthi court sentenced the four journalists to death on charges of “treason and spying for foreign states.”
“This has been a sham of a trial since the beginning and has borne a terrible toll on the men and their families,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director Lynn Maalouf, according to the statement.
One of the detained men, Mansouri, is in a “critical health condition” with heart and other ailments, Amnesty said.
“Pending their overdue release, the journalists must be provided with urgent medical care — the denial of medical treatment for the seriously ill is an act of cruelty which amounts to torture and other ill-treatment,” the statement said.
At the time of their trial, Amnesty criticized their sentencing on “trumped-up charges,” while Reporters Without Borders called the verdict “totally unacceptable.”
Their arrest was motivated by their reporting on “human rights violations committed by Houthis,” the International Federation of Journalists and the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate have said.
An appeal will be heard by the Specialized Criminal Appeals Division in Sanaa on Sunday.

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