Tourist influx offers hope for hard-hit Bethlehem

 Christian tourists visit the Church of the Nativity in the biblical West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AFP file photo)
Christian tourists visit the Church of the Nativity in the biblical West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 10 April 2022

Tourist influx offers hope for hard-hit Bethlehem

 Christian tourists visit the Church of the Nativity in the biblical West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AFP file photo)
  • Tourism is returning to Bethlehem and the Holy Land under the slogan “Ready,” which highlights the sector’s efforts to comply with COVID-19 protocols

RAMALLAH: An influx of visitors to Bethlehem ahead of the Easter holiday has been welcomed by tourism chiefs desperate for a return to “business as usual” in the West Bank city, which was hit hard by global travel restrictions during the pandemic.
“Tourist groups are arriving in satisfactory numbers, and we hope that numbers will continue to increase during the year,” Elias Al-Arja, president of the Arab Hotels Association and manager of the Bethlehem Hotel, told Arab News.
Bethlehem relies on tourism for 90 percent of its economic income and has struggled financially since the sector came to a standstill following the global COVID-19 outbreak.
“We closed for two-and-a-half years because of the pandemic,” Al-Arja said.
In previous years, annual tourist numbers climbed to more than 2.5 million.
Al-Arja said that Bethlehem has been promoting itself since the Holy Land reopened to tourism and is now witnessing an influx of visitors, mainly in the form of religious tourism for the Easter season.

HIGHLIGHT

Bethlehem relies on tourism for 90 percent of its economic income and has struggled financially since the sector came to a standstill following the global COVID-19 outbreak.

However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine had also affected visitor numbers, with the two countries and their neighbors normally providing up to 30 percent of religious tourists staying in Bethlehem hotels, Al-Arja said.
The city has 47 hotels, with 4,500 rooms and 9,000 beds, and bookings are running at 30 percent during the Easter season so far.
Hotel operators have refurbished and hired new staff in preparation for the expected rise in tourist numbers.
Al-Arja and other Bethlehem hotel owners are preparing to welcome about 3,500 Egyptian religious tourists between April 15-25, about 2,500 fewer than normally visit the city over the Easter period.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism is promoting religious tourism in the city, and issuing tourist establishments with work permits that ensure their readiness to welcome foreign visitors and comply with coronavirus protocols.
Al-Arja said the ministry has also sponsored several tourist exhibitions, including the Palestine pavilion at Expo Dubai 2020.
Tourism is returning to Bethlehem and the Holy Land under the slogan “Ready,” which highlights the sector’s efforts to comply with COVID-19 protocols.
“We have worked to restore the world’s confidence in the Palestinian tourism sector so that it can resume activity and provide tourism services with the highest standards,” Jeries Qumsyieh, a ministry spokesman in Bethlehem, told Arab News.
Work permits and licenses are granted to tourist establishments only after employees complete training courses to ensure establishments meet health standards and comply with coronavirus safeguards.
Bethlehem is home to many important religious sites, including the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherds’ Field Chapel. The city also has more than 100 shops selling oriental antiques, 400 workshops, restaurants, hotels and shopping centers.
“The return of tourism will contribute to the economic recovery of Bethlehem, which is still suffering from the effects of the pandemic,” said Qumsiyeh.
“The tourism sector was the first to be affected by the outbreak and one of the last sectors to return to life,” he added.
Palestinian tourism promoters have expanded their programs by offering visits to Palestinian camps, as well as a tour of the northern entrance to Bethlehem, where drawings by the international artist Banksy can be seen.


Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz
Updated 9 sec ago

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz
  • Last month on June 6, UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg proposed opening a main road linking Taiz with other provinces
  • The government previously insisted on a complete lifting of the siege

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen will not begin discussing other issues with the Houthis under a UN-brokered truce until the militia accepts a proposal to open roads in Taiz, a government official has told Arab News.
Last month on June 6, UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg proposed opening a main road linking Taiz with other provinces that would partially ease the Houthi siege on the city, with the aim of resolving stalled negotiations between the two sides.
The government previously insisted on a complete lifting of the siege but accepted the proposal as long as other roads opened during subsequent rounds of talks.
But the Houthis rejected Grundberg’s proposal, dealing a blow to the talks and the truce that has by and large been holding since April 2.
“We will not accept discussing other issues or offer more concessions before they agree to the UN envoy’s proposal,” the Yemeni government official said anonymously because he was not authorized to brief reporters. “We have not received any invitation (from the UN envoy) to take part in a new round of discussion on the Taiz file.”
The Houthis alternatively proposed opening an old, rough road connecting Taiz with the countryside.
Taiz residents and local government officials told Arab News that the proposed road was narrow, unpaved, and had been abandoned for over six decades.
The head of the Houthi delegation to the talks, Yahiya Abdullah Al-Razami, said on Friday that the movement would unilaterally open the old road, claiming it had not pledged to open main roads in Taiz when it signed the truce.
“This is not true. The Houthis signed the elements of the truce that include Sanaa airport, Hodeidah port, and opening roads in Taiz,” the government official said.
The Yemeni army has accused the Houthis of breaking the truce more than 100 times last week in Hodeidah, Taiz, Hajjah, Saada, Jouf, and Marib, and killing a soldier and wounding four more.
In Taiz, the army on Saturday said it had shot down a small explosives-rigged drone sent by the Houthis to government-controlled areas north of the city.
The Houthis have been laying siege to Taiz for the past seven years, having failed to take control of it due to resistance from government troops.
Yemeni and Western diplomats have criticized the Houthis for refusing to lift their siege and called on the movement to respond positively to peace efforts.
“The UN calls for access around Yemen’s third-largest city, Taiz. The Houthis must find a way to compromise on the UN proposal so we can move forward to broader issues important to Yemenis,” US Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking told France 24 Arabic TV on Friday.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak warned that the Houthis’ unwillingness and delays in opening roads in Taiz would jeopardize the truce.
He said his government had accepted the UN proposal on Taiz as it was a test of the militia’s motivations for making peace and ending the war.
“Lifting the siege is one of the main elements of the truce. We affirm our keenness to respect the truce and treat it as a space of hope and a window for peace. But the continued intransigence of the Houthi militia threatens the truce very seriously,” he told Lebanon’s Annahar Al-Arabi news website.


UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament
Updated 3 min 21 sec ago

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament
  • The UN’s top Libya envoy Stephanie Williams says ‘riots and acts of vandalism’ were ‘totally unacceptable’
  • Libyan protesters say they will keep demonstrating until all the ruling elites quit power

CAIRO/TRIPOLI: A senior UN official for Libya on Saturday condemned the storming of the parliament’s headquarters by angry demonstrators as part of protests in several cities against the political class and deteriorating economic conditions.
Hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of the capital, Tripoli, and other Libyan cities on Friday, with many attacking and setting fire to government buildings, including the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk.
“The people’s right to peacefully protest should be respected and protected but riots and acts of vandalism such as the storming of the House of Representatives headquarters late yesterday in Tobruk are totally unacceptable,” said Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser on Libya, on Twitter.
Libyans, many impoverished after a decade of turmoil and sweltering in the soaring summer heat, have been enduring power cuts of up to 18 hours a day, fuel shortages, and crumbling services and infrastructure, even as their country sits atop Africa’s largest proven oil reserves.
In both the main eastern city of Benghazi — the cradle of the 2011 uprising — and the capital Tripoli, thousands took to the streets to chants of “We want the lights to work.”
Friday’s protests came a day after the leaders of the parliament and another legislative chamber based in Tripoli failed to reach an agreement on elections during UN-mediated talks in Geneva. The dispute now centers on the eligibility requirements for candidates, according to the UN.
Libya failed to hold elections in December, following challenges such as legal disputes, controversial presidential hopefuls and the presence of rogue militias and foreign fighters in the country.
The failure to hold the vote was a major below to international efforts to bring peace to the Mediterranean nation. It has opened a new chapter in its long-running political impasse, with two rival governments now claiming power after tentative steps toward unity in the past year.
The protesters, frustrated from years of chaos and division, have called for the removal of the current political class and elections to be held. They also rallied against dire economic conditions in the oil-rich nation, where prices have risen for fuel and bread and power outages are a regular occurrence.
There were fears that militias across the country could quash the protests as they did in 2020 demonstrations when they opened fire on people protesting dire economic conditions.
Sabadell Jose, the European Union envoy in Libya, called on protesters to “avoid any type of violence.” He said Friday’s demonstrations demonstrated that people want “change through elections and their voices should be heard.”
Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The country was then for years split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.
Libya’s energy sector, which during the Qaddafi era financed a generous welfare state, has also fallen victim to political divisions, with a wave of forced closures of oil facilities since April.
Supporters of the eastern-based administration have shut off the oil taps as leverage in their efforts to secure a transfer of power to Bashagha, whose attempt to take up office in Tripoli in May ended in a swift withdrawal.
Libya’s National Oil Corporation has announced losses of more than $3.5 billion from the closures and a drop in gas output, which has a knock-on effect on the power grid.
(With AP and AFP)


UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan
Updated 02 July 2022

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan
  • The dispatched field hospital includes 75 beds and two operating rooms

The UAE has sent three planes of medical supplies, including a 1,000 square-meter-field hospital, to aid the injured of Afghanistan's earthquake that killed over 1,000 people and wounded scores more, Emirates new agency (WAM) reported on Saturday.
The dispatched hospital includes 75 beds and two operating rooms equipped with medical supplies and devices, the WAM statement read.
The planes also carried 16 metric tonnes of equipment and a medical team to operate the hospital and provide urgent medical services.
The UAE earlier established an air bridge to transport aid in the wake of the disaster.
The relief efforts come as Afghan authorities reported a shortage of food, shelter and medical supplies for the victims of the country’s deadliest earthquake in decades.

Last week, the country dispatched a plane carrying 30 tons of urgent food supplies to Afghanistan as aid continued to pour in from different parts of the world.


Egypt seeks to attract more Italian tourists

Egypt seeks to attract more Italian tourists
Updated 02 July 2022

Egypt seeks to attract more Italian tourists

Egypt seeks to attract more Italian tourists
  • Minister holds talks with tourism chief during visit to Rome

CAIRO: Khaled El-Anany, Egyptian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, has held talks with Ivana Jelinic, president of the Federation of Italian Tourism Companies, as part of efforts to attract more Italian tourists to Egypt.

The meeting was held at the Egyptian Embassy in Rome during El-Anany’s visit to the Italian capital.

Egypt’s plans to attract more tourists from various markets, including Italy, were reviewed at the meeting, which also discussed organizing a number of introductory visits for leading Italian tour operators and media representatives.

These visits will include Sharm El-Sheikh and other tourist cities in South Sinai in preparation for the coming winter season.

Joint advertising campaigns in Italy were also discussed, amid a growing interest among Italians in Egyptian cities and tourist destinations.

 


Shiite cleric shot, wounded in central Iran

Shiite cleric shot, wounded in central Iran
Updated 02 July 2022

Shiite cleric shot, wounded in central Iran

Shiite cleric shot, wounded in central Iran
  • Mohsen Akhavan was targeted in the city of Isfahan
  • He was returning home after leading the morning prayer when the attack occurred

TEHRAN: A Shiite cleric in central Iran was injured on Saturday morning after an assailant on a motorcycle shot at him, Iranian state media said.
Mohsen Akhavan, who holds the clerical rank of hojatoleslam, was targeted in the city of Isfahan, according to the website of state broadcaster IRIB.
Akhavan, who was the imam of a mosque in the city, was returning home after leading the morning prayer when the attack occurred, IRIB reported.
The report added that the cleric, who had earlier been working at the Isfahan Islamic seminary, was “not seriously injured” and was being treated in hospital.
In early April, a Sunni extremist of Uzbek origin stabbed two Shiite clerics to death and injured a third in the courtyard of the main shrine of the northeastern holy city of Mashhad.
Abdolatif Moradi, 21, was hanged on June 20 in the same city after being convicted over the attack, according to the judicial authority.
Moradi “was accused of moharebeh (’war against God’, in Persian) using a weapon to terrorize the population in the shrine and even outside it,” judicial authorities said.
The attack in Mashhad came days after two Sunni clerics were shot dead outside a seminary in the northern Iranian town of Gonbad-e Kavus.
The three suspects in that case, also Sunnis, were arrested in late April but were said to have “no connection with terrorist groups,” state media reported at the time.