LONDON: Authorities in Tunisia on Wednesday warned of a renewed COVID-19 threat and urged the public to get vaccinated, the state news agency, TAP, reported.
“The scientific committee to fight the coronavirus warned of another COVID-19 wave,” Dr. Riadh Daghfous, director of the National Pharmacovigilance Center, told the agency.
He advised people to get vaccinated to increase their immunity and help prevent the transmission of infections, in anticipation of a possible surge in cases in January.
A campaign promoting vaccination against the dominant omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 will be launched this week, Daghfous said.
People with chronic medical conditions and immunodeficiencies, seniors and those who received their last dose of vaccine more than six months ago need to get vaccinated, he added.
“It is the right time now to have a vaccine booster,” he said. “Infections are on an upward trend but are not life-threatening. The number of deaths remains steady, while hospital admissions are rising.”
Turkiye, Syria rescue hopes fade, anger rising as death toll passes 15,000
Erdogan admits Turkiye response ‘inadequate’ but insist it was improving
Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens air bridge to bring medicine, food to survivors
Updated 36 min 43 sec ago
ANKARA: The death toll from the Turkiye-Syria earthquakes passed 15,000 at dawn Thursday as hope faded of finding more survivors among the rubble of devastated towns and villages.
Across a swathe of southern Turkiye, people sought temporary shelter and food in freezing winter weather, and waited in anguish by piles of rubble where family and friends might still lie buried.
Rescuers were still finding some people alive. But many Turks have complained of a lack of equipment, expertise and support to rescue those trapped — sometimes even as they could hear cries for help.
Authorities have only reached 2-3 percent of collapsed buildings in some affected areas, sources said.
“Where is the state? Where have they been for two days? We are begging them. Let us do it, we can get them out,” Sabiha Alinak said near a snow-covered collapsed building in the city of Malatya where her young relatives were trapped.
In Antakya, dozens of bodies, some covered in blankets and sheets and others in body bags, were lined up on the ground outside a hospital. One survivor, Melek, 64, said she had seen no rescue teams. “We survived the earthquake, but we will die here from hunger or cold.”
There were similar scenes in northern Syria, which was also hard hit by Monday’s two huge quakes. Syria’s ambassador to the UN admitted the regime in Damascus had a “lack of capabilities and lack of equipment,” which he blamed on Western sanctions.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted that his government’s initial response to the disaster had been inadequate, but insisted it was improving.
“We will be better tomorrow and later. We still have some issues with fuel ... but we will overcome those too,” Erdogan said on a visit to Kahramanmaras to view the damage and see the rescue and relief effort.
Entire streets in Kahramanmaras, closest city to the quake’s epicenter, were reduced to rubble, with plumes of smoke rising from fires. Hundreds of tents were set up as shelter in a sports stadium. About 50 bodies draped in blankets lay on the floor of a sports hall.
Death toll sure to rise
As search and rescue operations continued, the World Health Organization warned that the final death toll could exceed 20,000.
A similar earthquake in the region in 1999 killed at least 17,000 people.
Turkish officials say some 13.5 million people were affected in an area spanning roughly 450 km from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east. In Syria, people were killed as far south as Hama, 250 km from the epicenter.
Some who died in Turkiye were refugees from Syria’s war. Their body bags arrived at the border in taxis, vans and piled atop flatbed trucks to be taken to final resting places in their homeland.
More than 298,000 people have been made homeless and 180 shelters for the displaced had been opened, Syrian state media reported, apparently referring to areas under government control, and not held by opposition factions.
In Syria, relief efforts are complicated by a conflict that has partitioned the nation and wrecked its infrastructure.
The delivery of UN humanitarian aid via Turkiye to millions of people in northwest Syria could resume on Thursday after the long-running operation was halted by the quake, UN officials said.
In the Syrian city of Aleppo, staff at the Al-Razi hospital attended to an injured man who said more than a dozen relatives including his mother and father were killed when the building they were in collapsed.
Press for aid
Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to be seeking political advantage from the quake, pressing for foreign aid to be delivered through his territory as he aims to chip away at his international isolation, analysts said.
A US-based NGO, Global Empowerment Mission, mobilized about $10 million of relief aid in the past 24 hours for earthquake victims.
On Wednesday, Erdogan visited affected Turkiye regions to inspect quake damage and speak to survivors.
“Initially, 10,000 Turkish liras ($500) will be allocated to each citizen affected by the earthquake,” he said.
In the wake of the disaster, search and rescue workers, as well as medics, have arrived in Turkiye and Syria from all corners of the globe.
Turkish municipalities have deployed hundreds of their own rescue personnel.
Though domestic rescue efforts have been criticized as insufficient by local residents, the rapid international response to the disaster has been praised.
Saudi Arabia’s leadership directed the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to operate an air bridge, bringing medical supplies, shelter, food and logistical assistance to victims.
A UN emergency fund allocated $25 million to the humanitarian response in the region.
Despite a growing diplomatic crisis between Greece and Turkiye, Greek TV opened a morning news session with images and videos from the quake zone, with lyrics from a folk song in the background saying: “I let the whole world know that I love you.”
Several refugee children were also rescued by firefighters and mine workers on Tuesday, while a “miracle” newborn baby was dragged from rubble in northern Syria.
Turkiye’s Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants has sent a team of 300 workers and volunteers to Antakya and Hatay, as well as translators and rescue dogs. Migrant survivors will be offered psychological support through the association.
Baris Sakir, an Urfa resident, survived the quake thanks to the modern design of his home.
“However, there are still some cracks inside the house and we don’t have the courage to go back inside. We are now living in the fine arts school where I was teaching piano lessons. My little son still faces post-trauma,” he told Arab News.
Restaurants and hotels are offering free meals and accommodation to those left homeless by the earthquake, with Turkish celebrities and municipalities sending food containers to locals as well as paying for their accommodation.
Meanwhile, Istanbul municipality intervened to stop a fire in Iskenderun port on Wednesday, while Ankara municipality started repairs on damaged Hatay airport. Communication channels have been significantly disrupted by the quake.
In Hatay, more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed, with just 2-3 percent being reached by rescuers, according to the latest reports.
Authorities have warned that growing numbers of rescued children have been left unaccompanied in local hospitals, with precautions being taken to prevent abductions.
“Nature gave us exactly 23 years after the 1999 earthquake,” said Cem Say, a prominent Turkish computer scientist, referring to the major quake in the country’s northwest in 1999.
Last year, Turkey spent about $1.3 billion on programs for disaster management — some 0.5 percent of central government budgetary spending. But experts have described the funding as insufficient.
Ismail Yolcu, a survivor of the earthquake in southeastern Adiyaman province, said that the homes of some relatives were completely destroyed.
He told Arab News: “There is no electricity. There is no heating. It is rainy and extremely cold. We are sleeping in the streets. We are waiting for the tents to be established. But the situation is terrible.”
Sermet Cuhadar, president of the Journalists Association in Kahramanmaras, said that the situation had “slightly improved” in the province.
“We had to drink melted ice because there was no water in the city. Our eight-storey building collapsed during the first quake. Fortunately I was not in the building at that time. Only three people were rescued,” he told Arab News.
Kamil Cuhadar, former mayor of Pazarcik village of Kahramanmaras, suffered a fractured skull during the first quake when a stone fell on his head.
“The supportive columns were strong in the building in Pazarcik. However, there is no standing building left in the village. The rescue efforts were insufficient.
“They began today in the early morning, but it is already too late. The weather is so cold, it was minus 7 degrees Celsius yesterday when everybody was lying on the streets.
“There is no sufficient equipment to remove the debris. There is no lifting instrument,” he told Arab News.
Naile Islek, from Dulkadiroglu village in Kahramanmaras, saw her neighbor’s home collapse during the quake, and ran to take shelter in her mother’s house.
“We have electricity but still no water. Some people who benefit from this chaos are selling small bottles of water at double and sometimes triple prices. We didn’t have enough equipment to remove the debris. Men could barely remove it with their hands,” she told Arab News.
Several municipalities from western Turkiye sent mobile kitchens and container pharmacies to the disaster zone, and launched programs to distribute biscuits, bread and medicine to survivors.
Several sources told Arab News that the immediate rescue efforts were “minimal,” but have intensified in the last two days.
Volunteers have attempted to fill the manpower gap, while several prominent activists as well as chefs have traveled to affected regions to help local residents.
Tent cities were established in several regions while commando forces were deployed to the earthquake zone to aid in rescue efforts.
In the wake of the disaster, Turkiye’s stock exchange also suspended trading for the first time in 24 years.
Iranian prosecutors covered up rapes by Revolutionary Guards, official document shows
Two members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sexually abused two women who were arrested in September during the public protests in the country
The author wrote that ‘considering the problematic nature of the case’ and the risk of social media leaks ‘it is recommended the necessary order (is) issued for it to be filed top secret’
Updated 09 February 2023
DUBAI: Iranian state prosecutors stand accused of covering up rapes by two members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
According to an internal judicial document, the IRGC members allegedly raped two women, ages 18 and 23, in a van in Tehran last September, The Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday. They had been detained during the protests that began that month following the death of Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by Iran’s “morality police.” The women were accused of acting suspiciously and their phones were examined for any evidence that they had taken part in the protests.
The judicial document was reportedly initially leaked to news channel Iran International by hacktivist group Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice). It is the first internal document to surface and expose a specific case of this kind, although activists have long suspected that some female detainees were sexually abused by security officials during the protests.
Dated Oct. 13, 2022, the document was written by Mohammad Shahriari, the deputy prosecutor and head of the prosecutor’s office in Tehran, and addressed to Ali Salehi, the general and revolution prosecutor. A report on a collection of witness statements, it states that two named women were assaulted by two named male security officials.
The case came to the attention of prosecutors after one of the IRGC officers called one of the victims after the assault. She recorded the conversation and filed a complaint. The officer initially denied the charges but later changed his story to claim the women had consented to sex. He reportedly was detained, with his father, at their home in Tehran. The other accused officer was arrested separately and taken to a police intelligence unit prison.
The report details how the two men eventually admitted having intercourse with the women, which the document describes as rape. The first officer said they had detained the two women near a gas station while deployed on Sattarkhan Street in western Tehran. The officers initially took them to the Revolutionary Guard’s headquarters but left when they were told it was not possible to process the accused women there.
The document continues: “Considering the problematic nature of the case, the possibility of the leaking of this information into social media and its misrepresentation by enemy groups, it is recommended that the necessary order (is) issued for it to be filed top secret.
“Since no complaint has been registered and the defendants have been dismissed, the accused should be dismissed without mentioning their names.”
It added the case should be closed without any reference to the military institution involved.
Drones and high tech help in disaster search missions
Can modern developments provide solutions, relief to earthquake-hit Turkiye, Syria?
Updated 8 sec ago
Rebecca Anne Proctor
RIYADH: The world continues to watch in despair the devastation caused by two earthquakes — measuring 7.8 and 7.5 on the Richter scale — that struck southeastern Turkiye and Syria early on Monday morning.
With the combined death toll surpassing 11,000 people by Wednesday, international aid agencies, humanitarian groups, military forces, government and private sector bodies have all been involved in providing help to the regions.
One area supplying some answers has been modern technology.
Drones, which are increasingly known for their role as weapons in modern warfare, are also useful tools during natural disasters such as earthquakes.
“Drones for sure play an important role in Turkiye as we speak,” Henk Jan Gerzee, chief product officer at the Digital Container Shipping Association, told Arab News during the LEAP conference in Riyadh on Wednesday.
Gerzee, who was on the panel looking at “Drones and Autonomous Vehicles,” added: “Firstly, drones can provide a clearer picture of what has happened.
“Drones are equipped with ultra-high-definition cameras. They can also be equipped with heat sensors and detection, and thus detect people.
“They can deliver medicine and smaller pieces of cargo. They can also detect dangerous gases, like methane.”
Dr. Jassim Haji, president of the Artificial Intelligence Society, who also took part in the discussion, underlined the role AI can play in such disasters, including forecasting extreme events, developing hazard maps, and assisting in situational awareness and decision support.
NASA technology can help in hearing the heartbeats of individuals trapped under debris and rubble. Its technology has frequently been used in the aftermath of earthquakes.
In 2015 the NASA FINDER tool was able to locate four men buried underneath mud, brick, wood and other debris following an earthquake in the Nepalese village of Chautara.
The same technology was also used in 2017 during an earthquake measuring 7.1 in Mexico City.
The UN utilized its emergency mapping satellite service, a live map that shows in real time the damage caused by an earthquake and its level of impact, within hours on Monday.
However, political conflict can have the last word when it comes to getting aid quickly to regions hit by natural disasters.
A resident in northeastern Syria, who spoke to Arab News on condition of anonymity, said: “The main issue is that aid has become politicized, so even if this tech is available, it is likely it won’t reach these areas.”
Roj Mousa, a Syrian journalist from Afrin, told Arab News: “All of our friends and relatives are under the rubble now in Afrin and Jindires.
“I haven’t had a moment to rest since the earthquake happened. I speak with my relatives all the time.
“There is no aid coming to these areas — no water, no food, no rescue. The cities are now further devastated.
“The people helping to pull out the rubble are civilians doing so with their bare hands.
“All the aid is being blocked by members of the Turkish-controlled Syrian militia.”
Mousa added that small cameras used by doctors to see inside the rubble were helpful, but getting such technology into occupied areas was difficult.
Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief raises millions with earthquake appeal for Turkiye and Syria
A magnitude 7.8 quake struck in the early hours of Monday, sparking an international humanitarian response
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directed KSrelief to establish aid delivery flights
Updated 09 February 2023
Nada Alturki & Lucas Chapman
RIYADH/QAMISHLI: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, also known as KSrelief, has launched a fundraising campaign through the “Sahem” platform to help those affected by the massive earthquake in Syria and Turkiye, the center announced on Wednesday.
Even before KSrelief announced its official fundraiser, Saudi donations to the aid effort had already exceeded SR13 million ($3.5 million), Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, told Arab News.
As of Wednesday night, hundreds of thousands of donors had contributed approximately SR65.9 million.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck parts of southeastern Turkiye, northwestern Syria and neighboring areas in the early hours of Monday, followed by a magnitude 7.5 quake hours later. More than 11,000 people are known to have died and tens of thousands have been injured.
In the two days since the catastrophe, aid workers have struggled to reach remote parts of both countries. In many areas, rescuers have been digging through rubble with their bare hands in the fading hope of finding more survivors.
“Until now, not one gram of aid has arrived here,” Roj Mousa, a journalist from northern Syrian city of Afrin, told Arab News.
According to the International Rescue Committee, Turkiye’s Bab Al-Hawa, the only border crossing through which UN humanitarian aid is allowed into northern Syria, has been closed as a result of damage sustained in the earthquake. As the bulk of the aid entering Syria must pass through Damascus, which strictly controls its distribution to governorates, the closure of Bab Al-Hawa has made it even harder to deliver adequate and timely aid to the hardest-hit areas.
“We are trying to buy some food, water, blankets, tents and other aid and send it to (the people in Afrin),” said Mousa. “They are all sleeping outside, not inside buildings. The main problem now is that after a week, when the rubble is cleared, they must rebuild. In Jinderis, the second-largest city in the Afrin region, 90 percent of people are sleeping in the bush.”
Mousa estimates that between 800 and 900 people lost their lives in Jinderis alone. To the south, in rebel-held Idlib, the situation is not much better.
“There are many people still trapped under buildings. We are in need of all types of aid,” Mohammed Yazji, a journalist from Idlib, told Arab News.
According to Syria Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, more than 1,500 people were killed and at least 4,200 injured in Idlib, and the toll is expected to rise.
“We have been displaced to Iwaa Camp,” said Yazji. “Only local NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) have provided aid so far. No international aid organizations have helped us.
“We wish international rescue teams would come because the situation here is very difficult and we are working properly but the load is more than we can handle.”
The World Health Organization said rescuers face a race against time not only to save lives but to ensure the injured survive in dire circumstances.
Robert Holden, the WHO’s earthquake-response incident manager, said the immediate focus was on saving lives but it is also “imperative to make sure that those who survived the initial disaster … continue to survive.”
Speaking during a press conference in Geneva, he said: “We’ve got a lot of people who have survived now out in the open, in worsening and horrific conditions,” adding that access to clean water, fuel, electricity and communications has been disrupted.
“We are in real danger of seeing a secondary disaster which may cause harm to more people than the initial disaster if we don’t move with the same pace and intensity as we are doing on the search and rescue,” he warned. “This is no easy task … The scale of the operation is massive.”
Several countries have pledged aid to Turkiye and Syria. Croatia, Poland, Switzerland, India, the UK and Greece have sent rescue teams, search dogs, and firefighters to Turkiye to aid the rescue efforts.
The US is sending assistance to Turkiye and working with humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to Syria. Even Lebanon, which is grappling with its own protracted economic crisis, has sent soldiers and first responders to Turkiye. Jordan is sending aid to both Turkiye and Syria, while New Zealand and China’s Red Cross are providing the Syrian Arab Red Crescent with humanitarian and financial assistance.
Saudi Arabia has also stepped up to fill aid gaps and deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to both countries.
Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s general supervisor, told Arab News: “We launched the national donation campaign and we appeal to donors, male and female, businessmen and individuals, to contribute effectively to alleviating the suffering of those affected by the earthquake in Syria and Turkiye.
“I say to every donor, every riyal that is donated will have an impact on alleviating (the suffering of) an injured person, either a wounded or a broken person, or a person (in need of) rescue.
“We are counting on this aid and this support and donations to implement very important programs that will save the lives of hundreds or thousands of people and, God willing, it will return with goodness, blessing and reward for everyone who contributes and donates.”
Donations can be made through the Sahem platform or through the various channels offered on the KSrelief website. Donations through Sahem are exclusively accepted as monetary funds, and KSrelief deducts no administrative fees, so 100 percent of donations go to beneficiaries.
KSrelief has already started to secure food parcels to send to those in need. On Tuesday, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directed the organization to establish an aid corridor to deliver health, shelter, food and logistical supplies to Syria and Turkiye.
King Salman also ordered the deployment of rapid intervention teams and emergency medical aid, as well as a Saudi volunteer delegation.
“We cannot help but thank the teams that contributed to this noble work, especially the field teams, whether from the General Directorate of Civil Defense in the Ministry of Interior, or from the Saudi Red Crescent Authority, or the experienced cadres of KSrelief, or the volunteers who took the initiative to register with the center to provide urgent medical and health services,” Al-Rabeeah told Arab News.
Saad bin Nasser Al-Shathri, an advisor to the Royal Court and a member of the Council of Senior Scholars and the permanent committee of Ifta, praised the Sahem campaign for its efforts to help meet the massive humanitarian needs in Syria and Turkiye, and reiterated that previous Saudi fundraisers helped many peoples and countries in crisis.
Since it was founded in 2015, KSrelief has aided struggling communities and nations around the globe, including Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The latest fundraising campaign is an extension of its earlier work in support of the Syrian people.
In December last year, KSrelief provided $6 million to Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan, through the UN’s World Food Program, which helped meet the food needs of more than 50,000 Syrians.
“The Saudi humanitarian efforts are not associated with any political affairs or any political, religious or military agendas, as was made clear by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in the center’s opening speech,” said Al-Rabeeah.
“The center has continued to support the people of Syria in alleviating the suffering of Syrian communities, without ties to any specific agendas. Our concern is with the injured, regardless of any political ties.”
Saudi humanitarian aid has long transcended political barriers. In October last year, the Kingdom announced a $400 million humanitarian aid package for Ukraine, while calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict there, which has been raging since the Russian invasion a year ago.
KSrelief has played a leading role in international aid initiatives during past disasters, most significantly for the people of Lebanon in the wake of the Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion that killed more than 215 people, injured more than 6,500 and displaced about 300,000. The Kingdom sent two aircraft carrying 120 tons of medical and emergency supplies.
KSrelief also recently sent two flights to Sudan carrying food and shelter aid for those affected by last year’s floods. It also aided India’s COVID-19 response by sending an additional 60 tons of oxygen, adding to an initial 80-ton delivery to the South Asian nation.
In a telephone call on Wednesday with Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, Hussein Ibrahim Taha, the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, offered his condolences on behalf of the organization and its member states, and expressed his sympathy for the victims.
Donations for the Turkiye and Syria earthquake relief effort can be made through the Sahem platform using the following link: sahem.ksrelief.org/SYTR, or by direct transfer to the campaign’s bank account.
US Congress introduces resolution in support of push for democracy and freedom in Iran
It backs “the Iranian people’s desire for a democratic, secular and non-nuclear Republic of Iran”
The bipartisan resolution is expected to easily pass when it comes up for a final vote
Updated 08 February 2023
CHICAGO: The US House of Representatives on Wednesday introduced a resolution expressing support for the people of Iran and denouncing the “monarchic dictatorship and religious tyranny” of the governing regime in Tehran.
Although the resolution has no legal authority, it reinforces American support for the Iranian people and condemnation of the ongoing violations of human rights by the country’s government. More than 165 members of Congress, from both main parties, co-sponsored the resolution, which is expected to easily pass when it comes up for a final vote.
“The timing of, and the unprecedented number of cosponsors for, this bipartisan resolution, on the eve of the anniversary of the 1979 anti-monarchic revolution that overthrew a corrupt and ruthless dictator, reflect the forward-looking policy by Congress and its support for a secular, non-nuclear Iranian republic,” said Ramesh Sepehrrad, chairperson of the advisory board for the Organization of Iranian American Communities.
The resolution was introduced by Tom McClintock, a Republican Congressman from California, who said more must to be done to align European and Baltic nations in opposition to the Iranian regime.
“I am pleased to introduce this resolution supporting the Iranian people’s desire for a democratic, secular and non-nuclear Republic of Iran, and condemning violations of human rights and state-sponsored terrorism by the Iranian government,” he said.
It comes as protests against the ruling regime continue in Iran. They began in September last year following the death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested by the country’s “morality police” for not covering her hair to their satisfaction, based on strict rules governing how women can dress in public.
More than 600 civilians, including 70 children, have been killed since the protests began and 19,600 people arrested, including 687 students.
Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, an Iranian opposition group that advocates the overthrow of the ruling regime and the installation of a democratic government, addressed Wednesday’s briefing through a video link. She thanked Congress for its continuing support but said more must be done to end the regime’s ongoing use of violence to crack down on protesters.
“We are at the anniversary of the anti-dictatorial revolution in 1979, when a unified nation swept a dictator, the Shah, out of power but (former Supreme Leader Ayatollah) Khomeini hijacked their revolution and established a religious dictatorship,” Rajavi said.
“However, today, after more than 40 years of repression and resistance, the Iranian nation is ready again to overthrow another form of dictatorship. They want to put an end to one century of dictatorship and establish a democratic, pluralistic and secular republic.
“What you see in Iran today is another revolution in the making. This is the result of 40 years of organized resistance and struggle against the regime, (during which there have been) 120,000 political executions.”
Congress has introduced and adopted dozens of resolutions condemning the regime in Tehran.
Rajavi has developed a 10-point plan for the future of Iran, which calls for: The universal right of citizens to vote in free and fair elections; a market economy; gender, religious and ethnic equality; a foreign policy based on peaceful coexistence; and a non-nuclear Iran.