Israel links COVID-19 aid for Gaza to recovering soldiers

Palestinian officials on Wednesday said 1,500 coronavirus testing kits would be brought into Gaza. (AFP)
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Updated 02 April 2020

Israel links COVID-19 aid for Gaza to recovering soldiers

  • Gaza has reported 12 coronavirus cases
  • Both Israel and Hamas have closed the Gaza border

JERUSALEM: Israel on Wednesday linked any assistance it might offer for the Gaza Strip’s efforts against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to progress in its attempt to recover two Israeli soldiers lost during the 2014 war in the Palestinian enclave. 

Blockaded and impoverished, Gaza has reported 12 coronavirus cases and authorities worry that local health facilities — with just 96 ventilators for a population of 2 million — are insufficient to contain a contagion. 

Both Israel and Hamas have closed the Gaza border to nonessential traffic as a precaution against the spread of the infection. But with Gaza authorities appealing for foreign humanitarian assistance, Israel has been weighing its role. 

“The moment there is talk of the humanitarian world in Gaza — Israel also has humanitarian needs, which are mainly the recovery of the fallen,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett told reporters, referring to an infantry officer and conscript who were killed in the 2014 war and their remains kept by Hamas. 

“And I think that we need to enter a broad dialogue about Gaza’s and our humanitarian needs. It would not be right to disconnect these things ... and certainly, our hearts would be open to many things.” 

It was not immediately clear if Bennett was speaking of a possible condition on Israel providing direct aid, or also on it enabling the transfer of other aid over its border with Gaza. 

Palestinian officials on Wednesday said 1,500 coronavirus testing kits would be brought into Gaza, with the help of the World Health Organization.  

Hamas said returning the two soldiers — as well as two Israeli civilians who crossed into the territory — would require negotiating a prisoner swap and would not be done in exchange for humanitarian aid. 

Israel in the past has freed hundreds of jailed Palestinians, including many militants, in exchange for the single-figure recovery of slain or captive Israelis. 

Bennett has made clear he would not agree to any further releases of Palestinian militants in the future.  


Turkey reopens some mosques amid coronavirus infection slowdown

Updated 29 May 2020

Turkey reopens some mosques amid coronavirus infection slowdown

  • Prayers were held in the courtyards of selected mosques

ANKARA: Worshippers in Turkey have held their first communal Friday prayers in 74 days after the government reopened some mosques as part of its plans to relax measures in place to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
Prayers were held in the courtyards of selected mosques, to minimize the risk of infection.
Authorities distributed masks at the entrance to the mosques, sprayed hand sanitizers, and checked temperatures.
Worshippers were asked to bring their own prayer rugs, but some mosques offered disposable paper rugs which were placed 1.5 meters apart.
The partial opening of the mosques follows a slowdown in the confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths in the country.
Later on Friday, Islamic prayers will also be recited in Istanbul’s 6th-century Hagia Sophia — the main cathedral of the Byzantine Empire which was converted into a mosque with the Ottoman conquest of the city, then known as Constantinople, in 1453. The prayers are being held to mark the 567th anniversary of the conquest.
The Muslim prayers at the Hagia Sophia are highly controversial, hitting at the heart of the country’s religious-secular divide.
In 1935, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish republic’s founder, converted the building into a museum that attracts millions of tourists, but some Islamic groups want it reconverted into a mosque. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who leads an Islamic-oriented party and has himself recited prayers inside Hagia Sophia, has also spoken about the possibility of turning the domed complex back into a place of worship.
Greece has in the past protested the use of Hagia Sophia, the main seat of the Greek Orthodox church and now a UNESCO World Heritage site, for religious purposes.
The celebrations marking the Muslim conquest of the city kicked off with Erdogan saluting from the balcony of a presidential summer residence, a flotilla of boats sailing past on the Bosporus waterway.
On Thursday, Erdogan announced plans to lift restrictions on movement between cities and reopen restaurants, cafes, sports centers, beaches and museums on June 1.