Israel sends army to ultra-Orthodox city over coronavirus

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, some of them wearing masks, cross a street in the religious Israeli city of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, on March 3, 2020 during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 03 April 2020

Israel sends army to ultra-Orthodox city over coronavirus

  • Authorities have enforced restrictions on access to Bnei Brak, a majority ultra-Orthodox city near Tel Aviv
  • Many ultra-Orthodox Jews have refused to comply with confinement measures and social distancing

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday gave the green light for soldiers to be deployed in a mostly ultra-Orthodox Jewish city seen as the center of Israel’s novel coronavirus outbreak.
“In light of the special situation in Bnei Brak following the restrictions due to the coronavirus, the IDF (army) will immediately present the necessary civil assistance to Bnei Brak municipality in fulfilling its responsibilities,” Netanyahu’s office said after talks with security and health officials.
Authorities have enforced restrictions on access to Bnei Brak, a majority ultra-Orthodox city near Tel Aviv that is home to around 200,000 people.
More than 7,000 cases of COVID-19, including 36 deaths, have been officially declared in Israel.
According to local media, half of those infected are ultra-Orthodox Jews, a community which represents only around 10 percent of the Israeli population.
Many ultra-Orthodox Jews have refused to comply with confinement measures and social distancing.
This week has seen tense exchanges as police stepped up patrols of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods that have become virus hot spots.
Army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the military would deploy 800-1,000 soldiers in Bnei Brak to “assist” local authorities “because of the severity of the situation there and because of the relative lack of implementation of health ministry instructions.”
Soldiers will help distribute food and medicine and assist with the evacuation of people with virus symptoms, Conricus told an online conference call with reporters.
He said the army would also seek to ensure health messages were reaching the ultra-Orthodox community.
Motti Ravid, director of Mayanei Yeshua hospital in Bnei Brak, told AFP earlier this week that with Internet and television prohibited in the ultra-Orthodox community on religious grounds, government directives took a long time to filter through.
Even for those using mobile phones, access to the Internet and most message services is blocked, shutting them off from the main form of communication used by the health ministry.
Conricus said soldiers would wear orange and most of them would not carry weapons.
He said he anticipated there would be misunderstandings and frustrations among the community, but “we are taking that into consideration.”
Netanyahu himself re-entered precautionary quarantine this week after Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a leading member of the ultra-Orthodox community, tested positive for COVID-19.


Flash floods in southern Yemen kill five, displace hundreds

Updated 05 June 2020

Flash floods in southern Yemen kill five, displace hundreds

  • Five shepherds in the Henan valley were swept away as floods hit farms

AL-MUKALLA: Heavy rains and flash floods hit provinces in southern Yemen on Wednesday and Thursday, killing five people, displacing hundreds of families and isolating villages, local government officials told Arab News.

The heavy rain that began on Wednesday in Yemen's southern province of Hadramout triggered flash floods that killed five shepherds in the Henan valley and damaged farms.

“The five young men went to the valley to bring back their camels and sheep before floods washed them away,” Hesham Al-Souaidi, a local government official, told Arab News by telephone on Thursday.

Local authorities and residents found three bodies and are still searching for the other two.

Al-Souaidi said that flood waters destroyed farms and killed a large number of livestock in the agricultural Wadi Hadramout.

Southern Yemeni provinces have been bracing for the tropical depression since Saturday, when it hit Oman’s southern city of Salalah, as the country’s National Meteorological Center issued alerts, urging Yemenis to avoid traveling during the the storm and to avoid flood courses.

In coastal parts of Hadramout, hundreds of families living near flood channels were forced to flee to after flooding reached unprecedented levels.

Amen Barezaeg, a local government official assigned by the Hadramout governor to lead a relief committee, told Arab News that his team has documented the displacement of 450 families from Mayfa Hajer district alone, adding that the floods damaged roads, farms and isolated many remote areas in the province.

“We are now working on reopening roads to reach the isolated villages. The damage is huge,” he said.

Flash floods displaced dozens of families, washed away hundreds of palm trees and damaged dozens of houses in Hajr town, west of the city of Al-Mukalla, Hadramout province capital.

In some areas of Hadramout, residents said the floods were more destructive than those caused by cyclones over the last five years.

“We have never seen floods like this. Only the floods in 1996 were as strong as these,” Mohammed Bahamel, a journalist from Boroum Mayfa village, west of Al-Mukalla, told Arab News.

Heavy rains triggered flash flooding that wreaked similar havoc in Shabwa, Abyan and Aden, but with no reported casualties, according to local officials.

A government official in Shabwa province told Arab News that the floods washed away farms, isolated villages and damaged several houses.

In Aden, bulldozers were seen clearing mud from the streets as government officials inspected damage caused by the rain.

In April, the internationally recognized government declared Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, a “disaster” area after torrential rains and heavy flooding killed more than 10 people and damaged infrastructure.

Local health officials and residents say that the latest rainfall may set the stage for the spread of the coronavirus and other diseases that killed more than 1,000 people in May.

Wednesday’s floods destroyed the main road that links Hadramout province with Aden, disrupting movement of medical teams and vital medical supplies, including testing kits, officials said.

Meteorologists predicted that the rains would disappear on the weekend.

“Remnants of the tropical depression continue to produce rain across southwest Yemen. Rain will wane over the area on Friday,” Jason Nicholls, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, said on Twitter on Thursday.