Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque to reopen after Eid holiday

Worshippers have been praying near the closed gate of the compound housing Al-Aqsa mosque, which was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (REUTERS)
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Updated 19 May 2020

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque to reopen after Eid holiday

  • Islam’s third holiest site has been closed since late March for the first time in more than 50 years as part of measures to to stem the spread of the new coronavirus

JERUSALEM: Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque will reopen to worshippers after the Eid holiday, a statement from its governing body said Tuesday, two months after closing due to the coronavirus.
“The council decided to lift the suspension on worshippers entering the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque after the Eid Al-Fitr holiday,” a statement from the Waqf organization said, referring to the three-day holiday expected to begin this weekend.
Islam’s third holiest site was closed in late March for the first time in more than 50 years as part of measures across the globe to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
The mosque’s director, Omar Al-Kiswani, told AFP he hoped for no restrictions on the number of worshippers but said the governing body would announce the exact “mechanisms and measures later.”
He said the details would be worked out to “ensure we are not subjected to criticism on the pretext we have broken health rules.”
The mosque compound, which lies in Jerusalem’s Old City, has often been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Known to Muslims as the Haram Al-Sharif, the mosque compound is under the custodianship of neighbouring Jordan which controlled the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, up until its occupation by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967.
The site is also holy to Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount and believe it to be the location of the two biblical temples — the second of which was destroyed in 70 AD.
With the number of COVID-19 cases declining, in recent days both Israel and the Palestinian territories have eased restrictions.
The Western Wall, the holiest site at which Jews are permitted to pray, is one of the outer walls of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
It was closed by Israeli authorities but reopened earlier this month, though with only 300 people allowed at a time.
In total, Israel has recorded 16,650 coronavirus infections in its population of nine million and 277 deaths.
On the Palestinian side, fewer than 400 cases have been confirmed in the West Bank and Gaza — which have a combined population of more than 4.5 million.
Beaches in Israel are due to reopen from Wednesday, with restaurants and bars to follow from the 27th.
Flights are also due to resume from various locations in the coming weeks.


Yemen faces costly bill as evacuation nears end

Updated 03 July 2020

Yemen faces costly bill as evacuation nears end

  • The country’s flagship carrier, Yemenia, has returned all stranded Yemenis in Jordan

AL-MUKALLA: Repatriation of Yemenis stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic is almost complete, the government’s emergency committee said.

Yemen’s government faces a bill running into millions of dollars after evacuating thousands of people from India, Egypt, Jordan and other countries.

At a virtual meeting headed by Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, the committee thanked Yemeni embassies abroad and governments that helped with repatriation planning.

The committee said that the process is “coming to a close” since most of those stranded have been brought home.

In May, the internationally recognized government of Yemen began arranging repatriation flights for thousands of Yemenis stranded abroad because of global travel bans.

A senior government official with knowledge of the process told Arab News on Thursday that the country’s flagship carrier, Yemenia, has returned all stranded Yemenis in Jordan, and is now repatriating those still stranded people in Egypt and India.

“All of the stranded Yemenis in Djibouti and Saudi Arabia were brought back home by sea and land. More than 3,400 Yemenis out of 7,000 have been evacuated from Egypt,” the government official said.

Yemenia has arranged direct flights to Indian cities with large numbers of stranded Yemenis, he added.

People seeking repatriation have been asked to supply a negative PCR test before returning to Yemen. Those who test positive for the virus are banned from boarding and must isolate themselves for 14 days before booking a flight.

“There are 211 people in Egypt who could not fly back home because they tested positive for the virus,” the official said.

Stranded Yemenis in India say they were disappointed when Yemenia rejected their tickets after they tested positive for the virus.

A Yemeni woman who has been in India since February told Arab News that her whole family was forced to stay put after she tested positive.

“I was happy when I saw my name and my family’s among the evacuees. But I was surprised when the result of the test showed that I alone tested positive,” she said.

Yemenia will continue flights to India and other destinations after the repatriation process ends, the government official said.

The Yemeni government grounded all flights into and out of airports under its control in May to prevent the virus from spreading in the war-torn country.

Yemen recorded its first case of coronavirus on April 10 in the southern port city of Sheher. The total number of infections in government-controlled areas is 1,190, including 318 fatalities and 504 recoveries, the Aden-based supreme national emergency committee said on Wednesday.

Yemen’s cash-strapped government has paid millions of dollars for aircraft fuel, empty seats and virus tests for stranded people, the government official said.

“We compensated Yemenia with $1.15 million for flying to five Indian cities to bring back stranded Yemenis,” the official said. On Tuesday, three flights touched down at Aden and Seiyun airports with 530 stranded nationals aboard.