Gaza’s health system days from being overwhelmed by COVID-19, advisers say

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Palestinian healthcare workers wait to check patients at Shifa hospital amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Gaza City November 22, 2020. (Reuters)
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A Palestinian man carries his son on his shoulders as he leaves Shifa hospital amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Gaza City November 22, 2020. (Reuters)
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Palestinians wearing protective face masks sit at Shifa hospital amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Gaza City November 22, 2020. (Reuters)
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A Palestinian woman wearing on a protective face mask speaks on her phone as she stands next to a coronavirus-themed mural amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Gaza City November 22, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 November 2020

Gaza’s health system days from being overwhelmed by COVID-19, advisers say

GAZA: A sharp rise in coronavirus infections in the Gaza Strip could overwhelm the Palestinian enclave’s meagre medical system by next week, public health advisers said on Sunday.
Gaza, where the dense and poor population of 2 million is vulnerable to contagions, has logged 14,000 coronavirus cases and 65 deaths, mostly since August.
Seventy-nine of Gaza’s 100 ventilators have been taken up by COVID-19 patients, said Abdelraouf Elmanama, a microbiologist who is part of the enclave’s pandemic task force.
“In 10 days the health system will become unable to absorb such a hike in cases and there might be cases that will not find a place at intensive care units,” he said, adding that the current 0.05% mortality rate among COVID-19 patients could rise.
Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers have so far imposed one lockdown. A long-standing Israeli blockade, which is supported by neighboring Egypt, has crippled the Gazan economy and undermined its public health apparatus.
Israel says it is trying to keep weapons from reaching Hamas, against which it has fought three wars and whose facilities it struck earlier on Sunday in retaliation for a Palestinian rocket launch against one of its southern cities.
“We are not giving Hamas any ‘coronavirus discounts’,” Israeli cabinet minister Izhar Shay told Army Radio. “We will continue responding as appropriate.”
But Shay said Israel was enabling international humanitarian aid to reach Gaza, adding: “This is the level that we can preserve in the coronavirus context.” Abdelnaser Soboh, emergency health lead in the World Health Organization’s Gaza sub-office, cautioned, however, that “within a week, we will become unable to care for critical cases.”
The infection rate among those being tested was 21%, with a relative increase in carriers over the age of 60, he said.
“This is a dangerous indicator since most of (those over 60) may need to be hospitalized,” Soboh added.


B-52s again fly over Middle East in US military warning to Iran

Updated 07 March 2021

B-52s again fly over Middle East in US military warning to Iran

DUBAI: A pair of B-52 bombers flew over the Middle East on Sunday, the latest such mission in the region aimed at warning Iran amid tensions between Washington and Tehran.
The US military’s Central Command said the two B-52s flew over the region accompanied by military aircraft from nations including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It marked the fourth-such bomber deployment into the Middke East this year and the second under President Joe Biden.
Flight-tracking data showed the two B-52s flew out of Minot Air Base in North Dakota, something Central Command did not mention in its statement on the flights though authorities later published images of the flight crew preparing its departure there.
The military did not directly mention Iran in its statement, saying the flight was to “deter aggression and reassure partners and allies of the US military’s commitment to security in the region.”
However, such flights had become common in the last months of former President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers sparked a series of escalating incidents in the region.
Biden has expressed a desire to return to the deal if Iran honors the deal’s limits on its nuclear program. However, tensions remain high after militias in Iraq — likely backed by Iran — continue to target American interests.
Biden last month launched an airstrike just over the border into Syria in retaliation, joining every American president from Ronald Reagan onward who has ordered a bombardment of countries in the Middle East.


Iran releases British-Iranian aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe from house arrest but court summons looms

Updated 07 March 2021

Iran releases British-Iranian aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe from house arrest but court summons looms

  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent the last year of her term under house arrest with electronic shackles tied to her feet
  • Kermani said a hearing for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's second case has been scheduled on March 14

DUBAI: Iran has released British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from house arrest at the end of her five-year prison sentence, but she has been summoned to court again on another charge, her lawyer said on Sunday.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and later convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who served out most of her sentence in Tehran's Evin prison, was released last March during the coronavirus pandemic and kept under house arrest, but her movements were restricted and she was barred from leaving the country.
On Sunday the authorities removed her ankle tag.
"She was pardoned by Iran's supreme leader last year, but spent the last year of her term under house arrest with electronic shackles tied to her feet. Now they're cast off," her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told an Iranian website. "She has been freed."
Iran's judiciary was not immediately available to comment about the release. Her family and the foundation, a charity that operates independently of media firm Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters, deny the charge.
Kermani said a hearing for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's second case has been scheduled on March 14.
"In this case, she is accused of propaganda against the Islamic Republic's system for participating in a rally in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009 and giving interview to the BBC Persian TV channel at the same time," Kermani said.
He said he hoped that "this case will be closed at this stage, considering the previous investigation".
Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband told Sky News on Sunday she was "pleased" her ankle tag had been removed but said the news was "mixed" from Iran due to the court summons.
"Richard Ratcliffe says Nazanin is ‘pleased’ the ankle tag is off #nazanin," Sky News reporter Lisa Holland said on Twitter. "Richard Ratcliffe has told me the news today is ‘mixed’. The ankle tag is off but Nazanin has to appear in court again next Sunday in a second case."
Ratcliffe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
British foreign minister Dominic Raab welcomed the removal of Zaghari-Ratcliffe's ankle tag but said Iran continued to put her and her family through a "cruel and an intolerable ordeal".
"She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK. We have relayed to the Iranian authorities in the strongest possible terms that her continued confinement is unacceptable," Raab said in a statement.
Her lawyer told Iranian state TV he had no news on the status of her travel ban.
British lawmaker Tulip Siddiq said she had spoken to Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family and that her first trip would be to see her grandmother.
The detentions of dozens of dual nationals and foreigners have complicated ties between Tehran and several European countries including Germany, France and Britain, all parties to Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with six powers.
The release come as Iran and the United States are trying to revive the deal, which former US president abandoned in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran. Tehran responded by scaling down its compliance.


Rouhani: Iran ready to take steps when US lifts sanctions

Updated 07 March 2021

Rouhani: Iran ready to take steps when US lifts sanctions

  • ‘Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments’
  • Hassan Rouhani: Iran is the only country that kept its side of the bargain

TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday his country was prepared to take steps to live up to measures in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as soon as the United States lifts economic sanctions on Iran.
In a meeting with Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Rouhani said: “Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments just after the US illegal sanctions are lifted and it abandons its policy of threats and pressure.”
Rouhani criticized the European signatories of the historic nuclear deal for what he said was their inaction on their commitments to the agreement. He said Iran is the only country that kept its side of the bargain.
Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iranian nuclear accord, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. When the US then reimposed some sanctions and added others, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.
The Republic of Ireland has the role of facilitator in the implementation of the nuclear deal.
Coveney said the withdrawal of former President Donald Trump was a mistake and noted that the new US administration is determined to return to the deal.
In December, Iran’s parliament approved a bill that calls for the suspension of part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions.

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Jordan’s PM to reshuffle cabinet to hasten IMF-guided reforms

Updated 07 March 2021

Jordan’s PM to reshuffle cabinet to hasten IMF-guided reforms

  • Six new ministers will be named including the interior and justice portfolios
  • Expected reshuffle comes after parliament last week passed a $14 billion budget

AMMAN: Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh was expected to reshuffle his cabinet on Sunday to help accelerate IMF-guided reforms seen as crucial to economic recovery in Jordan from the blow of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
Six new ministers will be named including interior and justice after Khasawneh fired both incumbents last week for attending a restaurant dinner party that violated coronavirus restrictions they were supposed to enforce.
The British-educated Khasawneh, a veteran former diplomat and palace aide, was appointed last October by King Abdullah to restore public trust over the handling of the coronavirus health crisis and defuse anger over successive governments’ failure to deliver on pledges of prosperity and curbing corruption.
Jordan is witnessing a nearly two-month-old surge of infections driven by a more contagious variant of the virus amid rising discontent over worsening economic conditions and curbs on public freedoms under emergency laws.
Aides say Khasawneh was expected to retain Harvard-educated Mohammad Al Ississ as finance minister. He has won International Monetary Fund praise for his handling of the economy during the pandemic, and has negotiated a four-year IMF program worth $1.3 billion, signalling confidence in Jordan’s reform agenda.
The expected reshuffle comes after parliament last week passed a 9.9-billion-dinar ($14 billion) budget which Al Ississ said aimed to maintain fiscal prudence to help ensure financial stability and rein in a record $45 billion public debt.
The economy saw its worst contraction — 3 percent — in decades last year, hit by lockdowns, border closures and a sharp fall in tourism during the pandemic, but the government and the IMF both predict a bounce of similar magnitude this year.
Officials say Jordan’s commitment to IMF reforms and investor confidence in the improved outlook helped the country maintain stable sovereign ratings at a time when other emerging markets were being downgraded.


Explosion on Gaza fishing boat kills 3 Palestinian anglers

Updated 07 March 2021

Explosion on Gaza fishing boat kills 3 Palestinian anglers

  • The cause of the blast was not immediately clear

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Three Palestinian fishermen were killed Sunday after a blast ripped through their boat off the Gaza shore, officials said.
Nezar Ayyash, of the association that represents fishermen, said the anglers – two brothers and a cousin – were plying their trade off the coast of the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip when the explosion happened.
The cause of the blast was not immediately clear.
Palestinian media reports blamed Israeli navy fire, but the Israeli military said it was not involved in this incident. The Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said it opened an investigation.
Minutes before the explosion, local media reported that Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, was test-firing rockets toward the sea.