World Bank approves $34 million to back Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccination drive

Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccination efforts will provide jabs for over 2 million individuals, with doses set to arrive by early February. (AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2021

World Bank approves $34 million to back Lebanon’s coronavirus vaccination drive

  • Lebanon has seen daily infection rates soar to the highest levels in the region

WASHINGTON: The World Bank on Thursday said it had approved a re-allocation of $34 million in funds to support Lebanon’s vaccination efforts as it races to contain the coronavirus pandemic, marking the first such outlay of funds by the Bank.
Lebanon has seen daily infection rates soar to the highest levels in the region, with over 6,000 cases reported on Friday, adding to economic and political pressures caused by a financial collapse and a huge port blast in August.
Thursday’s re-allocation of funds from Lebanon’s existing Health Resilience Project, is the first World Bank-financed operation to fund the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
It will provide vaccines for over 2 million individuals, with doses set to arrive in Lebanon by early February, and earmarked for priority groups such as high-risk health workers, those over 65, epidemiological and surveillance staff, and people aged 55 to 64 with co-morbidities.
“Fair, broad, and fast access to COVID-19 vaccines is critical to protecting lives and supporting economic recovery,” World Bank Group President David Malpass said in a statement.
The World Bank said the decision to free the funds followed efforts by Lebanese authorities to conduct a vaccine readiness assessment, establish a national vaccine committee, and prepare a draft National Vaccine Deployment Plan (NVDP) in line with World Health Organization recommendations.
The Bank is working closely with over 100 countries to pave the way for them to receive low-interest loans and funding to purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines as part of a new $12 billion initiative approved in October.


Yemeni government makes military gains in Jouf and Marib provinces

Updated 25 February 2021

Yemeni government makes military gains in Jouf and Marib provinces

  • Houthis delay UN inspection of leaking tanker

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni troops and allied tribesmen, backed by air cover from the Arab coalition, have seized control of a large territory in the northern province of Jouf, the first major territorial gains since the beginning of a Houthi offensive on Marib, local army officers told Arab News on Thursday.

The Defense Ministry announced recapturing Al-Jadafer, a large desert area in Jouf, putting government forces on the edges of provincial capital Hazem city and other strategic locations.

Maj. Gen. Amen Al-Waili, commander of the 6th Military Region, first announced the Jouf gains on Wednesday, saying the army was pushing toward new areas as the Houthis had suffered heavy setbacks and casualties.

“After this remarkable progress, the national army forces are (now) on the outskirts of Hazem,” Al-Waili was quoted as saying by state media.

The Houthis seized Hazem and surrounding areas last March, paving the way for their fighters to push toward the oil- and gas-rich province of Marib.

But the army’s territorial gains in Jouf have boosted the morale of loyalists as well as alleviating Houthi pressure on government troops in Marib.

An officer in Marib, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News that they had pushed back Houthi attacks on Serwah and other contested areas.

Army troops and allied tribesmen on Thursday captured Zor, a small village in Serwah hosting displacement camps, and surrounding mountains and areas after clashes with rebels.

Dozens of fighters were killed or wounded in the Murad area as army troops and tribesmen repelled their offensive, the Defense Ministry said.

Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Iryani tweeted the latest gains in Marib, saying that troops were determined to recapture areas that had fallen to the Houthis.

“With their high morale and determination, the heroes are moving toward recapturing areas that the terrorist Houthi militia controlled during their latest escalation,” he said.

Earlier this month the Houthis resumed a large-scale offensive to capture the city of Marib, the government’s last stronghold in northern Yemen. The Defense Ministry recently sent hundreds of troops and equipment to push back the Houthis.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak is visiting Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to mobilize diplomatic efforts to stop Houthi attacks and explain the government's perspective on plans for ending the war.

Bin Mubarak told Arab News that he would visit the capitals of Gulf states to garner support for the government, explaining political developments and coordinating positions with GCC officials.

Separately, the UN said that new requests by the Houthis were further delaying its experts from examining a decaying tanker that is loaded with more than a million barrels of crude oil.

It warned last year that the tanker, the FSO Safer, had not been maintained for more than five years. Experts fear it could explode or leak, causing huge environmental damage to marine life and also affect shipping in the Red Sea.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the additional requests focused on “logistics and security arrangements,” and that it was “now difficult to say exactly when the mission could be deployed,” according to an AP news agency report.
 

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Iran policeman killed amid unrest in southeast

Sistan-Baluchistan has a large ethnic Baluch population, that straddles the border and mainly follows the Sunni branch of Islam, not the Shiite branch followed by most Iranians. (File/Reuters)
Updated 25 February 2021

Iran policeman killed amid unrest in southeast

  • The policeman's death follows days of violence in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan region bordering Pakistan
  • The Islamic Republic has long been critiqued for the plight of minorities in the country

TEHRAN: An officer has been killed in an attack on a police station in southeastern Iran, state media reported Thursday, as unrest in Sistan-Baluchistan province spread to provincial capital Zahedan.
The violence began earlier this week when a clash involving fuel smugglers at the Pakistani border triggered attacks on government buildings in the nearby city of Saravan, 270 kilometers (170 miles) southeast of Zahedan, in which at least one person was fatally wounded.
Sistan-Baluchistan has a large ethnic Baluch population, that straddles the border and mainly follows the Sunni branch of Islam, not the Shiite branch followed by most Iranians.
The province has long been a flashpoint for cross-border attacks by separatists and Sunni extremists.
Zahedan county governor Abouzarmahdi Nakahei said the latest violence was fueled by “fake” reports of deaths in the unrest in Saravan.
“Following the propaganda and rumors by foreign media, criminal elements attacked Kurin police station in Zahedan with light weapons and grenade launchers,” Nakahei told state news agency IRNA, without saying when the attack took place.
He said the assailants had acted on the “excuse of showing solidarity for the fake deaths at Saravan’s Shamsar police station.”
Police returned fire and the attackers eventually fled, but one officer was killed in the firefight, Nakahei said.
Provincial deputy governor Mohammad-Hadi Marashi said several people had been wounded, one of them fatally, when officers at the Shamsar police station opened fire on a crowd on Monday.
He said the crowd had attacked the police station after an incident at the border in which Pakistani soldiers opened fire on fuel smugglers attempting to cross into Iran, killing one person and wounding four.
On Tuesday, angry protesters attacked the county governor’s office in Saravan, damaging property before being dispersed, Marashi said.
Provincial police chief Ahmad Taheri told the Tasnim news agency that hundreds had taken part in the Tuesday attack but the situation was now “under control.”


Pope’s visit to Iraqi Ziggurat to bring together several faiths — and hopefully lure more visitors

An Iraqi policeman walks past a mural depicting Pope Francis on the outer walls of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) Church, in Baghdad on February 22, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2021

Pope’s visit to Iraqi Ziggurat to bring together several faiths — and hopefully lure more visitors

  • Roads around the site are being rennovated and powerlines extended ahead of the pope’s visit
  • The inter-religious prayer service will be attended by Christians, Muslims, Mandaean-Sabaean, Yazidi and other religious minorities in Iraq

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis is due to hold an inter-religious prayer service at the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur when he visits Iraq next week — an event local archaeologists hope will draw renewed attention to the place revered as the birthplace of Abraham.

Popular with Western visitors in the 1970s and 1980s, Ur is scarcely visited today after decades of war and political instability shattered Iraq’s international tourism industry. The coronavirus crisis now also keeps local tourists away.

Located about 300 km (200 miles) south of the capital Baghdad, the site comprises a pyramid-style Ziggurat and an adjacent residential complex as well as temples and palaces.

 

It was excavated about 100 years ago by Leonard Woolley, a Briton who recovered treasures rivalling those found in Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt. But little work has since been done on one of the world’s oldest cities, where urban dwelling, writing and central state power began.

According to the State Board for Antiquities and Heritage director for Ur, Ali Kadhim Ghanim, the complex next to the Ziggurat dates back to about 1900 BC.

The father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Abraham is described in the biblical book of Genesis as living in the city before God called upon him to create a new nation in a land he later learned was Canaan.

“This is why it is believed that this building, or house, was the house of the prophet Abraham,” Ghanim said, pointing at the residential complex.

According to Ghanim, the housing settlement was restored in 1999, after Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope John Paul II, announced a trip to Iraq. But his visit was canceled when negotiations with the government of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein broke down.

This time, Ghanim hopes that Pope Francis’ visit will attract international attention to the site, which he says is badly needed to fund restoration works on its palaces and temples.

“Not only tourism, but we believe that there will be a Christian pilgrimage season,” Ghanim said.

READ MORE

Pope Francis’ visit, his first foreign trip since the coronavirus pandemic and the first ever by a pope to Iraq, is a sign that “You’re not alone,” said Monsignor Segundo Tejado Muñoz. More here.

 

Un Ponte Per, an Italian-based organization, is working with the United Nations Development Programme on infrastructure works such as paths, rest areas and signposts to help visitors.

Roads around the site are being rennovated and powerlines extended ahead of the pope’s visit.

But without adequate funding, Ghanim says his administration has been limited to containing further damage to the site, such as digging trenches to divert rainwater from the ruins.

Basra’s Archbishop Habib Al-Naufaly stressed the symbolic importance of the pope’s March 5-8 visit as Iraq is still recovering from the war against Islamic State that destroyed scores of Christian heritage sites.

The inter-religious prayer service will be attended by Christians, Muslims, Mandaean-Sabaean, Yazidi and other religious minorities present in Iraq.

The focus will be on harmony between religious groups in a service the Vatican has named “Prayer for the sons and daughters of Abraham.”


Libyan PM-designate to propose unified cabinet under UN aegis

Updated 25 February 2021

Libyan PM-designate to propose unified cabinet under UN aegis

  • The new government is intended to replace Libya’s two rival administrations
  • Dbeibeh’s proposed cabinet will be put for approval to the House of Representatives

TRIPOLI: Libya’s designated prime minister, chosen via a UN-facilitated process last month, will on Thursday propose a unified government to the country’s divided parliament as part of a peace plan.
The new government is intended to replace Libya’s two rival administrations and oversee the run-up to national elections planned for December in a roadmap to end years of chronic chaos and violence.
However, designated premier Abdulhamid Dbeibeh is not expected to announce the names of ministers after a process of intense negotiations over recent weeks to form a government that could win acceptance across front lines.
Libya, a major North African oil and gas producer, has enjoyed little peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Qaddafi, and the sprawling country has been split since 2014 between rival factions.
One is the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli in Libya’s west, while the east is controlled by an administration backed by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
Dbeibeh’s new interim government is intended to replace both existing administrations.
Last month, participants in a UN dialogue in Geneva selected Dbeibeh as prime minister along with a three-member presidency council to act as head of state. All four men have pledged not to stand for office in December’s election.
Dbeibeh’s proposed cabinet will be put for approval to the House of Representatives, a body that has been divided for years after some of its members broke off to form a rival assembly.
House of Representative members have been negotiating in recent days for a meeting to discuss the proposed government that could take place in the frontline city of Sirte.
Located in the eastern city of Tobruk, the eastern-based House of Representatives is headed by Aguila Saleh, one of the losing candidates in last month’s Geneva selection process.
He, along with other prominent losers in that vote such as GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha and GNA Defense Minister Saleh Namroush, have promised to abide by the process.
Both Dbeibeh and the new presidency council head Mohammed Al-Menfi have traveled inside Libya and met representatives from major foreign powers outside the country.

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Bahrain becomes first nation to grant J&J COVID-19 shot emergency use

Updated 25 February 2021

Bahrain becomes first nation to grant J&J COVID-19 shot emergency use

  • Bahrain said it would dole out J&J’s shot to the most vulnerable people, including older adults
  • The sate has logged 119,858 coronavirus infections and 437 deaths

DUBAI: Bahrain became the first nation to authorize Johnson & Johnson’s new single-dose coronavirus vaccine for emergency use on Thursday, the government announced, just a day after US regulators concluded the shot offers strong protection against severe COVID-19.
The island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia said it would dole out J&J’s shot to the most vulnerable people, including older adults and those with chronic conditions, without specifying when. It was also unclear when doses would be delivered to the country, which already offers vaccines by state-backed Chinese firm Sinopharm, Pfizer-BioNtech and Oxford-AstraZeneca, as well as Russia’s Sputnik V to its roughly 2 million residents.
The move makes Bahrain’s health regulatory authority the first in the world to authorize the J&J vaccine for general use. In addition to the US, European regulators and the World Health Organization also are considering J&J’s vaccine. Worldwide, the company aims to produce around a billion doses by the end of the year.
Meriam Adhbi Al-Jalahma, chief of Bahrain’s regulatory body, said authorities had conducted “an in-depth study” on “all documents submitted by the company, which included the results of the clinical trials.”
The vaccine “provides a great protection against serious infection with COVID-19,” the statement added.
In an unusual move, South Africa started administering the J&J vaccine to health workers while it was still in testing. The country, where a virus variant is driving a new wave of infections, switched to J&J from AstraZeneca after a small study suggested it was poor at preventing mild to moderate COVID-19 caused by the more contagious variant.
The long-anticipated J&J shot promises to offer the US a third vaccine option and help speed vaccinations by requiring just one dose instead of two. Food and Drug Administration scientists confirmed that overall the vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and about 85% effective against the most serious illness. The agency also said J&J’s shot is safe.
The tiny state of Bahrain has logged 119,858 coronavirus infections and 437 deaths. It boasts among the world’s fastest vaccination rates, with nearly 17% of the population having received at least one dose.