Libya gets 57,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses from COVAX

Libya has reported more than 166,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,799 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic. (AFP)
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Updated 09 April 2021

Libya gets 57,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses from COVAX

  • The doses that arrived late Thursday have been earmarked to health workers, people older than 75 and people with chronic disease

CAIRO: Libya has received more than 57,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine from the COVAX initiative.
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said the doses that arrived late Thursday have been earmarked to health workers, people older than 75 and people with chronic disease.
Libya’s National Center for Disease Control said 57,600 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine were in the first COVAX shipment to Libya.

On Sunday, Libya received 101,250 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine.
Libya has seen swelling COVID-19 cases. The county of around 7 million people has reported more than 166,000 confirmed cases and 2,799 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic. However, the actual numbers, like elsewhere in the world, are thought to be far higher.

How Muslim faithful in Jerusalem savored the essence of Ramadan

Updated 13 May 2021

How Muslim faithful in Jerusalem savored the essence of Ramadan

  • The last 10 days of Ramadan are always special but in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque they are unique
  • Worshippers and students often have questions about life and sought solutions for daily issues

JERUSALEM: The last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque they are unique — and charged.

On May 10, Israeli police, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, stormed the Haram Al-Sharif, which houses both Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. More than 300 people were injured in the ensuing violence.  

Before the unrest erupted there, Arab News spent four days in Jerusalem and talked to the faithful as they awaited Laylat Al-Qadr, the night of fate that falls on the 28th day of Ramadan and marks the date, according to Muslim scholars, when the Holy Qur’an was revealed.

Most worshippers stressed the spiritual dimension of their visits.

Mohammed Abdo, a laborer from Jerusalem’s Sur Baher neighborhood, said he liked to go to the mosque as often as possible but due to his work he usually visited for afternoon and evening prayers. “But my favorite is the dawn prayer. It feels very spiritual and heavenly,” he added.

Mustafa Abu Sway, a professor of Islamic studies at Al-Quds University and holder of the Ghazali chair, said he is almost always at Al-Aqsa Mosque for noon prayers. “I give daily lectures and the best time for these spiritual talks is just before the noon prayers.”

He noted that worshippers and students often have questions about life and sought solutions for daily issues.

Palestinian worshippers arrive to pray outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on April 30, 2021. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

“We try and deal with how the Islamic faith has a direct influence on our behavior. Whether it is in personal relations, work ethics, or issues of the environment, we talk about all these issues during our discussions,” he added.

He pointed out that there was great interest in international academic circles in the doctrines and thinking of Al-Ghazali, an influential Islamic theologian and a famous preacher.

Getting to Al-Aqsa is not easy. The nearest parking lot for those coming from outside the Old City is several kilometers away. A fleet of electric carts carry older and disabled people, but the majority have to make the long walk on cobbled streets.

Some enter via the Damascus Gate to the north and make their way up the Khan Al-Zayt and the Suq Al-Wad, two ancient thoroughfares, to the higher ground of Haram Al-Sharif.

Israeli security forces stand guard on Sept. 25, 2020 in front of the Lion's Gate in Jerusalem to prevent worshippers from reaching the Al-Aqsa mosque compound amid COVID-19 restrictions. (AFP file photo)

Others come via Lion’s Gate in the city’s eastern wall. Once inside the compound, there are separate entrances for men and women in the Dome of the Rock mosque. Inside, a small wooden barrier divides the genders.

In the separate Al-Aqsa structure, the southern Al-Qibly is reserved for men while the part close to the Bab Al-Rahmeh, another prayer section, is divided with men on the right side and women on the left.

The whole compound, which forms an esplanade that dominates the Old City, is maintained by the Jordanian Ministry of Waqf. Jordan held the Old City and the West Bank until 1967.

During Ramadan, the Waqf sets up special areas for hundreds of worshippers to break their fast. Many come from out of town either from within the 1948 borders of Israel or from various parts of the West Bank.

Israeli security forces keep watch as Palestinian worshippers attend the prayers of Eid al-Fitr outside the closed Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (AFP file photo)

This year and last, entering Israel from the West Bank has been further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Only those who have been vaccinated have been able to obtain a permit to travel from the West Bank.

Before the May 10 incursion by the Israeli police into the Haram Al-Sharif, Israeli commanders had ordered the green-bereted border guards and plainclothes security to adopt a low profile.

At the beginning of the holy month, Israeli security forces cut off electricity to four minarets and blocked a plaza in front of the Damascus Gate, a major entrance to the Old City northwest of Al-Aqsa.

The commanders were trying to silence the call to prayer on the same evening as a Jewish remembrance event for fallen Israeli soldiers. On another date, they attempted to head off clashes between Palestinians and hardline Jewish protesters who shouted, “Death to Arabs.”

The atmosphere was further soured by attempts to evict Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood outside the Old City from buildings claimed by Jewish settlers. The US and EU appealed for calm.

Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian who tried to break through a security barrier to enter the the closed Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020.  (AFP file photo)

The mosque’s guards, who are employed by the Jordanian government, also kept a low profile as worshippers moved into and around the complex.

The Palestinian guards were monitoring visitors to ensure that they did not violate an agreement reached in 2014 in Amman between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then US Secretary of State John Kerry, and King Abdullah of Jordan.

The unwritten understanding stated that only Muslims may pray in Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock while all others may visit. The esplanade is, however, claimed by Jews to be the site of the First and Second Temples, which are sacred to the Jewish tradition. Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its undivided capital.

In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. (Photo Credit: We One Agency, Jerusalem, Palestine)

The Waqf guards seek to head off attempts by hardline Jewish groups, such as the Temple Mount Faithful, who want to rebuild the third temple on the site. They may attempt to recite Jewish prayers as a sign of claiming sovereignty.

In the few hours separating the afternoon prayers from the evening prayers that follow the breaking of the fast or iftar, Al-Aqsa was quieter. Locals from the Old City returned to their homes to break the fast with their families, while outsiders were invited to a special corner of the mosque compound by various charities to share in a hot meal, drinks, and sweets.

Washing areas were available as well as drinking water for those who fasted through the day without drinking or eating.

In the evening, residents of the Old City came out of their houses to hold joint Taraweeh prayers with those who stayed in the mosque. Late evenings were spent in small and large group talks and religious studies.

Palestinian worshippers gather outside Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound ahead of the third Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan, on April 30, 2021. (AFP file photo)

Some stayed up all night for the suhoor breakfast. Many slept before being awakened to partake in a light meal before the imsaq (the time of abstaining) as the sun rose.

Early risers returned to the mosque for the special time in the early morning hours for the dawn prayers.

Some do not have the luxury of being able to spend a night in the Haram Al-Sharif, in what is the third-holiest site in Islam.

Nemeh Quteneh, from Beit Safafa, another district in east Jerusalem, was with her mother and aunt as they walked toward the Dome of the Rock, which houses the tip of Mount Moriah, for afternoon prayers.

She said: “My mother, Sufiana, can only come in the afternoon, but I prefer the early morning prayers. The air is calm and the quiet allows one to have that spiritual connection that this holy place allows.”


Twitter: @daoudkuttab

El-Sisi: Egypt’s water rights ‘will not be violated’

Updated 12 May 2021

El-Sisi: Egypt’s water rights ‘will not be violated’

  • Talks over the filling and operation of the dam between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have come to a halt

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has said that Egyptians’ concerns over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) are “legitimate” and warned that Egypt will not give up its water rights.

“I appreciate your concern about the dam crisis, and I share this concern with you and consider it a healthy phenomenon that stems from Egyptians’ fear and love for their country, but I call on Egyptians to be patient,” he said, adding that negotiations will take time.

Speaking on the sidelines of the inauguration of several projects, El-Sisi said that pressure is being applied to solve the crisis through negotiations.

“Our rights will not be violated,” he added.

Cairo  has witnessed intense diplomatic activity recently, with Jeffrey Feltman, US envoy to the Horn of Africa, and Felix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the current session of the African Union, holding talks in an effort to reach a settlement.

Talks over the filling and operation of the dam between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have come to a halt.

Earlier, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Dina Mufti, expressed hopes that negotiations will resume following Tshisekedi’s efforts to break the deadlock.

Feltman called for a “profitable solution” for all parties involved.

Ethiopia began work on the 1.8-kilometer dam in 2011. Egypt fears the GERD will threaten its water supply from the Nile, while Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety and its own water flow.

Both Cairo and Khartoum are calling for a binding and comprehensive deal that guarantees the rights and interests of all three countries.

US sends diplomat to try to quell Israeli-Palestinian violence

Updated 12 May 2021

US sends diplomat to try to quell Israeli-Palestinian violence

  • Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has appeared to catch the Biden administration off guard as it pursued other priorities
  • Israel said it killed 16 members of the Hamas armed wing in Gaza in a barrage on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON: The United States dispatched a senior diplomat on Wednesday to urge Israelis and Palestinians to calm the worst flare-up in violence between them in years.
The violence has appeared to catch the Biden administration off guard as it pursued other priorities.
In remarks welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended Israel’s right to protect itself and condemned rockets fired by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
He also said Israel had a particular obligation to avoid civilian casualties.
Israel said it killed 16 members of the Hamas armed wing in Gaza in a barrage on Wednesday. At least 56 people have been killed in Gaza since violence escalated on Monday, according to the enclave’s health ministry. Six people have been killed in Israel, medical officials said.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

The military action follows unrest involving Israeli police and Palestinian protesters near Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem.
Blinken, who spoke by telephone to Netanyahu, said he had sent Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr to meet with both sides.
“He will urge, on my behalf and on behalf of President (Joe) Biden, a de-escalation of violence.”
Biden has yet to name an ambassador to Israel, a post his predecessor Donald Trump had filled before his inauguration. Other top state department officials handling the region are still awaiting approval from the Senate.
Deflecting suggestions that the long-standing conflict has not been a priority, Blinken repeatedly described the administration as “fully engaged.”
“We are deeply engaged across the board. State Department, White House, senior officials, with the Israelis, Palestinians and other countries and partners in the region to call for and push for de-escalation,” Blinken said.
A senior State Department official, asked if Biden would speak with Netanyahu, said further “high level engagement” from Washington was to be expected.
In his remarks, Blinken drew a distinction between “a terrorist organization, Hamas that is indiscriminately raining down rockets in fact targeting civilians, and Israel’s response, defending itself.”
However, he added: “I think Israel has an extra burden in trying to do everything they possibly can to avoid civilian casualties, even as it is rightfully responding in defense of the people.”
Netanyahu’s office said: “Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked Blinken for the US support for Israel’s right to self-defense, a right that the secretary of state reiterated in this call.”

Israel declares curfew in Arab-Jewish town hit by violence

Updated 12 May 2021

Israel declares curfew in Arab-Jewish town hit by violence

  • Israeli police declared a night-time curfew and deployed heavily armed reinforcements after violence erupted in mixed towns
  • "We have lost control of the city and the streets," Lod Mayor Yair Revivo told Channel 12 News

LOD/ISRAEL: Jews cleared Torah scrolls from a torched synagogue on Wednesday and burnt-out cars lined nearby streets in an ethnically mixed Israeli town hit by violence denounced by the president as “unforgivable” acts by Arabs incensed at air strikes on Gaza.
Moving to head off further violence in Lod, which has also seen assaults by Jews on Arab passersby, police declared a night-time curfew and deployed heavily armed reinforcements.
In several other areas populated by Israel’s 21 percent Arab minority, Palestinian flags adorned electricity poles and hundreds of residents have turned out for protests, sometimes clashing with police or Jewish residents.
“We have lost control of the city and the streets,” Lod Mayor Yair Revivo told Channel 12 News after nightly confrontations, in which an Arab townsman was shot dead, a killing in which two Jewish suspects have been arrested.
Scores of other people have been arrested in Lod and in majority-Arab towns in central and northern Israel, including Umm Al-Fahm along the West Bank border and Jisr Al-Zarqa on the Mediterranean coast, police said.
In Lod, men carried Torah scrolls through the blackened and debris-strewn yard of the torched synagogue. President Reuven Rivlin described events in terms recalling anti-Semitism abroad.
“The sight of the pogrom in Lod and the disturbances across the country by an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob ... is unforgivable,” he said, calling the flying of the Palestinian flag by protesters “a brutal assault on shared existence.”
Israel’s Arab minority — Palestinian by heritage, Israeli by citizenship — is mostly descended from the Palestinians who lived under Ottoman and then British colonial rule before staying in Israel after the country’s 1948 creation.
Most are bilingual in Arabic and Hebrew, and feel a sense of kinship with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They often complain of systemic discrimination, unfair access to housing, health care, and education services.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Tension in Arab-Jewish towns has risen as Israel conducted air strikes in Gaza and Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel in an escalation of violence since clashes in East Jerusalem on Monday morning.
Ibrahim, an Arab councillor with the Lod municipality, said: “What is happening now is (an) uprising that is going on (in) cities like Ramle, Lod, Jaffa, Acre and Haifa,” calling events in Gaza and Jerusalem a “red line” for Arabs.
In the coastal city of Acre, Uri Buri, a Jewish-owned fish restaurant, was set fire to and some Arab residents said they were scared to leave home.
In Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, Arab protesters clashed with police firing stun grenades to disperse them.
“We condemn that our people’s solidarity and cohesion with our brethren in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip is being channelled through acts of sabotage to public and private property, as is now happening at Umm Al-Fahm’s entrance,” said Samir Mahamid, Mayor of Umm Al-Fahm.
Neighbourhoods with Arab residents, including Lod and Jaffa, were among those where sirens were triggered by rocket fire. An Arab resident of Lod and his daughter were killed on Wednesday when a vehicle was hit by a rocket, Israeli authorities said.
In Haifa and Jaffa, and in the Arab city of Nazareth, protesters have chanted slogans in support of Palestinians facing eviction from an East Jerusalem neighborhood under a long-running legal case.
Arab citizens of Israel were among the thousands of protesters who have faced off in recent days with Israeli police near Al-Aqsa mosque and elsewhere in Jerusalem’s Old City.
A spokesman for the Hamas Islamist militant group in Gaza encouraged Arab citizens to “rise up” against “our enemy and yours.”


Israel destroys tower block, kills Hamas commander as Gaza civilian death toll mounts

Updated 13 May 2021

Israel destroys tower block, kills Hamas commander as Gaza civilian death toll mounts

  • At least 56 people in Gaza, including 14 children, two Palestinians in the West Bank
  • Six Israelis have also been killed in the ongoing conflict

TEL AVIV: Heavy exchanges of rocket fire and air strikes, and rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab towns, fueled fears Wednesday that deadly violence between Israel and Palestinians could spiral into “full-scale war.”
Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz vowed more attacks on Hamas and other Islamist militant groups in Gaza to bring “total, long-term quiet” before considering a cease-fire.
“This is just the beginning,” warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We’ll deliver them blows they haven’t dreamt of.”
Gaza militants have launched more than 1,000 rockets since Monday, said Israel’s army, which has carried out hundreds of air strikes on Islamist groups in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza.
The most intense hostilities in seven years have killed at least 56 people in Gaza, including 14 children, and six in Israel, including an Israeli soldier and one Indian national, since Monday.


Three Palestinians were killed in West Bank clashes. And at least 230 Palestinians and 100 Israelis have been wounded.
An Israeli soldier was killed on Wednesday when Palestinian militants in Gaza fired an anti-tank missile near the border, the army said, amid tit-for-tat rocket fire and air strikes.
A statement from the army identified the soldier as Omer Tabib, 21, who was “killed this morning by the anti-tank missile launched by the Hamas terror group from Gaza at Israel.”
The bloodshed was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
As world powers voiced growing alarm over the crisis, the UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland warned that “we’re escalating toward a full-scale war.”
The UN Security Council held another emergency meeting without agreeing on a joint statement due to opposition from the United States, Israel’s ally.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for an immediate end to violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories that has killed more than 50 people since Monday.
“Everything must be done to prevent a broader conflict, which will, first and foremost, affect the civilian populations on both sides,” Borrell said in a statement that condemned actions by both sides.


France’s foreign minister said the international community must do everything possible to avert a new conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, after Palestinian militants fired hundreds of rockets and the Israeli army launched air strikes.
“The cycle of violence in Gaza, in Jerusalem but also in the West Bank and several cities in Israel risk leading to a major escalation,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament. “Everything must be done to avoid... a conflict” that would be the fourth such deadly confrontation in the last 15 years, he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet in order to halt violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
Speaking alongside UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Lavrov said: “Today we’ve come to the common opinion that the most pressing task is to convene the Quartet of international mediators — Russia, the United States, the UN and the EU.”
Sergei Vershinin, a Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, called on Israel to “immediately” stop all settlement activities in the Palestinian Territories, RIA news agency reported.
Vershinin also said that Moscow called for the “status quo of Jerusalem’s sacred sites” to be respected, RIA reported. 
China’s special envoy on the Middle East, Zhai Jun, expressed “deep concern” over escalating clashes between Palestinians and Israel and urged all parties to exercise restraint to avoid further casualties.
In a meeting with Arab envoys and the chief representative of the Arab League in China, Zhai said Beijing would continue to push the UN Security Council to take action on the situation in East Jerusalem as soon as possible, according to a foreign ministry statement.

Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in the mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli city of Lod, where police said “wide-scale riots erupted among some of the Arab residents,” and authorities later imposed an overnight curfew there.
There were fears of widening civil unrest as protesters waving Palestinian flags burnt cars and properties, including a synagogue, clashed with Israeli police and attacked Jewish motorists in several Jewish-Arab towns.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, in unusually strong language, denounced what he described as a “pogrom” in which “an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob” had injured people and attacked sacred Jewish spaces.
Rivlin said Israelis needed “to be ready and armed, strong and determined, prepared to defend our home.”


Palestinian groups, mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have launched more than 1,000 rockets, Israel’s army said, including hundreds at Tel Aviv, where air sirens wailed overnight.
Of these, 850 have hit in Israel or been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, while the rest have crashed inside Gaza, the army said.
Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on Gaza, the Israeli-blockaded strip of two million people that Hamas controls, targeting what the army described as “terror” sites.
Hamas said several of its top commanders were killed in Israeli strikes, including its military chief in Gaza City, Bassem Issa. Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, also identified three other top Hamas militants who it said were killed.


Its leader Ismail Haniyeh threatened to step up attacks, warning that “if Israel wants to escalate, we are ready for it.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged both sides to “step back from the brink.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said “everything must be done” to avoid a new Middle East conflict.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a US envoy would travel to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders to seek “a de-escalation of violence.”
In Gaza City, people sifted through debris after an Israeli air strike destroyed a 12-story building that Hamas had been a residential building. It was also known to house the offices of several Hamas officials.
Five members of a single family were killed by an Israeli strike in northern Gaza Tuesday, including young brothers Ibrahim and Marwan, who were filling sacks of straw at the time.
“We were laughing and having fun when suddenly they began to bomb us. Everything around us caught fire,” their cousin, also called Ibrahim, told AFP.
“I saw my cousins set alight and torn to pieces,” said the 14-year-old, breaking down in tears.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

In Israel’s central city of Lod, a man and a girl were killed Wednesday by rocket fire from Gaza. Israel identified one of the dead as 16-year-old Nadin Awad, an Arab Israeli.
Her cousin, Ahmad Ismail, told public broadcaster Kan that he was near Nadin when she was killed alongside her father Khalil Awad, 52.
“I was at home, we heard the noise of the rocket,” said Ismail. “It happened so quickly. Even if we had wanted to run somewhere, we don’t have a safe room.”
An Israeli woman was killed when rockets hit Rishon Letzion near Tel Aviv. In Ashkelon, a town near Gaza which Hamas threatened to turn into “hell,” rockets fired by militants killed two women Tuesday.
The crisis flared last Friday when weeks of tensions boiled over and Israeli riot police clashed with crowds of Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.
Nightly disturbances have since flared in east Jerusalem, leaving more than 900 Palestinians injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.
The unrest has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Large protests have been held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world, including in Britain and South Africa as well as in Muslim-majority countries including Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey.

(With Reuters and AFP)