ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tested positive for COVID-19, he tweeted Saturday.
“Today my wife and I tested positive for COVID-19 with mild symptoms. Thankfully, we’re experiencing slight symptoms that we have learned is the omicron variant,” he wrote.
“We are on duty. We will continue to work at home. We look forward to your prayers.”
Erdogan, 67, sent the message after appearing via videolink at a tunnel-opening ceremony from Istanbul, having canceled his appearance in person, citing bad weather.
The president showed no signs of illness in his televised appearance.
Turkey has seen record levels of COVID-19 cases in recent days, with 111,157 cases reported by the Health Ministry on Friday. In late December, daily cases stood at about 20,000 but have risen due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.
The country is also seeing a high number of fatalities due to COVID-19, with 248 deaths on Friday, a level not seen since October.
Turkey’s Erdogan says he tested positive for COVID-19
Turkey’s Erdogan says he tested positive for COVID-19
- “Today my wife and I tested positive for COVID-19 with mild symptoms,” he tweeted
- The president showed no signs of illness in his televised appearance
ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tested positive for COVID-19, he tweeted Saturday.
How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise
- Water levels have been falling over the past half century, endangering the salt lake’s very existence
- Joint effort to revive the Jordan River and a canal to the Mediterranean Sea among potential solutions
AMMAN: From Greco-Roman times, the Dead Sea’s unique equilibrium was finely balanced by nature. Fresh water from nearby rivers and springs flowed into the lake, combining with rich salt deposits and then evaporating, leaving behind a brine of 33 percent salinity.
Now, owing to a combination of climatic and man-made factors, this balance has been disrupted. As a result, the Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century, endangering its very existence.
At the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, held in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh in November, a joint Israeli-Jordanian agreement was signed to try to address the Dead Sea’s decline.
However, given that the deal excluded the Palestinians and was signed by an outgoing Israeli environment ministry official, some say that its chances of success are low.
Without sufficient funding, and in the absence of a three-way agreement, Jordan and Israel have instead decided to focus on cleaning up the Jordan River to help replenish the Dead Sea’s main water source.
What was signed by Israeli and Jordanian officials on the sidelines of COP27 was an agreement to this effect. But if the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater sources and to set aside political rivalries for the common environmental good.
No one knows exactly how the Dead Sea came into being. The Bible and other religious texts suggest this lifeless, salty lake at the lowest point on Earth was created when God rained down fire and brimstone on the sinful towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Russian experts have even tried excavating under the lake bed in the hope of finding evidence to support the Biblical tale. A nearby religious site called Lot’s Cave is said to be where the nephew of Abraham and his daughters lived after fleeing the destruction.
Scientists, meanwhile, point to the lake’s more mundane, geological origins, claiming the Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago.
Halfway through the 20th century, among the first big decisions made by the newly formed state of Israel was to divert large amounts of water by pipelines from the Jordan River to the southern Negev, in order to realize the dream of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion to “make the desert bloom.”
In 1964, Israel’s Mekorot National Water Company inaugurated its National Water Carrier project, which gave the Degania Dam — completed in the early 1930s — a new purpose: to regulate the water flow from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River.
One result was that the share of water reaching the neighboring Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan fell drastically, thereby depriving the Dead Sea of millions of cubic meters of freshwater per year from its primary source.
Another potential contributing factor at present is the Israeli company behind Ein Gedi Mineral Water. The Ein Gedi bottling plant has monopolized the use of freshwater from a spring that lies within the 1948 borders of the state of Israel and which long fed into the Dead Sea.
However, not all the blame for the lake’s decline rests with one country. According to Elias Salameh, a water science professor at the University of Jordan, every country in the region bears some responsibility.
“All of us are responsible at different levels for what has happened to the Dead Sea,” Salameh told Arab News. Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have all sucked up water intended for the Dead Sea in order to satisfy their own needs.
In 1955, the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan, brokered by US Ambassador Eric Johnston, allowed Israel to use 25 million cubic meters of Yarmouk River water per year, Syria 90 million and Jordan 375 million.
“But not all countries abided by the commitments made to the American, Johnston,” said Salameh. “It was never signed because Arab countries had not recognized Israel and refused to sign any agreement with Israel. Syria took the biggest portion, getting away with 260-280 million cubic meters annually.”
In the 1970s, Jordan and Syria began their own diversion of the Yarmouk River, the largest tributary of the Jordan River, again reducing its flow. Another agreement, in 1986, gave Jordan the right to 200 million cubic meters. But, in reality, Jordan took barely 20 million.
According to the UN, Jordan is the second most water-scarce country in the world. The 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, which led to the mass exodus of Palestinians, more than doubled Jordan’s population, making its water needs even more acute.
As a result of these deals and diversions, the Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating.
During the first 20 years after 1976, the water level dropped by an average of six meters per decade. Over the next decade, from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, it fell by nine meters. In the decade up to 2015, it fell by 11 meters.
Some attribute this accelerating decline to man-made climate change. Climate scientists say global warming has already resulted in significant alterations to human and natural systems, one of which is increased rate of evaporation from water bodies.
At the same time, the waters of the Dead Sea are not being replenished fast enough.
Although the Dead Sea borders Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and despite the valiant efforts of such cross-border NGOs as Earth Peace, which includes activists from all three communities, no serious collective action has been taken to deal with the ecological disaster.
Cooperation is essential, however, to stave off the wider environmental consequences — most concerning of all being the rapid proliferation of sinkholes along the Dead Sea shoreline.
According to scientists, when freshwater diffuses beneath the surface of the newly exposed shoreline, it slowly dissolves the large underground salt deposits until the earth above collapses without warning.
Over a thousand sinkholes have appeared in the past 15 years alone, swallowing buildings, a portion of road, and date-palm plantations, mostly on the northwest coast. Environmental experts believe Israeli hotels along the shoreline are now in danger.
On the Jordanian side, too, the fate of luxury tourism resorts along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea face is in the balance.
“The main highway, which is the artery to all the big Jordanian hotels, is in danger of collapsing if the situation is not rectified,” Salameh said.
Israel has developed a system that can predict where the next sinkhole will appear, based on imagery provided by a satellite operated by the Italian Space Agency, which passes over the Dead Sea every 16 days and produces a radar image of the area.
By comparing sets of images, even minimal changes in the topography can be identified before any major collapse.
Israeli officials have been searching for solutions to prevent a further decline in water levels and thereby stave off the spread of sinkholes. One suggestion is the construction of a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal.
A report compiled to assess the potential impact of transferring Red Sea water into the lower-lying Dead Sea found that a moderate flow could slow, but not halt, the retreat of the Dead Sea and reduce the number of new sinkholes per year.
Ironically, it found that too much Red Sea water could have the opposite effect. If the flow was significant enough to raise the level of the Dead Sea, the report predicted the sinkhole problem would be exacerbated.
Because the Red Sea is less salty than the Dead Sea, it would likely increase the dissolution of underground salt deposits and thereby speed up the appearance of sinkholes.
Although many solutions have been suggested to help address the Dead Sea’s decline, none has been implemented owing in large part to a lack of funding.
According to Salameh, the most logical solution proposed to date is the Med-Dead project, which would allow for a channel to run from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea.
Two of the sites proposed for this channel are Qatif, near the Gaza Strip, and Bisan, north of the Jordan River in Jordan. However, such a plan would first require Jordanian and Palestinian approvals.
Jordan has also suggested a similar project establishing a channel from the Red Sea, but Salameh does not consider this feasible.
“The distance is long, and it is not a viable project,” he said.
Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank
- ‘Apartheid’ fears grow after authorities ramp up settler road construction
RAMALLAH: A 22-year-old Palestinian man was killed by Israeli gunfire during a military raid in the occupied West Bank on Monday morning.
Omar Manna “Faraja” was killed in Bethlehem Dheisheh refugee camp after being hit by four bullets in the chest.
Another six people were injured, and four were arrested during the Israeli operation.
Troops stormed the refugee camp, sparking violent clashes with youths, official Palestinian sources said.
A comprehensive strike occurred in Bethlehem to mourn the murder of the Palestinian.
The killing took place as Israeli authorities started constructing settler-only roads in the West Bank.
Israel’s scheme aims to secure separate travel paths on shared roadways, reducing friction and violent clashes between Palestinians and settlers, Israeli armed forces and Palestinian sources told Arab News.
The Israeli plan includes the construction of streets near Nablus, Qalqilyia and between Bethlehem and Hebron, added the sources.
The process involves the seizure of thousands of acres of Palestinian land.
Israel had confiscated large swathes of Palestinian land for the construction of bypass roads since the signing of the Oslo agreement in late 1993, with the aim of dispersing Israeli settlers outside the Palestinian cities and towns across the West Bank.
Friction between Palestinian youths and Israeli defense forces over the protection of settler vehicles passing through shared roads across the West Bank has increased in recent months, leading to the deaths of several Palestinians by Israeli gunfire.
The significant increase in clashes includes stone-throwing as well as violent physical attacks by settlers on Palestinians.
Hiwara shared road is one of the most critical streets that the Israeli plan aims to replace with a bypass outside the town, Palestinian sources told Arab News.
Moein Al-Dumaidi, mayor of Hiwara, told Arab News that the street that Israeli authorities began paving in Hiwara is 6 km long.
Almost 1,100 dunums of village land was being seized for the work following a Israeli military decision.
“This is a method of confiscating the lands of Hiwara and appropriating it to serve the settlers,” Al-Dumaidi told Arab News.
However, the mayor hoped that the road would reduce tensions in the town.
Hiwara suffers from daily attacks by settlers and Israeli forces, leading to more than seven citizens being killed over the last three months, said the mayor.
The latest incident came on Dec. 3 when an Israeli soldier shot a child, Ammar Mufleh, leaving him to bleed to death over 20 minutes without providing treatment.
Al-Dumaidi said that killings had increased significantly since the election of Israel’s right-wing government.
Hiwara, with a population of 8,000, has 9,900 dunums, of which 7,500 are classified as Area C — under complete Israeli security and administrative control. Construction is prohibited within the Area C category, although 2,400 dunums classified as Area B can be used for building.
Mahmoud Barham, mayor of Beita, adjacent to Hawara, told Arab News that Israeli authorities had confiscated 400 dunums of Beita land containing olive trees to build a bypass road, which will be used exclusively by Israeli settlers.
“We demanded that the project to build this bypass road be stopped because it affects the entrance to our town,” Barham told Arab News.
Legal activist Amer Hamdan, who travels daily through the shared Hiwara street, told Arab News that separate lanes might reduce clashes between Palestinians, settlers and Israeli forces.
However, it could be classified as apartheid according to international law, Hamdan added.
Israel seeks to connect Israeli settlements from Hebron in the south of the West Bank to the Nablus area in the north through a network of streets for Israeli settlers.
“After settlers stop passing through streets shared with the Palestinians, no one will care about paving or maintaining existing roads,” Hamdan told Arab News.
“Even if a traffic accident occurs, the Palestinian police will not be able to reach the scene of the accident ... and the Israeli police will not be present, which will create a problem for the Palestinians who use these streets,” he added.
In 2019, Israel constructed a highway in eastern Jerusalem separated by a high concrete wall, dividing the road into two lanes — one for Palestinians and another for Israelis.
Meanwhile, Israeli authorities demolished homes in the village of Al-Araqib on Monday.
Local residents, predominantly Arab Bedouins, were threatened with displacement in the Negev region for the 210th time since the village’s first demolition in 2010.
Locals persist in rebuilding their tents — made from wood and a nylon cover — each time after demolition in order to be shielded from the intense summer heat and bitter cold of the winter.
Israeli authorities refuse to recognize the ownership of the land by the people of Al-Araqib, and have repeatedly demolished the village and razed crops.
Demolition orders continue in East Jerusalem after Israeli authorities destroyed a residential building in the Wad Qaddum neighbourhood in Silwan, south of Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The 17-year-old building included 10 apartments housing about 100 people.
Iran morality police status unclear after ‘closure’ comment
- Iran’s chief prosecutor Mohamed Jafar Montazeri earlier said the morality police ‘had been closed’
CAIRO: An Iranian lawmaker said Sunday that Iran’s government is “paying attention to the people’s real demands,” state media reported, a day after a top official suggested that the country’s morality police whose conduct helped trigger months of protests has been shut down.
The role of the morality police, which enforces veiling laws, came under scrutiny after a detainee, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, died in its custody in mid-September. Amini had been held for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress codes. Her death unleashed a wave of unrest that has grown into calls for the downfall of Iran’s clerical rulers.
Iran’s chief prosecutor Mohamed Jafar Montazeri said on Saturday the morality police “had been closed,” the semi-official news agency ISNA reported. The agency did not provide details, and state media hasn’t reported such a purported decision.
In a report carried by ISNA on Sunday, lawmaker Nezamoddin Mousavi signaled a less confrontational approach toward the protests.
“Both the administration and parliament insisted that paying attention to the people’s demand that is mainly economic is the best way for achieving stability and confronting the riots,” he said, following a closed meeting with several senior Iranian officials, including President Ebrahim Raisi.
Mousavi did not address the reported closure of the morality police.
The Associated Press has been unable to confirm the current status of the force, established in 2005 with the task of arresting people who violate the country’s Islamic dress code.
Since September, there has been a reported decline in the number of morality police officers across Iranian cities and an increase in women walking in public without headscarves, contrary to Iranian law.
Montazeri, the chief prosecutor, provided no further details about the future of the morality police or if its closure was nationwide and permanent. However he added that Iran’s judiciary will ‘‘continue to monitor behavior at the community level.’’
In a report by ISNA on Friday, Montazeri was quoted as saying that the government was reviewing the mandatory hijab law. “We are working fast on the issue of hijab and we are doing our best to come up with a thoughtful solution to deal with this phenomenon that hurts everyone’s heart,” said Montazeri, without offering details.
Saturday’s announcement could signal an attempt to appease the public and find a way to end the protests in which, according to rights groups, at least 470 people were killed. More than 18,000 people have been arrested in the protests and the violent security force crackdown that followed, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the demonstrations.
Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said Montazeri’s statement about closing the morality police could be an attempt to pacify domestic unrest without making real concessions to protesters.
‘‘The secular middle class loathes the organization (morality police) for restricting personal freedoms,” said Alfoneh. On the other hand, the “underprivileged and socially conservative class resents how they conveniently keep away from enforcing the hijab legislation” in wealthier areas of Iran’s cities.
When asked about Montazeri’s statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian gave no direct answer. ‘‘Be sure that in Iran, within the framework of democracy and freedom, which very clearly exists in Iran, everything is going very well,’’ Amirabdollahian said, speaking during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia.
The anti-government demonstrations, now in their third month, have shown no sign of stopping despite a violent crackdown. Protesters say they are fed up after decades of social and political repression, including a strict dress code imposed on women. Young women continue to play a leading role in the protests, stripping off the mandatory Islamic headscarf to express their rejection of clerical rule.
After the outbreak of the protests, the Iranian government hadn’t appeared willing to heed the protesters’ demands. It has continued to crack down on protesters, including sentencing at least seven arrested protesters to death. Authorities continue to blame the unrest on hostile foreign powers, without providing evidence.
But in recent days, Iranian state media platforms seemed to be adopting a more conciliatory tone, expressing a desire to engage with the problems of the Iranian people.
Iranian city shops shut after strike call, judiciary blames ‘rioters’
- 1500tasvir Twitter account shared videos of shut stores in key commercial areas like Tehran’s Bazaar
- Amusement park in Tehran was earlier closed because its operators were not wearing the hijab properly
DUBAI: Iranian shops shut their doors in several cities on Monday, following calls for a three-day nationwide general strike from protesters seeking the fall of clerical rulers, with the head of the judiciary blaming “rioters” for threatening shopkeepers.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide unrest following the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 in police custody, posing one of the strongest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
Amini was arrested by Iran’s morality police for flouting the strict hijab policy, which requires women to dress modestly and wear headscarfs.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Monday that an amusement park at a Tehran shopping center was closed by the judiciary because its operators were not wearing the hijab properly.
The reformist-leaning Hammihan newspaper said that morality police had increased their presence in cities outside Tehran, where the force has been less active over recent weeks.
Iran’s public prosecutor on Saturday was cited by the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency as saying that the morality police had been disbanded. But there was no confirmation from the Interior Ministry and state media said the public prosecutor was not responsible for overseeing the force.
Last week, Vice President for Women’s Affairs Ensieh Khazali said that the hijab was part of the Islamic Republic’s general law and that it guaranteed women’s social movement and security.
In the shop protests, 1500tasvir, a Twitter account with 380,000 followers focused on the protests, shared videos on Monday of shut stores in key commercial areas, such as Tehran’s Bazaar, and other large cities such as Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz, and Shiraz.
Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.
The head of Iran’s judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, said that “rioters” were threatening shopkeepers to close their businesses and added they would be swiftly dealt with by the judiciary and security bodies. Ejei added that protesters condemned to death would soon be executed.
The Revolutionary Guards issued a statement praising the judiciary and calling on it to swiftly and decisively issue a judgment against “defendants accused of crimes against the security of the nation and Islam.”
Security forces would show no mercy toward “rioters, thugs, terrorists,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted the guards as saying.
Witnesses speaking to Reuters said riot police and the Basij militia had been heavily deployed in central Tehran.
The semi-official Fars news agency confirmed that a jewelry shop belonging to former Iranian football legend Ali Daei was sealed by authorities, following its decision to close down for the three days of the general strike.
Similar footage by 1500tasvir and other activist accounts was shared of closed shops in smaller cities like Bojnourd, Kerman, Sabzevar, Ilam, Ardabil and Lahijan.
Kurdish Iranian rights group Hengaw also reported that 19 cities had joined the general strike movement in western Iran, where most of the country’s Kurdish population live.
Hundreds of people have been killed in the unrest since the death of Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was detained by the morality police for flouting hijab rules.
‘Farha’: Palestinians reject Israeli backlash against Nakba film
- Netflix release, directed by Jordan’s Darin J. Sallam, tells 1948 story of a girl in a village overrun by Israeli militias
- Jordan chose ‘Farha’ to represent it in the Oscar for Best Foreign Film award during next edition of the premiere film event
RAMALLAH: Palestinians are defending the newly released movie “Farha” following an Israeli backlash against the film’s depiction of events in 1948.
As Netflix faces criticism for airing the film, activists advocating the Palestinian cause are taking the initiative to support its release.
The Jordanian film depicts the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948, known as the Nakba.
Screening of the film has caused widespread Israeli anger with threats to cancel Netflix subscriptions.
Israeli ministers and officials have accused the film’s creators of promoting a false narrative and inciting violence against Israeli soldiers.
The movie, directed by Darin J. Sallam, a Jordanian woman of Palestinian origin, tells the story of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl who witnesses the murder of her entire family, including an infant, when Israeli militias overrun her village and execute civilians during the Nakba. The girl dreams of moving from her Palestinian village to the city to continue her education.
The village’s exposure to the invasion prompts the girl’s father to hide her in a small room, and her life changes dramatically in a matter of days.
The film, inspired by real events, was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021.
Jordan chose “Farha” to represent it in the Oscar for Best Foreign Film award during the next edition of the world’s premiere film event.
The film was launched on Netflix on Dec. 1.
Israeli officials claim that Farha “presents a false narrative” about the Nakba, in which 760,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homelands.
Prominent Palestinian poet and writer Mutwakel Taha told Arab News that the reason for the Israeli anger was because the country’s actions in the Nakba had been exposed to the world through the film.
“They want to monopolize the victim image alone. So their madness is because the Palestinians appear as victims of the Israelis,” Taha told Arab News.
Taha said that Palestinians are betting on cultural solutions after the failure of efforts to reach a political settlement with Israel.
A Palestinian narrative of events during the Nakba frightens Israeli, said Taha.
Palestinian writer Tahsin Yaqeen agreed.
Yaqeen told Arab News that Israel considers every artistic or literary work from the side of Palestine as an attack, adding that Israel’s narrative had been challenged and undermined through the work of Israeli historians such as Ilan Pappe.
Shlomo Sand, another prominent historian who has questioned Israel’s actions, has also challenged prominent narratives, Yaqeen said, adding: “We do not need as Palestinians to explain what happened in 1948 and before and after that, because the world knows very well what happened.”
Israelis should view “Farha” and listen to the stories of Palestinians, even if they do not agree, said Yaqeen.
The writer asked: “If the Israelis are not believing what is narrated by the ‘Farha’ film, would they not ask themselves today, what is their government and army doing in the West Bank?”
Yaqeen said that the Israeli reaction to the film was based on “a national rejection because it violated the Israeli narrative.
“It is not artistic criticism of the film’s narrative.”
Sireen Jabarin, an Israeli-Arab activist from Umm Al-Fahm, told Arab News: “Israeli authorities limiting freedom of art is not new, but, interestingly, the Israeli policies in this direction are tending toward racism and extremism and not accepting the narration of the other party, and even rejecting any action that explains the truth to the Palestinians about what happened decades ago.”
An Israeli intellectual who opposes the release of “Farha” told Arab News: “Netflix is a global network and has many subscribers in Israel. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Israeli subscribers have canceled their subscriptions to Netflix during the past few days in protest of its marketing of the Jordanian film ‘Farha,’ which lacks balance and objectivity, and neglects to mention the Israeli point of view.”
Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman denounced the release of the film.
Lieberman said: “It is insane that Netflix decided to broadcast a film whose sole purpose is to present a false claim and incite against Israeli soldiers.”
Lieberman added: “We will not allow the reputation of Israeli army soldiers to be tarnished.”
The minister said that he had directed the leadership at the Ministry of Finance to take measures to withdraw the budget of the Jaffa Theater, which chose to screen the film.
Israeli Culture Minister Hili Tropper said that the screening of the film in Israeli cinemas was a “shame,” adding that “Farha” promotes “lies and slander.”
Darin J. Sallam and producers Dima Azar and Aya Jardaneh condemned criticism of the film.
They criticized a social media campaign targeting the film’s rating on IMDb, attempts to stop the screening of the film at Jaffa Theater and threats to cancel Netflix subscriptions.
They also condemned hate messages, harassment, accusations and bullying on social media.
The trio said that they would not tolerate any harmful threats against any member of the “Farha” team.
“These attempts to silence Arab women and filmmakers is a stripping of humanity and freedom of expression,” they said.
“The film’s existence is a reality, and our existence is a reality. We have been robbed of a lot, but our voices will not be taken away.”
Azar and Jardaneh stressed their support for Sallam’s decision to “tell this human and personal story, and share it with the world, and to realize this creative vision cinematically without any restrictions.”