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Islamic World News (24 Mar 2020 NewAgeIslam.Com)



Coronavirus: Pakistan Ulema Council Tells Masses to Avoid Public Gatherings, Cooperate with Govt







• Coronavirus Lockdown: Delhi Police Clear Anti-CAA Protest Sites in Shaheen Bagh, Hauz Rani and Seelampur

• Indonesian V P Demands Muslim Clerics Support Covid-19 By Issuing A Fatwa For On Duty Medical Personnel To Skip Ablution

• 5,000 Terrorists Detained In al-Hasakah One of The Toughest Prisons Worldwide

• Official: Iran Investigating Possibility of Coronavirus Epidemic as Biological Attack

• Coronavirus In US: With Mosques Shut, Muslims Turn to Technology for Their Spiritual Needs

• Emergency Coronavirus Legislation Altered After Muslim And Jewish Communities Raise Concern Over Forced Cremation

• Afghan Officials Hold First Prisoner-Swap Talks with Taliban, U.S. Envoy Says

• Al Qaeda Branch in Somalia Threatens Americans in East Africa — and Even the U.S.

 

Pakistan

• Coronavirus: Pakistan Ulema Council Tells Masses to Avoid Public Gatherings, Cooperate with Govt

• Pakistan confronts social taboo in Covid-19 battle

• Pakistan's coronavirus tally nears 800, 5 dead; Sindh remains worst-hit

• Minorities to close worship places ‘voluntarily’ in Punjab

• COAS reaffirms need for unity, faith and discipline to defeat coronavirus

• Troops deployed across Pakistan to fight COVID-19

• Pakistan's first coronavirus death exposes nation's vulnerability

• Pakistan Day held sans traditional fervour amid COVID-19

• Kot Hathyal UC partially sealed after seven confirmed Covid-19 cases

• Islamabad admin quarantines UC after 5 more Tableeghi Jamaat members test positive

• Punjab goes for two-week closure of non-essential services, markets

• Pakistan’s first coronavirus casualty may have passed on virus to thousands

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India

• Coronavirus Lockdown: Delhi Police Clear Anti-CAA Protest Sites in Shaheen Bagh, Hauz Rani and Seelampur

• Uttar Pradesh: Amid COVID-19 fears, protests at Ghanta Ghar, Prayagraj halted

• Civilian injured in Pak shelling along international border in J&K's Kathua

• 113 stranded Indians in Malaysia flown back to Chennai

• Omar Abdullah, in detention since August 5 last year, to walk out of home jail in Jammu and Kashmir

• Civilian injured in Pak shelling along International Border in J&K’s Kathua

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Southeast Asia

• Indonesian V P Demands Muslim Clerics Support Covid-19 By Issuing A Fatwa For On Duty • Medical Personnel To Skip Ablution

• Jakim launches Covid-19 fund to help Malaysia’s Muslims in need

• Mosque, surau activities in Sabah suspended until March 31

• Dr M: With Covid-19, Malaysia faces ‘terrible catastrophe’, Malaysians may need govt’s financial support

• Malaysia records highest daily jump of Covid-19 cases, along with four more deaths

• Vice President calls for fatwas to regulate worship in coronavirus crisis

• More Indonesians Abroad Contract Covid-19, New Cases in Spain and the Netherlands

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Arab World

• 5,000 Terrorists Detained In al-Hasakah One of The Toughest Prisons Worldwide

• Coronavirus In Saudi Arabia: 10,000 Riyal Fine, Jail Time For Curfew Violators

• Exclusive – ISIS Children Slowly Regain Normal Life at Kurdish Rehabilitation Centre

• Moqtada al-Sadr’s followers blasted for congregating amid coronavirus outbreak

• Coronavirus kills two senior military officers in Egypt

• Syria’s Bashar al-Assad issues amnesty, reduces sentences

• Lebanon’s security forces deploy to enforce coronavirus lockdown

• Egypt’s recorded coronavirus cases rise by 33 to 327, four new deaths

• Syria reports first coronavirus case

• Coronavirus: Oman confirms 11 new cases, raising total to 66

• Syrian air defines intercepts drone near Hmeimim airbase

• US plans to build new base in western Iraq for Patriot missile system deployment: Source

• Saudi Arabia imposes curfew, UAE halts passenger flights as coronavirus grips Middle East

• Saudi Arabia gives Umrah pilgrims who exceed visa opportunity to apply for ‘exemption’

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Mideast

• Official: Iran Investigating Possibility of Coronavirus Epidemic as Biological Attack

• Yemen’s Ansarullah Welcomes UN Call for Global Ceasefire to Tackle Coronavirus Pandemic

• Two Emirates Red Crescent aid workers killed in Yemen's Aden

• President Rouhani: Iran Not in Favour of “Glass of Muddy Water” Offered by US

• Iranian Army to Set up Hospital for Coronavirus Patients in 48 Hours

• Iran Reports 1,411 New Coronavirus Cases, Raises Toll to 1,812

• Iranian Official: All Needed Commodities for People Supplied by Gov’t for 6 Months

• FM: US Showing Total Disregard for Int’l Campaign against Iran Sanctions

• Coronavirus patient visited by Islamic medicine cleric in Iran dies: Report

• Turkey detains five Kurdish mayors as crackdown widens

• Israeli forces open fire, kill Palestinian throwing rocks

• Yemeni attacks will continue as long as Saudi-led aggression, siege continue: Army spox

• Palestinians urges intl. pressure on Israel to lift Gaza siege amid coronavirus outbreak

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North America

• Coronavirus In US: With Mosques Shut, Muslims Turn to Technology for Their Spiritual Needs

• FBI Warns White Supremacists Encouraging Members to Spread Coronavirus To Law Enforcement, Jews: Report

• Top U.S. Intelligence Official Taps New Counterterrorism Chief

• Ghani-Abdullah feud: US cuts aid to Kabul by $1 bln, says Pompeo

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Europe

• Emergency Coronavirus Legislation Altered After Muslim And Jewish Communities Raise Concern Over Forced Cremation

• The Brighton jihadists: bullied brothers who went into battle

• Coronavirus: Greece severs contact with Turkey, suspends UK flights

• EU to send €20 million in aid to Iran, Venezuela amid COVID-19 pandemic

• COVID-19: Greece suspends travel to Turkey, UK

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South Asia

• Afghan Officials Hold First Prisoner-Swap Talks with Taliban, U.S. Envoy Says

• Afghan forces eliminate more than 50 militants

• Bangladesh Declares Public Holiday, Army to Assist In COVID-19 Fight

• Churches lock doors as Covid-19 cases surge in Bangladesh

• Afghan forces kill Qari Minhaj, Mullah Farqani; wound 3 other Taliban militants in Faryab

• Explosives-laden Humvee goes off prematurely in Badghis, killing 4 Taliban militants

• Pompeo meets Mullah Baradar after failed talks with Afghan leaders and cutting $1b in aid

• Skype call reconnects Taliban and Afghan officials

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Africa

• Al Qaeda Branch in Somalia Threatens Americans in East Africa — and Even the U.S.

• Somalia: US Kills 15 al-Shabab Terrorists in Latest Somalia Airstrikes

• Libyan warring parties claim no coronavirus cases despite foreign fighters

• Jordan steps up efforts to provide for basic needs of 10m living under virus curfew

• Libya: Haftar militias target Tripoli airport

• Nigeria: Security forces evacuate churches

• Army destroys Boko Haram food supply vans

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: https://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/coronavirus--pakistan-ulema-council-tells-masses-to-avoid-public-gatherings,-cooperate-with-govt/d/121391

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Coronavirus: Pakistan Ulema Council Tells Masses to Avoid Public Gatherings, Cooperate with Govt

Mar 23 2020

The Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) on Monday called on the masses to heed the government's safety precautions and stay indoors, as the novel coronavirus continues to spread across Pakistan.

In a press release, the council called on people to stay indoors and do Zikr (remembrance of Allah) to avoid the virus. The PUC directed people to implement the government's safety precautions and cooperate with authorities.

"The safety precautions and directives issued by various Islamic countries against the coronavirus are neither against the tenets of Islam nor Shariah," read the press release. "Islam calls on Muslims to keep themselves as well as others safe. Saving a life is akin to saving the whole of humanity."

The council stated that it was Wajib (obligatory) upon Muslims to follow the directives of prayer leaders or Imams regarding mosques and offering prayers in such times.

The PUC called on Pakistanis to unite in the face of the threat posed by the coronavirus, saying that Islam calls for Tawakkul (trusting in God's plan) and taking actions based on wisdom as well.

The council cited the example of instructions given by Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) against escaping from an area infected by a plague or entering it. The PUC called on Muslims to implement the Sunnah in this regard.

Pakistan Army called in to tackle coronavirus crisis

The PUC's statement comes a few hours after the government called in the Pakistan Armed Forces troops to help control the pandemic which has claimed six lives so far and affected more than 850 in the country.

The interior ministry on Monday issued a notification according to which Pakistan Army troops were deployed throughout the country to help tackle the spread of the coronavirus.

"The Competent Authority, in exercise of the powers conferred under Article 245 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Section I31-A of CrPC is pleased to authorize deployment of sufficient strength of troops of Pakistan Army in Punjab province depending upon the requirement to be worked out by the provincial Government in liaison with the Army authorities in connection with the prevailing situation related to the spread of COVID-19 and matters ancillary thereto, subject to laws enforced in Pakistan," read the notification for Punjab.

Similar notifications were issued for Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan.

https://www.geo.tv/latest/278864-coronavirus-pakistan-ulema-coucil-tells-masses-to-avoid-public-gatherings-cooperate-with-govt

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Coronavirus Lockdown: Delhi Police Clear Anti-CAA Protest Sites in Shaheen Bagh, Hauz Rani and Seelampur

Mar 24, 2020

NEW DELHI: Delhi Police on Tuesday vacated the Shaheen Bagh protest site to enforce the lockdown under Section-144 of CrPC that does not allow a public gathering. The protesters were informed about an eviction earlier as well. The protest had been going on for more than 100 days.

The police also removed protesters from Jamia, Hauz Rani and Seelampur anti-CAA demonstration sites in the capital.

Police say that most of the protesters had vacated the site willingly on Monday leaving their belongings, while a handful of them stayed back. These people too were informed that not more than four people would be allowed to gather at the protest site due to the prohibitory orders.

TOI Delhi

@TOIDelhi

Video: Delhi Police clear the protest site in #ShaheenBagh area amid complete lockdown in the national capital in the wake of #CoronavirusOutbreak #CautionYesPanicNo#Coronavirus#COVID19

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"People at the protest site in Shaheen Bagh were requested today to clear the site as lockdown has been imposed. But after they refused, action was taken against violators as the assembly was unlawful. Protest site has been cleared. Some protesters have been detained," said DCP South East.

TOI Delhi

@TOIDelhi

#CoronavirusOutbreak :  Delhi Police clear the anti-CAA protest site in #ShaheenBagh area amid complete lockdown in the national capital.

(Photos: ANI)#CautionYesPanicNo#Coronavirus#COVID19

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On Tuesday morning, cops brought in cranes to remove the temporary structures erected along the road. The massive tent under which the protests were held were also dismantled.

Earlier, protesters said they would be taking turns through the day to man the protest site from Monday. They would also not be allowed to use microphones, as it is prohibited under Section 144 of the CrPC, currently imposed in the city.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/coronavirus-lockdown-delhi-police-clear-shaheen-bagh-protest-site/articleshow/74784826.cms

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Indonesian V P Demands Muslim Clerics Support Covid-19 By Issuing A Fatwa For On Duty Medical Personnel To Skip Ablution

BY TARA MARCHELIN

MARCH 23, 2020

Jakarta. Indonesian Vice President Ma'ruf Amin has asked Muslim clerics to support the government's calls to prevent further spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, including by appealing to them to stop organizing large religious gatherings.

"Muslim clerics must obey the government's order. The Indonesian Ulema Council [MUI] has also issued a fatwa restricting religious gatherings. Muslim clerics should participate in guiding fellow Muslims to follow the government's calls," Ma'ruf said in a press conference at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) headquarters in Jakarta on Monday.

Ma'ruf also asked MUI to issue a fatwa allowing the bodies of Covid-19 victims not to be bathed before funeral.

"To prevent Covid-19 transmission, we've asked MUI to issue a fatwa allowing the bodies of Covid-19 victims not to be bathed due to the difficult situation and lack of medical personnel," he said.

The vice president also asked MUI to issue a fatwa allowing Muslim medical personnel to skip ablution before praying while on duty.

"It's hard for Muslim medical personnel to perform prayers while on duty. MUI should issue a fatwa on ablution procedures to make it easier on them," Ma'ruf said.

https://jakartaglobe.id/news/vice-president-demands-muslim-clerics-support-covid19-mitigation-tactics

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5,000 Terrorists Detained In al-Hasakah One of The Toughest Prisons Worldwide

21 March, 2020

In al-Hasakah, the United States and the international alliance against ISIS have established the largest prison in the world for extremists, holding around 5 thousand inmates. These are men who fought alongside ISIS until its final days in Baghuz last spring before turning themselves in and ending up in this place.

Before entering, the guards verify the visitor’s identity and put them through complicated security checks, out of fear that pro-ISIS sleeper cells may slip in. At the main gate, tens of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) personnel stand in full uniform and fully armed. Visitors are asked not to discuss field news, including the death of ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Turkish attack on East Euphrates.

These are the ISIS members who struck fear with their extremist rules, barbaric sentences and their crimes committed between 2014 and 2019. During its peak, ISIS issued its own religious system and currency and taxed around 7 million people. It also removed borders between areas under its control in Syria and Iraq before its geographic and military control were eradicated last March at the hands of several parties that operated under the umbrella of the Arab-Kurdish SDF supported by the international alliance led by the US.

Al-Hasakah facility is one of 7 prisons in Northeast Syria and is under the control of the SDF. Its expenses reach thousands of dollars in food, healthcare, and wages. This is an expensive bill paid by the US and the United Kingdom after most western and Arab governments refused to repatriate their citizens and subject them to a trial.

Al-Hasakah is under divided control. The SDF controls the areas south, east and north of the prison, and US forces have established a military base a few meters away from the prison. The Syrian government’s forces supported by Russian fighter aircraft are only 5 kilometers away to the west and control a security square in the center.

According to the prison administration, inmates are subject to interrogations or are tried before a court and they are disconnected from the world outside and the developments on the field that the area has witnessed in the last year.

The Asharq Al-Awsat delegate watched a videotape that was recorded months ago by surveillance cameras in the prison showing tens of inmates rebelling and taking a guard captive by tricking him that one of them was sick. The SDF rapidly intervened and resolved the matter without any victims falling.

The prison administration said that the SDF used rubber bullets and teargas to restore order. It was able to control the situation and liberate the hostages, pointing out that the facility lacks a lot of equipment and surveillance systems as it is still under renovation.

Kurdish authorities and the SDF are worried that in case Turkey attacks the remaining areas under SDF control, which harbor many prisoners and detention centers, these extremists may escape.

The concerns come as extremists remain detained in buildings that are not entirely secured. Incidents of assaults and chaos have taken place, such as the one that took place in al-Hawl camp in eastern Syria, one of the largest camps where thousands of women and children of ISIS fighters live.

https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/2191981/5000-terrorists-detained-one-toughest-prisons-worldwide

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Official: Iran Investigating Possibility of Coronavirus Epidemic as Biological Attack

Mar 23, 2020

“This hypothesis is being thoroughly investigated and the possibility of the coronavirus being a biological attack has not been ruled out,” General Nasrollah Fathian who is in charge of coordinating executive operations at the National Coronavirus Campaign Headquarters said on Monday.

“This is being examined from a medical and intelligence point of view. So far, we do not possess compelling evidence that can prove this hypothesis, but will announce any new finding in this regard,” he said.

“There is even speculation that this virus has been created to specifically target the Iranian population given their genetic traits. But for now, these theories are all being examined,” General Fathian explained.

He noted that 20 mobile hospitals were available that could be settled swiftly in any place demanded by the Health Ministry.

According to the official, 4,000 of the total 6,000 military hospital beds have already been allocated for the treatment of corona patients, the majority of whom are civilians.

The coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting over 170 countries and territories around the world. The virus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has so far killed more than 14,900 people and infected over 343,000 others globally.

Iran reported on Monday that a total number of 1,812 coronavirus patients have died and 23,049 cases of infection have been identified in the country so far. Meanwhile, 8,376 people have also recovered.

The Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, specially on Iran’s north, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced earlier this month that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

The World Health Organization has considered priorities in combating coronavirus and Islamic Republic of Iran obeys and follows up priorities as defined by WHO.

The WHO is dispatching separate delegations to all countries.

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990104000538

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Coronavirus In US: With Mosques Shut, Muslims Turn to Technology for Their Spiritual Needs

By Umar A Farooq

23 March 2020

The spread of the coronavirus has affected Muslims across the world, with religious leaders making adjustments to longstanding traditions to contain the spread of the disease.

Saudi Arabia, home to the Muslim world's two holiest sites, banned worshippers from visiting the Grand Mosque in Mecca towards which all Muslims face in prayer.

Meanwhile in Kuwait, a muezzin amended the adhan (call to prayer) from the usual 'hayya alas-salah' or 'come to prayer' to 'al-salatu fi buyutikum' or 'pray in your homes'.

"I keep thinking about all the times I could've gone to the mosque when it was open," Imam Omar Suleiman said in a virtual sermon on Friday from his home in Dallas, Texas.

Suleiman told those watching his livestream that his sermon was not meant to be a replacement for the Friday prayer, but a way to share spiritual advice for those staying at home amid the pandemic.

Attendance for Jum'ah (Friday prayers) is considered mandatory for Muslim men and optional for women and children according to the majority of Muslim scholars. But during times of plague and other calamities, it is permissible according to Shari'ah (Islamic law) to suspend the practice.

Earlier this month, most mosques across the US began shutting down following advice from local and state governments to limit public gatherings.

With little information available, worshippers have been distraught about how to satisfy their spiritual needs.

A prominent imam within the US, Suleiman has been trying to fill the gap for worshippers who are obliged to stay home, beginning virtual sermons every week until the mosques re-open.

There is a saying by 14th century Muslim theologian Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya that in testing times: God closes one door with his wisdom and opens two doors with his mercy.

"I had imagined giving this khutbah (Friday sermon) in the masjid (mosque), about how this might be our last time being able to pray Jum'ah (Friday prayers)," Suleiman said.

"And here I am doing this in my home office right now."

'Only out of necessity'

Naeem Baig, who leads a weekly gathering of Muslim millennials in the Washington DC area, said he had mixed feelings about the switch to digital.

The central point of his gathering, called Chit Chai, are the connections made between people sharing the same physical space.

While the sessions are usually comprised of group conversation and breakout sessions, the latter could not be achieved online. There were also problems with microphones and webcams as well as bad internet connections.

"Chit Chai, in essence, is a discussion circle centered in community building and focused on coming closer to Allah," he told Middle East Eye. "Those primary aims are lost online."

Baig said that if a person's first exposure to the gathering was online and not in person, they would feel as if they were attending a lecture, not a communal conversation, and thus the community-building aspect would be lost.

"I think the only reason we're doing this is out of necessity," he added.

'Filling a void'

The Muslim American Society (MAS), a non-profit with 50 chapters of Muslim community centres across the US, created a daily webinar with some of the most recognisable scholars and imams in the country.

Every day at 9pm eastern time, the organisation hosts talks and spiritual advice, as well as Qur'anic recitations and communal supplications.

Wafa Manasrah, the operations manager at MAS, said the organisation saw a void amid the pandemic and found a way to fill it.

Unlike Baig's Muslim millennial meetup that aims to have conversations, the sessions at MAS are designed to be in the format of a lecture, where spiritual knowledge is delivered to an audience.

In this way, the transition to the online format has not only been quite intuitive, it has also begun to solve problems that the organisation has been working on for the past year.

"We are reaching an audience that we wouldn't normally be able to reach," Manasrah told MEE.

By having an online format, where anyone is able to tune in and watch, the daily sessions are able to reach Muslims in the country that do not necessarily have a mosque in their community.

As the coronavirus epidemic continues to grow in the US, mosques around the country are facing difficult questions concerning practices during the holy month of Ramadan.

During the month, Muslims fast between dawn and dusk and mosques see high numbers for night prayers and other communal activities.

While congregational prayers cannot be completed virtually, Manasrah said MAS' virtual programming would continue as the organisation had been able to successfully deliver online services.

"I think that this is an opportunity and we should build on it," she said.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/coronavirus-muslims-islam-mosques-virtual-spiritual-practices

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Emergency coronavirus legislation altered after Muslim and Jewish communities raise concern over forced cremation

23 March 2020

Ministers have assured Jewish and Muslim communities that their religious burial rights will be respected during the coronavirus outbreak, after concerns were raised over forced cremations.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, confirmed that the Government’s emergency legislation had been amended to ensure that the beliefs of faith communities were respected.

The changes came after MPs and religious groups raised fears that the Coronavirus Bill would allow local authorities to cremate bodies without the consent of the deceased or their family in order to relieve pressure on morgues and funeral services.

The process of cremation is forbidden within Islam and Judaism, which require members of the faiths to be buried....

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/03/23/emergency-coronavirus-legislation-altered-muslim-jewish-communities/

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Afghan Officials Hold First Prisoner-Swap Talks With Taliban, U.S. Envoy Says

March 22, 2020

The Afghan government has held its first talks with the Taliban about a prisoner swap, the U.S. envoy to the war-torn country has said.

"Prisoner releases by both sides is an important step in the peace process," Zalmay Khalilzad said in a March 22 statement on Twitter.

The talks -- held via Skype amid the coronavirus pandemic -- lasted more than two hours and were facilitated by the United States and Qatar, Khalilzad said.

The spread of the novel coronavirus has made the release of prisoners "that much more urgent," he said.

Afghanistan announced the same day the first death in the country due to COVID-19, the new strain of the coronavirus. Afghanistan had 34 confirmed cases of the virus as of March 22.

The United States last month signed a historic agreement with the Taliban that could lead to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to the country's 18-year conflict.

According to a joint declaration published by the U.S. and Afghan governments on February 29, the United States and NATO would withdraw all troops in Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban upheld the commitments made in the agreement.

"All sides conveyed their strong commitment to a reduction of violence, intra-Afghan negotiations, and a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire," Khalilzad said.

The envoy said a follow-up meeting between the Afghan government and Taliban will be held in the next two days.

https://www.rferl.org/a/afghan-officials-hold-first-prisoner-swap-talks-with-taliban-u-s-envoy-says/30502875.html

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Al Qaeda Branch in Somalia Threatens Americans in East Africa — and Even the U.S.

By Eric Schmitt and Abdi Latif Dahir

March 21, 2020

Al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, the terrorist group’s largest and most active global affiliate, has issued specific new threats against Americans in East Africa and even the United States, U.S. commandos, counterterrorism officials and intelligence analysts say.

Several ominous signs indicate that the Qaeda affiliate, the Shabab, is seeking to expand its lethal mayhem well beyond its home base, and attack Americans wherever it can — threats that have prompted a recent flurry of American drone strikes in Somalia to snuff out the plotters.

In recent months, two Shabab operatives have been arrested while taking flying lessons — one last summer in the Philippines and another more recently in an African country, intelligence officials say. Those arrests carried eerie echoes of the original Sept. 11 plotters, who trained to fly jetliners. Shabab fighters are seeking to acquire Chinese-made, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, which could pose a deadly new risk to U.S. helicopters and other aircraft in Somalia.

American commanders are hardening defenses at bases in the region after a Shabab attack in January at Manda Bay, Kenya, killed three Americans and revealed serious security vulnerabilities. That attack came about a week after an explosives-laden truck blew up at a busy intersection in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, killing 82 people. The Shabab also claimed responsibility for that attack.

The strike in Kenya came two months after the Shabab released a 52-minute video narrated by the group’s leader, Abu Ubaidah, in which he called for attacks against Americans wherever they are, saying the American public is a legitimate target. The statement mirrored Osama bin Laden’s declaration of war against the United States in 1996.

“Shabab is a very real threat to Somalia, the region, the international community and even the U.S. homeland,” Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the head of the military’s Africa Command, told a House committee in Washington this month.

The Shabab control large parts of Somalia and raise considerable funds through local taxation and extortion. Despite intensified American airstrikes and a long-running offensive against the African Union, the group has carried out deadly attacks not only in Somalia but also in neighboring Kenya and Uganda.

American and other Western intelligence analysts and Special Operations officers express fears that Shabab militants could threaten the 3,500 personnel at the Pentagon’s largest permanent base on the continent, in Djibouti, as well as international shipping in the critical Bab al Mandab waterway off the southern Yemeni coast.

And last month, the United States Embassy in Nairobi warned of a possible terrorist attack against a major hotel in the Kenyan capital that is popular with tourists and business travelers. The warning did not specifically mention the Shabab, but intelligence officials said the threat bore the hallmarks of such an operation.

The Defense Intelligence Agency told the Pentagon’s inspector general in a recent report that the chances of the Shabab attacking the United States remained relatively low, but the analysts noted that the group had made clear its intentions to kill Americans at any location.

One threat could be home grown, from radicalized Somali-Americans living in cities like Minneapolis or Columbus, Ohio, which have large Somali-American communities, analysts said. Another could be from Shabab militants in East Africa, who have pilot training and might be able to slip into the United States — a much more difficult feat now than when the original Sept. 11 plotters entered the country in 2001.

For now, Shabab threats against Americans remain highest in East Africa.

In September, a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives at the gate of a military airfield in Bale Dogle, Somalia, injuring one American service member. Afterward, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general report, the Shabab and other Qaeda-related groups released near-simultaneous messages on social media, suggesting a coordinated media strategy among the Qaeda branches.

“This is what we struggle with,” Brig. Gen. Dagvin R.M. Anderson, the commander of American Special Operations forces in Africa, said in an interview last month on the sidelines of a counterterrorism exercise in Mauritania. “Their intent is clearly stated. The question is, are they able to develop a safe haven to plan, fund and plot these attacks against the U.S.? What’s their timeline? How do we and our partners keep them off balance?”

It is unclear how the Shabab might try to exploit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic on the continent, where many countries face huge challenges responding to the crisis, General Anderson said on Friday in a separate telephone interview from his headquarters in Germany.

There are also now about 500 American troops in Somalia. Most are Special Operations forces stationed at a small number of bases across the country. Their missions include training and advising Somali army and counterterrorism troops and conducting kill-or-capture raids of their own.

The threat from the Shabab has increased so sharply that last November, General Townsend created a Special Operations task force with about 100 troops and analysts to focus on shoring up security in Somalia and countering the Shabab.

But the weapon of choice against the Shabab is drone strikes. The United States has carried out 31 strikes against Shabab militants already this year, and is on pace to nearly double the previous high of 63 last year — almost all against Shabab militants, with a few against a branch of the Islamic State. That compares with 47 strikes against the Shabab in 2018.

Several recent strikes have focused on targets near Jilib, about 220 miles south of Mogadishu, which American and Somali officials say is a major hub for the Shabab’s operations cell that plots attacks outside Somalia. Other drone attacks have targeted fighters in Shabab strongholds such as Jamame, Sakow, Bu’aale and Janaale.

The Africa Command, also called Africom, said that a strike on Feb. 22 in the vicinity of Sakow killed Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud, who the military says was a senior Shabab commander responsible for planning and directing the deadly Manda Bay attack.

“I would say that the threat is higher, has been higher in the last few months than it was eight months ago when I first got to Africom,” General Townsend told reporters after the House hearing last week. “That’s exactly why you’ve seen this increase in strike activity.”

The air campaign, however, has been shrouded in secrecy, and an investigation by Amnesty International last year reported on evidence that these airstrikes had killed or wounded more than two dozen civilians since 2017. A recent report by Airwars, a conflict-monitoring group, also challenged the military’s findings that its strikes had resulted in very few civilian casualties.

The Shabab formally pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2012. But long before that, its members fought Western-backed governments in Mogadishu as the group sought to impose its extremist interpretation of Islam across Somalia. In defending the fragile government, the United States has largely relied on proxy forces, including about 20,000 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda, Kenya and other East African nations.

The United States estimates that the Shabab have about 5,000 to 7,000 fighters in Somalia, but the group’s ranks are fluid.

In recent years, the Shabab have proved adept at transforming itself into an agile and adaptive guerrilla force that has developed fiendishly sophisticated homemade bombs, including improvised explosives devices, or I.E.D.s.

“Now more than ever, Al Shabab effectively deploys I.E.D.s, complex attacks on both civilian and military targets, blockades to disrupt access, devises sophisticated extortion generating schemes, and utilizes intimidation tactics to afford itself invincibility status aimed at destabilizing Somalia and threatening neighboring countries,” said Abdisaid Muse Ali, Somalia’s national security adviser.

Mr. Ali said the Shabab had expanded its popular base by building on the issues that afflicted Somalia, including the influence of warlords, tribalism, regional meddling, and the lack of a government to expand and deliver services.

“Ensuring that we deliver services, register and pay civil-service and soldiers, and properly register weapons coming into the country, these are important,” he said of the government’s priorities.

Mr. Ali said Shabab leaders also sought to broaden their global jihadist appeal by striking American targets. “Al Shabab tries to internationalize their aggression by saying they are fighting America while seeking attention from Al Qaeda leaders,” he said.

Indeed, the authorities in the Philippines last July arrested a person accused of being a Shabab operative from Kenya who was studying to be a pilot at a local aviation academy. In announcing the arrest of the suspect, Cholo Abdi Abdullah, local reports in the news media said that he had been accused of conducting research on “aviation threats, aircraft hijacking and falsifying travel documents.”

“Al Shabab is a prime lesson in the Al Qaeda movement’s stubborn resiliency,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The group has suffered leadership losses, loss of territory and revenue; and the attrition of its fighters, but keeps on fighting — and escalating and expanding its operations elsewhere.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/21/world/africa/al-qaeda-somalia-shabab.html

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Pakistan

 

Pakistan confronts social taboo in Covid-19 battle

Mar 23, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pakistan rose to 882, with at least six people including a doctor dead, prompting district administrations across the country to shut down cities and markets.

Authorities fear the number of cases could surge in the coming days. There are hundreds of people believed to be infected by the virus due to their physical contact with people who were tested positive for Covid-19.

However, in rural parts of the country, the disease has been taken as a social taboo and people with symptoms are reluctant to report to hospitals. Consequently, the government is finding it difficult to trace people who came into contact with the infected people.

At least six people have died from the disease in Pakistan so far, including a young doctor, who was treating coronavirus patients in Gilgit-Baltistan hospital.

Due to spike in numbers, the federal government has ordered the deployment of the armed forces in all four provinces, national capital Islamabad, Gilgit-Baltistan, and PoK for public safety and maintenance of law and order.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is repeatedly addressing the nation and exhorting people to self-quarantine, pointing out to them the country’s weak healthcare system which would be incapable of handling a full-blown pandemic.

All major markets, shopping malls, restaurants, and other public spots remained shut in most parts of the country.

Currently, there are 394 cases in Sindh, 246 in Punjab, 108 in Balochistan, 38 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 80 in Gilgit-Baltistan, 15 in Islamabad, and one in PoK.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/pakistan-confronts-social-taboo-in-covid-19-battle/articleshow/74781999.cms

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Pakistan's coronavirus tally nears 800, 5 dead; Sindh remains worst-hit

Mar 23, 2020

KARACHI (SINDH): Pakistan's southeastern province of Sindh reported 11 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of those infected in the province to 352, while the national tally nears 800, with 5 deaths reported.

Seven of the 11 cases were reported in provincial capital Karachi, all of which were locally transmitted, according to Dawn.

Outside of Sindh, the eastern province of Punjab remains the worst-hit, having had reported 225 cases. Balochistan has reported 108 cases, the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (31), while capital Islamabad has reported 11.

Sindh chief minister Murad Ali Shah on Sunday had announced a 15-day lockdown as part of the measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/pakistans-coronavirus-tally-nears-800-5-dead-sindh-remains-worst-hit/articleshow/74767835.cms

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Minorities to close worship places ‘voluntarily’ in Punjab

March 24, 2020

LAHORE: On the directions of Punjab Minister for Minority Affairs Ijaz Alam Augustine, all churches and other worship places of minorities in the province will be closed till further orders from the provincial government.

Due to the rising number of coronavirus cases, all the bishops, pastors, pandits and other religious leaders have announced to close their worship places voluntarily.

The minister claimed that all minorities enjoyed complete religious freedom during the incumbent government’s tenure. He said the Punjab government was fully aware of its responsibilities and utilised all available resources to secure the nation. But it was a collective responsibility of all Pakistanis to trust the government and, while it may be painful not to attend religious activities, it was a wise decision as a nation, he added.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1543237/minorities-to-close-worship-places-voluntarily-in-punjab

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COAS reaffirms need for unity, faith and discipline to defeat coronavirus

Mar 24, 2020

RAWALPINDI: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Monday reaffirmed the nation’s resolve to defeat all challenges that Pakistan faces at the moment, including the coronavirus outbreak.

“Pakistan Resolution Day symbolises struggle for Pakistan. While paying glowing tribute to our ancestors, we reaffirm our resolve and commitment to defeat all challenges, including COVID-19 pandemic, with faith, unity and self-discipline,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) quoted the army chief as saying.

On Sunday, the top military brass had held a special meeting to discuss the measures taken by the military to support the federal government and provincial government in the fight against the coronavirus.

According to the ISPR, the corps commanders had taken part in the meeting via videolink.

The commanders had expressed resolved that the army was ready to assist the government in its efforts to contain the pandemic.

On Saturday, COAS Bajwa had directed the Pakistan Army to fast-track operations to help out the civil administration as the country grapples with a rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.

“As a follow up of National Coordination Committee (NCC) meeting on March 20 chaired by the Prime Minister Imran Khan and COAS’ meeting with PM, the COAS directs for stepping up Army’s assistance to civil administration for containment of COVID-19,” the ISPR had said in a statement.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/23/coas-reaffirms-need-unity-faith-discipline-defeat-coronavirus/

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Troops deployed across Pakistan to fight COVID-19

Mar 24, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has ordered the deployment of troops and militarys medical resources across the country to fight the coronavirus pandemic which has so far infected 878 people and killed six others, a media report said on Tuesday.

"Despite heavy troop deployment along the western border and the Line of Control, the army chief has directed deployment of available troops and all medical resources according to the requirement," Dawn news quoted Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar as saying in a televised statement on Monday.

The announcement was made after the federal government sought deployment of the armed forces in all four provinces, Islamabad, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

Under the deployment plan, the role of troops is apparently meant for enforcing the restrictions introduced by the federal and provincial governments to contain further spread of the virus.

In his statement, Gen Iftikhar emphasised that the restrictions would be fully enforced in cooperation with civilian administration.

Under government directives, schools, malls, cinemas, marriage halls, restaurants and swimming pools will remain closed and no religious or political gatherings will be allowed.

Public transport too will not be allowed to ply on the roads except for goods truck carrying food items.

The restriction on international flights, the military spokesman said, would remain in place till April 4.

The DG ISPR said the days for opening of fuel stations and wholesale vegetable/fruit markets would be notified by the respective provincial administrations, Dawn news reported.

Only hospitals, pharmacies, retail stores, pharmaceutical industries and factories producing food items will be open.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/troops-deployed-across-pakistan-to-fight-covid-19/articleshow/74785853.cms

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Pakistan's first coronavirus death exposes nation's vulnerability

Mar 23, 2020

PESHAWAR: When Saadat Khan, 50, returned to Pakistan on March 9 from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, he was greeted in his village with a rousing welcome and a grand feast attended by more than 2,000 people, many of whom embraced him warmly.

On March 18, less than 10 days later, Khan died at an isolation center for coronavirus patients in the northwestern city of Mardan. He died from Covid-19, the day his test results came back positive.

Khan was Pakistan’s first fatality from a disease that is rapidly spreading through the country of 220 million people. The virus has already infected over 317,000 people worldwide, and killed more than 13,000.

Covid-19 outbreak: Latest updates

The number of confirmed cases in Pakistan has soared to more than 750 from 22 last week, largely driven by a wave of pilgrims returning from Iran who Pakistani authorities said were inadequately tested and improperly isolated. At least four people have died from the disease in Pakistan in the past week.

Thousands of people now need to undergo the slow process of retesting, and authorities fear the number of cases could surge in coming days.

Health experts say there is a lack of public awareness in Pakistan about the virus and that the cash-strapped government is ill-prepared to tackle its spread. A shortage of quarantine facilities and testing labs have also hampered efforts to effectively deal with high-risk cases.

In Sindh, Pakistan’s hardest-hit province, the situation is already grim, said Dr. Naseem Salahuddin, the head of department for infectious diseases at Indus Hospital in Karachi. She said that the few hospitals equipped to handle Covid-19 cases in Karachi are either close to capacity or have shut their doors because they can’t handle the influx of suspected cases.

"We’re likely to have a very big outbreak no matter what we do now," she said. "And we will not be equipped to handle the numbers. There will be breakdowns at many levels." Better border controls and quarantine measures should have been instituted a lot earlier, she said. "I think the cat’s now out of the bag."

Zafar Mirza, Pakistan’s health minister, who said last week that some of Pakistan’s quarantine facilities had not been "ideal", did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. The provincial health minister in Khan’s home province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also did not respond to a request for comment.

Reuters interviewed three doctors involved in the case, as well as four people from Khan’s village, and reviewed medical case notes detailing his travel history. Together, they provide a picture of Khan’s last days, and illustrate why the South Asian nation is rapidly becoming the latest hotbed of the fast-spreading disease.

Fateful journey

In late February, Khan flew to Saudi Arabia to visit the holy city of Mecca for Umrah, a religious pilgrimage performed by millions of Muslims from across the world each year. Khan entered the country just before it shut its borders to Umrah pilgrims, in a bid to stem the spread of Covid-19.

Khan was in Saudi Arabia for two to three weeks, according to the doctors handling his case and an acquaintance from his village.

Medical case notes, provided by one of Khan’s doctors, show that he departed from the kingdom’s Jeddah International Airport on March 8 via flight number PK736, which landed the following day at Peshawar International Airport, in northwest Pakistan.

At least two people who knew Khan said he was already ill when he got on the plane and needed assistance on arrival in Pakistan.

Despite Pakistan having identified its first confirmed cases of Covid-19 two weeks prior, the case notes state Khan was only asked to fill out a form and did not undergo a medical screening at the Peshawar airport.

Khan did not mention any illness, and he would have escaped detection anyway if he had taken fever suppressors, said a Peshawar airport official who asked not to be named.

Authorities are also scrambling to trace dozens of other passengers on flight PK736 that night, as well as airport staff who assisted Khan.

Village banquet

Khan first visited a district hospital close to his village on March 16, complaining of cough, fever and breathing issues. The doctor diagnosed him as a potential Covid-19 patient and had him tested for the virus. The sample was sent to Islamabad for testing, according to the case notes reviewed by Reuters.

While it is unclear if doctors could have forced Khan into quarantine, the case notes indicate he refused to be isolated. Instead, he went home, where he lived with his wife, three sons, two daughters-in-law, three daughters and four grandchildren.

Hospital officials say Khan returned on March 17, when his symptoms intensified. On March 18, test results confirmed he was infected with Covid-19, and he was moved to an isolation center, where he died the same day.

It is the events before his death, though, that have worried medical officials and alarmed many residents of his village.

On March 9, Khan was greeted with a mass gathering in his village, as is traditional in Pakistan when someone returns from Umrah. According to local authorities, some 2,000 people were in attendance at the lunch – most of whom embraced Khan.

Khan also ran a popular "medical clinic" in his village – though he wasn’t a qualified doctor, say local health officials.

As is the case in many rural areas of Pakistan, people with just rudimentary medical knowledge often run such dispensaries to treat patients with ailments like fevers and colds, despite not having any qualifications.

Khan had not resumed his practice on returning to Pakistan, but his sons ran it for him while he stayed at home in "self-quarantine," health officials from the village told Reuters.

However, they added, the "self-quarantine" involved his sons staying in the same room as him. The sons in turn also tended to dozens of patients at their father’s clinic during that period.

Reuters was unable to speak with anyone in Khan’s family.

Mass panic

There is mass panic in the village, local residents told Reuters via phone, adding that no one had taken the coronavirus threat seriously prior to this.

"There are hundreds of people believed to have been infected but they are hiding and reluctant to go to hospital," said Liaqat Ali Shah, a local social worker, adding that villagers feared being ostracized by the community and shunned by healthcare workers.

The village, Union Council Mangah, was locked down following Khan’s death, according to an official directive from authorities.

A complete lockdown was ordered "with immediate effect and there shall be no entry and no exit," the order seen by Reuters read.

The village of about 7,000 people, has been declared a mass quarantine zone, according to the provincial government, and testing has begun.

But residents of Mangah say none of the officials surveying the area have testing kits with them.

A medical worker on the ground said test kits were limited so they couldn’t test everyone and were only testing patients displaying symptoms.

"There’s a virtual lockdown in the village and movement is restricted," a school teacher in the village, told Reuters via phone.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/pakistans-first-coronavirus-death-exposes-nations-vulnerability/articleshow/74773954.cms

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Pakistan Day held sans traditional fervour amid COVID-19

Islamuddin Sajid and Aamir Latif  

23.03.2020

ISLAMABAD / KARACHI, Pakistan

Pakistan on Monday marked its National Day sans the traditional fervor as the country remains partially locked down amid a rising number of coronavirus cases.

All the celebratory events, including a traditional military parade in capital Islamabad, were called off as troops have been deployed in major cities to assist the government in enforcing measures against the outbreak.

The only events held were a 31-gun salute in Islamabad and a 21 gun-salute in the four provincial capitals.

The day commemorates the Lahore Resolution adopted on March 23, 1940 in which the Muslim leaders of the sub-continent set the agenda of a separate homeland.

On March 23, 1956, the country also adopted its first constitution, making Pakistan the world's first Islamic republic.

In separate messages, President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan paid tributes to the country’s founding fathers vowing to follow in their footsteps to make Pakistan a cradle of peace, progress and stability.

The two leaders ceased the opportunity to reiterate Islamabad's support to the struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

"I assure the people of Jammu and Kashmir that Pakistan will stand shoulder to shoulder with them and will continue its moral, political and diplomatic support for their legitimate right of self-determination,” Alvi said.

Khan urged the nation to follow all the precautionary measures to defeat the coronavirus pandemic.

Turkish ambassador to Pakistan Mustafa Yurdakul in a tweet said: “Longlive Friendship” and shared a model of Minar-e-Pakistan, a monument which represents the site where the historic resolution was adopted.

Pakistan has so far reported six deaths from coronavirus and confirmed 803 cases, according to health authorities.

The coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China last December and has spread to at least 167 countries and territories as it was declared a pandemic.

The number of confirmed cases worldwide has now surpassed 339,000 while the death toll has exceeded 14,700 and over 98,800 have recovered, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the U.S.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/pakistan-day-held-sans-traditional-fervor-amid-covid-19/1775620

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Kot Hathyal UC partially sealed after seven confirmed Covid-19 cases

Munawer Azeem

March 24, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The capital administration on Monday locked down Kot Hathyal, a union council in Bhara Kahu with a population of over 15,000, after seven people tested positive for coronavirus there on Monday.

Police were deployed around the area to partially seal its entry and exit points and restrict the residents to their houses.

Officials from the administration along with health and other departments started a door-to-door scanning of the residents. Announcements were made asking people to remain inside their houses for two weeks.

Besides, they were also asked not to be panicked as shops of essential items, including edibles and medicines, would remain open.

The administration has decided to deploy a company of the army in Kot Hathyal as it was the lone affected area in Islamabad, said an official, adding the decision was made to make the lockdown effective.

Seven people of a Tablighi Jamaat, including a Kyrgyz national, tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday. They were among a group of 13 people, including six foreigners, who had come to Bilal Masjid in Kot Hathyal a week ago.

They also visited another mosque, Makki Masjid, in the area and both the mosques have been sealed.

They also met local people in connection with their Tablighi activity. The test reports of the other members of the group are awaited.

A notification issued from the office of Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Mohammad Hamza Shafqaat said there was an alarming increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in the federal capital.

“This increase is expected to rise exponentially if adequate preventive measures are not taken timely.”

The preventive measures required primarily prevention of social contacts and gathering in any form, closure of private and public places except hospitals and medical stores, it said, adding under such circumstances a complete ban is imposed on the movement, entry and exit, mixing and gathering of people until further orders.

This ban is imposed at Kiani Road in Kot Hathyal on traveling, gathering and mixing of any kind. However, following persons are exempted from the ban:

“Personnel related to health services, including hospitals, laboratories, and medical stores, personnel related to law enforcement agencies whose job is to enforce and implement this order, personnel related to essential services, those going to offices to perform their duties or providing, essential services, persons in need of medical care with an attendant where necessary and persons going to buy grocery and medicines.”

Besides, necessary and unavoidable religious rites such as funeral, burial and related events provided all precautions against spread of the disease are taken and a safe distance of a metre (three feet) is maintained between people gathered in small numbers or close family members after prior permission from the station house officer of the area, the order said.

“The persons given the exemption have to travel in single number in a vehicle but may carry one more as an attendant in case there is some medical emergency, one person per family may go out to buy essential medicines, grocery, etc, with a driver only, person on a vehicle carrying essential food items such as product from a mill and factory, medicines, medical equipment with only a helper or cleaner allowed on vehicles with no passenger in it.”

Persons so traveling or coming out shall carry valid CNIC and official card or such authority letter duly signed and stamped by the head of department.

They are further required to travel and gather at work keeping in view of social distance of a metre and taking safety precautions.

Meanwhile, the army was deployed in the capital but it had not yet decided to carry out a lockdown.

The deputy commissioner told Dawn that the army troops were being deployed all over the capital, including roads, markets, hospitals and quarantine centres as well as the entry and exit points of the capital.

So far there is no decision to lock down the capital completely, he said, adding such a decision would be taken by the government.

Furthermore, the capital administration also issued an advisory for shopkeepers to adopt precautionary measures against the coronavirus.

A notification issued from the office of the DC said in pursuance to the directions of the federal government regarding precautionary and preventive measures and keeping in view sensitivity of the health-related issue all shopkeepers and owners shall adopt guidelines and measures.

They were directed to install hand sanitisers in their shops while their staff will use face masks and gloves. Besides, not more than seven people or customers would be allowed to enter a shop at a time and any staff having symptoms of fever, flue, etc., shall not be allowed to come to work.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1543255/kot-hathyal-uc-partially-sealed-after-seven-confirmed-covid-19-cases

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Islamabad admin quarantines UC after 5 more Tableeghi Jamaat members test positive

Shakeel Qarar

March 23, 2020

The capital administration on Monday placed Islamabad's union council of Kot Hathial under quarantine after six members of the Tableeghi Jamaat residing in the area tested positive for coronavirus.

The development comes as four people in Sindh and two Palestinians tested positive for the virus after attending the Tableeghi Jamaat congregation in Raiwind — comprising tens of thousands of people — which was held from March 11 to 15 near Lahore.

It wasn't immediately clear if the Jamaat members who tested positive in Islamabad had attended the Raiwind Ijtima (congregation).

The six patients were part of a 13-member Tableeghi Jamaat delegation — including six Kyrgyzstan nationals and seven Pakistanis — that was staying at a mosque in Kot Hathial in the capital's Bhara Kahu area.

After a man from Kyrgyzstan who was a part of the preaching team tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday, samples were sent for testing of the other members of the delegation as well.

The test results of five people came out positive on Monday, said Assistant Superintendent Police (ASP) Bhara Kahu Hamza Amanullah.

He said tests are also being carried out of the seven other members of the Jamaat, which included a madrassah student.

After the confirmation of the cases, the administration locked down Kot Hathial and deployed police at its entry and exit points.

"The entire area has been turned into a quarantine," ASP Amanullah said in a statement, adding that the district administration will get tests done of the residents of the locality.

A spokesperson for the Islamabad police said the Jamaat members who tested positive were quarantined in the mosque they were residing in.

A video provided to DawnNewsTV showed a police official announcing on a microphone that the mosque was being sealed for 14 days and requesting residents of the area to not visit it.

ASP Amanullah said all shops in the neighbourhood except grocery stores, milk shops and bakeries have been closed. The Bhara Kahu Bazaar will also be closed once orders in this regard are issued by the district administration, he added.

Many foreign delegations had arrived in Pakistan to attend the Tableeghi Jamaat congregation in Raiwind.

On Saturday, Gaza's first two cases of coronavirus were confirmed and according to a diplomat from the strip, both Palestinian men contracted the virus while visiting Pakistan to attend the Raiwind Ijtima.

Quoting a diplomat, National Public Radio journalist Diaa Hadid said on Monday that the men were in Pakistan to attend the congregation. She further said that the duo met a lot of people in Pakistan and then made their way home via airplanes and buses.

The United Nations has warned that a Covid-19 outbreak in Gaza could be disastrous, given the high poverty rates and weak healthcare infrastructure in the coastal strip that is under Israeli blockade.

Gaza’s health ministry said the two who tested positive had been held in quarantine since their return from Pakistan on Thursday and had not interacted with the wider population.

Raiwind moot held despite fears

Even though the fast spread of coronavirus in Pakistan had become a known fact at that point, the Raiwind Ijtima had gone on as planned. Punjab government officials had said at the time that all their "pleas" for postponing the congregation in view of the threat of Covid-19 spread had been rejected by the organisers.

While Pakistan has taken some measures to avoid a wider spread of coronavirus, no concrete steps have been taken to temporarily shut down daily and Friday congregations at mosques anywhere except Islamabad.

The capital territory's police on March 22 imposed Section 144 to ban all activities in mosques after sealing two in the Bhara Kahu area.

For the past two weeks, President Arif Alvi and Council of Islamic Ideology Chairman Qibla Ayaz have suggested that members of the public should not go out for Friday prayers if they feel unwell.

Even now, when Sindh is under lockdown for 15 days, no express instructions about daily and Friday prayer congregations were issued by the provincial government.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1543139/islamabad-admin-quarantines-uc-after-5-more-tableeghi-jamaat-members-test-positive

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Punjab goes for two-week closure of non-essential services, markets

March 24, 2020

LAHORE: The Punjab government on Monday announced a province-wide two-week closure of non-essential services and markets from Tuesday (today)

“During this time shopping malls, public transport, public places and tourist spots will remain closed. In the larger interest of the public, we have also banned pillion riding,” Chief Minister Usman Buzdar told media through a video link after a meeting of the cabinet committee on coronavirus, says a handout.

He said factories producing necessary products and eatables, medicines, medical equipment and other necessary items, pharmacies, groceries, fruit markets, bakeries and meat shops would not be subject to the closure.

“I want to make it clear to you that this is neither a curfew nor a lockdown situation,” he said, adding: “All shopping malls, bazaars, markets, private and public sector institutions, public transport, parks, restaurants and tourist spots will remain closed for two weeks to check the spread of the virus.”

He said the government had also decided to impose a ban on pillion riding, with exemptions for members of law enforcement agencies and families. The chief minister said essential service providers like Wasa, Lesco and telecom companies would continue to work and Edhi and other welfare organizations were also permitted to continue with their operations.

Answering a question, he said a committee headed by finance minister would present its recommendations to ameliorate the economic difficulties of daily-wage earners in the cabinet meeting scheduled for Tuesday (today).

He again clarified that it was not curfew or lockdown situation but a step to maintain social distancing. He said doctors, as well as paramedical staff were frontline soldiers and a decision about their package would be made in the cabinet meeting.

The chief minister announced that line departments would perform their duties in case of any violation as section 144 had been imposed in the province. He said out of a total of 246 coronavirus patients in Punjab, 171 were quarantined in DG Khan.

He thanked the people for abiding by the government appeal of staying indoors for two days, adding that it was the best way to avoid coronavirus. He also paid tributes to Pakistan Army, civil administration, medical staff and local bodies’ employees and media for performing their duties in this hour of trial.

To another question, he said that food items were available in abundance and there was no shortage and supply-chain of eatables would continue in Punjab.

CORPS COMMANDER: An important meeting was held at the CM Office under the chair of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Corps Commander Lahore Lt-Gen Majid Ehsan. It was also attended by GOC 10 Division Maj-Gen. Muhammad Aniqur Rehman Malik, GOC 11 Division Maj-Gen Muhammad Yousaf, DG Rangers Punjab Maj-Gen Muhammad Aamir Majeed, Chief Secretary, ACS (Home), health secretaries and others.

The meeting reviewed steps being taken to overcome the virus as well as the arrangements made for the treatment of patients. The participants agreed to employ every possible step for saving the lives of the people. It was decided that collective steps would be taken to ensure 100 per cent implementation on government steps.

Lt-Gen Majid Ehsan said that full cooperation would be extended to the Punjab government to deal with virus as it was a collective issue which needed joint efforts.

AWARENESS: The Punjab government has launched a province-wide mobile awareness campaign, ‘stay home, remain safe’ for safety from coronavirus on the instructions of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar who inaugurated this drive at a ceremony at the CM Office on Monday.

The CM disclosed that this campaign had been initiated in Lahore through a squad of 250 motorcycles and 50 rickshaws adding that a total of 850 motorcycles and 500 rickshaws would be engaged to create social awareness at union council level in the provincial metropolis.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1543242/punjab-goes-for-two-week-closure-of-non-essential-services-markets

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Pakistan’s first coronavirus casualty may have passed on virus to thousands

Mar 24, 2020

PESHAWAR: When Saadat Khan, 50, returned to Pakistan on March 9 from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, he was greeted in his village with a rousing welcome and a grand feast attended by more than 2,000 people, many of whom embraced him warmly.

On March 18, less than 10 days later, Khan died at an isolation center for coronavirus patients in the northwestern city of Mardan. He died from COVID-19 the day his test results came back positive.

Khan was Pakistan’s first fatality from a disease that is rapidly spreading through the country of 220 million people. The virus has already infected over 317,000 people worldwide, and killed more than 13,000.

The number of confirmed cases in Pakistan has soared to more than 750 from 22 last week, largely driven by a wave of pilgrims returning from Iran who Pakistani authorities said were inadequately tested and improperly isolated. At least four people have died from the disease in Pakistan in the past week.

Thousands of people now need to undergo the slow process of retesting, and authorities fear the number of cases could surge in coming days.

Health experts say there is a lack of public awareness in Pakistan about the virus and that the cash-strapped government is ill-prepared to tackle its spread. A shortage of quarantine facilities and testing labs have also hampered efforts to effectively deal with high-risk cases.

In Sindh, Pakistan’s hardest-hit province, the situation is already grim, said Dr. Naseem Salahuddin, the head of department for infectious diseases at Indus Hospital in Karachi. She said that the few hospitals equipped to handle COVID-19 cases in Karachi are either close to capacity or have shut their doors because they can’t handle the influx of suspected cases.

“We’re likely to have a very big outbreak no matter what we do now,” she said. “And we will not be equipped to handle the numbers. There will be breakdowns at many levels.” Better border controls and quarantine measures should have been instituted a lot earlier, she said. “I think the cat’s now out of the bag.”

Zafar Mirza, Pakistan’s health minister, who said last week that some of Pakistan’s quarantine facilities had not been “ideal”, did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. The provincial health minister in Khan’s home province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also did not respond to a request for comment.

Reuters interviewed three doctors involved in the case, as well as four people from Khan’s village, and reviewed medical case notes detailing his travel history. Together, they provide a picture of Khan’s last days, and illustrate why the South Asian nation is rapidly becoming the latest hotbed of the fast-spreading disease.

FATEFUL JOURNEY:

In late February, Khan flew to Saudi Arabia to visit the holy city of Mecca for Umrah, a religious pilgrimage performed by millions of Muslims from across the world each year. Khan entered the country just before it shut its borders to Umrah pilgrims, in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Khan was in Saudi Arabia for two to three weeks, according to the doctors handling his case and an acquaintance from his village.

Medical case notes, provided by one of Khan’s doctors, show that he departed from the kingdom’s Jeddah International Airport on March 8 via flight number PK736, which landed the following day at Peshawar International Airport, in northwest Pakistan.

At least two people who knew Khan said he was already ill when he got on the plane and needed assistance on arrival in Pakistan.

Despite Pakistan having identified its first confirmed cases of COVID-19 two weeks prior, the case notes state Khan was only asked to fill out a form and did not undergo a medical screening at the Peshawar airport.

Khan did not mention any illness, and he would have escaped detection anyway if he had taken fever suppressors, said a Peshawar airport official who asked not to be named.

Authorities are also scrambling to trace dozens of other passengers on flight PK736 that night, as well as airport staff who assisted Khan.

VILLAGE BANQUET:

Khan first visited a district hospital close to his village on March 16, complaining of cough, fever and breathing issues. The doctor diagnosed him as a potential COVID-19 patient and had him tested for the virus. The sample was sent to Islamabad for testing, according to the case notes reviewed by Reuters.

While it is unclear if doctors could have forced Khan into quarantine, the case notes indicate he refused to be isolated. Instead, he went home, where he lived with his wife, three sons, two daughters-in-law, three daughters and four grandchildren.

Hospital officials say Khan returned on March 17, when his symptoms intensified. On March 18, test results confirmed he was infected with COVID-19, and he was moved to an isolation center, where he died the same day.

It is the events before his death, though, that have worried medical officials and alarmed many residents of his village.

On March 9, Khan was greeted with a mass gathering in his village, as is traditional in Pakistan when someone returns from Umrah. According to local authorities, some 2,000 people were in attendance at the lunch – most of whom embraced Khan.

Khan also ran a popular “medical clinic” in his village – though he wasn’t a qualified doctor, say local health officials.

As is the case in many rural areas of Pakistan, people with just rudimentary medical knowledge often run such dispensaries to treat patients with ailments like fevers and colds, despite not having any qualifications.

Khan had not resumed his practice on returning to Pakistan, but his sons ran it for him while he stayed at home in “self-quarantine,” health officials from the village told Reuters.

However, they added, the “self-quarantine” involved his sons staying in the same room as him. The sons in turn also tended to dozens of patients at their father’s clinic during that period.

Reuters was unable to speak with anyone in Khan’s family.

MASS PANIC:

There is mass panic in the village, local residents told Reuters via phone, adding that no one had taken the coronavirus threat seriously prior to this.

“There are hundreds of people believed to have been infected but they are hiding and reluctant to go to hospital,” said Liaqat Ali Shah, a local social worker, adding that villagers feared being ostracized by the community and shunned by healthcare workers.

The village, Union Council Mangah, was locked down following Khan’s death, according to an official directive from authorities.

A complete lockdown was ordered “with immediate effect and there shall be no entry and no exit,” the order seen by Reuters read.

The village of about 7,000 people, has been declared a mass quarantine zone, according to the provincial government, and testing has begun.

But residents of Mangah say none of the officials surveying the area have testing kits with them.

A medical worker on the ground said test kits were limited so they couldn’t test everyone and were only testing patients displaying symptoms.

“There’s a virtual lockdown in the village and movement is restricted,” a school teacher in the village, told Reuters via phone.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/23/pakistans-first-coronavirus-casualty-may-passed-virus-thousands/

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India

 

Uttar Pradesh: Amid COVID-19 fears, protests at Ghanta Ghar, Prayagraj halted

by Asad Rehman

March 24, 2020

The women protesting against CAA and NRC at Lucknow’s Ghanta Ghar “halted” their agitation on Monday in view of the COVID-19 outbreak. The decision was taken after discussions between the protesters, police officers and members from the civil society.

In a letter to the Lucknow police commissioner Sujeet Pandey, the protesters wrote, “This is to inform you that the protest going on against CAA, NRC and NPR has been halted due to the sudden epidemic of coronavirus.When the government order related to coronavirus is over, we will come back and sit where we were sitting.”

Thakurganj police station SHO Pramod Kumar Mishra confirmed, “They (protesters) have left the spot and the place is empty now.”

Sumaiyya Rana, one of the organisers of the protest, told The Indian Express, “We have been assured by senior police officers that we can come back and sit once the orders related to the epidemic are no longer in place.” The sit-in at Ghanta Ghar started on January 17.

In Lucknow’s Ujariyaon under the Gomti Nagar police station, another sit-in against CAA-NRC was halted by the protesters.

ACP (Gomti Nagar) Santosh Singh confirmed that the protest has been halted for the time-being. “We received a memorandum from the women that they are halting the protest owing to the spread of the virus. They have said that once the coronavirus situation is brought under control, they will restart the sit-in,” said Singh.

In Prayagraj, SSP Satyarth Aniruddha Pankaj said people had halted a protest there owing to the pandemic. A protest against CAA-NRC had been going on at Mansoor Ali Park there since January 12.

“On Monday evening, the protesters submitted a memorandum to the administration, saying that they will halt their protest,” said Pankaj on Monday evening.

Sarah Ahmed, an organiser of the protest, said, “We have only halted the protest till the coronavirus issue is resolved. We will continue the protest once the lockdown is over. The coronavirus fear is the bigger issue at the moment and hence, we are temporarily halting the sit in. Our fight against CAA-NRC will continue.”

In Moradabad, police have lodged a case under the Epidemic Diseases Act and other sections of the IPC Monday over the protest being held under the Gul Shaheed police station at Eidgah mosque. “We have lodged a case against 12 named and 150 unidentified people after the protesters gave a call for more people to attend the sit-in after we asked them to halt it due to coronavirus pandemic.”

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/uttar-pradesh-amid-covid-19-fears-protests-at-ghanta-ghar-prayagraj-halted-6328714/

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Civilian injured in Pak shelling along international border in J&K's Kathua

Mar 24, 2020

JAMMU: A 45-year-old civilian was injured in heavy overnight mortar shelling by Pakistan Rangers along the International Border (IB) in Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said on Tuesday.

Bodh Raj suffered splinter injuries when a mortar shell exploded near his house in Manyari area of Hiranagar sector in the early hours of the day. He was shifted to sub-district hospital Hiranagar and discharged after treatment, the officials said.

The shelling and firing from across the border in Manyari and adjoining villages started at 9.35pm on Monday and continued through the night, prompting strong and effective retaliation by Border Security Force (BSF) personnel guarding the border, they said.

A woman, Rekha Rani also fell unconscious and several houses were damaged due to heavy shelling by Pakistan, which created panic among the border residents who were forced to spend the night in underground bunkers, they said.

The shelling ended around 5 am, the officials said, adding that the casualties suffered by Pakistan was not known immediately.

Pakistan has intensified shelling in Manyari and adjoining villages of Hiranagar sector over the last week to stall some construction work being undertaken by the BSF to strengthen counter-infiltration grid, the officials said.

Meanwhile, a defence spokesperson said Pakistan also initiated unprovoked ceasefire violation by firing with small arms and shelling with Mortars along the Line of Control (LoC) in Mendhar sector of Poonch district on Monday evening.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/civilian-injured-in-pak-shelling-along-international-border-in-jks-kathua/articleshow/74786187.cms

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113 stranded Indians in Malaysia flown back to Chennai

Mar 23, 2020

MANGALURU: Ordeal for 113 stranded transit passengers at Kuala Lumpur International Airport ended when a special Air Asia flight (AXM 13) departed Kuala Lumpur for Chennai at 9.30pm (Malaysia time) and landed at Chennai at 10.35pm (IST). These included 111 passengers stranded at Kuala Lumpur International Airport terminal 1 and rest from KLIA terminal 2. This is the third batch of stranded transit passengers to make it to India from Malaysia.

Air Asia had recently operated special flights from KLIA to Visakhapatnam and New Delhi carrying stranded transit passengers. The ministry for civil aviation too had permitted Air Asia to operate empty special flights from Malaysia to India to ferry stranded Malaysians back home. Post this special flight, around 300 Indians continue to be stranded in Malaysia and they have been accommodated in gurudwaras and other Indian community halls.

India in Malaysia

@hcikl

Exceptional gestures of mutual goodwill by @MalaysiaMFA @MEAIndia @PMOIndia and @MIC_Malaysia in getting stranded Indians repatriated back home. Malaysian Indians stuck in india will return in the same @AirAsia returning flights. @PMOIndia @HishammuddinH2O @DrSJaishankar

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Esther Padma, an aide to Malaysian minister told TOI that passengers from various states at KLIA 1 were shifted to KLIA 2 from where the flight departed. With Malaysian government already having implemented movement control order (MCO) there, it will be some time before other stranded Indians – including Mahima Gupta and Navin Mallya, medical interns from Kasturba Medical College, Mangaluru can pack their backs and head back home.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/113-stranded-indians-at-malaysia-flown-back-to-chennai/articleshow/74781884.cms

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Omar Abdullah, in detention since August 5 last year, to walk out of home jail in Jammu and Kashmir

Mar 24, 2020

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, who was detained in August last year ahead of the Centre’s move to scrap the erstwhile state’s special status, will be released. A Jammu and Kashmir administration spokesman said on Tuesday that orders to release Omar Abdullah had been issued.

Omar Abdullah, who turned 50 in jail this month, has been in detention for a little over seven months.

The government ordered his release on Tuesday, days after his father Farooq Abdullah was freed. A third former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti of the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, is still in detention.

The National Conference leader was detained on August 4 midnight before the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and divided the state into two union territories.

Abdullah was detained in August 2019 when the Centre nullified Article 370, divided the state into two union territories and placed Kashmir valley in a state of lockdown. He was initially detained under Section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that empowers an executive magistrate to order a person to execute bonds “for keeping the peace”. Just before his detention was to expire in February 2020, the government invoked the Public Safety Act to hold him. This law empowers authorities to hold any person for two more years.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/omar-abdullah-in-detention-since-august-5-last-year-walks-out-of-home-jail-in-jammu-and-kashmir/story-yLI1UEjl0OBXr0DDT2RR5I.html

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Civilian injured in Pak shelling along International Border in J&K’s Kathua

Mar 24, 2020

A 45-year-old civilian was injured in heavy overnight mortar shelling by Pakistan Rangers along the International Border (IB) in Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said on Tuesday.

Bodh Raj suffered splinter injuries when a mortar shell exploded near his house in Manyari area of Hiranagar sector in the early hours of the day. He was shifted to sub-district hospital Hiranagar and discharged after treatment, the officials said.

The shelling and firing from across the border in Manyari and adjoining villages started at 9.35 pm on Monday and continued through the night, prompting strong and effective retaliation by Border Security Force (BSF) personnel guarding the border, they said.

A woman, Rekha Rani also fell unconscious and several houses were damaged due to heavy shelling by Pakistan, which created panic among the border residents who were forced to spend the night in underground bunkers, they said.

The shelling ended around 5 am, the officials said, adding that the casualties suffered by Pakistan was not known immediately.

Pakistan has intensified shelling in Manyari and adjoining villages of Hiranagar sector over the last week to stall some construction work being undertaken by the BSF to strengthen counter-infiltration grid, the officials said.

Meanwhile, a defence spokesperson said Pakistan also initiated unprovoked ceasefire violation by firing with small arms and shelling with Mortars along the Line of Control (LoC) in Mendhar sector of Poonch district on Monday evening.

“The firing and shelling started around 8.15 pm and lasted for several hours,” the spokesman said, adding that the Indian army retaliated befittingly.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/civilian-injured-in-pak-shelling-along-international-border-in-j-k-s-kathua/story-k7bVIWZiGPCSGnbFwtxWqM.html

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Southeast Asia

 

Jakim launches Covid-19 fund to help Malaysia’s Muslims in need

24 Mar 2020

BY RADZI RAZAK

KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 — The Malaysian Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) has launched a fund to help Muslim communities affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

In a press conference today, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri said the government will channel the collections to Muslims in need.

“In simple terms, we don’t want anyone to starve. We don’t want anyone to not even have rice to eat.

“We ask all our NGOs to help. We’ve got to provide as much help as we can,” he said in a press conference that was broadcast live via Bernama TV today.

Zulkifli said contributions may be made via the Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad account number 16027010001528 opened for “Tabung Saadah Jakim Covid-19”.

On a related matter, the former Federal Territories mufti also announced that Jakim has provided emergency assistance to 4,000 takmir (religious) teachers and 35,000 Quran and Fardu Ain (Kafa) teachers nationwide as their classes were cancelled during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.

“We have provided ways to give full RM800 payment to 4,000 takmir teachers and we have provided an ease of access for them to claim the funds.

“At the same time we also granted aid to 35,000 Kafa teachers at RM1,000 each as they can’t teach because the classes were cancelled during this time,” he said.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/03/24/jakim-launches-covid-19-fund-to-help-malaysias-muslims-in-need/1849575

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Mosque, surau activities in Sabah suspended until March 31

24 Mar 2020

KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 — Sabah has extended its suspension of activities, as well as prayer, including Friday prayer, at mosques and surau in the state, until March 31 in line with the current enforcement of the movement control order (MCO).

Sabah Mufti Datuk Bungsu Aziz Jaafar said the decision was made by the State Fatwa Council for the good of the Muslim community in Sabah.

The decision will involve the Friday prayer on March 27, 2020, which will be replaced with the Zuhor prayer at home, he said in a statement here today.

He advised Muslims in the state to always take the necessary precautions as recommended by the Health Ministry.

“Let us continue to increase our gratitude and repentance to Allah SWT and always pray for Allah SWT to protect us from being infected by this (Covid-19) infection,” he added. — Bernama

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/03/24/mosque-surau-activities-in-sabah-suspended-until-march-31/1849522

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Dr M: With Covid-19, Malaysia faces ‘terrible catastrophe’, Malaysians may need govt’s financial support

23 Mar 2020

BY IDA LIM

KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today gave a grim assessment of Malaysia’s situation amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, calling it a “terrible catastrophe.”

He also raised the possibility of the government needing to financially assist Malaysians who are losing their livelihood as a result of the country’s two-week shutdown of non-essential businesses.

Dr Mahathir noted how travel restrictions will have a great impact on Malaysia’s tourism industry, which is a key income generator for both the government and for Malaysians.

“The airlines would suffer. The tourist industry would suffer. The hotels’ ground transport, restaurants would suffer. Employees would suffer as they may be laid off. Their employers will not be earning enough money to pay them.

“For Malaysia the tourist industry is the second biggest foreign exchange earner, after Petronas. The government would lose a lot of revenue.

“People working in the tourist industry would lose jobs and income. This would be terrible because these people need food and drink,” the former prime minister wrote in a Facebook post today.

On top of that, Dr Mahathir noted that government revenue would also be hurt by the currently low global oil prices, as petroleum is a key contributor to the country’s revenue.

Dr Mahathir said that the government’s economic stimulus package to help Malaysia cope with the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak also involves an increase in government spending and a decrease in taxes, noting that it would be challenging for the government to meet these extra expenditures with the decrease in government revenue.

“In the meantime, even a partial lockdown would reduce business and profits. Again, government revenue would be affected,” he said, having described the two-week movement control order that is imposed in Malaysia now as a “partial lockdown.”

“For the small enterprises, the loss would be terrible. These people earn today for today. Even if they are able to do some business it would not be sufficient to pay for their food. The government may have to give them financial support.

“What is happening in Malaysia is happening to the rest of the world also. Industries may have to stop or at least reduce production. Exports and imports would be affected. Economies would go into recession worldwide. Even the richest countries would suffer,” he added.

“Truly we all are faced with a terrible catastrophe,” he concluded.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced a fresh set of initiatives to help Malaysians cope financially with the Covid-19 outbreak and the resulting movement control order.

These new measures are on top of the government’s RM20 billion economic stimulus package previously announced on February 27 to tackle the economic slowdown caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, as well as other measures announced on May 16.

Muhyiddin said a more comprehensive economic stimulus package and further aid for Malaysians may be announced on March 30.

Close contact with Covid-19 case

Earlier in the same post, Dr Mahathir also spoke about how he unknowingly came into close contact with an individual who would later test positive for Covid-19.

He said he met a group of young MPs from Pakatan Harapan on March 12 and they had asked to take a group photo with him.

“I did not think much of it. I did not think they would be infected. They crowded around me, closely so as to be in the photo,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said his assistant on March 17 informed him that one of the Sarawak MPs in the photo had tested positive for Covid-19, adding that he again did not think much of it and that he was “feeling well.”

“Indeed, many visitors remarked on how well I looked. But the authorities thought differently. A team of doctors and nurses arrived at the Perdana Leadership Foundation where I was working and stopped me as I was going home for lunch.

“They took a swab and told me I had to be quarantined for 14 days from date of contact. And so here I am, home-quarantined. I had been talking to people to be serious about this pandemic. I have even done a video clip. Now I must be serious and accept being quarantined,” he said, before warning of the grave dangers of the Covid-19 virus especially to the elderly.

No cure for Covid-19 now, risky for elderly

“This coronavirus is something that we never had before. It is easily infectious or contagious and in a number of cases it is fatal. We have no medicine or vaccine to counter it. All we can do is to treat symptoms like fever, cough, breathlessness and if there is lung infection and you are old, you may die. I am old, 94 years old.

“The threat posed by Covid-19 is due to ease of infection and possible death. To manage the infection or contagion, it is necessary to isolate people. They must avoid being close to each other. Since we usually do not know who has the virus, everyone has to be far apart from each other,” Dr Mahathir said.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/03/23/dr-m-with-covid-19-malaysia-faces-terrible-catastrophe-malaysians-may-need/1849395

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Malaysia records highest daily jump of Covid-19 cases, along with four more deaths

23 Mar 2020

KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 — Four more deaths caused by Covid-19 were recorded over the last 24-hours, with a jump of 212 new confirmed cases of infection registered over the same period which was the country’s highest daily rise so far.

This brings the total number of local infections to 1,518, with 14 deaths recorded so far, and 159 who have recovered and discharged, the Ministry of Health said today.

Health Ministry Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah revealed 123 of the new cases recorded over the last day were linked to the tabligh gathering cluster, which has caused some 943 infections so far.

“Up to now a total of 57 Covid-19 positive cases are being treated in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). From that total, 27 of them require assistance breathing,” he said during the ministry daily press conference.

He said of the four most recent deaths, death number 11 was a victim from the Klang Valley, the 12th from Johor, and the 13th and 14th from Sarawak, Kuching and Miri respectively.

Noor Hisham explained that death number 11 was a 70-year-old local man, who was local infection case number 1,070.

He had a history of travelling abroad and was being treated at the Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz in Bandar Tun Razak, before he died yesterday.

As for death number 12, he was also a 70-year-old local man who was infection case number 1,114.

“He had attended the tabligh gathering at the Seri Petaling Jamek Mosque and was being treated in Hospital Kluang. His death was confirmed on March 23,” Noor Hisham said.

Covid-19 death number 13, he said, was local case number 1,006 and was a local man, aged 49.

The deceased was the son of case number 1,031 who had died earlier and was being treated at the Sarawak General Hospital before he died earlier today.

The 14th death was local case number 595, a 51-year-old local woman.

“She was a close contact of a positive case from the tabligh gathering cluster and was being treated in Hospital Miri. She was confirmed dead on March 23,” Noor Hisham said today.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/03/23/malaysia-records-highest-daily-jump-of-covid-19-cases-along-with-four-more/1849367

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Vice President calls for fatwas to regulate worship in coronavirus crisis

March 23, 2020

As the number of COVID-19 infections in Indonesia rose to 579 on Monday, Vice President Ma'ruf Amin has called on Muslim clerics to issue fatwas to regulate the special circumstances that Muslims may find themselves in amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ma'ruf, who also currently serves as the nonactive chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), said the MUI and other Islamic organizations should issue fatwas that provide guidance on the bathing of the dead and on wudhu (ablution rituals) in certain circumstances.

"If there is a lack of medical expertise and proper equipment to handle a body, the fatwas could allow for the deceased to be buried without being bathed," Ma'ruf said at a press conference at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) office in Jakarta on Monday.

In addition, Ma'ruf asked the MUI to issue a fatwa that allows medical staff to perform prayers without first performing wudhu.

"In a situation where medical staff have to wear personal protective equipment and cannot take it off [...] the fatwa would make it easier for them to perform their prayers," he said.

Last week, the Indonesian Ulema Council issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims living in areas with widespread COVID-19 infection from performing Friday prayers and other congregational prayers at a mosque.

Full report at:

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/03/23/vice-president-calls-for-fatwas-to-regulate-worship-in-coronavirus-crisis.html

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More Indonesians Abroad Contract Covid-19, New Cases in Spain and the Netherlands

BY NUR YASMIN

MARCH 23, 2020

Jakarta. The Foreign Affairs Ministry announced on Monday the number of Indonesian citizens abroad who have contracted Covid-19 had increased to 65, with two new cases found in the Netherlands, three in Spain and one in Qatar.

Singapore has most of the cases, with 20 Indonesians in the city-state having been found with coronavirus (one has recovered, 16 are in stable condition, two are in intensive care and one had died), Malaysia has 13 cases, which were related to a tabligh Islamic gathering near Kuala Lumpur (all are in stable condition), and India has 10, all also in stable condition.

Nine Indonesians in Japan who were infected on the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship have all recovered.

The rest of the cases are in Taiwan (2), Australia (2), Saudi Arabia (2) and Macau (1).

The number had increased from 48 on Thursday, when the ministry also issued an order for Indonesian travelers still abroad to return home immediately.

Outside China, the countries with the most number of Covid-19 cases are Italy (53,578), Spain (24,926), Germany (21,463), Iran (20,610) and South Korea (8,897).

The Indonesian government has banned entry and transit for anyone who went to these countries in the past 14 days, and also travelers who had been to Mainland China, France, Vatican City, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Full report at:

https://jakartaglobe.id/news/more-indonesians-abroad-contract-covid19-new-cases-in-spain-and-the-netherlands

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Arab World

 

Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia: 10,000 riyal fine, jail time for curfew violators

23 March 2020

All those who violate the curfew implemented in Saudi Arabia from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. for the next 21 days will be fined 10,000 riyals ($2,663) and could face jail time if they repeatedly break the law, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Interior announced on Monday.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

Second-time violators will also be forced to pay double the amount of the initial fine, the ministry said.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Sunday announced the implementation of a nation-wide curfew for 11 hours every night to prevent the deadly coronavirus from spreading further.

Authorities urged citizens and residents to stay at home during the hours between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m., and not to go outside unless necessary.

Thirty-three percent of coronavirus infections in the Kingdom are a result of people coming into direct contact with previously infected individuals, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Sunday.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2020/03/23/Coronavirus-in-Saudi-Arabia-10-000-riyal-fine-jail-time-for-curfew-violators.html

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Exclusive – ISIS Children Slowly Regain Normal Life at Kurdish Rehabilitation Centre

23 March, 2020

“I dreamed of being a great boxer like Denis Lebedev, Russia’s most famous boxer,” said Nicolai as he recounts how he quit his homeland for Syria six years ago.

When Nicolai’s father chose to join ISIS in 2014, he traveled with his family from the cold of Russia’s Saratov to the hotbed that is the Syrian conflict. The family first flew to Istanbul and made the journey by land to the border city of Antakya. Afterwards, they were smuggled to the Syrian city of Idlib. The father dreamed of achieving an illusion. The family soon lost contact with him as he surrendered to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) during ISIS’ last stand in Syria in the battle of Baghouz in March 2019.

Nicolai, his mother and siblings soon found themselves seeking refuge at the sprawling al-Hol displacement camp in Syria.

“My father heard about the ‘caliphate’ on the internet and decided to join it,” Nicolai told Asharq Al-Awsat. “My mother agreed to travel with him. I was only 10 at the time and didn’t understand what was happening.”

According to Nicolai, his father worked at a reception department for ISIS where foreigners and displaced were received and their documents processed. The mother stayed at home and the family moved around from one Syrian city to the other, including al-Tabqa, Raqqa and the towns of the northern Deir Ezzor countryside.

While living in ISIS-held territories, Nicolai witnessed indescribable brutality at a very young age. “Months after our arrival, I was leaving a mosque when the imam told us to gather in al-Tabqa’s square. There, they killed and beheaded a detainee. The corpse was later hung. It was the first time I witness such an atrocity,” he recalled.

This was one of many horrific images that are seared into his memory. ISIS also sought to terrorize the locals with its harsh rulings and field executions, which it carried out in public squares.

ISIS had swept through Iraq and Syria, seizing large swathes of territory and imposing its harsh rule before being driven out completely in spring 2019.

Nicolai, with some 120 children whose ages range between 12 and 17 years old, now spend their days at the al-Ahdath prison in the town of Tall Marouf in Qamishli in the northeastern most point in Syria. The facility is a rehabilitation center overseen by the autonomous authority in northern and eastern Syria. The detainees, former members of the so-called “cubs of the caliphate”, spend their days receiving lessons and vocational training.

Director of the Houri Center for the Protection and Education of Children, Sarah Afrini, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the facility is divided into a section for children of ISIS fighters. It currently houses between 70 and 130 children from 17 countries. The second section is dedicated to children – currently around 50 - who have committed crimes and hail from northeastern Syria. The center receives children between the ages of 12 and 17. When the turn 18, they are usually transferred to the prison where ISIS fighters are held. A new batch of children is then admitted to the center.

Each child is given his own bedroom, which equipped with an air conditioner and surveillance camera. The children are barred from using the internet, mobile phones or tablets.

Widodo, 17, came to Syria from Indonesia with his father. He joined the “cubs of the caliphate” in early 2015 just days after arriving in Syria. He explained that he was eager to join the group when he realized that many Indonesians were also members. “I believed that I would earn an education that I was forced to abandon when my father decided to join the organization,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

They ended up living in one of the world’s harshest conflict zones.

Widodo’s life changed when his mother fell ill after she could not tolerate living in Syria. “I was forced to quit the faction and remained home. People thought I had lost my mind.”

He will soon be transferred to the prison holding ISIS fighters. He spent two years of rehabilitation at the center. Two younger sisters, residing in al-Hol camp, and his father, who is detained by the SDF, are all that remain of his family.

Afrini told Asharq Al-Awsat that the majority of the children are usually illiterate when they arrive at the center. Instead of teaching them how to read, ISIS made them sit through lessons on ideology and weapons training. “The greatest challenge is how to eliminate such ideology and introduce them to knowledge, learning and music and return them to a normal life,” she said.

Full report at:

https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/2194626/exclusive-%E2%80%93-isis-children-slowly-regain-normal-life-kurdish-rehabilitation

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Moqtada al-Sadr’s followers blasted for congregating amid coronavirus outbreak

24 March 2020

Followers of top Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are being criticized days after congregating in their hundreds inside a mosque and chanting “coronavirus has terrified” others despite government measures imposed to stop the spread of the outbreak.

“From east to west, coronavirus has terrified you. Seek refuge to Allah in every path, for there is no one capable but him. This is how we were taught by: al-Sadr,” a man wearing a military camouflage shirt in one video chants in front of Sadr’s followers inside the mosque.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiites turned out to commemorate a revered imam on Saturday, defying curfews imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

In Baghdad’s Sadr City, a massive Friday prayer went ahead with supporters of al-Sadr insisting that praying and visiting religious shrines is an “effective medicine to counter the coronavirus.”

Al Arabiya English

@AlArabiya_Eng

Watch: Hundreds of Shia Iraqis are still congregating in ceremonial religious mourning sessions despite a ban on public gatherings to stem the spread of the #COVID_19 pandemic, videos posted by popular reciters’ on social media show.#Coronavirus #Iraqhttps://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/03/21/Videos-Iraqi-Shia-ceremonial-eulogists-defying-ban-on-public-gatherings.html …

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At the time, influential cleric al-Sadr urged his followers to take part in the pilgrimage to the Imam Al-Kadhim mosque despite federal authorities urging against the event taking place.

“Moqtada al-Sader followers continue to think coronavirus is a man who they can take on and beat by defying medical advice,” tweeted Steven Nabil, a correspondent with Al Hurra news channel.

Since the events on Saturday, the Iraqi Ministry of Health requested all participants who took part in the pilgrimage visiting the Imam Al-Kadhim to quarantine themselves voluntarily in their homes for two weeks to ensure that there were no infections among them with the coronavirus.

Over the weekend, videos posted on popular reciters’ social media pages show thousands of Shia Iraqis still congregating in ceremonial religious mourning sessions despite measures taken by the government to suspend schools, universities, and gatherings in public spaces to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hussein is miraculous; his love is the greatest prize. Don’t come to this Aza (mourning), he who fears corona,” sang one popular reciter during a ceremony in Baghdad on March 15.

Abbas Kadhim, a senior fellow and Iraq initiative director at the Atlantic Council, said one thing to look out for in Iraq more than any other pressing issue in the coming weeks is the government’s willingness to tackle the public spaces amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/24/Moqtada-al-Sadr-s-followers-blasted-for-congregating-amid-coronavirus-outbreak.html

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Coronavirus kills two senior military officers in Egypt

23 March 2020

A second senior military officer in Egypt has died of the new coronavirus, state television reported Monday, as the officially declared death toll stood at 14 from 327 cases recorded nationwide.

Major General Shafee Dawood, head of major infrastructure projects at the military engineering authority, became the latest high-ranking figure in Egypt to die from COVID-19 in hospital.

His death comes after Major General Khaled Shaltout, the army’s chief of water management, died from the virus late Sunday.

State television said that Shaltout contracted the disease after having taken part in “sterilization” procedures to stave off the virus.

Other high-ranking military officials have also been confirmed to have tested positive for the disease, security sources told AFP.

The army released a video last week showing tanks spraying disinfectant in major Cairo sites including the central metro station in Tahrir Square, epicenter of the 2011 revolt that toppled former Hosni Mubarak.

Its engineering arm has been behind the construction of a new administrative capital, 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Cairo, as well as highways and roads.

Health ministry spokesperson Khaled Megahed said on Sunday that infections from the COVID-19 virus have been identified in 24 of the country’s 27 governorates.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Sunday his government has dealt with the pandemic with “full transparency” and denied the true infection rate is being suppressed.

On social media, Egyptians have been critical of the government’s perceived slow handling of the pandemic.

Authorities have imposed tough measures to limit social interaction in the country of 100 million inhabitants.

They have closed schools and universities, ordered cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, sporting clubs and malls to close by 7:00 pm, and trimmed the civil service workforce.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/23/Coronavirus-kills-two-senior-military-officers-in-Egypt-.html

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Syria’s Bashar al-Assad issues amnesty, reduces sentences

23 March 2020

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad granted amnesty and reduced sentences for all crimes committed before Sunday, while also offering amnesty to military deserters who turn themselves in within the next few months.

Similar amnesties have been issued on several occasions, most recently in September of last year.

The decree did not say whether freeing prisoners was part of an attempt to halt the spread of the new coronavirus inside Syria’s jails. Syria has implemented strict measures across the war-torn country to prevent the spread of the virus, including the closure of restaurants and cafes. The country has one confirmed case of COVID-19.

Iran, one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the new virus, released 85,000 prisoners last week on temporary leave. The move was apparently an effort to keep the virus from spreading through Iran’s prisons. Iran has been a strong ally of Assad during Syria’s nine-year civil war.

The conflict in Syria has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced half the country’s population. Opposition activists say tens of thousands of anti-government activists are held in jails around the country.

Sunday’s decree granted amnesty to several crimes that weren’t included in previous amnesties. However, the decree did not name which specific crimes were covered, instead referring to them by their number in Syrian criminal law. A government adviser, Abdul-Qader Azouz, later said the amnesty covered crimes committed since the war began in 2011, such as anti-government activity online and some acts of terrorism.

Death penalties would be replaced by life sentences with hard labor, while those serving life sentences would serve 20 years with hard labor, according to the decree. Juvenile prisoners would see their sentences cut in half. Prisoners suffering from incurable diseases and those over 70 years of age as of Sunday were to be freed.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/23/Syria-s-Bashar-al-Assad-issues-amnesty-reduces-sentences.html

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Lebanon’s security forces deploy to enforce coronavirus lockdown

23 March 2020

Lebanon’s military and security forces deployed across the country Sunday after the government announced a clampdown on those not complying with orders aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Army helicopters toured the skies, calling on residents through loudspeakers not to venture out “in the interests of your own safety,” while soldiers set up roadblocks and carried out foot patrols on the streets.

The Internal Security Forces said its members had begun taking “stricter measures” to ensure the public was following government orders to stay in their homes except in cases of “extreme necessity.”

Those who fail to do so could be met with a fine and imprisonment of up to 3 years.

Moving beyond containment

The ramping up of military and security presence to curb the COVID-19 coronavirus came in response to failure to heed official orders to stay inside, Interior Minister Mohamad Fahmi said.

There were 248 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus as of Sunday afternoon, according to the Health Ministry. Four people have died from the virus.

“The number of people infected with the virus has increased dramatically, and we have moved beyond the stage of containment,” Fahmi said in a televised speech, in which he detailed the measures first announced by Prime Minister Hassan Diab a day earlier.

“Any violation that poses a threat to public safety will be suppressed,” Fahmi added. All of the country’s security agencies will coordinate together with municipal authorities to ensure compliance with the rules.

Lockdown measures hit everyday life

People will be able to buy essential goods such as food and medicine, but will be prevented from gathering in groups or spending time outside without a good reason, the minister said.

Since the government’s announcement of a state of health emergency on March 15, normally bustling high streets and traffic-clogged highways have been emptied as people stay at home.

Numerous supermarkets have placed bottles of hand sanitizer at their entrances, and others have put up signs refusing entry to anyone not wearing gloves and a mask.

However, compliance with social distancing advice has not been universal.

Videos circulated on social media over the last week showed police ushering runners off Beirut’s seafront walkway, clearing a group of young boys packed into an online gaming center in the capital’s southern suburbs and breaking up a wedding party in east Lebanon’s Baalbek.

On Sunday morning, despite calls from the prime minister to self-curfew, 138 people were stopped by the ISF for flouting orders to stay at home.

Carmen Joukhadar

@CarmenJoukhadar

لكل من سأل حول الصور التي نشرتها منذ قليل.. هذا فيديو التقط قبل نحو ساعة على الكورنيش البحري!

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Calls for state of emergency

Nizar Saghieh, the co-founder of the Legal Agenda, told Al Arabiya English that clarity is needed from the government to help citizens understand what constitutes a violation of the order and how “extreme necessity” to leave their homes is defined.

“At the moment, it is up to each individual policeman to decide who is in violation, and we have to ensure that the law is not used to arrest just any citizen walking alone in the street,” he said.

Calls for the government to declare a nationwide state of emergency, which would grant more power to the country’s military, have increased in recent days, including from senior political figures.

This is not yet on the cards, according to the health minister, but said the government would take such action “if there is a failure to comply.”

A state of emergency can be declared only in response to major military or security crises or national disasters, Saghieh explained.

“At the moment we haven’t had such problems, so I don’t think there’s any use in declaring it,” he said.

“But if this epidemic develops into a security problem … a state of emergency could be possible.”

Lebanon has been gradually tightening measures to combat the coronavirus since the first case was confirmed on February 21, including school closures, shutting down restaurants and cafes and closing the airport, sea ports and land borders.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/03/23/Lebanon-s-security-forces-deploy-to-enforce-lockdown.html

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Egypt’s recorded coronavirus cases rise by 33 to 327, four new deaths

23 March 2020

Egypt has recorded 33 new coronavirus cases, the health ministry said on Sunday, raising its total number to 327.

The ministry confirmed four new deaths from the flu-like disease, bringing the number of fatalities to 14.

Egypt senior military officer dies of coronavirus

In a related development, Egypt’s military said a senior officer died on Sunday following his infection from the coronavirus.

The military said in a statement that Major General Khaled Shaltout was infected while participating in sterilization which the military has been carrying out across the country.

The military said it has sterilized and disinfected public institutions and several squares in the capital, Cairo and other cities, to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

Military spokesman Tamer el-Refai posted footage on social media on Saturday showing military personal in protective gear and equipment while disinfecting the Tahrir square, the epicenter of the 2011 uprising, and the metro station there.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/23/Egypt-s-recorded-coronavirus-cases-rise-by-33-to-327-four-new-deaths.html

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Syria reports first coronavirus case

23 March 2020

Syria on Sunday confirmed its first case of coronavirus, in a person who had come from abroad.

Health Minister Nizar al-Yaziji told state media “necessary measures” had been taken regarding the 20 year-old woman, who he said would be quarantined for 14 days and given medical checks.

There have been unconfirmed reports in recent weeks of coronavirus cases in Syria, whose health system, housing and infrastructure have been ravaged by nine years of civil war, but the authorities have denied any outbreak.

Damascus announced a ban on public transport on Sunday as it stepped up a lockdown introduced in recent days, including the closure of schools, parks, restaurants and various public institutions, as well as calling off army conscription.

Medics say the country is also vulnerable with thousands of Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, who maintain a strong presence in main cities and have their headquarters in the Damascus Shia suburb of Sayeda Zainab.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coroanvirus section.

Iranian-backed militias still cross into Syria from the AlBukamal border crossing with Iraq.

Iran, one of the countries most affected by the pandemic outside China, is Syria’s main regional ally.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/23/Syria-reports-first-coronavirus-case.html

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Coronavirus: Oman confirms 11 new cases, raising total to 66

23 March 2020

Oman on Monday confirmed 11 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the Sultanate to 66, according to Oman News Agency (ONA).

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

The new confirmed cases include seven Omani nationals and two residents, ONA said.

Out of the 11 new cases, nine are linked to travel abroad or have been in contact with others who were previously infected, ONA reported.

Two cases are currently undergoing epidemic investigation to determine how they contracted the virus.

Oman announced on Sunday new measures that will be enforced, as the country ramps up efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Government services must reduce their staffing to only 30 percent of the total number of employees, according to ONA. All other employees will work remotely to combat the outbreak.

Public gatherings will be banned in the country, and authorities will take measures against all violators, the Committee to Combat Coronavirus announced.

Another measure to prevent the virus from spreading includes closing all currency exchange bureaus in the country.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2020/03/23/Coronavirus-Oman-confirms-11-new-cases-raising-total-to-66-.html

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Syrian air defense intercepts drone near Hmeimim airbase

24 March 2020

Syria says its air defense units have intercepted a drone approaching Russia's airbase in Hmeimim, Latakia.

The intrusive drone has been intercepted in the vicinity of the Hmeimim airbase near Jableh, Syrian state media reported.

Over the past year, the Syrian and Russian air defense units have thwarted several drone and mortar attacks launched by militants on the Hmeimim airbase, destroying dozens of drones and multiple-launch rocket system shells.

Russia has been helping Syrian forces in the ongoing battles across the conflict-plagued Arab country.

The Russian military assistance, which began in September 2015 at the official request of the Syrian government, has proved effective as Syrians continue to recapture key areas from terrorist groups across the country thanks to Russian air cover.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/24/621477/Syrian-air-defense-intercepts-drone-near-Hmeimim-airbase

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US plans to build new base in western Iraq for Patriot missile system deployment: Source

23 March 2020

An Iraqi security source says the US military intends to construct a new military base in the country’s western province of al-Anbar for the deployment of Patriot missile systems.

“US forces intend to establish a new base in Umm Samij area north of al-Baghdadi district in the city of Hit in order to deploy a Patriot anti-missile system, and protect Ain al-Assad air base as well as other locations in western regions against possible attacks,” the unnamed source told Iraq’s Arabic-language al-Ahad news agency on Monday.

He noted, “Identification of a location for the deployment of the Patriot missile system is the first of its kind in Iraq. Such measures are indicative of US forces’ intention to stay in their bases in the western regions of Iraq for a long period of time.”

Back on January 23, an Iraqi legislator condemned US plans to install Patriot missile systems in the Arab country, saying such deployment violates Iraq’s sovereignty.

“The Iraqi parliament represents all political groups and currents. The (parliamentary) decision demanding the withdrawal of US military forces is supported by the public opinion. Therefore, the [American] troops’ attempt to deploy Patriot missile systems in their bases in order to beef up their combat capabilities is rejected and considered a violation of our sovereignty,” Karim Alawi, a member of the parliament's security and defense committee, told Arabic-language Baghdad Today news agency at the time.

He added, “The presence of US forces in Iraq is illegal. The recent parliamentary decision is clear. The ball is now in the government’s court to get those forces out. If it is not implemented, there will a reaction from all fronts, including filing a complaint with the United Nations and other Islamic organizations with the aim of removing American troops.”

The US is considering deploying the anti-missile system to purportedly protect American troops in Iraq.

The decision came after Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) fired a number of ballistic missiles at Ain al-Assad air base on January 8, in retaliation for a US airstrike authorized by President Donald Trump that assassinated Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC's Quds Force, along with the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and their companions near Baghdad International Airport on January 3.

Trump initially said “no Americans were harmed” in the attack, but subsequent reports revealed that troops were injured, largely with concussions from the missile blasts.

On February 21, the Pentagon raised to 110 the number of US service members, who suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI) following Iran’s retaliatory strike. It alleged that all of the wounded in the base attack were diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury and that 77 of them had already returned to duty.

The Pentagon further claimed that 35 others had been transported to Germany for further evaluation, 25 of whom had been sent on to the United States.

Two days after the US attack, Iraqi lawmakers unanimously approved a bill demanding withdrawal of American forces from their country.

Later on January 9, former Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called on the United States to dispatch a delegation to Baghdad tasked with formulating a mechanism for the move.

According to a statement released by his office at the time, Abdul-Mahdi “requested that delegates be sent to Iraq to set the mechanisms to implement the parliament's decision for the secure withdrawal of (foreign) forces from Iraq” in a phone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/23/621455/US-plans-to-build-new-base-in-western-Iraq-for-Patriot-missile-system-deployment:-Source

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Saudi Arabia imposes curfew, UAE halts passenger flights as coronavirus grips Middle East

23 March 2020

Saudi Arabia is set to impose a nationwide curfew starting on Monday to fight the deadly coronavirus that hit more people in the kingdom and across the Middle East, while the United Arab Emirates will suspend all passenger flights.

Saudi King Salman ordered an 11-hour curfew from 7 pm to 6 am to contain the spread of the COVID-19, state news agency SPA reported Monday.

The curfew, which will take effect on Monday evening and last for 21 days, it added.

The decree came as Saudi Arabia reported 119 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number to 511 - the highest among the Persian Gulf Arab states which registered more than 1,700 in total. Bahrain reported a second coronavirus death on Sunday, taking the region's total deaths to four.

On Saturday, Jordan imposed its own nationwide curfew, limiting the mobility of 10 million citizens except for emergencies and essential services.

UAE to suspend all passenger flights

In another measure taken by the region to curb the spread of the virus, the UAE announced on Monday that it will suspend all passenger and transit flights to and from the country for two weeks, subject to review.

Emirati authorities "have decided to suspend all inbound and outbound passenger flights and the transit of airline passengers in the UAE for two weeks as part of the precautionary measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19", the state news agency WAM said.

Cargo and emergency evacuation flights will be exempt and the decision will take effect in 48 hours.

It came after the Dubai-based airline, Emirates, said it would suspend passenger operations - with the exception of repatriation flights to 13 destination - by March 25.

Oman prevents public gatherings

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, authorities in Oman on Sunday banned public gatherings, limited staffing at state entities and closed currency exchange bureaus.

They also urged the private sector to facilitate remote working and called on commercial businesses and individuals to limit cash transactions, according to state television.

Iraq reports three new deaths, extends curfew in Baghdad

Iraq on Sunday said that three more people have died from the virus, bringing the total deaths in the country to 20.

Also on Sunday, the Iraqi government extended a curfew on travel in and out of Baghdad until March 28. It was imposed on March 17 for a week.

The government also extended a ban on all flights to and from the country's airports until March 28.

Syria confirms first coronavirus case

In neighboring Syria, the first case of the coronavirus, a 20-year-old woman, was reported on Sunday.

Health Minister Nizar al-Yaziji told state media that "necessary measures" had been taken regarding the patient, who he said would be quarantined for 14 days and given medical checks.

President Bashar al Assad issued a prisoner amnesty on Sunday in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The Syrian government also decided to impose a ban on public transport as it stepped up a lockdown introduced in recent days.

Turkey coronavirus deaths rise to 30

Turkey's Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said death toll from coronavirus jumped by nine to 30 on Sunday as the number of confirmed cases increased by 289 to 1,256.

He noted that a total of 20,345 tests had been conducted.

UN warns of frightening situation in Gaza

Earlier on Sunday, the Palestinian health ministry announced the first two coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip.

The UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory had warned of frightening consequences of coronavirus in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade since June 2007.

Jamie McGoldrick told UN News in an interview published on Saturday that a possible COVID-19 outbreak in Gaza can be terrible due to the Israeli blockade and limited health facilities in the enclave.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/23/621422/Coronavirus-Middle-East-Saudi-curfew

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Saudi Arabia gives Umrah pilgrims who exceed visa opportunity to apply for ‘exemption’

March 24, 2020

RIYADH: The General Directorate of Passports in Saudi Arabia has said Umrah pilgrims who have exceeded their visa period can apply for an ‘exemption’ to avoid penalties.

A statement released by the directorate in coordination with the Ministry of Hajj said, pilgrims who exceeded their Umrah visa can submit an exemption request to the ministry’s website.

The request includes an exemption from the legal implications and financial penalties involved in delaying their departure. The form should be submitted no later than Saturday, March 28.

The statement added that the relevant authorities will arrange return flights for the pilgrims.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1646161/saudi-arabia

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Mideast

 

Yemen’s Ansarullah welcomes UN call for global ceasefire to tackle coronavirus pandemic

24 March 2020

Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement has welcomed a call by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres for a ceasefire in all conflicts worldwide amid a global fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee of Yemen, said in a tweet on Monday that Sana’a welcomes the UN chief’s call and supports a halt in attacks by the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies against Yemen.

The movement, he said, also seeksthe lifting of an aerial and maritime blockade imposed on Yemen by the Saudi regime and its coalition allies since early 2015, to facilitate the adoption of preventive measures against the coronavirus outbreak.

The United States and Britain are not part of the Saudi-led alliance but have been providing all sorts of support to the bloody war.

Speaking to reporters from the UN headquarters in New York on Monday, Guterres called for “an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world,” adding, “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on true fight of our lives, pull back from hostilities and put aside mistrust & animosities.”

The United Nations has been trying to mediate an end to conflicts in countries including Syria, Yemen and Libya, while also providing humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians.

Guterres warned that in war-torn countries health systems have collapsed and the small number of health professionals left were often targeted in the fighting.

While Yemen has not recorded any COVID-19 cases to date, the possibility of an outbreak threatens the war-ravaged country’s already fragile healthcare system.

Last week, Houthi warned that the Saudi-led coalition of aggressors will be responsible for a possible spread of the virus to Yemen, citing the negative impacts of the siege.

Houthi’s comments come as Yemen is preparing to mark, on March 26, the fifth anniversary of the military campaign, which the Saudi regime and a number of its vassal states launchedto reinstall a Riyadh-backed former regime in Yemen.

The Western-backed offensive, coupled with a naval blockade, has destroyed the country’s infrastructure.

The aggression has also led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where over 1,000 people, including many kids, were killed and hundreds of thousands afflicted by cholera, diphtheria, measles and dengue fever in 2019, according to the World Health Organization.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/24/621486/Yemen-Ansarullah-UN-Coronavirus

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Two Emirates Red Crescent aid workers killed in Yemen's Aden

21 Mar 2020

Two aid workers have been killed in war-torn Yemen's south after they were kidnapped by unknown armed men, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) branch of the Red Crescent said.

In a statement on Twitter, Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) said it "expresses its deep regret and condemnation of the loss of Ahmed Fouad al-Yousefi, Coordinator of ERC Operations in Aden, and his fellow Mohamed Tareq ... in one of the world's most vulnerable and complex humanitarian zones."

The two were kidnapped in the southern port city of Aden and later found dead, according to the statement.

The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Houthi rebels.

A Saudi-UAE led military coalition allied with the government intervened in March 2015. The war has since killed more than 100,000 people, including thousands of civilians, according to a database project that tracks violence.

But a separate conflict has been raging in the south between government forces and southern separatists, backed by the UAE.

The two parties signed a power-sharing agreement in Riyadh last November, with little sign of implementation on the ground.

Security forces in the south have also come under repeated attack by both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed groups.

Full report at:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/emirates-red-crescent-aid-workers-killed-yemen-aden-200321065907756.html

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President Rouhani: Iran Not in Favour of “Glass of Muddy Water” Offered by US

Mar 23, 2020

“We are not in a normal economic situation; sanctions that are cruel, illegal and a terrorist action have been imposed by the US on the Iranian people, and unfortunately many problems have been posed to us,” Rouhani said, addressing a cabinet meeting in Tehran on Monday.

“Americans' saying we are ready to help Iran through the hardships of coronavirus is one of the great lies of history, as if someone who has blocked the source of the spring and does not let anyone go to the clear spring, brings a glass of muddy water to offer, saying that he has come to help, since he knows we're thirsty,” he added.

President Rouhani addressed Washington, saying, “If you want to help, get your boots out of the way; you have blocked the origin, you have troubled our crude sales; you have troubled our banking system for food, for raw materials and for employment; part of the unemployment is because of America, part of the hard life of the people is because of America, part of the lack of working capital for factories is because of America, lack of some medicines is because of America, not having a job and living in a state of extreme crisis for some people is because of America.”

“The Americans, who are in charge of the biggest crimes in the region and committed crimes in Iran and terrorism in the true sense of the word, and when their thoughts and underpinnings of their misconduct and terrorism have become more apparent to the world, say we are ready to help in combatting coronavirus. This is the same glass of muddy water, but they do not say that they blocked the main springs on this nation,” he said.

President Rouhani again addressed the US officials, saying, “We do not want your glass of muddy water; step aside, break the barrier, do not harass the nations and companies, buyers, importers and exporters; we know well what to do. Our nation, our businessmen and our doctors are well aware; our scientists are well acquainted.”

Elsewhere, he described the naming of year 1399 as the year of 'Surge in Production' by the Supreme Leader as a good opportunity for the government, producers, private sector and everyone to make greater efforts for boosting production.

"The Supreme Leader of the Revolution wants more powerful and quicker move towards production and the way to do that is to make some infrastructural and quick work,” President Rouhani said.

He also appreciated the overwhelming majority of people for heeding the recommendations of the National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus.

“This staying at home is the best way to fight coronavirus so that we can return back to normal conditions quicker."

"I would also like to appreciate the dedication of the medical staff, the armed forces and all the producers in the fight against COVID-19; those who are working hard in major water treatment plants to produce health drinking water for people; all those who are trying to provide people with energy, be it power, gas, diesel and petrol; all those who are working in factories and stores providing foodstuff,” he said.

“Of course, there is higher sacrifice by those who are working to save lives in hospitals, and the day-to-day care of the nation's health system, the armed forces, and those who volunteer and donate money or special facilities,” President Rouhani said.

“The Red Crescent, the Armed Forces, the police, Basij, and all those who are working hard for your health ask you not to continue traveling if you do not have normal conditions. I emphasise once again that protecting people's health is the top priority for all authorities and the armed forces, and the entire system. God-willing, our conditions are better than other countries, and even those developed ones and the European ones both in supply of essential needs and hospitals and beds,” he added.

“I would also like to thank the IRIB for informing and educating people and those who are active in the social media to keep people entertained and teach them sports to have fun in their houses. We will overcome these hard days with cooperation, coordination and synergy,” the president said.

He also expressed regret that this year's New Year, the Iranian people were forced to abandon some national and religious traditions and could not go to holy places and attend congregational and Friday prayers and were unable to attend regular annual visits.

Noting that before anything, Islam the religion of health invited everyone to take care of their personal hygiene over 14 centuries ago, he said, “On the national aspect, the one who discovered alcohol was the Iranian scientist Zakaria Razi. He produced a substance that is the ingredient of many disinfectants and the Iranians produced it and made it available to humans.”

“Basically, a large part of the medical science was promoted by the Iranians, including Avicenna and others. So the world is indebted to the culture of Islam and Iranian culture in many scientific and health fields, and we should all appreciate each other at this point.”

“The other point that I want to make here is that in the new year, we must do our best to develop the country. The Supreme Leader has always emphasised economic issues and surge in production, and the government has made every effort last year to boost production,” he said.

“The naming of year 1399 as the year of 'Surge in Production' by the Supreme Leader is a good opportunity for the government, producers, private sector and everyone to make greater efforts for boosting production,” the president said.

“Let's do our best for country's development in new year. This year the year of inaugurating major projects. Ministers should announce their important plans and programmes in various areas for year 1399 in the coming days and weeks.”

“What plans we have regarding our foreign relations until the end of the year; what foreign affairs should do in terms of production, export, the raw materials we need to import will be announced to the people.”

“The Supreme Leader of the Revolution wants more powerful, quicker move towards production and the way to do that is to make some infrastructural and quick work. Reforming the banking system is one of the top priorities for us. People should know that the way to move quicker and more powerful in production is to make some infrastructural and quick work,” the president said.

He noted that surge in production happens through good relations with our friends all over the world for import and export and production is possible with investment, technology and foreign relations, and added, “Banking, customs, tax and other infrastructure are requirements for improving business atmosphere and surge in production.”

His remarks echoed an outcry on national and international levels against US sanctions, with Russia, China, Pakistan, as well as different medical organizations and rights groups urging the administration of US President Donald Trump to lift sanctions against Iran.

The coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting over 170 countries and territories around the world. The virus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has so far killed more than 14,900 people and infected over 343,000 others globally.

Iran reported on Monday that a total number of 1,812 coronavirus patients have died and 23,049 cases of infection have been identified in the country so far. Meanwhile, 8,376 people have also recovered.

The Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, specially on Iran’s north, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced earlier this month that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990104000459

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Iranian Army to Set up Hospital for Coronavirus Patients in 48 Hours

Mar 23, 2020

Speaking in a news conference at the Army’s Biodefense Headquarters, Rear Admiral Sayyari ordered Commander of Iranian Army Ground Force Brigadier General Kioumars Heidari to construct an equipped 2,000-bed hospital in the next 48 hours.

“Over the past few days, the General Staff of the Armed Forces issued new orders to Iran’s Army in line with implementing command of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on holding biological defense military exercise and today, this order is notified to the Army’s Ground Forces for enforcement,” he said.

Ability to implement this mission will showcase preparation of the country to defend against a biological attack, Rear Admiral Sayyari stressed.

“We have provided our hospitals with required medical equipment to the health network of the country in order to disinfect religious centers, hospitals and cities,” he added.

The coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting over 170 countries and territories around the world. The virus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has so far killed more than 14,900 people and infected over 343,000 others globally.

Iran reported on Monday that a total number of 1,812 coronavirus patients have died and 23,049 cases of infection have been identified in the country so far. Meanwhile, 8,376 people have also recovered.

The Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, specially on Iran’s north, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced earlier this month that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990104000555

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Iran Reports 1,411 New Coronavirus Cases, Raises Toll to 1,812

Mar 23, 2020

“According to laboratorial results, 1,411 new cases of infection to COVID-19 virus have been identified in Iran since Sunday noon, increasing the number of confirmed infections to 23,049,” jahanpour said.

He added that unfortunately, 127 coronavirus patients have passed away since Sunday, noting that the death toll has increased to 1,812.

Jahanpour said that 8,376 patients infected with COVID-19 virus have also recovered and been dismissed from hospital.

He added that over 36mln people in Iran have been screened so far in the national mobilization plan to fight against the coronavirus.

The coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting over 170 countries and territories around the world. The virus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has so far killed more than 14,600 people and infected over 340,000 others globally.

The Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, specially on Iran’s north, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced earlier this month that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990104000434

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Iranian Official: All Needed Commodities for People Supplied by Gov’t for 6 Months

Mar 23, 2020

“All basic commodities of people have been supplied by the ministry of industry, mine and trade and we are not faced with any problem to meet people’s needs for the next 6 months and people should not have any concerns,” Goudarzi said on Sunday.

He added that all commercial centers should be closed for the next 10 days except for major chain stores supplying foodstuff and other basic needs as well as pharmacies and gas stations as part of new restrictive measures to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

Goudarzi said that new social distancing directives about what activities were and were not allowed in the capital had been issued for the megapolis of some 12 million.

Only hypermarkets and drug stores are allowed to stay open and other businesses breaching the order will be penalized, he added.

The coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting over 170 countries and territories around the world. The virus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has so far killed more than 14,600 people and infected over 340,000 others globally.

Iran reported on Sunday 1,685 fatalities and 21,638 cases of infection. Meanwhile, 7,913 people have recovered.

The new restrictions come as Iran is stepping up its campaign to curtial a further spread of the disease.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990104000314

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FM: US Showing Total Disregard for Int’l Campaign against Iran Sanctions

Mar 23, 2020

“Iranian people appreciate the growing global campaign of government and civil society leaders calling for lifting of illegal US sanctions. US is NOT listening, impeding global fight against COVID-19,” Zarif wrote on his twitter page on Monday.

“The only remedy (is to) defy US mass punishment. Moral and pragmatic imperative,” he added.

His remarks echoed an outcry on national and international levels against US sanctions, with Russia, China, as well as different medical organizations and rights groups urging the administration of US President Donald Trump to lift sanctions against Iran.

The coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting over 170 countries and territories around the world. The virus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has so far killed more than 14,600 people and infected over 340,000 others globally.

Iran reported on Sunday 1,685 fatalities and 21,638 cases of infection. Meanwhile, 7,913 people have recovered.

The Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, specially on Iran’s north, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced earlier this month that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990104000258

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Coronavirus patient visited by Islamic medicine cleric in Iran dies: Report

23 March 2020

An Iranian coronavirus patient who was given a perfume to smell by a cleric as a cure for the virus has died, local media reported on Monday.

Videos of a cleric giving coronavirus patients at a hospital in northern Iran a perfume to smell as a cure for the virus went viral on social media.

The cleric was seen rubbing the perfume above two patients’ upper lip and telling them to smell it in one video.

Mohsen Sharifi, one of several coronavirus patients visited by the cleric, died on Monday.

The cleric has been identified and an arrest warrant has been issued for him, the official IRNA news agency said.

The cleric is a follower of what is known as “Islamic medicine” in Iran.

IRANIAN CLERIC GIVES CORONAVIRUS PATIENTS PERFUME AS A CURE:

“Islamic medicine” relies on the sayings of the Shia Imams to treat patients and often dismisses modern medicine.

“Smell that, it is from the prophet,” the cleric was seen telling a patient lying in bed in one video.

Three Iranian medical doctors were sentenced to flogging last month on charges of “insulting” Abbas Tabrizian, a cleric who is considered the “father of Islamic medicine” by his followers in Iran.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/23/Coronavirus-patient-visited-by-Islamic-medicine-cleric-in-Iran-dies-Report.html

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Turkey detains five Kurdish mayors as crackdown widens

23 March 2020

Turkish authorities detained mayors of five municipalities in Kurdish-majority areas on Monday as part of a widening government crackdown against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the party’s co-leader said.

Mithat Sancar told reporters security forces had besieged municipality buildings in the southeastern province of Batman, as well as those in the Egil, Silvan, Lice and Ergani districts of Diyarbakir province on Monday morning.

He said five co-mayors in four municipalities were detained.

He did not give details about the mayor of Lice but said another co-mayor who had previously been dismissed was also being held.

President Tayyip Erdogan and his government accuse the HDP of having links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, leading to prosecutions of thousands of its members and some leaders. The HDP denies such links.

The HDP appoints one male and one female as mayor to promote gender-equality, calling them co-mayors, although only one is recognized by the central government.

Sancar said the measures on Monday morning were similar to those taken when Ankara appointed trustees in other municipalities, adding that the party had not received official notification from the central government.

“We reject with hatred this vile attempt that does not shy away from showing enmity against Kurds even in these difficult days when the whole world is battling an epidemic,” he said.

The Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Ankara has appointed trustees to 31 municipalities won by the HDP in March 2019 local elections, an HDP source said, adding that 21 co-mayors had been formally arrested so far, in addition to the six detained on Monday.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/23/Turkey-detains-five-Kurdish-mayors-as-crackdown-widens.html

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Israeli forces open fire, kill Palestinian throwing rocks

23 March 2020

Israeli forces shot and killed a 32-year-old Palestinian man early on Monday who was hurling rocks at Israeli troops, the Palestinian health ministry and the Israeli military said.

The military said it thwarted an attack and opened fire at a number of suspects who were throwing rocks at Israeli vehicles on a highway in central West Bank, near the town of Qaliqilya. It says one of the suspects was killed while another was wounded and escaped.

Clashes often erupt in the West Bank between Israelis and Palestinians but have dipped considerably since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

In Israel, daily life has largely shut down with more than 1,200 people testing positive for the new virus. One patient has died and 24 are in serious condition.

In the West Bank, 57 cases have been diagnosed so far, the majority of them in Bethlehem. The Palestinian prime minister has ordered a lock down and in Gaza, two cases have been diagnosed in patients who returned from Pakistan.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/23/Israeli-forces-open-fire-kill-Palestinian-throwing-rocks-.html

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Yemeni attacks will continue as long as Saudi-led aggression, siege continue: Army spox

23 March 2020

The spokesman for Yemen's Armed Forces says Yemeni army troops and allied fighters from Popular Committees will continue their retaliatory attacks as long as the Saudi-led coalition persists with its military aggression and blockade on the Arab country.

“As long as the siege and war against Yemen persist, army operations against the invaders would continue,” Brigadier General Yahya Saree said at a press conference in the capital Sana’a on Monday afternoon.

He added, “Yemen was once considered weak, but it is now completely different from what it used to be five years ago. Yemen is much stronger at present.”

“Yemeni armed forces were subjected to conspiracies and attempts aimed at its dismantlement. However, the forces managed to withstand the brutal attacks of aggressors over the past years and score victories,” Saree noted.

The senior Yemeni military figure then pointed to the popular support for Yemeni army operations, saying, “Many countries had predicted that we would fail; on the contrary we did neither fall short nor surrendered.”

Saree went on to say that the Saudi-led military alliance has conducted 257,882 airstrikes against targets across Yemen ever since it began its onslaught more than five years ago.

“The high number of the air raids attests to the fact that they have failed to bring us to our knees. Yemen is among the countries with large numbers of airstrikes. The criminal record of the Saudi-led coalition will be a dark page in the history of humankind, and some world leaders will pay dearly for the blood of Yemenis,” he commented.

Saree highlighted that Yemeni army soldiers and their allies have carried out 5,278 retaliatory attacks against designated strategic targets inside Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region, of which 1,686 offensives were mounted in 2019 alone.

“Over the past five years, Yemeni forces also managed to thwart 5,426 attacks by Saudi-led coalition forces and their mercenaries. Yemeni missile units fired 1,067 ballistic missiles at various positions belonging to the Saudi-led alliance either inside or outside Yemen, of which 410 projectiles hit critical military sites deep inside Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

Saree stressed that Yemeni armed forces have tested new air defense missile systems, which will be showcased in the near future, stating that Borkan (Volcano), Qaher, Badr, Quds-1, Nikal, Qassem and Zulfiqar missile systems have already been unveiled.

“Yemeni drone units have conducted more than 160 operations since last year, of which 37 were reconnaissance missions. The units carried out 94 strikes against enemy targets inside Yemen, and 66 ones inside Saudi Arabia,” the spokesman for Yemen's Armed Forces pointed out.

He added, “Yemeni air defense forces have intercepted and shot down 371 Saudi-led military aircraft, of which 53 were either fighter jets or Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, and the rest were reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Saree said Yemeni forces have performed 29 naval operations against Saudi-led warships, gunboats as well as frigates.

“Additionally, more than 8,487 Saudi-led tanks, armored vehicles, armored personnel carriers, vehicles, cannons and cranes have been destroyed over the past five years. Over 10,000 Saudi conscripts and officers have either been killed or wounded at the same time. A total of 1,240 Emirati soldiers and officers have either been killed or wounded as well,” he said.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and crushing the Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past nearly five years.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have purchased billions of dollars' worth of weapons from the United States, France and the United Kingdom in the war on Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition has been widely criticized for the high civilian death toll from its bombing campaign.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/23/621464/Yemeni-attacks-will-continue-as-long-as-Saudi-led-aggression,-siege-continue:-Army-spox

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Palestinians urges intl. pressure on Israel to lift Gaza siege amid coronavirus outbreak

23 March 2020

The Palestinian Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip has called on the international community to put pressure on the Israel regime to lift its ongoing land, air, and sea blockade, so that the impoverished coastal sliver can cope with cases of coronavirus infection.

“We raise our voice and ask the whole world to help lift the siege on Gaza to enable it to face the coronavirus pandemic,” Yousef Abu al-Rish, a health ministry official in Gaza, announced in a statement late on Sunday.

He reassured the Gazans that only two cases of the disease were reported, emphasizing that medical teams are fully prepared to deal with the cases.

Palestinian officials have announced the first two cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious new coronavirus, in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Abu al-Rish said late on Saturday that the two Palestinian patients had returned from Pakistan via Gaza's Rafah border with neighboring Egypt on Thursday.

The pair exhibited symptoms of the illness, which include dry cough and high fever, he told a news conference.

The senior Palestinian health official added that the two were placed in quarantine upon arrival and are now in a field hospital in the border town of Rafah.

Abu al-Rish urged Gaza's nearly two million residents to take precautionary measures and to practice social distancing by staying home in a bid to halt the potential spread of the virus.

The United Nations has warned against the frightening consequences of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip in the wake of 13 years of Israeli-imposed blockade on the territory.

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for occupied Palestinian territory, stated that the COVID-19 outbreak in Gaza can be terrible due to the long-term blockade, overpopulation, and limited health facilities there.

McGoldrick said the people will get stuck in the region in case of an epidemic, resulting in spread of the virus.

The top UN health official pointed to the weak and insufficient health care system in the Gaza Strip regarding financial sources and equipment, saying they are in contact with the Palestinian administration and the World Health Organization over the improvement of the health system.

He said that they are working with international donors on a project with a $7 million budget to meet Gaza’s urgent need for humanitarian aid for the next two months.

Gaza has been under Israeli siege since June 2007, which has caused a decline in living standards.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/23/621439/Palestinian-health-ministry-in-Gaza-urges-halt-to-Israel%E2%80%99s-siege-on-coronavirus-hit-enclave

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North America

 

FBI warns white supremacists encouraging members to spread coronavirus to law enforcement, Jews: report

BY ARIS FOLLEY

03/22/20

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York office recently sent out an alert to local authorities warning of extremist groups it said are encouraging their members to spread the novel coronavirus to police and Jewish people, ABC News reported.

According to the news agency, the alert, which was reportedly issued on Thursday, said that “members of extremist groups are encouraging one another to spread the virus, if contracted, through bodily fluids and personal interactions.”

The alert reportedly warned that the racist groups were urging their members to go to places where Jewish people “may be congregated, to include markets, political offices, businesses and places of worship.”

The alert also reportedly said some white supremacists and neo-Nazis were also urging members who contract the virus to spread the disease to cops by using spray bottles.

In a statement to The Hill on Monday, a spokesperson for the FBI said that while the agency’s “standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, FBI field offices routinely share information with their local law enforcement partners to assist in protecting the communities they serve.”

“These products are intended to be informative in nature, and as such, they contain appropriate caveats to describe the confidence in the sourcing of information and the likelihood of the assessment,” the spokesperson added. “Additionally, when written at a local level, these products will note that the perspective offered may be limited to the field office’s area of responsibility."

The report comes as the Anti-Defamation League reports some extremists have been pushing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online that blame Jewish people for the spread of the virus.

“From pushing the idea that Jews created the coronavirus virus to sell vaccines to encouraging infected followers to try to spread the illness to the Jewish community and law enforcement, as the coronavirus has spread, we have observed how white-supremacists, neo-Nazis and others have used this to drive their own conspiracy theories, spread disinformation and incite violence on their online platforms,” Michael Masters, who heads the Secure Communities Network, a nonprofit that works to “serve the American Jewish community concerning matters of communal safety,” told ABC News.

"While the world faces a deadly pandemic, it’s a stark reminder that certain groups – notably the Jewish community and law enforcement – must also continue the battle against those who wish to hurt or kill them," Masters added.

The report also arrives as New York has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks amid an international outbreak.

According to The New York Times, the state, which has reported more than 15,100 confirmed cases of the virus so far, currently has nearly 5 percent of overall cases worldwide.

https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/488919-fbi-white-supremacists-encouraging-members-to-spread

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Top U.S. Intelligence Official Taps New Counterterrorism Chief

By Eric Schmitt

March 21, 2020

WASHINGTON — Lora Shiao, a career American intelligence officer, will be the next acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the government’s central clearinghouse for intelligence on terrorist threats, Trump administration officials said on Saturday.

Ms. Shiao, who is currently the center’s third-ranking official, replaces Russell Travers, who was abruptly replaced last week amid planned cutbacks by the acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, that have prompted fears among career officials of potential political retribution and a widespread loss of expertise.

Ms. Shiao will begin serving as acting director on April 3, a spokeswoman for Mr. Grenell, Maura Beard, said in an email. President Trump has nominated Christopher C. Miller, a former National Security Council aide now working at the Pentagon, as his permanent choice for the top counterterrorism job, but it could take months for the Senate to confirm him.

Mr. Grenell was installed in recent weeks to temporarily serve as the nation’s top intelligence official and he has made clear he plans to overhaul his office. The effort, coming from a leader serving in an acting capacity and as the federal government confronts the coronavirus pandemic, has incited concern that the Trump administration is intent on purging career officials. But supporters of Mr. Grenell say that the office, which oversees the intelligence community, has grown top heavy and that other agencies could more efficiently handle some of its functions.

The selection of Ms. Shiao, first reported Saturday by Bloomberg News, won praise from intelligence and counterterrorism officials, who had feared a political appointee with little experience in the field would be installed in the post. Ms. Shiao will also serve as the center’s permanent deputy director.

“She’s held multiple senior roles across the center, and is an excellent choice,” said Javed Ali, a former counterterrorism center official who is now a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. “The key question now will be if all the big changes happen under her watch via Grenell’s mandate, or whether they wait for Miller to get there — which will likely take months.”

Ms. Shiao has been executive director, or chief administrative officer, of the counterterrorism center since March 2019. She will become the center’s first female director. Much of her work had focused on terrorists plotting against the United States and terrorist activities in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, according to her official biography. She has also served in intelligence jobs at the Justice and Defense Departments.

Mr. Grenell has begun a review to pare back the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, sending officers detailed there back to their home agencies, like the C.I.A. With about 1,000 employees, the counterterrorism center is by far the largest part of the national intelligence office.

Full report at:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/21/us/politics/lora-shiao-counterterrorism.html

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Ghani-Abdullah feud: US cuts aid to Kabul by $1 bln, says Pompeo

24 March 2020

The United States is reducing aid to Afghanistan by $1 billion and is prepared to cut a similar amount in 2021 because of the ongoing feud between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday.

“We will also initiate a review of all of our programs and projects to identify additional reductions, and reconsider our pledges to future donor conferences for Afghanistan,” Pompeo said in a statement after a day-long mediation mission to Kabul.

The decision to cut the aid was made on Monday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after he made an unannounced, urgent visit to Kabul to meet with Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the rival Afghan politicians who have each declared themselves president of the country after disputed elections last year. Pompeo had hoped to break the deadlock but was unable to.

In an unusually harsh statement, Pompeo slammed the two men for being unable to work together and threatening a potential peace deal that could end America’s longest-running conflict. The Us has been the prime backer of the Afghan government since it invaded the country in 2001 and overthrew the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks.

“The United States deeply regrets that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have informed Secretary Pompeo that they have been unable to agree on an inclusive government that can meet the challenges of governance, peace, and security, and provide for the health and welfare of Afghan citizens,” he said.

Pompeo said the US was “disappointed” in both men and their conduct, which he said had “harmed US-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonors those Afghan, Americans, and coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country.”

Pompeo said their inability to work together posed a “direct threat” to US national interests and that the administration would begin an immediate review of all its support programs for Afghanistan, starting with a reduction of $1 billion in aid this year. He said it could be reduced by another billion dollars in 2021.

“We have made clear to the leadership that we will not back security operations that are politically motivated, nor support political leaders who order such operations or those who advocate for or support parallel government,” Pompeo said.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/03/24/Pompeo-US-cuts-Afghanistan-aid-by-1-bln-due-to-Ghani-.html

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Europe

 

The Brighton jihadists: bullied brothers who went into battle

22 Mar 2020

Mark Townsend

Much has been written about Britons who fought in Syria, but little truly explains who these characters were, what made them tick. Or what actually happened when they disappeared into the byzantine politics of its brutal war. No Return tracks five teenage friends from Brighton who stepped into its chaos. All were killed except one. The survivor, Amer Deghayes, is the longest-serving Briton in Syria since the fighting began and offers a unique account of a ceaseless, shifting conflict.

Equally crucial are those he left behind. I learned that more than 30 Brightonians – the largest identified group of potential jihadists in western Europe – had discussed plans to join him. All were between 13 and 18 years of age, some were girls, most were white, working-class Islamic converts from the forgotten estates of east Brighton.

Investigating what had happened to these youngsters I discovered the Hillstreet Gang (HSG), whose members had converted to Islam in a makeshift gym. For several years the police considered them the most notorious street gang in Brighton. A hidden, violent side of the city revealed itself.

Throughout the summer of 2018 I tracked down prominent members one by one, knowing that approaching the group would mean instant rejection.

But like their friends who had disappeared in Syria, key figures would vanish from Brighton, often into prison. One central member of HSG who appears in No Return was jailed for 20 years, so I didn’t get the chance to interview him.

Soon after another of the book’s key figures, Amer’s brother Abdul, was killed in an alleged drugs dispute.

It was a death as sudden and savage as that of his friends who had entered Syria. But Abdul’s vulnerability, like the others, had been signposted long before, raising questions over how we view those seen as different. Do we try to understand or do we push them further to the margins, deeper into violence?

It was calm on Saltdean beach, the hum of the A259 drowned out by the surf. As a young teenager, Amer Deghayes would come here for peace and stand up to his ankles in the water, peering into the sea.

Peace was a fleeting concept when you lived with four younger brothers. The nearest in age to Amer were twins Abdullah and Abdul. Next came Jaffar. Mohammed, the youngest, was the quietest. Accompanying them would be their mother Einas, a timid woman whose parental strategy was geared towards kindness with as little confrontation as possible. Her husband, Abubaker, was a thickset alpha male with a prayer bump on his forehead that proved his piety.

Amer was named after Abubaker’s father, Amer Taher Deghayes, a lawyer who had pioneered trade unions in Libya, and decades later remained a celebrated figure among a slice of the country’s liberal intelligentsia. He was also co-founder of the Ba’ath movement that challenged Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi for power. It was a perilous, courageous move. And one that meant Amer never met his grandfather. Amer senior was arrested by Gaddafi’s security officials 14 years before his grandson was born, and died in custody. Amnesty International said he was “believed to have been extra-judicially executed”.

The family fled to the UK and claimed political asylum. They bought a house in the Sussex village of Saltdean, a conservative place of net curtains and neat flowerbeds a short walk from the beach. They were its only Muslim family. Abubaker studied business at Lewes College, ran an old people’s home and married his cousin, Einas Abulsayen.

Abubaker’s brother Omar, inspired by their father, became a lawyer with ambitions to represent the oppressed. After graduating in law from the University of Wolverhampton, Omar, 31, travelled to Afghanistan on a round-the-world trip to experience Islamic cultures. There he was embroiled in the US invasion that followed the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Captured by mercenaries and sold for a reported $5,000 to US intelligence, he was deported to Guantanamo Bay in a case of mistaken identity, confused with a Saudi jihadist who was later killed by Russian forces.

Omar spent almost 2,000 days inside the gulag, where he was tortured and lost the sight of one eye. By the time he returned to Brighton in 2007 his wife, whom he had met on his travels, had divorced him. He had lost everything.

Abubaker, who devoted years to getting his brother released, and remained traumatised by the loss of his father, was a figure who corroborated the thesis that violence flows down generations. Einas felt her husband had unaddressed mental health issues. Whatever the truth, documents from police and social services suggested that for years the family privately endured his volatile temper.

Things came to a head in November 2010 when the emergency helpline of a local charity for victims of domestic abuse received a call from a friend of Einas, gravely concerned for her safety and that of her five sons. In detail, the caller recounted how Abubaker had that weekend become “very physically aggressive, smashing up mobile phones and other items. Family had to lock themselves in one room and call the police,” stated a summary of the call.

Three days later police received another call; the details were macabre. Amer and the others were allegedly lined up and “whipped with electrical leads or computer cables” by their father, who contests the claims against him.

In light of these allegations, the five boys received a child protection order forbidding Abubaker contacting them. But their troubles were far from over. At Longhill school the four younger boys were subjected to racist comments and bullying. The attacks were daily, merciless and unrelenting. Water was lobbed over the twins as they queued for lunch in the canteen. Bread buns were hurled at them as they ate. Taunts of “Paki” and “terrorist” followed them around the playground. They were cornered and beaten on the school bus back to Saltdean.

Even when they made it to home turf, there was no respite. Anti-Islamic graffiti began appearing on the quaint seafront promenade, 200 metres from the family home. Adjacent to their house lay Saltdean Oval, the park where the Deghayes boys played football on summer evenings. It was their favourite pastime, until the bullies from Longhill began targeting them there. They stopped playing football, a decision that upset all the brothers. At night, their attackers would mass at the Oval and creep up the hill towards their home where they would stand in the small front garden, shouting obscenities, the familiar favourites of “Paki” and “terrorist”. Bricks would hit the house. Some of the gang would start kicking the front door. When they grew bored, they would leave. Then the family would quietly shuffle to bed, too petrified to venture downstairs.

According to local activists, police gave the impression they were happy to abandon the family. The twins in particular felt the police did not respond to the racism and that reports of harassment and antisocial behaviour against them were not investigated, according to one of their case workers. Behind Brighton’s progressive image of green politics, veganism and tolerance was a competing, ugly reality.

During the spring term of 2010 the twins made a pact that the bullies wouldn’t win. They installed boxing equipment in their parents’ Saltdean garage and spent hours pummelling punchbags they pretended were the torsos of their adversaries. They worked out every night, buoyed when their arms and necks started to thicken.

Their transformation from bullied children to ringleaders was rapid. Those present at the Deghayeses’ third child protection conference in mid-July 2011 were startled. Though the meeting had been convened to determine if the boys were safe from their father, it became evident that the tables were turned. Officials were alarmed by the speed of the power shift. “The five boys would now take on their father and not be abused by him. They have become both a powerful group in the community and in the family home,” their assessment concluded.

Over the next couple of years, while Amer remained a diligent student, Abdullah, Abdul and Jaffar were routinely excluded from school. The twins enrolled others who were ostracised from mainstream education and formed the Hillstreet Gang, which Jaffar also joined. HSG quickly became notorious for violence, dealing weed and troublemaking throughout the city, resulting in a blanket ban for all members from most of the city’s shops, bars and public spaces in May 2012.

Around this time Amer set up a rudimentary gym at the al-Quds mosque, where Abubaker had just become a trustee. And, in part because their reputation meant no other gym in the city allowed them entry, HSG joined a cohort of teenagers who were gathering there daily

The police monitoring the Deghayeses and others viewed the popularity of the mosque gym – dubbed the Brothers’ Gym by the gang – as an unequivocally positive development. Jaffar’s attendance at the mosque had, after all, coincided with an abrupt fall in his offending.

Amer, who was now commuting daily to London’s Oxford Street to a job in Specsavers, was delighted that so many of his brothers’ friends were turning to Islam. The converts learned how to prostrate themselves, kneeling with their foreheads pointing towards Mecca. They were taught Arabic phrases, such as “As-Salaam-Alaikum”, meaning “Peace be unto you”.

Twelve months previously the twins had seldom identified as Muslims; now Islam became the gang’s identity. By March 2013 at least 20 of the group called themselves Muslim. For many in the gang it was the first belief system they had.

But the largely positive energy inside the gym was about to change. The group often watched videos on their phones and a film about the Syrian civil war had electrified Amer. A German film-maker had spent weeks inside Aleppo, documenting its civilian population under siege.

Screened on Channel 4 News on 25 March 2013, it followed a group of exhausted kids working in a makeshift hospital. They attempted to keep other children, pale and bloodied, from death. One boy was no more than 12, a doctor’s coat drowning his frame. He had an 11-year-old friend, Yusef, who helped him tend to the wounded. The film closed with Yusef lying dead, open-mouthed, in the place where he once helped others. He had been killed by a Syrian army bomb.

Amer was overcome with a sensation that felt unusual: rage. Others were asking how Bashar al-Assad could get away with killing his own people, the country’s children. Even the twins, preoccupied with their own combat zone on the streets of Brighton, railed against Assad.

Something else in the Channel 4 film caught Amer’s eye. Standing against Assad in the absence of western intervention was an Islamist group called Jabhat al-Nusra. The programme followed them handing out food and clothing to Aleppo’s stranded civilians, giving spiritual guidance, relaxing after a firefight by playing Fifa. Amer began investigating al-Nusra, watching grainy footage of men carrying AK-47s marching behind tanks and shouting Allahu-Akbar after every victory.

March had been the bloodiest month of the Syrian war with 6,000 deaths. Amer said it was obvious the ummah – the community of Muslims – needed defending. He said that every Muslim in the group, including the converts, had a duty. The gang agreed there was a need to fight back. One Islamic concept was starting to appeal: jihad.

Over the summer he spent hours studying the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who two years earlier had been killed in a US drone strike in Yemen’s tribal badlands. Al-Awlaki lived on in more than 70,000 YouTube videos, and part of his potency was that he preached in English. With no Arabic required, just internet access, it gave him enormous reach to Muslims in the west – and all those in the Brothers’ Gym.

In one video, shot in Yemen in 2010, Awlaki warned: “The west will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens.” The horrific experiences of Omar in Guantanamo Bay were familiar to everyone in HSG. They all knew what was possible.

On 29 August 2013 the British parliament rejected a plan for military strikes against Assad. Then Barack Obama asked Congress to postpone a vote to authorise a US military strike on Syria. It seemed clear to the Brothers’ Gym that doing something was the only option. “I didn’t want to be the person just standing on the sideline and watching,” said Amer. He knew what his grandfather would have done.

Amer’s father had maintained connections with the Muslim humanitarian sector since the Bosnian war. One charity was called the Albayan Foundation, based in the predominantly Muslim area of Sparkhill, Birmingham. The organisation had been among the first to deliver aid to Syria after the conflict began two years earlier. Albayan’s next convoy would be heading for Syria soon, in less than a month. Amer told his father that he needed to help Syria’s beleaguered civilians. His schoolfriend, Mo Khan, was also keen to come along for the ride.

On the eve of their departure, Amer told his mum that he was going to Libya to see relatives and she let him have his passport. Mid-afternoon the next day, 8 October 2013, two white lorries that had travelled from Birmingham picked him and Mo Khan up, along with Abubaker, sucking a Rothmans cigarette.

Two hours later they reached Calais and from there headed south-west into Germany. After six days and 3,000 miles they reached the Turkish border. On 14 October, the two white lorries entered Syria via the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

Close up, the Atmeh refugee camp was wretched. Recent rains had ravaged the site and its paths had become quagmires. Amer watched families struggling uphill, slipping in mud mixed with excrement. The camp’s 25,000 occupants had been forgotten. Winter approached, but it had no running water, no electricity, no heat, no sewage systems and no UN relief convoys. Each day, more refugees arrived, all with fresher, more brutish accounts of Assad’s men.

Armed men, AK-47s slung over their shoulders, could be spotted outside the camp. The refugees called them “the spicy crew”. They were the jihadists, Jabhat al-Nusra. The surrounding hills belonged to them. From Atmeh, Amer could see their black banners, trembling in the breeze. Amer and Mo Khan planned to join them. But the charity workers wouldn’t let them out of their sight. After a week, their tasks almost done, they were no closer to becoming jihadists. Finally, the Birmingham charity workers said they were finished. They were all going home. Reluctantly, Amer and Mo helped pack up and climbed in a van. On 22 October they left Syria.

As they drove towards Turkey’s Hatay airport, Amer and Mo Khan hatched a yarn about flying to Libya to see Amer’s family. Outside the departure terminal they said goodbye to the charity drivers and watched them trundle off in the direction of Birmingham. The instant they disappeared Amer and Mo turned towards the taxi rank. “The border please,” said Amer.

Crossing the border was effortless as it was controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra. Amer and Mo Khan simply told the border guards they wanted to join the jihad against Assad. They were escorted to a truck and taken south to an al-Nusra training camp.

The camp was highly professional. Not only were there huge stockpiles of weaponry, but massive reserves of manpower. Foreign fighters were flooding in from across Europe, most arriving via humanitarian convoys.

Training began with a dawn prayer and an hour run led by a Chechen special forces officer. Then it was tactical tutorials, ambush training and simulated attacks, followed by prayers and lectures by Islamist teachers. Amer and Mo learned basic firing techniques and assault tactics, how to clean a rifle, tie a tourniquet and clean a deep flesh wound. In two weeks, they learned how to be jihadists.

Back in Sussex, on the morning of 11 November, a meeting of senior police, counter-extremism chiefs, youth justice bosses and representatives from Prevent gathered to ascertain if Jaffar was at risk of being radicalised following a recent diatribe he had made in public about Americans being terrorists. During the meeting, the family’s former social worker revealed that Jaffar’s oldest brother, Amer, was now in Syria. The revelation prompted little urgency. Not a single expert at the meeting believed the 16-year-old was vulnerable. “There are no risks of radicalisation,” was the final, unanimous verdict.

Had they taken even a cursory look at his phone, they would have quickly learned that Jaffar was in frequent touch with his 19-year-old brother. From there, they would have rapidly discovered that Jaffar and a large number of his friends were discussing travelling to Syria.

At the start of 2014 there was a major Brothers’ Gym meeting to discuss who was prepared to make the journey. Jaffar was driving the plan. His friend Ibby had already put his name down and Abdullah decided to go too. Like Jaffar, Abdullah felt he had run out of rope in Brighton. “They were thinking that they couldn’t do anything with their lives, there was no point in staying, that they couldn’t get a job,” said Abdullah’s friend Bill.

They bought three one-way £59 tickets to Istanbul, sitting together. They half-expected to be raided by police in the hours following the transaction. Nothing happened.

The security staff on duty at Luton on 28 January 2014 could not have missed the three teenagers; the towering pipe-cleaner figure of Ibby framed by the squat physiques of Jaffar and Abdullah. Everything was against them. Ibby was carrying the passport of his 15-year-old brother, a person who looked nothing like him and who was not allowed to fly without an authorised adult. Jaffar was on an extremist airport watchlist. Abdullah, 17, one of the most notorious faces in his force area, was not only on bail but due in court in several weeks. Police also had intelligence that Abdullah and Jaffar’s eldest brother was currently fighting for an al-Qaida-affiliated group in Syria. Finally, they had bought one-way tickets, at a stroke compromising their cover story of a sightseeing trip to Istanbul. A rookie mistake.

Shortly after 2pm they checked in and approached passport control. They waltzed through. It was the same story at Istanbul Atatürk airport. As the number one arrival point for foreign fighters headed for Syria in early 2014, the airport’s border officials had received instruction to profile Muslims arriving from the west – especially those with no return tickets. But the three teenagers from Brighton skipped through security without a hitch.

They could never have envisaged how straightforward it would be to enter Syria. Jabhat al-Nusra had seized control of the crossing six weeks earlier and the three boys, including the youngest British jihadist who would enter the Syrian conflict, were almost dragged over by the welcoming guards.

On 5 April 2014, Abdul and Abdullah spent their 18th birthdays three time zones apart. For Abdul it was a fairly low-key day at the mosque gym. Abdullah celebrated his arrival to adulthood at the frontline of the al-Nusra offensive, occupying a trench south of the village of Salma in Syria’s Latakia province. Most of the rebel fighters were weary and cold; supply lines were stretched. Syrian artillery had started shelling their positions, but Abdullah had boundless energy. The more they were targeted, the more he seemed invigorated.

Over the days that followed the fighting intensified. At least 40 foreign recruits died. The Brighton contingent found themselves three-quarters up Mount Chalma. Their unit commander took them aside. A force of enemy troops had gathered on the other side of the mountain. “He just said: ‘Let’s go around the army and surround them’,” said Amer. They set off, the Mediterranean glittering below them in the late afternoon sun.

A ferocious burst of firing erupted from a line of trees just ahead. The al-Nusra fighters crouched as the weight of fire intensified. To his left, Amer noticed a figure moving ahead, Abdullah, out on his own, chasing the regime troops down the scree of the steep mountainside. He could hear his younger brother shouting, pursuing the enemy like he once chased rival gangs along Marine Parade. Then Amer heard a sharp crack, a sniper rifle. He watched his younger brother tumble heavily to the ground. By the time they reached him, it was too late. Abdullah Deghayes was dead. He was 18 years and six days old.

Einas was the first to receive the news. She initially refused to believe it. Soon after, an image surfaced on Facebook. Shot at dusk and taken from the chest up, it showed Abdullah lying on his back in a combat jacket. He looked serene, as if he was sleeping. Abdul and Mohammed, who had been lugging the belongings of their three brothers in Syria into their new temporary council home in Portslade, heard their mum’s wailing. Abdul broke down uncontrollably when he learned his twin was dead.

Within six months another brother and two friends were also dead. Mo Khan had been killed by a Russian explosive, Ibby by an American cruise missile, and Jaffar by Syrian army regulars. His body was never found.

Ibby’s mother, Khadijah Kamara, wrote to the Home Office asking why her eldest boy had been allowed to travel using not just the wrong passport but that of a 15-year-old. “As a mother I feel that I am owed an explanation,” she wrote. But no explanation was forthcoming. “What made me angry was that nothing was done about it. My son was just another dead jihadi. They let them go to die.”

The city put a lid on the case, hoping that no one would pry too closely. Within the council and police, the fact that the scale and scope of the extremism had not been exposed was a source of relief. Rather than drilling down into the issues – the injustices and ignorance that caused the problem – officials walked away, keen to move on.

Abubaker’s temper landed him in trouble again. In the summer of 2018 he faced trial for assaulting his wife. He was found not guilty of assault, but sentenced to 18 months in prison for attempting to prevent Einas testifying against him. Abubaker joined his youngest son in jail. Four months earlier Mohammed had been sentenced at Lewes crown court. The court heard that he was caught in a catch-22. The teenager was trapped in a cycle of dealing to repay the debts he had accrued by using drugs as “a much-needed escape from everything going on around him”.

Meanwhile, Abdul, the twin who had stayed at home, is alleged to have evolved into a serious criminal, with a string of convictions for violence, robbery and drug-dealing. In September 2017, he was jailed after police raided the home where he lived with his mother and found scales, deal bags, burner phones, wads of cash, even a safe. And a lot of drugs: cocaine, ketamine, MDMA and amphetamines with a combined street value of £2,250.

Amer spoke to him from Syria shortly after he was set free the following summer. Abdul sounded contrite, almost remorseful. He promised his older brother he had changed his ways. But the 22-year-old, who had come so close to travelling to fight in Syria, embraced the only life he knew. He fell back into leading Hillstreet.

In February 2019, Abdul is said to have met up with a cocaine dealer known as Frank. What happened next is the subject of a murder trial. Abdul was stabbed eight times. A knife sank nine centimetres into his body, skewering a kidney and slicing the femoral vein and artery in his left leg, a grievous wound. For eight hours doctors at the Royal Sussex county hospital fought to save Abdul. But at 6am, the sky still black, specialists agreed his injuries were “untreatable”. Abdul Deghayes was dead.

His brother Mohammed was allowed out of prison to attend Abdul’s funeral. Abubaker addressed the mourners. His son was venerated, he said, recounting his recent spell in prison when he was afforded hero status by so many inmates because he was “Abdul’s dad”. But Abubaker’s central message was that Abdul’s death must act as the catalyst for his friends to mend their ways. “It’s time to turn the corner,” said the 50-year-old and stared at the gang. Some lowered their heads. And he said that it was time to go clean. “No more intoxication, no more getting high. It’s time to chase the super-high of Islam.” Then he pleaded for calm, no more bloodshed. “Please no revenge, no retribution. In Islam we show peace to everyone, wherever they are. Wherever they come from,” said Abubaker.

Einas, who had now lost three of her sons, kept a low profile in Saltdean, living in a quiet street close to where the family first arrived in the UK. Occasionally friends saw her in the city, always meticulous in her hijab, but she was shy, leaving most to speculate how she coped with what had happened to her five boys.

Six years on, Amer is the only one of the five to remain in Syria. Having arrived fresh-faced in the autumn of 2013 with the aim of toppling Assad, the 25-year-old had not imagined he would still be there. After the death of Jaffar, Abdullah and Mo Khan, he sought refuge in family life. He had married Natalie, a Syrian national, in 2015, and they had a daughter, Sham. They moved to a modest home in an Idlib suburb whose roads were lined with rubble and pock-marked with craters. Nearby was a gym and mosque and he had friends, including six British jihadists. Mostly, he enjoyed spending time with his wife, watching CBeebies on YouTube with his daughter.

But the defeat at Aleppo had dramatically curbed the ambitions of the jihadists. Shoehorned into a sliver of land in the north-west, all their hope of an Islamic emirate had faded. The only good news, said Amer, was that Islamic State were finally routed.

He had started contemplating his future and towards the end of 2019 he was sounding different in his calls home. Once he described himself as “beaten” and he began feeling homesick. He wanted his family to meet Sham and Natalie. He missed the sea, the squawk of seagulls.

But the issue of Syrian returnees following the defeat of the Islamic State had turned toxic. Ministers threatened severe consequences for anyone attempting to return from Syria. In May 2019 the then home secretary, Sajid Javid, gave British citizens in Idlib province an ultimatum: leave within 28 days or face a 10-year prison sentence if they attempted to return to the UK.

Amer was worried, fearful of what it meant for him and his family. He occasionally wondered what the UK security services thought of him. But it was the answer to another question that he most wanted.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/mar/22/the-brighton-jihadists-bullied-brothers-who-went-into-battle

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Coronavirus: Greece severs contact with Turkey, suspends UK flights

23 March 2020

Greece has suspended flights from Britain and nearly all incoming travel from Turkey, an official said Monday as the official coronavirus death toll rose to 17.

Flights from Britain and all travel from Turkey, except that by Greek nationals, residents and goods, are suspended to April 15, acting government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni told reporters.

The announcement came hours after Greek authorities began enforcing a nationwide lockdown, limiting people to their homes except for essential outings.

Greece has already suspended flights from Italy, Spain and non-EU countries.

Special flights have brought back over 1,000 Greeks, the foreign ministry said Sunday.

Those returning, mainly from other European countries, are going into compulsory 14-day quarantine.

There are 17 recorded deaths and 624 officially announced infections from the coronavirus in Greece, which has a population of 11 million.

The tough new measures mirror similar restrictions rolled out in other European nations, including hard-hit Italy, Spain and France.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/03/23/Coronavirus-Greece-severs-contact-with-Turkey-suspends-UK-flights.html

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EU to send €20 million in aid to Iran, Venezuela amid COVID-19 pandemic

23 March 2020

The EU has pledged €20 million in aid for Iran and Venezuela in their fight against the novel coronavirus, urging the international community to follow suit.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said Monday the bloc is preparing to send 20 million euros' worth of humanitarian aid to Iran and Venezuela in the coming weeks.

Borrell said Tehran and Caracas are both under swinging US sanctions aimed at starving their governments of income.

The US sanctions on Iran’s oil industry have put the Islamic Republic in a very difficult situation amid the COVID-19 crisis, he said.

Borrell said shipments of food, medicine and medical equipment to these countries should not be affected by the US sanctions.

It has to be reaffirmed because many believe that if they participate in this kind of humanitarian trade they can be sanctioned, the top diplomat said.

This is not the case, he said, but it has to be reaffirmed in order for everybody to understand that they can participate in this kind of humanitarian help.

He further pointed to Tehran's request for financial help from the International Money Fund for its battle against the pandemic, and said Brussels will support this request.

Earlier this month, the Central Bank of Iran asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $5 billion emergency funding to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 12, Abdolnaser Hemmati, the governor of the Central Bank, said he had written to the IMF’s head, Kristalina Georgieva, to stress Iran’s “right to benefit from the fund’s $50-billion Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI).”

The IMF has not yet responded to the request, but Iran was sidelined from an initiative by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to coordinate efforts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to fight the coronavirus pandemic last week.

The IMF earlier rejected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's similar request for $5 billion in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic in the Latin American country.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/23/621469/EU-urges-intl-community-to-aid-Iran-fight-against-COVID19

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COVID-19: Greece suspends travel to Turkey, UK

Büşra Nur Bilgiç Çakmak

23.03.2020

Greece is suspending all travels to Turkey and the U.K. to stem the spread of COVID-19, local media reported Monday.

The Health Ministry announced the decision Sunday night in the official gazette, Greek daily Ekathimerini reported.

Flights are banned from Monday 6 a.m. local time (0400GMT) until April 15, it added.

Ekathimerini also said the Greek government is planning to suspend all international flights after Greek citizens abroad return to the country.

According to U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University, Greece has 624 confirmed COVID-19 cases and the virus claimed 15 victims so far.

There are over 341,700 confirmed cases worldwide, with a death toll surpassing 14,700, while more than 98,800 have recovered.

The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, first emerged in Wuhan, China last December and has spread to at least 167 countries and territories.

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a pandemic.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/covid-19-greece-suspends-travel-to-turkey-uk/1775821

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South Asia

 

Afghan forces eliminate more than 50 militants

March 22, 2020

In response to the militants mounting assaults, Afghan forces on Sunday killed more than 50 insurgents in past 24 hours.

The Afghan national defense and security forces killed 27 insurgents, including their leader Qari Hafiz and wounded 19 others in the northern Kunduz province in “active defense”, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

It added 12 more insurgents were killed and 14 wounded in Kandahar, eight others were killed and seven wounded in Helmand and five killed and six captured in Zabul. All are southern provinces.

In past two days, the insurgents staged coordinated assaults in Zabul, Baghlan and Kapisa provinces, killing at least 40 Afghan forces. The attacks came after a relative reduction in violence in line with the rejuvenated yet fragile peace process.

Condemning the attacks, President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani said it shows the militants reluctance to commit to peace.

https://nation.com.pk/22-Mar-2020/afghan-forces-eliminate-more-than-50-militants

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Bangladesh declares public holiday, army to assist in COVID-19 fight

Mar 24, 2020

DHAKA: Due to the increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, the Bangladeshi government has declared a public holiday from March 26 to April 4, while the army will be deployed to assist authorities in the fight against the pandemic.

Bangladeshi Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam made the announcement at a press conference in Dhaka on Monday, reports Xinhua news agency.

"Army would be deployed to assist local administration as all the government and the private offices in the country will be closed from March 26 to April 4."

He said the shutdown will not affect emergency services such as law enforcement agencies and hospitals.

Public transport will operate on a limited scale but markets will stay open as usual, Islam added.

People have been asked not to leave their homes, except to collect emergency supplies and daily essentials.

The citizens have also been asked to practice social distancing.

Regarding banking, he said services have been limited and the central Bangladesh Bank will give necessary directives.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/bangladesh-declares-public-holiday-army-to-assist-in-covid-19-fight/articleshow/74786018.cms

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Churches lock doors as Covid-19 cases surge in Bangladesh

March 23, 2020

Several Catholic dioceses in Bangladesh have decided to suspend liturgies in churches indefinitely and warned the faithful against religious gatherings as cases of the deadly Covid-19 disease surge.

The Muslim-majority nation, which has about eight million people working abroad, has officially recorded 27 coronavirus cases, with five recovered patients and two deaths since the first three detections on March 8, according to the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research.

The government on March 16 announced the closure of all education institutes from March 17-31 and on March 22 suspended the Higher Secondary Certificate examination, which was supposed to be start on April 1. More than a million students were expected to take the month-long exams.

Authorities also put Shibchar subdistrict of Madaripur district on an emergency lockdown on March 19, largely because the area has seen hundreds of overseas workers return home in recent weeks.

On the same day, the government imposed a restriction on all political, social, cultural and religious gatherings to contain the virus. The order, however, didn’t specifically mention prayers in worship places such as mosques, temples or churches.

Churches ban public gatherings

Five out of eight Catholic archdioceses and dioceses — Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Mymensingh and Dinajpur — have put an indefinite ban on public participation in liturgies in churches.

Chittagong Archdiocese in southeastern Bangladesh announced on March 21 that churches will no longer hold any public liturgies including Sunday Mass to stop spreading Covid-19. This measure will be effective until the next notice.

Archbishop Moses Costa of Chittagong announced that as an emergency measure the official Facebook page of the archdiocese would broadcast online Sunday Masses starting March 22 and asked the faithful to join live Masses from home.

The first online Mass saw about 1,100 people join from home and abroad, with many giving positive feedback.

Online Masses are an emergency measure and cannot continue during ordinary times, said Manik D’Costa, pastoral coordinator of Chittagong Archdiocese.

“We should not continue this in an ordinary situation. People should come to church and the priests should go to the aged and sick with communion,” D’Costa said.

Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi issued a message to all priests urging them to announce a similar ban on public liturgies in churches until further notice.

“Arrange for sessions of forgiveness instead of individual confessions,” Bishop Rozario said on March 21.

Bishop James Romen Boiragi of Khulna issued a notice on March 22 that stated all public liturgies and religious gatherings in churches are banned from March 24 until further notice.

Optional participation

However, Dhaka Archdiocese, which covers capital city Dhaka and adjacent districts, has not banned public participation in church liturgies but made it optional.

Church authorities put a ban on various village-based liturgical and spiritual programs except Mass during the Lenten season.

Holy Rosary Church, the country’s largest Catholic church with more than 15,000 resident and migrant Catholics in central Dhaka, had an extremely low turnout for Sunday Mass on March 22.

It usually has 1,500 to 2,000 faithful during each of five Sunday Masses, but on the day only 150-200 attended, a Catholic source estimated.

However, the church issued a notice with several guidelines and precautions.

“The church will be open as usual, and priests will continue to offer Masses including on Sundays. Participation of faithful is an individual decision,” the notice read.

The notice urged people not to attend Mass wearing face masks or if they have been suffering from a cold, fever and coughing.

Some Catholics expressed dismay over Dhaka Archdiocese’s decision and called for an immediate ban on public gatherings in churches.

“Unbelievable! When the whole world is in home isolation, our clergy are behaving like Pharisees. They cannot protect themselves and cannot help people stay healthy. Are they not aware of the world situation now? It is a time to put actions over religiosity. Even the pope has closed down churches in the Vatican,” Suchitra Gomes wrote on Facebook on March 22.

Full report at:

https://www.ucanews.com/news/churches-lock-doors-as-covid-19-cases-surge-in-bangladesh/87524

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Afghan forces kill Qari Minhaj, Mullah Farqani; wound 3 other Taliban militants in Faryab

23 Mar 2020

The Afghan forces responded to a Taliban attack in northern Faryab province killing two Taliban commanders and wounding three other militants during the clash.

The 209th Shaheen Corps in a statement said the Taliban militants launched an attack on Gurziwan district around 2:30 am local time on Monday.

The statement further added that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces responded to the attack and killed Qari Minhaj and Mullah Furqani, the two commanders of the group.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/afghan-forces-kill-qari-minhaj-mullah-farqani-wound-3-other-taliban-militants-in-faryab-04548/

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Explosives-laden Humvee goes off prematurely in Badghis, killing 4 Taliban militants

24 Mar 2020

A Humvee Armored Personnel Carrier packed with explosives went off prematurely in Badghis province of Afghanistan, killing at least 4 Taliban militants.

The Special Operations Corps in a statement said the Taliba militants were looking to use the explosives-laden Humvee in an attack agains the Afghan forces in Bala Murghab district.

However, the explosives went off prematurely which killed 4 Taliban militants and wounded another insurgent.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/explosives-laden-humvee-goes-off-prematurely-in-badghis-killing-4-taliban-militants-04552/

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Pompeo meets Mullah Baradar after failed talks with Afghan leaders and cutting $1b in aid

24 Mar 2020

The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy political chief of Taliban in Qatar, the Taliban group said.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson for the political office of Taliban in Qatar said Mullah Baradar met with Pompeo in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

He said the two sides held talks on better implementation of peace deal and immediate release of prisoners so that Afghans can reach to an agreement on future political setup, lasting peace and ceasefire.

This comes as the State Department earlier announced that Washington is cutting $1 billion in economic assistance to Afghanistan in reaction to ongoing political impasse.

According to a statement released by State Department, Washington is prepared to further reduce its assistance to Afghanistan by additional $1 billion next year.

The statement further added “The United States deeply regrets that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have informed Secretary Pompeo that they have been unable to agree on an inclusive government that can meet the challenges of governance, peace, and security, and provide for the health and welfare of Afghan citizens.”

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/pompeo-meets-mullah-baradar-after-failed-talks-with-afghan-leaders-and-cutting-1b-in-aid-04551/

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Skype call reconnects Taliban and Afghan officials

SAYED SALAHUDDIN

March 24, 2020

KABUL: With the cancellation of many international flights due to the global coronavirus outbreak, Afghan government officials and Taliban delegates resorted to holding talks on Skype to move ahead with the technical details for a prisoner exchange program.

The meeting, which took place on Sunday and was facilitated by the US and Qatar, breaks a deadlock which had threatened to derail the talks.The prisoner swap deal was part of a major condition set by both groups prior to signing a historic peace deal on Feb. 29, a move aimed at ending Washington’s war in Afghanistan — the most protracted conflict in American history.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who signed the deal following over a year of secret talks with the Taliban, described Sunday’s discussions as “important, serious and detailed.”

He tweeted on Sunday that: “Prisoner releases by both sides is an important step in the peace process, as stated in the US-Taliban agreement,” adding that the prisoner exchange program was the need of the hour to limit the spread of the virus.

As per the deal, which the Taliban signed with Khalilzad, 5,000 Taliban inmates were expected to be freed by Kabul on March 10, in exchange for 1,000 government forces held by the militants.

However, President Ashraf Ghani, whose government was excluded from the talks, refused to release all 5,000 prisoners, pushing instead for a phased-out and conditional release.

On Sunday night, due to the coronavirus outbreak, Ghani’s government said it would free several prisoners from jails, but did not specify whether Taliban inmates would be among them.

The Taliban had previously refused to speak to the government until all prisoners were released.

The group has stepped up deadly attacks against government forces since but avoided targeting foreign forces, as promised in the deal signed with Washington.

Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Ghani’s national security adviser, said that government officials also discussed other vital issues, which the Taliban have so far refused to consider.

“It was important to seize this opportunity for peace, and we have direct negotiations with the Taliban. What lies ahead is a reduction in violence, a permanent and comprehensive cease fire and the exchange of prisoners,” he told Arab News.

The Taliban’s Doha office spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, also confirmed the meeting on Twitter but stressed that the discussion was only about the release of prisoners.

Some analysts regard Sunday’s discussions as a partial breakthrough in ending an impasse over prisoner releases, which blocked the start of talks between Ghani’s government and the Taliban.

Speaking to Arab News, lawmaker Waliullah Shaheen called it a “positive development.”

Sami Yousafzai, an Afghan journalist who knows several Taliban leaders based in Qatar, said the talks were part of “efforts to end the deadlock.”

Intra-Afghan talks will follow the prisoner exchange, Shaheen said, without divulging more details.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1646236/world

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Africa

 

Somalia: US Kills 15 al-Shabab Terrorists in Latest Somalia Airstrikes

23 MARCH 2020

U.S. airstrikes in Somalia this week killed more than 15 al-Shabab terrorists who were battling African Union and Somali forces, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman Major Karl Wiest told VOA on Friday.

The militants posed an “imminent threat” to international forces who, according to a U.S. defense official, have now secured the town of Janaale in the country’s Lower Shabelle region and are building a forward operating base there.

"Not to spike the football, but that's exactly the type of incremental progress we're seeing" from partner forces, said the defense official.

AFRICOM said in a press release that it had conducted five strikes Monday and Tuesday against al-Shabab near Janaale, in coordination with the Somali government.

The U.S. military’s casualty assessment, which is normally included in the press release, has been slowed because of “dense vegetation in the area,” a defense official told VOA.

U.S. forces were nearby advising Somali partners at the time of the strikes. None were wounded in counter-al-Shabab operations there, officials said.

Al-Shabab 'propaganda' dismissed

Al-Shabab’s Shadada News Agency claimed dozens of AMISOM and Somali forces were killed battling the terror group earlier this week in the Lower Shabelle, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

Those claims are “another example of al-Shabab trying to further their deceptive narrative and spread lies and propaganda in support of their violent cause,” AFRICOM spokeswoman Lieutenant Christina Gibson told VOA on Thursday.

Last week, when asked by VOA whether these increased strikes reflected an increased threat from al-Shabab, AFRICOM commander General Stephen Townsend said that "the threat has been higher in the last few months than it was eight months ago,” when he took over the command.

The U.S. has carried out 31 strikes against al-Shabab to date in 2020. Data released to VOA by a U.S. defense official show the U.S. carried out 29 airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria from January 1 to March 1, the latest date for which strike data were available.

Defeat of caliphate

Strikes in Iraq and Syria have significantly tapered off since the territorial defeat of the so-called Islamic State caliphate last March.

AFRICOM conducted a record 63 strikes in Somalia last year. Most were against al-Shabab, which has an estimated 6,000 militants in Somalia, with a handful of strikes against Islamic State.

There were 47 U.S. military strikes in Somalia in 2018.

https://allafrica.com/stories/202003230206.html

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Libyan warring parties claim no coronavirus cases despite foreign fighters

24 March 2020

Neither of the two main warring parties in Libya has reported any cases of coronavirus in the country despite foreign fighters recently arriving to the instability-plagued North African nation.

Libya has been in a state of conflict and instability since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country is currently divided between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), backed by Turkey and based in the capital Tripoli, and the Libyan National Army (LNA), based in the eastern city of Benghazi and led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar.

As the coronavirus pandemic has swept the world, with infections reported in all of Libya’s neighbors, neither the GNA or the LNA has officially reported any cases of coronavirus. Given the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 virus, observers have voiced concern that the lack of cases is inaccurate and reflects a lack of testing facilities.

“No wonder that two countries - Libya and Yemen - thrown and kept in continuing war and chaos don’t have the health facilities to even report on coronavirus cases,” wrote one user on Twitter.

No wonder that two countries - Libya and Yemen - thrown and kept in continuing war and chaos don't have the health facilities to even report on coronavirus cases.

One might add South Sudan and Zimbabwe - the latter under US sanctions since 2003. pic.twitter.com/BrgycFbdyR

— Our Hidden History (@OurHiddenHistry) March 23, 2020

Both the GNA and the Benghazi-based Libyan administration supported by the LNA have declared coronavirus curfews despite the lack of reported cases.

The GNA declared on Sunday a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and the closure of public spaces as well as restaurants, cafes and party halls. It has also banned funeral and wedding ceremonies. The Benghazi-based administration had previously enforced its own nighttime curfew in areas it controlled on Thursday.

Libyans have been pictured wearing face masks despite the lack of reported cases.

Fears that foreign fighters could bring coronavirus

Foreign fighters from a variety of countries with coronavirus cases are allegedly fighting on both sides in Libya, sparking fears that they could have transmitted the virus from abroad.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian militants have been sent to Libya in support of the GNA after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a deal with GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. The deal reiterated Turkey’s support for the GNA in return for it backing Turkey’s claims to maritime rights over vast swaths of the eastern Mediterranean.

The GNA has also accused the LNA of bringing in foreign fighters. According to a report in the British newspaper The Financial Times, the GNA alleges that Syria’s Cham Wings airlines has brought Syrian fighters to Libya who could pose health risks.

The GNA itself has been accused of having links to extremist militias trained by Turkey in Libya and bringing in Syrian fighters, including ISIS members who escaped from prison when Turkey attacked Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/north-africa/2020/03/24/Libyan-warring-parties-claim-no-coronavirus-cases-despite-foreign-fighters.html

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Jordan steps up efforts to provide for basic needs of 10m living under virus curfew

DAOUD KUTTAB

March 24, 2020

AMMAN: The Jordanian government on Monday announced a series of programs to help ease conditions for 10 million people living under a round-the-clock coronavirus curfew.

Minister of media affairs, Amjad Adaileh, said pharmacies had been allowed to make free home deliveries of medicines, along with bread and water, and bakeries had been given the green light to restart work from Tuesday morning.

Through the initiatives, more of which will be introduced over the coming days, officials are hoping to prevent a repeat of the panic buying witnessed in supermarkets before the curfew was imposed on Saturday.

Jordan currently has 127 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease.

Around 70,000 students have begun distance learning using a curriculum broadcast on Jordan’s sports satellite station as well as online.

Government officials expected the curfew to remain in place for some time and appealed for Jordanians to adjust their lifestyles appropriately.

Samar Muhareb, director of the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) legal aid organization, told Arab News that the government’s plan of supplying basic humanitarian needs was necessary due to the large number of people affected.

“But from our experience in dealing with the Syrian crisis, after you deal with basic needs you need to address other needs or else you will be faced with social unrest.

“All of sudden you will find problems of people with aching teeth, or smoking addicts that have run out of cigarettes, and this might turn normally peaceful people into beasts if these issues are not dealt with.”

Muhareb pointed out that the Jordanian government needed to be transparent with the public over dealing with the outbreak.

“In an emergency you begin with providing emergency protection and support and after protection you need to work on the need to identify the needs and begin a distribution plan that can help address the public’s need to cope with the long-term emergency,” she added.

It was only a matter of time before “the government must open up the banks and get money into people’s hands,” Muhareb said.

Linda Al-Kalash, executive director of Tamkeen for legal aid and human rights, told Arab News: “I hope the government doesn’t plan to provide cash or other support only for Jordanian citizens.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1646186/middle-east

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Libya: Haftar militias target Tripoli airport

Waleed Abdullah

23.03.2020

TRIPOLI

Militias loyal to Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar targeted Mitiga International Airport, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) said in a statement on Monday.

"Five civilians were killed and six wounded since the deceptive announcement of Haftar's spokesman about a false cease-fire," said Mustafa al-Majei, spokesman for the GNA-led Burkan Al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage) Operation.

"Militias targeted Mitiga International Airport with rockets and the shelling was still going on," al-Majei said, noting the airport has been closed for a while due to Haftar forces’ assaults.

On Saturday, Ahmed al-Mismari, spokesman for the Haftar militias, welcomed a humanitarian cease-fire proposed by the UN and European countries over the coronavirus.

Haftar militias, however, continue their attacks.

Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in by Libya: Haftar in eastern Libya, supported mainly by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and the GNA in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/libya-haftar-militias-target-tripoli-airport/1776222

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Nigeria: Security forces evacuate churches

Olarewaju Kola

23.03.2020

LAGOS, Nigeria

Security forces in southwest Nigeria evacuated worshippers from churches as part of measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Police and members of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) stormed some churches in the southwestern cities of Abeokuta and Lagos on Sunday to stop mass gatherings, witnesses told Anadolu Agency.

"Some policemen and civil defence corps came to our church located within Abeokuta city and chased away worshippers. We ended the service abstruptly," church-goer David Oyewole told Anadolu Agency.

Lagos and other states in the country recently announced bans on large gatherings -- including in religious worship centers -- to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Most churches in Abuja, the capital, did not hold Sunday services, local media reported.

There are currently 30 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Nigeria, with the first case emerging on Feb. 27 in Lagos.

The novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, emerged in Wuhan, China last December and has spread to at least 167 countries and regions, according to data compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/nigeria-security-forces-evacuate-churches/1775421

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Army destroys Boko Haram food supply vans

March 22, 2020

The Nigerian Army on Saturday said it had smashed Boko Haram food supply line and destroyed six vehicles used in conveying food and logistics to the hideouts of the terrorist group in Lake Chad and Sambisa Forest.

The Acting General Officer Commanding, 7 Division, Nigerian Army, Brig-Gen. Abdul Ibrahim; who supervised the symbolic destruction of the intercepted vehicles and materials, said four persons were arrested when the vehicles were intercepted.

He told journalists in Maiduguri, Borno State, on Saturday that the intercepted vehicles comprised four pickup trucks and two Peugeot station wagons.

He said the arrested suspects include Abubakar Sadik, Fannami Modu and Modu Chellu of various addresses within Maiduguri.

He said intelligence reports showed that the arrested suspects indulged in supplying Boko Haram with logistics from Maiduguri.

“They have always transported food and logistics to the terrorist group in their enclaves in Sambisa Forest and Lake Chad region.

“Despite warnings, some of them still continue with the illicit and illegal business of supplying logistics and other materials to Boko Haram,” he added.

Full report at:

https://punchng.com/army-destroys-boko-haram-food-supply-vans/

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