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Islamic World News (23 Mar 2020 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Egypt’s Dar Al-Ifta Says Holding Prayers at Mosques despite Ban Is 'Forbidden' In Islam

• Covid-19: Jakim Sets Up Special Team to Handle Muslim Remains

• Section 144 Imposed On Mosque Activities in Islamabad

• Bangladesh: Islamic Foundation Urges Muslims to Pray At Home on Shab-e-Meraj

• Muslim Groups of UK Have Repeated Calls for Mosques to Close During the Coronavirus Crisis after Some Held Friday Prayers

• Al-Qaeda’s India Affiliate Hints at Shifting Focus to Kashmir

• Nigeria Islamic Movement Holds Ceremony to Commemorate Shuhada

• Prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound Suspended Over Virus


Arab World

• Egypt’s Dar Al-Ifta Says Holding Prayers at Mosques despite Ban Is 'Forbidden' In Islam

• Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Orders Curfew for 21 Days to Limit the Spread of Coronavirus

• Religion in conservative Mideast adapts to Covid-19 fears

• US-Backed Kurds Release over 80 ISIL Terrorists in Syria

• Coronavirus-infected mother, new-born quarantined at Lebanese hospital

• Iraq imposes nation-wide lockdown to contain coronavirus

• Qatar Airways to provide free flights to transport global medical aid to Iran: CEO

• Lebanon’s PM calls in army to enforce coronavirus lockdown

• Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia reports 119 new cases, bringing total to 511

• Lebanon told to ‘prepare for the worst’ as virus cases rise

• Drastic decline in new coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia’s Qatif


Southeast Asia

• Covid-19: Jakim Sets Up Special Team to Handle Muslim Remains

• Coronavirus: 12 Malaysians who attended Sulawesi's Tabligh event detained in Sabah

• Funerals of non-Muslims in Pahang kept to a minimum during MCO

• JAIM: Muslim marriage solemnisation ceremonies in Melaka postponed until after MCO period



• Section 144 Imposed On Mosque Activities in Islamabad

• Pakistan Locks Down Province, Bans International Flights As Coronavirus Spreads

• Pakistan Muslim League-Q: ‘Coronavirus Shows World Could End Without Weapons’

• Protests continue across country for release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman

• MQM-P rejoins federal cabinet on assurance of one more ministry

• Shahbaz offers family-run hospitals for Covid-19 patients

• Balochistan facing shortage of medical equipment: CM

• PM urges President Trump to lift sanctions on Iran

• IHC steps in to help stop COVID-19 spread in capital courts


South Asia

• Bangladesh: Islamic Foundation Urges Muslims to Pray At Home on Shab-e-Meraj

• Afghan Government Mulling Release of Prisoners to Prevent Coronavirus Outbreak

• Sreemangal UNO Office: Muslims and Hindus Coexisting In Harmony for 73 Years

• Afghan Special repulse Taliban attack in Zabul province

• Foreign diplomats contract coronavirus as Afghanistan reports 10 new cases

• Afghanistan confirms first death, 6 new positive cases of coronavirus

• Major Taliban offensive repulsed in Balkh; 9 militants killed, 4 others wounded



• Muslim Groups of UK Have Repeated Calls for Mosques to Close During the Coronavirus Crisis after Some Held Friday Prayers

• Uzbekistan’s ISIS Problem: Persecution At Home May Be Radicalising Young Muslims

• ‘Russia’s Wagner Tried To Bring Gaddafi’s Son To Power’



• Al-Qaeda’s India Affiliate Hints at Shifting Focus to Kashmir

• Muslim Outfits Vow To Come Back Stronger Against Citizenship Law, It Is Only a Temporary Break Owing to Coronavirus

• Jamia Students Temporarily Call Off Anti-CAA Stir Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

• Demand to shift, release Kashmiri prisoners grows amid Covid-19 spread



• Nigeria Islamic Movement Holds Ceremony to Commemorate Shuhada

• Four Burkina Faso ministers have coronavirus as cases rise to 64

• Jordan announces 13 new coronavirus cases, total at 112

• Tunisia allocates $850 mln to combat effects of coronavirus

• Nigeria: Security forces evacuate churches

• Somalia: Bomb blast kills 4, including police chief

• Somalia army arrests al-Shabaab intel chief

• Libya: 1 killed, 2 injured in attack by Haftar forces



• Prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound Suspended Over Virus

• 1,028 New Coronavirus Cases Diagnosed in Iran

• Russia Reiterates Necessity for US to Lift Inhuman Sanctions against Iran

• Iran Asks for Freedom of Palestinian Prisoners amid Coronavirus Pandemic

• Iranian Artists Launch Anti-US Sanctions Campaign amid Coronavirus Outbreak

• Coronavirus: Turkey’s death toll up nine to 30 as 289 new cases confirmed

• Coronavirus: Palestinian PM orders home confinement for West Bank Palestinians

• Iranian child in coma after being given alcohol for ‘coronavirus protection’

• Coronavirus: Iran death toll reaches 1,685

• Gaza reports first two coronavirus cases

• Senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards dies of ‘chemical injuries’

• Israeli troops shoot dead Palestinian man in West Bank

• Yemeni air defence deters Saudi-led jets from striking areas in Ma’rib

• Haniyeh urges Saudi king to release Palestinians in Saudi jails amid virus outbreak

• Palestinians in West Bank must stay at home: Palestine PM

• Palestinian prisoners threaten hunger strike over Israeli coronavirus response

• Use socks as face masks to avoid virus: Israel to Palestinians

• UAE-, Saudi-backed militants clash in Yemen's Aden again


North America

• Trump Aides Clash over Military Escalation with Iran: Report

• Pompeo rushes to Kabul to jumpstart flagging US-Taliban peace deal

• US envoy says Kabul, Taliban in first prisoner exchange talks

• Pakistan PM urges Trump to lift Iran sanctions as country fights virus outbreak

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: https://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/egypt’s-dar-al-ifta-says-holding-prayers-at-mosques-despite-ban-is--forbidden--in-islam/d/121384



Egypt’s Dar Al-Ifta Says Holding Prayers at Mosques despite Ban Is 'Forbidden' In Islam

22 Mar 2020

Egypt’s Dar Al-Ifta, the central authority issuing religious rulings, has said that holding daily prayers or Friday congregations at mosques despite a recently announced ban over coronavirus fears is religiously "forbidden".

Egypt on Saturday ordered mosques and churches to shut to worshippers in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus, joining other countries who have taken the same step.

"Insistence on holding Friday and mass prayers in mosques, under the pretext of practicing rituals and preserving obligatory [duties], despite authorities banning  them, is prohibited," Dar Al-Ifta said in a statement on Sunday.

The religious institution said that "preserving lives" is a main aspect of Islam while calling on the faithful to comply with preventative measures taken by the government.

Egypt has reported 294 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 10 deaths.

Egypt had earlier imposed restrictions on the time allocated for prayers and sermons, and religious authorities, including the top authority of Al-Azhar, said Muslims are "permitted" to pray at home to minimize the risk of virus transmission. But last Friday, believers crowded mosques during the weekly prayers.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments said a special 'azan', call to Islamic prayer, would be broadcast on radio and TV starting Sunday noon.

The move to change to the "cataclysm azan" is aimed to "deliver an awareness message that we are in an emergency and exceptional situation that requires all of us to take the utmost care and caution in preventive and precautionary" measures, the ministry said.

Islamic scholars say the special azan was used during the time of natural disasters, pandemics, or at risk occasions at earlier times in the history of Islam when people were demanded to perform prayers at home.

The Friday prayer is a congregational prayer that must be held and attended at mosques every Friday at noon. In Islam, group prayers are considered preferable to praying by oneself.

All the customary five daily prayers in Islam are also held as congregational prayers at mosques across the country, but it is not an obligation.

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, to which the majority of Egypt's Christians belong, on Saturday shut all its churches and suspended masses for two weeks over coronavirus concerns. The church also closed condolences halls attached to churches and halted visits to monasteries.




Covid-19: Jakim sets up special team to handle Muslim remains

22 Mar 2020

KUALA LUMPUR, March 22 — The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) has set up a special team to assist with the handling of the remains of Muslims in light of the rising number of deaths due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Jakim deputy director-general (policy) Hakimah Mohd Yusoff said the team has been briefed on the method to manage the remains based on the decision made by the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs Malaysia (MKI) on March 15.

“They (the council) have agreed that the management of the remains of Covid-19 victims will be carried out according to the decision made during the 107th MKI Fatwa Committee meeting from February 10 to 11, 2015, on the handling of remains of Muslims suspected or confirmed to have contracted the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Malaysia,” she said in a statement today.

There are 18 members of the special team comprising 12 men and five women and a coordinator from Jakim, main mosques under Jakim and the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (JAWI).

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri had an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah on March 16 and His Majesty consented to the method being used in the Federal Territories.

The special team managed the remains of the seventh victim in Malaysia who succumbed to Covid-19 at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital yesterday.

The victim was a 57-year-old Malaysian man with a travel history to Vietnam, and who had been in contact with a patient who tested positive for Covid-19 from the ‘tabligh’ cluster. — Bernama




Section 144 imposed on mosque activities in Islamabad

Kalbe Ali

March 23, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The capital administration has imposed section 144 to ban all activities in mosques after sealing two in the Bhara Kahu area.

The restriction has been imposed for a week, and all gatherings related to Shab-i-Meraj have been stopped as well. This move will also stop group sittings of the Tableeghi Jamaat, after one foreign participant tested positive for Covid-19.

Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat has criticised the casual attitude of the cleric of the mosque where the patient and his group were staying.

On Twitter on Sunday, Mr Shafqaat said: “Terrible lapse and criminal carelessness on part of the khateeb and Tableeghi Jamat. They knew that one of them had symptoms and they kept on roaming around.”

A member of the Tableeghi Jamaat staying at a mosque in the area has tested positive for Covid-19

Speaking to Dawn, Mr Shafqaat said that the mosques where the Jamaat was staying were disinfected and then sealed. The patient, who is from Kyrgyzstan, has been taken to a quarantine facility set up at the Haji Camp.

The other members of the cohort have been quarantined in the same sealed mosque, Bilal Masjid, where they had initially been staying.

Situated outside main Islamabad, Bhara Kahu is a densely populated area and the authorities are concerned that the coronavirus could spread in that part of the capital.

The administration is already facing resistance from some clerics about implementing the precautions and guidelines issued by the authorities to prevent the spread of the virus.

Among those openly opposing government directives is Maulana Abdul Aziz, who ridiculed prevention measures during the Friday sermon at Lal Masjid. Footage of him mixing with people after Friday prayers has also circulated on social media.

In the wake of the pandemic, the administration and police have lifted the blockade around the state-owned Lal Masjid, which is currently occupied by Mr Aziz and students of the Jamia Hafsa seminary.

The police have been tasked with persuading clerics to tell people to pray at home instead of visiting the mosque every time.

Qari Ajmal, thekhateebof Bilal Masjid, said: “While the Jamaat was staying in Makki Masjid, our brother and guest Abdul Momin developed some nausea, headache and allergy symptoms, and was taken to Pims by one of the local members of the Tableeghi Jamaat where he was tested.”On March 21, authorities called the person who brought Mr Momin to Pims, and learned that the group had moved to Bilal Masjid on March 20.

“They came with the assistant commissioner, police and ambulances as if there was some trouble around here and sealed the two mosques,” Mr Ajmal said.A senior capital administration official said that the Ministry of Interior is reviewing the situation and planning measures regarding mosques following the Bhara Kahu incident. However, there is no immediate decision to shut down mosques in the city.

“Section 144 does not apply to prayers in mosques, and the decision to stop collective prayers or shut down mosques can only be taken by the interior ministry,” he said.




Bangladesh: Islamic Foundation Urges Muslims To Pray At Home on Shab-e-Meraj

22 Mar 2020

The Islamic Foundation has urged all Muslims to say Shab-e-Meraj prayers at home in view of the threat of the coronavirus.

The event will be observed across the country on Sunday night.

On the occasion, Muslims around the world offer special prayers all night in mosques and homes seeking blessings of Allah for the welfare of the entire nation and the Muslim Ummah.

“We have asked everyone who goes to mosques to offer prayers five times a day to perform ablution and Sunnah prayers at home and then head to the mosques to offer Fard prayers. This is temporary,” Islamic Foundation Director Anisur Rahman Sarkar told bdnews24.com on Sunday.

"Today, on the occasion of Shab-e-Meraj, the imam will only perform Munajat after Maghrib. We are calling upon everyone to perform their night prayers at home.”

Every year on the ocassion of Shab-e-Meraj, a Milad and Waz-Mahfil is organised by the Islamic Foundation at Baitul Mukarram National Mosque.

However, there will be no such events this year due to coronavirus.

So far, two people have died from virus infections in Bangladesh and 24 cases have been reported, according to IEDCR, the government’s disease control agency.

The global death toll from coronavirus has hit 13,049 with the number of infections rising to 307,280, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.




Muslim Groups of UK Have Repeated Calls for Mosques to Close During the Coronavirus Crisis after Some Held Friday Prayers

21 March 2020

Muslim groups have repeated calls for mosques to close during the coronavirus crisis after some held Friday prayers.

It follows social media footage showing worshippers queuing for prayers at a mosque in Leicester.

Many mosques have suspended gatherings following guidance from the Muslim Council of Britain. However some congregations are continuing to meet.

The Federation of Muslim Organisations said there was a "duty to protect one another from harm".

'Pray at home'

The footage drew widespread condemnation and was shared by university researcher Yahya Birt, who described the scenes as "shameful incompetence".

In a statement on Saturday, the Leicestershire-based Federation of Muslim Organisations said it "strongly recommends that Muslim institutions [...] suspend all congregational activities with immediate effect".

"With the increasing rate of transmission and the rising number of deaths, we all have a public and an Islamic duty to protect one another from harm, and it is evident the most effective way to do this is to avoid social contact as much as possible."

A group of Muslim doctors, based in northwest England, also called on mosque officials to "adhere to the guidance", advising that people pray at home instead.

In a statement, the doctors urged community leaders to "take drastic action to avoid the scenario where there are thousands of deaths due to the inaction of the masaajid" (mosques) .

Churches and cathedrals in England are planning to stream services after being instructed to close for three months because of coronavirus.

The Church of England has restricted wedding ceremonies to five people, while baptisms are also limited to the candidate, their parents, guardians or carers, the godparents and the minister.

Scotland's main churches have said only close family should attend funerals.




Al-Qaeda’s India Affiliate Hints at Shifting Focus to Kashmir

Rezaul H Laskar and Aadil Mir

Mar 22, 2020

The al-Qaeda affiliate for the Indian subcontinent, which has struggled to gain a foothold in the region, has signalled its plans to focus on Kashmir and India in a special edition of its magazine Following the deal struck by the US and the Afghan Taliban.

The latest edition of Nawai Afghan Jihad, the online publication of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), outlined plans to rename the magazine as “Nawai Ghazwa-e-Hind” – a move that experts said pointed to the terrorist group’s decision to focus on India, especially Kashmir.

The latest issue of the magazine, released online this week, was described as a special edition focused on the US-Taliban deal of February 29, which was referred to as a “magnificent victory”.

The 135-page magazine also carried an article titled “Kandahar to Doda: The season of hopes”, purportedly written by a Kashmiri man named Mohammed Shakir Trali, that spoke of AQIS’ efforts to strengthen its presence in Kashmir and made tacit references to last year’s revocation of the special status of the erstwhile state.

Pointing to the group’s efforts to propagate Islam in the subcontinent and wage jihad for “suppressed Muslims”, the magazine said it would be renamed as Nawai Ghazwa-e-Hind from the next edition. It also spoke of the need to retain the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan for the success of jihad in the subcontinent.

Pakistan-based terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed often invoke the concept of Ghazwa-e-Hind, or holy war against India, that they claim is derived from the “hadith” or sayings of Prophet Mohammed. However, some Islamic scholars have disputed the interpretation.

The article “Kandahar to Doda” referred to alleged “recent atrocities” in Kashmir and the killing of terrorists such as Zakir Musa, the founder of an Indian chapter of al-Qaeda called Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind who was killed by security forces in Tral area of south Kashmir in May 2019.

The article claimed AQIS leaders and cadres had overcome difficulties to regroup and mobilise even as the Afghan Taliban had forced the US to “concede”. It also claimed the internet shutdown, imposed last August, had not snapped the group’s “external contacts” or “diminished public support”. The formation of AQIS was announced by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in 2014. The group has close links with Afghan Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzada. It has claimed attacks in Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Analysts have questioned AQIS’ capabilities. “Al-Qaeda first mentioned India as a target in 1996, when Osama bin Laden made a reference to Jammu and Kashmir and Assam,” said Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management. “Since then, it has not been able to achieve anything significant in both these states.”




Nigeria Islamic Movement holds ceremony to commemorate Shuhada

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Danjuma Abdullahi

The Shuhada Foundation of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria said available statistics show one thousand and twenty seven of its members have been killed in violent attacks by the security forces.

The Islamic Movement said these people have left behind over two thousand two hundred and eight children for the Shuhada Foundation to cater for. Will the victims and their children get justice?

There were prayers and solemn music at the occasion to remember the victims. The Islamic Movement said the number significantly increased after the 2015 Zaria Massacre, where more than three hundred and forty of Zakzaky supporters were killed when the residence of the Islamic cleric was attacked by security forces.

Over four years after the violent incident, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria Sheikh Zakzaky has remained in detention despite his deteriorating health.

In December 2016, a Federal High court ruled that the detention of the Sheikh and his wife is “illegal and unconstitutional” and therefore ordered their release immediately and unconditionally. The Nigerian government, however refused to comply with the court order till now.

Meanwhile, in a statement, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria has lashed out at the authorities of the Kaduna Central Correctional Center for refusing to allow Sheikh Zakzaky’s doctors to properly examine him. The statement says the only way out for the government is to abide by the December 2016 ruling of the Federal High Court Abuja which ordered the release of Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife Zeenat.




Prayers at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound suspended over virus

March 23, 2020

All Muslim prayers at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound will be suspended from Monday until further notice in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, religious officials said on Sunday.

The doors of the mosque and the adjoining Dome of the Rock had already been shut, but worshippers were still able to gather in the open areas of the hilltop compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

"It was decided to suspend the arrival of worshippers to prayers through all the gates to al-Aqsa mosque starting Monday," said a statement issued by the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs in Jordan, which acts as custodian of the site, the third holiest in Islam after Mecca and Medina.

The new edict suspends the outdoor prayers as well. Those sessions usually draw large crowds, though the numbers have dwindled in recent weeks.

The Palestinian director of the mosque, Sheikh Omar Kisawni, confirmed the decision to Reuters.

Religious leaders at other holy sites in Jerusalem's walled Old City, such as the adjacent Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, have also set precautionary limitations.

The compound’s religious workers and guards will continue to be allowed entry and the Muslim call to prayer will continue as normal, said the Waqf council, which oversees Jerusalem's Islamic sites.




Arab World


Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Orders Curfew for 21 Days to Limit the Spread of Coronavirus

23 March 2020

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz orders curfew from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. for a period of 21 days, effective from Monday evening, to limit the spread of coronavirus in the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Interior shall take the necessary measures to implement the curfew, and all civil and military authorities must cooperate fully with the Ministry in this regard, according to Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

Authorities urged citizens to stay at home during the curfew, and not to venture outside except in cases of extreme necessity in the period when the ban does not apply, as preserving public health has become one of the most important duties, and not to expose themselves and their country to the risk of coronavirus pandemic.



Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques issues curfew order to limit spread of Novel Coronavirus from seven in the evening until six in the morning for 21 days starting in the evening of Monday 23 March.http://www.spa.gov.sa/2050402 #SPAGOV

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Exceptions to the curfew

Employees of vital public and private sectors are excepted from the curfew.

These include people working in the security, military, and media.

Workers in the sensitive health and service sectors, such as those who work in clinics or pharmacies, in the financial sector, the telecommunications sector, and the water sector have also been excluded from the curfew.

Employees in the food sector, the media sector, the residential sector, and the e-commerce sector are also excluded from the curfew.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coroanvirus section.

Saudi Arabia moves to slow the spread

The curfew is the latest measure aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus in the Kingdom.

On Sunday, the Kingdom confirmed 119 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of cases in the country to 511, the spokesman for the Ministry of Health Mohammed al-Abd al-Ali said.

In response to the global pandemic, the Kingdom has introduced far-reaching measures aimed at protecting its residents from the deadly virus. Malls and parks have been closed, citizens urged to stay at home, and restaurants banned from serving food on their premises.

See the full list of facts on what is banned and canceled in the Kingdom here.

The measures appear to be having an effect. On Sunday, footage from the city of Jeddah showed it nearly deserted, with data reporting a massive drop in traffic as people stay indoors.




Religion in conservative Mideast adapts to Covid-19 fears

March 22, 2020

In the Middle East, where the three main monotheistic faiths shape daily life, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen religious leaders support constraints unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

Top Islamic clerics in the region and in majority-Muslim North Africa have endorsed the closure of mosques to avoid large gatherings where the risk of contamination could be high.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, custodian of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – believed by Christians to house Christ’s tomb – has told congregations to receive communion in their hand, instead of on their tongue.

And Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, issued a decree ordering followers to keep their mobile phones on through Shabbat so they can receive urgent information about the Covid-19 disease.

Praying at home

Leading Muslim clerics have widely backed scientifically-based measures to contain the virus, notably by supporting crowd size restrictions through promotion of home prayer.

Authorities in the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain have halted prayers in mosques.

In Egypt, the most populous Arab country, religious authorities have ordered a two-week closure of mosques and churches and banned mass communal prayers.

The government in Tunisia – where some worshippers have been praying in front of shuttered mosque doors – said messages from imams will be broadcast to reinforce essential health protections.

In Algeria, the azan, or call for prayer which the muezzin issues for the obligatory five daily Muslim prayers, has been modified. Muezzins are now encouraging worshippers to pray at home.

In Iran, authorities closed four key Shiite religious sites. The Islamic republic is one of the three countries hardest hit by the virus with an official death toll of more than 1,500 and over 20,600 confirmed cases.

The pandemic re-ignited a long-standing dispute between the roles of science and religion in Iran, but supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intervened in support of medical professionals, effectively closing the debate.

In Lebanon, the head of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah urged people to abide by government measures.

“The virus can be defeated if everyone takes responsibility and plays their part,” he said, calling on people to come forward if they develop Covid-19 symptoms.

Some churches in Lebanon, a country home to 18 recognised religious sects including a large Christian community, have begun broadcasting the Sunday mass live on social media.

Israel has banned gatherings of more than 10 people, making it impossible for Jews to form the quorum of ten needed for prayer known as a miyan.

But chief rabbinical authorities have decreed that following health ministry guidelines is a religious duty and authorised prayer at home.


Even while top clerics have largely backed containment strategies, resistance has continued among the region’s deeply religious and conservative population.

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has urged citizens not to gather in large numbers for prayers, where the risk of contamination could be high.

But on Saturday tens of thousands turned out to commemorate a revered imam Musa al-Kadhim, who died in 799 in the custody of Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid.

That followed a call from influential cleric Moqtada Sadr for his followers to take part in the pilgrimage, defying government advice.

The anniversary of the death normally attracts millions to the golden-domed mausoleum of Imam al-Kadhim in Baghdad.

Extremism, superstition

Extremist voices in the region have dismissed guidance from health officials and leading religious authorities.

After Morocco closed mosques and announced a ban on all non-essential movements, outspoken Salafist preacher Abou Naim decried those moves as “apostasy”. He was arrested on terrorism charges.

There has also been a proliferation of faith-based responses to the pandemic with no supporting medical evidence.

After the first case emerged last month in Lebanon, many Christians visited the tomb of St Charbel, the country’s patron saint, and collected soil from the holy site, believing it would heal those infected.

And last week, a Christian priest flew over Beirut in a helicopter to “bless” the country.

Despite the decrees of top rabbis to follow medical guidelines, some Jewish leaders in Israel have offered alternative solutions to the pandemic.

Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Simcha Halevi Ashlag has encouraged people to drink the Mexican beer Corona, to fortify their prayers.

Full report at:




US-Backed Kurds Release over 80 ISIL Terrorists in Syria

Mar 22, 2020

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) website affiliated to the dissidents reported on Sunday that the NES has released the ISIL terrorists who were all Syrian nationals residing in Raqqa, Hasaka and Deir Ezzur.

It said some of the freed terrorists had not yet ended their prison terms, adding that the move has infuriated residents of the Kurdish-ruled regions.

According to the report, people are concerned that the freedom of the terrorists would pave the ground for them to rejoin the ISIL.

The SOHR had also last year accused the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of cooperation with ISIL commanders in North-Eastern Syria, saying that the Kurdish-majority militia group had helped an ISIL emir to become a major trader in Raqqa province.

It reported that ISIL's most notorious commander in Raqqa had turned into the most influential trader in the province and in charge of development projects in Raqqa.

The SOHR noted that the ISIL emir had secured release of ISIL's jailed commanders to join him in carrying out reconstruction projects.

Full report at:




Coronavirus-infected mother, new-born quarantined at Lebanese hospital

22 March 2020

A pregnant woman infected with the novel coronavirus gave birth through C-section in a Lebanese Hospital where coronavirus patients are being treated in the capital Beirut.

The mother and the new-born, who is in an incubator at Rafic Hariri University Hospital, have been both isolated in the same room where they are receiving extensive treatment and tests, according to Al Hadath correspondent.

In a related development, Lebanese health officials said on Sunday that confirmed coronavirus cases have increased to 248, with an increase of 18 cases from Saturday.

Flourish logoA Flourish data visualisation

“The total number of confirmed Corona patients until today, March 22, has reached 248 cases,” the Ministry of Public Health said in a statement carried by the National News Agency (NNA).

“These figures indicate the start of the outbreak phase of the disease, and accordingly, the Ministry emphasizes the crucial need to implement of all preventive measures,” the statement added.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coroanvirus section.

The new reported cases came as the government called upon the army and security forces to implement strict measures to prevent further spread of the virus among the population.

Full report at:




Iraq imposes nation-wide lockdown to contain coronavirus

22 March 2020

Iraq on Sunday imposed a total nationwide lockdown until March 28 to fight the novel coronavirus, as the number of cases grew and the death toll climbed to 20.

Most of Iraq’s 18 provinces had so far imposed their own local curfews but the new measures would include the whole of the country, according to a new decision by the government’s crisis cell.

Schools, universities and other gathering places would remain closed, as would the country’s multiple international airports, it said in a statement seen by AFP.

Many had feared a potential influx of cases from neighboring Iran, where 1,685 people have died after contracting the COVID-19 respiratory illness.

Iraq first shut it 1,500-kilometre border with Iran about a month ago and deployed troops to enforce the decision.

Full report at:




Qatar Airways to provide free flights to transport global medical aid to Iran: CEO

22 March 2020

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar al-Baker said his carrier will carry any donated medical supplies and equipment from all around the world to Iran on its aircraft “free of charge.”

Qatar sent on Friday a second shipment of medical aid to Iran to help the latter fight the spread of the coronavirus.

“The second shipment of urgent medical aid provided by the State of Qatar, represented by Qatar Fund for Development and Qatar Airways, arrived to the Islamic Republic of Iran as part of the effort to combat the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19),” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The first shipment was sent on March 13 and had six tons of medical equipment and supplies.

Al Baker said: “We at Qatar Airways are also going to carry, free of charge, from all over the world, from people and governments who want to donate… supplies and medical equipment to the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Full report at:




Lebanon’s PM calls in army to enforce coronavirus lockdown

21 March 2020

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab Saturday called in the army and security forces to ensure people stay at home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that has killed four people nationwide.

In a televised address, Diab said the number of cases had risen to 230 in the country despite a call almost a week ago for all to remain at home.

Warning of a further spike to epidemic levels if people continued to flout social distancing rules, he said the government was calling in the army and security forces.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coroanvirus section.

His administration decided to “task the army, Internal Security, General Security and State Security to... implement the order for citizens not to leave their homes, except out of extreme necessity, and prevent gatherings contravening” the order, Diab said.

This would take the form of patrols and road blocks, and those found disobeying would be pursued.

Diab again called on all Lebanese to observe a curfew, “as the state cannot face this creeping epidemic on its own.”

Full report at:




Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia reports 119 new cases, bringing total to 511

22 March 2020

Saudi Arabia on Sunday confirmed 119 new cases of the deadly coronavirus, raising the total number of cases in the country to 511, the spokesman for the Ministry of Health Mohammed al-Abd al-Ali said.

Out of the 119 cases, 72 of them are located in Mecca, 34 are located in Riyadh, four are located in Dammam, another four are located in al-Qatif, and three are located in al-Ahsa, according to al-Abd al-Ali.

There has also been three cases of coronavirus in Khobar, one case in Dhahran, and one case in Qassim, he added.

“All those who mixed with confirmed cases are being isolated,” al-Abd al-Ali.

The Kingdom has also reported that 17 people have recovered from the novel virus, also known as COVID-19 and corona.

A total of 23,000 tests were conducted in Saudi Arabia, the ministry spokesman said, adding strict measures will continue to be implemented in the country to contain the outbreak.

Thirty-three percent of coronavirus infections in Saudi Arabia are a result of people coming into contact with previously infected individuals and taking part in social gatherings, like weddings, funerals, and family get-togethers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported on early on Sunday.

Full report at:




Lebanon told to ‘prepare for the worst’ as virus cases rise


March 23, 2020

BEIRUT: Lebanese troops began patrolling city streets and major roads on Sunday, setting up roadblocks and urging people to stay at home amid official warnings that the country is struggling to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

After the number of coronavirus cases in the country rose to 248, an increase of 18 on the previous day, Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi said: “The situation is worrying. We must save ourselves, our families and our country before it is too late.”

Fahmi told people to “prepare for the worst while maintaining hope and faith that we will overcome this crisis by doing the right thing.”

Army helicopters circled Beirut and other major cities, using loudspeakers to urge people to stay home.

Lebanon’s Ministry of Health said that people waiting on test results for the virus should commit to home quarantine.

“Home quarantine has become an individual and social moral responsibility, and any compromise in its implementation will expose violators to legal and criminal prosecution,” the ministry warned.

Lebanese army and security forces, together with police, set up checkpoints on major and and secondary roads to deter people from traveling. Troops are also keeping watch to prevent overcrowding in bakeries, pharmacies and grocery stores.

Fahmi told a press conference on Sunday that strict measures were taken because “some people are not complying with the necessary preventive measures to protect their relatives, families, friends, community and even their neighbors.”

He added: “Seven days ago, the government announced a general mobilization and took strict measures on all levels.

“Unfortunately, we have passed the stage of containing the coronavirus, and we will slip into the unknown if self-conviction is not present in every citizen to overcome this crisis. The law will apply to everyone, and every violation that poses a threat to public safety will be suppressed.”

Lebanon’s Interior Ministry has issued a timetable allowing shops and factories to work for short periods each day. It has also registered more than 300 cases of quarantine and closure violations.

The strict quarantine has turned Beirut and other cities into “ghost towns,” with little activity and few vehicles on the roads.

Dr. Abdul Rahman Bizri, a member of the Ministry of Health committee monitoring coronavirus, told Arab News: “The home quarantine period might be extended for a month or two. What is required is to limit social contact between people and reduce the burden on the health system.”

Bizri added: “No area is free of the epidemic and no area is fully infected. Some areas have a higher number of cases. Home quarantine aims to stop the transfer of the virus between regions.”

Prime Minister Hassan Diab issued a warning on Saturday that “the number of coronavirus cases is rising in an alarming manner, which suggests that a grave danger threatens our society.”

Claudio Cordone, director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, addressed Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and announced “a state of emergency because of coronavirus.”

UNRWA is ready to help those who need testing or treatment at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, he said.

Full report at:




Drastic decline in new coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia’s Qatif

March 23, 2020

JEDDAH: Following strict precautionary measures, the number of new coronavirus cases in the eastern Saudi city of Qatif has drastically fallen.

The city was locked down two weeks ago to contain the spread of the virus, and so far only four new cases have been reported, said Saudi health authorities on Sunday.

The current situation in Qatif shows that the spread of the virus in the city has been contained due to the steps taken by the authorities, said Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly at a press conference. “The infection rate has fallen, which is very reassuring for the people of Qatif,” he added.

The ministry confirmed 119 new cases nationwide on Sunday, pushing the total number in the country to 511.

Most of the cases reported on Sunday had been in contact with those who had earlier contracted the virus, a trend the spokesman described as “worrying.”

Of the 119 new cases, 72 were reported in Makkah and are Turkish nationals. “All of them were infected from people who had earlier tested positive for the virus,” the spokesman said.

Another 40 of the new cases were involved in a social gathering with previously announced cases.

Al-Aly stressed that people must limit their movements, stay home, and avoid gatherings and activities of any kind.

“This is unfortunate. We’ve repeatedly warned against social gatherings, whether inside or outside homes. Even a group of 10 people or less is dangerous,” he said, adding that further preventive measures, such as a curfew in any other area of the country, cannot be ruled out.

He stressed that everyone who is instructed to remain in quarantine should commit to the 14-day period.

The number of people currently in quarantine and domestic isolation under the ministry’s mentorship is 4,000, while the cumulative total exceeds 10,000.

“It isn’t enough to maintain personal hygiene and avoid contact. All of these measures are important but not enough. Contact is very dangerous for adults, young people and children alike. Please be careful,” Al-Aly said.

“The matter isn’t limited to the efforts of governments. Everyone must be aware of their responsibility to protect themselves and those around them.”

He urged citizens and residents to avoid traveling between cities unless absolutely necessary. He also invited everyone to benefit from the ministry’s services, such as its hotline 937, and its Mawid and Seha apps.

Full report at:




Southeast Asia


Coronavirus: 12 Malaysians who attended Sulawesi's Tabligh event detained in Sabah

MAR 22, 2020

Hazlin Hassan

KUALA LUMPUR -Malaysian security forces in Sabah on Sunday (March 23) detained 12 members of the Tabligh missionary group returning from a mass gathering in Indonesia that had been cancelled, and placed the group in quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic, Malaysian news media reported.

The men tried to enter Sabah waters off Tawau - located near Indonesia's North Kalimantan province - on a boat. But they ran into joint patrols of the marine police, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the armed forces, according to the Free Malaysia Today news site.

The 12 men were in Gowa in South Sulawesi province for a Tabligh mass event last week that was cancelled by the Indonesian government due to the pandemic. Though the event was dropped, several hundred people had already gathered in the area, with huge tents set up for the gathering.

A report in The Star on Sunday said the men arrived in Tawau on Saturday (March 21) evening and were detained on Sunday.

A source told The Star that the authorities received information that the group was planning to come back after reaching Pulau Sebatik in Indonesia from Sulawesi.

Sabah state secretary Datuk Safar Untong said all those who wanted to return from Sulawesi would be barred from entering the state, as the East Malaysia state tries to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Malaysia on Sunday reported that 10 people have died from the Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

A total of 1,306 people who have tested positive - the highest number of positive cases in South-east Asia.

The alarm over the Tabligh group - a Muslim group that originated in India a century ago - has been raised as six of the 10 Malaysian deaths were linked to a mass gathering of the group between February 27 and March 1 at a mosque in Sri Petaling in southern Kuala Lumpur.

The gathering of some 16,000 people, including 1,500 foreign nationals, has led to the spread of the virus in Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam.

Out of Malaysia's 1,306 cases, 60 per cent were from the Sri Petaling cluster.




Funerals of non-Muslims in Pahang kept to a minimum during MCO

21 Mar 2020

KUANTAN, March 21 — The prayers and funerals of non-Muslim individuals in Pahang should be carried out within a short period of time during the implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO).

Pahang state secretary Datuk Seri Dr Sallehuddin Ishak said the ruling came into effect starting today until the revocation of MCO, and would involve deaths not related to Covid-19 virus or any other infectious disease.

He added the families of the deceased must also obtain a MCO exemption permit from the district police chief before the burial.

“The attendance must be kept to a minimum of not more than 10 immediate family members comprising parents, spouse, children or siblings of the deceased.

“These family members must also declare themselves as healthy and will be allowed to accompany the body to the crematorium or the cemetery,” he said in a statement here today.

Sallehuddin said the state goverment also stipulated that religious or customary prayers should be conducted at home and concluded within a short period of time without elaborate procession.

The enforcement of a nationwide MCO from March 18 to 31 is to curb the spread of Covid-19 outbreak, which has so far claimed eight lives in Malaysia.

Full report at:




JAIM: Muslim marriage solemnisation ceremonies in Melaka postponed until after MCO period

22 Mar 2020

MELAKA, March 22 — Marriage solemnisation ceremonies for Muslims in Melaka scheduled for tomorrow until March 31 or another date if the Movement Control Order (MCO) is extended must be postponed, said the Melaka Islamic Religious Department (JAIM).

In a statement issued today, JAIM said the decision was made to avoid bigger repercussions following the increasing number of positive Covid-19 cases as well as in the interest of the religious officials, marrying couple, witnesses, and others involved in the ceremony.

“The instruction over-rides Article 4 of the Administrative Order Number 2/2020 on the Management of Marriages, Divorces and Reconciliation during the MCO period from March 18 to 31.

“Couples who have obtained the permission to marry must inform the religious officials that the event is being postponed, and to get a new date after the MCO is over,” JAIM said.

The statement also said the District Islamic Affairs Office which issued the permit to marry must also be informed of the new date of the solemnisation ceremony.

Full report at:






Pakistan locks down province, bans international flights as coronavirus spreads

By Pamela Constable and Shaiq Hussain

March 23, 2020

KABUL — With the number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan soaring to more than 700 in the past few days, officials there have banned all international flights and have requested that security forces help institute a full lockdown in Sindh province, where a majority of cases have been reported. A third death from the virus was reported Friday.

Most of those found to be infected are Shiite pilgrims from Sindh who returned from visiting shrines in neighboring Iran, where the virus has already killed more than 1,500. Most reentered Pakistan via a single border crossing in Baluchistan province. A similar problem is affecting next-door Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of refugees have recently flooded back from Iran.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, facing public panic, has stopped short of declaring a nationwide lockdown but has asked all citizens to self-quarantine for two weeks. This past week, Khan came under strong criticism after playing down the threat in a nationwide address. He said that people should not “run to hospitals” to get tested and that 90 percent of those testing positive would “recover easily.”

Coronavirus live updates

On Friday, with several hundred new cases reported, Khan told a group of TV anchors that he hoped the coming of hot and dry weather would mitigate the outbreak. He urged people to stay at home but remain calm, saying that “panicking is more dangerous for us than coronavirus.” He said he was still reluctant to impose a nationwide lockdown because it would harm the working poor.

“We don’t want to try and save people from corona but they end up dying due to hunger and poverty,” Khan said. Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country of 210 million, has a high poverty rate, with about one-quarter of the populace earning less than $2 per day.

But in Sindh, a vast and impoverished region of close to 50 million, officials decided to impose a total lockdown beginning Sunday night. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah was in discussions with army and police officials Sunday night and was expected to formally enlist their help to ensure public compliance with the lockdown.

“Time for some tough decisions,” Murtaza Wahab, the minister’s spokesman, said in a tweet early Sunday. He said security forces would probably be asked to “ensure full implementation” of the decision to keep people in their homes, while grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open.

Sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter to track the outbreak. All stories linked in the newsletter are free to access.

But the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, which is based in Sindh, said the country needs to impose a nationwide lockdown to prevent the virus from spreading further. In a tweet Saturday, Bilawal Bhutto said the decision had been delayed for too long.

“We do need to learn from the experiences of other countries,” he said in the tweet, noting that the unchecked virus could “overwhelm” the public health system. “While we are optimistic for a good outcome, at the same time, we should prepare for the worst.”

In Punjab province, where nearly 100 cases of the coronavirus have been reported, officials announced a three-day lockdown, with all parks, malls and restaurants closed until Tuesday. Media outlets published photos of unarmed security forces guarding a new isolation facility in Lahore city. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a partial lockdown has also been instituted for the next three days, with all shopping malls and restaurants closed.

Home to nearly 2 billion people, South Asia could be the next coronavirus hot spot

The government decided Saturday to ban all international arriving flights for 14 days, but the national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines, was allowed to bring back several of its planes from abroad, including one from London carrying Shahbaz Sharif, the opposition leader from the Pakistan Muslim League (N). He has been in London visiting his ailing brother, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

On Sunday, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, the capital, said they were “aware” of reports from Pakistani health authorities that an unidentified embassy employee had been infected with the virus after landing at the international airport. They declined to provide further information, citing privacy reasons. Pakistani media reported that the individual was being treated in an isolation ward at the embassy.

Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, ordered the army on Saturday to step up its assistance to civil authorities and urged all Pakistanis to take precautions to help curb the virus. The army is the most powerful institution in Pakistan, with a history of intervening in civilian power. Bajwa has emphasized his deference to civilian authority and desire to help in emergencies.

The army has said it will open all military hospitals and health facilities nationwide to assist in testing and treating virus cases.

Khan and his aides appealed to international financial institutions to write off loans to Pakistan and other developing countries to allow them to use more resources to fight the virus. Pakistan has a huge foreign debt, and Khan has struggled to implement economic austerity measures to bring it down.

Pakistan shares a border with China, and there is constant travel by workers, students and others between the two countries. A first, no Pakistani students were allowed to return after the virus broke out, and no cases were reported until Feb. 26, when a man in Karachi tested positive after returning from Iran.

Several days later, authorities began reporting a sharp surge in cases among pilgrims returning from Iran across the border at Taftan, Baluchistan, even after they had been held in quarantine there for 14 days. The three fatalities from the coronavirus as of Sunday night were pilgrims who returned from Iran or Saudi Arabia.

In the past several weeks, the rate of reported infections has risen sharply. As of Saturday, there were more than 290 confirmed cases in Sindh, more than 100 in Baluchistan, more than 150 in Punjab, 31 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 55 in Gilgit-Baltistan, 11 in Islamabad and one in Kashmir.

As of this weekend, health officials said a 3,000-room quarantine center has been set up in Multan, a city in Punjab, for infected pilgrims who returned from Iran. They said it has 171 isolation rooms. After screening there, patients will be sent to a new general hospital for treatment, they said.

Hussain reported from Islamabad, Pakistan. Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.




Pakistan Muslim League-Q: ‘Coronavirus Shows World Could End Without Weapons’

March 23, 2020

LAHORE: Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) President and former Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has said that coronavirus is a small warning from Almighty Allah, and Almighty Allah has proved that the world can also be ended without any weapon.

He said even the worldly superpowers were also helpless before coronavirus.

In a statement issued here on Sunday, the PML-Q president said, “Along other measures, the most essential thing was that we seek forgiveness of Almighty Allah and all schools of thoughts should be united on this matter. This is the time to create awareness among the people.”

He said that appeal should be made to the entire world particularly the Muslims that they should come to the right path and forget that any missile or atom bomb of any superpower can save them from coronavirus.

Full report at:




Protests continue across country for release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman

March 23, 2020

LAHORE: Protest demonstrations continued across all major cities of the country on Sunday for the release of Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman from illegal detention of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Employees of Jang/Geo, political and religious leaders and workers and civil society members participated in the demonstrations and demanded immediate release of the Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief.

Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said in a statement that Jang Group is a big media house, and it is serving masses in and outside the country. He said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman should be released from NAB on bail immediately and made part of efforts for curbing coronavirus.

The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) said in a statement on Sunday the media workers should be exempted from restrictions on movement and distribution of newspapers should be ensured during civil lockdown. CPNE Secretary General Dr Jabbar requested Sindh Chief Minister to keep all newspaper stall open during the lockdown,

In Lahore, while taking part in the protest demonstration, Asif Hashmi, former Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) chairman, said the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was a blot on the character of NAB and the last nail in its coffin as it would result in closure of the infamous anticorruption body.

In Faisalabad, patron-in-chief of Markazi Tanzeem Tajiran Khawaja Shahid Razzaq Sakka, Faisalabad City Anjuman-e-Tajiran General Secretary Chaudhry Mahmood Alam Jatt and other trader leaders condemned the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

Pakistan People’s Party Faisalabad senior leader and former Member National Assembly Mehar Abdur Rasheed said the Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief’s arrest was bringing a band name to the country in the comity of nations.

From Pull-11 area, former Member Punjab Assembly Rana Munawwar Ghous Khan, Tehsil Press Club Sira-e-Alamgir Chairman Sheikh Zafar Iqbal, Raja Muhammad Anwar, President Shahid Anjum Mirza, journalists Shamoon Mirza, Imran Rasheed Yawar, Chaudhry Muhammad Afzal, Ameen Farooqui, Ilyas Shami, Sheikh Saeed Rasheed, Raja Muhammad Suhail, Amjad Shah, Amir Shahzad Malik, Chaudhry Arshad Mahmood, Raja Shahid Sarwar, Muhammad Shakil, Raja Hassan Sardar, Sajid Mahmood Khokhar and others condemned the arrest in strong words and demanded immediate release from NAB detention.

Kanganour Press Club President Dr Rasheed Ahmad Khokhar, and Chairman Dr Rahmatullah Arshad called the arrest an attempt to subjugate the press freedom.

In Changa Manga, Geo TV could not be restored on cable to its actual position on Sunday. Cable operator Amjad Ali Shah said Geo was removed from cable on orders passed on by Pemra.

Press Club Pindi Ghep President Malik Iftikhar chaired a meeting of the office-bearers on Sunday and demanded the release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. Former club president Faisal Munir, Malik Kamran, Subedar Muhammad Ameen, Waheed Ahmad, Malik Fahad and others attended the meeting and condemned the arrest.

Also, Pakistan Muslim League-N leader and former provincial minister Chaudhry Sher Ali Khan, while speaking in Pindi Ghep, termed the arrest an attack on independence of the press in the country.

In Peshawar, the political and business leaders announced a joint movement, along with the journalist community, against illegal detention of Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. illegal change in position of Geo channel on cable and non-payment of its dues by the government. The political and trade leaders visited the offices of Jang/Geo in Peshawar and met Jang Resident Editor Arshad Aziz Malik and Peshawar Press Club President Syed Bukhar Shah and expressed solidarity with the Jang Group workers.

Full report at:




MQM-P rejoins federal cabinet on assurance of one more ministry


March 23, 2020

KARACHI: More than two months after it quit the federal cabinet, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan decided on Sunday to rejoin the cabinet as the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf assured it of development funds for Karachi and Hyderabad in addition to one more ministry at a later stage.

On Jan 12, MQM-P convener Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui had announced that he was resigning as federal minister for information technology and telecom because the PTI did not fulfil its promises.

He had said that his party would continue to support the PTI government. During the 70-day period, Dr Farogh Naseem, an MQM-P senator, continued to represent the party in the cabinet of Prime Minister Imran Khan as law minister.

However this time, the MQM-P decided that Dr Siddiqui would not return to the federal cabinet and senior leader and MNA Aminul Haque would take his place as the information technology and telecom minister. It was also decided that senior leader Faisal Subzwari would soon be inducted into the federal cabinet as a special assistant to the prime minister (SAPM).

SAPM on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan welcomed the MQM-P’s ­decision and tweeted that rejoining the federal cabinet would strengthen the ­government’s efforts for betterment of the people of Karachi.

On Sunday, a PTI delegation led by Sindh Governor Imran Ismail and comprising Leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly Firdous Shamim Naqvi, Khurram Sher Zaman and Haleem Adil Shaikh reached the MQM-P’s temporary headquarters in Bahadurabad and held a meeting with senior party leaders for around half an hour.

Later, Dr Siddiqui along with the Sindh governor told the media that the MQM-P and the PTI were allies and part of the government.

He said the PTI delegation came to the MQM-P headquarters to give final touches to all issues. “The era of PTI-MQM-P alliance for the urban areas of the province will be remembered in history as a remarkable period,” he said, adding that the sense of deprivation in urban Sindh would lessen because of today’s measures.

Speaking on the occasion, Governor Ismail said Prime Minister Khan wanted to consult all coalition partners for winning the war against coronavirus. He said it was not good that the post of IT and telecom minister was vacant at the time of this crisis.

Talking about the MQM-P’s decision to quit the federal cabinet, he said that when the prime minister listened to the demands of the party he asked whether these were PTI’s demands or MQM’s.

“The demand the MQM-P made for urban Sindh was also the same demand of the PTI,” the governor said, adding that it was the vision of the prime minister to empower the Karachi mayor and local government representatives of other ­cities as per Article 140-A of the Constitution.

He said the Karachi mayor would get funds as well as resources, adding that Rs7 billion had been allocated for development works and Rs1bn had already been released. The governor also promised to complete work on a public sector university in Hyderabad.

He said the civil-military leadership of the country would together win the war against coronavirus.

Meanwhile, a source said the MQM-P’s decision was motivated by the government’s ‘carrot and stick’ approach. The source said that recently some MQM-P leaders and workers, including a coordinator of the Karachi mayor, were picked up from their houses and their whereabouts were still not known.

Full report at:




Shahbaz offers family-run hospitals for Covid-19 patients

March 23, 2020

LAHORE: Opposition Leader in the National Assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif on Sunday offered the services of hospitals being run by the Sharif Group to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government to establish quarantine facilities for coronavirus patients.

He made the offer during a video conference with ­senior party leaders at the Model Town office of the party hours after returning from London where he had been staying for the past three months to look after his ailing brother and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Mr Sharif said his family was ready to offer all health facilities of the Sharif group to serve as quarantine centres.

The caucus took stock of the country’s overall situation, formed a health task force to monitor the pandemic and frame recommendations, and also constituted a parliamentary advisory group to take further decisions to stem spread of the deadly virus.

The health task force will comprise former federal health minister Saira Afzal Tarar, Khwaja Salman Rafiq, Ayesha Raza Farooq, Marriyum Aurangzeb and Attaullah Tarar. Ms Aurangzeb will coordinate with the media.

A second committee comprising the parliamentary advisory group and provincial party presidents besides senior leaders was also formed. Shaza Fatima Khwaja will serve as secretary of both the committees.

Earlier in the morning Mr Sharif was received by senior party leaders and some workers at the Islamabad airport on his arrival from the UK a day after the federal government had announced suspension of international flight operations for two weeks.

Talking to the media, the PML-N president claimed that he had come to join hands with the nation to counter the challenge of coronavirus. He said the former premier had also urged the nation to remain united during these testing times.

Party officials said Mr Sharif was likely to visit hospitals to raise morale of the people fighting the virus spread. They said he would also use his contacts developed during his 10-year long stay in power in Punjab to convince various foreign companies to donate the medical equipment most needed at present.

Full report at:




Balochistan facing shortage of medical equipment: CM

Ali Jan Mangi

March 23, 2020

DERA MURAD JAMALI: Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan has said that the province is facing shortage of medical equipment and badly needs ventilators, test kits and personal protective gear to contain the spread of coronavirus in the province.

Talking to journalists at the quarantine centre near Dera Allahyar during a visit to Jaffarabad district on Sunday, he said that despite having meagre resources, the provincial government was fighting coronavirus.

He said that it was a wrong perception that the pilgrims returning from Iran were the cause of the spread of coronavirus in the country as during the last 20 days, 900,000 people had come to Pakistan through different borders and by air from various countries and a large number of Covid-19 cases were reported from among them.




PM urges President Trump to lift sanctions on Iran

March 23, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday urged the United States President Donald Trump to lift sanctions on Iran on humanitarian grounds, as the country was worst hit by the recent wave of deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

On his Twitter account, the prime minister posted, “I want to appeal to President Trump on humanitarian grounds to lift the sanctions against Iran till the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”

He further said the people of Iran were facing untold sufferings as sanctions were crippling Iran’s efforts to fight COVID-19.

“Humanity must unite to fight this pandemic,” he added.

Iran is among the worst affected Coronavirus countries in the world with over 1,000 reported human casualties. The country had already been facing crippling US sanctions after President Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.




IHC steps in to help stop COVID-19 spread in capital courts

March 23, 2020

ISLAMABAD: A day after the top court took measures to prevent coronavirus spread in the Supreme Court (SC), district and session judges of the capital were asked to take all necessary steps to minimise danger of the virus in courts.

While taking measures to remain safe from COVID-19 pandemic on Sunday, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) asked the subordinate court to operate with bare minimum duty judges and staff on rotation. Besides, the district and session judges were also asked to issue orders accordingly, and take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of all concerned.

“It is preferred that the officers drive the vehicles themselves, all the female staff have been advised to stay at home,” stated in a circular of the IHC administration.

In another circular issued on Sunday, in the present spate of coronavirus pandemic, the IHC administration decided to close mosque in the court premises till further orders citing an increase in the number of pandemic cases which were likely to have devastating effects on human lives.

“Hence, it is mandatory to take all possible measures to contain the further spread of coronavirus as a top priority. In order to prevent danger to human life, the competent authority has directed that the high court mosque will remain close till further orders,” the IHC administration said.

Full report at:




South Asia


Afghan Government Mulling Release of Prisoners to Prevent Coronavirus Outbreak

23 Mar 2020

The Afghan government is due to release certain prisoners as part of preventive measures to fight the further outbreak of coronavirus.

The ARG Palace in a statement said President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani chaired a meeting late on Sunday to discuss the issue.

The statement further added that the General Director of Prisons Detention Centres was also present in the meeting during which the issue of the release of prisoners was discussed.

The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centres and the Judicial Institutions were instructed to prepare a plan in the next 48 hours regarding the release of those prisoners who have pending criminal cases, ARG Palace added.

According to ARG Palace, the decision was taken in line with the instructions of the Ministry of Public Health to prevent the outbreak of coronavirus.

This comes as the Ministry of Public Health on Sunday announced that the authorities have recorded ten new positive cases of coronavirus in the country, including two foreign diplomats who returned to country after contracting the disease.




Sreemangal UNO Office: Muslims and Hindus Coexisting In Harmony for 73 Years

March 23rd, 2020

Where most of the world is fighting for establishing their beliefs over others, the people of Moulvi bazar are teaching the world how to be respectful of each other, says an official of Sreemangal UNO office

While countries neighbouring Bangladesh had been engulfed by constant incidents of communal violence, the country which is a golden example of secularism for long, is once again showing the world what peaceful coexistence means through a small district named Moulvi bazar.

Moulvibazar’s Sreemangal upazila, a small locality with such great heart, where a Mosque and Hindu Temple has been standing side by side for 73 years, demonstrates true harmony and peaceful coexistence.

The growing instability and intolerance among communities around the world, and Bangladesh to an extent, had no such marks on the people of the locality, who devoted themselves to their respective gods and faiths while respecting other believers with empathy and compassion.

The centuries old Bhairab Temple had been an auspicious sanctuary for Hindus, while just beside it, the Majdihi Jame Mosque–which is standing for 73 years– has been arranging prayers and dua mehfils for Muslim worshippers in perfect coordination and harmony, locals say.

People of both religions have been practicing their respective faiths there and share their experiences, which the locals think help them keep away any sort of discrimination.

Mujibar Rahman, UP chairman of Kalapur union, said the family of Punnya Dutta built the Bhairab temple 200 years ago and the adjacent market is called Bhairab Bazar ever since.

He also said the mosque was built around 1947. Local people and the Majdihi Tea Garden authorities built the mosque with their financing. 

Maolana Zafar Ahmed, who has been a Khateeb of the mosque for 15 years, said there was not one instance where he had seen any bitterness or chaos among the believers of the two communities.

“Whenever I come out of the mosque, the temple's priest Janmajoy Bhattacharya and I share greetings and good wishes,” the Imam added.

Echoing his remarks, head priest of the temple, Janmajoy Bhattacharya said: “It’s only natural for us to invite over the Muslims, and people from other communities, for our programs and they too attend the festivities with us. It’s been a continuing tradition for at least 25-30 years.

“Whenever we arrange Pujas, Kirtans (group recitation of an idea or story with musical instrument), we keep the sound under control while the Muslims offer their prayers at the mosque and they do the same for us,” the priest said with a smile.

Anwar Miah, a businessman of the area, said the people of both the religions come forward at each other's hour of need. There is no communal problem among the people here.

Dewan Ashfaque, a resident of the area, said sometimes puja and religious hymns are held in the temple till late in the night.  These do not create any problem for anybody. Rather every day Muslim devotees and adherents of the Hindu faith go to their respective religious entities regularly.

Full report at:




Afghan Special repulse Taliban attack in Zabul province

22 Mar 2020

The Afghan Special Forces repulsed a Taliban attack in southern Zabul province, killing at least 4 militants during the clash, the Afghan military said.

The Special Operations Corps in a statement said the Taliban militants were looking to launch an attack on security posts in Bariha area located in the provincial capital of Zabul.

The statement further added that the Special Forces responded to the attack and killed 4 militants during the clash and seized 2 vehicles and some weapons together with munitions.

The Special Forces also arrested six Taliban militants following the clash, the Special Operations Corps added.

This comes as the Taliban militants killed at least 24 Afghan security personnel during an insider attack in Zabul province on Friday.




Foreign diplomats contract coronavirus as Afghanistan reports 10 new cases

22 Mar 2020

The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has confirmed that two foreign diplomats have contracted coronavirus as ten new cases of the disease have surfaced in the country.

Ferozuddin Feroz, the Minister of Public Health told reporters in Kabul that the two diplomats serving in two different embassies have contracted the disease outside the country.

Feroz did not elaborate further in this regard and did not say to which countries the two diplomats belong to.

Meanwhile, he said Ministry of Public Health has recorded ten new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, increasing the number of positive cases to 34.




Afghanistan confirms first death, 6 new positive cases of coronavirus

23 Mar 2020

The Afghan authorities confirmed the first death from coronavirus and reported new six positive cases in three provinces in the past 24 hours.

According to the officials, the Ministry of Public Health has recorded 3 new positive cases in Herat, 2 positive cases in Farah and one new positive case in Ghor province.

This comes as the authorities reported the first death from coronavirus in northern Balkh province of Afghanistan on Sunday.

The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) on Sunday confirmed that two foreign diplomats have contracted coronavirus as ten new cases of the disease have surfaced in the country.

Ferozuddin Feroz, the Minister of Public Health told reporters in Kabul that the two diplomats serving in two different embassies have contracted the disease outside the country.

Full report at:




Major Taliban offensive repulsed in Balkh; 9 militants killed, 4 others wounded

23 Mar 2020

The Afghan forces repulsed a major Taliban attack in northern Balkh province late on Sunday ngith, the Afghan military in the North said.

According to a statement released by 209th Shaheen Corps, the Taliban militants launched a major offensive on Baramzid Village in Balkh district on Sunday night.

The statement further added that the security forces responded to the attack with the support of the air power, killing at least 9 Taliban militants.

The security forces also wounded 4 militants during the clash which continued for almost two hours, the 209th Shaheen Corps added.

Full report at:






Uzbekistan’s ISIS problem: persecution at home may be radicalising young Muslims

Ruchi Kumar

March 22, 2020

Shirzad, the 37-year-old militant sitting in a dimly lit interview room at Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, tries to excuse his decision to join one of the most brutal terror groups in the world.

“I immigrated [to Afghanistan] from my country [Uzbekistan] to save my religion,” says the Uzbek national at the Kabul facility controlled by the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence service.

Shirzad, a member of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province, looks frail and fearful. His small structure, gaunt expression and receding hairline make him look several years older than his actual age.

He is one of about 900 ISIS fighters who surrendered or were caught in the past four months during a massive military operation launched by the Afghan forces in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

The ISIS fighter, who now goes by the name Najeebullah, which he adopted when he joined the group in 2015, avoids making eye contact with anyone in the room as he narrates the turn of events that led him to his current state, a prisoner in Afghanistan.

“There was no Islam in Uzbekistan,” he says of the former Soviet territory, all the while staring at his open palm.

“We couldn’t pray or fast [during Ramadan]; people are not allowed to wear scarves, even while praying. They started putting us in jails. They sentenced my cousin to jail for five years [for practising Islam],” he claims in his broken Pashto, a language he picked up in the three-and-a-half years he spent in the eastern provinces of his adopted country.

Although Uzbekistan is a Muslim-majority country, the former Soviet state is known for its strict control of religious expression and practices, what a UN report in 2019 called “extreme surveillance and state control of religious practices,” including laws that criminalise unregistered religious activities.

“There is a history of heavy religious restriction in Uzbekistan and we are concerned that it has led to radicalisation,” said Hugh Williamson, director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

“In the post-Soviet period, Uzbekistan imposed severe limits on how people express their Muslim faith; and those who did so in ways that don’t conform with the very narrow definitions imposed by state have been persecuted.”

The former president Islam Karimov, who ruled the country with an iron fist since its liberation from the Soviet Union, had curtailed many religious freedoms. But since his death in 2015, his successor, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has brought about many reforms, which resulted in the United States administration removing the country from its list of counties engaged in severe violations of religious freedom.

A US congressional advisory body on international religious freedoms, however, recommended that Uzbekistan stay on that list.

Experts say that despite reform, not enough has been done to combat radicalisation, as restrictive laws remain.

Ironically, much of the government activities that subdue religious practices have been on the pretext of combatting the local insurgencies of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union. Incidentally, neither insurgency has launched any significant attack inside Uzbekistan since 2004.

Yet the IMU has a significant presence in northern Afghanistan because of the Taliban’s outreach to the group. But the alliance between the Taliban and IMU was never a perfect marriage, says Andrew Watkins, senior analyst at International Crisis Group.

“When the Islamic State came about in Afghanistan in 2015 the IMU were driven toward the global appeal of the Islamic State and pledged allegiance to the ISIS faction in the country,” he said.

Shirzad joined the Tehrik-i-Taliban militant group at home before being told to go to Moscow. He was then instructed to go to Azerbaijan and on to Iran. He was then smuggled into Afghanistan through the porous borders of Nimruz Province. From there, he was taken to Waziristan in Pakistan for three months after meeting the local Taliban leadership, re-entering Afghan territory and joining ISIS in Achin district in Nangarhar.

In his earlier life, as a resident of a small Uzbek town, Shirzad worked at a printing press. So ISIS assigned him to their “press department” in Nangarhar, in charge of printing propaganda material which was distributed across the region, especially in universities for recruitment.

Shirzad admits participating in frequent battles, especially with the Taliban in Zabul, Faryab and Nangarhar provinces, but claims he never killed anyone. The Afghan forces are less convinced of denial of involvement in crimes. They continue to investigate Shirzad and many others who were caught along with him.

“In Achin, we were given a good place to stay and money, about 1,000 to 1,500 Pakistan rupees [Dh23 to Dh34] every month. The younger teenage recruits would be paid 500 Pakistani rupees,” he says. “We would also collect money from local people by selling wood there.”

There remains an estimated 2,500 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan, of whom almost 400 are believed to be foreign.

“We have noticed many central Asian fighters from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as Arabs, Indians and Pakistanis,” an NDS official says. About 60 per cent are from Pakistan, hailing from border tribes, he says.

While the ISIS insurgency declined in the Middle East, its Afghan faction maintained a steady presence in a country already battling the Taliban and other insurgent groups. The Hazara Shia minority was a frequent target, as were government premises, suffering complex attacks that caused many casualties.

That was until recently. As of the end of 2019, nearly 1,400 ISIS fighters left in Nangarhar province, which was the centre of the growing insurgency, had surrendered or were caught during anti-ISIS operations, NDS officials say.

Those like Shirzad, who were struggling to abandon the organisation, saw it as an opportunity for redemption.

“All I wanted was to live an Islamic life. But we were betrayed,” he says, tears welling up in his eyes.

“I am tired of the war and all the wrongs inflicted by the Taliban and Daesh in Afghanistan. I regret ever having come here. Look what it has done to my children – they can’t even go to school. They are losing education opportunities being here in the prison with me,” he says between sobs.

Shirzad had six children, four of whom were born after he arrived in Afghanistan.

He has requested that the Afghan government does not send him back to Uzbekistan. He is willing to serve his time in Afghan prisons and after that he hopes to build a life in Afghanistan, choosing a war-torn country over his birth country.

“If the Afghan government allows, I will stay here with my family, rent a place and work here,” he says, looking over to the NDS officer standing close by.

But Shirzad’s fate remains undecided for now, as the Afghan officials continue their investigation into his crimes and those of other foreign fighters.




‘Russia’s Wagner Tried To Bring Gaddafi’s Son To Power’

Enes Canli 


The Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary company, met Libya's deposed ruler Muammar Gaddafi's son to bring him into power, the U.S.-based media company Bloomberg claimed in an article on Saturday.

The article penned by Samer Al-Atrush asserted a relationship between Gaddafi's son Saif Al-Islam and Russia.

According to the article, two Russian agents working for the Wagner were caught last year by Libya's UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in the capital Tripoli.

The documents stored in the hard disks of the captured Russian agents revealed that the agents met three times with Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Muammar Gaddafi, who was wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In one of the meetings, Saif Al-Islam used numerous documents about his father’s financial aid for election campaigns in some Western countries as a trump card, the article asserted.

A Russian election campaign advisor also joined one of the meetings, the article said, and Russia offered to portray Gaddafi's son as a rising actor in the country in a possible election.

In the meetings, Saif Al-Islam claimed that 80% of the fighters loyal to the renegade General Khalifa Haftar are his supporters and if Haftar captured the capital, those fighters would support Saif Al-Islam, according to the notes of Russian agents.

In one of the meetings, Saif Al-Islam and Russian agents discussed training of social media experts to create a group of specialists who will share messages over social media.

Russian agents noted down that Saif Al-Islam was very interested in counter-propaganda.

According to the notes of the last meeting reached by Bloomberg, Saif Al-Islam would give to Russians the list of commanders loyal to him in the next meeting.

Additionally, it was claimed that one of the advisors of Saif Al-Islam admitted the meetings.

According to the article, the advisor said that although Saif Al-Islam and his supporters wanted to develop good relations with the Western countries, the Russians were the first to help them.

Wagner Group

Russia’s Wagner Group is one of the most controversial groups among the mercenaries. It is owned by to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to Bloomberg, it was reported that the Wagner Group, where over 1000 militias came to Libya, brought Russian pilots who carried out training activities for the Haftar troops, and Russian Sukhoi-22 type war planes are seen in Libyan skies.

Mercenaries who previously had field experience in Ukraine, are fighting on the front-line in Libya, according to Euronews.

Haftar's militia unit 'Libyan National Army'

Haftar calls the group he leads as the "Libyan National Army" and wants to be treated like an official army. In fact, Haftar's armed force works like a "dealership" and tries to gather militias under one roof.

A large number of militias from Libyan tribes in the east and west have joined the ranks. Others who have joined the putschist commander include members from the public committees established by former ruler Gaddafi, the extremist Madkhali Salafists, Janjaweed militias of Sudan -- who have a very controversial history in Sudan -- the rebels in Chad, Russian mercenaries, and military officers from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France.

It is claimed that the force comprises 25,000-30,000 militias, including trained military personnel of 7,000. The Brigade 106, the largest and best armed among them, is commanded by Saddam Haftar, his son.

The rallying cry for the brigade is Khamis, the name of one of the son's of Gaddafi.

Since the ouster of late ruler Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in 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:






Muslim Outfits Vow To Come Back Stronger Against Citizenship Law, It Is Only a Temporary Break Owing to Coronavirus

Udhav Naig

MARCH 22, 2020

‘There will not be any issue in restarting the agitation as feared by protesters’

Islamic organisations in Tamil Nadu were in a spot of bother last week as they had to temporarily suspend and postpone their protests against the Centre and State government demanding a repeal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Population Register and National Register of Citizens owing to COVID-19 threat.

As the number of cases continued to increase, the Shaheen-Bagh like protests became untenable and were eventually suspended.

While the Old Washermenpet protests went on for two more days and shut down eventually on Tuesday midnight following calls from community leaders and DMK president M. K. Stalin, Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamat’s protests on March 18 were also scaled down and cut short as a precautionary measure against COVID-19.

With protests already withdrawn, there is a concern in the community over the future of anti-CAA protests in the country and whether it can be restarted with the same fervour and when.

Fathima Muzaffer, member, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, and IUML leader, said that the break will allow the protesters to regroup and look into the various issues.

“The protests in the last three months have been deeply engraved in the minds of people, they know that these black laws threaten their ‘Indianness’. This break will help us regroup. It cannot bring down the spirit or our commitment. It has gone to a stage where the Hindus also realise how they will be affected by this exercise,” she said.

She said that the anti-CAA protesters will organise a ‘balcony’ protest at around 5 p.m. on March 22. “We will acknowledge the service of doctors and nurses and others in their fight against COVID-19 spread and we will also shout slogans against CAA, NRC and NPR,” she said.

K.M. Kader Mohideen, National President, Indian Union Muslim League, said that the party has been communicating to the cadre and the community that it has been opposing the CAA, NPR and NRC in all appropriate forums – including in the Parliament and in the State Assemblies of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, but it is important to consider COVID-19 as a natural disaster.

“We are in the midst of corona virus pandemic — since it is spreading like anything, we should treat it like a natural disaster. IUML will continue to fight for the rights, but in the light of the threat posed by corona virus, it is not right to protests in large numbers on the road as it can be misconstrued by the larger population that Islamic community isn’t co-operating to stop the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

We need to act responsibly, he added.

M.H. Jawahirullah, president, Manithaneya Makkal Katchi, said that there will not be any issue in restarting the protests as feared by protesters. “It is only a temporary break. It is not that we cannot mobilise the people again. The reasons for the protests (CAA, NPR and NRC) continue to exist. This is just a postponement for the nation. There are different styles of agitation – Gandhiji did not stick with just one mode of agitation. There are other ways to put pressure on the Government,” he said.




Jamia students temporarily call off anti-CAA stir amid coronavirus outbreak

March 21, 202

In view of the growing scare of coronavirus across the country, students of Jamia Millia Islamia on Saturday suspended their sit-in protest against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act outside the university gate number 7.

“With a heavy heart but with great hope in our hearts, we temporarily suspend the ongoing 24 hours sit-in protest at Gate no. 7, JMI and appeal to all protestors to kindly take the situation with utmost seriousness and save themselves and other from this fatal illness,” a statement from Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC) said on the 100th day of the sit-in.

Jamia Coordination Committee


With a heavy heart but great hope in our hearts, we temporarily suspend the ongoing 24 hrs sit-in protest at Gate no. 7, JMI and appeal to all protestors to kindly take the situation with utmost seriousness and save themselves and others from this fatal illness: @Jamia_JCC

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It also appealed the Centre to “immediately” suspend the exercise of National Population Register.

The JCC, comprising JMI students and alumni, was formed after alleged police brutality on the campus on December 15.

The varsity put forth a list of demands including, the release of all political prisoners immediately, withdrawing the Foreigners (Tribunal) Amendment Order, 2019, withdrawing all instructions for construction of detention camps and release of all people in those camps after testing them for COVID-19.

“Our fight against the CAA, NRC and the NPR remains uncompromising,” JCC said.

In order to combat the coronavirus spread, the JCC also asked the Centre to undertake adequate monetary and policy measures, adding that doctors need proper medical infrastructure such as safety gear and testing kits more than appreciation and heroism.

Full report at:




Demand to shift, release Kashmiri prisoners grows amid Covid-19 spread

Ashiq Hussain

Mar 23, 2020

Families of prisoners and detainees from Kashmir lodged in jails outside the region are worried and demanding they are brought back or released as the coronavirus disease or Covid-19 spreads across the country.

Kashmiri leaders, human rights activists and people are also making pleas to bring back prisoners and detainees many of whom have been lodged in various jails of the country under preventive detentions after the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked on August 5 last year.

Social media users have also been expressing concern over the health of Kashmiri prisoners and how jails are prone to the pandemic.

Union minister G Kishan Reddy informed Parliament in December last year that 261 prisoners belonging to Jammu and Kashmir are currently lodged in different jails of Uttar Pradesh (234) and Haryana (27). Besides, he also said, 3248 prisoners are in jails in Jammu and Kashmir.

Khuram Parvez, human rights activist and coordinator of a coalition of civil society, said that the spread of Covid-19 was a threat to the lives of prisoners and the government should release them as most of them are under preventive detentions.

“We want their immediate release. Most of them are under preventive detentions and the best safety for them right now is the confines of their homes,” Parvez said.

“At this stage, no one can disturb law and order. People in big number everywhere is a threat owing to Corona and if it goes out of control no one will be safe,” he added.

Families say many of the detainees are either of vulnerable age and some have underlying health conditions.

Relatives of 73-year-old Mian Qayoom, Kashmir High Court Bar Association president who has been detained under public safety act since August and is currently lodged in Tihar Jail, said he was vulnerable.

“He is diabetic, lives on a single kidney and also has hypertension. He is a risky patient and the coronavirus has increased our fears. Our whole extended family is disturbed,” said Mian Muzaffar, nephew of the detainee.

“On the one hand, there are advisories not to travel and on the other hand, we have to reach him as he is ailing. We all feel helpless. We just appeal the government to release him till this subsides,” he said.

While National Conference president and Srinagar member of parliament Farooq Abdullah was the first to demand last week the shifting of prisoners before their ultimate release, separatist organisation Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also demanded their release on ‘humanitarian grounds’ on Friday.

“Their well-being is under threat in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Crowded jails are most vulnerable in the spread of the virus among inmates, which is a matter of grave concern,” the Hurriyat said in a statement.

Immediately after his release, Farooq Abdullah had sought the unity of all political leaders of J&K in demanding the shifting and ultimate release of detainees.

“The already onerous financial burden (on the families of detainees) is made worse by the health risk they now face because of Covid-19. At a time when people are being advised not to travel these families are being forced to put their lives at risk,” he said.

“This is a humanitarian demand and I hope others will join me in placing this demand in front of the government of India,” he said.

VK Singh, director general of prisons in Jammu and Kashmir, refused to comment on the demands of shifting of prisoners but said they were regularly getting health updates of the detainees from outside prisons.

“I can’t comment on the shifting as that is the mandate of the home department. However, we get their health bulletin daily and the detainees are fine. However, there are those with previous case histories,” he said.

Singh said they have come up with a standard operating procedure for the prisons of the Union territory to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“All preventive steps are being taken. We have stopped mulakat to visiters, thermal screening devices have been installed in some jails while they are being procured where not installed,” he said.

Full report at:






Four Burkina Faso ministers have coronavirus as cases rise to 64

21 March 2020

Four government ministers in Burkina Faso have tested positive for the coronavirus, a government spokesman said on Saturday, as the number of reported cases rose to 64 from 40, the highest in West Africa.

The ministers of foreign affairs, mines, education, and the interior have all tested positive in recent days, the spokesman said.

“The rumor has become reality... I have just been notified that I have COVID-19,” Foreign Affairs Minister Alpha Barry said in a tweet late on Friday, referring to media reports that had speculated about his health.

The minister of mines, Oumarou Idani, Minister of Education Stanislas Ouaro, and Interior Minister Simeon Sawadogo each confirmed their cases via Facebook posts.

A ministerial meeting was held on March 11, the government’s website shows, but it was not immediately clear if all the ministers attended.

The Italian ambassador to Burkina Faso Andrea Romussi has also been infected, he told Reuters, as has a high profile pastor, the Health Ministry said.

Burkina Faso is struggling with an insurgency that has rendered half its arid territory ungovernable and forced nearly a million people to flee their homes.

International health officials worry that the virus could spread out of control and overwhelm the threadbare healthcare system in one of the world’s poorest countries.

The government has put measures in place to stop the spread, including closing land and air borders and banning gatherings of more than 50 people.

But ahead of a suspension of religious ceremonies on Friday, Ouagadougou’s central mosque was filled with hundreds of worshipers packed together for prayers. The imam, Sourwilla Mohamadi, gave a sermon wearing a protective mask that was ripped open at the mouth.

Burkina Faso reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 9, 10 days after the first case in sub-Saharan Africa was announced in Nigeria on February 28.

Some 40 nations across the continent have reported more than 700 cases of the coronavirus, while worldwide more than 270,000 cases have been reported and more than 11,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.




Jordan announces 13 new coronavirus cases, total at 112

22 March 2020

The Jordanian Health Ministry reported on Sunday 13 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of infections in the Kingdom to 112.

The Jordanian Health Minister Saad Jaber said one of the infected patients recovered, according to a statement carried by Jordan News Agency (Petra).

On Saturday, Jordan blew sirens at the start of a nationwide curfew, limiting the mobility of its 10 million citizens indefinitely to combat the spread of coronavirus, witnesses and officials said.

Anyone violating the curfew, which severely restricts movement beyond emergencies and essential services, would be jailed up to a year, the army said.




Tunisia allocates $850 mln to combat effects of coronavirus

22 March 2020

Tunisia is allocating 2.5 billion dinars ($850 million) to combat the economic and social effects of the coronavirus health crisis, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh said on Saturday.

Among new measures, the government will delay tax debts, postpone taxes on small- and medium-sized businesses, delay repayment of low-income employee loans and provide financial assistance to poor families.

Tunisia has confirmed 60 cases of the disease, which is expected to hit its tourism sector, which accounts for about 10 percent of gross domestic product.

Tunisia’s president on Friday ordered a general lockdown, limiting citizens’ free movement in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“All of Tunisia is united in this dangerous war. The war has a cost and the exceptional decisions that we announced have a cost, but we have no choice”, Fakhfakh said in speech.

The government will provide 450 million dinars in financial aid to poor families and Tunisians who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coroanvirus section.

It allocated 1.2 billion in loans and aid to help companies affected by the crisis.

Tunisia now expects an economic recession, prompting the central bank on Tuesday to cut its key interest rate by 100 basis points.

Full report at:




Nigeria: Security forces evacuate churches

Olarewaju Kola


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:




Somalia: Bomb blast kills 4, including police chief

Mohammed Dhaysane  



At least four people, including a town police chief, were killed after a bomb blast in Somalia on Sunday afternoon, the officials said.

Ismail Mukhtar Orongo, a Somali government spokesman, told Anadolu Agency over the phone that Abdikadir Osman Nuunow, Afgoye district police chief was killed alongside his three bodyguards.

Two others were also wounded.

"Abdukadir Osman Mursal Nunow and his three bodyguards were killed while two others were wounded after a roadside bomb blast targeted his vehicle in Hawa Abdi [outskirts of Afgoye town] this afternoon," Mukhtar said.

Police officers reached the scene and transported the wounded to Mogadishu hospitals for treatment, he added.

Hawa Abdi is located 20.5 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu.

Full report at:




Somalia army arrests al-Shabaab intel chief

Mohammed Dhaysane 



Somali army arrested the intelligence chief of al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab group in the Lower Shabelle region, a military official said on Sunday.

Gen. Abdihamid Mohamed, Somali military infantry commander, told reporters that al-Shabaab intelligence chief Hassan Sulet known as Hassan Geney, was captured near the newly liberated strategic agricultural rich town of Janaale.

"The military operation which resulted in capturing the al-Shabaab intelligence chief in Lower Shabelle region alongside two militants comes after local residents informed his whereabouts," Mohamed said on Sunday.

On Saturday, Somali military killed over 27 al-Shabaab militants in the southern province of Lower Juba.

Full report at:




Libya: 1 killed, 2 injured in attack by Haftar forces

Aydogan Kalabalik  



A rocket attack by forces of Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar on Sunday killed one person and also injured two children from the same family, said the country’s UN-recognized government.

Haftar militia rockets hit a house in Ain Zara, south of the capital Tripoli, said a statement by the Volcano of Rage Operation, affiliated with the Government of National Accord (GNA).

Ahmed al-Mismari, spokesman for the Haftar militias, yesterday 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 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:






1,028 New Coronavirus Cases Diagnosed in Iran

Mar 22, 2020

“According to laboratorial findings, 1,028 new cases of infection to COVID-19 virus have been identified in the country since Saturday noon,” Health Ministry Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.

He added that the number of coronavirus patients in the country now stands at 21,638, voicing regret that 129 people infected with the virus have passed away since Saturday, raising the toll to 1,685.

“Fortunately, 7,913 coronavirus patients have recovered and discharged from hospitals so far,” Jahanpour said.

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 13,000 people and infected over 308,000 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.

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.




Russia Reiterates Necessity for US to Lift Inhuman Sanctions against Iran

Mar 22, 2020

Riyabkov said Russia has once again urged US to stop inhuman policy of imposing unilateral sanctions against Iran which has faced health issues due to the outbreak of coronavirus.

He said Americans certainly are aware of the difference between sending humanitarian consignments individually to Iran and the inability to receive the incomes of exports which are necessary for implementing health programs.

This is while high-raking US’ officials do not avoid distorting realities and pursue their geopolitical objectives, Riyabkov added.

Earlier this week, Russia's Foreign Ministry had made a similar announcement, calling the sanctions "anti-human".

"Illegal unilateral US sanctions, imposed since May 2018 as part of the 'maximum pressure' campaign, are a powerful obstacle to the effective fight against the infection," Russia's foreign ministry said.

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 13,000 people and infected over 308,000 others globally.

Iran reported on Saturday 1,556 fatalities and 20,610 cases of infection. Meanwhile, 7,635 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:




Iran Asks for Freedom of Palestinian Prisoners amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Mar 22, 2020

During the phone talks on Saturday, Zarif stressed the need for ending Gaza siege and the release of Palestinian prisoners of war amid virus spread in the occupied lands.

Haniyeh, for his part, described US sanctions against Iran as cruel, and demanded for their removal.

He also congratulated Zarif on new Iranian year and expressed sympathy with the Iranian nation over coronavirus outbreak.

The Israeli Health Ministry announced Saturday morning that 883 people in the occupied lands have been diagnosed with the coronavius, an increase of 178 since Friday evening.

The ministry said 15 people were in serious condition, a day after the death of an 88-year-old man marked Israel’s first fatality in the global pandemic.




Iranian Artists Launch Anti-US Sanctions Campaign amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Mar 22, 2020

“At present, every one of us regardless of geographic or political situations, have come face to face with a common enemy. We need our message to be passed on as hastily as possible. We are all equally vulnerable to this microscopic adversary. The salvation of one, depends on the salvation of all,” the open letter of a group of Iranian artists to the artists of the world said.

The people of Iran are facing a crisis today, the Corona crisis you are aware of, as well as the “Crisis of Unjustly Imposed Sanctions” you might not be aware, it added.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

All of us, no matter what our nationality is or what country we are from, are citizens of a borderless utopia called “ART” which exists in a world called “CULTURE”. No superpower can prohibit us from being members of our ART nation. In our collective fantasy world, whether we are Asian, European, American or African, we all have a unique gene for understanding culture, an influential talent to make the people understand, as well as abilities for analyzing current trends and cause changes.

We all create narratives and images with our works of art, using our individual taste and styles and cultural characteristics (whether with or without faith) for peace over war, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and always for our salvation and resurrection. Our societies of artists strive to improve our nations with our collective works, despite being much smaller than the countries in which we live.

Even though the powers and politics that “be” have created gaps to keep us separated, we have become stronger and bolder and determined and influential in many ways in order to transfer our humanity and collective messages to the world.

At present, every one of us regardless of geographic or political situations, have come face to face with a common enemy. We need our message to be passed on as hastily as possible. We are all equally vulnerable to this microscopic adversary. The salvation of one, depends on the salvation of all.

Corona is not just a virus, it is a simple and historic question that is waiting for complex answers from the people and governments of the world. Can Iran’s answer to this question match the other countries, while its breaths are limited by global sanctions?

Is it not rational that the response of artists from around the world to Corona will be different and more effective than those of world politicians?

This crisis will pass, with small or catastrophic losses, but the collection of tales will also remain. The stories of exhausted nurses dancing in contaminated hospital hallways to raise the moral of patients, as they hide their worries about the lack of medicines and basic hospital necessities; stories of physicians who haven’t been home in weeks and are forced to work without masks, gloves or gowns as they search for corona victims in the hallways of hospitals.

These will all remain in the micro-historical memories of our time, and will be heard by all, sooner or later, either from us or from you all.

We hope it is not too late for influential and unified artists of the world to tell these stories of the injustices toward the Iranian people, so the powerful politicians of the world may make the right choices.

The people of Iran are facing a crisis today, the Corona crisis you are aware of, as well as the “Crisis of Unjustly Imposed Sanctions” you might not be aware.

For the artists of Iran, it is important for you all to know that now, in this time of our large numbers of infected (including the elderly who are waiting their turn) are facing shortages of medical supplies…

We want to know… What do you think? What do you say? and what will you do?

List of signatories (so far):

Anahid Abad, Akbar Azad, Poyan Azadeh, Negar Azarbaijani, Ali Ashtiani-Pour, Amir Asna-Ashari, Saman Ehteshami, Habib Ahmadzadeh, Mostafa Ahmadi, Hamid Ahya, Pourya Akhvas, , Pirouz Arjmand, Bahman Ardalan, Homayoun Assadian, Habib Esmaeili, Mahnaz Afzali, Javad Afshar, Bahareh Afshari, Navid Afqah, Kamand Amir-Soleimani, Mazda Ansari, Borzu Arjmand, Sattar Ouraki, Ibrahim Iraj-Zad, Shayesteh Irani, Behdad Babaei, Kourosh Babaei, Tina Bakhshi, Bahram Bedakhshani, Babak Borzouyeh, Marzieh Boroumand, Rakhshan Bani-E’temd, Ali Boustan, Hossein Behrouzi-Nia, Behzad Behzadpour, Behnam Behzadi, Seyyed Mohammad Beheshti, Nazanin Bayati, Hossein Pakdel, Elham Paveh-Nejad, Parviz Parastoui, Pantea Panahiha, Kioumars Pour-Ahmad, Hassan Pour-Shirzai, Tahmures Pour-Nazeri, Sohrab Pour-Nazeri, Keykhosro Pour-Nazeri, Kiarash Pouzeshi, Dariush Pir-Niakan, Mohammad Pirhadi, Afshin Pirhashemi, Iraj Taghi-Pour, Parviz Tanavoli, Kourosh Tahami, Tina Jame-Garmi, Ardavan Ja’farian, Ali Jafari Poyan, Ali Jalilvand, Vahid Jalilvand, Rouhollah Hejazi, Hadi Hejazi-Far, Farshad Hesami, Hassan Hassan-Doust, Mohammad Ali Hossein-Nejad, Ibrahim Haghighi, Shahab Hosseini, Sepideh Khosrojah, Hooman Khala’tbari, Reza Dadvie, Mohammad Reza Delpak, Bahram Radan, Shadmehr Rastin, Kamran Rasoulzadeh, Christophe Rezai, Habib Rezaei, Gholam Reza Rezaei, A’tefeh Razavi, Amir Shahab Razavian, Ali Rahbari, Hassan Riahi, Ali Reza Raisian, Leila Zare’, Ali Reza Zarin-Dast, Salar Zamanian, Jalil Saman, Amir Abbas Setayeshgar, Abbas Sajadi, Pourya Sarayie, Mohammad Sarir,  Saeed Sa’di, Mahdi Sa’di, Mojgan Sayadi, Masoud Salami, Kourosh Soleimani, Sae’d Soheili, Hooman Seidi, Ghazal Shakeri, Mohsen Shah-Ibrahimi, Ali Reza Shoja-Nouri, Homayoun Shajarian, Mohsen Sharifian, Masoud Shoari, Mahdi Shirzad, Abdol Vahab Shahidi, Ahad Sadeghi, Majid Salehi, Rasoul Sadr-Ameli, Behrouz Safarian, Fereshteh Taerpour, Tanaz Tabatabai, Mahyar Tarihi, Behzad Abdi, Ahamd A’rbani, Mohammad Mahdi Asgharpour, Aria Azimi-Nejad, Ali-Reza Alavian, Hossein Alizadeh, Behrouz Gharibpour, Mojtaba Askari, Hatef Alimardani, Homayoun Ghani-Zadeh, Hossein Ghiasi, Alireza A’sar, Sahab Elm, Sina Elm, Media Faraj-Nejad, Mehrdad Farid, Mehran Farhadi, Arash Farhangfar, Arash Ghanadi, Amir Ghanadi, Soroush Ghahramanlou, Farzaneh Kaboli, Abdoljabbar Kakaei, Ardeshir Kamkar, Houshang Kamkar, Mohammad Hadi Karimi, Niki Karimi, Ashkan Kamangari, Bardia Kiaras, Reza Kianian, Mostafa Kiai, Milad Kiai, Milad Key-Maram, Masoud Kimiaei, Soheila Golestani, Houshang Golmakani, Davood Ghanjei, Mohammad Reza Gohari, Hamid Motebasem, Kourosh Matin, Navid Mohammad-Zadeh, Milad Mohammadi, Amir Mardaneh, Hadi Marzban, Shabnam Moghadami, Hassan Mostafavi, Majid Matlabi, Hamid Reza Monabati, Seyyed Gholam-Reza Mousavi, Meysam Moulaei, Reza Mahdavi, Hossein Mahkam, Bijan Mir-Bagheri, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Maziar Miri, Shahin Najaf-Zadeh, Mehrdad Nosrati, Omid Nemati, Hamidreza Nour-Bakhsh, Javad Nouroz-Beigi, Afshin Hashemi, Karen Homayounfar, Mohammad Reza Honarmand, Hossein Yari, Abbas Yari, Reza Yazdani ,

And all artists who will sign this letter…




Coronavirus: Turkey’s death toll up nine to 30 as 289 new cases confirmed

23 March 2020

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

He said a total of 20,345 tests had been carried out.

Turkey imposed a partial curfew on Saturday for citizens over the age of 65 and those with chronic diseases, effective as of midnight, as part of measures against the coronavirus outbreak.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coroanvirus section.

Earlier on Saturday, Turkey suspended flights with 46 more countries and banned picnics and barbecues, as the number of cases has roughly doubled every day for a week.




Coronavirus: Palestinian PM orders home confinement for West Bank Palestinians

22 March 2020

The Palestinian government on Sunday ordered Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank confined to their homes for two weeks as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus.

The order, announced by Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on television, goes into force at 10 p.m. (2000GMT). Medical personnel, pharmacists, grocers and bakers would be exempt, he said.




Iranian child in coma after being given alcohol for ‘coronavirus protection’

22 March 2020

An Iranian child went into a coma and lost his sight after being given alcohol by his family as a supposed protective measure against coronavirus, according to a video circulating on social media.

Over 200 people have died across Iran in recent weeks from alcohol poisoning after they resorted to drinking homemade or industrial alcohol hoping it would prevent coronavirus infection.

“This child was fed alcohol by his family to protect him against coronavirus. The child has lost sight in both eyes and is in a coma,” said a medical professional standing at the child’s bedside in a video shared on social media.

“I beg of you, do not give alcohol to your children. It is very dangerous,” he added.

Alcoholic drinks have been banned in Iran since 1979, but many people, especially those with less money, drink spirits distilled at home, which have high concentrations of methanol and are dangerous, or even resort to industrial alcohol with fruit flavoring which is available in supermarkets.

Methanol is an industrial alcohol used as a solvent, pesticide, and alternative fuel source.

In extreme cases, alcohol poisoning could lead to permanent blindness, brain damage or heart attacks.

Full report at:




Coronavirus: Iran death toll reaches 1,685

22 March 2020

Iran’s death toll has reached 1,685 with 129 deaths in the past 24 hours, the health ministry’s spokesman told state TV on Sunday, adding that the total number of infected people in Iran had reached 21,638.

“There were 1,028 new confirmed infected cases in the past 24 hours ... and 7,913 people have recovered,” said Kianush Jahanpur.

Iran is the Middle Eastern country most affected by the coronavirus.




Gaza reports first two coronavirus cases

22 March 2020

Authorities in Gaza confirmed the first two cases of novel coronavirus on Sunday, identifying the individuals as Palestinians who had travelled to Pakistan and were held in quarantine on their return.

Gaza’s health ministry said in a statement that “two citizens tested positive (for COVID-19), after they returned from Pakistan” on Thursday.

It stressed that neither person left the quarantine facility near the Egyptian border and did not mix with the wider population.

Health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra said the sick were two men, aged 30 and 40, who were stable condition.

Israel has enforced a blockade on Gaza since 2007, when the extremist group Hamas seized control of the coastal strip.

Experts have warned that an epidemic in Gaza would likely be disastrous, given the high poverty rates, densely-packed population and weak health system.

Movement in and out of the territory – severely restricted by Israel and Egypt before the pandemic – has tightened in response to coronavirus.

Full report at:




Senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards dies of ‘chemical injuries’

22 March 2020

Hossein Asadollahi, a senior commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has died of “chemical injuries” from the war with Iraq in the 1980s, state media reported on Saturday.

A long-serving member of the IRGC, Asadollahi headed the 27th Mohammad Rasulullah division of the IRGC for several years.

Asadollahi had also been a key commander of Iranian forces fighting alongside the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad against rebels.

Several state news agencies reported on Saturday that Asadollahi died of “chemical injuries” sustained during the eight-year-long war with Iraq (1980-1988).

Some Iranian exile run media outlets however reported that Asadollahi died of coronavirus, which has so far claimed the lives of at least 16 regime figures.

It is worth noting that Iranian state media had previously also cited “chemical injuries” from the war with Iraq to be the cause behind the death of one official and the hospitalization of another.

State media said last month that lawmaker Mohammad Ali Ramezani died of “chemical injuries.” The semi-official Fars news agency reported weeks later that Ramezani died of coronavirus.

The semi-official ILNA news agency had also reported earlier this month that Industry Minister Reza Rahmani was hospitalised due to “chemical injuries,” denying reports that he had been infected with coronavirus.

Full report at:




Israeli troops shoot dead Palestinian man in West Bank

22 March 2020

Israeli troops have shot dead a young Palestinian man after he allegedly threw stones near a checkpoint at the entrance to the town of Ni'lin, located west of Ramallah.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health confirmed on Sunday that the man has lost his life after being shot by the Israeli troops’ gunfire.

A spokesperson for the Israeli military claimed the Israeli forces had thwarted an “attempted terrorist attack” near the N'ilin Junction on Sunday night.

His claim comes as he himself admits the man killed by Israeli troops was among a number of people “throwing stones” toward Israeli vehicles.

The Israeli forces have fired at those stone-throwing Palestinians, hitting and killing one of them and injuring another who escaped from the scene, the spokesperson said.

WAFA news agency said the Israeli military even prevented an ambulance from transferring the young man to the hospital.

Back on March 11, Israeli forces shot and killed a 15-year-old Palestinian during a protest against a tour organized by Israeli settlers to a historical site in a West Bank village.

The Sunday killing of the Palestinian man in Ramallah comes as the Palestinian Authority started implementing a mandatory quarantine on areas controlled by the PA as part of efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak. All citizens are prohibited from leaving their homes as of 10 pm on Sunday for a period of two weeks.

Full report at:




Yemeni air defence deters Saudi-led jets from striking areas in Ma’rib

22 March 2020

Yemeni air defense units have thwarted a Saudi airstrike against strategic and residential areas in the central province of Ma’rib, says the spokesman for Yemeni Armed Forces Brigadier General Yahya Saree.

Saree said in a post published on his official Twitter page on Sunday that a squadron of Saudi-led warplanes sought to bombard areas in Sirwah district at 10:03 p.m. local time (1903 GMT) the previous day, when the domestically built, long-range Fater-1 (Innovator-1) surface-to-air missile defense system intercepted the jets and forced them off Yemeni airspace.

العميد يحيى سريع


الدفاعات الجوية تتمكن من التصدي في تمام الساعة 10:03 من مساء اليوم لتشكيل قتالي من الطيران الحربي المعادي في أجواء مديرية صرواح بمحافظة مأرب وتجبره على مغادرة الأجواء.

القوات المسلحة مستمرة في التصدي لقوى العدوان حتى الوصول - إن شاء الله - إلى حماية الأجواء اليمنية بشكل كامل.


1:29 AM - Mar 22, 2020

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The high-ranking Yemeni military official said the aircraft left the area without carrying out any act of aggression.

Less than a week ago, the Fater-1 missile defense system foiled an airstrike by a squadron of Saudi-led warplanes against areas in the same district.

العميد يحيى سريع


تمكنت الدفاعات الجوية بفضل الله من التصدي فجر اليوم لتشكيل قتالي مكون من عدد من الطائرات الحربية المعادية في سماء مديرية صرواح محافظة مأرب وإجبارها على المغادرة قبل تنفيذ أي أعمال عدائية، وتمت عملية التصدي بعدد من صواريخ فاطر1.


2:23 PM - Mar 17, 2020

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Yemeni armed forces unveiled Fater-1 along with other domestically-built long-range, surface-to-air missile defense systems on February 23.

Minister of Defense Major General Mohamed al-Atefy, Chairman of the General Staff Major General Mohamed al-Ghammari and Brigadier General Saree were in attendance during the event.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing back to power a former Riyadh-backed government 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. The alliance has carried out more than 20,650 air raids in Yemen, according to the data collected by the Yemen Data Project.

Full report at:




Haniyeh urges Saudi king to release Palestinians in Saudi jails amid virus outbreak

22 March 2020

A top leader of the Palestinian Hamas resistance movement has asked Saudi Arabia's King Salman to order the immediate release of dozens of Palestinians, who are languishing in jails across the ultra-conservative kingdom, citing the threat posed by the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious new coronavirus.

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas political bureau, in a letter addressed to the Saudi monarch pleaded with him to make a quick decision and order the freedom of Palestinian detainees in Saudi prisons.

“In light of the pandemic of the novel coronavirus that has spread across the globe, due to fears for the lives of our honorable brethren and given all humanitarian and religious considerations … the release of the Palestinians becomes a humanitarian and national necessity. We are all confident that His Majesty will not hesitate to do so,” the letter read.

It added, “We call on the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to make a long-awaited decision and release our fellow countrymen from prison.”

Families of Palestinians in Saudi prisons call for their release

Meanwhile, Palestinian families and human rights groups have called on Saudi authorities to immediately release the Palestinians, citing the threat posed by the spread of COVID-19.

“Today, we renew our call on the Saudi authorities to release all Palestinian prisoners in Saudi Arabia. Most of them suffer from chronic diseases and need medication on a regular basis. The lack of health care in the prisons threatens their lives,” they said in a joint press statement.

“In light of the intensified spread of coronavirus around the world, we ask the Saudi authorities to consider the release of these detainees in accordance with the Amnesty International's directives,” the statement added.

Families of the detainees, some of whom are in their 80s, say the Palestinians have been denied access to lawyers and visitation rights, and authorities have recently begun reducing phone call access.

Unnamed sources within the Islamic resistance movement Hamas said the Palestinian inmates stood trial in hastily arranged hearings in groups of five in their most recent court appearance.

According to one source, the charges against the detainees ranged from the bizarre to the indefensible.

One person is accused of possessing bottles of Palestinian olive oil, a second is being charged with sending sheep to people in the Gaza Strip for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice), and a third is accused of possessing a book on the history of Palestine by Kuwaiti writer Tareq al-Suwaidan.

Umm Qusai al-Haddad, who was born in Saudi Arabia but now lives in Gaza City, said she feared for the safety of her father Suleiman, 67, and her two brothers, Yahya, 40, and Muhammad, 38, all of whom have been in Saudi detention since 2018.

She said Saudi authorities had repeatedly withheld information from the family, including their recent court session on March 8.

“We learned about the trial from the opposition Saudi pages [Facebook and Twitter accounts], and my mother called the criminal court and checked if it was true,” Umm Qusai said.

She noted that lack of transparency from Saudi authorities has been a constant feature since their arrest.

The Palestinian woman said Saudi officials have repeatedly restricted communications between the family ever since her father and siblings were forcibly disappeared on March 11, 2018.

“About a week after their arrest, my mother received something known as a reassurance call, but then they disappeared for three or four months,” she said.

Last month, the Prisoners of Conscience, a non-governmental organization advocating human rights in Saudi Arabia, announced in a post on its official Twitter page that Saudi authorities had launched a new campaign of "arbitrary" arrests against Palestinian expatriates living in the kingdom on charges of supporting Hamas.

On October 21 last year, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Arabic-language Shehab news agency that Palestinians being held at prisons and detention centers in Saudi Arabia are exposed to various forms of torture and cruel methods of interrogation.

“Unfortunately, there is a harsh investigation procedure against the detainees, some of whom are subjected to various forms of torture. Interrogators of different nationalities are questioning them,” he said back then.

“There are about 60 Palestinian detainees [in Saudi jails], and some of them are the sons or supporters of Hamas. Some of them have even lived more than three decades in the kingdom and greatly contributed to the construction of the country.”

He further noted that Hamas has made great efforts, either through contacts with a number of countries or Saudi officials, to secure the release of the Palestinian inmates but all to no avail.

The senior Palestinian official stressed that his movement is closely monitoring the cases of Palestinian prisoners being held in Saudi Arabia.

On September 14, 2019, Hamas also called on Saudi authorities to immediately release its senior official Muhammad al-Khudari, who has been living in the kingdom for over 30 years.

Khudari represented Hamas between mid-1990s and 2003 in Saudi Arabia.

He has held other important positions in the Palestinian resistance movement as well.

Over the past two years, Saudi authorities have deported more than 100 Palestinians from the kingdom, mostly on charges of supporting Hamas financially, politically or through social networking sites.

The Riyadh regime has imposed strict control over Palestinian funds in Saudi Arabia since the end of 2017.

All remittances of Palestinian expatriates are being tightly controlled, under the pretext that these funds could be diverted indirectly and through other countries to Hamas.

Full report at:




Palestinians in West Bank must stay at home: Palestine PM

22 March 2020

The Palestinian government on Sunday, March 22, issued an order confining Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to their homes for two weeks as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus.

The order, announced by Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on television, goes into force at 10 p.m. (2000GMT). Medical personnel, pharmacists, grocers and bakers would be exempt, he said.

"Firstly, it is forbidden for citizens to move between governorates at all. Secondly, it is forbidden for our people in villages and refugee camps to come to the downtown of our cities except for urgent and medical matters. Thirdly, no citizens are not allowed to leave their homes, as part of home-confinement, as of 22:00 (20:00 GMT) tonight, 22nd of March, except for medical centres and their workers. Workers in these areas should show their work cards: pharmacies, bakeries, and grocery stores," Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said.

"All citizens who return from abroad should be in quarantine for 14 days in centres in their cities. Fifth, banks will work in emergency situation, bank employees should show their work cards. Sixth, Palestinian workers are not allowed to go to settlements at all. Seventh, we request Israel to provide human conditions for workers who sleep in their workplaces (in Israel)," he added.

Last week, Shtayyeh asked the some 25,000 Palestinians who work in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank - areas Israel captured in a 1967 war - to stay home as part of efforts to reduce transmission.

Israeli authorities said that due to the health crisis, Palestinians with work permits, who typically return home to the West Bank daily, will be allowed to stay in Israel for up to two months, depending on the nature of their work.

Full report at:




Palestinian prisoners threaten hunger strike over Israeli coronavirus response

22 March 2020

Palestinian prisoners in Israel have threatened to go on an open-ended hunger strike in protest at a ban on meeting attorneys, lack of protective measures by guards during searches in their cells, and denial of medical protection gear in the wake of rising cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious new coronavirus, in the Occupied Territories.

An unnamed source close to Palestinian prisoners told the Israeli English-language Haaretz newspaper that prisoners affiliated with Hamas Islamic resistance movement returned their breakfast and lunch servings on Thursday, while those affiliated with Fatah returned some meals during the weekend. They plan to launch a full hunger strike at the beginning of next month.

“Prisoners are enclosed in their cells,” the source said, adding that Israeli wardens “who deliver food [to Palestinian prisoners] are walking around, handing it out with no gloves or masks….”

Palestinian prisoners have not been tested for the coronavirus, as Israeli Health Ministry regulations in place call for a test only in cases where there exist both exposure to a confirmed patient and symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever, cough, shortness of breath.

Meanwhile, a high-ranking member of Hamas says Israeli authorities are denying Palestinian prisoners medical protection gear.

Wasfi Kabha said the Israel Prison Service has ordered the inmates to use their socks in place of masks in a blatant disregard for their safety and lives.

“Given the overcrowding in Israeli detention centers and the absence of cleaning products at the prison canteens, Palestinian detainees are now more vulnerable in light of the coronavirus outbreak,” he commented.

Kabha, a former Palestinian Minister of Prisoners' Affairs, further noted that most of the diseases afflicting Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails usually result from the lack of healthcare and hygiene supplies.

There is no regular cleaning of the cells, let alone their disinfection, he added.

The former Palestinian minister said there are 1,000 prisoners in Israeli jails with health problems, including 28 suffering from chronic diseases. This means they are at a higher contraction risk.

Kabha called on concerned local and international human rights organizations to pressure Israeli authorities to take all the necessary preventive measures that would ensure the safety of the Palestinian prisoners in the time of the pandemic.

In the besieged Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials have announced the first two cases of COVID-19.

Deputy Health Minister Youssef Abulreesh said late on Saturday the two patients had returned from Pakistan via Gaza's Rafah border with neighboring Egypt on Thursday.

The pair exhibited symptoms of the illness, which include a dry cough and high fever, Abulreesh told a news conference.

He added that the two were quarantined upon arrival and are now in a field hospital in the border town of Rafah.

Full report at:




Use socks as face masks to avoid virus: Israel to Palestinians

22 March 2020

Israel has asked Palestinian prisoners to use their socks as masks to avoid the deadly coronavirus, which has killed thousands of people across the world.

Hamas leader Wasfi Qabba said Saturday that Israel rejected the request of the detainees' representatives at Megiddo prison to provide them with protective masks and asked them to use their socks instead.

Qabba, a former Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs, warned that depriving the detainees of face masks reflects the Tel Aviv regime's intention to infect prisoners with the virus.

He called on the international human rights institutions to provide prisoners with disinfectants and hygiene products to counter the disease.

Abdelnasser Ferwana, chief of Studies and Documentation Unit of the Prisoners and Former Prisoners Committee, said the Israeli Prison System (IPS) mockingly said “let the prisoners use their socks” as safety masks, against the coronavirus.

Palestinian prisoners’ rights groups have accused Israeli prison authorities of engaging in gross medical negligence and abuse by not ensuring adequate protection for Palestinian prisoners

against the coronavirus.

Several human rights groups have reportedly warned that the lives of thousands of Palestinian prisoners are now at risk, stating that Israeli authorities have not yet applied precautionary measures to its prisons.

The Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS) has appealed to international human rights organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to pressure Israel into taking

up adequate measures to protect prisoners from the coronavirus pandemic.

The PPS said on Thursday Israeli prison authorities had informed them that four Palestinian detainees in the Megiddo prison had contracted the virus.

According to the PPS, the prisoners in sections 5, 6 and 10 of the prison were infected after one of them came in contact with an infected Israeli investigator while being interrogated in the city of Petah Tikva.

“The prison administration has officially informed the inmates about the infections, and everyone is on high alert. Prisoners are facing today the danger of infection from prison guards and investigators," it said.

The four prisoners have reportedly been isolated from the rest of the prison population.

The Palestinian Committee for Prisoners' Affairs, however, said Israeli media reports suggesting that four Palestinian prisoners have been infected by the widely-spread coronavirus were inaccurate.

On Wednesday, Palestinian prisoners rejected their meals in protest against the Israeli Prison Service’s plans to stop supplying 140 items, including cleaning products, from the canteen and halt

medical visits for detainees.

Palestinians call for release of prisoners amid virus fears

On Saturday, the West Bank-based Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs issued an urgent appeal for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails amid the virus outbreak.

The statement warned a "real catastrophe" in Israeli prisons because of the high number of people diagnosed with the coronavirus in the occupied territories.

It called on the international community and human rights organizations to pressure Israel to release the Palestinian prisoners, particularly the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases.

Full report at:




UAE-, Saudi-backed militants clash in Yemen's Aden again

22 March 2020

Yemen’s port city of Aden has been rocked by violent clashes between UAE-backed separatists and Saudi-backed militants, amid a deepening rift within the Riyadh-led military coalition waging war on the impoverished Arab nation.

Eyewitnesses said the infighting broke out between the southern UAE-backed separatists and Saudi-backed militants loyal to ex-Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

It came after the Storm Brigades affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates made an attempt to break into Camp 20, which is supported by Saudi Arabia.

On Friday, Saudi forces attempted to take control of Aden International Airport from the so-called Emirati-trained Security Belt Forces in order to hand it over to other local forces receiving military training in the kingdom.

Both the UAE-sponsored separatists and the Saudi-backed militants loyal to Hadi serve the Riyadh-led military coalition and have been engaged, since March 2015, in a bloody war on Yemeni people.

Ties between the two sides have soured over a number of issues, including what the Yemenis view as the UAE's intention to occupy Yemen’s strategic Socotra Island and gain dominance over major waterways in the region.

The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the Saudi war on Yemen 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 their war on Yemen.

Full report at:




North America


Trump Aides Clash over Military Escalation with Iran: Report

21 March 2020

Top Trump administration aides have clashed over whether the US should escalate tensions with Iran militarily, a report suggests.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, are the ones pushing for military escalation with Iran, New York Times reported Saturday.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meanwhile, oppose the increase in tensions.

The war hawks blame Iran for a rocket attack last week on US-occupied Camp Taji about 27 kilometers north of the Iraqi Baghdad, in which one British and two American personnel were allegedly killed.

The report noted that, “the Pentagon and intelligence agencies did not have clear evidence that the attacks… had been ordered by Iran.”

President Donald Trump brought US and Iran to the brink of war after ordering the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani on January 2.

Trump’s escalation of tensions in the region has strained ties between Washington and Baghdad further, making the Iraqi government seek withdrawal of US forces from the Muslim country.

“American officials say there is little appetite among the president and some of his top advisers for a dangerous escalation with Iran,” read the report.

Tehran has time and again asserted that it stands ready to defend its interests in the region.




Pompeo rushes to Kabul to jumpstart flagging US-Taliban peace deal

March 23, 2020

KABUL, Afghanistan: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has arrived in Kabul on an urgent visit to try to move forward a US peace deal signed last month with the Taliban. The trip comes despite the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when world leaders and statesmen are curtailing official travel.

Since the signing of the deal, the peace process has become stalled amid political turmoil in Afghanistan, with the country’s leaders squabbling over who was elected president.

President Ashraf Ghani and his main rival in last September’s presidential polls, Abdullah Abdullah, have both declared themselves the country’s president in dueling inauguration ceremonies earlier this month.

During his visit Monday, Pompeo is expected to try to help end the impasse, which has put on hold the start of intra-Afghan peace talks that would include the Taliban. Those talks are seen as a critical next step in the peace deal, negotiated to allow the United States to bring home its troops and give Afghans the best chance at peace.




US envoy says Kabul, Taliban in first prisoner exchange talks

22 March 2020

The Afghan government and the Taliban on Sunday held their first discussion on arranging prisoner exchanges, a key step in a broader push for peace, the US special envoy for Afghanistan said on Twitter.

"Today, the US and Qatar facilitated the first Afghan government to Taliban technical talks on prisoner releases, via Skype video conferencing," Zalmay Khalilzad said.

He had said on Wednesday that it was "urgent" to quickly conclude plans for such exchanges -- as called for in a historic US pact with the Taliban -- as the coronavirus pandemic was complicating diplomatic contacts.

The agreement, signed by Khalilzad and a senior Taliban official on February 29 in Doha, established a framework for bringing to an end America's longest war, begun after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

It called notably for the liberation of up to 5,000 Taliban fighters held by Kabul, and up to 1,000 members of the Afghan government forces in insurgent hands.

That was meant to take place before the start of peace talks between the government -- which was not a party to the talks that produced the Doha deal -- and the Taliban, originally set for March 10.

But the Afghan government initially balked. President Ashraf Ghani was reportedly furious over the demand for prisoner releases, saying only the government could authorize such a step.

He eventually did consent to a plan for gradual prisoner releases but conditioned it on a reduction in violence.

"We want guarantees that they will not return to fighting," Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Afghanistan's National Security Council, told AFP at the time.

'Gesture of goodwill'

The Taliban in turn rejected that proposal, saying its agreement with Washington called for all 5,000 prisoners to be freed before inter-Afghan talks could begin.

Taliban leaders have said they are ready for the next phase of the peace process, but would not meet with government officials until their prisoners are free.

A few days later, following intensive behind-the-scenes talks, Ghani announced that the authorities would free 1,500 insurgents as a "gesture of goodwill," with plans to free another 3,500 prisoners after the talks are under way.

The Doha accord also calls for the gradual withdrawal of American and other foreign troops over a 14-month period -- the singular focus of the US diplomatic efforts. The first phase of that withdrawal has already begun.

In exchange, the Taliban committed to continue fighting against terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and promised to negotiate for the first time with Kabul.

Since the Doha agreement was signed, insurgents have carried out dozens of attacks. Insurgents who had infiltrated a police unit in the southern province of Zabul on Friday killed at least 24 police and soldiers, officials reported.

Political chaos in Kabul has further complicated matters, with Ghani's former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah also claiming the presidency following last September's bitterly disputed election.

Full report at:




Pakistan PM urges Trump to lift Iran sanctions as country fights virus outbreak

22 March 2020

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has urged US President Donald Trump to lift unilateral sanctions that his administration has imposed on Iran as Tehran is engaged in a diligent fight against the ongoing pandemic of the deadly new coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

Khan made the remarks in a Sunday tweet, urging the American president to lift Iran sanctions “till the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”

“I want to appeal to President Trump on humanitarian grounds to lift the sanctions against Iran till the COVID19 pandemic is over,” the Pakistani prime minister said.

Pakistan's prime minister added that at a time that “the people of Iran are facing untold suffering” the brutal sanctions that the United States has imposed on the country “are crippling Iran's efforts to fight COVID19.”

Imran Khan


I want to appeal to President Trump on humanitarian grounds to lift the sanctions against Iran till the COVID19 pandemic is over. The people of Iran are facing untold suffering as sanctions are crippling Iran's efforts to fight COVID19.  Humanity must unite to fight this pandemic


5:36 PM - Mar 22, 2020

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This is not the first time that Khan has urged the US to lift sanctions it has imposed on Iran on humanitarian grounds to ease the country's fight against new coronavirus outbreak.

Addressing a press conference on Friday, the Pakistani prime minister said that the United States should lift its "unjust" sanctions on Iran to help the neighboring country better deal with the health crisis.

"I would stress and insist to the international community to lift the sanctions on Iran," Khan said, adding, "It is very unjust they are dealing with such a large outbreak on one side, and on the other they are facing international sanctions."

"It is very unjust they are dealing with such a large outbreak on one side, and on the other they are facing international sanctions," he added.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Khan called for the lifting of sanctions against Iran, the worst-hit country by the pandemic in the Middle East, saying it was time to end the bans.

He said Iran was a “classic example” of a place where the humanitarian imperative to contain the outbreak outweighs political rivalries or economic dogmas.

Pakistan FM: Islamabad taking steps to get Iran sanctions lifted

Khan's tweet came after Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said earlier on Sunday that his country is making diplomatic efforts to get Iran sanctions lifted, especially under current circumstances when the country is fighting a pitched battle to curb an outbreak of new coronavirus.

Qureshi made the remarks in a phone call on Sunday with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

According to a statement released by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, during the call, Qureshi informed Zarif of the diplomatic efforts undertaken by his country at international level to get Iran sanctions removed as well as the latest position taken by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on this issue.

Economic sanctions against Iran should be lifted and Islamabad has informed world powers of the necessity of this matter, the top Pakistani diplomat said.

The statement further quoted Qureshi as saying that he has been in contact with ambassadors of the P5+1 group of countries -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany -- which signed a landmark nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, calling on them to lift sanctions re-imposed on Tehran following Washington's unilateral withdrawal from the accord.

Trump unilaterally abandoned the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in May 2018 and reinstated the anti-Iran sanctions, which had been lifted by the accord. Under Washington’s pressure, the three European signatories to the JCPOA have so far failed to fulfill their contractual obligation to protect Tehran’s business interests against the sanctions.

Qureshi further pointed to his phone call with Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Saturday and said his German counterpart has assured him that he would raise the issue of lifting Iran sanctions during a meeting of the European Union foreign ministers on Monday.

He added that he would discuss possible ways of removing Iran sanctions during phone talks with his counterparts from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in the near future.

Kianoush Jahanpour, the head of public relations and information center of the Iranian Ministry of Health, said on Sunday that 1,028 new coronavirus cases had been diagnosed within the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infected individuals to 21,638.

“With 129 new deaths in the past 24 hours, the death toll from the virus has reached 1,685,” he said, putting the number of patients who have recovered from the viral disease at 7,913.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said on Friday that "brutal" sanctions unilaterally imposed on the Iranian nation by the US are depriving a great number of Iranians of health, jobs and sources of income, urging the American people not to allow the current administration’s hostile attitude toward Iran to tarnish history of their country.

Full report at:



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