New Age Islam
Thu Oct 22 2020, 05:05 AM

Islamic World News ( 15 March 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Prominent Muslim Cleric Qaradawi Calls For Worldwide Suspension of Friday Prayers







• Saudi Arabia Detains 298 Officials in New Corruption Cases Amid Royal Power Struggle

• 'Hindus Love Muslims' Poster Pinned Outside Dwarka Mosque in South-West Delhi That Was Attacked

• Iron Gates Reinforce Divide In Riot-Hit Northeast Delhi

• Darul Afta Pakistan, PUC and leadership of Wafaq-ul-Masajid Ask Public To Follow Virus Protocol

• Muslim Kiwis Respond To Arab News’ Christchurch Edition: ‘We Are Not Forgotten’

• Christian Rohingya Refugees Attacked, Kidnapped In Bangladesh

• Covid Patient No 131 Was At Massive Tabligh Gathering at Mosque

• Israel’s Arab Coalition Backs Netanyahu’s Rival Benny Gantz

 

Arab World

• Prominent Muslim Cleric Qaradawi Calls For Worldwide Suspension of Friday Prayers

• Saudi Arabia Detains 298 Officials in New Corruption Cases Amid Royal Power Struggle

• No Warm Greetings, No Mosque Prayers as Virus Changes Gulf Habits

• Iraq Joint Operations Command Suspends Cooperation with US-Led Coalition

• Parliamentarians Warn US against Dire Repercussions of Continued Buildup in Iraq

• Abdullah bin Zayed affirms to Zarif the UAE’s support to Iran amid coronavirus

• Coronavirus: Lebanon declares state of emergency, orders two-week lockdown

• Iraq suspends flights to and from Baghdad airport over coronavirus outbreak

• Iraqi government imposes curfew in Baghdad over coronavirus concerns

• Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia: Riyadh shuts down, fines non-compliant shisha cafes

• Coronavirus: Turkey quarantines 10,000 pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia

• Nearly 5 million children born in war-hit Syria since 2011: UN

• US military dispatches over 60 trucks to oil-rich northeastern Syria: Report

• Iraq will adopt different approach in case US troops refuse to withdraw: Badr bloc

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India

• 'Hindus Love Muslims' Poster Pinned Outside Dwarka Mosque in South-West Delhi That Was Attacked

• Iron Gates Reinforce Divide In Riot-Hit Northeast Delhi

• Fourth batch of 53 Indians evacuated from coronavirus-hit Iran arrive in India

• Farooq calls on leaders to unite for quick release of all detainees

• SAARC coronavirus video meet: Afghanistan seeks Indian satellite for distance learning to contain infection

• Coronavirus outbreak: Govt suspends travel, registration to Kartarpur Sahib

• Top Lashkar, Hizbul commanders among 4 terrorists killed in J&K encounter

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Pakistan

• Darul Afta Pakistan, PUC and leadership of Wafaq-ul-Masajid Ask Public To Follow Virus Protocol

• Loya Jirga Vows to Launch Protest Movement for Rights Soon

• Pakistan's Silence on China's Uighur Muslims Is Betraying Its National Character

• Improved peace, stability due to martyrs’ sacrifices, says Gen Bajwa

• Malaysia says Islamic event linked to virus cases, days after 250,000 gathered in Pakistan

• President Arif Alvi calls for virus awareness via ‘social media weapons’

• 358 child abuse cases reported in last five years across Sindh

• Pakistan calls for joint efforts to fight virus menace in South Asia

• In biggest single-day jump, Sindh reports 41 more virus cases

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Europe

• Muslim Kiwis Respond To Arab News’ Christchurch Edition: ‘We Are Not Forgotten’

• Saudi Crown Prince: G20 States Will Work To Reduce Coronavirus’ Economic Impact

• British Media Peddles Fake News and Scare Stories On Coronavirus Outbreak In Iran

• Turkey slams Greece over treatment of asylum seekers

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South Asia

• Christian Rohingya Refugees Attacked, Kidnapped In Bangladesh

• Afghanistan Government Postpones Plan of Releasing Jailed Taliban Members

• Islamist militants sentenced to death for Bangladesh priest murder

• 5 new positive cases of coronavirus surface in Afghanistan

• Coronavirus: Over 300 American soldiers quarantined after returning from Afghanistan

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Southeast Asia

• Covid Patient No 131 Was At Massive Tabligh Gathering at Mosque

• Indonesia launches mosque disinfection campaign

• Malaysia’s Islamist PM Mahathir into sunset?

• Most Malaysia virus cases spread from Islamic event, days after Pakistan religious gathering

• Mosque in Shah Alam closed in Covid-19 shutdown

• Minister: Increase in dividend restores confidence of Tabung Haji depositors

• Former Sports Minister Suspected of Updating WhatsApp Status From Behind Bars

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Mideast

• Israel’s Arab Coalition Backs Netanyahu’s Rival Benny Gantz

• Al-Aqsa, Dome of the Rock shut as precaution against coronavirus

• Netanyahu challenger Gantz chosen to form new Israeli government

• Israel to use anti-terror tech to counter coronavirus ‘invisible enemy’

• British Ambassador Advises Compatriots to Avoid Panic Shopping, Learn from Iranians

• Iran Assembly of Experts member Hashem Bathaei-Golpaygani dies of coronavirus

• Coronavirus closes Shia tomb in Iran’s Mashhad: Spokesman

• Coronavirus: Netanyahu's criminal trial postponed for two months

• Iran FM says US cruel sanctions severely hindering anti-corona fight

• Turkey-Russia patrols start amid protests on Syrian highway

• Israel postpones Netanyahu graft trial by 2 months over virus

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North America

• US Commander Vows To Keep Two Aircraft Carriers In Persian Gulf To Deter Iran

• Washington Post hypes fake news on coronavirus ‘burial pits’ in Iran

• Pentagon says two seriously injured US troops being treated in Baghdad

• World powers call on Syrian regime to end killings

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Africa

• Morocco to Create $1 Bln Fund to Counter Coronavirus Spread

• Morocco’s minister among 18 newly detected coronavirus cases

• Jordan confirms new coronavirus cases, total now 15

• Jordan says two dead in prison riot after visits banned over coronavirus

• African nations step up measures to contain COVID-19 outbreak

• Lagos pipeline blast kills 15, destroys several buildings: Nigerian officials

• Westerners kidnapped in Burkina Faso flee, reach peacekeepers in Mali

• Boko Haram: Terrorists allegedly attack Nguru community in Borno, kill 3

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: https://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/prominent-muslim-cleric-qaradawi-calls-for-worldwide-suspension-of-friday-prayers/d/121319

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Prominent Muslim Cleric Qaradawi Calls For Worldwide Suspension of Friday Prayers

March 15, 2020

PETALING JAYA: World renowned Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi has called for mosques around the world to suspend all congregationary prayers, including the weekly Friday prayer, as a precaution to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera’s Arabic language channel reported that the call was made through the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) which Qaradawi heads.

The stand by IUMS, which brings together tens of thousands of Muslim scholars worldwide, comes as several countries lock down on religious gatherings.

Perlis called off Friday prayers statewide two days ago, while in Singapore, authorities imposed a two-week freeze on all mosque activities pending disinfection.

Putrajaya, however, issued a guideline to Muslims attending mosques, including an advice to them to perform ritual ablution from their homes.

Yesterday, scores of new Covid-19 patients were tracked to a convention of Muslim missionary group “tabligh” attended by 10,000 people held at the Sri Petaling mosque. Health authorities have appealed to participants to visit the nearest clinic to undergo tests.

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/03/15/prominent-muslim-cleric-qaradawi-calls-for-worldwide-suspension-of-friday-prayers/

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Saudi Arabia detains 298 officials in new corruption cases amid royal power struggle

16 March 2020

Saudi Arabia has detained 298 public officials in a new alleged anti-corruption push amid reports that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to get rid of potential rivals to the Saudi throne.

A Saudi anti-corruption body known as Nazaha announced on Sunday that it had arrested 298 government officials for crimes such as bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power involving a total of 379 million riyals ($101 million).

Among the detained officials, eight defense minister officers are suspected of money laundering in relation to government contracts during the years 2005-2015.

Two judges are also amongst the list for allegedly receiving bribes.

Another 29 interior ministry officials in the Eastern Province have also been detained, including three colonels, a major general and a brigadier general.

The body provided no names and little additional details about the cases.

Back in November 2017, dozens of high-ranking Saudi officials and figures were detained and placed in the luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel under tight security over similar corruption charges.

The detentions had been ordered by Saudi Arabia’s so-called Anti-Corruption Committee headed by bin Salman in a crackdown widely believed to be aimed at consolidating his power.

The new wave of arrests comes after authorities announced that they also seek to crack down on corruption by ordinary government employees.

A number of high-ranking Saudi royals, however, have also been arrested in the past week.

The arrests, which include rival candidates for the Saudi throne, have prompted speculation that the Saudi crown prince may be seeking to further tighten his grip on power ahead of a probable ascension in the near future.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/16/620951/Saudi-Arabia-detains-298-amid-internal-power-struggle--

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'Hindus Love Muslims' Poster Pinned Outside Dwarka Mosque in South-West Delhi That Was Attacked

14/MAR/2020

New Delhi: A poster saying ‘Hindus love Muslims’ was pinned outside the mosque in South-West Delhi that was attacked last month on February 28 at 2 am by a few men allegedly shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’.

The poster was signed ‘Hindus of Dwarka’,

The Wire had reported last month that broken glass bottles and stones were found near the mosque’s premises.

While DCP Dwarka had refuted claims that the incident had taken place, when The Wire visited the mosque, the police were making arrangements to fix the windowpane that had been shattered – allegedly by a pelted stone – so that further panic could be avoided.

Imran Khan, a member of the managing committee of the Shahjahanabad Society (a Muslim-majority housing complex) and Abrar Ahmed, the convener of the Masjid Society Trust suspected that 10-12 stones were pelted in quick succession st the mosque and were well-aimed.

The mosque which is situated in a narrow rocky lane off the Sector 11 main road has no street lights. The lane right in the front of the road has no street lights either.

This attack happened after Delhi’s North East region saw gruesome and communally targeted violence after February 24, in which over 50 people lost their lives. Temples, mosques, shops and schools belonging to both the Hindu and Muslim communities have been destroyed.

https://thewire.in/rights/hindus-love-muslims-poster-dwarka-mosque

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Iron Gates Reinforce Divide In Riot-Hit Northeast Delhi

Abhishek Dey & Sweta Goswami

Mar 16, 2020

Visitors to lane number four in north-east Delhi’s Kabir Nagar are now welcomed by a seven-foot high sturdy iron gate. Residents said they raised funds and installed the gate in the aftermath of the communal violence inFebruary-end that killed 53 people and left over 500 injured in north-east Delhi.

Right across the road, a similar gate welcomes visitors to Lohiya Gully in Babarpur.

While Kabir Nagar’s lane number four is a Muslim pocket surrounded by Hindu-dominated areas, Babarpur’s Lohiya Gully is a Hindu pocket surrounded by several Muslim-dominated lanes.

Residents said these gates would keep mobs away if violence breaks out again in the area.

“What can we do? We have to take measures to protect ourselves from mobs,” said Asif Akhtar, a resident of Kabir Nagar, who supervised contractors engaged in setting up iron gates in the neighbourhood over the last two weeks.

Pawan Gupta, a resident of Babarpur, who monitored a similar exercise in his neighbourhood, said, “Relations between communities have definitely changed. There is no harm investing in such protective measures.”

As many as 12 such iron gates have come up in the interconnected lanes in neighbouring Kabir Nagar and Kardampuri localities. Eleven such gates have been installed in Babarpur and Maujpur.

Work on several more are in progress, Akhtar and Gupta said. All these have been set up by residents of the area.

Most such gates, they said, separate the Muslim pockets in Hindu-dominated localities and vice versa.

During the communal violence, several Hindu and Muslim pockets in riot-affected localities were separated by temporary blockades of damaged vehicles, broken furniture, wooden planks, tin sheets, debris of destroyed houses and shops in apprehension of attacks by mobs.

HT was witness to several such blockades during its coverage of the riots in localities such as Jafrabad, Maujpur, Babarpur, Kardampuri, Kabir Nagar, Gokalpuri, Ashok Nagar, Jyoti Nagar, Bhajanpura, Dayalpur, Brijpuri, Mustafabad, Karawal Nagar, Brahmpuri, Yamuna Vihar, Chand Bagh and Khajoori Khas.

Weeks later, several of those temporary blockades have now been replaced by permanent iron gates, creating clusters that stand divided, and keep people segregated, on the basis of faith..

According to Delhi cabinet minister Gopal Rai, demands for setting up gates in several riot-affected areas have compelled the government to plan a survey across localities.

He said the government is also planning a scheme under which the concerned municipal agency will be asked to execute the gate installation exercise, and funds will be provided by the Delhi government. However, no deadlines have been specified for the survey and the scheme.

FOCUSONSAFETY

In Brijpuri, Hindu and Muslim residents joined hands to set up several iron gates. Nitin Arora and Qamar Hassan, both residents of adjacent lanes, worked together on measurements and budget.

“After seeing the riots, all families, whether Hindu or Muslim, want only one thing — safety,” Hassan said.

When asked if “safety” would be compromised if the gates are left open for usual thoroughfare, Arora said they would at least help keep mobs away the “next time”.

“Most of the people who died or were injured in the riots were those who stepped out of their homes to see what was happening and got caught in mob violence. The next time such a thing happens, we will at least be able to ensure a lockdown. On usual days, the gates can be kept open,” Arora said.

In a few localities, proposals for installing such gates have led to disputes. At least three such disputes have surfaced in the first and ninth lanes of Chand Bagh, and near a Durga temple. Here, residents belonging to one community have objected to the other’s plan citing possible inconveniences.

In areas such as Maujpur, most Muslim families who fled after the violence broke out are yet to return, but their Hindu neighbours are adamant about setting up gates.

“They (Muslims) haven’t returned since February 24. We do not know where they have gone. Anyway, we never spoke to them. Maybe they have found a better place to live. Soon, we will have gates at the front and back of every lane. We do not need their help for that,” said Usha Tomar, a resident of lane number 14 of Adarsh Mohalla in Maujpur.

SEEKING GOVERNMENT HELP

While people in some localities have set up new gates either on their own or collectively, and approached residents’ welfare associations (RWAs), others have sought help from the government.

The violence in north-east Delhi affected largely six assembly segments. Three of them are ruled by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — Seelampur, Babarpur and Mustafabad — and three by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — Rohtash Nagar, Karawal Nagar and Ghonda.

In the last two weeks (between March 1 and March 14), according to the legislators representing these assembly segments, they have collectively received over 700 requests for setting up gates using government funds.

The BJP MLA from Karawal Nagar, Mohan Singh Bisht, said he has received 211 applications, the most so far. And Rohtash Nagar MLA, Jitender Mahajan of the BJP, said he has received 21 applications, the least so far. The other four MLAs have received between 100 and 200 requests, these legislators said.

Every MLA in Delhi is entitled to a local area development (LAD) fund of 10 crore per year, part of which can be invested in setting up gates in residential areas, but under special provisions which need to be cleared by the Delhi cabinet.

“People are scared. We have to pay attention to their request regarding gates. It will be prioritised. After these gates, we have also received large number of requests for installing CCTV cameras and police pickets,” Bisht said.

Environment and labour minister Gopal Rai said the demand for setting up gates is very high, and the government has to help the people. “The Delhi government is soon going to start a survey to identify the lanes and assess the total number of gates that need to be installed,” said Rai, who is also the Babarpur MLA.

The existence and involvement of several land agencies has also surfaced as a potential challenge. Rai said the urban development department pointed out that most of the lanes where residents are demanding gates be installed under the jurisdiction of the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC). “ We are planning a scheme under which the EDMC will execute the project and the funds be given by the Delhi government,” he said.

Most MLAs point out that they will be in a better position to help after they receive the LAD funds after the Budget session of the Delhi Assembly, likely to be held after March 25.

Meanwhile, in an all-party meeting with the Delhi government last week, Delhi’s leader of opposition, Ramvir Singh Bidhuri, urged the government to allow unused LAD funds in some areas to be invested on setting up gates. These funds will technically lapse on March 31, he said.

THREAT PERCEPTION

According to Sanjay Srivastava, professor of sociology with the Institute of Economic Growth in University of Delhi, demands for such gates is an “ongoing tragedy” in urban life.

“Gating has been an ongoing process in Delhi. In recent times, one of the most significant instances was just before the Asian Games in 1982 when a lot of labourers came into the city and were perceived as threat. However, I don’t think it is necessarily linked to ‘major’ events. We have a very generalised gating sensibility. This has to do with viewing gating as a solution to urban problems, rather than a manifestation of a deep-rooted problem,” said Srivastava, also a British Academy Global Professor at University College London.

“Further, while, closing off public streets may not be legal, it is something that is strongly encouraged. This, through a tragic logic of its own, now percolates to the making of religious enclaves. Of course, we have to understand that many of our existing enclaves are religious enclaves, given that there exist invisible barriers to people from another religion finding a home within them. However, the key difference is that this idea might be spreading from middle-class contexts to poorer localities. The more open nature of poorer localities now replicates that of the middle-class ones.

“So, as it is, our cities are very divided. However, it has tended to be confined to people in higher socio-economic groups — with the active encouragement of the state. One can only fear for our cities where we have very few ways of dealing with strangers in a civil manner — and our civil interactions are limited to those in our social circle. This latest trend makes into strangers those who were neighbours. There might be a political pay-off, but in terms of urban life, an ongoing tragedy,” he said.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/iron-gates-reinforce-divide-in-riot-hit-northeast-delhi/story-uJnJlBGNB3081e4zpzOkYK.html

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Darul Afta Pakistan, PUC and leadership of Wafaq-ul-Masajid Ask Public To Follow Virus Protocol

March 16, 2020

LAHORE: The Darul Afta Pakistan, Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) and leadership of Wafaq-ul-Masajid, Madaris-e-Pakistan have unanimously asked the public to take precautions against coronavirus as per government’s directions as these are in accordance with the teachings of Shariah.

The PUC leadership and leading religious scholars, including Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, Maulana Asad Zikriya, Allama Abdul Haq Mujahid, Maulana Rafiq Jaami and others in a joint statement issued on Saturday warned that coronavirus had turned into a pandemic and affecting the entire world.

“It is required that everyone should take precautionary measures to stay safe against this pandemic. Being Muslim, we should learn to have trust in Allah but we should also learn to take precautionary measures,” the statement said.

Quoting a hadith, the clerics said, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had said if plague spread in an area, one should neither be allowed to leave it nor the outsiders should be allowed there.

The PUC stated that taking precautions against such diseases was also a requirement of Shariah and that the instructions issued by the government and the health ministry should be followed by public as these were in accordance with it (Shariah).

The religious scholars warned that coronavirus could be very active in bigger gatherings; therefore, the government had banned weddings in banquet halls. However, they said, limited wedding events could be arranged at home by the respective families. They also endorsed closure of schools and seminaries.

The Muftis of Darul Afta Pakistan also urged the public to say Sunnah prayers at home and go to the mosques only to say Farz prayers. The people were also urged to perform Wudu (ablution) at home. They also asked prayer leaders to shorten Juma prayers as well as daily prayers.

They said in case of coronavirus spread on a larger scale people should abstain from handshakes.

They advised the public to seek forgiveness and recite Ayate Karima, besides doing charity.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541185/ulema-ask-public-to-follow-virus-protocol

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Muslim Kiwis respond to Arab News’ Christchurch edition: ‘We are not forgotten’

March 15, 2020

DUBAI: For the anniversary of the Christchurch attacks on Sunday, Arab News printed a special edition in the Middle East and New Zealand, with Arab Kiwis responding with #WeAreOne across the time zones.

While a national memorial in New Zealand to remember the 51 victims of last year’s attacks on the Al-Noor and Linwoood mosques was canceled due to fears over coronavirus, people shared their messages of hope with one another through Arab News’ print media and social media platforms.

The edition, highlighting the Arab-Kiwi connection that developed in the wake of last year’s shootings, was wrapped in a poster featuring people holding #WeAreOne signs. The cover subjects — Arab, Muslim, Kiwi, Emirati and American — had responded to Arab News’ call last month, showing up at a gathering at the Kiwi-owned Raw Coffee shop in Dubai. They also penned their own words on signs describing their connection — like “diversity”  and “hope” — and posed with them for the inside of the poster wrap.

In Auckland, Ashleigh Ali-Aziz, the founder of Eyeview Ethnic Trust, a non-profit organization committed to diversity, organized a similar event for Arab News. She gathered a dozen people in her community on Sunday night at Shefco, a popular Arab cafe in the Mount Roskill neighborhood.

Many of them, including herself, traveled more than 700 kilometers to Christchurch to volunteer after the attacks. And her husband, Mohammed Al-Harbi, is the nephew of Mohsen Al-Harbi, a Saudi national who had lived in New Zealand for 25 years before he was killed in the attack on the Al-Noor mosque.

After looking at the pages of Arab News’ New Zealand edition, Ali-Aziz’s group made their own signs in response, with words such as “embraced,” “love” and “warmth.”

“They really liked it,” Ali-Aziz said of the New Zealand edition. “Actually, one said: ‘So much is published about us and it’s nice to know we are definitely not forgotten.’ Some also recognized a couple of familiar faces in the article, which was great.

“It is such an awesome initiative that was presented in such a creative and effective way to spread the love and support.”

Meanwhile, from his current home in Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia, Saffin Alimamy, an Iraqi-Turkish Kiwi who graduated from Dunedin’s University of Otago last year, reached out to Arab News after reading the #WeAreOne story. He had these words to share: “As a Muslim Kiwi, we have never had such hatred toward us Muslims. We were all treated fairly with love and respect. The nameless killer is and never will be one of us. We, the people of New Zealand, are one.”

Speaking to Arab News, Alimamy said that while he was working at an internship in Dubai during the attack, his friend, Mustafa Boztas, was one of the survivors. They have just published an e-book together called “Christchurch Mosque Shooting,” to spread awareness about hate and create a better understanding of Islam.

“I wanted to make people aware of the true meaning of our religion, that we’re not violent people,” he said. “The plan of the shooter was to separate us, but instead we became even stronger.”

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1641771/world

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Christian Rohingya refugees attacked, kidnapped in Bangladesh

MARCH 16TH, 2020

A rights group has confirmed reports that suspected Muslim, ethnic Rohingya beat and kidnapped Rohingya Christians on January 26-27 in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

At least 12 Rohingya Christians were hospitalised with injuries from an attack in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar District on the evening of January 26, according to a March report from international human rights group Fortify Rights.

Citing survivors who said they were attacked because the assailants thought the Christians were converting Muslims, Fortify Rights also documented the destruction of the Rohingya Christian refugees’ makeshift church building.

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“More than 50 people destroyed the church. They are Rohingya from different areas,” a Rohingya refugee woman told Fortify Rights.

She said the attackers claimed Christians were trying to convert Rohingya Muslims. The predominantly Muslim Rohingya themselves are severely persecuted in Myanmar, resulting in mass refugee flows to Bangladesh and other countries. Fortify Rights estimates there are 1.1 million Rohingya refugees from Burma in Bangladesh, most are Muslims except for “at least several hundred” Christians.

Another Rohingya woman said a group of Rohingya men entered her shelter near the church the night of January 26 and stabbed her husband, according to Fortify Rights.

“They had long swords,” she told the rights group. “I couldn’t see clearly how many of them there were. They all had masks on … My door was kicked in and broken. They entered into my home. They first stabbed my husband with a sword, and my husband fell unconscious.”

Her husband and other Rohingya Christian refugees were hospitalised.

Fortify Rights also found that Bangladesh authorities threatened and beat a Rohingya Christian for recording the attack using a mobile phone.

“If security forces beat a Rohingya for collecting video evidence, we have concerns about the seriousness of their investigation and their continued use of excessive force,” Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of Fortify Rights, said in the statement. “As part of an investigation, Bangladesh authorities should take appropriate measures against officers found to have beaten Rohingya bystanders. Dhaka should not tolerate excessive and unnecessary use of force against refugees.”

The group corroborated findings by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which last month reported the abduction of a pastor identified only as Taher and his 14-year-old daughter from their shelter at the Kutupalong camp on Jan. 27.

A witness also told Fortify Rights that a Rohingya group used sticks, knives and guns in the abduction of 53-year-old Pastor Taher and his daughter from their shelter in Kutupalong refugee camp on the morning of January 27.

“He [Pastor Taher] was beaten so badly with sticks,” the unidentified witness told Fortify Rights. “He was beaten and kicked with their fists and legs. They put a mask on his face and tied his hands. He was abducted because he is a Christian leader, and they will try to make him Muslim.”

HRW reported on February 13 that Taher’s wife feared her husband has been killed.

“No one can give me any clear information, but my relatives told me that my daughter has been forced to convert to Islam and marry,” she told HRW.

The attacked families were reportedly relocated to a United Nations transit centre and filed a police case against 59 alleged assailants. Refugees in the camp suspect the assailants were linked to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), but a representative of the armed group denied and condemned the attacks.

HRW estimates there are about 1,500 Rohingya Christians among more than 700,000 predominantly Muslim Rohingya who were forced to flee to Bangladesh due to the Myanmar military’s 2017 ethnic cleansing campaign.

Denial

Bangladesh authorities denied that the January 26-27 attack was religiously motivated, describing it as an “ordinary law-and-order incident,” refugees told HRW.

They said authorities are not doing enough to protect them or find the kidnapped Christians, and that camp officials “try to avoid our queries.”

HRW said one refugee reported that a police officer in Cox’s Bazar told him that if the victims wanted to be safe, they should “go to the moon”.

A Bangladesh police inspector told media in February that officers hadn’t found evidence of any missing Christian Rohingya, but then apparently contradicted himself, claiming that officers were “trying our best to find the missing family,” according to Fortify Rights.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has expressed concern for Rohingya Christian refugees facing “hostility and violence,” according to HRW.

“The Bangladesh authorities should urgently locate Taher and his daughter and bring those responsible to justice,” HRW reported. “The government should also act immediately to protect all vulnerable groups in the country’s refugee camps, including religious minorities like Rohingya Christians.”

In March 2019 the Rohingya Christian community sent a petition to the UN High Commission for Refugees seeking protection by the agency.

“We, the Rohingya Christians, are requesting a safer place and environment for both of us and our children,” the petition reads.

Rohingya Christian communities were also attacked on December 25, with refugees telling Fortify Rights that stones were thrown at their makeshift church building. The Bethel Church Kutupalong Rohingya Christian Fellowship posted video on social media showing Rohingya Muslims kicking Rohingya Christians and beating them with sticks in December and January.

Fortify Rights also reported attacks previous to those of January 26-27, with one Rohingya Christian saying three houses were destroyed on Christmas Day.

“No Rohingya should experience violence and abuse in the camps, regardless of their religion,” Smith of Fortify Rights said. “Authorities in Bangladesh have obligations to protect all refugees and fully investigate any and all attacks against them.”

Bangladesh is ranked 38th on Christian support organisation Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian; Myanmar is ranked 19th.

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/christian-rohingya-refugees-attacked-kidnapped-in-bangladesh/

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Covid patient No 131 was at massive tabligh gathering at mosque

March 11, 2020

PETALING JAYA: The health ministry says the 131st case of Covid-19 reported yesterday was among the 10,000 who had attended an Islamic missionary gathering at a mosque in Seri Petaling, Kuala Lumpur, from Feb 27 to March 1.

Earlier, the ministry said it was tracing more than 5,000 Malaysians believed to have participated in the gathering after Brunei alerted them that its first case of Covid-19 had attended the mass gathering.

Members of the tabligh, a loose group of Muslim missionaries, hold their weekly congregation there.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the 131st case, a 60-year-old Malaysian man, had attended the gathering and was tested positive for the virus on March 10.

“He has already been isolated in an isolation ward and is currently receiving treatment,” Noor said in a Facebook post tonight.

He advised those who had attended the gathering to swiftly contact their nearest district health office or Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre to avoid further spread of the disease.

Earlier today, he said an estimated 10,000 participants from various countries were also present at the gathering.

When contacted by FMT on the specific nationalities, he said the ministry was investigating the matter.

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/03/11/covid-patient-no-131-was-at-massive-tabligh-gathering-at-mosque/

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Israel’s Arab coalition backs Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz

15 March 2020

The main rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won support from Israel’s Arab coalition on Sunday to form a government, potentially undermining Netanyahu’s plan to stay in power atop a proposed unity cabinet to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

After a third inconclusive election in less than a year left Netanyahu still three seats short of forming a majority, the prime minister has asked his main rival, general Benny Gantz, to agree to an “emergency government” to fight the global pandemic.

However, Gantz has so far been cool to the proposal, suggesting he could still try to form a minority government of his own, ousting Israel’s longest-serving leader.

Speaking at a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, who is holding discussions with parties on forming a new government, Joint List head Ayman Odeh said its voters had said “an emphatic ‘no’ to a right-wing government and Benjamin Netanyahu.”

The Joint List is now the third biggest party in the Israeli parliament, after achieving a record showing in the March 2 election.

Odeh called Netanyahu a “serial inciter” against Israel’s Arab minority. His coalition would not join a government led by Gantz, but could potentially provide it enough votes to govern.

About a fifth of Israeli citizens are Arabs - Palestinian by heritage but Israeli by citizenship. But no Israeli government has ever included an Arab political party.

Netanyahu’s Likud party denounced any such plans: “While Netanyahu is handling a global and national crisis in the most responsible way, Gantz is racing to form a minority government depending on supporters of terror,” the party said on Twitter.

With Netanyahu facing criminal charges in three corruption cases - his trial was supposed to start on Tuesday but was postponed until May 24 amid the health crisis - political rivals have cast doubt on his motives for proposing a unity cabinet.

Gantz has said Netanyahu did not appear to be sincere, having yet to send a negotiating team to Gantz’s Blue and White party.

“When you’re serious, we’ll talk,” Gantz wrote.

Gantz’s prospect of toppling Netanyahu could depend on former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Lieberman, who was due to meet Rivlin later on Sunday, has balked at supporting a government backed by Arab legislators, accusing them of disloyalty to Israel. But he has also called for Netanyahu to leave power while under indictment.

Netanyahu, 70, has the pledged backing of 58 members of parliament, three short of a ruling majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

He has denied any wrongdoing in the investigations. Charges against him include bribery, breach of trust and fraud.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/15/Israel-s-Arab-coalition-backs-Netanyahu-s-rival-Benny-Gantz.html

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Arab World

 

No warm greetings, no mosque prayers as virus changes Gulf habits

March 16, 2020

DUBAI: No shisha pipe sessions, deserted streets, mosques and shopping malls, drones in the sky broadcasting public health warnings – the new coronavirus has turned life upside down in Gulf societies.

More than 800 cases of the Covid-19 have been recorded so far across the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but so far no deaths.

Most of those infected have been people returning from nearby Iran, where more than 700 people had died in the outbreak by Sunday.

Facing a mounting public health threat, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman have taken drastic measures to combat the pandemic.

“It is as if today is the weekend and not the start of the week,” Amal al-Hashem, a Dubai resident of 15 years, told AFP on a largely deserted street Sunday, the start of the week in the Gulf.

Kuwait has taken the strictest measures in the GCC by largely locking down the country over the weekend, the only nation other than Italy to do so.

Kuwait City’s main airport road was empty as all commercial flights to and from the small Gulf nation were suspended.

Drones in the skies were sounding messages in multiple languages urging people to return to their homes.

In Qatar’s capital Doha, the usually bustling market in the heart of the tourist centre was eerily quiet, while Riyadh’s shopping district also lay barren.

The Gulf countries have shut down cinemas and other entertainment centres – some even closing gyms and spas – as well as halting one of the region’s favourite pastimes, smoking shisha in cafes.

Awkward greetings

Residents in the Omani capital of Muscat told AFP there had been much “fear and panic” over what many of them have termed “Corona phobia” at a time when a small bottle of disinfectant is in almost everyone’s pockets or bags.

They said many people have stopped shaking hands or kissing each other on the cheeks, a common greeting across the Arab world.

In Saudi Arabia, 60-year-old Abu Abdulrahman said he felt awkward about the rapidly changing social norms.

“Do I shake hands and kiss or do I not? I don’t know,” he said. “I try not to do that, but I get embarrassed. What if the other person puts their hand out first?”

Meanwhile, both the UAE and Qatar have advised their citizens to stop the traditional “nose to nose” greeting, with Abu Dhabi instructing residents that a wave would suffice.

Pray at home

Measures to combat the spread of the virus have also impacted the way many Muslims in the Gulf worship.

After Saudi Arabia suspended the “umrah” year-round pilgrimage, it advised residents against praying in mosques if they have any symptoms of the virus.

Kuwait took additional steps and banned all mass prayers, an unprecedented move in a country where hundreds of thousands pray side-by-side every day.

“Pray at home, pray at home,” an imam preached in a recording that went viral on social media on Saturday.

In the Sunni Muslim-dominated Gulf, there are hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims, many of whom travel to Iran regularly for pilgrimages.

Despite ongoing tensions between some GCC countries and Tehran, there have been no reports of heightened social friction between the different sects.

This comes amid Saudi Arabia’s decision to cordon off the mainly Shiite district of Qatif, where the majority of coronavirus cases were reported.

“This is a time for unity locally, regionally and globally,” Zainab Abdul Amir, a Bahraini parliamentarian, told AFP. “There is no room for hatred, anger, discrimination or sectarianism.”

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/world/2020/03/16/no-warm-greetings-no-mosque-prayers-as-virus-changes-gulf-habits/

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Iraq Joint Operations Command Suspends Cooperation with US-Led Coalition

Mar 15, 2020

Al-Khafaji told the Arabic-language al-Ma’aloumeh news website that the Iraq Joint Operations Command condemns aggression against the country’s official military forces as a hostile move and aggression.

He added that cooperation with the US-led coalition will be suspended and halted until a new partnership is declared.

Al-Khafaji also said that no group has yet claimed responsibility for attacks on the US forces in al-Taji base.

Also, Iraqi legislators have warned the US to withdraw its soldiers from the country based on the parliament’s earlier approval or wait for the nation's furious and forceful response.

“If the US insists on remaining in Iraq, there are several ways to expel the US forces and if these ways fail to expel the occupiers who savagely attacked the Iraqi forces last Friday, the military option will be put into effect,” member of the Iraqi legislature’s security and defense committee Karim Aliwi said in an interview with the Arabic-language Baghdad al-Youm on Sunday.

He underlined the necessity for the Iraqi government to take rapid action to enforce the parliament’s approval on the expulsion of foreign forces.

Also, Hassan al-Ka’abi, the representative of Badr fraction at the parliament, warned the US that if the American forces are not pulled out of Iraq, they will come to witness a harsh response.

“Insistence on illegal presence in Iraq will have negative impacts on the US and the coalition forces,” he told Baghdad al-Youm.

Different Iraqi groups and figures have deplored the recent US attacks against the security forces in Babel and Karbala provinces, warning that they will expel the American soldiers by force if faced by the government’s procrastination.

Al-Nahj al-Watani fraction in the parliament condemned violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and attacks against the security forces by Washington, warning of extensive consequences of the aggression for security of Iraq and the region.

Also, Na’eim al-Aboudi, a representative of As’aib Ahl al-Haq in the Iraqi parliament called on the government to accelerate measures for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.

Meantime, Seyed al-Shohada Brigades, affiliated to Hashd al-Shaabi (Iraqi popular forces), reminded the American army of its retaliatory acts in the past, warning of the group’s outrage and wrath.

Also, Hassan al-Ka’abi, the Iraqi parliament’s Vice-Speaker, described deployment of foreign forces in the country as illegal after the recent approval of the legislature, stressing the need for the government to end the presence of “occupiers”.

The Iraqi military and the presidency condemned the US recent airstrikes against the security forces, and summoned both the American and UK envoys to the country.

“The Iraqi Presidency condemns airstrikes on several bases in Iraq, including a recently opened airport in the Holy City of Karbala which led to the death of security forces and civilians,” the presidency said in a statement on Friday.

The Iraqi military also denounced the US raids as a targeted aggression against the nation's official armed forces and a violation of its sovereignty.

According to the Iraqi military statement, three soldiers, two police officers and one civilian were killed in the attacks.

The statement added that four soldiers, two police officers, one civilian, and five individuals affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) were also wounded.

The Pentagon had claimed earlier on Friday that the strikes targeted five weapons stores used by Iraqi groups that “targeted US forces”.

Iraqi resistance groups denied such allegations.

The attack came only a day after more than a dozen Iraqi fighters were killed in airstrikes targeting an area in Syria's Eastern province of Deir Ezzur.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981225000976

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Parliamentarians Warn US against Dire Repercussions of Continued Buildup in Iraq

Mar 15, 2020

“If the US insists on remaining in Iraq, there are several ways to expel the US forces and if these ways fail to expel the occupiers who savagely attacked the Iraqi forces last Friday, the military option will be put into effect,” member of the Iraqi legislature’s security and defense committee Karim Aliwi said in an interview with the Arabic-language Baghdad al-Youm on Sunday.

He underlined the necessity for the Iraqi government to take rapid action to enforce the parliament’s approval on the expulsion of foreign forces.

Also, Hassan al-Ka’abi, the representative of Badr fraction at the parliament, warned the US that if the American forces are not pulled out of Iraq, they will come to witness a harsh response.

“Insistence on illegal presence in Iraq will have negative impacts on the US and the coalition forces,” he told Baghdad al-Youm.

Different Iraqi groups and figures have deplored the recent US attacks against the security forces in Babel and Karbala provinces, warning that they will expel the American soldiers by force if faced by the government’s procrastination.

Al-Nahj al-Watani fraction in the parliament condemned violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and attacks against the security forces by Washington, warning of extensive consequences of the aggression for security of Iraq and the region.

Also, Na’eim al-Aboudi, a representative of As’aib Ahl al-Haq in the Iraqi parliament called on the government to accelerate measures for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.

Meantime, Seyed al-Shohada Brigades, affiliated to Hashd al-Shaabi (Iraqi popular forces), reminded the American army of its retaliatory acts in the past, warning of the group’s outrage and wrath.

Also, Hassan al-Ka’abi, the Iraqi parliament’s Vice-Speaker, described deployment of foreign forces in the country as illegal after the recent approval of the legislature, stressing the need for the government to end the presence of “occupiers”.

The Iraqi military and the presidency condemned the US recent airstrikes against the security forces, and summoned both the American and UK envoys to the country.

“The Iraqi Presidency condemns airstrikes on several bases in Iraq, including a recently opened airport in the Holy City of Karbala which led to the death of security forces and civilians,” the presidency said in a statement on Friday.

The Iraqi military also denounced the US raids as a targeted aggression against the nation's official armed forces and a violation of its sovereignty.

According to the Iraqi military statement, three soldiers, two police officers and one civilian were killed in the attacks.

The statement added that four soldiers, two police officers, one civilian, and five individuals affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) were also wounded.

The Pentagon had claimed earlier on Friday that the strikes targeted five weapons stores used by Iraqi groups that “targeted US forces”.

Iraqi resistance groups denied such allegations.

The attack came only a day after more than a dozen Iraqi fighters were killed in airstrikes targeting an area in Syria's Eastern province of Deir Ezzur.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981225000695

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Abdullah bin Zayed affirms to Zarif the UAE’s support to Iran amid coronavirus

16 March 2020

The United Arab Emirates' Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan expressed to his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif the UAE’s support to Iran amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed offered, during a telephone call with Zarif, his condolences to the Iranian people due to the victims of the global pandemic, affirming the UAE's support to the Iranian people as they come through this crisis,” the UAE ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

Sheikh Abdullah also “stressed the importance of collective work and efforts to survive such global challenges.”

The UAE Air Force had carried out a coronavirus aid mission to Iran on March 2 in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), where a military aircraft was dispatched with six medics onboard, as well as 7.5 tons of medical equipment and supplies including laboratory diagnostic kits, hundreds of thousands of gloves, surgical masks, in addition to other medical supplies provided by WHO, that could assist about 15,000 healthcare workers caring for coronavirus patients in Iran.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2020/03/16/Abdullah-bin-Zayed-affirms-to-Zarif-the-UAE-s-support-to-Iran-amid-coronavirus.html

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Coronavirus: Lebanon declares state of emergency, orders two-week lockdown

15 March 2020

Lebanon declared on Sunday a state of emergency and ordered a two-week lockdown as part of the country’s efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The announced measures include closing Beirut airport, as well as sea and land ports, effective Wednesday, March 18, until March 29, with the exception of UNIFIL, diplomatic missions and cargo aircraft. Residents were ordered to stay home except for urgent trips, but no curfew was announced.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

Private commercial businesses were ordered to close, with the exception of those related to food supplies. Banks were also exempted from the closure order but were told to operate to the “minimum extent necessary to secure the workflow.”

The measures also include banning "gatherings in public and private places" and closing public institutions, including schools, except for those performing vital functions, including health institutions and Electricite du Liban, the state power utility.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Minister of Information Manal Abdel Samad Najd announced the measures after meetings of the Supreme Defense Council and the Cabinet Sunday afternoon. Representatives of the health sector also attended the Cabinet meeting.

President Michel Aoun had called for solidarity and putting aside political differences in a speech ahead of the Cabinet meeting.

“In the face of the health of every citizen, all narrow political considerations fall,” he said. “It is absolutely not the time to score points and exchange accusations, nor is it time for political exploitation of whichever nature, because this epidemic does not distinguish between loyalist and opposition.”

While some have criticized the government as being too slow to act in the face of the health threat, and particularly for failing to quickly stop flights from countries experiencing major outbreaks, including Iran, Aoun defended the government’s performance.

“All the necessary measures have been taken, with exemplary speed, in order to counter this epidemic and prevent its spread in our country and among our nationals,” he said. “The measures that were taken and the speed with which they were executed at both public and private levels, amid very complicated economic and financial circumstances, earned the appreciation of international bodies.”

Prior to the announcement of the airport closure, officials had restricted flights from a number of coronavirus-affected countries. Last Wednesday, a ban on flights to and from Iran, Italy, China and South Korea was announced, while Lebanese citizens and their families in France, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom were given four days to return before travel would also be halted to and from those countries.

As of Sunday, Lebanon’s Ministry of Health said Lebanon had 99 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and urged citizens to remain at home “unless absolutely necessary.” Three patients are confirmed to have died from the virus in Lebanon.

Ahead of the announcement, police began clearing crowds from Beirut’s seaside Corniche, one of the few remaining public gathering spaces as Beirut’s few public parks had already been closed. Videos from the Corniche afternoon showed masses of people walking and running, despite appeals to the public to stay home.

Carmen Joukhadar

@CarmenJoukhadar

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

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Meanwhile activists launched a campaign calling for Lebanon’s leaders to give up their salaries and put them in an emergency fund to support medical supplies and expenditures. A handful of members of Parliament have pledged to do so.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/15/Coronavirus-Lebanon-to-close-airport-borders-ports-some-public-institutions.html

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Iraq suspends flights to and from Baghdad airport over coronavirus outbreak

15 March 2020

Iraq has suspended all flights to and from Baghdad airport as of March 17 until March 24, the government said in a statement on Sunday, in order to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The government imposed a curfew in the capital Baghdad over the same period earlier on Sunday.

At least 110 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed so far in Iraq, and 10 people have died.

On March 6, Iraq banned entry to travelers coming from France and Spain, bringing the total number of countries on its entry ban list to 11.

The country’s health minister also announced on March 6, that Iraq will halt border trade with Iran and Kuwait between March 8 and 15 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/15/Iraq-suspends-flights-to-and-from-Baghdad-airport-over-coronavirus-outbreak.html

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Iraqi government imposes curfew in Baghdad over coronavirus concerns

15 March 2020

The Iraqi government has imposed a curfew in the capital Baghdad as of March 17 until March 24 to prevent coronavirus from spreading, the state news agency said on Sunday.

At least 110 cases have been confirmed so far in Iraq, and 10 people have died.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/15/Iraqi-government-imposes-curfew-in-Baghdad-over-coronavirus-concerns.html

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Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia: Riyadh shuts down, fines non-compliant shisha cafes

16 March 2020

Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday a bundle of new measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, including the closure of malls and parks, banning restaurants and cafes from serving food and beverages on their premises, as well as suspending workplace attendance at most government agencies.

The Kingdom's confirmed coronavirus cases number stood at 118 as of Sunday.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

Here are all the latest government’s decisions:

Suspension of attendance at workplaces in all government agencies for a period of 16 days, except for the health, security, and military sectors, the Electronic Security Center, and the remote learning system in the education sector.

Closure of closed and open commercial markets and malls, with the exception of pharmacies and food supply stores such as supermarkets, hypermarkets and the like, provided that they commit to sterilizing their shopping carts after being used by each individual client. This procedure does not include the shops located on commercial streets, provided that they are not within commercial complexes.

Closure of men's barber shops and women's beauty salons.

Banning of serving food and beverages in restaurants and cafes limiting their services only to take away requests and delivery, and customers are not allowed to sit at the designated service tables on the premises.

Banning of gatherings in public places designated for recreation such as parks, beaches, resorts, camps, wild parks and the like.

Stopping all auctions and auctions activities and temporarily close their gathering sites.

Limiting the presence of the public in government departments by enhancing electronic transactions and activating platforms for providing electronic services remotely, in the service sectors of all government and private agencies, and limiting commercial dealings with companies and their representatives to electronic and telephone communication as much as possible.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development encourages companies, private institutions, and charitable societies to reduce the number of employees attending workplaces and to promote electronic work remotely through the available electronic means with the continuity of basic and sensitive work for the security and health sectors.

Grant the opportunity to work remotely to the following categories: and the following categories: pregnant women, those with respiratory or cardiac diseases, HIV or hereditary diseases, and users of immunosuppressive drugs, and those who are undergoing treatment from tumors, provided that they present a medical report that does not exceed one month of age.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/03/16/Coronavirus-in-Saudi-Arabia-The-latest-facts-about-what-is-closed-and-banned.html

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Coronavirus: Turkey quarantines 10,000 pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia

16 March 2020

Turkey on Sunday quarantined thousands of pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia, officials said, after recording one more coronavirus case bringing the total number to six.

"All the passengers returning from pilgrimage as of last night (Saturday) are being placed into separate rooms for quarantine" in student dorms in the capital Ankara and nearby Konya provinces, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Sunday.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

Approximately 10,000 pilgrims returned from Saudi Arabia on Saturday night, youth and sports minister Mehmet Kasapoglu was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency.

Koca said the number of confirmed cases in Turkey reached six after one of the pilgrims who returned from visiting the holy sites in Saudi Arabia over the last one week tested positive.

"Those found suspicious are hospitalized as soon as they return and tested," he said.

Turkey's religious affairs authority, Diyanet, said the travels for pilgrimage have been halted from February 27.

As part of its bid to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, Turkey has applied travel restrictions on a total of 15 countries including France, Italy and Germany.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/16/Coronavirus-Turkey-quarantines-10-000-pilgrims-returning-from-Saudi-Arabia-.html

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Nearly 5 million children born in war-hit Syria since 2011: UN

15 March 2020

Nearly five million children have been born since Syria plunged into foreign-sponsored militancy in 2011, while thousands of others were killed or wounded in the conflict, the UN children's agency says.

The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), citing data from 2014 when official monitoring began, said on Sunday that some 4.8 million children were born in Syria since the war began nine years ago, while 9,000 others were killed or wounded in the conflict.

Another one million children were born as refugees in neighboring countries since the conflict erupted in March 2011, it added.

And as a result of the wider impact of the conflict, "More than 2.8 million children are out of school inside Syria and in neighboring countries," said UNICEF.

Two in five schools cannot be used because they are destroyed, damaged, sheltering displaced families or being used for military purposes, the agency said.

During the same time, UNICEF said that "close to 5,000 children -- some as young as seven -- were recruited into the fighting (and) nearly 1,000 education and medical facilities came under attack."

It warned that the "true impact of this war on children is likely to be more profound."

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, also said that the Syrian children continue to face the devastating consequences of the crisis.

"As the conflict enters its 10th year, millions of children are entering their second decade of life surrounded by war, violence, death and displacement,” she said, calling on the warring sides to protect children.

Ted Chaiban, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, also warned a recent fighting in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, the last militant bastion in the Arab country, was having "severe consequences on children."

The Syrian army declared the start of an offensive against foreign-sponsored militants in Idlib on August 5 last year.

It came after those positioned in the de-escalation zone failed to honor a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey and continued to target civilian neighborhoods.

Under the Sochi agreement, all militants in the demilitarized zone that surrounds Idlib, and also parts of the provinces of Aleppo and west-central province of Hama, were supposed to pull out heavy arms by October 17 2018, with the Takfiri groups having to withdraw two days earlier.

Fighting there since December 1 has displaced more than 960,000 people, including over 575,000 children, according to UNICEF.

Earlier this month, Russia and Turkey, which support opposite sides in the Syrian conflict, came to an agreement on a ceasefire regime in Idlib, where a Turkish aggression had risked the breakout of a war.

The new pact came after a series of deadly clashes between Turkish and Syrian government troops.

According to the agreement, joint Russian-Turkish patrols will secure a six-kilometer-wide corridor along the strategic M4 highway connecting the two government-held provinces of Latakia and Aleppo.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/15/620937/Syria-UNICEF-Henrietta-Fore-Ted-Chaiban--Idlib-Russia-Turkey

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US military dispatches over 60 trucks to oil-rich northeastern Syria: Report

15 March 2020

The United States has reportedly dispatched truckloads of military and logistical equipment to Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah as Washington and some of its regional allies keep vying with one another to seize oil reserves and plunder natural resources in the war-battered country.

Local sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Syria’s official news agency SANA that a convoy of 62 trucks together with eleven Humvee military vehicles crossed the Waleed border crossing on Sunday and headed toward US positions in the Jazira region of the province.

SANAEnglishOfficial

@SANAEnOfficial

A new convoy for US occupation enters Syrian territoryhttps://www.sana.sy/en/?p=188305

A new convoy for US occupation enters Syrian territory

Hasaka, SANA- A new US convoy loading military reinforcement and logistic equipment entered the Syrian territory coming from northern Iraq. Local sources said that a convoy belonging to the US...

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On March 12, the Syrian ambassador to Russia, Riyad Haddad, said the United States controls all oil fields in the northeastern part of Syria.

“Americans today are currently present in the northeastern part of the country, controlling all oil fields there and stealing our crude resources. If we manage to liberate the region from the American occupation, we will then revive our economy,” the Arabic service of Russia's Sputnik news agency quoted him as saying in an exclusive interview with Russia's state-owned Rossiya 24 television news network at the time.

In late October 2019, Washington reversed an earlier decision to pull out all of its troops from northeastern Syria, announcing the deployment of about 500 soldiers to the oil fields controlled by Kurdish forces in the Arab country.

The US claimed that the move was aimed at protecting the fields and facilities from possible attacks by the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group. That claim came although US President Donald Trump had earlier suggested that Washington sought economic interests in controlling the oil fields.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper also threatened that the US forces deployed to the oil fields would use “military force” against any party that might seek to challenge control of the sites, even if it were Syrian government forces or their Russian allies.

Syria, which has not authorized American military presence in its territory, has said the US is “plundering” the country’s oil.

On December 18, 2019, China’s special envoy for Syria said the United States’ pretext for extending its military presence in the Arab country, namely to protect Syrian oil fields, was untenable.

“Who has given the Americans the right to do this? And, at whose invitation is the US protecting Syria’s oil fields?” Xie Xiaoyan said at a press conference in Moscow.

“Let’s think the other way around: Will the US allow Syria to send troops to US territory to protect oil fields there?”

Turkish forces shell village in Tal Tamr district

Separately, SANA reported that Turkish military forces launched volleys of mortar shells at residential areas in the Tal Tamr district of Hasakah.

Local sources said the shelling targeted places in the village of Tawila al-Weka, causing huge material damage.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/15/620930/US-military-dispatches-over-60-trucks-to-oil-rich-northeastern-Syria:-Report

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Iraq will adopt different approach in case US troops refuse to withdraw: Badr bloc

15 March 2020

Iraq will adopt a different position on the presence of US and foreign military personnel on its soil if the troops refuse to withdraw despite demands by Baghdad as well as a related parliamentary resolution and a million-man demonstration to that end, the head of an Iraqi parliamentary bloc says.

“The country’s sovereignty must be respected by all parties operating on the Iraqi soil, especially Americans or the international coalition (purportedly fighting the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group). It is not acceptable to allow violations that lead to the shedding of Iraqi blood,” said Hassan al-Kaabi, the head of the Badr Organization’s parliamentary bloc, in an exclusive interview with Arabic-language Baghdad Today news agency on Sunday.

“The government is required to take serious action following the recent aggression carried out by Washington to deal with the issue of the exit of foreign and American forces from the country through diplomatic channels,” he said.

“Washington or member states of the coalition are intransigent to leave Iraq, and insist on their stay without any legal permission. This will have negative and adverse repercussions on those forces,” Kaabi added.

Iraq govt. must take position proportionate to US aggression: Hashd al-Sha’abi leader

In a related development, a leader of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), better known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha’abi, called on the Iraqi government to take a position similar in kind to a string of airstrikes carried out by the United States against multiple locations of army soldiers and PMU forces.

“The US bombing of the headquarters of Iraqi army and PMU besides a civilian airport sends many messages and is a clear declaration of American hostility toward Iraqi people, security forces and their sanctities,” Arabic-language al-Maalomah news agency quoted Adel al-Karawi as saying on Sunday.

“The current situation requires the Iraqi government to adopt a measure that would equate the US act of aggression, and does not refrain from condemnations and making damning statements.”

‘US staged strike on Camp Taji to justify assault on Hashd Sha’abi’

Separately, a member of the Iraqi parliamentary security and defense committee accused the United States of staging a false-flag operation against Camp Taji, which is located approximately 27 kilometers (17 miles) north of the capital Baghdad and houses US-led troops, in order to find a compelling justification for air raids on Hashd Sha’abi positions.

“The Iraqi government and the Joint Operations Command censured the repeated US aggression, but it is unlikely for the parliament to hold a session in this regard,” Abbas Sarout said in an exclusive interview with Iraq’s al-Ahad television network on Sunday.

“Whoever struck Camp Taji is an unknown enemy, because neither resistance groups nor any other parties have claimed responsibility, and that the military base is protected by Iraqi security forces. The US targeting of security forces and the civilian airport in Karbala is considered to be a flagrant violation of the Iraqi sovereignty, which is condemned.”

“We do not rule out the presence of other parties, which aim to heighten tensions among resistance groups, US forces and neighboring Iran. It is perhaps a false-flag operation by American forces to find a justification for the destruction of infrastructure and storage facilities of Hashd Sha’abi forces,” Sarout said.

The Iraqi military said in a statement on Saturday that 33 Katyusha rockets had been launched on Camp Taji.

The statement added that the airstrikes targeted positions in Jurf al-Nasr town, located about 60 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, Musayyib town in the central province of Babil, the holy shrine city of Najaf as well as the ancient central city of Alexandria.

خلية الإعلام الأمني🇮🇶

@SecMedCell

في تمام الساعة الواحدة والربع فجر هذا اليوم حصل اعتداء امريكي من خلال قصف جوي على مناطق (جرف النصر، المسيب، النجف، الاسكندرية) على مقرات تابعة للحشد  الشعبي وأفواج الطوارئ ومغاوير الفرقة التاسعة عشر  جيش.

وسنوافيكم  بالتفاصيل من خلال بيان يصدر  من قيادة العمليات المشتركة  لاحقًا.

1,141

4:58 AM - Mar 13, 2020

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The US military did not estimate how many people in Iraq may have been killed in the strikes, which officials said were carried out by piloted aircraft.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in a Pentagon statement detailing the strikes, cautioned that the United States was prepared to respond again, if needed.

We will take any action necessary to protect our forces in Iraq and the region.”

An airport under construction in Karbala was also hit in an airstrike.

An official told Arabic-language al-Sumaria television network on Friday that US military aircraft fired three missiles at the airport building. He added that the air raid killed a worker.

CNN, quoting a US military official, reported that the airstrikes were carried out against five weapons storage facilities.

The early Friday US airstrikes were carried out about 24 hours after at least 18 PMU fighters were killed in air raids targeting an area southeast of the city of al-Bukamal in eastern Syria and near the border with Iraq.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/15/620919/Iraq-will-adopt-different-approach-in-case-US-troops-refuse-to-withdraw:-Badr-bloc

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India

 

Fourth batch of 53 Indians evacuated from coronavirus-hit Iran arrive in India

Mar 16, 2020

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on early Monday said that the fourth batch of 53 Indians has arrived in India from Tehran and Shiraz in Iran.

Out of the 53 Indians, 52 are students and one is a teacher. With this, a total of 389 Indians have returned to India from Iran.

“Fourth batch of 53 Indians - 52 students and a teacher - has arrived from Tehran and Shiraz, #Iran. With this, a total of 389 Indians have returned to India from Iran. Thank the efforts of the team @India_in_Iran and Iranian authorities,” Jaishankar tweeted.

Dr. S. Jaishankar

@DrSJaishankar

Fourth batch of 53 Indians - 52 students and a teacher - has arrived from Tehran and Shiraz, #Iran.

With this, a total of 389 Indians have returned to India from Iran.

Thank the efforts of the team @India_in_Iran and Iranian authorities.

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3:18 AM - Mar 16, 2020

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As many as 234 Indians who were among the people stranded in Iran amid the coronavirus outbreak have arrived in India, Jaishankar had said in the wee hours of Sunday.

In the past few days, India has carried out several evacuations of Indians nationals from Iran.

The first batch consisting of 58 nationals were brought back in a C17 military transport aircraft on Tuesday followed by another evacuation of 44 individuals on Friday.

Iran is one of the worst coronavirus-hit countries, with the death toll at 724. Cases of the lethal infection is nearing 14,000, according to Al Jazeera.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/fourth-batch-of-53-indians-evacuated-from-coronavirus-hit-iran-arrive-in-india/story-A8GIGlJlfUHWDhTX0yyIII.html

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Farooq calls on leaders to unite for quick release of all detainees

Ashiq Hussain

Mar 15, 2020

National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah on Sunday called on all political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir to unite in demanding the shifting and ultimate release of hundreds of people detained in August when the region was divested of its special status and statehood.

“Before we allow politics to divide us, I appeal to all political leaders in the state to unite behind the call to the Union government to bring back all detainees from Jammu & Kashmir from prisons outside the state pending their release. While we would like to see them all released as soon as possible, pending that they should be shifted...”, said Abdullah, who was released from detention on Friday.

Abdullah, 82, was among those detained in August along with two other former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, who remain under detention. A communications blackout and a lockdown were also imposed in Kashmir to prevent protests against changes to Jammu & Kashmir’s constitutional status in August.

Abdullah, a member of Parliament, said he has consciously avoided making any political statements since his release. “While I believe a free and frank exchange of political views is essential so that we can take stock of the momentous changes that J&K has seen after 5th August 2019, we are still some way away from an environment where such political discourse will be possible. This is especially so considering the number of people detained in August last year who remain in jails outside J&K, “ said Abdullah in a statement.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/farooq-calls-on-leaders-to-unite-for-quick-release-of-all-detainees/story-oK3lB0HRe8IxlxBb0Fqh7H.html

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SAARC coronavirus video meet: Afghanistan seeks Indian satellite for distance learning to contain infection

Mar 15, 2020

The Saarc videoconference for thrashing out a joint strategy to combat coronavirus disease on Sunday evening saw the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani propose a common framework for telemedicine and a mechanism to ensure the flow of essential goods between the member countries among other things.

Ghani said Afghanistan was in an unknown territory and its vulnerability came from the open borders with Iran which is severely-hit by the disease that has taken close to 5.5 thousand lives globally including over 700 in Iran.

Ghani said Afghanistan needed to learn from India how to upscale its health programme and also requested India for making a satellite available for teaching Afghan youth and women to keep them occupied and ensure social distancing to prevent spread of the infection.

Here are the five proposals made by the Afghanistan president.

1. Ghani said modeling of the diffusion (of coronavirus) and related scenarios was important for the effective adoption of techniques to combat the virus in the region.

“Unless we model the diffusion, we will be facing assumptions from China and the United States or Iran, which are not suitable for our situation. I request a taskforce of Saarc to be able to do this for this purpose,” he said.

2. Ghani requested for creation of a common framework for “telemedicine for diagnosis of related issues and as advances (of disease) take place, how to be able to coordinate (among members).”

3. He said Afghanistan was a landlocked country and closing of borders presents challenges on the movement of essential items including medicine and food. He requested for “coordinate (d) flows that allow transactions to take place focusing on the essentials.”

4. In his fourth proposal, he requested services of an “Indian satellite to be made available for distance education of Afghani youth and women to ensure necessary social distancing”.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/saarc-coronavirus-video-meet-afghanistan-seeks-indian-satellite-for-distance-learning-to-contain-infection/story-sGaIzNfcCPwb3zAYZmXAYN.html

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Coronavirus outbreak: Govt suspends travel, registration to Kartarpur Sahib

March 15, 2020

The Ministry of Home Affairs Sunday temporarily suspended travel and registration to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan as a precautionary measure to contain COVID-19 till further orders. With the contagious coronavirus having made its presence felt in Pakistan too, MHA spokesperson announced the decision on Twitter.

On Saturday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had, in a tweet, announced the closure of the gurdwara for Pakistanis. However, the Pakistan government said the Kartarpur corridor would remain open for Indian pilgrims.

Spokesperson, Ministry of Home Affairs

@PIBHomeAffairs

• Mar 15, 2020

All types of passenger movements through all immigration Land Check Posts located at India's borders with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar suspended w.e.f. 0000hrs, Mar15, 2020 & at India-Pakistan border w.e.f. 0000hrs, Mar16, 2020, except at the posts below.#COVID19india

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Spokesperson, Ministry of Home Affairs

@PIBHomeAffairs

In the wake of  #COVID19india outbreak, as a preacutionary measure to contain and control spread of the disease, the travel and registration for #SriKartarpurSahib is temporarily suspended from 0000hrs, March 16, 2020, till further orders.@PMOIndia @HMOIndia @MoHFW_INDIA

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8:47 AM - Mar 15, 2020

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The temple of Lord Venkateshwara at Andhra Pradesh’s Tirumala too has put curbs on visits by pilgrims — the first time in over 1,700 years of its existence — due to the outbreak.

The Indian government had earlier said that a call on Kartarpur Corridor’s closure in view of the WHO-declared pandemic would be taken soon. The Jathedar of Akal Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh, however, said that the corridor must be kept open. The corridor is a matter of faith for the Sikhs and it should only be closed if all other international pilgrimages too are suspended, the Jathedar told mediapersons in Amritsar.

Health officials in Punjab said that since Pakistani citizens also had access to Kartarpur Sahib, there was a danger that some of the infected individuals might pass on the virus to Indian pilgrims visiting the shrine. According to the data accessed by The Indian Express from Punjab government officials, 3,871 pilgrims had visited Kartarpur Sahib after crossing over from Dera Baba Nanak border in Gurdaspur between March 7 and 13.

Meanwhile, Pakistan on late Friday night accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal for a SAAR meeting, following which the SAARC leaders are scheduled to hold a summit via video-conference on coronavirus at 5 pm today.

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/kartarpurpur-sahib-coronavirus-pakistan-6315082/

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Top Lashkar, Hizbul commanders among 4 terrorists killed in J&K encounter

Mar 15, 2020

SRINAGAR: Two top commanders of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen were among four terrorists killed in an encounter with security forces in Watergam area of Anantnag district in south Kashmir in the wee hours of Sunday.

The four terrorists were killed in a brief exchange of gunfire between them and a joint team of security forces within the residential premises of one Fayaz Ahmad Dar, police said.

South Kashmir DIG Atul Goyal said that acting on specific inputs about the presence of some terrorists, a joint cordon-and-search operation by J&K Police, CRPF and Army was launched in the area on Saturday night.

As the search was intensified, the hiding terrorists fired upon the forces, who retaliated heavily, triggering the encounter, the DIG said.

He said while the encounter was on, the four holed-up terrorists tried to break the cordon and flee. At this point the forces shot down all of them, the DIG said, adding that none of the security personnel was injured in the gunfight.

Two AK 47 rifles, two pistols, ammunition and other incriminating materials have been recovered from the slain terrorists, who have been identified as Muzaffar Ahmad, Umar Ahmad, Gulzar Ahmad and Sajad Ahmad, the DIG said.

While Muzaffar and Umar belonged to Sopat village, Gulzar came from Tarigam village and Sajad from Tengbal Frisal village of Kulgam district, he added.

About their affiliation, Goyal said while Muzzafar, Umar and Sajad were associated with Lashkar, Gulzar worked for Hizbul. Muzzafar and Gulzar were operating as top commanders of their respective terror outfits, he said, adding that all four were involved in several terror cases.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/top-lashkar-hizbul-commanders-among-4-terrorists-killed-in-jk-encounter/articleshow/74642303.cms

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Pakistan

 

Loya Jirga vows to launch protest movement for rights soon

March 16, 2020

KARAK: The Loya Jirga, a forum of opposition lawmakers from Kohat division, on Sunday decided to launch a protest movement soon after the end of national emergency declared by the government to combat coronavirus.

The Loya Jirga held here with its chairman and Member Provincial Assembly Mian Nisar Gul Kakakhel in the chair announced that they would not waste more time as the talks with the government did not yield any positive results.

MPAs Malik Zafar Azam and Shah Dad, former members National Assembly Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz and Shamsur Rehman, central leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Rehmat Salam Khattak and others addressed the jirga. The speakers criticised the government for not fulfilling the pledges made with the members of the Loya Jirga some two months ago. They claimed that Finance Minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra, who was the government’s negotiation team leader, had until now not honoured a single promise.

The jirga members maintained that they had given enough time to the government for fulfilling promises for resolution of the problems being faced by the people of Kohat division. They said that huge reserves of oil and gas had been discovered in Kohat division but the government backtracked from its pledges to give rights to the people.

The lawmakers also alleged that the oil and gas exploration companies and bureaucracy were hands in glove due to which the companies were reluctant to resolve the problems. The jirga said that they had no other option but to halt supply of oil and gas and stop the work of the companies.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/629885-loya-jirga-vows-to-launch-protest-movement-for-rights-soon

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Pakistan's Silence On China's Uighur Muslims Is Betraying Its National Character

by Michael Rubin

Mar 16, 2020

Key point: To be Pakistani in the age of Imran Khan means to suffer in silence at the back of the line.

Inside Pakistan, India is an obsession. Communal violence surrounding the 1947 partition of India claimed up to two million lives. India and Pakistan subsequently fought three wars: In 1965, when India retaliated for Pakistani efforts to infiltrate forces into Jammu and Kashmir, in 1971 against the backdrop of the Bangladeshi War of Independence, and again in 1999, when Indian forces pushed back against a Pakistani offensive in Kargil, along the line-of-control. As the late Princeton historian Bernard Lewis pointed out, if scholars embraced the same definition of “refugee” that the United Nations applies to Palestinians who have been displaced by Israel, then South Asia would be home to more than two hundred million refugees. Tensions remain evident across the country. In 2000, in Peshawar, a mockup of a Pakistani nuclear missile stood in the midst of a traffic circle with the slogan “I’d love to enter India” written underneath it. In the Pakistani capital of Islamabad today, giant billboard clocks mark the time since India imposed a curfew on Kashmir.

There is no shortage of anti-Indian animus within Pakistan but in recent months it has been China which has humiliated Pakistan in a manner which India never could. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the long-time leader of the All-India Muslim League and the founding father of Pakistan, conceived the new country as a land for the Muslims. Because Pakistan based its legitimacy more on religion than on ethnicity, it really is the first Islamic state of the modern era.

Pakistanis have historically been at the forefront of advocacy and action against the oppression of Muslims, real or imagined. This is what guided Pakistan to oppose Soviet designs on Afghanistan. Pakistan is among the most anti-Israel and anti-Semitic countries on earth. The Pakistani press regularly covers the plight of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims. Pakistani charities work in Chechnya. There is no shortage of the terrorist groups Pakistan sponsors who target India and are motivated more by religion than nationalism. And, yet, when it comes to China’s incarceration of more than a million Uighur Muslims—solely because they are Muslim—Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan has been silent on one hand and on the other he has both defended China’s repression of its Muslims and persecuted for China the Uighurs in Pakistan.

Sister city twinning is a common diplomatic practice in order to advance tourism and ties between the world’s major cities. China and Pakistan have taken this to a new level with provincial twining. Recently, Pakistan’s mission in Beijing gave a draft memorandum of understanding to the Chinese foreign ministry in order to establish sister province relations between Xinjiang and Gilgit-Baltistan. Not only, therefore, is Khan cowed by Chinese pressure to the point that he must turn a blind eye to the greatest repression of Muslims in the twenty-first century but he now seeks to honor the Chinese province that is at the epicenter of Chinese anti-Muslim repression. Even if Khan is motivated by the implied threat to treat the people of the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region like China treats the Xinjiang, that does not paper over the implied endorsement of Beijing’s Islamophobic leadership.

The coronavirus abandonment of Pakistani students in Wuhan further humiliates Pakistan. Almost every other country—including India—has evacuated its citizens from the coronavirus epicenter. While Imran Khan spends a great deal on himself, his foreign travel, and the military, he has left Pakistan’s public health infrastructure a shamble. Khan knows that corruption and disorganization mean that medical quarantine will not work in Pakistan, which is why he seeks to keep those potentially infected abroad. China, meanwhile, cares little for the Pakistanis who remain within its territory. To be Pakistani in the age of Imran Khan means to suffer in silence at the back of the line.

Full report at:

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/pakistans-silence-chinas-uighur-muslims-betraying-its-national-character-132082

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Improved peace, stability due to martyrs’ sacrifices, says Gen Bajwa

Mar 16, 2020

LAHORE: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Sunday visited the family of Wing Commander Noman Akram Shaheed.

The COAS prayed for the departed soul and offered Fateha, said an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) press release.

” We owe improved peace and stability to supreme sacrifices rendered by our martyrs. Their sacrifices will not go to waste,” the COAS said.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/15/improved-peace-stability-due-martyrs-sacrifices-says-gen-bajwa/

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Malaysia says Islamic event linked to virus cases, days after 250,000 gathered in Pakistan

Mar 15 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Over half of Malaysia's 428 cases of coronavirus were linked to an international Islamic gathering held last month, its health ministry said Sunday, just two days after hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered for the annual Tablighi Ijtema congregation in eastern Pakistan.

The Southeast Asian nation announced a spike of 190 new infections over the weekend, mostly linked to a global Islamic event attended by almost 20,000 people. "Of the 428 cases, 243 are participants from the religious event in Sri Petaling mosque," Noor Hisham Abdullah, the director-general of the health ministry, told AFP.

Authorities said participants at the gathering — from February 27 to March 1 — came from Bangladesh, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Around 14,500 of the participants were Malaysian.

Brunei reported 10 new cases on Saturday, raising the total to 50, most in people who attended the Malaysia gathering. Singapore has also announced cases linked to the event.

On Friday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin warned Malaysia of a second wave of infections spread and urged people to avoid mass gatherings.

250,000 pilgrims in Pakistan despite virus warnings

Ahmad Farouk, a lecturer at Monash University, told AFP that authorities should shut down mosques for at least two weeks to contain the spread of the virus.

At 250,000 people had congregated in camps near Lahore since Wednesday earlier this week for the annual, five-day Tablighi Ijtema congregation, ignoring government warnings that such events could propagate the novel coronavirus pandemic.

However, organisers late Thursday had to curtail the annual event — which had drawn people from across the country — but cited rainy weather as the cause for the early closure.

"Most of the people have returned to their homes but still tens of thousands of people are here. They will return today," one of the event's organisers Ehsanullah, who goes by one name, told AFP on Friday.

'Proceed as planned'

Organisers of the Tablighi Ijtema seemed to ignore government advice to postpone, with Ehsanullah saying: "The government asked us to cancel the gathering because of the coronavirus but our elders and organisers decided that the gathering will proceed as planned."

The movement was founded by religious scholars more than five decades ago and focuses exclusively on preaching Islam.

It usually sees hundreds of camps and sub-camps set up on a dusty site outside Lahore to accommodate people from across Pakistan, giving the gathering a festival feel.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Friday, however, had asked people not to worry. "Thank God, the coronavirus pandemic is under control in Pakistan," he had said.

"The border needs to be closed for the next 15 days. The days of the Raiwind gathering have been reduced and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar informed that arrangements have been made in Dera Ghazi Khan," the foreign minister had said.

Punjab reports first case, Sindh confirms 18

Punjab reported its first case of coronavirus earlier today (Sunday) almost 20 days after Pakistan reported the first two cases in Sindh on February 26. The provincial chief secretary also announced that section 144 had been imposed for at least three weeks after new cases were reported in the country.

The pandemic — which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan on December 1, 2019 — has so far infected 53 confirmed cases in Pakistan but there have been no deaths as officials have tested fewer than 500 potential cases in the country of about 215 million, where health care is frequently inadequate.

Sindh's tally rose to 35 on Sunday, as 13 new cases were confirmed in Sukkur and another five in Karachi. One case was also reported from Islamabad.

Balochistan has at least 10 cases and Gilgit-Baltistan has three. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has yet to report a case.

Among cities, Karachi remains the worst-affected city with a total of 22 cases. Of the rest, Islamabad has four, whereas Quetta and Hyderabad have one each.

Seven people were kept under quarantine in Taftan.

Public gatherings banned globally

Many countries are advising against large gatherings in a bid to slow the spread of the highly communicable virus. Some nations — like France and Italy — have banned them altogether.

The federal government has issued orders for closure of Pakistan's western borders with Iran and Afghanistan but provinces were also forced to act independently, banning public gatherings and shutting down schools.

Full report at:

https://www.geo.tv/latest/277450-malaysia-says-islamic-event-linked-to-virus-cases-days-after-250000-gathered-in-pakistan

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President Arif Alvi calls for virus awareness via ‘social media weapons’

March 16, 2020

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi has emphasised the need for preventing coronavirus from spreading through national awareness and strict compliance with “simple measures by all of us”.

“It is not a political issue but a national one. The war hero’s role is yours thru ur weapons of social media & ur phone messages. Don’t stop until we have won,” he tweeted on Saturday.

In another tweet, he advised people to wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, using tissue or sleeves while coughing or sneezing, refusing to shake hands and embrace, to keep social distance, avoiding crowded places and not touching one’s face.

Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said that the prime minister was personally supervising steps to overcome COVID-19 in the country.

In a series of tweets, she said the government had taken measures to cope with the international challenge of coronavirus for protection of people of Pakistan.

She said these measures were acknowledged by the World Health Organisation and endorsed by its country representative.

The SAPM said she hoped the virus would be defeated with national harmony and solidarity. “It is a difficult time but the nation will come out of it successfully,” she said.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541224/president-arif-alvi-calls-for-virus-awareness-via-social-media-weapons

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358 child abuse cases reported in last five years across Sindh

Imtiaz Ali

March 16, 2020

KARACHI: As many as 358 children — 252 boys and 106 girls — became victims of child abuse in Sindh between 2014 and 2019, it emerged on Sunday.

A recent police study about child abuse cases in the province showed that girls found to be more vulnerable between ages of 1-5 and 16-18 while boys found to be more vulnerable between ages of 6-10 and 11-15.

It said that the police registered total 349 cases and arrested 408 suspects across the province during the five-year period.

The police presented charge sheets of 257 cases before the courts concerned, 70 cases were cancelled while 17 cases remained untraced. Out of 257 cases referred to the courts, 17 cases ended up in conviction compared to 132 cases in which accused earned acquittal. Around 117 cases were still pending for trial, the study said.

Most cases reported in Karachi

According to figures, total 116 children became victims of abuse in Karachi from year 2014 to 2019. Out of them, 96 were boys and 20 were girls.

The police arrested 86 suspects, presented charge sheets of 68 cases, cancelled 28 and showed 16 untraced in the provincial capital. The courts awarded punishments in three cases and acquittals in nine cases. At present, 56 cases were pending trial.

In Thatta district, 26 children, including 17 boys, became victims of child abuse. The police arrested 38 suspects, presented challans of all 26 cases. The courts awarded conviction in two cases, granted acquittals in 17 cases while seven cases were still pending trial.

In Tando Mohammed Khan district, total 23 children, including 16 boys, fell victims to child abuse. The police arrested 38 suspects, presented challans of 18 suspects in courts and cancelled two cases. The courts convicted suspects in four cases and acquitted in eight cases. Six cases were pending trial.

In Tando Allahyar district, 15 children, including six girls, became victims of child abuse. The police arrested 22 suspects, presented challans of nine cases while cancelled six cases. The court awarded punishment in one case while passed acquittal orders in five cases. Three cases were still pending for trial.

In Dadu district, 36 children, including 28 boys, were abused. The police arrested 51 suspects, presented challans of 25 cases while one case was cancelled. The courts convicted accused in three cases while acquitted those in 15 cases. Seven cases were pending trial in the said district.

In Matiari district, 37 children, including 27 boys, were abused. The police arrested 48 cases, presented challans of 33 cases while five cases were cancelled. The courts granted convictions in two cases and acquittals in 27 cases while four cases were pending trial.

In Shaheed Benazirabad district, total 53 children, including 34 boys, became victims of child abuse. The police arrested 63 suspects, presented challans of 47 cases and cancelled one case. The courts awarded punishment in two cases and acquitted accused in 27 cases while 20 cases were pending for trial.

In Jacobabad district, total 24 children, including 12 girls, became victims of abuse. The police arrested 25 suspects, presented challans of 14 cases while three cases were cancelled. One case remained untraced. The courts acquitted accused in 12 cases. No one was convicted while six cases were pending trial.

In Larkana district, 14 children, including nine boys, were abused. The police arrested 13 suspects, presented challans of seven cases and cancelled five cases. No one was convicted and the courts acquitted accused in five cases. Two cases were pending trial.

In Naushahro Feroze district, total 14 children, including 10 girls, became victims of child abuse. The police arrested 24 suspects, presented challans of 10 cases and cancelled one case. No conviction was granted and the courts acquitted accused in seven cases while six cases were pending trial.

Concerns over rising incidents

The police study also did a comparative analysis of child abuses with other three provinces, which revealed that the most child abuse cases were reported in Punjab followed by Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Referring to various child abuse cases in Punjab, the police study noted with concern that such cases were increasing in Sindh.

It pointed out two cases in Naushahro Feroze district, which had been declared as “utterly unbelievable and extremely reprehensible”.

In one case, a man confessed that he had been raping her two daughters for nearly a year. The police took action against him when the victims approached the police and filed a written complaint against him.

As nobody believed their ordeal, the victims managed to film a video of their father, which later on was submitted to the police for further investigation.

In another such case in the same area, a paternal uncle was alleged to have broken into a house and sexually assaulted his minor niece. Later the mother singlehandedly protested and demanded the justice.

Call to spread awareness among children

Citing several research studies carried out in the country and abroad, the police study said there were adverse consequences of child abuse ranging from social, emotional, cognitive, educational problems, to low self-esteem and self-harm or sometimes it may lead to suicide.

There were also links between physical abuse, depression, and aggressive behaviours.

“It appears that males and females react differently to trauma, with males engaging in more antisocial behaviours and females becoming more withdrawn.”

Other long-term effects included criminal risk taking behaviours and drug and alcohol problems.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541169/358-child-abuse-cases-reported-in-last-five-years-across-sindh

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Pakistan calls for joint efforts to fight virus menace in South Asia

Amir Wasim

March 16, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Stating that no nation and no region on earth can afford to be unresponsive to the coronavirus pandemic, Pakistan on Sunday called for fighting “the most serious global health emergency in the last 100 years” with collective efforts and suggested that a “regional mechanism” be developed by member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) for sharing “disease surveillance data, prevalence and incidence of communicable diseases and public health events of regional significance”.

The proposal was made by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza during a video conference of the Saarc leaders hosted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss and formulate a joint strategy for curbing the spread of coronavirus, scientifically known as COVID-19, which had already infected over 155,000 people in 138 countries, resulting in nearly 6,000 deaths across the globe.

Besides Mr Modi, the video conference was attended by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sharma Oli, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The SAPM also raised the issue of lockdown in India-held Kashmir since August last year and urged New Delhi to lift the lockdown to ensure containment and relief efforts in the territory in view of health emergency. “It is a matter of concern that COVID-19 has been reported from Jammu and Kashmir and in view of a health emergency, it is imperative that all lockdown in the territory must be lifted immediately,” he added.

“Pakistan shares common concern over the potential of COVID-19 affecting South Asia. All our countries have confirmed cases. There is no room for any complacency. While hoping for the best we have to be prepared for the worst,” Dr Mirza said.

Later, the Inter-Services Public Relations, the media affairs wing of the military, emphasised in a release the SAPM’s call for India. “Ensure supplies and support reaches unhindered to the people of Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir,” the ISPR quoted Dr Mirza as having stated at the conference.

Among other measures, the SAPM proposed instituting exit screening by member states of Saarc for travellers in the region and instituting mechanisms for learning from the effective efforts of China, a Saarc observer state, which had effectively addressed the COVID-19 challenge.

“If our health and disease surveillance systems and preventive measures are unable to cope [with it], the human and economic cost alone can be staggering. The accumulative impact will dampen the region-wide growth prospects and negatively impact the national development agendas,” the SAPM said, adding that “at this current stage of development, the Saarc states can’t afford such a setback”.

Pakistan, he said, had been involved in containment efforts right from the outset of the disease outbreak. “We have been alert to the dangers, and have put in place appropriate protocols for the safety and health of our people. We have been matching our measures to real-time threat assessments. While we have stressed the need for caution, we have strongly advised against panic,” he said, adding that “a calm, calculated and deliberate response is the need for the hour”.

Dr Mirza said the diagnosed cases in Pakistan had been isolated and contacts were being traced proactively, adding that Pakistan’s proactive and timely strategy had been acknowledged and commended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The SAPM told the Saarc leaders that Pakistan’s response strategy had four pillars – governance and financing, prevention, mitigation and communication – and Prime Minister Imran Khan was personally overseeing these efforts. He also apprised them of the decisions taken by the National Security Committee in its meeting on March 13, which was held for the first time on a national health issue.

He said COVID-19 had been characterised as a global pandemic, but at the same time it was deemed controllable, provided timely and appropriate public health measures were put in place. The pandemic, he said, had forced them “to think not in terms of nations and states, but as a collective”. The challenge at hand demanded sagacity, vision and synergy of actions, he added.

Dr Mirza called for empowering and giving mandate to the Saarc Secretariat to act as a platform for regional efforts to fight the pandemic. He reiterated Pakistan’s earlier proposal of hosting Saarc health ministers’ conference.

Dr Mirza highlighted the danger posed by COVID-19 to the Saarc region, which is home to one-fifth of humanity, several of the world’s largest mega-cities, and many of the most densely populated regions. He was of the view that an effective coordination at all levels was deemed critically important.

“The unprecedented challenge, therefore, warrants unprecedented response. We must recognise that the national and local responses remain the most critically important,” he said, adding that it is equally important to pursue evidence and science-based responses as stigmatisation and stereotyping was counter-productive.

“Mercifully, the Saarc region has so far evaded the worst ravages but given the experience of other countries in other continents, there is absolutely no room for any compliancy,” the SAPM warned.

State-run APP reported that President Ashraf Ghani raised the issue of closure of the Pak-Afghan border in the conference.

In response, SAPM Mirza said the closure of border crossings was a temporary measure taken in the light of the WHO guidelines. “In consultation with WHO, we have been taking steps to restrict movement to and from the affected areas, regulate lights, institute detection measures at entry points, and establish quarantine controls at border crossings,” he added.

According to foreign news agency Reuters, Indian Prime Minister Modi proposed setting up an emergency fund to fight the coronavirus outbreak in South Asia with New Delhi offering $10 million to get it going.

“Any of us can use the fund to meet the cost of immediate actions,” the news agency quoted the Indian premier as having told the Saarc leaders via video conference.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541220/pakistan-calls-for-joint-efforts-to-fight-virus-menace-in-south-asia

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In biggest single-day jump, Sindh reports 41 more virus cases

Mar 16, 2020

KARACHI: In the biggest single-day jump since the coronavirus was first reported in the country, 41 more cases were confirmed in Sindh on Monday morning, taking the total number to 94.

Sindh government spokesperson Senator Murtaza Wahab confirmed that the affectees had come from Iran via Taftan border and were placed in isolation in Sukkur.

With the latest rise in the number, Sindh’s tally mounted to 76, Murtaza confirmed.

SenatorMurtaza Wahab

@murtazawahab1

More results have come in. So far 50 people who had arrived in Sukkur from Taftaan have tested positive, 25 at Karachi & 1 at Hyderabad. So the total patients have reached 76 in Sindh. Out of these 76 patients, 2 have recovered & the remaining 74 are being kept in isolation

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11:00 - 16 Mar 2020

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A day earlier, Punjab reported its first confirmed case of coronavirus. According to Lahore Health Secretary Captain (retd) Mohammad Usman confirmed, a 54-year-old patient, who had returned to the country from the United Kingdom on Mar 10, has tested positive for the virus.

The patient had been admitted to the Mayo Hospital on Saturday night after developing symptoms of the virus. The health secretary added that all the contacts of the patients have tested negative for the virus.

Earlier, four new cases of coronavirus were detected in Karachi, said Meeran Yousuf, the media coordinator to the Sindh health minister. Three of the patients had recently returned from Saudi Arabia, while one has no recent travel history, Yousuf said. Later, the official also confirmed that another patient, who originally belongs to Balochistan and had travelled to Karachi, has tested positive for coronavirus.

The federal capital’s first secondary transmission case also emerged on Sunday morning. The latest case was of a husband of a woman who recently tested positive for coronavirus at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) after returning from the United States. There are now four COVID-19 patients at the isolation ward in PIMS, according to the health facility’s spokesperson Dr Waseem Khawaja.

CONTAINMENT MEASURES:

In order to contain the possible spread of coronavirus in Sindh, Mayor Wasim Akhtar directed the closure of parks and other entertainment facilities in the city under the control of Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).

Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Court’s registrar issued a circular stating that the area’s courts will remain closed from March 16 to April 5 as a precautionary measure to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Sindh Information Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah also denied all rumours of a lockdown that had been circulating on social media. Shah said that neither is there a situation for a lockdown nor is there anything to worry about.

“All government steps are precautionary,” he said.

He added that some “elements” on social media were asking people to gather ration which he said were “unnecessary”.

Shah added that Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had asked the chief secretary to write a letter to the FIA to register cyber crime cases against those who are spreading rumours. “The people should be confident that their government has the ability to solve all problems,” he added.

On Friday, the federal government had decided to adopt a number of precautionary measures to contain the spread of novel coronavirus, including sealing the country’s western border with Iran and Afghanistan and cancelling the Pakistan Day parade scheduled for Mar 23.

The National Security Committee (NSC) meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, was attended by the provincial chief ministers and the civilian and military leadership.

The huddle had decided that all educational institutions in the country will be closed till April 5, while Pakistan’s border entry points with Afghanistan and Iran will be closed for two weeks.

According to an order issued by the NSC, the border closure would come into effect on Mar 16 “in the best interest of all three brotherly countries”.

It was decided during the meeting that only three airports in the country — Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore — will be allowed to operate international flights in limited numbers, while other airports will only allow domestic flights.

CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK:

Globally, the coronavirus has infected 156,00 people. Around 75,000 have so far recovered whereas over 5,800 people succumbed to illness. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that Europe has become the pandemic’s current epicentre after reporting more cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China where the coronavirus originated last December.

Health officials have urged the people to adopt a number of protective measures such as regularly and thoroughly clean their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. People have also been advised to maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between themselves and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/16/in-biggest-single-day-jump-sindh-reports-41-more-virus-cases/

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Europe

 

Saudi Crown Prince: G20 States Will Work To Reduce Coronavirus’ Economic Impact

16 March 2020

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed in a phone call on Sunday with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson how to reduce the economic consequences of the coronavirus.

The Crown Prince stressed the importance of exploring possible means to coordinate international cooperation to combat the coronavirus and within the framework of the G20 summit which Saudi Arabia will host in 2020.

He also stressed the Kingdom’s intention to coordinate the efforts of the G20 countries to develop the necessary policies to combat this epidemic and reduce its economic burdens and enable medical solutions for prevention and treatment.

Johnson informed the Crown Prince of Britain’s efforts to find a vaccine for the coronavirus.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2020/03/16/Saudi-Crown-Prince-British-PM-discuss-reducing-economic-impact-of-coronavirus.html

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British Media Peddles Fake News and Scare Stories On Coronavirus Outbreak In Iran

14 March 2020

The global coronavirus pandemic has given some countries the opportunity to settle political scores with their opponents. There is no better example than the United States which has both directly and indirectly distributed corona-related fake news about its political enemies.

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has provocatively labeled the COVID-19 disease the “Wuhan virus” in a malicious attempt to attribute blame for the outbreak to the Chinese government and people.

A similar dynamic is in play with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran whose people have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 disease.

The US government not only refuses to take responsibility for aggravating the impact of COVID-19 on Iran – by maintaining its malicious sanctions regime which has led to medicinal shortages – but it has actually gone on the offensive by using the coronavirus outbreak to undermine Iran’s reputation.

To that end, the Washington Post ran an incendiary article on March 12, making the extraordinary claim that Iran was digging “vast” burial pits at the Behesht-e Masoumeh cemetery in Qom.

This article was just one of the successive incendiary and essentially fake news items the Washington Post has produced on the coronavirus outbreak in Iran.

Press TV has already comprehensively debunked Washington Post’s March 12 piece and has brought out its hyped reporting about the pits being “seen from space” – to create the false impression of mass graves – into sharp relief.

Indeed, astute observers have pointed out that the overall length of the purported 100 yards of “burial pits” in the satellite images cannot accommodate more than about 75-100 graves, which are not significantly higher than the official death toll announced for the city of Qom.

Habib Abdolhossein

@HAbdolhossein

• Mar 13, 2020

#Iran vast burial pits visible from space! @washingtonpost report sparked public fear as it went viral and was used by channels like Saudi-funded @IranIntl , some even claiming 1000s were buried in mass grave! #Covid_19 #IranCoVidTruth #irancoronavirus #CoronavirusPandemic https://twitter.com/ddaltonbennett/status/1238106168687542275 …

Dalton Bennett

@DDaltonBennett

Qom, like elsewhere in Iran, is grappling with a surge in coronavirus cases. Iranian authorities began digging a pair of trenches for victims days after the government disclosed the initial outbreak. Together their lengths are that of a football field. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/iran-coronavirus-outbreak-graves/ …

Habib Abdolhossein

@HAbdolhossein

🎥@washingtonpost @IranIntl: A closer look at trenches visible from space! In this video the official explains how the graves are made after the trenches are dug. Also, using lime is nothing new and regularly used in cemeteries, he says. #Iran #coronavirus #گورهای_دسته_جمعی #قم

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6:07 PM - Mar 13, 2020

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Loath to be seen outclassed by their American counterparts across the pond (Atlantic Ocean), the British media have enthusiastically jumped on the fake news bandwagon.

Saudi connection

Leading the way is the London-based anti-Iran News Channel, Iran International, which is directly funded by the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman. In keeping with its foundational policy of projecting Iran as darkly as possible, Iran International has enthusiastically adopted the Washington Post story and used it as a yardstick to create additional fake scare stories on the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran.

Indeed, scaremongering appears to be the British media’s policy on reporting the coronavirus outbreak in Iran.

BBC connection

To that end, the state broadcaster, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and specifically its Persian language branch, reported in late February that “210” people had died in Iran following infection with the coronovirus.

BBC Persian conveniently cited sources in Iran’s “health system” to support its fake story which was clearly designed to both scare people and to question the competence and trustworthiness of the Iranian authorities.

The unsubstantiated claim of a cover-up by Iranian authorities – in relation to the supposedly true scale of the outbreak and its casualties – has informed the British media’s coverage of the outbreak in Iran.

The left joins in

Even the left-of-center Guardian newspaper (which likes to project a progressive and mildly dissident attitude) has tried its hardest to imply a cover-up by the Iranian authorities, even going to the extent of presenting normal disputes and disagreements between Iranian officials (which are understandable at a time of crisis) as evidence for this essentially untrue assertion.

Beyond unsubstantiated claims of a cover-up, the British press has tried to paint a picture of chaos and incompetence at the leadership level in Iran, as demonstrated by the Times newspaper’s obsession with the supposedly disproportionate number of Iranian officials past and present afflicted with the virus, some of whom sadly passed away.

On the issue of coronavirus infection reaching leaders and officials, the truth is what is happening in Iran is no different to other outbreak hotspots, notably Italy, the US and indeed the UK, where the health minister, Nadine Dorries, has contracted the virus.

Following Washington

On closer inspection, the alarmist reporting of the (London) Times appears to be a reflection of the attitude of the New York Times which in an op-ed on March 06 waxed lyrical on how Iran has “completely” and “utterly” botched its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Politics aside, the British media should reflect long and hard about the real comparison between the Iranian and British responses to the coronavirus outbreak.

Iranian leaders and officials are currently going out of their way to impose appropriate restrictions – and ones in keeping with local culture and customs – to stem the tide of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

By contrast, British leaders and officials, led by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, have attracted widespread international criticism for adopting laissez-faire measures against COVID-19.

Herd immunity

Johnson and his team have refused to introduce extensive social distancing and to close schools and other national institutions (as has happened around the world) in the hope of developing “herd immunity” against the coronavirus.

The British government’s strategy appears to be predicated on the belief that COVID-19 will travel the same trajectory as influenza in terms of mass immunity, but the scientific evidence runs contrary to that assumption.

There is little wonder then that global expert opinion is deeply wary of the British strategy, which could potentially lead to mass casualties, particularly amongst the elderly.

Social media ridicule

Social media has been awash with posts ridiculing Johnson’s approach, with some users likening it to a sinister plan to kill off the elderly and the economically inactive.

Aaron Carr

@ScaryChildren

#HerdImmunity is a Cummings plan to burn through the epidemic quickly, kill off the old and sick, and come out of the other side ready to outcompete other nations crippled by long term mitigation

He doesn't care about the collateral damage#Covid19 #COVID_19uk #coronapocalypse

View image on Twitter

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1:56 AM - Mar 14, 2020

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Meanwhile, some twitter users stretched creativity by legitimately asking what the Western response would be if Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had talked in the same casual way as Johnson about the loss of life resulting from the development of herd immunity.

Seyed Mohammad Marandi

@s_m_marandi

Imagine Pres Rouhani saying what the British PM said about #coronavirus, the projected loss of life & the plan for a limited UK govt response. Mercenaries at BBC Persian & other propaganda outlets of western Empire would be up in arms. But they won't bite the hand that feeds them https://twitter.com/Jedaaal/status/1238774696306409472 …

Aliz علی علیزاده

@Jedaaal

حسن روحانی: کرونا دیگر مهارپذیر نیست. بگذارید صریح باشم. خیلی از شما چندماه آینده عزیزانتان را از دست میدهید...ما قرنطینه نخواهیم کرد. مسابقات ورزشی، تجمعات و مدارس را هم فعلا تعطیل نمیکنیم.

فکر میکنید واکنش BBCفارسی چه خواهد بود؟

اینها را روحانی نگفته. عین جملات بوریس جانسون است

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Instead of looking for fake scare stories in Iran, the British press would be better advised focusing on the developing humanitarian disaster at home.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/14/620860/UK-Media-Fake-News-Iran-Coronavirus-Outbreak

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Turkey slams Greece over treatment of asylum seekers

Fahri Aksut, Burak Dag and Salih Baran  

15.03.2020

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias' remarks on social media are “concrete evidence of the inconsistent, double-standard, illegal and inhumane policies" pursued by this country, said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman on Sunday, referring to the asylum seekers along the Turkey-Greece border.

In a written statement, Hami Aksoy said, “Greece does not protect the borders of the European Union, to the contrary, disgracefully tramples on the very principles and values this Union was built upon, by treating the migrants coming to its gates as enemies instead of human beings."

Greece is attacking asylum seekers without sparing women and children, “which remind[s] the practices of Nazis”, by using gas, bullets and pesticides on them.

On its 17th day, the asylum seekers' are still waiting on the European border.

Some try river crossings to reach Greece, and the others are waiting for the Greeks to open the gates in a buffer zone between Turkey’s Pazarkule and Greece’s Kastanies border crossings.

Greek border forces use gas, bullets and pesticides on asylum seekers, and over 10,000 asylum seekers spend their nights in tents as the weather gets colder.

Aksoy noted that Greece disregards “international law, human rights and European values, on which it keeps harping on.”

“Greece is violating all of the legal instruments such as European Convention on Human Rights, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and UN Convention Against Torture simultaneously,” he added.

Aksoy noted: “The attempts of Greece, who does not seem to be able to approach problems with a comprehensive and humanitarian point of view, to abuse the EU and irregular migrants as tools for its short-term political interests are the main sources of the problems in our region.”

On the maritime jurisdiction zone in the Mediterranean Sea, Aksoy said Greece's claims of maximalist maritime jurisdiction contrary to the international law do not only violate the rights of Turkey but also those of Libya.

Aksoy said Dendias errs also on the Libya issue.

Referring to the problems of the Turkish minority, Aksoy said while Greece identifies the Greek minority in Albania as the Greek national minority, "it is also hypocritical that it does not call the Turkish minority in Greece, Turkish".

“Minister Dendias seems to have forgotten that the European Court of Human Rights has found multiple violations by Greece in this regard,” he added.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/turkey-slams-greece-over-treatment-of-asylum-seekers/1766648

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South Asia

 

Afghanistan government postpones plan of releasing jailed Taliban members

14 March 2020

The Afghan government has postponed its announced plan of releasing jailed members of Taliban, a move that might plunge an already shaky peace process between Kabul and the militant group into deeper crisis.

Earlier this week, President Ashraf Ghani had promised in a decree that authorities would free 1,500 Taliban militants as a “gesture of goodwill” before long-awaited negotiations between the two sides begins.

The decree allowed the release of 500 Taliban prisoners within 15 days starting on Saturday, with 100 prisoners walking out of Afghan jails on a daily basis.

According to Afghan officials, once direct talks between the Taliban and Kabul began, the Afghan government would free 500 prisoners every two weeks until a total of 3,500 were released.

However, Javid Faisal, spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Saturday that the release of the jailed militants “has been delayed” to allow more time to review their identities.

“We have received the lists of the prisoners to be released. We are checking and verifying the lists, this will take time,” he said.

The release of the 3,500 prisoners will move forward only if there is a concrete reduction in violence, Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan presidential palace, said earlier this week.

The decree also asserted that the prisoners had to provide a written guarantee that they would not return to the battlefield.

Taliban had earlier rejected the offer and demanded that up to 5,000 inmates be released ahead of the peace talks, citing the US-Taliban deal signed last month that excluded the Afghan government.

Under the deal, the Afghan government would release these Taliban prisoners ahead of intra-Afghan talks, and the militant group would in exchange release up to 1,000 Afghan government prisoners.

Washington and Taliban have agreed for a phased withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan over a span of 14 months.

“We want guarantees that they will not return to fighting,” Faisal said.

The US-Taliban deal was primarily aimed at reducing violence in the war-torn country. However, since it was signed on February 29, violence has escalated with the militants carrying out dozens of deadly attacks across the country.

The attacks prompted Kabul on March 11 to warn it would resume anti-terror operations against the militants if violence continues, ending a unilateral partial ceasefire put in place ahead of the negotiations.

There was no immediate reaction from the militant group regarding the delay announcement.

Afghanistan also suffers from a wired political chaos, which has further complicated the matters.

On March 9, President Ghani and opposition candidate and former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah both held inauguration ceremonies in the capital. Abdullah has contested the official results of the recent presidential election in the country, which showed Ghani had won.

In the election last year, Abdullah was seeking presidency for the third time, after losing in 2009 and 2014.

On March 11, Afghanistan’s former President Hamid Karzai blamed Washington’s policies for the current political crisis in the country.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/14/620863/Afghanistan-Taliban-prisoners-Ghani-US-Abdullah

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Islamist militants sentenced to death for Bangladesh priest murder

Mar 16, 2020

Four Islamist extremists were sentenced to death in Bangladesh Sunday for the 2016 decapitation of a senior Hindu priest during a spate of attacks targeting religious minorities in the Muslim-majority nation.

The Islamic State group had claimed responsibility for the attack in the northern district of Panchagarh, but authorities blamed militants from Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

“The court… sentenced all four to death over the murder. They are JMB members,” Abdur Rafique, a court official in the capital Dhaka, told AFP.

The priest was a prominent member of Bangladesh’s Hindu community, which makes up nearly 10 percent of the South Asian country’s population of 168 million.

JMB was blamed for the murders of minorities, secular writers, publishers and foreigners between 2013 and 2016.

Among them was a savage attack at a Dhaka cafe in 2016 that killed 22 people, mostly foreigners.

Seven Islamist extremists were sentenced to death in November over the assault that was claimed by the IS.

Full report at:

https://nehandaradio.com/2020/03/16/islamist-militants-sentenced-to-death-for-bangladesh-priest-murder/

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5 new positive cases of coronavirus surface in Afghanistan

16 Mar 2020

Blood sample with respiratory coronavirus positive

The Ministry of Public Health has confirmed that five new positive cases of coronavirus has surfaced in three provinces of Afghanistan.

Wahidullah Mayar, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Health confirmed that two of the new cases have surfaced in western Herat province, bringing the total number of the positive cases to 12.

Meanwhile, the authorities have recorded two more positive cases in central Logar province while the fifth new case has surfaced in northwestern Badghis province.

The northern Samangan province is the second province after Herat where the authorities have recorded more positive cases of coronavirus.

The officials say they have so far recorded 21 positive cases of coronavirus in seven provinces of Afghanistan.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/5-new-positive-cases-of-coronavirus-surface-in-afghanistan-04517/

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Coronavirus: Over 300 American soldiers quarantined after returning from Afghanistan

15 Mar 2020

More than 300 American soldiers have been quarantined after returning from Afghanistan amid ongoing efforts to prevent the further outbreak of coronavirus.

The 82nd Airborne Division in a statement said more than 300 paratroopers of the divisons will undergo health monitoring and medical treatment at Fort Bragg in North Carolina after completing a 9-month rotation in suport of the U.S.-led Resolute Support Mission and returning home.

Maj. Gen. James Mingus, 82nd Airborne Division commander said “My No. 1 priority is the protection of our Paratroopers, their families, our community, and the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19.”

“We are taking proactive steps to protect and prevent spread,” he was quoted as saying in a report by Stripes.

This comes as the Afghan officials have so far reported more than 10 positive cases of coronavirus across the country so far.

The Ministry of Public Health said four new positive cases of coronavirus have been recorded in western Herat province, increasing the number of positive cases to 9.

The Ministry also added that the authorities in central Daikundi province have also recorded a positive of coronavirus in the province.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/coronavirus-over-300-american-soldiers-quarantined-after-returning-from-afghanistan-04515/

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Southeast Asia

 

Indonesia launches mosque disinfection campaign

ISMIRA LUTFIA

March 16, 2020

Indonesia has kick-started a campaign to disinfect thousands of houses of worship in order to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. The number of recorded infections has reached 117, with 21 new COVID-19 cases reported on Sunday alone.

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi is the first high-ranking Indonesian official known to have contracted the virus.

Sumadi attended a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday in Jakarta, where he met with Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Cora van Nieuwenhuize.

President Joko Widodo said he would test for the virus on Sunday.

Widodo went on Friday to the Istiqlal Mosque in Central Jakarta to oversee the disinfection of Southeast Asia’s largest mosque. Chairman of the Indonesian Mosque Council and former Vice President Jusuf Kalla launched the sanitization initiative at the Al-Munawwarah Mosque in South Jakarta.

“The virus spreads in places where there are large concentrations of people, and one such place is the mosque,” Kalla said.

The council has partnered with a number of cleaning service providers that will deploy teams to disinfect mosques in the greater Jakarta area.

“Our target is to clean 10,000 mosques in Jakarta and its suburbs, and we want to increase our team members so that we can eventually clean up to 200 mosques each day. We need at least 30 minutes to perform the disinfection process, depending on the size of the mosque. We have conducted trials for this procedure earlier this month at two mosques,” Zainal Arifin, director of the disinfectant service company Turacon Wirasta, told Arab News.

Ahmad Tsauban, head of the Al-Munawwar Mosque management, told Arab News that the mosque has begun more frequently cleaning its interior.

Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi said the ministry has instructed mosques across the country to also begin disinfecting more regularly, to provide antiseptic hand soaps, and to make sure that the water taps are working well so that congregation members may properly perform ablutions.

A number of regional governments in the country have taken measures by canceling public events, and temporarily closing schools, tourist destinations, and entertainment centers. Government and private offices in Jakarta are adjusting their working hours, providing employees opportunities to work from home, and alternating turns for employees coming to the office.

Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan urged residents on Sunday to exercise social distancing and to self-quarantine at home as the coronavirus has spread across the city.

The governor did not rule out the possibility of placing the city under lockdown but would first consult with the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, which is leading Indonesia’s coronavirus response.

“It is our view that Jakarta should halt activities in the city and that people should stop coming into and leaving the city. Jakarta must act fast, as cases continue to rise,” Baswedan said.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1641911/world

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Malaysia’s Islamist PM Mahathir into sunset?

March 16, 2020

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mohammad Mahathir – the world’s oldest leader – quit on February 24 then sought to return, eventually losing out to little-known Muhyiddin Yassin. The head of a coalition dominated by the country’s Muslim majority, Muhyiddin’s government is weak and has no clear parliamentary majority. He is a member of a tiny party without a strong support base.

Mahathir came out of retirement aged 92 to take on his one-time protege Najib and pledged to bring him to justice. He won elections but the political crisis began late February when a group of the ruling coalition lawmakers joined forces with opposition parties to form a new government and push out Mahathir’s designated successor Anwar Ibrahim. Mahathir and Anwar – who have a long and stormy history – briefly locked horns in a fight for the leadership, then joined forces again in an 11th-hour bid to stop Muhyiddin, but it proved too little, too late.

Mahathir was badly ditched repeatedly by Pakistan PM who encouraged a conference but didn’t attend, promised to buy palm oil but didn’t and eventually left poor 94 year old man on his own!

Many feel that Mahathir had his time and should gracefully step aside handing over the political leadership of his legacy to Anwar Ibrahim-the leader he has been grooming for decades-and spend time with family rather than create any hullabaloo. Mahathir is the visionary leader and good PM who transformed Malaysia into a modern country with economic self-sufficiency. But his Islamic mindset got better of his judgement. He supported fugitive Zakir Nayak and Pakistan on Kashmir issue with a severely skewed logic.

Kashmir-named after Hindu sage Kashyap-was the land of Hindus for millennia before current spate of Islamisation transformed its demographic profile into a predominantly Islamic region. The heinous political Islam drove out Hindus with unspeakable atrocities against women. Mahathir’s support to Pakistan over Kashmir exposed his moral bankruptcy. Mahathir had good contributions but unbridled Islamism clogged his vision, single-handedly crippled economy and limited his support base to Pakistan and Turkey only.

Mahathir has now learnt the lesson: when dealing with nations, do not get carried away by personal emotions and equations but take a dispassionate look at national interest only.Imran Khan’s friend Mahathir is now gone. And with him the Pakistan dream of rallying Islamist forces over Kashmir also goes down the drain. Pakistan social media is agog with rumours that “two more wickets to go down-one in Pakistan (that of Imran Khan) and another in Turkey (of Erdogan)”!

To source crowd support Mahathir is relying on his fight against corruption and branding Muhyiddin black. But what honesty Mahathir is talking of? Though he had agreed to cede power to Anwar as per agreement, he is not doing so.

The UK daily The Guardian criticised that Malaysia’s king Sultan Ahmad Shah had overturned a democratic election result by naming Muhyiddin Yassin as Prime Minister despite the opposite camp claiming a majority. Responding to the editorial Malaysia’s palace denied on March 8 the allegations that it went beyond its “call of obligation.” It clarified having met all lawmakers and the leaders of various political parties before arriving at this decision that Muhyiddin was the person likely to command a majority in Parliament. “It was only after this rigorous and open process of consultation, fully in accordance with the federal constitution, that his majesty exercised his discretion under the federal constitution to appoint a new Prime Minister,” the palace said in a statement and denounced the criticism of “royal coup.” It was a royal intervention none the less.

Full report at:

https://www.newdelhitimes.com/malaysias-islamist-pm-mahathir-into-sunset/

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Most Malaysia virus cases spread from Islamic event, days after Pakistan religious gathering

March 15, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Over half of Malaysia's 428 cases of coronavirus were linked to an international Islamic gathering held last month, its health ministry said Sunday, just two days after hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered for the annual Tablighi Ijtema congregation in eastern Pakistan.

The Southeast Asian nation announced a spike of 190 new infections over the weekend, mostly linked to a global Islamic event attended by almost 20,000 people. "Of the 428 cases, 243 are participants from the religious event in Sri Petaling mosque," Noor Hisham Abdullah, the director-general of the health ministry, told AFP.

Authorities said participants at the gathering — from February 27 to March 1 — came from Bangladesh, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Around 14,500 of the participants were Malaysian.

Brunei reported 10 new cases on Saturday, raising the total to 50, most in people who attended the Malaysia gathering. Singapore has also announced cases linked to the event.

On Friday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin warned Malaysia of a second wave of infections spread and urged people to avoid mass gatherings.

250,000 pilgrims in Pakistan despite virus warning

Ahmad Farouk, a lecturer at Monash University, told AFP that authorities should shut down mosques for at least two weeks to contain the spread of the virus.

At 250,000 people had congregated in camps near Lahore since Wednesday earlier this week for the annual, five-day Tablighi Ijtema congregation, ignoring government warnings that such events could propagate the novel coronavirus pandemic.

However, organisers late Thursday had to curtail the annual event — which had drawn people from across the country — but cited rainy weather as the cause for the early closure.

"Most of the people have returned to their homes but still tens of thousands of people are here. They will return today," one of the event's organisers Ehsanullah, who goes by one name, told AFP on Friday.

'Proceed as planned'

Organisers of the Tablighi Ijtema seemed to ignore government advice to postpone, with Ehsanullah saying: "The government asked us to cancel the gathering because of the coronavirus but our elders and organisers decided that the gathering will proceed as planned."

The movement was founded by religious scholars more than five decades ago and focuses exclusively on preaching Islam.

It usually sees hundreds of camps and sub-camps set up on a dusty site outside Lahore to accommodate people from across Pakistan, giving the gathering a festival feel.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Friday, however, had asked people not to worry. "Thank God, the coronavirus pandemic is under control in Pakistan," he had said.

"The border needs to be closed for the next 15 days. The days of the Raiwind gathering have been reduced and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar informed that arrangements have been made in Dera Ghazi Khan," the foreign minister had said.

Punjab reports first case, Sindh confirms 18

Punjab reported its first case of coronavirus earlier today (Sunday) almost 20 days after Pakistan reported the first two cases in Sindh on February 26. The provincial chief secretary also announced that section 144 had been imposed for at least three weeks after new cases were reported in the country.

The pandemic — which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan on December 1, 2019 — has so far infected 53 confirmed cases in Pakistan but there have been no deaths as officials have tested fewer than 500 potential cases in the country of about 215 million, where health care is frequently inadequate.

Sindh's tally rose to 35 on Sunday, as 13 new cases were confirmed in Sukkur and another five in Karachi. One case was also reported from Islamabad.

Balochistan has at least 10 cases and Gilgit-Baltistan has three. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has yet to report a case.

Among cities, Karachi remains the worst-affected city with a total of 22 cases. Of the rest, Islamabad has four, whereas Quetta and Hyderabad have one each.

Seven people were kept under quarantine in Taftan.

Public gatherings banned globally

Many countries are advising against large gatherings in a bid to slow the spread of the highly communicable virus. Some nations — like France and Italy — have banned them altogether.

The federal government has issued orders for closure of Pakistan's western borders with Iran and Afghanistan but provinces were also forced to act independently, banning public gatherings and shutting down schools.

Full report at:

https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/629579-most-malaysia-virus-cases-spread-from-islamic-event-days-after-pakistan-religious-gathering

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Mosque in Shah Alam closed in Covid-19 shutdown

15 Mar 2020

BY AZRIL ANNUAR

KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 — A mosque in Seksyen 27 Shah Alam has been temporarily shut for all prayer times, including the daily five times fardhu prayers due to Covid-19 exposure.

Malay daily Berita Harian reported that Masjid Al Munawwarah official, Muhaiyat Husin had issued a statement saying that one of the congregation had been infected with Covid-19 while on holiday in Vietnam, forcing the mosque to close its doors for the time being.

“After evaluating the health risk and the Covid-19 pandemic, we would like to inform the public that Masjid Al Munawwarah, Seksyen 27, is temporarily closed to all activities including fardhu prayers.

“All of our congregation and flock have been advised to pray at home or other mosques and suraus nearby as we wait for further actions from the authorities such as the Health Ministry, Majlis Agama Islam Selangor and the District Islamic Office,” he reportedly said in a statement.

However, the azan (call to prayer) and prayers will be conducted by mosque officials who are on duty as usual but the congregation is discouraged to attend mass prayers.

Notices will be placed at the mosque’s gates to inform the public of its temporary closure.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/03/15/mosque-in-shah-alam-closed-in-covid-19-shutdown/1846739

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Minister: Increase in dividend restores confidence of Tabung Haji depositors

14 Mar 2020

KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — The profit distribution after tithe or “hibah” (dividend) of 3.05 per cent by the Pilgrims Fund Board or Tabung Haji (TH), which is higher compared with the fiscal year 2018, is seen as restoring the confidence of its depositors, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Senator Datuk Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri.

In congratulating TH management and its board of directors for the success, he said, the higher dividend is expected to encourage depositors to continue to invest and keep their savings with TH.

“The profit recorded is a reflection of the outcome of efforts by the management in formulating investment strategies and cost management measures.

“The biggest challenge facing TH is how to strengthen its financial position, following the uncertainty of the stock market due to the global trade war,” he said in a statement today.

TH, in a statement yesterday, announced a profit distribution after zakat (tithe) of 3.05 per cent for the 2019 financial year (FY2019), with a payout totalling RM2.1 billion compared with RM913 million for the FY2018.

The improved financial performance is based on a sustainable investment strategy and prudent cost management measures which contributed to the growth in financial distribution in 2019.

Zulkifli said it was possible through concerted efforts by TH and all related parties and expressed confidence of the agency making more profit in future through their commitment and dedication in managing and governing the institution.

“The establishment of TH is based on a sacred intention, to help Muslims in Malaysia fulfil the fifth pillar of Islam.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/03/14/minister-increase-in-dividend-restores-confidence-of-tabung-haji-depositors/1846563

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Former Sports Minister Suspected of Updating WhatsApp Status From Behind Bars

BY BERITASATU

MARCH 11, 2020

Jakarta. Former Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi is being investigated by the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, on Tuesday for allegedly updating his WhatsApp status from behind bars.

Despite being detained at the Guntur Prison in Jakarta – charged with receiving bribes while he was minister, a WhatsApp status update was uploaded from Imam's cellphone on Thursday at 6.23 pm. Immediate inspection by the prison's head warden led to the discovery of a switched-off cellphone in his cell, according to KPK spokesman Ali Fikri.

"Imam denied using the cellphone or updating his Whatsapp status," Ali said at the KPK headquarters in South Jakarta on Tuesday.

The cellphone was confiscated and the cell's warden interrogated on Thursday night.

If the allegation is proven true, the former sports minister will be slapped with disciplinary sanctions.

Ali said graft suspects are not allowed to bring any electronic device into their prison cell.

Earlier this year, the KPK banned family visits for politician Nyoman Dharmantara – who was facing charges of bribery related to a garlic import permit – after he was caught smuggling a cellphone into his prison cell.

Imam reportedly uploaded a picture of himself and his wife on a hajj trip to update his WhatsApp status.

"Memories from last year's hajj trip after a seven-year wait. Just a normal hajj pilgrim accompanying my beloved wife and frail aunt. I pray that all my Muslim friends get to visit Mecca," the caption read.

Full report at:

https://jakartaglobe.id/news/former-sports-minister-suspected-of-updating-whatsapp-status-from-behind-bars

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Mideast

 

Al-Aqsa, Dome of the Rock shut as precaution against coronavirus

March 15, 2020

JERUSALEM: Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock will shut their doors until further notice, religious authorities said on Sunday, in a move to protect worshippers at Islam’s third holiest site.

Prayers will still be held on the huge open area around the two shrines and other Muslim prayer sites on the sacred compound known to Muslims worldwide as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount.

“The Islamic Waqf department decided to shut down the enclosed prayer places inside the blessed Aqsa Mosque, and until further notice, as a protective measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, the Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Reuters.

“All prayers will be held in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa mosque and doors will remain open to all worshippers,” he added.

Al-Aqsa Mosque was built in the 8th century and Muslims regard it as next only to Mecca and Medina in importance.

The latest measure follows a series of ever-stricter restrictions imposed by political and religious authorities in the Holy Land to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate said last week that Jewish worshippers should not come to the Western Wall or pray en masse there.

The wall was built by Herod the Great as a restraining wall for the compound housing the Jewish temples of antiquity and is a sacred place of prayer for Jews.

Jerusalem’s Old City is sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the three great monotheistic faiths. Christians revere it as the place where they believe that Jesus Christ preached, died and was resurrected, and the Holy Land church authorities have changed some worship practices to protect mass celebrants.

The numbers of those praying at Al-Aqsa during Friday prayers have fallen in recent weeks, amid fears over coronavirus, and officials stood by with bottle of hand-wash for those arriving and leaving.

The site’s religious importance makes it an especially sensitive area.

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/world/2020/03/15/al-aqsa-mosque-shut-by-muslim-clerics-as-precaution-against-coronavirus/

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Netanyahu challenger Gantz chosen to form new Israeli government

March 15, 2020

JERUSALEM: Israel’s president on Sunday said he has decided to give opposition leader Benny Gantz the first opportunity to form a new government, following an inconclusive national election this month.

President Reuven Rivlin’s office announced his decision late Sunday after consulting with leaders of all of the parties elected to parliament.

The decision raises questions about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political future as he leads the country’s battle against the coronavirus threat and prepares to go on trial for corruption charges.

Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest party in the March 2 election, Israel’s third in under a year. But with his smaller religious and nationalist allies, he received the support of only 58 lawmakers during Sunday’s consultations, leaving Likud three seats short of the required majority in parliament.

Gantz’s Blue and White received the support of parties representing 61 seats, a slim majority. However, those parties are also divided, and it is not clear whether Gantz will succeed in putting together a coalition. One lawmaker refused to endorse either side.

Rivlin said he would formally designate Gantz with the task on Monday. Once formally tapped, Gantz will now have a month to cobble together a governing coalition.

Given the possibility of continued deadlock, Rivlin summoned both Netanyahu and Gantz to an emergency meeting late Sunday.

Rivlin had earlier suggested the two men form a power-sharing unity government to lead the country through its many crises. If the two rivals cannot reach a unity deal, the country could find itself in a fourth consecutive election campaign.

“Anyone who has watched the news in recent days understands that this is a time of trial, and that these are not regular consultations,” he said. “We must now deal with forming a government as soon as possible ... at this complex time.”

Israel’s president hold a largely ceremonial role, but is responsible for designating the candidate he thinks has the best chance of being able to form a government by securing a parliamentary majority.

That task has been complicated by the results of the March 2 election. Netanyahu’s Likud party emerged as the largest single party, but short of a 61-seat parliamentary majority with its allies of smaller religious and nationalist parties.

While Gantz is backed by a slim majority, the opposition is deeply fragmented — with the predominantly Arab Joint List and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu among them — giving Gantz slim odds of being able to form a government.

Yisrael Beitenu’s leader, Avigdor Lieberman, and two members of Gantz’s own Blue and White party have said they would oppose a government that relies on support from the Joint List. Lieberman told the president that he supports Gantz, but also called for the formation of an “emergency” unity government to deal with the coronavirus threat.

Netanyahu, in his caretaker role, has invited Gantz to join him in an emergency government. Gantz has left the door open to such an arrangement, but also dismissed the offers as insincere.

Over the past week, the coronavirus scare has overshadowed the country’s precarious political standoff — which comes as Netanyahu prepares to go on trial for corruption charges.

Netanyahu got an important reprieve on Sunday when the Jerusalem court handling the case postponed his trial for two months because of restrictions connected to the coronavirus pandemic.

Netanyahu was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to face charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in connection to a series of scandals. But following the emergency health measures the government enacted restricting the gathering of people in public places, the court announced that it was pushing back the hearing until May 24.

Netanyahu is accused of receiving expensive gifts from wealthy friends and offering to exchange favors with powerful media moguls. The long-ruling Israeli leader denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a media-orchestrated witch hunt.

Much of the country ground to a standstill Sunday, with schools, malls and places of entertainment shut down. Employees were encouraged to work from home and strict restrictions have been placed on personal interactions.

The virus has spread to more than 100 countries, infected more than 150,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,700. In Israel, some 200 people have been infected with no casualties yet, as severe measures seem to have proven effective so far.

The coronavirus crisis has raised calls for an emergency unity government. Netanyahu formally extended an offer Sunday to Gantz to join a government aimed at at halting the spread of the virus, suggesting two frameworks, including one that would see an alternating leadership between them over the course of four years.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1641836/middle-east

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Israel to use anti-terror tech to counter coronavirus ‘invisible enemy’

March 15, 2020

JERUSALEM: Israel plans to use anti-terrorism tracking technology and a partial shutdown of its economy to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.

Cyber tech monitoring would be deployed to locate people who have been in contact with those carrying the virus, subject to cabinet approval, Netanyahu told a news conference in Jerusalem.

“We will very soon begin using technology ... digital means that we have been using in order to fight terrorism,” Netanyahu said. He said he had requested Justice Ministry approval because such measures could infringe patients’ privacy.

In an escalation of precautionary measures, Netanyahu’s government announced that malls, hotels, restaurants and theaters will shut down from Sunday, and said employees should not go to their workplaces unless it was necessary.

However vital services, pharmacies, supermarkets and banks would continue to operate.

Health officials urged people to maintain social distancing, and not to gather more than 10 people in a room.

The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, confirmed that it was examining the use of its technological capabilities to fight coronavirus, at the request of Netanyahu and the Health Ministry.

Avner Pinchuk, a privacy expert with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said such capabilities could include real-time tracking of infected persons’ mobile phones to spot quarantine breaches and backtracking through meta-data to figure out where they had been and who they had contacted.

“I am troubled by this announcement. I understand that we are in unique circumstances, but this seems potentially like over-reach. Much will depend on how intrusive the new measures are,” said Pinchuk.

The Shin Bet, however, said in its statement that quarantine enforcement was not on the table. “There is no intention of using said technologies for enforcement or tracking in the context of isolation guidelines,” it said.

Netanyahu said it was not an easy choice to make and described the virus as an “invisible enemy that must be located.” He said Israel would follow similar methods used by Taiwan.

“In all my years as prime minister I have avoided using these means among the civilian public but there is no choice,” Netanyahu said.

The latest announcement follows a series of ever-stricter restrictions imposed by Israel to contain the virus.

The Israeli military said earlier on Saturday that it had ordered all troops to be back on their bases by Sunday morning, and that combat soldiers should prepare for a lengthy stay with no leave for up to a month.

Last week anyone entering Israel was ordered to self-isolate for two weeks and schools have been shut. Tens of thousands of Israelis are presently quarantined.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1641656/middle-east

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British Ambassador Advises Compatriots to Avoid Panic Shopping, Learn from Iranians

Mar 15, 2020

“Shopping today in Tehran. In case you were worried,” Macaire wrote on twitter by posting the image below.

Food retailers have urged the British public not to panic buy, but many are ignoring their advice and have been clearing supermarket shelves of toilet paper, hand soap and tins of beans.

The number of Covid-19 cases in the UK surged to 1,140 on Saturday, with the death toll jumping from 11 to 21.

But the Government’s chief scientific adviser has said up to 10,000 people may have been infected without being officially diagnosed.

Panic buying has been rife amid the global spread of the new coronavirus, with consumers around the world stockpiling goods like hand sanitizer, canned foods and toilet paper.

The trend has seen stores ration products, with UK retailers limiting sales of hand hygiene products while Australian shoppers have seen restrictions on the amount of toilet paper they can buy.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981225000394

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Iran Assembly of Experts member Hashem Bathaei-Golpaygani dies of coronavirus

16 March 2020

Ayatollah Hashem Bathaei-Golpaygani, a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, has died from the novel coronavirus, Iran's state news agency IRNA reported on Monday.

Bathaei-Golpaygani was receiving treatment in Qom’s Shahid Beheshti hospital, according to Iranian news agencies. He was initially admitted to the hospital on Saturday.

At least 1,400 Qom citizens have been infected with the coronavirus virus, and four have been hospitalized in Kamkar, Ferghani, Imam Reza, Ali Ibn Abitaleb and Shahid Beheshti hospitals, according to IRNA’s report.

Read more: Iran reaches coronavirus ‘crossroads,’ should implement lockdown: Yale expert

As of Sunday, Iran confirmed it had 724 fatalities and 13,938 cases due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Iran’s Assembly of Experts is a clerical body that supervises, appoints and in theory, can sack the Supreme Leader.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/16/Iran-Assembly-of-Experts-member-Hashem-Bathaei-Golpaygani-dies-of-coronavirus.html

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Coronavirus closes Shia tomb in Iran’s Mashhad: Spokesman

15 March 2020

The tomb of Imam Reza in Iran’s holy Shia city of Mashhad has been closed to pilgrims until further notice in line with measures to stop the new coronavirus, a spokesman said Sunday.

“Currently, the porches of the mausoleum and generally all the covered spaces of the holy shrine are closed,” the spokesman for the shrine told AFP.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/15/Coronavirus-closes-Shia-tomb-in-Iran-s-Mashhad-Spokesman.html

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Coronavirus: Netanyahu's criminal trial postponed for two months

15 March 2020

A Jerusalem district court announced on Sunday that it was postponing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's criminal trial for two months because of restrictions arising from the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Netanyahu was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to face charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in connection to a series of scandals.

But following the emergency health measures the government enacted restricting the gathering of people in public places, the court announced that it was pushing back the hearing until May 24.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/15/Coronavirus-Netanyahu-s-criminal-trial-postponed-for-two-months-.html

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Iran FM says US cruel sanctions severely hindering anti-corona fight

15 March 2020

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says the cruel and unilateral sanctions imposed by the White House are severely hampering the Islamic Republic's fight against the novel coronavirus.

"The cruel and unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States constitute a major obstacle to Iran's fight against the dangerous coronavirus," Zarif said in a phone conversation with Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov on Sunday, emphasizing that Iran and other countries will eventually overcome the outbreak of the deadly virus.

The top Iranian and Azeri diplomats also exchanged views about the COVID-19 outbreak in the region and across the globe, calling for a collective containment cooperation.

Also on Sunday, Zarif spoke on the phone with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan about possible ways to contain the pandemic.

The Iranian foreign minister said the international community was now impacted and that collective determination, cooperation and interaction of all nations were needed in the fight against the disease.

Al Nahyan, for his part, expressed his country's support for the Iranian government and nation in the battle.

In a letter sent to a number of world leaders on Friday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the fight against the coronavirus requires bolstering joint and coordinated regional and international measures, adopting serious strategies, and sustaining huge medical and care costs.

The Iranian foreign minister on Saturday pointed to Rouhani's letter to his counterparts and said, "It is IMMORAL to let a bully kill innocents."

Javad Zarif

@JZarif

In letter to counterparts @HassanRouhani informs how efforts to fight #COVID19 pandemic in Iran have been severely hampered by US sanctions, urging them to cease observing them: It is IMMORAL to let a bully kill innocents

Viruses recognize no politics or geography. Nor should we

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9:10 PM - Mar 14, 2020

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"In letter to counterparts @HassanRouhani informs how efforts to fight #COVID19 pandemic in Iran have been severely hampered by US sanctions, urging them to cease observing them," the top Iranian diplomat said in a post on his Twitter account.

"Viruses recognize no politics or geography. Nor should we."

Kianoush Jahanpour, the head of the public relations and information center of the Iranian Ministry of Health, said on Sunday the virus had claimed 113 lives in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall death toll to 724.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/15/620920/coronavirus-Iran-Zarif-sanctions-Azerbaijan-UAE

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Turkey-Russia patrols start amid protests on Syrian highway

March 15, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey: Turkish and Russian troops began joint patrols Sunday on a key highway in northwest Syria, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said, while both the Russian government and Syrian opposition activists said the patrols were shortened because of protests.

Patrols on the highway known as the M4, which runs east-west through Idlib province, are part of a cease-fire agreement between Turkey and Russia signed earlier this month. The cease-fire ended an escalation in fighting that saw the Turkish military in rare direct conflict with Syrian government troops.

The vital highway, which runs through northern Syria from the Mediterranean to the Iraqi border, has been partially closed since 2012. Work has been underway over the past days to refurbish it for traffic. Some sections of the M4 remain under rebel control.

For the past three days, residents of rebel-held parts of the highway have protested in rejection of Russian troops patrolling the road because of Moscow’s strong support to Syrian government forces.

“The first Turkish-Russian united land patrol was carried out on the M4 highway in Idlib with the involvement of land and air elements,” Turkey’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Turkey and Russia carried out their first joint patrol mission along the M4 highway Sunday adding that “the patrols’ route was shortened” after militants used women and children to block the way. The Defense Ministry’s statement was carried by state-run news agency Tass.

Ankara has been given additional time to ensure the safety of troops taking part in joint patrols, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Syrian opposition activists said residents blocked the highway with burning tires near the village of Nairab on the southern edge of Idlib in rejection to patrols by “Russian occupation forces.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor with activists on the ground in Syria, said the joint patrols were not successful as they moved a short distance west of the government held town of Saraqeb before being stopped by the protests.

It added that jihadi groups have threatened to attack Russian forces on the highway. Idlib is mostly controlled by Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Ankara backs some of the opposition groups in Idlib, the fighters’ final stronghold against the Russian-backed forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Some 60 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Idlib since the start of February as Syrian troops carried out a ground and air offensive into the province that began in early December. The assault killed hundreds of civilians and sent 1 million fleeing toward the Turkish border.

Russian officials visited Ankara last week to hammer out the cease-fire. After four days of talks, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey hoped the deal would prove to be permanent.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1641706/middle-east

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Israel postpones Netanyahu graft trial by 2 months over virus

March 15, 2020

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial has been postponed until May 24 due to concerns about coronavirus, Jerusalem’s District Court said Sunday.

Netanyahu, the first Israeli premier ever to be indicted in office, had been scheduled to stand trial from Tuesday over alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

In a statement, the court noted that given the coronavirus pandemic it had been instructed to hear “only urgent matters.”

“We have decided to postpone the first hearing (in Netanyahu’s trial) until May 24,” the court said.

Israel has 200 confirmed cases of the virus with tens of thousands of people in home quarantine.

Netanyahu has been charged with a range of offenses including receiving improper gifts and offering a media mogul lucrative regulatory changes in exchange for favorable coverage.

He denies wrongdoing.

Despite the indictments, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won the most seats in March 2 elections and he is aiming to form a new government.

But Likud and its allies fell short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset, or parliament. It was Israel’s third inconclusive vote in less than a year.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1641681/middle-east

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North America

 

US commander vows to keep two aircraft carriers in Persian Gulf to deter Iran

15 March 2020

The US military plans to keep two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf region, the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM) has announced, claiming the move is aimed at deterring Iran from taking retaliatory action for what he described as “defensive” air strikes against Iraqi installations days ago.

"We're going to keep [the carriers] for a while" to signal to Iran that retaliation would bring a massive response, said Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie at a Friday news conference in the US defense department, referring to USS Eisenhower and USS Truman warships and alleging – without providing any evidence – that a recent attack on US-occupied Taji military base near Baghdad was conducted by what Washington commonly propagates as “Iran-backed militia” in Iraq.

According to the US-based military news outlet Task & Purpose, when McKenzie was challenged by its reporter on the “defensive” nature of the American air strikes on installations of Iraqi military’s Popular Mobilization Units across the country, he insisted on his claim arguing that they strikes would effectively “prevent future attacks” on US forces.

 “Actually… I think these attacks are designed to prevent future attacks on us, which would be the definition of a defensive action. Clearly, dropping a bomb is in of itself an offensive tactical action – but in the broader context these are designed to be defensive strikes,” said the hawkish CENTCOM commander.

According to Iraqi officials, three Iraqi soldiers, two policemen, one civilian and no “militiamen” were killed during the US air strikes, which Baghdad censured as a violation of its sovereignty and targeted aggression against its regular armed forces.

The report further underlined that while the US military has attributed “a total of 12 rocket attacks” on US-led coalition forces in Iraq over the past six months to the nation’s PMU forces, McKenzie “did not elaborate on what evidence he based that conclusion on.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon identified the two US troops killed as Army Spc. Juan Miguel Mendez Covarrubias, 27, of Hanford, California, and Air Force Staff Sgt. Marshal D. Roberts, 28, of Owasso, Oklahoma.

The report then quoted McKenzie as saying that US military officials also believe that the recent airstrikes on PMU’s installation will “have an effect on deterring future strikes of this nature.”

“We’ve seen in the past what happens when you don’t respond,” he said. “Now people know that we’re not going to tolerate these direct attacks on American or coalition service members – and we’re willing and able to respond.”

On Saturday, however, multiple rockets struck the US-occupied Taji military base yet again, according to press reports citing Iraqi and US security sources, adding that three American troops and several Iraqi forces were injured in the apparently retaliatory attack.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command later announced that 33 Katyusha rockets were launched near a section of the Taji base that houses US-led coalition forces in the country. It further noted that the military found seven rocket launchers and 24 unused rockets in the nearby Abu Izam area.

It also said several Iraqi air defense servicemen were critically wounded.

Pointing to US insistence that its latest aerial strikes on Iraqi military targets would deter future attacks on its forces, a Reuters report on Saturday said, “Not only did the [US] retaliatory strikes appear to fail to stem more attacks on the US-led coalition, Iraqi government protested the American air strikes and said members of its security forces were among the dead.”

This is while the Pentagon further declared that two of the three wounded US troops were seriously injured in the rocket attack and are being treated at a military hospital in Baghdad.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman, however, refused to speculate on potential US responses but, in a statement, cited Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s warning last week that “you cannot attack and wound American Service Members and get away with it, we will hold them to account.”

Meanwhile, the Iraqi military also stated on Saturday that neither the United States nor other foreign forces should use the latest rocket attack as a pretext to take military action without Iraq’s approval, and should instead hasten to implement a parliamentary resolution expelling them.

US claims Iraqi officials notified prior to airstrikes on its forces

However, McKenzie claimed on Friday that the US military had notified the Iraqi government after the Camp Taji attack that “a response was coming,” though he did not specify whether Iraqi officials were given advance warning of the five airstrikes across the country.

McKenzie then went on to openly ridicule Iraq’s security officials, saying: “If Iraqi military forces were there, I would say it’s probably not a good idea to position yourself with Kata’ib Hezbollah in the wake of a strike that killed Americans and coalition members,” referring to one of the country’s resistance groups that fiercely opposes US military presence in their soil.

CENTCOM commander accuses, threatens Iran

The top US commander in the Middle East then went on to threaten Iran by claiming that he believes Tehran may seek to provoke Iraqi forces to take action against American targets in the region, adding: "I would caution Iran and its proxies against an attempted response."

"I think the threat remains very high," he further emphasized.

In another warning, McKenzie also claimed that US intelligence has a good idea on where Iraqi militia groups are located, insisting: "We think we know where most of them are. There are plenty more places where we can go to work."

He further tried to undermine Iranian military’s capabilities after American terrorist forces assassinated Iran’s revered anti-terror Quds Force commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani in early January during an official visit to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, saying that it was difficult for the Islamic Republic to replace him.

McKenzie also claimed that the corona virus outbreak in Iran has taken a toll on the Iranian leadership, emphasizing that "it's going to make it a lot harder for them to make decisions."

The CENTCOM commander then went on to announce that the US is in the process of moving Patriot anti-missile batteries into Iraq, adding it will be "some days" before they became operational.

He then tried to undermine the destructive Iranian ballistic missile attack against the US-occupied al-Asad military air base in Iraq’s Anbar province on January 8 that shocked the American forces there and leaving yet unknown number of casualties.

Washington initially claimed the attack did not leave any casualties but later admitted that some of its forces sustained “traumatic brain injuries,” raising the number of injured troops several times from eight to more than 100.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/15/620877/US-CENTCOM-commander-General-Frank-McKenzie-Iran-Iraq-PMU-rocket-attack-airstrikes

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Washington Post hypes fake news on coronavirus ‘burial pits’ in Iran

14 March 2020

The Washington Post has turned to publishing fake news about Iran’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, claiming that Iran has dug mass "burial pits" for victims of the disease and was covering the true number of deaths.

As countries across the world grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak, Iran’s struggle to contain the deadly disease has attracted more than usual attention from mainstream outlets in certain countries.

Despite numerous statements from World Health Organization officials praising Iran’s efforts against the outbreak, certain outlets have focused on erringly similar themes regarding Iran; that the country is in chaos, is mishandling the outbreak and that it’s “putting other countries at risk”.

The Washington Post has specifically published a string of exclusively conspiracy-minded and politicized reports about the coronavirus outbreak in Iran.

Its latest reports include headlines such as “Iran’s government is lying its way to a coronavirus catastrophe”, “Iran struggles to contain coronavirus outbreak, putting Middle East countries at risk” and “Coronavirus pummels Iran leadership as data show spread is far worse than reported”.

In its latest article on Iran – titled “Coronavirus burial pits so vast they’re visible from space” – the US daily claims satellite images showed newly-dug “trenches” the size of a “football field” to accommodate bodies of the coronavirus victims.

The satellite images purportedly illustrate a cemetery near Iran’s epicenter city of Qom. The paper proceeds to cite dubious reports and videos circulating over the internet about Iran covering up its coronavirus deaths.

The report concludes that the graves have been dug to “accommodate the rising number of virus victims in Qom”.

Nazanin

@nazaninzar

Here’s an idea: maybe don’t circulate the image of a cemetery from an extremely traumatic pandemic as though the real deaths of real people is some type of breakthrough in investigative journalism https://twitter.com/washingtonpost/status/1238101039330603008 …

The Washington Post

@washingtonpost

Coronavirus burial pits so vast they’re visible from space.

Iranian authorities began digging a pair of trenches for victims just days after the government disclosed the initial outbreak. https://wapo.st/38FQ2ep

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Many observers, however, have been quick to point out inconsistencies and flaws in the report, with some highlighting the unprofessional reporting used in the article; using hyped expressions such as “seen from space” to portray a false image of mass graves.

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj

@yarbatman

• Mar 12, 2020

Replying to @yarbatman

8. Let me also add that I am not sure what the satellite imagery adds here given that we have videos shot from the cemetery by Iranians and shared on social media in which the individuals filming both indicate the extent of the new graves and the number of individuals buried.

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj

@yarbatman

9. Iran isn't North Korea (a fact @erinmcunningham + @DDaltonBennett + @fab_hinz know well). So if you want to know what's happening in Iran, you really can turn to Iranian news agencies and get most of the story. Follow Iranians on social media and you'll get the rest.

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Observers have pointed that the overall length of the purported 100 yards of “burial pits” in the satellite images cannot accommodate more than about 75-100 graves, not significantly higher than the official death toll announced for the city.

Habib Abdolhossein

@HAbdolhossein

• Mar 13, 2020

Replying to @DDaltonBennett @washingtonpost

#Iran vast burial pits visible from space! The report sparked public fear as it went viral and was used by anti-Iran channels like Saudi-funded @IranIntl , some even claiming 1000s were buried in mass grave! #Covid_19

Here is a quick fact check to see how “vast” burial pits are

Habib Abdolhossein

@HAbdolhossein

1. The satellite image (Feb. 21-March ) shows a pair of trenches totaling  90 yards or 90 meters in length in Behesht Masoumeh Cemetery in #Qom. If we consider width of each grave 125cm (Standard 75 cm grave+50 cm side walls) the trenches can accommodate nearly 70 graves!

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Others have presented evidence showing that the vacant graves in the area are not specifically related to the coronavirus outbreak and that long rows of graves had been also dug long before the outbreak.

Zahra Shafei 🇮🇷

@shafei_d

• Mar 13, 2020

Iranian journalist @kheyzaran (based in Qom) shared the pictures that he took from Qom’s cemetery and a map that shows there was always a section preprepared for the burial of deceased ones in times of crisis, The Crisis Section that its satellite images seemed so extraordinary https://twitter.com/s_m_marandi/status/1238503444325040130 …

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Seyed Mohammad Marandi

@s_m_marandi

My dear friend @HalaJaber is concerned about anti-Iran western media propaganda like the satellite imagery of #coronavirus "burial pits" in Qom. People go there every day, but western media pretends it's a secret site. Ignore them. They're drowing in their own #Covid_19 crisis.

Kızılbaş

@mohseni_

literally took this vid in Qom at al-Baqi cemetery in Jamkaran over 2 years ago.

this is no ‘burial pit’ as they would call it, just simply vacant graves at a cemetery (completely normal).

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The dubious report, however, has circulated widely among social media accounts and various foreign-funded anti-Iran outlets, prompting Iranian officials to issue official statements on the matter.

Shabbir Hassanally (شبير حسنعلي)

@purewilayah

Debunking the lies that the mainstream media is making about mass graves in Qom due to Coronavirus.  Please share so that the lies are rendered impotent and exposed for what they are. #WeWillDefeatCorona #Iran

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Speaking with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), executive manager of Qom Municipality’s burial sites Seifoddin Mousavi said the graves had been planned before the outbreak as part of usual procedures in the cemetery.

He stressed that all the operations in the cemetery are taking place according to international protocols regarding burial sites.

On Friday, Kianoush Jahanpour, the head of the public relations and information center of the Iranian Ministry of Health, said that the new coronavirus has claimed 514 lives in the country.

Iran’s security forces have announced that they plan to adopt special measures in the near future to contain the outbreak across the country.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/14/620825/Washington-Post-fake-news-coronavirus-burial-Iran

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Pentagon says two seriously injured US troops being treated in Baghdad

15 March 2020

Two of the three US troops wounded in the latest rocket attack in Iraq are seriously injured and are being treated at a military hospital in Baghdad, the Pentagon said on Saturday, in its first confirmation that Americans were injured.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined to speculate on potential US responses but, in a statement, cited Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s warning last week: “You cannot attack and wound American Service Members and get away with it, we will hold them to account.”

Hoffman added that Iraqi security forces had made an initial arrest and added the United States was assisting with the investigation into the attack, the second in less than a week at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/03/15/Pentagon-says-two-seriously-injured-US-troops-being-treated-in-Baghdad-.html

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World powers call on Syrian regime to end killings

Servet Günerigök

16.03.2020

WASHINGTON

As the conflict in Syria entered its 10th year Sunday, France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. called on the Syrian regime to end its killings and engage in a political settlement on the basis of a UN resolution.

In a joint statement, the four world powers said the Bashar al-Assad regime must accept the aspirations of its citizens, who demand to live in peace.

The countries demanded the regime "stop the ruthless killing and engage meaningfully in all aspects of UNSCR 2254, including a nationwide ceasefire, a reformed constitution, release of arbitrarily detained persons, as well as free and fair elections."

They were referring to the Security Council's measure that endorsed a roadmap for a peace process in the war-torn country.

The statement said Syrian citizens, including those who are displaced and refugees, should be allowed to participate in free and fair elections under UN supervision.

The four countries also slammed the "reckless military offensive" by Assad, Russia and Iran in Idlib province in northwest Syria, which they said caused further suffering and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Medical and humanitarian infrastructure and workers as well as civilians have been killed during the offensive that started in December, according to multiple reports.

"A nationwide ceasefire must be established," they said.

Idlib falls within a de-escalation zone laid out in a deal between Turkey and Russia in late 2018. The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the ceasefire, launching frequent attacks inside the zone.

"We will continue to demand accountability for the atrocities committed by the Assad regime and we will continue our efforts to make sure that those who are responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other violations and abuses are identified and held accountable," the statement said.

The four countries also urged the international community to continue to provide assistance to Syria’s neighbors to share the costs of Syria’s refugee crisis.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/world-powers-call-on-syrian-regime-to-end-killings/1767262

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Africa

 

Morocco to Create $1 Bln Fund to Counter Coronavirus Spread

15 March 2020

Morocco announced the creation of a 10 billion dirham ($1 billion) fund to upgrade health infrastructure and help vulnerable economic sectors in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the royal cabinet said.

The fund will help acquire the necessary health equipment and assist sectors such as tourism as well as help maintain jobs and mitigate the social repercussions of the pandemic, the Royal cabinet said in a statement.

On Saturday, Morocco confirmed that the total number of coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 18, including Transport, Logistics and Water Minister Abdelkader Amara who contracted the virus while on a European trip, the state news agency said.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/north-africa/2020/03/15/Morocco-to-create-1-bln-fund-to-counter-coronavirus-spread.html

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Morocco’s minister among 18 newly detected coronavirus cases

15 March 2020

Morocco confirmed on Saturday that the total number of coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 18, including Transport, Logistics and Water Minister Abdelkader Amara who contracted the virus while on a European trip, the state news agency said.

A statement by the ministry said that the minister is in quarantine at his home for two weeks.

One of the cases was locally transmitted. One person has died and another has recovered from the virus.

Morocco has also suspended flights to and from another 25 countries over coronavirus fears, the foreign ministry said on Saturday, extending an earlier travel ban that covered China, Spain, Italy, France and Algeria.

Other countries with which air travel is now suspended are Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chad, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania, Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Oman, Portugal, Senegal, Switzerland, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the UAE.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/north-africa/2020/03/15/Morocco-reports-18-coronavirus-cases-including-a-minister.html

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Jordan confirms new coronavirus cases, total now 15

16 March 2020

Jordan confirmed new coronavirus cases on Monday bringing the total to 15, according to Jordan's official news agency.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/16/Jordan-confirms-new-coronavirus-cases-total-now-15.html

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Jordan says two dead in prison riot after visits banned over coronavirus

16 March 2020

Two inmates have been killed in a prison riot in Jordan, the state news agency said Sunday, after family visits were banned for two weeks to tackle coronavirus.

The two died in a riot at a facility in Irbid province, the Petra news agency said.

Health minister Saad Jaber announced six new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, taking the total number of infections to seven.

Four French tourists were among the new cases, he said.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/16/Jordan-says-two-dead-in-prison-riot-after-visits-banned-over-coronavirus-.html

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African nations step up measures to contain COVID-19 outbreak

16 March 2020

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday said South African would close its borders from Wednesday to all foreigners from countries highly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Visas will be refused to anyone who has visited a high-risk country in the last 20 days, and 35 of the country's 53 land ports will also be shut as of Monday.

"We are imposing a travel ban on foreign nationals from high-risk countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and China from 18 March 2020," Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation.

The president also announced the closure of schools for around three weeks from Wednesday.

Public gatherings of more than 100 people will be been banned and mass celebrations cancelled to limit contact.

"Given the scale and the speed at which the virus is spreading, it is now clear that no country is immune from the disease or will be spared its severe impact," said Ramaphosa, who declared a "national state of disaster".

To date 61 people in South Africa have tested positive for novel coronavirus -- the second-highest number of cases in Africa after Egypt, which has reported 110 so far.

The number of infections more than doubled over the weekend with 37 new cases announced.

Around 50 of South Africa's coronavirus patients had recently traveled abroad.

Most came from Europe, the new epicenter of the virus, while others had returned from the United States and the Middle East.

But Ramaphosa suggested the latest confirmed cases had contracted the virus in South Africa.

"Initially, it was people who had traveled out of the country, especially from Italy," he said.

"It is concerning that we are now dealing with internal transmission of the virus."

Sub-Saharan Africa has so far escaped the worst of the pandemic, which has infected more than 160,000 people worldwide and killed over 6,000.

The region has recorded just over 100 cases in more than 20 countries, almost all of which were imported from the West.

But numbers have been creeping up fast, prompting several African leaders to roll out measures to limit infections.

Kenya blocked entry to all except citizens and residents on Sunday as the number of confirmed cases rose to three.

Governments across the continent have banned public gatherings, shut schools and restricted travel from areas hit by the pandemic.

South Africa's new measures are bad news for tourism, which is a major foreign exchange earner and contributes to 10 percent of GDP.

The industry already suffered a blow after Beijing blocked overseas tours from China, where coronavirus was first detected in December.

"These losses are still going to increase," Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane warned last week, when travel bans had not yet been implemented.

"Whatever happens, the truth of this situation is the virus will have a negative impact on the tourism sector."

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/16/620952/S.Africa-closes-border-to-all-citizens-from-high-risk-countries

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Lagos pipeline blast kills 15, destroys several buildings: Nigerian officials

15 March 2020

An explosion at a gas processing plant on Sunday (March 15) killed at least 15 people and destroyed approximately 50 buildings after a fire broke out in a suburb of Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, emergency services said.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said the explosion was triggered after a truck hit some gas cylinders stacked in a gas processing plant near the corporation's pipeline in Abule Ado area of Lagos state.

Several people were injured and taken to hospital, according to Ibrahim Farinloye, zonal coordinator for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

The impact of the explosion led to the collapse of nearby houses, damaged NNPC's pipeline and caused the corporation to halt pumping operations on the Atlas Cove-Mosimi pipeline, the state-owned oil company said in a statement.

NNPC said that the temporary shutdown of the petroleum products pipeline would not affect the normal supply of products to the Lagos and surrounding towns.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/15/620948/Nigeria-gas-explosion-kills-at-least-15

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Westerners kidnapped in Burkina Faso flee, reach peacekeepers in Mali

15 March 2020

A Canadian woman and an Italian man who had been kidnapped by armed militants in Burkina Faso in 2018 have been found in good health in the northwest of Mali.

United Nations (UN) sources confirmed on Saturday that Edith Blais and Luca Tacchetto, both in their 30s, had managed to flee their captors and had been received by peacekeepers at a local UN mission base in the northern Malian city of Kidal.

“UN blue helmets found an Italian citizen and a Canadian citizen near Kidal, who had been taken hostage in Burkina territory in 2018,” a security official from the UN mission in Mali, known by its French acronym MINUSMA, told AFP.

“Both are well. They are under our protection. They will be transferred to Bamako on Saturday and then flown home to their respective countries,” the security official said.

Sources at the mission said the pair were flown out on Saturday afternoon on a special plane to Bamako, Mali’s capital, where they met President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at the presidential palace.

Olivier Salgado

@olivier_salgado

Le Chef de la MINUSMA accueille les ex-otages à leur arrivée ce matin à Bamako #Mali

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Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne voiced relief at the pair’s safe emergence from captivity. Canada will work with Mali, Burkina Faso, and other countries “to pursue those responsible for this crime and bring them to justice,” he said.

The two went missing during a humanitarian project in December 2018 in an area of Burkina Faso that is known to be a stronghold of the armed militants linked to the Takfiri al-Qaeda and Daesh terrorist groups.

In April 2019, a Burkina government spokesman said the two had been abducted and probably taken out of the country but that they were not in any danger.

No individual or group ever claimed responsibility for their capture.

Burkina Faso is in the center of the Sahel region, where a Takfiri militancy has spread from Mali. Burkinabe security forces have failed in their struggle to counter the deadly raids despite the presence of thousands of foreign military forces, especially French troops, in their country.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/15/620910/Burkina-Faso-hostage-kidnap-Mali

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Boko Haram: Terrorists allegedly attack Nguru community in Borno, kill 3

March 16, 2020

By Maina Maina

Three people have reportedly been killed while five others were evacuated to the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) for treatment over injuries sustained from stray bullets following insurgent attacks at Ngururi community in Borno state, Northeast Nigeria.

Residents of the area told newsmen on Sunday that the incident occurred on Saturday night when terrorists stormed the area and set the village on fire.

According to the villagers, many of them escaped to the bush to avoid being abducted during the attack.

“Residents were reportedly hit by stray bullets while trying to escape as the terrorists set the village ablaze” a local told journalists

The local said the suspected terrorists came in gun trucks and motorcycles and torched several houses and other property, before fleeing towards the Alau Dam route into Sambisa Forest.

Confirming the incident on Sunday in Maiduguri, Bulama Yuram, a survivor who fled to Dalori camp said that his car and other personal effects were also set ablaze by the insurgents.

He said the terrorists came in from the Dalori axis to attack Ngururi community on Saturday at about 11 pm.

Full report at:

https://dailypost.ng/2020/03/16/boko-haram-terrorists-allegedly-attack-nguru-community-in-borno-kill-3/

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