A Coptic Christian carpenter from a Minya Governorate village surprised his Muslim neighbors by gifting them a giant hand-made lantern for Ramadan. Armanius Fawzy, from the village of al-Hataheta in Samalout city, dubbed his four-meter tall lantern the “Fanous al-Mahaba” (Lantern of Love). After the idea came to him Fawzy said he constructed the lantern at his own expense. He placed it in front of the mosque s village as a show of solidarity with his neighbors and friends. Fawzy added that he had completed the lantern one week before the start of Ramadan, and the idea was warmly welcomed by all villagers. “The motivation was that I found love from many people who deserved that I reproach them with the same love. Our village is an example of coexistence between Muslims and Coptic Christians,” he said. Fawzy added that the village s Coptic christian youth turned down transporting the lantern by car – instead, they carried it by hand over 300 meters from St. Mary Gerges Church to the eastern mosque in the village. The Muslim villagers were greatly pleased by the lantern and hailed it as a “great celebration” for Ramadan, Fawzy said. In a previous Ramadan, Fawzy said he had participated with some Muslim villagers to collect donations and distribute food to the poor. He hoped to push Copts to participate and donate as well. “I have succeeded in achieving my goal, which is to make the people of the village happy in the blessed month of Ramadan.”
BERLIN (AP) — Two former members of Syria s secret police appeared in court in Germany on Thursday accused of crimes against humanity for their role in a government-run detention center where thousands of opposition protesters were tortured. The trial of Anwar R. and Eyad A., whose last names weren t released because of German privacy rules, is the first time that representatives of the Syrian government have faced trial abroad for war crimes allegedly committed during the country s years-long conflict. The two men, who were arrested in Germany early last year, face testimony from several Syrian refugees who allege they were tortured at the detention center known as Al Khatib, or Branch 251, near Damascus. Federal prosecutors allege 57-year-old Anwar R. was in charge of the site and thereby responsible for crimes against humanity, rape and the murder of at least 58 people there. The indictment by German prosecutors accuses him of complicity in more than 4,000 cases of torture. Eyad A., 43, is accused of being part of a police squad that detained protesters and brought them back to Branch 251, where they were then mistreated. At least nine torture victims are represented as co-plaintiffs in the case, as allowed under German law. They and several others are expected to be called as witnesses. They are supported by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. If convicted, Anwar R. could face life imprisonment. Eyad A. could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison if convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity. The defendants lawyers declined to comment to reporters ahead of the trial, which is scheduled to last several months. The men, who themselves left Syria for Germany before their arrest in February 2019, remain in prison. The trial has been described as a pivotal moment in the effort to bring Syrian officials accused of crimes to justice. A United Nations expert panel published a report two years ago detailing the extent to which prisoner abuse is widespread in Syria, particularly in government detention centers. “The criminal trial starting today for crimes against humanity by the Syrian regime is historic,” said Germany s justice minister, Christine Lambrecht. “For the first time thousands of instances of torture and abuse are being prosecuted before an independent court in Germany,” she said. “This sends a clear message: War criminals must not feel safe anywhere.” Lambrecht said the trial would send a “signal of hope” to many who have fallen victim to crimes at the hands of the Syrian government. More than 700,000 Syrian asylum seekers have found refuge in Germany in recent years, including Wassim Mukdad, who plans to testify in court. “This trial is not only important for us personally” said Mukdad. “It is also important for the victims who are alive, who have also been in prison and also for the victims who are no longer alive.” “The first time in my life that I experienced a fair trial,” Hussein Ghrer, another co-plaintiff represented in Koblenz, said. “We want to reveal the truth about the system of torture in Syria.” The Koblenz regional court, where the trial is being held, has reduced the number of seats available to reporters and the general public by a third due to social distancing rules to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian attacker was shot and killed on Wednesday after he rammed his vehicle into an Israeli checkpoint and stabbed a police officer there, Israeli police said. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the attack took place near the settlement of Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem, and a sweep of the area found a pipe bomb at the scene. The Israeli policeman was moderately wounded, he said. Video footage of the incident shows a white van veering off a road onto the curb and ramming into the officer, hurtling him several feet back. The assailant is then seen jumping out of the vehicle with what looks like a pair of scissors and lunging at the injured policeman. A scuffle ensues with the policeman retreating and the assailant giving chase before other officers on the scene pursue him off camera. Police said the other officers on the scene eventually shot the attacker and killed him. There were no other details about the Palestinian s identity. Such Palestinian attacks on Israeli police and military positions in the West Bank have been a frequent occurrence in recent years but have tapered off significantly in recent months, especially since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the region pushed many indoors. However, earlier this week, Israeli forces thwarted a potential attack with Palestinians hurling firebombs at Israeli vehicles.
CAIRO (AP) — The United Nations on Monday warned of rapidly escalating violence and a worsening humanitarian crisis in Libya, which it said could amount to war crimes. While the UN Mission in Libya did not identify a perpetrator, it detailed a “dramatic increase” of indiscriminate shelling on densely populated civilian areas in the capital, Tripoli, that killed five civilians and wounded 28 over the past few days. Eastern-based forces under the command of Khalifa Hafter have been laying siege to Tripoli since last April, trying to wrest the city from the UN-backed government. The fighting has settled into a chaotic stalemate. Buttressed by Turkish air power, Western militias allied with the beleaguered Tripoli government, known as the Government of National Accord, have even reversed the tide in recent weeks and regained lost ground along the western coast. GNA forces over the weekend attacked Tarhuna, the main western stronghold and supply line of Hafter s forces 45 miles southeast of Tripoli. Over the past weeks, Hafter s forces have launched rockets at civilian targets, including health facilities. Intensified shelling of Tripoli has sent thousands of people fleeing from their homes despite a lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In the latest assault, Grad rockets launched by Hafter s forces struck two field hospitals, wounding five medical workers on Monday, according to the Tripoli-based health ministry. Last week, the UN said, artillery shells damaged the intensive care unit of Tripoli s Royal Hospital, a blow to an already strained health care system struggling to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The UN also expressed concern about the fate of civilians in Tarhuna following the GNA s military offensive. Without naming Western-based forces, it lamented arbitrary arrests, abuse of civilians and fighters and electricity and gas supply cut-offs, which it said amounted to “collective punishment” in the strategic city. GNA forces claimed battlefield gains around Tarhuna, while Hafter s forces said they thwarted the attack. Both sides reported killing and capturing rival militiamen. The Tribal Council of Tarhuna released a statement on Monday that local official Sheikh Al-Abed Mohamed Al-Hadi and his sons had been shot dead when western militias stormed their home over the weekend, suggesting that fighters had committed other such crimes with impunity. The UN renewed its plea for a humanitarian truce so Libyan authorities can address the COVID-19 health emergency, urging a halt to the increasing “indiscriminate” and “flagrant” attacks.
A gunman who drove a mock-up police car killed at least 16 people including a female constable in a shooting rampage across Nova Scotia, Canadian federal police said Sunday, the worst case of its kind in the country’s history. The shooter, identified as Gabriel Wortman, 51, was shot dead by officers after a 12-hour manhunt across the eastern province ended Sunday morning. Among the victims was a veteran female constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which also handles municipal and provincial law enforcement in the province. Police said the suspect had been on the run since Saturday night, when officers were alerted to shots fired in the town of Portapique, around 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Halifax. Gun violence in Canada is far less frequent than in the neighboring United States, and weapons more strictly controlled, but the killings were the country’s worst ever, exceeding the toll in 1989 when a gunman murdered 14 female students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. “This is one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history,” said Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil. Public broadcaster CBC quoted RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki as saying police know of at least 16 victims, besides the shooter. “What has unfolded overnight and into this morning is incomprehensible and many families are experiencing the loss of a loved one,” Nova Scotia RCMP commanding officer, Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman, wrote on the force’s local Facebook page. Bergerman said the dead included Constable Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the force. In addition to Stevenson, a mother of two, a male officer was injured and was in the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, Bergerman said. The National Post newspaper said another victim was an elementary school teacher, citing a Facebook post from the woman’s sister. Several victims were discovered both outside and inside a house in Portapique, sparking the manhunt through multiple communities, police said. “The search for the suspect ended this morning when the suspect was located. And I can confirm that he is deceased,” RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather told a press conference. Leather said that at one point, the suspect appeared to be wearing part of a police uniform and was driving a vehicle made to look like an RCMP cruiser. Fires burned RCMP tweeted several times that he was not an officer and warned he was considered “armed and dangerous.” “The initial search for the suspect led to multiple sites in the area, including structures that were on fire,” Leather told the news conference. He said: “There are several locations across the province where persons have been killed.” Leather said the gunman had exchanged fire with police at one point. “Our officers were involved in terminating the threat,” he said, adding that the independent Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT), which probes certain incidents involving the province’s police, was now handling that part of the investigation. SiRT said in a statement that a confrontation had occurred in Enfield, which is near Halifax airport, “resulting in officers discharging their firearms. The suspect was found to be deceased at the scene.” Police said they had no indication of a motive and that the killer had acted alone. “We believe it to be one person who’s responsible for all the killings and that he alone moved across the northern part of the province and committed, it would appear, several homicides,” said Leather. Several of the victims did not appear to be related to the shooter, he said, but added that the “the fact that this individual had a uniform and a police car at his disposal certainly speaks to it not being a random act.” Leather said police would be investigating if there was any connection to the coronavirus, which has seen non-essential businesses closed under measures to combat the pandemic. “That certainly is an aspect that we will look at, we’ll examine, but we have not yet determined if there is any link to the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. Media reports said the shooter was a denturist with clinics in Halifax and Dartmouth. Dentists in Nova Scotia have been ordered to close unless needed for emergency procedures. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that he “was saddened to learn about the senseless violence in Nova Scotia,” and he hoped for a full recovery of the wounded. The National Post quoted Tom Taggart, a councilor who represents Portapique in the Municipality of Colchester, as saying the community was devastated. He described the community as a “subdivision in the woods where people have acre lots along the shore,” and where Wortman owned three properties. “It’s absolutely unbelievable this could happen in our community. I never dreamt this would happen here,” Taggart said.
CAIRO (Reuters) – An Egyptian policeman and seven suspected militants were killed on Tuesday in an exchange of gunfire, the ministry of interior said in a statement late on Tuesday. It said three other policemen had also been wounded. The exchange took place in the al-Amiyira district of Cairo, the public prosecutor said in a statement. The ministry received information “that there is a terrorist cell, whose elements embrace Takfiri ideology, using several areas as a shelter in eastern and southern Cairo as a starting point to carry out terrorist operations,” the statement said. Egypt uses the term “takfiri” to refer to Islamist militants who often accuse their victims of being infidels. Two private television stations broadcast what they called footage of the shooting, which Reuters was not immediately able to verify, and asked residents to stay indoors. Weapons and ammunition were found with the suspects, the ministry said. The public prosecutor said a team of investigators has been dispatched to the scene of the attack. Egypt has been fighting an Islamist insurgency in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 following mass protests against his rule. The military and police launched a major campaign against militant groups in 2018, focusing on the Sinai Peninsula as well as southern areas and the border with Libya. The last major attack was in November 2017 when militants killed more than 300 people in an attack on a mosque in north Sinai, the deadliest such incident in the Arab world s most populous country.
With all Holy Week prayers cancelled, Egypt s Coptic Christians have resorted to traditional celebrations and rituals to accompany their Holy Week occasion. A pastor at the Church of Anba Bishoy in New Minya, Usab Ezzay, said that the church is celebrating Holy Wednesday which sees the church remember Judas, the disciple of Jesus who sold him out to Jewish priests in exchange for 30 silver pieces. Starting Wednesday night until Saturday, the church forbids handshakes and kisses after the end of prayers to protest Judas s treacherous kiss. The occasion is also referred to as “Ayyoub Wednesday” because of the Prophet Ayyoub (Job), according to Ezzat, who explained how his story in the Old Testament would be read in prayers of this evening. This story, known also as “The Book of Job”, is studied by the church due to its similarities with Jesus s life – from the intense suffering he endured to the triumphant ending. Holy Wednesday celebrations also coincide with the appearance of the first wheat crop grains, which the Copts exchange in celebrations and make dolls out of symbolizing goodness and optimism. This habit extends back to Ancient Egypt and celebrates the success and abundances of crops. These dolls are then hung at the entrance of houses and gates at this time each year, and typically left there throughout the year until the next year, where they are replaced with new ones.
Perched over the gaping roof of Notre-Dame, a crane stands idle above the silent Paris cathedral, where repair work has ground to a halt one year after the monstrous blaze that nearly destroyed one of the world s most revered monuments. Millions around the world watched in horror last April 15 as firefighters battled through the night to save the 13th-century masterpiece from the fire, which ravaged its roof and toppled the steeple. French President Emmanuel Macron promised a herculean effort to have the UNESCO heritage site restored within five years, in time for the Paris Olympics of 2024. But France s lockdown to combat the coronavirus — which has forced a full suspension of work at the site — is making that goal even more unlikely than before. Work had already been delayed for months by decontamination efforts after more than 300 tonnes of lead from the roof melted in the blaze, covering the site in toxic particles that have proven hard to remove. And the fragile structure remains at risk despite the massive wooden beams propping up the arches and gables. Authorities had to halt work several times over the winter when winds surpassed 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour). The 60 to 70 workers normally on site have not even removed the tangled web of metal scaffolding tubes that fused together in the inferno, which erupted during renovation work on the roof. Until they do, they cannot install a more durable temporary roof to protect the church s priceless artworks from rain. Although investigators have still not determined the cause of the fire, prosecutors suspect faulty electrical wiring or a poorly extinguished cigarette. – Monumental tasks – Jean-Louis Georgelin, the five-star general and fervent Catholic in charge of the renovation, is hoping to resume work soon, perhaps by his “squirrels,” who hang by ropes to reach areas where it is too dangerous to walk. “For these technicians, these tightrope walkers, social distancing is part of the job,” Georgelin told AFP. Much of the debris has been removed from the nave, which allowed Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit to hold a small Good Friday ceremony in the church last week. But mounds of debris still have to be cleared above the massive vaulted roof, a more delicate operation that was supposed to be finished this summer. Notre-Dame s renowned organ must also be removed to have its nearly 8,000 pipes painstakingly cleaned from the layer of lead dust deposited by the melting of the roof and spire. Countless other cleaning and restoration operations await, and the project s chief architect Philippe Villeneuve has warned that new challenges could arise as the work progresses. Even the esplanade in front of Notre-Dame remains off limits, surrounded by a tall fence to keep tourists far from the worksite. Yet Georgelin said he remains confident the five-year goal will be met despite the coronavirus delay, promising that worshippers will hear a “Te Deum” sung in the cathedral in April 2024. “Lots of people said we d cut corners to finish in five years. These are malicious comments — It s a question of carrying out the work assiduously, without any hesitation,” he said. – Tough choices – Yet officials still have to decide a crucial question: Rebuild the cathedral exactly as it was, using traditional techniques and materials, or incorporate modern equipment and expertise? Macron has said he is in favour of adding a “contemporary” touch to the spire, which was itself a relatively modern touch, installed by the architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc in the mid-19th century. Villeneuve has refused to countenance any glass spire, rooftop garden or any other proposals that have emerged. Opinion polls suggest most French share his more conservative view. Macron has promised to “consult” the French on any choice for the steeple, and launched an international architectural competition for its reconstruction, though no timeline has been set. There is also the matter of replacing the lattice of oak beams that supported the roof — Georgelin raised hackles in January when he dismissed “lobbying” by the wood industry for an exact replica. Whatever the choices, money should not be a problem — more than 900 million euros (nearly $1 billion) has been given or pledged by some 340,000 companies and individuals worldwide. “Everything makes me think we will definitely need that money,” Georgelin said. Yet the funds won t help the restaurants, souvenir shops and other businesses on the island in the heart of Paris, said Patrice Lejeune, president of the Notre-Dame business alliance. They have seen two-thirds of their revenue evaporate on average over the past year, he told AFP. “You have people who have worked 50 years, and here they re on the brink after just one year,” he added. No commemorations are planned to mark the anniversary of the fire, in line with the ban on public gatherings during the coronavirus crisis.
Coptic Orthodox buildings across Egypt abroad have decorated black flags and curtains on their walls and entrances, showing sorrow over Christ s crucifixion, starting from April 12 and lasting for a week. A member of the General Congregation Council in Alexandria Mohsen George said that the Coptic Orthodox churches in Alexandria hung black curtains and flags starting with Palm Sunday, lasting until the end of the Holy Week. He added that these black curtains will be replaced with white ones starting on Good Friday and lasting for 50 days – a celebration of Christ s triumph and resurrection.. Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria headed the Palm Sunday mass at Saint Pishoy Monastery of Wadi al-Natroun without attendance as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. In a short speech during mass, Tawadros said that the gospel recounting the story of Zacchaeus shall console those Copts staying in their home who failed to attend the mass. The closure of the churches is for a temporary time due to the coronavirus outbreak worldwide, Pope Tawadros II said. Very few priests, monks and deacons participated in the mass which was followed by prayers.
Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria headed the Palm Sunday mass at Saint Pishoy Monastery of Wadi al-Natroun without attendance as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. In a short speech during mass, Tawadros said that the gospel recounting the story of Zacchaeus shall consoles those Copts staying in their home who failed to attend the mass. The closure of the churches is for a temporary time due to the coronavirus outbreak worldwide, Pope Tawadros II asserted. Few priests, monks and deacons participated in the mass which was followed by prayers. Spokesperson for the Coptic Orthodox Church s official page said the Christian TV channels will broadcast the prayers on air. Pope Tawadros II called on Copts to remotely participate in these prayers through the screens to instill the unity of heart and soul. The pope will perform the coming mass prayers including Easter Resurrection at the Saint Pishoy Monastery without attendance. The Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt last month closed all churches and stopped all ritual services, masses and gatherings as part of precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The church s decision came after a meeting by the Standing Committee of the Holy Synod, headed by Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, to discuss the latest developments of the coronavirus. A committee statement said that the decision came “given that gatherings represent the greatest danger leading to the rapid spread of the virus, out of the national and ecclesiastical responsibility of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and to preserve all the people of Egypt.”
BERLIN (AP) — As the Easter holiday approaches, world leaders and health officials are fervently warning that hard-won gains in the fight against the coronavirus must not be jeopardized by relaxing social distancing. A spike in deaths in Britain and New York and surges of reported new infections in Japan and in India s congested cities make it clear the battle is far from over. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top American infectious diseases expert, said the pandemic will demand permanent changes in people s behavior until a vaccine is developed. He said everyone should be constantly washing their hands and those sick should not go to school or work. “Don t anybody ever shake hands again,” he said. “I mean, it sounds crazy, but that s the way it s really got to be until we get to a point where we know the population is protected.” He also shot down hopes that warmer spring weather would bring an end to the crisis. “One should not assume that we are going to be rescued by a change in the weather,” he said Thursday. “You must assume that the virus will continue to do its thing.” The US has by far the most confirmed infections with over 430,000, three times the number of the next three countries combined. New York state on Wednesday recorded its highest one-day increase in deaths, 779, for an overall death toll of almost 6,300. New York has more than 40 percent of the US death total of around 15,000. “We are flattening the curve because we are rigorous about social distancing,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “But it s not a time to be complacent.” German Health Minister Jens Spahn cautioned that the positive trend in fewer new infections “must be cemented.” “It is right to remain consistent over Easter,” he told the Handelsblatt newspaper Thursday. “Even if it is difficult in this weather, we should stay home and refrain from family visits so that the infection curve does not rise again.” Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized that “even short trips inside Germany, to the seaside or the mountains or relatives, can t happen over Easter this year.” New Zealand police warned people not to drive to holiday homes over Easter or risk arrest, while Lithuania was imposing a lockdown on major cities over the holiday. Portugal halted commercial flights at the country s five international airports and set up checkpoints on major roads and junctions to stop Easter visits. Additional restrictions came into force Thursday for the next four days, including a ban on people leaving their local areas and on gatherings of more than five people. Greece also tightened restrictions ahead of next week s Orthodox Easter, increasing police roadblocks along highways, doubling fines for lockdown violations and banning travel between islands. Swiss police were setting roadblocks at the Gotthard tunnel, seeking to dissuade drivers from heading to the Italian-speaking Ticino region, the only part of Switzerland south of the Alps and one of the worst-hit by the pandemic. Iran s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested mass gatherings may be barred through the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which runs from late April through most of May. Khamenei urged Shia faithful to pray at home instead. Shias typically pray together and communities often share meals, especially during Ramadan. Iran has reported over 66,000 infections and over 4,100 deaths, although experts suspect those numbers under-report the country s outbreak. Indonesia s president banned civil servants, police officers, military personnel and employees of state-owned companies from returning to their hometowns to celebrate the end of Ramadan. The annual mass exodus usually involves tens millions of Indonesians crisscrossing the archipelago of 17,000 islands. Britain s Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a third night in intensive care with COVID-19 infection, where his spokesman said Thursday he “continues to improve.” Johnson is receiving oxygen but is not on a ventilator. Britain posted its highest death toll in a single day Wednesday, with 938 virus-related deaths. Japan reported more than 500 new cases for the first time Thursday, a worrisome rise since it has the world s oldest population and COVID-19 can be especially serious in the elderly. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared a state of emergency, but not a lockdown, in Tokyo and six other prefectures. Companies in the world s third-largest economy have been slow to embrace working from home and Abe appears concerned about keeping the economy going. Many commuters jammed Tokyo s streets as usual Thursday. But Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said the city cannot delay non-essential business shutdowns for two more weeks like Abe s government has proposed. “The spread of the infections is so fast in Tokyo that we cannot wait that long,” she said. India, whose 1.3 billion people are under a lockdown until next week, has sealed off dozens of hot spots in and around New Delhi, the capital. It will supply residents with food and medicine but not allow them to leave. The number of confirmed cases exceeds 5,000, with 166 deaths. New infections, hospitalizations and deaths have been leveling off in hard-hit Italy and Spain, which together have more than 32,000 deaths, but the daily tolls are still shocking. Spain reported 683 more deaths Thursday, bringing its total to 15,238. The latest figures were released as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez appeared before parliament to ask for a second two-week extension of a state of emergency. Sánchez acknowledged authorities were caught off guard by the crisis and failed to provide hospitals with critical supplies, including virus tests and protective clothing for medical workers. “Europe reacted late. All of the West reacted late, and Spain is no exception,” Sánchez said. Worldwide, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has climbed to nearly 1.5 million, with nearly 90,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and the efforts of some governments to conceal the extent of their outbreaks. For most, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms like fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and death. More than 330,000 people have recovered.
JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – Israel called on Tuesday for the immediate resumption of indirect talks on the return of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two soldiers held for years in Gaza, but the territory s Islamist rulers Hamas dismissed the overture. The Israeli appeal came in a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu s office after Hamas said last week it might be willing to move forward on the issue. Israel last week linked any future coronavirus-linked aid to neighboring Gaza on progress in efforts to recover the two soldiers — who it said were killed in the 2014 Gaza war — and the two civilians who separately slipped into the enclave. Hamas has said it holds all four. The Islamist group has never stated whether the soldiers are dead or alive, but neither has it provided a sign of life, as it has done in a previous similar case. The families of the two civilians said they suffered from mental health issues. Hamas has said that returning the four Israelis would require negotiating a prisoner swap and would not be done in exchange for humanitarian aid. In its statement, the Israeli prime minister s office said Netanyahu s national security team “stands ready to take constructive action with the goal of returning the fallen and the missing and of ending the affair, and are calling for an immediate dialogue via mediators.” In past rounds of talks, Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have served as intermediaries. But Hamas official Moussa Dodin on Tuesday dismissed Netanyahu s offer to resume talks, saying it was not serious and warning the premier: “[The Israelis] may be forced to negotiate under more complicated conditions” in the future. Yehya al-Sinwar, Hamas chief in Gaza, had said last week that he saw “a possible initiative to revive [the] issue” of the four Israelis if Israel frees jailed Palestinians, though he rejected the linkage to coronavirus aid. “A prisoner swap will exact a big price” from Israel, he told Hamas s Al-Aqsa TV, saying that were it to start by releasing sick, old and female prisoners “we may offer something partial in return”. Hamas, which has 13 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in blockaded Gaza and hopes to curb its spread, wants Israel to ease economic conditions. Israel is also loath to deal with a new humanitarian crisis on its border with Gaza, now sealed by both sides. Israel in the past has freed hundreds of jailed Palestinians, including many militants, in exchange for the recovery of dead or captive Israelis. But rightists in Netanyahu s coalition government, including Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, oppose any further releases of Palestinian militants.
Muslims should fast during Ramadan regardless of the coronavirus outbreak, an Al-Azhar committee said in an urgent session on Tuesday, amid concerns that the pandemic would affect affect the Islamic fasting month, which is set to begin on April 23. Al-Azhar s jurisprudence committee said in an official statement that there was “no scientific evidence yet of a link between fasting and contracting the virus.”
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said on Sunday it would minimize its troop movements in operation zones in neighboring Syria in response to the coronavirus outbreak as the Turkish death toll and infections in the country rose. Turkey s death toll from the COVID-19 disease has risen by 73 to 574 in the last 24 hours, with new confirmed cases jumping by 3,135 to total 27,069, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said. Turkey, which is ninth globally in coronavirus cases, has curbed much social movement, mostly sealed its borders and shuttered businesses. In the latest step, the defense ministry said it had set up a new unit to battle the spread of the disease. Troops deployed in Syria will now enter and exit operation areas only with the permission of the head of the army, the ministry said. “Thus, the movement of staff and troops is minimized, unless it is mandatory,” it added. Turkey s military backs Syrian rebels in the northwestern Idlib region where it ramped up a deployment earlier this year. Fighting has calmed since Ankara agreed a ceasefire with Moscow, which backs Syrian government forces, a month ago. In Idlib, where about a million people have been displaced by the conflict in recent months, doctors fear the worst if the coronavirus hits, given hospitals lie in ruins and camps overflow with people devastated by nine years of war. Turkey s defence ministry said doctors had been sent to operation areas in part to conduct training related to the severe respiratory disease. The Turkish military also oversees Syrian border regions to the east of Idlib. At home, Turkey s outbreak has surged in the last few weeks, with new cases climbing daily. On Friday the government issued a stay-at-home order for most Turks under 20, on top of the existing order for over-65s, plus one for mandatory mask use in crowded public places, shops and workplaces. On Sunday, the government said residents could apply online for five free masks per week delivered via mail.
JERUSALEM (AP) — A small group of Franciscan monks and Roman Catholic faithful took to the streets of Jerusalem s Christian Quarter in the Old City Sunday to distribute olive branches after the traditional Palm Sunday procession was cancelled due to restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Iran, which is dealing with the worst outbreak in the Mideast, announced plans to allow some businesses to reopen later this month even as the death toll continued to climb. Meanwhile, Lebanon reopened its airport to allow citizens stranded overseas to return home. Palm Sunday celebrations start the Holy Week leading up to Easter. Worshipers traditionally carry palm fronds and olive branches and march from the top of the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem s Old City. While thousands of pilgrims usually participate in the march, this year was limited to a handful of participants. Clerics and faithful went door to door often throwing the branches to Christians looking on from their balconies. “This year because of the new situation we are trying to come to all the Christians in our Christian Quarter to bring these branches of olives, the sign of new hope,” said the Rev. Sandro Tomasevic, a Catholic clergyman at the Latin Parish of Jerusalem. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus entry into Jerusalem and is the start of the church s most solemn week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Jesus crucifixion and death and his resurrection on Easter. In Israel, more than 8,000 people have contracted the coronavirus and 46 have died. In the West Bank, nearly 200 cases have been reported, including a large outbreak in the biblical town of Bethlehem. The outbreak has forced church officials to close churches to the public and scale back religious observances throughout the week. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land, held a small, closed service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The Israeli military began an operation in the hard-hit central city of Bnei Brak, helping to distribute food and medicine. The government last week put Bnei Brak, home to a large population of ultra-Orthodox religious Jews, under a near closure after an outbreak ravaged the city. Israel s ultra-Orthodox population has been disproportionately infected after religious leaders played down or ignored warnings to maintain social distance early in the crisis. Meanwhile, a nursing home in the southern city of Beersheba reported its sixth death in recent days. The coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, who recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can be spread by people showing no symptoms. It can cause serious illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health issues. Iran has been the hardest-hit nation across the region. Iran state TV reported that an additional 151 people had died, pushing the death toll to 3,603 with over 58,000 confirmed cases. But the country s president, Hassan Rouhani, announced that low-risk businesses will be allowed to resume their activities in Tehran on April 18. Businesses in other provinces will begin a week earlier, on April 11, he said during a meeting Saturday. He said government offices would also be able to boost staffing, from one-third to two-thirds of their work force, beginning April 11. Rouhani said the decision would not contradict a stay-at-home policy and that businesses must still observe health restrictions ordered by the government. High-risk businesses, like pools, gyms and shopping malls will remain closed, he said. In Lebanon, meanwhile, a jet carrying more than 70 Lebanese citizens who had been stuck in Saudi Arabia after Beirut s international airport closed nearly three weeks arrived in Lebanon. It marked the beginning of flights that aim to return thousands of Lebanese from around the world. Three more flights are scheduled to arrive later Sunday from the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. The tiny Mediterranean country has reported 520 cases of coronavirus and 20 deaths since the first case was reported in late February. Lebanon s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said up to 21,000 people have registered to return home, and the process will take several weeks.
ran said Thursday it “only acts in self-defense” after President Donald Trump warned it against attacks on US troops in Iraq, as a new war of words heated up despite the coronavirus pandemic. Tensions between the arch-foes flared in Iraq where the United States deployed Patriot air defense missiles prompting neighboring Iran to warn of consequences and demand a US withdrawal. Both countries have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives in the United States and more than 3,000 in Iran. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that “unlike the US — which surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates — Iran only acts in self-defence”. “Don t be misled by usual warmongers, AGAIN,” he said, addressing US President Donald Trump. “Iran starts no wars but teaches lessons to those who do,” he added. Trump warned Iran on Wednesday that it would pay a “heavy price” in the event of further attacks on US troops. He tweeted that “upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on US troops and/or assets in Iraq”. In response, Zarif tweeted that “Iran has FRIENDS: No one can have MILLIONS of proxies ” Iran responded angrily to the US Patriot deployment warning that Washington risked leading the Middle East to disaster in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Its armed forces chief of staff said the recent attacks against US bases in Iraq are the “natural reaction” of Iraqi people towards Washington s continuing military presence. The attacks “have nothing to do with our country. The Americans sometimes attribute such things to us, which is projecting the blame,” Iran s ISNA news agency quoted Major General Mohammad Bagheri as saying. “Iran has no involvement in these actions and no intention to attack foreign forces,” he said, underlining that Iran would still respond strongly to any aggression. – Battle for influence – Iran and the US are in a tense battle for influence in Iraq, where Tehran has powerful allies and Washington has close ties to the government. Bases in Iraq housing US troops and foreign embassies, particularly the American mission, have been targeted in more than two dozen rocket attacks since October that Washington has blamed on Iran-backed armed groups. Tensions have risen sharply since Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions. They escalated in January when the US killed Iran s Major General Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad airport. Iran retaliated by firing at bases in Iraq housing US troops. While on high alert for a response, Iranian air defences accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner minutes after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Iran has repeatedly called on the Trump administration to reverse its sanctions policy, which has been opposed even by US allies, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “This was the best, historic opportunity for the Americans to reverse their wrong path and for once, tell their nation they are not against the Iranian people,” President Hassan Rouhani told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Medicines and medical equipment are technically exempt from the US sanctions but purchases are frequently blocked by the unwillingness of banks to process purchases for fear of incurring large penalties in the United States. European nations have delivered medical goods to Iran in the first transaction under the Instex financing mechanism set up to get round US sanctions, Germany said on Tuesday. But it is more than a year since Britain, France and Germany announced the creation of Instex and Iran has questioned European governments commitment to seeing it through in defiance of the Trump administration.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A UN aid agency Tuesday began delivering food to the homes of impoverished Palestinians instead of making them pick up such parcels at crowded distribution centers — part of an attempt to prevent a mass outbreak of the new coronavirus in the densely populated Gaza Strip. As the virus continued to spread across the Middle East, Iran, the hardest-hit country in the region, reported 141 new deaths, pushing the death toll closer to 3,000 people. Late Tuesday, Gaza s Health Ministry said two more cases have been confirmed among travelers who returned from Egypt, bringing the number to 12. In Israel, defense officials said they had converted a missile-production plant into an assembly line for much-needed breathing machines. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said it would pay medical expenses for anyone infected with the virus. In Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees has for decades provided staples like flour, rice, oil and canned foods to roughly half of the territory s 2 million people. Under the old system, those eligible lined up at crowded distribution centers four times a year to pick up their aid parcels. Starting on Tuesday, the agency began making home deliveries. “We assessed that tens of thousands of people will pour into the food distribution centers and this is very dangerous,” said Adnan Abu Hasna, the agency s spokesman in Gaza. Some 4,000 deliveries were made Tuesday, with an estimated 70,000 others to be made over the next three weeks, he said. Drivers on three-wheel motorcycles dropped off the food, calling people out of their homes, confirming their identities and leaving the bags outside. The agency instructed people to stay two meters (about six feet) from the delivery men to minimize the risk of infection. “This makes it easy for us,” said Manal Ziara, a resident of Shati refugee camp in west Gaza City. “The old mechanism causes crowding and touching that help the virus spread.” Twelve people have tested positive for coronavirus in Gaza, whose borders have been largely sealed by Israel and Egypt since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized the territory in 2007. However, there s only a small number of available tests. International officials fear the virus could quickly spread and overwhelm an already gutted health system. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia or death. Particularly hard hit has been Iran, home to 80 million people. Iran s state TV reported 141 new deaths Tuesday, pushing the death toll to 2,898. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said there are now 44,606 confirmed cases, including 3,703 in critical condition. In Saudi Arabia, King Salman said the government will pay for the treatment of all coronavirus patients, including visitors and foreign residents. Saudi Arabia has more than 1,500 confirmed cases of the virus and eight recorded deaths. It has sealed off three major cities and imposed a nighttime curfew across the country, as well as suspended flights and the yearlong Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. In Israel, the Defense Ministry said it had overseen the conversion of a missile-production facility into an assembly line for ventilators. The line, set up at a facility belonging to state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, will produce ventilators made by Israeli company Inovytec. It produced its first 30 machines on Tuesday. The Israeli military, meanwhile, announced that its chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, had entered quarantine after learning that he attended a meeting last week with an officer who was infected. It said Kochavi, who has no symptoms, would remain in isolation until the weekend. The army also said roughly 600 troops were being deployed to assist Israeli police in enforcing tight restrictions on movement Israel has recorded over 5,300 cases, with 20 deaths. In Jerusalem s Old City, workers sanitized the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, to protect those who visit the site. With the Passover holiday approaching next week, prayer notes tucked between the wall s stones were removed using gloves and disposable wooden tools. The notes, which are removed twice a year, were collected in special bags and will be buried with other sacred papers.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) — Israeli police have used a drone, helicopter and stun grenades in recent days to prevent people gathering in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem in defiance of Health Ministry measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. On Monday, police, some in riot gear and surgical masks, encountered occasional resistance and verbal abuse while enforcing the measures in a part of the city whose residents have long chafed against the state. “Nazis!” shouted a group of boys, as police pulled men off the narrow streets of Mea Shearim. As well as broadcasting the message “Stay Home” from the helicopter and drone, police have issued offenders with fines. Israeli officials describe the ultra-Orthodox as especially prone to contagion because their districts tend to be poor and congested, and in normal times they are accustomed to holding thrice-daily prayers with often large congregations. Some of their rabbis have also cast doubt on the degree of coronavirus risk. Many ultra-Orthodox reject the authority of the Israeli state, whose Jewish majority is mostly secular. Israel s 21 percent Arab minority are another sensitive community, where officials say testing for the virus has been lagging. “There are three Corona Countries – the ultra-Orthodox sector, the Arab sector and the rest of the State of Israel,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett told reporters on Sunday. The Mea Shearim patrols represented an escalation in security enforcement. On Saturday, a funeral was attended by hundreds of mourners in Bnai Brak, an ultra-Orthodox town. Reprimanded by Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan for allowing what he deemed a “threat to life” at the funeral, police issued a statement vowing to “draw lessons to prevent similar situations recurring”. Public gatherings are currently limited to up to 10 people, people must keep two meters apart and the public has been urged to stay at home unless they need to buy food, get medical attention, or go to work deemed crucial by the state. Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, ultra-Orthodox head of ZAKA, a volunteer emergency-medicine group, told Israel s Army Radio that most ultra-Orthodox Jews did follow Health Ministry directives and only a small group defied them, possibly for political reasons. “Everything they are doing has no value when they constitute a ticking bomb because of whom people will get infected,” he said of those not following the government s guidelines. Israel has reported 4,347 coronavirus cases and 15 fatalities. With the Health Ministry warning that the dead could eventually number in the thousands, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due on Monday to convene officials to discuss a proposed lockdown of some of the country. Bennett has proposed setting up a coronavirus surveillance system that would allow authorities to focus lockdowns on areas most prone to contagion.
BEIRUT (AP) — Kurdish-led forces in Syria put down riots by Islamic State militants in a prison in the country s northeast on Monday, hours after the extremists knocked down doors and dug holes in walls between cells, a Syrian Kurdish spokesman said. Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said the situation in the prison in the northeastern town of Hassakeh was “fully under control.” He said their anti-terrorism force “ended the riots and secured the facility and all prisoners inside.” It was not immediately clear if the riots were triggered by concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus. Mustafa Bali, another spokesman for the forces, said late Sunday that so far there is no connection between the riot and fears of the fast-spreading virus. There are concerns over an outbreak of the virus inside overcrowded prison facilities in Syria and elsewhere in the region. But so far there are no reports of infection in Kurdish-administered northeastern Syria or in any detention facilities. Gabriel did not say whether there were casualties in the operation to secure the prison adding that none of the prisoners were able to escape. Kurdish authorities run more than two dozen detention facilities, scattered around northeastern Syria, holding about 10,000 IS fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners, including about 800 Europeans. The Kurdish-led forces, backed by the U.S-led coalition, declared a military victory against IS in March last year, after seizing control of the last sliver of land the militants had controlled in southeast Syria. Earlier Monday, a third spokesman for the forces, told The Associated Press that IS militants were still rioting on one of the floors of the prison. Mervan Qamishlo said in a voice message from northeastern Syria that IS “members are still out of control on one of the floors.” North Press Agency, a media platform operating in the Kurdish-administered areas, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said Monday that the local police force, known as Asayeh, had detained four IS members who were able to flee the night before The prison is believed to house foreign IS militants. It is not clear what nationalities were held there. The U.S-led coalition said it was assisting the SDF with aerial surveillance as they quell the riot. The coalition said in a tweet that the facility holds low level IS members. The coalition said its forces don t staff any detention facilities in Syria The Rojava Information Center, an activist collective in the Kurdish-held areas, said the prison in Hassakeh s southern neighborhood of Ghoeiran houses some 1,000 low-level foreign IS members. It added that the upper levels of the prison hold mostly Syrian IS members. Bali said late Sunday that the rioters were in full control of the ground floor of the prison and have smashed and removed the prison s internal doors. The Kurdish authorities have asked countries to repatriate their nationals, saying keeping thousands of detainees in crammed facilities is putting a strain on their forces. “These incidents confirm that Syrian Democratic Forces are able to secure Daesh terrorists,” Gabriel said using an Arabic acronym to refer to IS. He added that the incidents also show that the international community should help the SDF to “fully secure” detention facilities and camps hosting families of IS militants. The families of IS militants and supporters who came out of the last territory controlled by the group are also holed in camps around the Kurdish-controlled areas — the largest one housing nearly 70,000 women and children, many of them foreigners.
Pope Francis on Sunday joined UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres s appeal for an "immediate global ceasefire", on the fifth anniversary of Saudi Arabia s intervention in Yemen s civil war. "I join all those who have accepted this appeal and invite everyone to follow it by ceasing all forms of hostility, promoting the creation of humanitarian aid corridors, being open to diplomacy, and paying attention to the most vulnerable," the pope said in a message delivered after holding prayers. Several explosions shook the Saudi capital Riyadh late on Saturday, which the Saudi-led military coalition blamed on Yemen s Iran-aligned Huthi rebels, who have repeatedly targeted Saudi cities with missiles, rockets and drones. The attack came with the Saudi capital under curfew imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Pope Francis pointed out that Guterres s call on Monday came during "the current COVID-19 emergency, which knows no borders". "The joint commitment against the pandemic can lead everyone to recognise our need to strengthen our fraternal ties as members of one human family," the pontiff said.
Mina M. Azer
Copts have celebrated the feast of the glorious Resurrection amidst churches closure due to the Corona virus. Coptic people suffered during the Holy Week and suffered also from social distancing and curfew. Women were indeed suffering the most since they are not able to visit the closed beauty centers and were not able to put on their pretty new clothes of the feast. These measures were taken to face the invisi