Lebanon s prime minister is warning of a major food crisis in the Mediterranean country which is facing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post late Wednesday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab also warns of eventual ``starvation in the Middle East that he says may spark a new migration flow to Europe. He urges the United States and the European Union to establish a dedicated emergency fund to help the conflict-prone region. Lebanon, one of the most indebted nations in the world, defaulted for the first time in March on its sovereign debt. Anti-government protests that erupted in October over widespread corruption subsided during a nationwide lockdown since mid-March to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, but sporadic protests continue. Diab s government is seeking a rescue program from the International Monetary Fund while grappling to deal with the financial crisis that saw the local currency crash, people s savings devastated and prices and inflation soar in the past few weeks. In a stark warning, Diab says many Lebanese may soon find it difficult to afford even bread.
As nations around the world loosen coronavirus restrictions, people are discovering that ``the new normal is anything but. Yet some realities have emerged: schools, offices, public transport, bars and restaurants are now on the front lines of post-lockdown life. How each of those key sectors manages social distancing and tamps down on expected new outbreaks will determine the shape of daily life for millions as researchers race to develop a vaccine that is still likely months, if not years, away from being available to all. What a return to normal looks like varies widely. For hungry migrant workers in India, it was finally being able to catch trains back to their home villages to farm while city jobs dried up. For hundreds of cruise ship workers stranded at sea for months, it was finally reaching shore Wednesday in Croatia. For wealthy shoppers, it was returning to the newly reopened boutiques of America s iconic Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California. In Italy, where good food is an essential part of life itself, once-packed restaurants and cafes are facing a huge financial hit as they reopen with strict social distancing rules. The losses are forecast to pile up to 30 billion euros ($32 billion) this year. ``We have to turn upside down all the activity that we did before, lamented chef Raffaele di Cristo, who now must wear a mask and latex gloves as he prepares food at the popular Corsi Trattoria in Rome. ``Everything is changed. Slowly, slowly, we will try to understand and to adapt to this coronavirus. Corsi reopened for business Monday with half its tables removed to ensure the mandated 1-meter (3-foot) spacing between tables. Hand sanitizing gel was placed at the entrance and a new ordering system was installed so customers can read the menu on their phones. Some shops in Italy have complained about a shortage of gloves keeping away customers. Veneto Gov. Luca Zaia said Wednesday he would change the rules on wearing gloves in clothing stores and shoe shops and substitute sanitizing gel instead. Slovakia reopened theaters, cinemas and shopping malls on Wednesday, all with new restrictions on visitor numbers, even though it has had only 28 deaths from COVID-19. The head of the Dutch hospitality industry welcomed a decision to allow bars and restaurants to reopen on June 1, but warned about the impact of mandatory social distancing rules. ``The restrictions are unfortunately unworkable for many businesses, said Rober Willemsen of Royal Hospitality Netherlands, adding that more government support is needed to ensure the survival of many bars and restaurants. Education is also facing a radical rethink. Cambridge became the first university in Britain to cancel all face-to-face lectures for the upcoming school year, saying they will be held virtually and streamed online until summer 2021. Other institutions have taken different tacks: the California State University system has announced that most classes will be online for the fall. The University of Notre Dame in Indiana will bring students back to campus but redesigned its calendar to start the semester early in August and end before Thanksgiving, along with ordering masks, testing and contact tracing. In South Korea, hundreds of thousands of high school seniors had their temperatures checked and used hand sanitizers as they returned Wednesday, many for the first time since late last year after their new term was repeatedly pushed back. Students and teachers were required wear masks and some schools installed plastic partitions around desks. France is limiting spaces in its primary schools, giving priority to the children of essential workers and those in need. Some younger students even go on alternating days, while high schools remain closed. In the new normal, people s gratitude at being able to shop or eat out again is mingling with worries about job security. Business was slow Wednesday at a Paris farmer s market with a mixed mood among the masked, gloved vendors. A man selling peonies and petunias said he was glad to get out and see shoppers again, while a woman selling asparagus and tomatoes behind a makeshift plastic screen grumbled that her customers were buying less than usual. Fears about job security are not unwarranted. Airline engine maker Rolls-Royce announced plans Wednesday to cut 9,000 workers as it grapples with the collapse in air travel due to the pandemic. In general, those jobs come with good pay and benefits, and losing them is a sharp blow to local communities. Some businesses are adapting quickly to new realities. In Kenya, safari operators have resorted to sharing live broadcasts on social media in hopes that attention to endangered and other species doesn t fade. Many governments, including those in scores of U.S. states, are in fierce disagreement over what the new normal should even be. As beaches reopened in Barcelona, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez asked lawmakers to back a plan to extend the nation s state of emergency by another two weeks until June 7. Spain s main opposition, the conservative Popular Party, rejected the move. ``You are like a headless chicken running around not knowing what to do, Popular Party leader Pablo Casado told Sanchez. ``To endorse your extension would be irresponsible. While infection rates have been falling in Asia and much of Europe, the pandemic is still spiking in Latin America. Brazil this week became the world s third worst-hit country with more than 250,000 confirmed cases despite limited testing. In Lima, the capital of Peru, coronavirus patients are filling up the city s intensive care beds. ``We re in bad shape, said Pilar Mazzetti, head of the Peruvian government s COVID-19 task force. ``This is war. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that the pandemic could push millions into extreme poverty in Africa, where the virus has reached every country. Guterres said Africa needs more than $200 billion and ``an across-the-board debt standstill for struggling nations. ``(This must be )followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults, he added. More than 4.9 million people worldwide have been confirmed infected by the virus, and over 323,000 deaths have been recorded, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts believe is too low for reasons that differ country by country. The United States has seen nearly 92,000 deaths and Europe has had nearly 165,000. Russia and Brazil are now behind only the United States in the number of reported infections, and cases are also spiking in India, South Africa and Mexico. Russia announced Wednesday that its coronavirus caseload has surpassed 300,000, with the death toll almost reaching 3,000.
Opposing sides in Syria s conflict have agreed to reconvene in Geneva for negotiations on the constitution, United Nations Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said on Tuesday, adding that a lull in fighting could provide an opportunity to start healing "deep, deep mistrust" between them. "As soon as the pandemic situation allows, they have agreed to come to Geneva and they have agreed on an agenda for the next meeting," he told journalists. He did not give a date and said that a virtual meeting of the constitutional committee would not be possible. In the same briefing, Pedersen also repeated a message made to the U.N. Security Council on Monday and urged the United States and Russia to talk about a push for peace.
China will provide $2 billion over two years to fight the coronavirus pandemic, President Xi Jinping said Monday, rallying around the World Health Organization and its efforts even as the Trump administration has slashed funding for the U.N. health agency. The European Union s 27-member bloc and other countries, meanwhile, called for an independent evaluation of WHO s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic ``to review experience gained and lessons learned. In a speech to the World Health Assembly, Xi said China had provided all relevant outbreak data to WHO and other countries, including the virus genetic sequence, ``in a most timely fashion.`` ``We have shared control and treatment experience with the world without reservation, Xi said. ``We have done everything in our power to support and assist countries in need. The $2 billion over the next two years will support COVID-19 response efforts, particularly in developing countries, Xi said. The EU resolution proposes that the independent evaluation should be initiated ``at the earliest appropriate moment and should, among other issues, examine ``the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO announced the coronavirus outbreak to be a global health emergency on Jan. 30, its highest level of alert. In the following weeks, WHO warned countries there was a narrowing ``window of opportunity to prevent the virus from spreading globally. WHO officials, however, repeatedly described the transmission of the virus as ``limited and said it wasn t as transmissible as flu; experts have since said COVID-19 spreads even faster. It declared the outbreak to be a pandemic on March 11, after the virus had killed thousands globally and sparked large epidemics in South Korea, Italy, Iran and elsewhere. Xi said he also supported the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19. ``This work should be based on science and professionalism, led by WHO and conducted in objective and impartial manner, he said.
Bombs hit a shelter for displaced people in Libya s capital Tripoli, killing at least seven people including a 5-year-old child from Bangladesh, health authorities said Sunday. The shelling of the facility in the city s Furnaj district late Saturday also wounded at least 17 people, including a 52-year-old Bengali migrant and his 5-year-old child, Malek Merset, a spokesman for the capital s ambulance services, said. The man is also the father of the dead child. It was the latest attack on civilians in the fighting over Tripoli between the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) led by military commander Khalifa Hifter and an array of militias loosely allied with the U.N.-supported but weak government in the capital. A fire broke out in parts of the shelter housing people displaced by previous clashes in Tripoli, Merset said. The ambulance services did not say which side was responsible for the shelling. The LAAF launched an offensive to take Tripoli in April last year. In recent weeks, the fighting has intensified as foreign backers of the two sides stepped up their military support. LAAF is backed by France and Russia, as well as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries. The Tripoli-allied militias are aided by Turkey, which deployed troops and mercenaries to help shore up their allies earlier this year, as well as by Italy and Qatar. Mercenaries, mainly from the Syria battlefield, are now fighting on both sides and complicating an already complex proxy war. Earlier this year, Tripoli-allied militias took several western towns from LAAF and stepped up their attacks using drones supplied by Turkey on a key military base and the town of Tarhuna. LAAF said Saturday it shot down a Turkish drone that was trying to attack the al-Watiya airbase. The Tripoli-allied militias claimed they destroyed a Russian-made anti-aircraft system, a claim dismissed by the LAAF. Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled and later killed long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign countries. The Tripoli fighting has threatened to push Libya into a major conflagration on the scale of the 2011 civil war.
Businesses are going belly up, tens of millions have been laid off and, by some measures, the U.S. seems headed for another Great Depression. But Republicans surveying the wreckage aren t ready for another round of coronavirus aid, instead urging a ``pause. It s a position based on a confluence of factors. Polls show GOP voters think the government is already doing enough. Republicans on Capitol Hill are divided over the best approach. Billions approved by Congress have yet to be spent. And it s also unclear what President Donald Trump wants to do next, if anything, to juice the economy _ his payroll tax cut idea hasn t gained any traction on Capitol Hill. For these and other reasons, GOP leaders see an unfolding crisis that does not yet cry out for further action. ``There s just a pragmatic piece to this, which is, if we re going to do another bill, let s get into June and July so we know how people are re-emerging, said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who gave up his leadership post last year to take the top GOP job on the Financial Services Committee. The political balancing act comes as the long-dormant deficit-hawk wing of the GOP lumbers back to life, recoiling from the House Democratic proposal to spend another $3 trillion in taxpayer money. Yet many Republicans concede there is risk to standing pat at a time of massive unemployment, financial struggles for local governments and growing COVID-19 caseloads, particularly with the November election fast approaching. Despite their distaste for further negotiations with Democrats, many Republicans privately see passage of another coronavirus measure as inevitable. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a proponent of the ``pause, said Tuesday that Republicans are ``taking a look at what we ve already done. And we ve added about $3 trillion to the national debt, and assessing the effectiveness of that before deciding to go forward. Yet McConnell also cracked open the door, cautiously, to more legislation, provided that it is ``narrowly targeted. ``I m in discussion, we all are, with the administration. If we reach a decision along with the administration to move to another phase, that ll be the time to interact with the Democrats, he said. Still, recent polls show GOP voters are far more likely to be satisfied with the government s virus response than Democrats. They are less fearful of a second wave of cases as states loosen stay-at-home orders, and they are not clamoring for more aid. ``We re starting to hear grumbling against spending that I haven t heard for a while, said Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks, a conservative group that has helped promote demonstrations around the country demanding a relaxation of state lockdown orders. On Capitol Hill, the question of what to do next is sowing GOP division. Conservative senators from solidly red states argue that Washington has done enough, and they have been squaring off in meetings with GOP moderates and pragmatists siding with Democrats. The moderates are supportive of fiscal relief for states and local governments, help for the Postal Service, additional jobless aid, and further provisions on testing and tracing for the virus, which has already claimed more than 80,000 lives in the U.S. The conservative senators have influence with Trump, but he doesn t share their fiscal instincts. The president and deputies like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have signaled a willingness to deliver aid to state and local governments _ funding that is a core demand of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. And Trump at one point even floated a massive debt-financed effort on infrastructure, leaving many conservatives aghast. Trump himself has cautioned Republicans against drawing a red line against state and local aid. The president is talking to governors, noted a top House GOP leadership aide who requested anonymity to describe private conversations. The aide emphasized that the president remains extremely popular in most Republican congressional districts and still gives members a lot of cover by going along with him. ``As states begin to reopen we need to wait and see where and what the need is, but the policy process is ongoing at the White House, said a White House aide, requesting anonymity to describe internal dynamics. ``The president has said more help is coming. Many think the next coronavirus bill, when it passes, will be the last one for a while, with Congress likely to maintain an intermittent schedule as the election nears. ``I don t see us coming back before the election so I d rather us get this smart and right rather than shoveling more coal into the fire, and people saying we ll come back and do more, McHenry said. But it s clear that Republicans are dreading another round of negotiations with Democrats. While each of the four prior COVID-19 response measures passed by almost unanimous votes, the outcome required GOP leaders to accept significant legislative victories for Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. They fear another episode in which Mnuchin, a former Democrat, gives them even more. For now, negotiations are in neutral. The Senate is poised to push off the legislative debate until after the Memorial Day break, when Republicans hope the virus will finally begin to ease. ``We will be working in a bipartisan way and with the White House to make sure ... we re addressing the very serious needs of the American people when it becomes both to the health emergency and the economic emergency that they re experiencing right now, said No. 2 Senate Republican John Thune of South Dakota.
Austria said on Wednesday its border with Germany will fully reopen in a month, one of the first big steps to reopen land borders across the EU that have been shut to fight the coronavirus. Austria s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is pushing for borders with countries that have similarly low infection rates to be reopened. Vienna is working on similar two-step reopenings with Switzerland, Liechtenstein and "neighbouring eastern European countries", his office said. "As of May 15 there will be only spot checks on the German-Austrian border. A full border opening will follow on June 15," Kurz s office said in a statement. Tourism Minister Elisabeth Koestinger told broadcaster ORF the first loosening would allow family visits and business trips. Free movement across Europe is one of the hallmarks of the EU, vital for cultural ties and for reviving the tourism industry. The bloc s executive, the European Commission, is expected to urge member countries on Wednesday to take gradual steps to reopen borders. Austria and Germany both introduced lockdowns early in their outbreaks and have fared comparatively well, with lower death tolls per capita than many European peers. Kurz has been lobbying Germany and his office said the move followed a discussion with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Tourism accounts for about 8% of Austria s economic output and Germany is the biggest source of foreign visitors. Kurz said in a comments broadcast on Tuesday that checks at the Swiss border could be eased within days.
The world s tallest building, Dubai s 828-metre Burj Khalifa, has become a glowing charity donation box, raising money for food for United Arab Emirates residents suffering the economic impact of the new coronavirus pandemic. Each of the tower s 1.2 million external lights was sold for 10 dirhams ($2.70), enough to buy one meal. As donations came in, the tower filled up , and people could also bid to claim the light at the very top. As the region s tourism and business hub with the world s busiest international airport, Dubai s economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Many people have lost jobs or had incomes reduced. Tens of thousands of migrant workers, who often live in crowded shared accommodation where the virus spreads more easily, have registered to be repatriated. "Hope you have a good solid meal. We take things for granted but life has a way of teaching us how to wake up," said donor Shereen Harris in a public comment on the campaign s website. The UAE has recorded 19,661 cases of infection with COVID-19 and 203 deaths, the second highest death toll after Saudi Arabia of the six Gulf states. The donation box has raised funds for more than 1.2 million meals so far, organising body The Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI) said. The fundraising drive is part of a campaign to fund 10 million meals for low-income families during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan by MBRGI, patronised by Dubai s ruler and UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
One Iranian warship accidentally struck another with a missile during an exercise, killing 19 sailors and wounding 15 others, Iran s navy said on Monday. The incident took place during training in the Gulf of Oman, a sensitive waterway that connects to the Strait of Hormuz through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes. Iran regularly conducts exercises in the area. The frigate Jamaran fired at a training target released by a support ship, the Konarak. However, the support ship stayed too close to the target and was hit, state broadcaster IRIB said. "The incident took place in the perimeter of Iran’s southern Bandar-e Jask port on the Gulf of Oman during Iranian Navy drills on Sunday afternoon, in which 19 sailors were killed and 15 others were injured," state TV said, quoting the navy. Fars news agency quoted an unidentified military official as denying some Iranian media reports that the Konarak had sunk. The navy statement said investigations were undergoing regarding the cause of the incident, student news agency ISNA said. IRIB said the Dutch-made Konarak vessel, which was purchased before Iran s 1979 Islamic revolution, had been overhauled in 2018, and is equipped with four cruise missiles. The incident took place at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the United States since 2018, when the United States withdrew from a nuclear deal between major powers and Iran, and Washington re-imposed sanctions on Tehran. Animosity deepened in early January when a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. Iran retaliated on Jan. 9 by firing missiles at U.S. military bases in Iraq. Later that day, Iran s armed forces shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing all 176 people aboard, in what the military later acknowledged was a mistake.
The number of coronavirus cases worldwide topped four million as some of the hardest-hit countries readied Sunday to lift lockdown restrictions despite concern about a second wave of infections. Governments around the world are trying to stop the spread of the deadly disease while scrambling for ways to relieve pressure on their economies, which are facing a historic downturn with millions pushed into unemployment. Despite the intense political pressure to reopen, nations are also keen to avoid second waves of infections that could overwhelm healthcare systems, with reminders over the weekend of the threat posed by the virus. In the United States, media reported Saturday that the nation s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, was among three members of the White House coronavirus task force who will self-isolate after potential exposure. And in South Korea, the capital Seoul shut all bars and clubs on Saturday as more than 50 cases were linked to a man who tested positive after spending time in one of the city s busiest nightlife districts. Despite the risks, some governments in hard-hit Europe have said are signs of progress that justify cautious steps towards normality. Officials in France on Saturday said the day s death toll of 80 was the lowest since early April, while nursing home fatalities also fell sharply as the nation prepared to relax curbs on public movement imposed eight weeks ago. The easing, to begin Monday, has brought mixed reactions. "I ve been scared to death" about the reopening, said Maya Flandin, a bookshop manager from Lyon. "It s a big responsibility to have to protect my staff and my customers." French health officials have warned that social distancing must be kept up even as restrictions are eased. In Spain, about half the population will be allowed out on Monday for limited socialisation, and restaurants will be able to offer some outdoor service as the country begins a phased transition set to last through June. With lingering fears of a resurgence, authorities excluded Madrid and Barcelona -- two COVID-19 hotspots -- from the first phase. Belgium is also easing some restrictions on Monday, and in some parts of Germany, bars and restaurants reopened on Saturday with further easing set for Monday. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected Sunday to lay out a plan for the nation to emerge out of its current lockdown. Media reports have suggested that Britain may introduce a mandatory 14-day quarantine for international arrivals to stop the spread of the virus. Absolute chaotic disaster Global economic figures are pointing to the most acute downturn in nearly a century, with businesses forced to shut and supply lines badly disrupted, and pressure is growing on leaders around the world to find a way out as the worldwide death toll topped 277,000 and infections crossed four million. In the United States, the country with the highest death toll and where more than 20 million people have lost their jobs, President Donald Trump has insisted that next year would be "phenomenal" for the economy, urging reopening despite the virus still claiming well over 1,000 lives daily in the country. The scale of the challenge was brought in sharp focus over the weekend as US media reported that top disease expert Anthony Fauci, who has become the trusted face of the government response to the pandemic, is going to self-isolate after possible exposure to an infected White House staffer. Fauci told CNN that he will undergo a "modified quarantine" as he had not been in close proximity to the staffer, the network reported. He will remain at home teleworking, and will wear a mask for two weeks. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, will also self-isolate, CNN added. All three will still testify at Tuesday s Senate coronavirus hearing, with Redfield and Hahn participating via video link, according to Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the chamber s health committee. It is believed Fauci will attend wearing a mask, CNN reported. President Trump has faced sharp criticism from his predecessor Barack Obama, who said on a leaked tape that Trump s handling of the crisis was an "absolute chaotic disaster". Complete nonsense With people wearying of being indoors and under economic pressure, anti-lockdown protests have been held in a number of countries in recent weeks, with some demonstrators arguing that such restrictions violate their rights and others promoting conspiracy theories about the pandemic. Ten people were arrested and a police officer injured in Melbourne, Australia, on Sunday in the latest such protest, where around 150 people gathered to demand an end to the shutdown. Participants were promoting a number of conspiracy theories, such as linking 5G cellular communications to the disease. Australian chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said there was "a lot of very silly misinformation out there", including the 5G allegation. "I have unfortunately received a lot of communication from these conspiracy theorists myself," he said. "It is complete nonsense. 5G has got nothing at all to do with coronavirus."
North Africans say they are missing the taste of Ramadan, as coronavirus restrictions deprive them of traditional mealtime gatherings, evening outings and beloved sweets during the Muslim holy month. "It s not the usual Ramadan," said one woman shopping in Ariana, near the capital Tunis, looking desperately for the cakes and sweets that normally fill the stalls during the fasting month. Ramadan is traditionally a time for worship and socialising. The faithful refrain from consuming food and water during the day, breaking their fast at dusk with family and friends for a meal known as iftar, and often going out afterwards. But this year, social distancing measures have largely put a stop to the usual Ramadan traditions. Mosques in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia have been closed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, preventing special evening prayers. There are no long nights of musical gatherings, and in the medina of Tunis, there are no Sufi-inspired "hadra" chants and no "stambali" -- a mystical trance dance ritual. The old cities of Rabat, Casablanca and Tunis, normally crowded after iftar, are like ghost towns. "Even the meals that bring all the family together around the same table are impossible -- I m afraid for my parents, who are elderly and sick", said Maissa, a 46-year-old teacher from Algiers. "The coronavirus has taken all the flavour out of the holy month this year," said the mother-of-four. - Unprecedented - In Morocco, dates -- a Ramadan staple -- and sweets are still available at the markets or in supermarkets. "But I can t travel to have iftar at my parents place" due to the night-time curfew, lamented one 35-year-old teacher who lives alone in Marrakesh. "No cafes, no people in the mosques... it s unprecedented", he said. In Algeria, after businesses were allowed to reopen at the start of Ramadan in April, crowding led authorities to reimpose closures in some areas. Some in the capital Algiers travelled to Boufarik -- around 30 kilometres (18 miles) away in Blida province, the epicentre of the country s virus outbreak in early March -- for a sugary sweet known as zlabia. One man, Salem, said that in 30 years he had never failed to have zlabia from Boufarik on the table for Ramadan, but this year he came back empty-handed. "Most of the stalls are closed and those that are open are crowded, so I turned back", the 51-year-old said. Authorities in Algeria have even prohibited community restaurants and soup kitchens where volunteers serve meals to the poor during the holy month. Fekhreddine Zerrouki said his charity organisation had planned to serve more than 1,500 meals a day, but was doing deliveries instead. Samir, a volunteer with the Algerian Red Crescent, said the number of people benefiting from such Ramadan charity initiatives was "very low compared to the number of people in need". "We are missing the taste of Ramadan because of the lack of zlabia or the lost evenings, but some people don t even have dates for breaking their fast", he said.
Lebanese must set aside their differences as the country has no time to lose in tackling its major financial crisis, Prime Minister Hassan Diab warned on Wednesday, saying a government recovery plan was not a sacred text and could be amended. The government approved the plan last week, announcing that it would form the basis of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for aid. Diab was speaking at a meeting of Lebanon s fractious sectarian leadership to review the plan, which maps out vast losses in the financial system. President Michel Aoun said the IMF was a "mandatory path" for recovery. The government proposals have encountered strong criticism from the commercial banking sector which, according to the plan, is set to sustain losses of some $83.2 billion. "Time is very precious. The accumulated losses are very big. The situation is very painful, and the chance to rectify (the situation) will not last long," Diab told the meeting convened at the presidential palace. He urged political parties, economic syndicates and the banks to set aside differences. There was no place for score-settling, he said, adding that trading accusations would be "costly for all". Diab s government was appointed in January with backing from the powerful, Iran-backed Shi ite group Hezbollah and its allies including the Christian Maronite head of state, President Michel Aoun. Leading Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, a former prime minister and traditional ally of Gulf Arab and Western states, did not attend the meeting. Neither did Druze leader Walid Jumblatt though Aoun s Maronite rival, Samir Geagea, attended. The crisis is seen as the greatest risk to stability since the 1975-90 civil war. The local currency has lost more than half its value since October and depositors have largely been shut out of their savings as dollars have become ever more scarce. Inflation, unemployment and poverty have soared. Lebanon defaulted on its sovereign debt in March. Addressing the meeting, Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said Lebanon had started negotiations to restructure its sovereign debt two weeks ago. The benefits of going to the IMF included boosting international confidence in Lebanon and the provision of financial support of $9-$10 billion for the treasury, he said. The plan adopts a flexible exchange rate in the coming phase but in "a gradual and studied" way, Wazni said. He said floating the exchange rate before restoring confidence and securing international support would lead to a big deterioration in the value of the pound, among other negative consequences.
Israeli airstrikes in eastern Syria killed 14 Iranian and Iraqi fighters and wounded others, some seriously, an opposition war monitoring group said Tuesday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the late Monday strikes in eastern Deir el-Zour province targeted positions of Iranian and Iran-backed fighters. There was no immediate comment from Israel. Syria s state news agency reported late Monday that Israeli strikes targeted military depots in the region of Safira, south of the northern city of Aleppo. It did not mention the strikes on Deir el-Zour province, which borders Iran. There have recently been several reports of suspected Israeli strikes inside Syria, the most recent one last week, when the Syrian military and state media said Israeli warplanes flying over Lebanon fired missiles toward areas near the Syrian capital, Damascus, killing three civilians. Israel rarely comments on such reports, although it has acknowledged carrying out airstrikes inside Syria on numerous occasions in the course of Syria s nine-year conflict, saying it was going after Iranian military targets in the country. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in August that Iran has no immunity anywhere and that the Israeli military forces ``will act _ and currently are acting _ against them.
Iran s parliament has passed a bill allowing the government to slash four zeros from the rial, Iranian state media reported on Monday, after a sharp fall in the value of the currency as a result of crippling U.S. sanctions. Iran s national currency will be changed from the rial to the Toman, which is equal to 10,000 rials, under the bill. "The bill to remove four zeros from the national currency was approved by lawmakers," Iran s Students News Agency ISNA reported. The bill needs to be approved by the clerical body that vets legislation before it takes effect. Iran s state TV said the Central Bank of Iran will have two years to "pave the ground to change the currency to Toman". The idea of removing four zeros has been floated since 2008, but gained strength after 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump exited Iran s 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions, as the rial lost more than 60% of its value. The Iranian currency was trading at about 156,000 rials per dollar on the unofficial market on Monday, according to foreign exchange websites. Iran s weak currency and high inflation have led to sporadic street protests since late 2017.
The man wearing an explosive vest emerged from a car and calmly marched toward the gates of the intelligence building in Iraq s northern city of Kirkuk. When he ignored their shouts to halt, guards opened fire, and he blew himself up, wounding three security personnel in the first week of Ramadan. Days later, a three-pronged coordinated attack killed 10 Iraqi militia fighters in the northern province of Salahaddin _ the deadliest and most complex operation in many months. The assaults are the latest in a resurgence of attacks by the Islamic State group in northern Iraq. The first was a brazen suicide mission not seen in months. The second was among the most complex attacks since the group s defeat in 2017. In neighboring Syria, IS attacks on security forces, oil fields and civilian sites have also intensified. The renewed mayhem is a sign that the militant group is taking advantage of governments absorbed in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing slide into economic chaos. The virus is compounding longtime concerns among security and U.N. experts that the group would stage a comeback after its ``caliphate, which once encompassed a third of Iraq and Syria, was brought down last year. In Iraq, militants also exploit security gaps at a time of an ongoing territorial dispute and a U.S. troop drawdown. ``It s a real threat, said Qubad Talabani, deputy prime minister of the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. ``They are mobilizing and killing us in the north and they will start hitting Baghdad soon.`` He said IS was benefiting from a ``gap between Kurdish forces and federal armed forces caused by political infighting. Intelligence reports say the number of IS fighters in Iraq is believed to be 2,500-3,000. In northeast Syria, Kurdish-dominated police have become a more visible target for IS as they patrol the streets to implement anti-virus measures, said Mervan Qamishlo, a spokesman for U.S.-allied Kurdish-led forces. IS fighters in late March launched a campaign of attacks in government-held parts of Syria, from the central province of Homs all the way to Deir el-Zour to the east, bordering Iraq. Some 500 fighters, including some who had escaped from prison, recently slipped from Syria into Iraq, helping fuel the surge in violence there, Iraqi intelligence officials said. IS is shifting from local intimidation to more complex attacks, three Iraqi military officials and experts said. Operations previously focused on assassinations of local officials and less sophisticated attacks. Now the group is carrying out more IED attacks, shootings and ambushes of police and military. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Multiple factors help the militants. The number of Iraqi military personnel on duty has dropped 50% because of virus prevention measures, the military officials said. Also, territorial disputes between Baghdad and authorities from the northern Kurdish autonomy zone have left parts of three provinces without law enforcement. The rugged landscape is difficult to police. The uptick also coincides with a pullout of U.S.-led coalition forces from bases in western Iraq, Nineveh and Kirkuk provinces in line with a drawdown conceived in December. ``Before the emergence of the virus and before the American withdrawal, the operations were negligible, numbering only one operation per week, said a senior intelligence official. Now, he said, security forces are seeing an average of 20 operations a month. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. Coalition spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III said IS attacks were increasing in reaction to operations against its hideouts in the mountains and rural areas of north-central Iraq. Iraqi military officials believe the improved, organized nature of the attacks serves to cement the influence of new IS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, who was named after his predecessor was killed in a U.S. raid late last year. One military official said more operations are expected during Ramadan to demonstrate the new leader s strength. In Syria, one of the most significant attacks occurred April 9, when IS fighters attacked government positions in and near the town of Sukhna. The government brought in reinforcements for a counterattack backed by Russian airstrikes. Two days of fighting left 32 troops and 26 IS gunmen dead, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the country s nine-year war. Days later, the government said that because of the security situation in the desert several gas wells in the fields of Shaer and Hayan were damaged, leading to a 30% drop in electricity production. Back in Iraq, the green pastures of the northern village of Kujalo conceal a hidden enemy that keeps resident Nawzad up at night. His farming community lies in a disputed territory that has witnessed a sharp increase in attacks, including a nearby ambush earlier this month that killed two peshmerga officers. He said the militants have local collaborators. ``They know everything about each farm in Kulajo and they know to whom each house belongs, he said, asking to be identified only by his first name, fearing reprisals. The militants also receive shelter, supplies, food and transport from local sympathizers, said Kurdish Brig. Kamal Mahmoud. His peshmerga forces are based on part of the front lines there, but can t operate in other parts run by government troops _ and there, he said, the overstretched security forces control only main roads with no presence in villages and towns. On April 1, a federal police officer was killed, and a battalion commander and brigadier general wounded in a security operation in the Makhoul mountain range in Diyala. Two days later, an IED attack targeted a patrol of a commando regiment of the Diyala Operations Command in the outskirts of Maadan village. Sartip, a Kujalo resident, said he fears the militants improved capabilities. ``IS has been carrying out attacks in Kurdish areas for a long time, but now they are more organized and have more people, he said.
The Lebanese government approved an economic rescue plan for digging the country out of a financial crisis seen as the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war, an official source said. The plan drawn up by Prime Minister Hassan Diab s government comes as mounting hardship fuels a new wave of unrest. A protester was killed during rioting in Tripoli this week. An early draft of the plan called it a "good basis" for any negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), widely seen as Lebanon s only way to secure desperately-needed financing. A second official source said that, now Lebanon has a plan, it must officially ask for IMF help. The cabinet approved the plan after "minor amendments", the first official source said, adding that the question of the exchange rate was not decided on. The pound is still pegged at a rate of 1,507.5 to the dollar, even as it has slumped below 4,000 on a parallel market since October. The finalised document was not immediately available. The crisis is rooted in decades of state waste, corruption and bad governance that landed Lebanon with one of the world s biggest public debt burdens. Lebanon defaulted on its sovereign debt last month for the first time. The early draft of the plan set out vast losses in the financial system, including a projected $83 billion of losses in the banking system that has helped finance the state. The currency has shed more than half its value and savers have been shut out of their deposits since October, when countrywide protests erupted against ruling politicians. The price of consumer goods has shot up by 50% since October in the import-dependent country. The question of how to cover the losses in the financial system has sparked a political row. The early draft called for an exceptional contribution from large depositors, leading to fierce criticism from opponents of the Diab government, notably Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. The Diab government came to office in January with backing from the Iran-backed Shi ite group Hezbollah, President Michel Aoun - the Christian Maronite head of state - and the Shi ite Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Hopes of an effective drug treatment for coronavirus patients have risen following positive early results from a trial of remdesivir, a drug first tried in Ebola patients. Data from the trial on more than 1,000 severely ill patients in 75 hospitals around the world show that patients put on the drug recovered 31% faster than similar patients who were given a placebo drug instead. Remdesivir cut recovery time from a median of 15 days to 11.
The French government will tighten restrictions on foreign investments from outside Europe in French companies to limit foreign control over strategic sectors and technologies, the finance minister said on Wednesday. Currently non-European investments in French companies do not need government approval as long as the stake is 25% or less. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he would lower the threshold to 10% for investments in large companies until end of the year. "In this period of crisis, some companies are vulnerable, some technologies are fragile and could be bought by foreign competitors at a low cost. I won t let it happen," Le Maire told LCI television. The government already at the start of the year tightened controls on non-European foreign investments, in particular by lowering the threshold for state-vetting to 25% from 33% previously. Le Maire also said that he would add biotechnology companies to a list of sectors that requires government approval for an investment from outside Europe to go ahead.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned countries against lifting restrictions put in place to contain the spread of coronavirus without careful planning, saying this would cause a setback. "While the virus continues to spread across our region, there has been a slight decrease in the number of cases reported week by week in some countries. Some of these countries have developed an exit strategy and have started lifting restrictions," Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office director, said on Tuesday. "Without careful planning and in the absence of scaled-up public health and clinical care capacities, this premature lifting of physical distancing measures is likely to lead to an uncontrolled resurgence in COVID19 transmission and an amplified second wave of cases," he added in a virtual press conference. Many countries around the world, including Egypt, have taken gradual steps to loosen lockdown restrictions in a bid to keep their economies running. The Geneva-based UN health body said it was working with researchers to accelerate the development of vaccines and drugs for COVID-19. “More than 80 vaccines are in development globally, including six vaccines in clinical evaluation, and several therapeutics are in clinical trials,” Al-Mandhari said. The international organisation is committed to sharing developed medicines and vaccines “equitably” with all countries and people, he said, while stressing impartiality. “As humanitarians, we have no hidden agendas or bias. We abide by our core mandate that health is neutral and ensuring humanitarian access for all people, everywhere." The fight against the virus is more daunting in some Arab countries. The emergence of coronavirus could be catastrophic in Yemen, whose healthcare system is fragile, while fighting and shelling in Libya impedes the organisation’s work, Al-Mandhari said. “Millions of already vulnerable people in these countries are more prone to infectious diseases due to overcrowded living conditions, weakened immunity due to years of food insecurity, and insufficient treatment for other underlying medical conditions.” "Many of these countries are also politically fragmented, resulting in limited humanitarian access to populations, and challenges in information sharing with WHO in a timely and transparent manner," he noted.
Israeli air strikes near the Syrian capital early Monday killed three civilians, state media said. "Three civilians were martyred and four others wounded, including a child, because shrapnel from Israeli missiles fell on houses" in the suburbs of Damascus, the official SANA news agency said. Syrian air defences had downed "most" of the Israeli missiles launched from Lebanese air space shortly before dawn, SANA said in an earlier report. Videos published on the agency s website purported to show the Israeli warheads exploding in the sky. An Israeli spokesperson declined to comment. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the attack hit positions of Iranian forces and fighters from Lebanese militant group Hezbollah south of Damascus. It said four such fighters were killed in the strikes. Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in the country, targeting government troops as well as allied Iranian forces and Hezbollah fighters, enemies of the Jewish state. On April 20, SANA said Syrian air defences had downed Israeli missiles near the ancient city of Palmyra. The Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said the targets were "military posts for Iranian militias in the Palmyra desert". That raid killed three Syrian fighters and six foreigners, according to the monitor, which was not able to determine their nationalities. Israel rarely confirms its operations in Syria but says Iran s presence in support of President Bashar al-Assad is a threat and that it will continue its strikes.
Yemen s main southern separatist group announced early on Sunday it would establish self-rule in areas under its control, which the Saudi-backed government warned would have "catastrophic consequences". The move threatens to renew conflict between the UAE-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Saudi-backed government, nominal allies in Yemen s war, even as the United Nations is trying to secure a nationwide truce to confront the novel coronavirus. The STC deployed its forces on Sunday in Aden, the southern port which is the interim seat of the government ousted from the capital, Sanaa, by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement. Reuters journalists saw STC fighters in a column of pickup trucks and military vehicles riding down a main street in Aden. The STC is one of the main groups fighting against the Houthis as part of a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. But the separatists, long backed by Saudi coalition partner the United Arab Emirates, have clashed with government forces in the past. In a statement, the STC announced emergency rule in Aden and all southern governorates, saying it would take control of Aden s port and airport and other state institutions such as the central bank. The Saudi-backed government and southern regions of Shabwa, Hadhramout and Socotra, among the few areas under coalition control, issued separate statements rejecting the declaration. Yemen s Foreign Minister Mohammed Al-Hadhrami said the STC announcement constituted "a resumption of its armed insurgency" and a "rejection and complete withdrawal from the Riyadh agreement", a deal which ended a previous stand-off between the separatists and the government last year. The STC "will bear alone the dangerous and catastrophic consequences for such an announcement", he said in a statement. STC Vice-President Hani Ali Brik accused the government of hampering the agreement. In a Twitter post, he reiterated accusations against Hadi s government of mismanagement and corruption, charges it denies. CORONAVIRUS CEASEFIRE Yemen has been mired in violence since the Houthis ousted Hadi s government from power in Sanaa in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene. The conflict, seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been in a military stalemate for years. The Houthis still hold most major cities despite fighting that has killed more than 100,000 people. The war has choked supply lines in the poorest Arabian peninsula nation, leaving millions of people on the brink of famine and dependent on international aid. The Saudi-led coalition has announced a unilateral ceasefire prompted by a U.N. plea to focus on the coronavirus pandemic. It extended the ceasefire on Friday for a month, but the Houthis have not accepted the truce and violence has continued. While Yemen has reported only one confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, aid groups fear a catastrophic outbreak should it spread among a malnourished population in a country with a shattered health system and little testing. The United Nations is trying to convene virtual talks to forge a permanent truce, coordinate coronavirus efforts and agree on humanitarian and economic confidence-building measures to restart peace negotiations stalled since late 2018. The STC, which has said it wants to be included in any political negotiations, in January pulled out of committees implementing the Riyadh deal. The UAE, which like the STC opposes the Islamist Islah party that forms the backbone of Hadi s government, largely scaled down its presence in the war last year, but retains influence through the thousands of southern fighters it backs.
The Church of St. Mark in Alexandria is the oldest church in Egypt and Africa, dating back to the first century. It was built at the place of the house of St. Anianus who was the first to believe in Christ by St. Mark s preaching. It also contains about 55 of the first patriarchs of the Coptic Church. Father Abram Emil, Priest of St. Mark s Cathedral in Alexandria explained in his article The Church of St. Mark