Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

Fri, 2020-02-28 03:00

AL-MUKALLA: As workers in Yemen’s major port Aden began preparing a coronavirus quarantine facility at Al-Sadaqa Hospital, rumors swirled around the city claiming that if patients were locked inside the hospital, the disease would quickly spread through neighboring areas. 

Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting. People living nearby besieged the hospital, while health workers inside staged a sit-in, refusing to work unless the Health Ministry canceled plans to build the isolation room.

“They threatened to kill me,” Dr. Wafaa Dahbali, Al-Sadaqa Hospital manager, told Arab News.

The hospital’s administration was forced to ask the Health Ministry to move the facility to another location, she said.

“Now we cannot even bring in basic protective items such as masks or gloves since workers will think we still plan to build the quarantine room,” she added.

Yemen, which is gripped by a civil war that has killed thousands of people since late 2014, has intensified efforts to counter coronavirus. But due to crumbling heath services, lack of awareness among people and the influx of hundreds of African migrants via the southern coastline, health officials fear the virus could spread undetected across the country.

Yemen’s Ministry of Health in Aden on Wednesday said that Yemen is free of the disease and all Yemenis returning from China had tested negative. Health Minister Nasir Baoum opened a quarantine center at Seiyun Airport in the southeastern province of Hadramout on Sunday, and said that he had ordered all sea, land and air entry points to ramp up detection measures.

Financial constraints

Health officials across Yemen told Arab News this week that health facilities are working at full capacity to cope with the influx of war casualties, and cases of seasonal diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and H1N1.

The appearance of coronavirus in Yemen would increase the burden on the country’s crumbling and cash-strapped health facilities, they said.

Ibn Sina Hospital in Al-Mukalla provides health services to patients from the three southern provinces of Hadramout, Shabwa and Mahra in addition to treating victims of the conflict in Abyan and Jawf. 

Recently the Health Ministry decided to build a quarantine center at the hospital. Lacking sufficient space, a three-room kitchen was turned into an isolation facility.

However, Dr. Alabed Bamousa, the hospital’s director, told Arab News that the facility could not afford to furnish the unit with medical equipment and staff lacked proper know-how.

“We have nothing at the moment. We asked the ministry for the names of health workers who would be trained by the World Health Organization on dealing with coronavirus patients,” Bamousa said.

He said that workers are not being encouraged to wear masks and gloves in order to avoid triggering panic. 

“My viewpoint is that we shut up till we are ready,” Bamousa said.

Health officials at Al-Mukalla, one of Yemen’s busiest ports, have asked sailors to complete declarations showing their movements before docking.

Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the Health Ministry’s Hadramout office, said that teams of six health workers in each district in the province are visiting Yemenis who have returned from China. 

In the streets, people say that they get information about the virus from social media rather than official channels or local media outlets.

Hassan, a shopkeeper, said that he learned about symptoms of coronavirus and protection measures from WhatsApp. 

“I know that the virus targets the lung and causes fever. We are advised to wash hands and wear marks,” he said.

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Egyptian deaf-mute coffee shop shows all signs of success

Fri, 2020-02-28 02:45

CAIRO: An Egyptian cafe for deaf and mute people is quietly showing all the signs of success.

Staff and customers at Wadi El-Nile coffee shop, in the Upper Egyptian city of Qena, use sign language to communicate and place orders.

Printed guides are on every table showing how to sign simple words and phrases to help visitors, whether or not they are deaf-mute.

And activities in the cafe are no different than in any other coffee house, with customers playing backgammon and dominos, enjoying hot and cold drinks, and smoking shisha.

Wadi El-Nile’s owner, Mustafa Khairat, said that the success of his establishment had proved that deaf people could be integrated into society.

“I had hope and faith in achieving the dream of owning a coffee shop specialized in hosting the deaf and mute and where the staff would be deaf and mute as well. They would communicate with customers using sign language, and that is what happened,” he added.

“Deaf people represent a huge segment in Egypt. They used to meet in several coffee shops in Qena governorate but when this one opened with deaf as well as other people attending, it turned into a destination for the deaf from other cities and villages. They meet here and they feel it is their home,” said Khairat.

“We printed papers with sign language as a guide and put them on every table. They have simple sign language signs written in letters to help customers if they are finding it difficult communicating with a waiter or other deaf and mute customers.”

Statistics issued by the UN in 2019, showed the number of deaf and mute people in Egypt to be around 7.5 million out of a population of 100 million, and coffee shops to cater for them have sprung up throughout the country.

In the city of Alexandria, Rady’s cafe in the neighborhood of Mansheya, is better known to Alexandrians as the mute’s coffee shop. The Brotherly Association for the Deaf, which is located in the same area, holds regular meetings there.

And last year, Mohamed Arafat opened his Candy restaurant in Cairo, which employs a number of deaf-mute staff.

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Ex-housekeeper sues Israeli PM’s wife over abusive behavior

Fri, 2020-02-28 02:37

JERUSALEM: A former housekeeper at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence is suing the leader’s wife Sara for pain and suffering allegedly caused during her employment there, the housekeeper’s attorney said on Thursday.

Opheer Shimson says his client is demanding $190,000 in damages for the abuse from Sara Netanyahu. He said the woman, an immigrant from France in her mid-50s and a mother of five who wished to keep her identity secret, worked at the residence for five months until last November, when she was injured from a fall caused by what he described as Sara Netanyahu’s tyrannical demands.

He said the woman, a staunch supporter of the prime minister, kept a diary detailing the verbal abuse she endured from his wife.

“She adores the prime minister and saw her work at his home as a form of national service,” Shimson told The Associated Press. “But she’s been traumatized by her experience. Everyone knew what was going on there, and no one can say otherwise.”

Sara Netanyahu has been accused of abusive behavior toward her personal staff before. This, together with accusations of excessive spending and using public money on her own extravagant personal tastes, has earned her an image as the Israeli Imelda Marcos, the Philippines’ former first lady who became infamous for her massive collection of designer shoes.

Last year, Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing state funds after she reached a plea bargain settling allegations that she overspent some $100,000 of state money on lavish meals. She’d previously been indicted for graft, fraud and breach of trust.

In 2016, a court ruled the prime minister’s wife mistreated a housekeeper and awarded the man $42,000 in damages. Several other employees have accused her of abuse, mistreatment and harassment. Another pending lawsuit alleges she forbade a former staffer to eat or drink on the job and required her to change her clothes dozens of times a day. The plaintiff, who is also seeking damages, says Sara Netanyahu also required her to wash her hands dozens of times a day and dry them with a towel separate from the one used by the Netanyahu family.

The Netanyahus have angrily rejected all the charges, calling them part of a media-orchestrated campaign against the family to oust them from power.

Israel heads to the polls next week for its third election in less than a year. Two weeks later, Benjamin Netanyahu goes on trial for charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from accusations he accepted lavish gifts from billionaire friends and promised to promote advantageous legislation for a major newspaper in exchange for favorable coverage.

The latest allegations against Sara Netanyahu include details on a bevy of berating comments she unleashed on those who worked for her. Shimson said the personal diary would be presented in court as evidence.

“Enough, save me, I want to die, the problem is that I don’t have any choice and everyone knows that,” reads one of his client’s entries, which was first published on Israel’s Channel 12 news. ”It’s impossible to live every day with a psychopath. I’m dying to leave before it’s too late.”

In another entry, she said Sara Netanyahu screamed at her for forgetting to throw out the garbage, called her stupid and dirty and demanded she take a shower. The woman wrote that Sara Netanyahu accused her of trying to cause friction with the prime minister.

“She said to me: ‘What do you want? For me to be like you, divorced?’” she wrote. “Even the prime minister told her to stop. She was in a trance. In the afternoon she had a fit, lay down on the ground, screamed and screamed like a lunatic, and shook with rage. She rolled around on the floor, and said that all of that was because of me.”

The ruling Likud Party denounced the TV report about the lawsuit as a “cruel, false, recycled and gossipy piece that was timed for release on the eve of elections and whose purpose was to harm the Likud.”

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Former European leaders slam Trump peace plan

Fri, 2020-02-28 02:14

LONDON: The Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) has gathered 50 former European leaders and foreign ministers to jointly sign a letter condemning US President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

British signatories include former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, former International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander, and former Foreign Ministers Sir Alan Duncan, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Peter Hain and Ben Bradshaw.

The sharply critical letter, published in British newspaper The Guardian, expresses deep concern over the plan, saying that “instead of promoting peace, it risks fueling the conflict.”

The signatories note that the plan has been met with “widespread opposition in the region, in Europe and in the US.”

The plan “allows for annexation of large and vital parts of the occupied Palestinian territory and legitimizes and encourages illegal Israeli settlement activity,” the letter reads.

The plan “is not a roadmap to a viable two-state solution, nor to any other legitimate solution to the conflict.”

The letter adds: “The plan envisages a formalization of the current reality in the occupied Palestinian territory, in which two peoples are living side by side without equal rights. Such an outcome has characteristics similar to apartheid — a term we don’t use lightly.”

The signatories believe that the annexation could lead to Palestinian enclaves reminiscent of South Africa’s bantustans during the apartheid era.

The letter follows increased tensions between the White House and the Palestinian Authority, with Washington threatening to withhold aid as part of a diplomatic pressure campaign at the UN.

Chris Doyle, director of Caabu, told Arab News: “We’re delighted to see so many distinguished former European political figures signing up to what is historically a very strong letter about the plans for annexation. It also clearly references that it would produce apartheid-like conditions.”

He said: “That brings into sharp focus exactly how disastrous this plan is. Even if it isn’t implemented as per the document, the plans on the ground have already been enacted effectively.”

He added: “The only way forward are talks based on international resolutions and consensus that envisage a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines with a shared capital in Jerusalem and fair resolution of the refugee issue.”

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No plan for Erdogan-Putin meeting on Idlib, says Kremlin

Fri, 2020-02-28 00:57

ANKARA: In a surprise move, the Kremlin on Thursday said Russian President Vladimir Putin does not have a scheduled meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 5.

Erdogan on Wednesday said he could meet Putin in Istanbul next week for talks on Syria’s Idlib province. The meeting was expected to gather Russia, France, Germany and Turkey.

The Kremlin announcement is seen as yet another sign of deteriorating ties between Putin and Erdogan after the failure of a fragile cease-fire agreement in rebel-held Idlib.

Erdogan recently criticized Russian support for Damascus. At least 18 Turkish soldiers have been killed by Syrian regime airstrikes in recent weeks.

Security analyst Metin Gurcan said the Kremlin announcement “means that the coming three or four weeks will determine the outcome of the power struggle and regional dynamics on the ground.”

Amid heavy clashes between Turkish and regime troops in recent weeks, Erdogan has given Damascus a deadline of the end of this month to withdraw behind Turkish observation posts in Idlib or face a military offensive.

Against this backdrop, talks between Turkey and Russia have continued for weeks without any concrete outcome so far.

Turkish government spokesman Omer Celik on Thursday said a meeting between Erdogan and Putin “needs to be held soon.”

Meanwhile, Ankara is sending more reinforcements, including air defense units, to Idlib. The number of Turkish soldiers deployed since the beginning of February in Idlib and Aleppo has reached 7,800.

“Turkey has an intention and offer to meet with Russia to resolve the Idlib quagmire, but Turkish decision-makers keep announcing unconfirmed dates of summits without getting official acceptance from the Russian side,” Aydin Sezer, an expert on Turkish-Russian relations, told Arab News.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar talked to his US counterpart Mark Esper about Idlib on Thursday.

Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, said Russia is deeply frustrated with Ankara’s willingness to intervene militarily in Idlib, and is concerned about the implications for the regime’s offensive there, given that the village of Nairab has fallen to Syrian rebels and the town of Saraqeb is at risk.

“The loss of these towns could have a cascade effect and give Turkish-backed rebels control over the M4/M5 highways and vital Syrian infrastructure once again,” he told Arab News.

“While Russia is happy to send a delegation to Turkey to discuss the Idlib crisis, it feels that a meeting between Putin and Erdogan would be a sign that Moscow is intimidated by Turkish conduct.”

Ramani said Russia is playing hardball on a Putin-Erdogan meeting, and is instead urging Turkey to commit to de-escalation in Idlib.

Ankara and Moscow agreed in September 2018 to turn the province into a “de-escalation zone.”

Ramani said: “Russia is fairly confident that Turkey will agree to de-escalation … because it sees Ankara’s military intervention as unsustainable, as Turkey is committed in northern Syria and Libya, and is seeing its currency crisis worsen once again.”

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