From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE SOUTH 2020 MARCH-APRIL"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
    This link will take you back to Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D.
    Or return to King Of The South 2020 January-February or continue to King Of The South 2020 May-June.

KING OF THE SOUTH 2020 MARCH-APRIL


    So as 2019 has passed do we know who the "King of the South in 2019" is?
    The phrase “king of the South” is found in the Bible in only one location — Daniel 11, which is also the chapter containing the most detailed prophecy in the Bible.    The first mention of this ruler is found in verse 5, where we find that “the king of the South shall become strong” and that “His dominion shall be a great dominion.”    Who was this king?    Who will he be in the “time of the end” spoken of in verse 40?    To answer these questions, we need a little background information.    One of the first considerations is the setting of this prophecy.    Daniel received the message in “the third year of Cyrus king of Persia,” which was 537 or 536 B.C. according to The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Daniel 10:1).    The prophecy of Daniel 11 begins with verses 2-4, which describe what would happen in the Persian and Greek Empires after Daniel was given this vision, and continues through “the time of the end” (verse 40).
    The Persian Empire refers to any of a series of imperial dynasties that were centred in Persia/Iran from the 6th century B.C. Achaemenid Empire era to the 20th century AD in the Qajar dynasty era.    Know that Ancient Persia is modern Iran.
    Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC) also called the First Persian Empire, in Western Asia founded by Cyrus the Great.    It ranges from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history, incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, it is notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration (through satraps under the King of Kings), for building infrastructure such as road systems and a postal system, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army.    The empire's successes inspired similar systems in later empires.
    By the 7th century BC, the Persians had settled in the south-western portion of the Iranian Plateau in the region of Persis, which came to be their heartland.    From this region, Cyrus the Great advanced to defeat the Medes, Lydia, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire, establishing the Achaemenid Empire.    Alexander the Great, an avid admirer of Cyrus the Great, conquered most of the empire by 330 BC.    Upon Alexander's death, most of the empire's former territory came under the rule of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Seleucid Empire, in addition to other minor territories which gained independence at that time.    The Iranian elites of the central plateau reclaimed power by the second century B.C. under the Parthian Empire.
    The Achaemenid Empire is noted in Western history as the antagonist of the Greek city-states during the Greco-Persian Wars and for the emancipation of the Jewish exiles in Babylon.    The historical mark of the empire went far beyond its territorial and military influences and included cultural, social, technological and religious influences as well.
    Despite the lasting conflict between the two states, many Athenians adopted Achaemenid customs in their daily lives in a reciprocal cultural exchange, some being employed by or allied to the Persian kings.    The impact of Cyrus's edict is mentioned in Judeo-Christian texts, and the empire was instrumental in the spread of Zoroastrianism as far east as China.    The empire also set the tone for the politics, heritage and history of Iran (also officially known as Persia).    The image below shows you the area for the "King of the South."
       
    So based on the above information I would acknowledge that the "King of the South" will come out of that area.
    As you may have noted that in 2019 I claimed that individual will be: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
    The reason was his image of the pentagram a Satanic symbol which is at the top of Erdogan’s Tek Devlet (One State) monument in Turkey, which is a pentagram, a satanic symbol, and believed in beheading, and Shriah Will Rise Again, religious education, Koranic courses, Arabic and Ottoman lessons, Islamization of all schools, sharia education and finally compulsory worship services in all schools
   
    Could Recep Tayyip Erdogan be the upcoming antichrist and may fit the description and then may not be the final antichrist.    The Bible tells us there are “many antichrists” (1 John 2:18); many believe there will be the single antichrist, and we are rapidly approaching the end of time as we know it, before the great tribulation begins.
    All of the antichrists have the same modus operandi (mode of operation).
    As Erdogan has tried to be a force in the South and has shown hints of hypocrisy along the way, and August 2014, he has steadily become dictatorial, and enacted laws to give him excessive powers.
    “And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honor of the kingdom, but he shall come in peaceably and obtain the kingdom by flatteriesDaniel 11:21.
    The Bible, in a number of instances, refers to the antichrist as the “Assyrian.”    A good part of Turkey was included in the Assyrian Empire, which also persecuted God’s people.
    “Therefore, thus saith the Lord God of hosts, Oh My people who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian; he shall smite you with a rod and shall lift up his staff against you, after the manner of Egypt.    For yet a little while and the indignation shall cease and My anger in their destructionIsaiah 10:24-25.
    “And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land and when he shall tread in our palaces; then shall we raise against him seven shepherds and eight principal menMicah 5:5.
    Erdogan announced, “The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the honor of 1.7 billion Muslims, not just Palestinians, and the Muslim world cannot wait to remain indifferent to the restrictions imposed on the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” which is situated on the historical Jewish Temple Mount.
    Erdogan’s real crimes are buying the Russian S-400 missile system for Turkey, refusing to accept US support for America’s Kurdish YPG allies and allowing Islamist fighters to pour over Turkey’s border into Syria along with a load of weapons, mortars and missiles.    Erdogan said Turkey will work with the Syrian people directly to help achieve peace in the war-torn country.    He went on to clarify this does not mean he is willing to work with the Syrian government.
    “Russia takes the necessary measures against a (possible) threat by Syrian regime in Idlib, and as Turkey, we are taking all kind of measures against radical groups in Idlib,” stated President Erdogan.    “We are also taking joint action with Russia if it is necessary.”    His remarks come almost a month after Turkish and Russian forces announced a demilitarized zone in the Idlib province.
    In December, President Donald Trump’s called Tayyip Erdogan that he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria has stunned Turkey and left it scrambling to respond to the changing battlefield on its southern border, and delivered a standard warning to the Turkish president over his plan to attack U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, in the course of the conversation Trump reshaped U.S. policy in the Middle East, abandoning a quarter of Syrian territory and handing Ankara the job of finishing off Islamic State in Syria.
    As many promote what Daniel 11:40-45 claims it represents the Northern King’s Conquests. [AS SEEN IN THE VERSES ABOVE THAT THE EVENTS ARE LOOKING AS IF RUSSIA - KING OF THE NORTH AND THE MIDEAST NATIONS - KING OF THE SOUTH ARE GOING TO BECOME ENTWINED INTO THE PROPHECY ABOVE IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE AND THE KING OF THE WEST HAS PULLED OUT OF THIS MESS WHICH I THINK TRUMP MADE THE RIGHT CALL PROBABLY DUE TO GODS INFLUENCE SO LETS SEE HOW IT UNFOLDS AND ALSO WATCH FOR NEWS THAT THE EUPHARATES RIVER DRIES UP ENGAGING THE KINGS OF THE EAST TO GET INVOLVED.].
    The following image below is seen at http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterSix/Psalm83.htm so you can tell by the verses above who are the countries today.
    So what has happened in 2019 regarding the King of the South:
    Libya and its Militia groups battle in the Libyan capital, breaking four-month truce and Libya’s Haftar has blindsided world powers with his advance on Tripoli.
    Iraq must move away from economic reliance on Iran and demonstrators are seen at Al Jumhuriya bridge during a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, in Baghdad, Iraq.
    In Lebanon who agreed to a new government and its PM vows bold reforms.    But the U.S. is concerned over Hezbollah’s growing role in Lebanon, who called on supporters to donate as sanctions pressure bites.    Germany won’t classify Iran ally Hezbollah as terrorist and Lebanon’s president urges ‘sacrifice’ as budget cuts are debated.    Hezbollah sanctions are harming Lebanon, says President Aoun.    Hezbollah warns U.S. over sanctions against Iran and allies.    Lebanon’s Aoun invites protesters to talk, hints at government reshuffle and Hezbollah warns of chaos and civil war in Lebanon, but demonstations continue and Prime Minister Hariri resigns as Lebanon crisis turns violent, no one wants to be PM, not only the financial woes.
    Yemen’s Houthi drones strike government military parade, several killed.    Yemen’s Houthis to quit two ports Monday under peace deal.    Yemen’s Houthis begin withdrawal from Hodeidah ports in boost to peace deal.
    The world is crazy now as all the Mideast countries are having riots and demonstrations trying to reform their governments as well as the Hong Kong fiasco is still going on.
    U.S. troops begin withdrawing from Syria after the U.S.-backed Syrian force pushed the Islamic State in ‘its final moments out of their caliphate,’ and by 3/22/2019 White House confirms ISIS caliphate ‘100% eliminated.’    On 10/27/2019 U.S. targeted and killed #1 Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi giving Trump a big win from this.
    Turkey condemns French declaration of Armenian genocide commemoration day.    Turkey was told it cannot become an EU member.    Erdogan accuses women’s march of disrespecting Islam.    Turkey says U.S. missile deal impossible if tied to dropping Russian S-400s and will look elsewhere if U.S. won’t sell Patriots and F-35s.    Turkey economy has worst showing in nine years after lira crisis.    As economy sours, Erdogan’s party could lose grip on big cities in local polls.    Erdogan suffers major setbacks in local elections and that forced an Islam control of election as Erdogan’s AK Party appeals for annulment to seek fresh vote in Istanbul, citing irregularities and calls for annulment of Istanbul election, and ousted the winning Istanbul mayor who was promoting democracy.    Could you imagine a Muslim AK Party was going to let a Republican People's Party take over, which shows you how Islamic philosophy works, and I thought it could not get any worse that the screw up in the 2016 elections in some Florida counties trying to change the counts in certain districts, but they blew it and lost anyway.    The desperate Democrats may want to learn from the AKP and their Islamist predecessors so they can win the 2020 elections.    Erdogan says discussed Turkey setting up safe zone in Syria with Trump.    Turkey is ready to take over Syria’s Manbij, and Erdogan says Kurdish rebels will not shelter in Syrian safe zone.    Turkey aims to form safe zones in Syria for refugees to return.    Islamic State pinned in tiny eastern Syria enclave with families, U.S.-backed Syrian force to start ‘final battle’ against IS enclave IS ‘caliphate’ on brink of defeat in Syria as Trump urges Europe to do more.    U.S. to leave 200 American peacekeepers in Syria after pullout.    Syrian Kurds want secure border strip, reject Turkish ‘safe zone.’    Where do the Kurds fit into Syria’s war they do not because they are descendants of the Armenians.    Turkey should not attack Kurds after U.S. Syria pull-out.    On 10/5/2019 Erdogan says Turkey to launch military operation in northeast Syria.    U.S. withdraws troops from northeast Syria ahead of Turkish offensive.    Thousands flee, dozens killed in Turkish offensive on U.S.-allied Kurds in Syria Turkey bombards Syrian Kurdish militia, thousands flee as death toll mounts.    VP Pence to urge Turkey to halt Syria offensive as threat of further sanctions loom and Turkey agrees with U.S. to pause Syria assault while Kurds withdraw.    U.S. troops cross into Iraq as part of withdrawal from Syria.
    Israel: The U.S. Ambassador to Israel Indicates peace plan may be released this year by encouraging investments in Palestinians as first part of peace plan where Jarod Kushner hopes that the Saudis and other Gulf delegates will like what they hear enough to urge Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to consider the plan.    The message Kushner wants them to take to Ramallah: “We’d like to see you go to the table and negotiate and try to make a deal to better the lives of the Palestinian people.”
    THE QUESTION IS CAN YOU BUY MIDEAST PEACE BETWEEN PALESTINIANS AND ISRAEL WITH ALL THE HATERS IN THE BACKGROUND?
    Plus the issue of the prophecy in Daniel 9:27 "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate."    So is he the (Antichrist) who shall confirm the covenant (make a covenant) for one week (seven years); and in the middle of that week he will break the covenant?
    God has blessed Trump for his appraisal of Israel as his policies are working in this world so far but I think soon there will be an entity that will step out of the limelight to the world who has the influence to all parties to make this plan take place.    So the question is who will that be?
    More than half of the $50 billion would be spent in the economically troubled Palestinian territories over 10 years while the rest would be split between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.    Some of the projects would be in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, where investments could benefit Palestinians living in adjacent Gaza, a crowded and impoverished coastal enclave>.
    Senior adviser Kushner to present peace proposal to Middle East and if Trump's version of a “peace plan” or deal-making and we do not know what it is yet.    Some think it is Israel to give up four communities in East Jerusalem in order to establish the Palestinian capital alongside the Israeli capital.    Israelis gave up their rights to their Holy Temple Mount immediately after it was given to them in the Six Day War in 1967, for the sake of “middle east peace.”    “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” again, and they handed it back?    For whatever reason, it was returned on some level to Jordanian control.    After the Six Day War, Judea and Samaria – along with the Golan Heights – were looked at as significantly important to the security of Israel.    Obviously, giving those who hate you the high ground overlooking your most populated areas would not make any sense.    But many Jews began re-settling then Mountains of Israel because they heard the call to return and build the ancient ruins, as the prophets had dreamed in Isaiah 61:4, Jeremiah 31:4, and Ezekiel 28:25,26.    “I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” Amos:15.    As it says in Jeremiah 31:6, "For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God."    So I do not think Trump's plan is the one.    I like Trump but he does not seem to be one yet seen in Daniel 9:27a reads, “Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week.”    Daniel prophesies a “he” who confirms a covenant or treaty, depending on the translation, with the many that will last for one week.    And yet, prophecy teachers conclude from this verse that the Antichrist will make a seven-year peace treaty with Israel.    Daniel 9:27 (KJV): "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate." one week = 7 years.
    Trump administration still backs a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.    Israel says it has completed hunt for Hezbollah tunnels from Lebanon.    Israel launches Gaza strikes after rockets fired at Tel Aviv.    Israel’s Netanyahu says he plans to annex settlements in West Bank.    Israel launches series of retaliatory airstrikes at Iranian interests in Syria.    U.S. deploys THAAD missile defense system to Israel.    USAID assistance in the West Bank and Gaza has ceased.    On 3/25/2019 Trump recognizes disputed Golan Heights as Israeli territory in boost for Netanyahu and Israel says Brazil is opening ‘diplomatic office’ in Jerusalem.    On 11/19/2019 U.S. backs Israel on settlements, angering Palestinians and clouding peace process.
    See the artcile below dated 1/31/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan criticizes Arab silence over U.S. Middle East plan to consider as my statements about who the entity might be.

2020 MARCH-APRIL


3/1/2020 Explainer: Why is Israel holding its third election in a year? by Dan Williams and Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: A combination picture shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel November 17, 2019, and
leader of Blue and White party Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, Israel November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Nir Elias, Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israelis head to the polls on Monday with a sense of deja vu after trying and failing twice in the past year to break the country’s political deadlock.
WHY SO MANY ELECTIONS?
    In late 2018, Benjamin Netanyahu, veteran leader of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, seemed to be at the peak of his powers.
    The dominant political figure of his generation, Netanyahu was about to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
    But he had a precarious one-seat majority in parliament, and called a snap election for April 9, 2019.
    The immediate reason given was the vulnerability of his ruling coalition after the resignation of Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman.    More hawkish than even Netanyahu, Lieberman quit, accusing the prime minister of being too soft on Palestinian militants in Gaza.
    But many Israelis saw it as a ploy by Netanyahu to gain a renewed public mandate to ward off prosecutors who were then in the final stages of drafting charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against him.
    Once re-elected, the theory went, Netanyahu could say an indictment was not in the national interest.    He denies wrongdoing, accusing his enemies of a witch-hunt.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
    If that was the plan, it backfired.    No single party in Israel has ever won an outright majority in parliament, and Netanyahu failed to get enough seats.
    He struggled for weeks to put together a government.    Then, rather than let his principal rival – former armed forces chief Benny Gantz – have a chance to form a government, Netanyahu triggered another election, on Sept. 17.
WHAT HAPPENED IN ELECTION NUMBER TWO?
    Again Netanyahu fell short. Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party ended in a virtual tie.     That left Lieberman a king-maker.    But Lieberman cited policy differences with both men to avoid anointing either.     After months of horse-trading in which Netanyahu and Gantz both failed to win enough support, the outcome, much to the dismay of the jaded Israeli electorate, was Monday’s election.
IS THIS TIME ANY DIFFERENT?
    Yes.    Since the previous election, formal criminal charges have been filed against Netanyahu.    Prosecution is now a reality, not a possibility.    His trial is due to open on March 17, just two weeks after the election.
    Also, both previous elections were fought without the electorate knowing the contents of U.S. President Donald Trump’s long-delayed Middle East peace plan.
    That was published in January, and would grant U.S. recognition to Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank.
    Palestinians were furious, saying it gives away land they seek for a future state.    Netanyahu pledged to annex the settlements after the election.
COULD NETANYAHU WIN THIS TIME?
    Yes.    But Netanyahu will need to win support from other parties if he is to form a coalition government with at least 61 of the parliament’s 120 seats.
    The court hearings will prompt rivals to demand that he resign, even before sentencing.    A verdict is likely to be months away, and the appeals process could take years.
COULD NETANYAHU LOSE TO GANTZ?
    Opinion polls have shown Liked and Blue and White virtually neck and neck, with Netanyahu’s party edging slightly ahead in the final stages of the campaign.
    Netanyahu is a known quantity.    But Gantz also has problems – barring an unexpected surge in centrist voters he would have to bring together rightists and those representing Israel’s Arab minority, which are on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
COULD THERE BE A FOURTH ELECTION?
    Yes, if Monday’s prolongs the deadlock.    But some Israeli politicians regard this as unacceptable.    Aside from political instability, it would mean further fiscal paralysis for Israel under a continuing caretaker government.
    That could lead to the defection of some former Likud partners to a Gantz-led coalition.
WHAT ABOUT A “NATIONAL UNITY” GOVERNMENT?
    Many Israelis would like Netanyahu and Gantz to unite, to end the bickering.    But Gantz says he will not partner with Netanyahu now that an indictment has been filed.
(GRAPHIC-Israel’s 2019 snap elections: https://graphics.reuters.com/ISRAEL-NETANYAHU/0100B32E28G/ISRAEL-ELECTIONS.jpg)
(GRAPHIC- Trump’s Middle East plan: https://graphics.reuters.com/ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS-PLAN/0100B5B73B0/ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS-PLAN.jpg)
(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Timothy Heritage)

3/1/2020 Turkey begins new military operation in Idlib by OAN Newsroom
A Turkish military convoy drive in the east of Idlib, Syria, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP Photo)
    Turkey has doubled down on armed intervention in Syria’s contested Idlib province.    On Sunday, officials announced a new campaign called ‘Operation Spring Shield.’
    The move came after Turkey reportedly shot down two Syrian jets on Sunday following the Syrian downing of a Turkish drone earlier in the day.
    “Some 2,200 Syrian regime troops, a drone, eight helicopters, 103 tanks, tens of howitzers and three air defense systems have been neutralized,” stated Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.
    In response, Damascus has announced the complete closure of all airspace over Idlib and threatened to prevent breaches.
    On Saturday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres cautioned the Security Council that recent clashes over Syria’s last rebel-held territory could get out of control.
    “The potential escalation in itself could represent with the conflicts of a different nature that could have a much more dramatic impacts,” he said.
    The campaign came after Turkey pushed into Syria following the deaths of more than 30 of its soldiers.

3/1/2020 Angered by Trump’s plan, Israel’s Arabs look to oust Netanyahu by Rami Ayyub
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he delivers a statement during his visit at
the Health Ministry national hotline, in Kiryat Malachi, Israel March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    NAZARETH, Israel (Reuters) – On the eve of Israel’s third election in a year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been urging supporters to mount a final push to win the one or two more seats he says he needs to form a government.
    But as he campaigns, another force in Israeli politics – the Arab minority – is hoping to use a new surge of anger against the right-wing leader and his U.S. allies to edge the electoral arithmetic the other way.
    Arab lawmakers are urging their communities to turn out in ever greater numbers on March 2 to show their opposition to the new peace plan – dubbed the “Deal of the Century” – unveiled by U.S. President Donald Trump in January.
    Anger among Israel’s Arabs has focused on one part of that plan in particular, a proposed redrawing of borders that would put some Arab towns and villages outside Israel and into the area assigned to a future Palestinian state.
    “There is someone who set this plan: Benjamin Netanyahu,” said Ayman Odeh, chief of the Arab-dominated Joint List coalition.
    “We need to overthrow him, our biggest agitator, the person behind the Deal of the Century,” Odeh added during a stop in Taibe, a village that could be moved outside Israel under Trump’s plan.
    Polls show Netanyahu’s Likud movement virtually neck and neck with centrist leader Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.
    Arab lawmakers currently hold 13 seats in the 120-member Knesset.    If the Arab and centrist blocs both hold their voting share – and certainly if they increase – that would make it harder for Netanyahu to get the extra seats he needs in the country’s finely-balanced political set-up.
    Nearly 80% of Arabs who are familiar with the Trump plan oppose it, according to a Feb. 24 poll by the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at Tel Aviv University.
    The poll’s author, Arik Rudnitzky, said the Trump initiative had injected “new blood into this relatively calm electoral campaign” and forecast a slight increase in Arab turnout over last September’s election, from 59% to 60%.
Graphic: Trump’s Middle East plan – https://graphics.reuters.com/ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS-PLAN/0100B5B73B0/ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS-PLAN.jpg
I AM STILL OCCUPIED
    Israel’s Arab minority – Palestinian by heritage, Israeli by citizenship – makes up 21 per cent of Israel’s population.
    Mostly Muslim, Christian and Druze, they are descendants of the Palestinians whose communities, including Nazareth, found themselves inside Israel as the country was formed in 1948.
    Their political representatives have had to choose their words diplomatically as they push their campaign against Netanyahu.
    If they reject the notion of coming under Palestinian rule too aggressively or overtly, they could be seen as selling out their brethren in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. But if they embrace that notion, they risk losing the benefits of Israeli citizenship.
    “Everyone wants to stay in Israel, everyone wants an Israeli I.D. because they can see the situation in the West Bank, and here it is better,” said Zuhri Haj Yahya, a Taibe resident.
    He said it made no difference to his sense of identity whether he lived under Israeli or Palestinian rule.
    “I am Palestinian,” he said.    “I am still occupied, whether I am here or there.”
    As the election neared, Netanyahu dismissed concerns about land swaps and sought to win over Arab voters.
    “The last thing I believe in is uprooting anyone from their home.    No one will be uprooted,” he told Arabic-language channels PANET and Hala TV on Feb. 18.
    Likud also said its 15 billion shekel ($4.37 billion) investment program was more than any government ever invested in Arab communities.
    But Arab politicians derided Netanyahu’s appeals, and his promises of direct flights to Mecca for Muslim pilgrims.
    “What did Netanyahu really do for us,” asked politician Ahmad Tibi, calling it a last-ditch effort to “manipulate our community.”
(Additional reporting by Sinan Abu Mayzer in Taibe, Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Andrew Heavens)

3/1/2020 Turkey strikes Syrian planes and airports, escalating Idlib fight by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar attends a NATO defence ministers meeting
at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    ISTANBUL/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey shot down two Syrian warplanes over Idlib on Sunday and struck a military airport well beyond its frontlines in a sharp escalation of its military operations following the death of dozens of Turkish soldiers last week.
Ankara has ramped up its attacks, including drone strikes, against the Russian-backed Syrian forces since Thursday, when 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Damascus.
    It has already deployed thousands of troops and military vehicles in northwest Syria’s Idlib province in the last month to stem advances by Syrian government forces which have displaced 1 million people close to Turkey’s southern border.
    Already hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees, Ankara is determined to prevent any further influx from Syria.    It has also let migrants cross its borders into the European Union, in an apparent effort to press for EU support in tackling the Syria crisis.
    Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in the last four days Turkish forces destroyed eight helicopters, 103 tanks, 72 howitzers, rocket launchers, a drone and six air defense systems.    He dubbed Turkey’s operation, its fourth incursion in Syria in four years, “Operation Spring Shield.”
    In response, Syria’s army said it shot down three Turkish drones and warned it would take down any aircraft breaching the air space over the northwest, which has been controlled for years by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally Russia.
    Despite the warning, Turkish warplanes downed two Syrian warplanes, while Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu agency said the Turkish military had targeted and rendered unusable Nayrab airport, west of Aleppo city.
    Turkey-backed opposition commanders also said Kuweires airport, east of Nayrab, had been bombed since midnight.    Both airports are well inside Syrian government controlled territory, marking a significant expansion of Ankara’s targets.
    The fighting has risked drawing Russia and Turkey, who cooperated for years to contain the fighting despite backing rival sides in Syria’s nine-year war, into direct conflict.
    “We have neither the intention nor the notion to face Russia.    Our only intention there is for the (Syrian) regime to end the massacre and thereby prevent … radicalization and migration,” Turkey’s Akar said.
    He said that 2,212 members of the Syrian forces had been “neutralized,” a term used to designate killed, wounded or captured.    The Syrian Observatory, a Britain-based war monitor, said 74 Syrian government troops and pro-Damascus fighters had been killed since Feb. 27.
    Fifty-five Turkish troops were killed in Idlib in February.
CRISIS DIPLOMACY
    Diplomatic efforts by Ankara and Moscow to defuse tensions have failed to agree a ceasefire in Idlib, part of Syria’s last major rebel stronghold.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday that while there was progress in talks between Turkish and Russian delegations, the Idlib issue would only be resolved between presidents Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin.
    A senior Turkish official and a security official said the meeting would be held on Thursday in Moscow.    The officials said the two leaders would discuss steps to take in Idlib and that they were expected to reach a mutual agreement.
    The Kremlin said it hoped Erdogan and Putin would meet on Thursday or Friday.    Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov agreed on the need to create a “favorable atmosphere” to improve working relations between their countries, Russia’s foreign ministry said.
    The latest fighting in Idlib has uprooted 1 million civilians since December, many of them women and children fleeing towards the Turkish border.
    Turkey said it would allow migrants to cross into Europe in anticipation of an imminent new migrant influx from Idlib, lifting restraints on movement in place since 2016 under a deal with the European Union.
    Greek police fired tear gas to repel hundreds of stone-throwing migrants who sought to force their way across the border from Turkey on Sunday, witnesses said, with thousands more behind them after Ankara relaxed curbs on their movement. [nL8N2AU05E]
    Turkey’s borders to Europe were closed to migrants under the accord between the Turkish-EU deal that halted the 2015-16 migration crisis, when more than 1 million people crossed into Europe.
(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Khalil Ashawi in Syria and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans, Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)

3/1/2020 Iraqi parliament adjourns session to approve new cabinet for second time by Ulf Laessing
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi arrives at the parliament headquarters
in Baghdad, Iraq March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s parliament adjourned a session to approve the cabinet proposed by Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi for the second time in days on Sunday because not enough lawmakers had turned up to make any vote official.
    Lawmakers had already failed to agree on a new government on Thursday, prolonging deadlock and delaying attempts to resolve unprecedented mass unrest and has stalled the country’s recovery from years of war.
    Political infighting and alleged widespread corruption have crippled Iraq’s efforts to recover from two U.S. invasions, sanctions and the war to defeat Islamic State in 2017.
    The country faces a mass protest movement that broke out in October and brought down former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi two months later.    His cabinet has stayed on in a caretaker capacity.
    The protests, which first demanded jobs and services, quickly turned into calls for the removal of Iraq’s entire ruling elite.    Protesters oppose Allawi because they view him as part of the system they want to bring down.
    Lawmakers have until Monday to agree a cabinet or President Barham Salih will need to designate a new candidate for prime minister, according to the constitution.
    Abdul Mahdi issued a statement late on Sunday denying social media reports that he wanted to stay on, saying he will announce his intentions on Monday after the deadline had passed.
    Security forces and powerful militia groups have shot dead hundreds of mostly unarmed demonstrators.    Around 500 people have been killed in unrest since October, most of them protesters, according to a Reuters tally from medics and police.
    On Sunday, security forces killed one person and wounded 24 at an anti-government protest in Baghdad, a police source said.
    The number of protesters has reduced somewhat, but demonstrations continue on a daily basis.
    Allawi issued a long list of promises when he was nominated this month: to hold early elections, punish people who killed protesters, end foreign interference and check the power of non-state armed groups – an ambitious program for a prime minister who has no particular party behind him.
    Abdul Mahdi became beholden to the interests of Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups and other parties that have a strong representation in parliament and control government posts.
    Government officials say Allawi’s cabinet selection was heavily influenced by renegade Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has gained from the general chaos in Iraq after the United States killed a senior Iranian commander in Baghdad in January.
    Sunni and Kurdish political groups who stood to lose portfolios in a cabinet of ostensible independents have vehemently opposed Allawi’s choices.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Ahme Abouleinem and Baghdad newsroom; Editing by Mark Potter)

3/2/2020 Clashes in strategic north Syrian town after Turkish strikes by Orhan Coskun and Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises after an air strike in Saraqeb in Idlib province, Syria February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA/AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian government forces battled to recapture a strategic rebel-held town in Idlib province on Monday and a Turkish official said Ankara would continue to strike President Bashar al-Assad’s troops after escalating its military operations at the weekend.
    Syrian state television broadcast live footage from inside Saraqeb, which lies on the country’s main north-south highway, and said it was under government control.    Rebels denied the report, saying they still held the town despite heavy shelling.
    Saraqeb has already changed hands twice in less than a month, reflecting its importance both as a gateway to the government-controlled northern city of Aleppo and to the rebel-held Idlib city to the west.
    Rebels said Turkish drones had been striking Syrian army positions on the Saraqeb frontline, hitting at least two rocket launchers.
    Turkey, which has backed rebels fighting Assad for much of Syria’s nine-year conflict, stepped up its intervention in recent days in response to the killing of 34 Turkish soldiers in Idlib.
    On Sunday it shot down two Syrian planes in Idlib and struck at least one military airport in Aleppo province, taking the battle deep into territory controlled by forces loyal to Assad.
    Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkish forces had also destroyed eight helicopters, scores of tanks and five air defense systems.
    “All (Syrian) attacks have been retaliated by the Turkish Armed Forces in the heaviest manner without hesitation and will continue to be retaliated,” state news agency Anadolu quoted him as saying.
    President Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, whose support for Assad turned the tide of the war five years ago, are due to meet in Russia on Thursday to seek agreement on Idlib.
    Turkey has insisted that it seeks no conflict with Moscow, but its barrage of strikes on the Russian-backed forces around Idlib have raised the risk of a direct confrontation.
    “A solution is expected to emerge from the talks but attacks and attempts which the (Syrian) regime carries out in this period will not go unanswered,” a senior Turkish security official told Reuters.
    Backed by Turkish shelling and drone strikes, rebels say they have now retaken several villages that they lost last week in the Syrian government offensive.
    Erdogan demanded in early February that Syrian forces withdraw by the end of the month from a “de-escalation zone” agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran around Idlib in 2017, or face being driven back by the Turkish military.
    “The (Syrian) regime will be forced to leave the de-escalation zone before the Putin-Erdogan meeting,” a senior opposition source said.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Khalil Ashawi in Azaz, Syria; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/2/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan to visit Russia on Thursday amid Syria tensions
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leaves after the Global Refugee Forum
at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 17, 2019, REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will visit Russia on Thursday for a one-day trip, the Turkish presidency said on Monday, amid tensions between Ankara and Moscow over escalating clashes with Syrian government forces in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region.
    Erdogan had been expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin after 33 Turkish troops were killed in Syrian air strikes in Idlib last week, prompting Turkey to launch a counter offensive against Russia-backed Syrian government forces in the region.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler)

3/2/2020 ‘All our dreams are gone;’ Desperation deepens for Syrians as conflict intensifies by Dominic Evans
FILE PHOTO: An internally displaced Syrian girl inspects outside from a broken window of
a van in an IDP camp near Idlib, Syria February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File photo
    IDLIB, Syria (Reuters) – At a maternity hospital in northwest Syria, an alarm flashes at the main entrance to alert staff.    It’s not patients en route to the hospital.    It’s warplanes.
    Doctors at the hospital face a daily struggle to care for expectant mothers amid a Syrian government assault that has driven deep into Idlib province in an attempt to snuff out the last stronghold of rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad. Medical staff said there had been a marked rise in miscarriages and premature births in the last two months.    Some expectant mothers arrive in shock after leaving home in terror at the bombardment, and every day four or five babies are found to have died in the womb, one doctor told Reuters.
    “For me, the latest stage has been the toughest of all,” said the doctor, 37-year old Ikram who is eight months pregnant.
    Speaking Thursday in a small ward filled with a dozen tiny babies in incubators, she said the last hospital she worked in had been hit in an air strike.    She said so too had her father-in-law’s house and that a rocket had landed unexploded next to the kindergarten her two young children – aged 3 and 4 – usually attend.
    Minutes after she spoke the hospital’s alarm went off. An amber light flashed warning of an aircraft approaching and a red light signaled danger of a direct strike.
    While the maternity center was spared, an intensification of air strikes and shelling in northwest Syria has caused the biggest single displacement of Syrians of the 9-year conflict, in which hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed.
    Nearly a million people – more than half of those children – have been uprooted since December as they have fled the destruction of their towns and villages, resulting in what the United Nations has said could be the worst humanitarian crisis of the conflict.    Traumatized by war and with many uprooted several times already by fighting, they are now crowded into a shrinking pocket of land between Syrian government forces advancing from the south and east and the walled-off Turkish border to the north.
    The Russian-backed Syrian government has been trying in recent months to retake Idlib province, a region that stretches around 100km (60 miles) into Syria from its northernmost point on the Turkish border.    It says it is fighting to clear terrorist groups including al Qaeda from its land and has pledged to retake “every inch” of Syria.    Turkey, which has said it can’t cope with the number of people fleeing the war, is supporting rebel forces fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    More than 130 civilians, including at least 44 children were, were killed during February alone, with dozens of hospitals and schools among facilities affected by the strikes, according to the United Nations.
    Fighting has escalated sharply in recent days, bringing Turkey – a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – and Russia closer to direct confrontation in Syria.    Turkey launched a counter offensive against Russian-backed Syrian government forces in the region after 33 Turkish troops were killed in Syrian air strikes in Idlib last week.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says he hopes to achieve a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week.    On the battlefield, however, both sides have doubled down.
    Ikram, who requested her last name not be published due to security concerns, qualified ten years ago just before the uprising started in 2011.    She decided to stay in Syria, even as other doctors left.    She worked in the town of Maarat al Numan, where there had been a shortage of doctors, and then moved to a hospital in her hometown of Idlib city.    “I wanted to do what I can,” said Ikram, becoming visibly emotional.
    The maternity hospital she currently works at has been open about five years, she said, adding she’s is one of only three doctors left working there.
    At Idlib city’s central hospital, a missile smashed into the road outside last week, leaving a large crater.    The strike – which wounded four medical staff and damaged hospital rooms and employee living quarters– was the third near miss in recent months, said surgeon Mohammad Abrash, speaking Friday in a room overlooking still-visible crater outside.
    He said medical staff were at the front lines of treating people but that they were overloaded, and medication and medical equipment were in short supply and there were no replacements.
    “It’s so difficult for us to work under these conditions,” added 58-year old Abrash, from the nearby town of Saraqeb, before rushing to a basement operating theater to treat an injured man bleeding from wounds to his abdomen.
TRAPPED IN A WARZONE
    For the roughly 3 million Syrians packed into Idlib province, crossing the Turkish border to safety is a distant dream.
    Hundreds of thousands are sheltered in camps within sight of the concrete border wall which marks the frontier, battling freezing temperatures in recent weeks during which up to ten children died, according to the United Nations.
    Along the 30 km (20 mile) road from the border to Idlib city, more settlements are pitched across olive groves and ochre mud fields or perched on rocky outcrops.    Some date back to the early years of the war and are now small towns of solid breeze-block dwellings.    But others have sprung up in the last two months.
    In one camp established in January to absorb the most recently displaced, there are communal tents housing 20 to 40 families each as well as smaller tents, according to camp administrators.
    “We came to this camp to shelter from the winter,” said 55-year-old Mamdouh al Darfil, seated outside a 3 meter by 3 meter tent he and some of his family members share at the site, near the town of Maarat Misrin, north of Idlib city.    He said he and his nine children had been displaced six times in the course of the conflict.
    They first moved into houses abandoned by other families, and then resorted to seeking shelter in tent camps.    He and his two married sons now share three tents between them, but he described life there as bare subsistence, with no heating and little health care.
THEY BOMB AND SCATTER US
    With nowhere else to go, some 270 families have taken refuge at a sports stadium in Idlib city, many living in tents pitched under the concrete terraces, where smoke from fires kindled for warmth mixes with the stench of sewage.
    Some families at the stadium are from as far away as the former rebel strongholds in eastern Damascus, 270 km (170 miles) to the south, from where they were displaced years ago. Many have been uprooted several times by the Syrian forces steadily advancing since 2015, when Russia intervened to support Assad, turning the war decisively in his favor.
    That includes 38-year old furniture maker Ragheed al-Masri and his four children who were evacuated three years ago from their hometown of Saqba, east of the capital, to Hama province. He said before being evacuated conditions in his once rebel-held hometown had become unbearable, with a blockade by government forces leaving it difficult to get even a kilo of rice.
    After leaving Saqba, they had moved north to the town of Maarat al Numan, where they stayed until it was captured by government forces in January.    Now, their home is a tent erected outside the sports stadium.
    During a visit Thursday, children played among the tents, laundry hung along a fence inside the stadium, and workers unloaded sacks of food from a lorry.    Painted on the walls of the stadium, in the northwest of the city which has been under rebel control for five years, are religious slogans reflecting the Islamist agenda of insurgent groups that hold sway in much of the province.
    Twenty-year old Shaza Deek said she and her parents and siblings arrived about a week ago.    She said her family had been forced to flee their village of Kafr Ruma, south of Idlib, late last year by the Russian-backed Syrian government offensive.
    “They threw us from our houses into the cold. We went from house to house,” she said.    After sheltering in an Idlib mosque for three weeks, her family moved to the stadium.    “They bomb and scatter us, and no one helps us,” she said, noting the exception of Turkey which she said had given aid and support for the rebels.
    “I didn’t expect things to reach this situation.    In this revolution we lost everything… I wanted to be a doctor, to study.    All our dreams are gone.”
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low.)

3/2/2020 ‘No sense of celebration’ as Israel holds third election in a year by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu cast their ballots during Israeli
parliamentary elections, at a polling station in Jerusalem, March 2, 2020. Atef Safadi/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought re-election on Monday under the weight of an imminent corruption trial, with voters turning out in high numbers to try to avoid another deadlock after two inconclusive ballots.
    Netanyahu’s failure to secure a governing majority in the votes in April and September has dimmed the aura of political invincibility once enjoyed by Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, who has denied wrongdoing in the three graft cases against him.
    Three hours before polls were due to close at 10 p.m. (2000 GMT), voter turnout was running at its highest level since 1999.
    “Today I have no sense of celebration,” President Reuven Rivlin said after voting, voicing the frustration across the country after a seemingly never-ending election season.    “The feeling I have is not simple, it’s even one of shame, when I face you, the citizens of Israel.”
    In the final days of the campaign, opinion polls forecast that neither Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud nor the centrist Blue and White party of his main challenger, former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, would win enough votes on their own, or with coalition allies, for a governing majority in parliament.
    Immediately after voting ends, Israeli media will publish the first exit polls and signal whether the deadlock has been broken. More stalemate could push Israel, where a 2020 budget is still pending, further into economic limbo.
    Camil Fuchs, a Tel Aviv University statistician conducting an exit poll for Channel 13 TV, indicated that the results could be dramatic.
    “From the data we have so far .. this is one for the most intriguing, most interesting, and most gripping exit polls – one of the most gripping there have been,” he said on Channel 13.
    Voting in his hometown outside Tel Aviv, Gantz told reporters: “I really hope that in the coming weeks, following the results, we can put Israel on a new path.”
    Netanyahu, who voted in Jerusalem, said: “Go vote.    It’s a proud day.”
    He said Israel had taken all precautions needed to control the spread of the coronavirus and added: “People can go and vote with complete confidence.”
    By 7 p.m. (1700 GMT), about 56 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, a figure nearly three percentage points higher than at this stage in the previous election in September.
    With no town-by-town breakdown in the figure given by the Central Elections Committee, it was unclear whether Netanyahu or Gantz were receiving any boost in their respective strongholds.
    Voters under home-quarantine, such as those who have recently traveled back to Israel from coronavirus hot spots, voted at special polling stations wearing face masks and gloves.
THE DEFENDANT
    Israel’s economy has weathered the political turmoil, with growth strong and the labor market tight.    But the longer the stalemate continues, the heavier the toll, including the lack of new money for health, education, welfare or infrastructure projects until an annual budget is approved by parliament.
    Netanyahu, 70, hopes a peace plan that U.S. President Donald Trump presented in January will help him win an unprecedented fifth term though the Palestinians have rejected it.
    Netanyahu says recognition of Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the occupied West Bank will enable him to annex them within weeks of the election.
    But his re-election bid has been complicated since the last election by his indictment on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud over allegations he granted state favors worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israeli media barons in return for gifts and favorable coverage.
    The trial is due to begin on March 17, when post-election coalition wheeling and dealing is likely to be in full swing.
    Gantz calls Netanyahu “the defendant” and has accused him of seeking to retain power to promote legislation that would bar authorities from putting a sitting prime minister on trial.
    Netanyahu has portrayed Gantz, 60, as a “coward,” saying he would need Arab politicians’ support in parliament to form a government and that they would tie his hands in any military action in the region.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by David Goodman, Robert Birsel, Timothy Heritage, William Maclean)

3/3/2020 Netanyahu ahead in Israeli election, but still lacking governing majority by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters following the announcement of exit polls in
Israel's election at his Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led on Tuesday in a tight election in Israel, but was still short of a governing majority in the third national ballot in less than a year, partial results showed.
    Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party, claimed victory in Monday’s vote over his main challenger, former armed forces chief Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White, after exit polls projected his party had come out on top.
    But with nearly three-quarters of the votes counted, Netanyahu appeared three seats short of a majority in Israel’s parliament, a gap signaling there may be deadlock yet again.
    A win for Netanyahu, 70, after inconclusive ballots in April and September, would be testimony to the political durability of Israel’s longest-serving leader, who fought the latest campaign under the shadow of a looming corruption trial.
    It would also pave the way for Netanyahu to make good on his pledge to annex, after the election, Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the region’s Jordan Valley, under a peace plan presented by U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Palestinians have rejected the proposal, saying it was killing their dream of establishing a viable state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    With about 72% of votes counted, Likud led Blue and White by 35 seats to 32.    Together with right-wing and religious parties, Netanyahu could build a 58-seat coalition, short of a majority in the 120-seat parliament.
    Unless things shift as the remaining votes are tallied, another round of complicated political negotiations awaits.
    In the previous election, in September, Blue and White edged past Likud, taking 33 seats to its rival’s 32, but Gantz, like Netanyahu, was unable to put together a ruling coalition.
    The mostly Arab Joint List party again emerged as the third-largest party, apparently growing to 17 seats from 13 in the last election.
    During an acrimonious campaign which focused more on character than on policy, right-wing and religious parties had pledged to join a Likud-led government.
    Netanyahu campaigned vigorously on his strongman “security-first” platform, familiar to Israeli voters over decades, and his loyal base of blue-collar voters has stood firmly behind him throughout, seemingly unfazed by his imminent trial.
    “What a joyous night,” a beaming Netanyahu told a cheering crowd in a speech at Likud’s election headquarters in Tel Aviv.    “This victory is especially sweet, because it is a victory against all odds … We turned lemons into lemonade.”
    Gantz, in an address at his party’s election headquarters, stopped short of conceding defeat, saying the election could result in another deadlock.
    “I will tell you honestly, I understand and share the feeling of disappointment and pain because it is not the result we wanted,” he said.
    A Likud spokesman said he expected Netanyahu would manage to gain a governing majority and establish a coalition government by getting lawmakers from the opposing camp to cross sides.    “There will be defectors,” Jonatan Urich told Channel 12 News.
CRIMINAL CHARGES
    Netanyahu’s re-election bid has been complicated by his indictment on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud over allegations he granted state favors worth millions of dollars to Israeli media barons in return for favorable press coverage, and that he wrongfully received gifts.
    The first trial of a sitting prime minister in Israel is due to begin on March 17. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
    During the campaign, Gantz termed Netanyahu “the defendant,” accusing him of seeking to retain power to promote legislation that would bar authorities from putting a serving prime minister on trial.
    Netanyahu has portrayed Gantz, 60, as a “coward,” saying he would need Arab politicians’ support in parliament to form a government and that they would tie his hands.
    “While we need to wait for the final results, there is no doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu has won a significant political mandate from the Israeli people,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute.
    “Israelis voiced their support for the man they perceive to have brought them security and prosperity,” he said.
    In the final days of the campaign, opinion polls had forecast further deadlock, but turnout was high, at 71 percent, despite concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.
    Voters under home-quarantine, such as those who have recently traveled back to Israel from coronavirus hot spots, voted at special polling stations wearing face masks and gloves.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell, Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Howard Goller, Kenneth Maxwell and Catherine Evans)

3/3/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu projected to win - Polls: Prime minister is just short of coalition by Michele Chabin and Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
    JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party won the most votes Monday in the country’s third election in 12 months, according to exit polls, although it was not clear if it will be enough to break the nation’s political deadlock.
    The exit polls on Israel’s main TV channels gave Netanyahu a narrow lead, just one seat short of being able to form a government if he enters into an alliance with religious and nationalist parties.    Netanyahu needs 61 seats out of 120 to form a government.
    Full results are due as early as Tuesday.
    Coalition governments are a mainstay of Israeli politics.
    Former commando Netanyahu hopes to secure a record fourth consecutive term in office, and fifth overall, with support from nationalist, right-wing parties.
    Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival after being charged in November with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three separate cases.    He denied any wrongdoing and called the prosecution a “witch hunt.”
    Netanyahu’s trial will take place March 17.
    Netanyahu tweeted the word “Thanks,” along with a heart emoji.
    His main challenger, Benny Gantz from the centrist Blue and White Party, is a retired military chief who said Netanyahu is unfit for office because of the charges.
    “I hope that today marks the start of a healing process, where we can begin living together again,” Gantz said after voting Monday in his hometown of Rosh Ha’ayin in central Israel.    He warned voters not to “get drawn in by the lies or by the violence” after an acrimonious campaign.
    Exit polls gave Gantz 52 to 54 seats.
    After the official results come in, attention will shift to President Reuven Rivlin who is responsible for choosing a candidate for prime minister.    He is supposed to select the leader who has the best chance of putting together a coalition.
    The honor usually goes to the head of the largest party, but equally important is the number of lawmakers other than a party’s leader who recommend him or her to the president. Rivlin’s selection will have up to six weeks to form a coalition.    If that fails, another candidate will have 28 days to form an alternative coalition.
    If that effort fails, new elections would be held.
    “This is usually a holiday, but to be honest, I have no festivity in me, just a sense of deep shame before you, the citizens of Israel,” Rivlin said as he cast his ballot Monday.    “We don’t deserve this.    We don’t deserve another horrible and filthy campaign like the one that ends today, and we don’t deserve this endless instability.    We deserve a government that will work for us.”
    Turnout was projected to be the highest since 1999 – more than 65.5% of registered voters cast ballots, according to Israel’s Central Elections Committee.
    Before the first two votes in April and September last year, Netanyahu’s leadership credentials were buoyed by President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel actions that include moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as part of their future capital; recognizing the Golan Heights as belonging to Israel instead of Syria, in defiance of international law; and pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that Israel, Iran’s sworn enemy, opposed.
    In January, the Trump administration released its plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.    The plan, which Palestinians rejected even before its release because of its perceived pro-Israel slant, calls for Israel to be able to annex Israeli settlements built on West Bank land claimed by Palestinians.
    There was a new complication for Monday’s vote.
    Election authorities created several polling stations for the more than 5,000 eligible voters under quarantine for the coronavirus.    Hundreds of voters arrived at the stations wearing face masks and gloves.    Election officials sat behind a clear plastic curtain.
    “The corona thing is completely under control.    Today, we’ve taken all the precautions that are necessary.    People can go and vote with complete confidence,” Netanyahu said. Some tried to lighten the national mood.
    Eretz Nehederet, the Israeli equivalent of “Saturday Night Live,” urged Israelis to send selfies of themselves voting to the television show, to be included in an Instagram roundup.    Families took advantage of the rare nonreligious legal holiday to vote, then shop.
    Estie Palmer, who was leaving a Jerusalem polling station with her husband and two toddlers, said she voted for the centrist Blue and White Party “because I don’t want the government to pander to the ultra-Orthodox parties.”    Netanyahu’s Likud Party has relied on the ultra-Orthodox parties to form governments.
    Palmer hopes the next government will negotiate with the Palestinians.
    “Peace would be nice, though I don’t know what that means practically,” she said.
    Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University, predicted Netanyahu’s trial will be “very, very slow” and if he returns as prime minister, he will seek to introduce a law that would exempt him from being tried while in office.
    Nimrod Novik, an expert on Israeli political affairs at the Israel Policy Forum, a New York-based American Jewish organization, said that if the final election results match the exit polls, and Netanyahu wins, he will seek to annex the West Bank.
    He added that extending sovereignty over the West Bank would present Israelis with an untenable dilemma.    “If we grant the Palestinians equal rights we risk losing our identity as a Jewish state.    If we don’t grant them equal rights, we lose our democracy,” he said.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews vote in Israel on Monday. AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

3/3/2020 Exclusive: EU fumes at Turk migration ‘blackmail’, mulls more money for Ankara by Gabriela Baczynska and John Chalmers
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a welcoming ceremony in Kiev, Ukraine, February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union ambassadors voiced outrage at a meeting this week over what they see as an attempt by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to “blackmail” the bloc by allowing migrants to mass at Greece’s border, diplomatic sources said.
    Some envoys conceded, however, that Erdogan has the EU in a bind because its member states cannot agree how to deal with refugees and – to avoid a replay of the 2015/16 migration crisis – believe the bloc will have to cough up more money for Turkey to go on keeping a lid on arrivals in Europe.
    “The EU is the target of a blackmail,” one diplomat told Monday’s closed-door meeting in Brussels, details of which were relayed to Reuters by multiple diplomatic sources.
    The EU has struggled to respond as thousands of migrants have arrived at Greece’s border from Turkey in recent days.    Its ties with Ankara are already strained over security and human rights, as well as Turkish hydrocarbon drilling off Cyprus.
    In 2015/16 the chaotic arrival of more than a million people from the Middle East stretched the bloc’s security and welfare systems and fueled political support for far-right groups.
    The EU sealed a deal with Turkey in March 2016 under which Ankara stopped people on its soil from heading to Europe.    In exchange, the bloc offered 6 billion euros in aid for the more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees Turkey is hosting.
    But Erdogan has long complained that the money is slow to come and channeled through aid groups, not Turkey’s budget.
    After Russian-backed     Syrian government forces killed Turkish soldiers in an air strike in Syria last week, Ankara signaled it would walk away from its pact with the EU altogether.
    “You sleep with the devil, you wake up in hell – there is where we are now,” one ambassador said during the meeting.
    Compounding the EU’s dilemma are internal divisions over how to distribute the burden of caring for refugees and migrants arriving in the 27-nation bloc.
    One senior EU diplomat said the EU had squandered the time since the 2016 deal, brushing the problem under the carpet by paying for refugees and migrants to be kept in Turkey.
    Representatives of the Netherlands, Italy, France and Germany were among those who proposed giving more funds to help refugees in Turkey in the hope of appeasing Erdogan.    At the same time, “as much as it is logical for the EU to continue supporting Syrian refugees in Turkey, it is important not to create the impression of giving in to blackmail,” one of the diplomats said, according to the sources.
    During a visit on Tuesday to a Turkish-Greek border crossing that thousands of migrants have been trying to breach, EU officials promised more cash to Greece to deal with the crisis.
OUTSOURCING MIGRATION CONTROLS
    Turkey’s regional foes Greece and Cyprus are particularly worried about mollifying Ankara and demand a tougher EU line.
    Several diplomats warned of a repeat of the 2015/16 chaos, which brought more eurosceptic and anti-immigration politicians to the forefront in Europe, saw EU countries slap border controls in what is normally the bloc’s zone of free travel, and sowed bitter divisions between member states, damaging EU unity.
    These feuds led the EU to eventually outsource migration management to Turkey, despite heavy criticism from rights groups that the scheme aggravates the suffering of already distressed people by leaving them in grim circumstances there.
    Of the 6 billion euros promised, the EU’s executive European Commission said on Tuesday that 2.2 billion had already been disbursed and the rest was assigned to specific projects, meaning they should reach beneficiaries soon.
    The EU has not yet discussed numbers for further funding and diplomats said any decision to step up financing could be deferred to the bloc’s leaders, due to meet in Brussels on March 26-27.
    In the meantime, the EU may step up humanitarian aid to Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib, one of the last places held by Turkish-backed rebels facing off against Damascus.
    It is also offering Ankara – a NATO ally of most EU members – words of support over the conflict in Syria and raising political pressure on Erdogan to honor the 2016 deal.
    “It is so dishonest of Erdogan.    We cannot let ourselves be blackmailed so any new money must not come too soon.    But we will probably have to pay eventually.    What else can we do?” a fourth diplomat told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/3/2020 Turkey, Russia face off in Syria as fighting escalates, plane shot down by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Suleiman Al-Khalidi
A still image taken from a video obtained by Reuters and shot on March 2, 2020, shows
Syrian army soldiers advancing on the town of Kfar Nabl, Syria. Reuters TV/via REUTERS
    REYHANLI, Turkey/AMMAN (Reuters) – Turkey shot down a Syrian government warplane on Tuesday over northwest Syria, where fighting has intensified in recent days, bringing Turkish and Russian forces close to direct conflict in the battle over the last swathe of Syria still held by rebels.
    It was the third Syrian warplane Turkey has shot down since Sunday in an escalating campaign against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.    NATO-member Turkey supports the rebels, while Assad relies on his superpower ally Russia.
    With more than a million refugees amassing since December on the Turkish border, the battle for Syria’s Idlib province has brought what the United Nations fears might be the worst humanitarian crisis of the nine-year-old Syrian civil war.
    “i>This relief operation has been overwhelmed.    There needs to be more of everything.    The first thing is money,” U.N. Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock told reporters at a trans-shipment point for supplies in southern Turkey.
    Fighting was raging north of the strategic crossroads town of Saraqeb, recaptured on Monday by Syrian troops, one of several times the town, which controls access to Idlib city and Aleppo, has changed hands in recent weeks.
    Syrian state media said the army was now combing the town and had dealt heavy blows to fighters still holed up in hideouts on its outskirts.    A state television correspondent said Turkey was firing artillery to halt the government advance.
    Rebels said the government was aided by thousands of Iranian-backed Lebanese and Iraqi militiamen brought from other areas to help storm the town after two days of failed attempts.
    A Syrian general who has defected to the opposition, Ahmad Rahhal, said a Russian announcement on Monday that it had deployed military police in Saraqeb was aimed at blocking Turkey from trying to help rebels reclaim the town.
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
    Turkey has sent thousands of troops and armored vehicles into northern Syria over the past month to fight back against Assad. Last week, a Syrian air strike killed at least 34 Turkish soldiers in the deadliest attack on the Turkish army in decades.
    Moscow, which has anti-aircraft missiles in Syria, has since warned Turkey that it cannot guarantee the safety of Turkish planes in Syrian skies.
    The Turkish Defence Ministry said on Tuesday that its forces had shot down a Syrian L-39 ground attack jet.    Syria’s state-run SANA news agency confirmed the plane had been shot down over Idlib province by missiles fired from Turkish warplanes.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are due to meet on Thursday to seek ways to avert conflict.    Asked about the prospect of direct clashes with Turkey, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “We hope that we’re able to absolutely minimize this risk thanks to the close contact between the two countries’ militaries.”
    Turkey, already home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot take any more.    It wants to push Assad’s forces back to lines agreed in a 2017 deal brokered with Russia and Iran, which left a buffer zone in northern Syria near its border.
    Since last week, Turkey has thrown open its frontiers with Greece and Bulgaria to allow migrants to enter the EU, a move apparently aimed at putting pressure on European countries to back it in Syria.
    Some 10,000 migrants have tried to cross into Greece by land in recent days and more than 1,000 have arrived by sea at Greek islands, creating fears of a repeat of the 2015-2016 migration crisis, when more than 1 million people crossed into Greece and 4,000 drowned in the Aegean.
    The opposition says Syrian government forces are deliberately attacking civilians to provoke them to flee.
    A rocket attack believed to have been fired by the Syrian army on a residential quarter of Idlib city left at least nine civilians dead, including five children, according to Osama Idlibi, a rescuer in the opposition-run Syrian Civil Defence.
    Overnight Russian and Syrian jets killed at least 10 people in the town of Al Foah in what residents said was a spike in strikes on several towns, including Binish and the outskirts of Tatanaz in Idlib province.
    Russia and its Syrian army ally deny indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and say they target jihadists.
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, in Turkey inspecting the relief efforts, announced $180 million in additional funding for the humanitarian crisis in Idlib.
    “Humanitarian aid is only a response but the solution is an immediate ceasefire,” Craft told reporters.    “This is not something that just happened.    This is planned by the Assad regime,” Craft said.    “It is cruel and brutal.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Reyhanli, Turkey and Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by William Maclean)

3/3/2020 Netanyahu leads in Israeli election, but still lacks majority by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters following the announcement of exit polls in
Israel's election at his Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led on Tuesday in Israel’s third national election in less than a year but was short of a governing majority, nearly complete results showed.
    Netanyahu claimed victory in Monday’s vote over his main challenger, former armed forces chief Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party, after exit polls projected the conservative leader’s Likud party had come out on top.
    “We turned lemons into lemonade,” he told a cheering crowd at Likud’s election headquarters as exit polls were released.
    But Gantz stopped short of conceding defeat, saying the election could result in another deadlock and he understood and shared his supporters’ “feeling of disappointment and pain.”
    With some 90% of votes counted, Likud said Netanyahu met leaders of religious-rightist parties and secured their renewed pledge to join him in a coalition.    That appeared to promise him 59 seats in parliament – two short of a ruling majority.
    Netanyahu and his prospective partners “would not bar from the government parties that recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” Likud said in a statement.
    That beckoned Gantz’s centrist Blue and White and ex-defense minister Avigdor Lieberman’s secularist-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu parties.    But Gantz has ruled out sitting with Netanyahu, and Lieberman has long feuded with the premier’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish partners over their constituents’ state benefits.
    A win for Netanyahu, 70, would be testament to the political durability of Israel’s longest-serving leader, who fought the latest campaign under the shadow of a looming corruption trial.
STATECRAFT, COALITIONS
    It would also pave the way for Netanyahu to make good on his pledge to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the region’s Jordan Valley, under a peace plan presented by U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Palestinians have rejected the proposal, saying it would kill their dream of establishing a viable state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    Likud led Blue and White by 36 seats to 32, and Lieberman’s party, with seven, could tip the balance in complicated coalition building.    A Likud spokesman said he expected Netanyahu to get lawmakers from the opposing camp to cross sides.
    Lieberman said he would convene his party on Thursday afternoon to choose who to back.
    “As we promised voters, we will do everything to prevent a fourth election and we intend to take decisive action, one way or another,” Lieberman told Israeli Channel 12 TV.
    In addition to chafing at partnership with the ultra-Orthodox, Lieberman has pledged not to partner with any Blue and White-led coalition dependent on the support of Arab parties.
    In the previous election, in September, Blue and White edged past Likud, taking 33 seats to its rival’s 32, but Gantz, like Netanyahu, was unable to put together a ruling coalition.
    The mostly Arab Joint List party again emerged as the third-largest, growing to 15 seats from 13 in the last election.
ACRIMONIOUS CAMPAIGN
    Israel’s economy has weathered the political stalemate, with growth strong and the labor market tight.    The main issue is that no budget has been approved since the 2019 one was passed two years ago.
    During an acrimonious race focused more on character than on policy, Netanyahu campaigned vigorously on his strongman “security-first” platform, familiar to voters over decades.
    His loyal, blue-collar base has stood firmly behind him throughout, seemingly unfazed by his imminent trial.
    During the campaign, Gantz ruled out teaming up with Likud in a “unity government” because of the criminal indictments against the prime minister, who has denied any wrongdoing.
    Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, breach of trust and fraud over allegations he granted state favors worth millions of dollars to Israeli media barons in return for favorable press coverage, and that he wrongfully received gifts.
    The first trial of a sitting prime minister in Israel is due to begin on March 17.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell, Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Howard Goller, Kenneth Maxwell, Catherine Evans and Philippa Fletcher)

3/3/2020 IMF deal would spark ‘popular revolution’ in Lebanon, Hezbollah believes
FILE PHOTO: Hezbollah member of the parliament Hassan Fadlallah talks in Beirut, Lebanon November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah believes that terms required by any IMF bailout package for Lebanon would spark “a popular revolution,” a senior official said on Tuesday, rejecting such a step and calling instead for a “national solution” to a deep economic crisis.
    Lebanon is in the throes of an unprecedented economic crisis, the result of long-entrenched corruption and bad governance that have landed the state with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
    Hezbollah, a heavily armed Shi’ite group which is backed by Iran and designated a terrorist organization by Washington, is one of the main backers of a new government that has sought technical but not financial aid from the International Monetary Fund.
    Long-standing financial backer France said last week it was looking at options to support Lebanon, including through an IMF program if Beirut sought one.
    Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah told Reuters the group was against the type of terms typically imposed by the IMF as part of a bailout such as taxes, privatization, reducing the size of the public sector and halting subsidies.
    “The position is not toward the Fund as an international financial institution but on the terms offered to Lebanon, because they will lead to a popular revolution,” he said.
    “Our position is against this type of program and not against the Fund as an organization.”
    Deputy Hezbollah leader Sheikh Naim Qassem last week said the group was against allowing the IMF to manage the financial crisis, describing the Fund as a U.S. tool to which Lebanon would not submit.
    Fadlallah said Lebanon needed a deeply-rooted reform plan that would “benefit from the experience of the IMF and others”.     France and other countries that have provided Lebanon with financial backing in the past say it must implement long-delayed economic reforms before any support is forthcoming this time.
    Based mainly on previous IMF recommendations, any program from the Fund is likely to require Lebanon to agree to measures ranging from increasing taxes to fighting corruption.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Tom Perry; editing by John Stonestreet)

3/3/2020 Israel’s Arab parties set for largest-ever showing in parliament by Rami Ayyub and Nuha Sharaf
FILE PHOTO: Buildings in the Palestinian village of Nazlat Isa near Tulkarm in the Israeli-occupied West Bank are seen behind
the Israeli barrier and from the Arab-Israeli village of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Israel February 1, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM/TAIBE, Israel (Reuters) – Israel’s Arab parties looked poised on Tuesday for their largest-ever representation in parliament, propelled by what analysts say is anger toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his U.S. allies.
    The Joint List coalition of Arab factions looked set to take 15 of parliament’s 120 seats with more than 90% of the vote counted, a two-seat boost for representatives of the 21% Arab minority.
    Arab voter turnout surged to 64.7%, its highest in 20 years, according to Arik Rudnitzky, a researcher with the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI).
    Politicians and analysts said the strong showing helped limit gains by Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and its partners, which appeared to fall just short of a governing majority after Monday’s vote.
    “The Netanyahu regime does not have 61 (seats) for one reason: the ascendance of the Joint List,” the coalition’s leader, Ayman Odeh, said in the Arab city of Shefaram to cheering supporters, who snapped selfies with politicians late into election night.
    But the Joint List is unlikely to translate its record showing into influence during coalition negotiations as no Arab party has ever sat in an Israeli government.
    The leader of main Likud rivals, the centrist Blue and White party, denied that a government led by it would rely on the Joint List after Likud tried to taint it during the campaign by associating it with Arab lawmakers.
GET OUT THE VOTE
    Many of Israel’s Arab citizens have protested against a proposal in U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan – dubbed “The Deal of the Century” – that would put a cluster of Israel’s Arab towns near the West Bank into a future Palestinian state.
    The Joint List played on Arab anger in those border communities at the prospect of being denied the benefits of Israeli citizenship to encourage people to vote.
    It also picked up support from Arab citizens who voted for non-Arab, left-wing Israeli parties in the country’s last election in September, according to Rudnitzky, the IDI researcher.
    In Taibe, a tree-lined Arab village that could be moved outside Israel under Trump’s plan, Ahmad Aweidah said he voted to push back against what he called “Netanyahu’s racism” and to reject the U.S. Mideast proposal.
    “The Deal of the Century stirred something up in the Arabs.    It got them to go vote to try to stop it,” the 27-year-old fishmonger said.
    Rinad Musleh Jbara, another Taibe resident, said she hoped the Joint List’s strong showing “will add to peoples’ awareness of the need to exercise their natural, democratic right to vote in elections for the Knesset.”
    Israel’s Arab minority – Palestinian by heritage, Israeli by citizenship – is mostly descended from the Palestinians who lived under Ottoman and then British colonial rule before staying in Israel after the country’s 1948 creation.
    Arab lawmakers often call for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories and complain their communities face discrimination in areas such as health, education and housing.
    Netanyahu’s party counters that its 15 billion shekel ($4.34 billion) investment plan for the Arab sector is the largest ever by an Israeli government.
(Rami Ayyub reported from Jerusalem and Nuha Sharaf from Taibe; editing by Stephen Farrell and Philippa Fletcher)

3/4/2020 Russia says rebel positions in Syria’s Idlib have merged with Turkish army posts
A still image taken from a video obtained by Reuters and shot on March 2, 2020, shows Syrian army soldiers
firing a weapon as they advance on the town of Kfar Nabl, Syria. Reuters TV/via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday that fortified rebel positions in Syria’s Idlib province had merged with Turkish observation posts, and that artillery attacks on nearby civilian areas and Russia’s air base in Syria had become daily.
    The allegations, made by Major-General Igor Konashenkov, are likely to increase tensions ahead of a planned meeting on Syria in Moscow on Thursday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan.
    Ties between Moscow and Ankara have come under severe strain in recent days since 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in Idlib, the deadliest attack on the Turkish army in nearly 30 years.
    Turkey has responded by stepping up its attacks on Syrian government forces, while Russian military police have helped to secure a strategic town that Syrian government forces recaptured from rebels they are trying to oust from Idlib.
    Moscow has long backed President Bashar al-Assad in his nine-year-old war against rebels.
    Konashenkov, in his statement, accused Turkey of failing to meet its obligations under agreements on Idlib with Moscow, and of helping anti-Assad rebel forces instead.
    He said Turkey had poured enough troops into Idlib to make up a mechanized division, said Konashenkov, violating international law.
    There was no immediate response from Turkey, which has traded blame with Moscow over the upsurge in violence in Idlib.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/4/2020 Russia reinforces Syria before Putin-Erdogan talks – flight and shipping data by Maria Tsvetkova and Yoruk Isik
FILE PHOTO: The Russian Navy's large landing ship Orsk sets sail in the Bosphorus, on its way to the
Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik/File Photo
    MOSCOW/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Russia is racing to reinforce its troops in Syria by sea and air before talks between the Russian and Turkish leaders in Moscow on Thursday, flight data and shipping movements show.
    The two presidents, Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan, agreed to meet after a surge in tensions between their countries over fighting in Syria’s Idlib province between Russian-backed Syrian government forces and rebels allied to Turkey.
    The fighting has raised the prospect of a direct clash between their armies, which operate in close proximity on opposing sides, and Erdogan hopes the talks will yield a ceasefire in Idlib.
    A Reuters analysis of flight data and correspondents’ monitoring of shipping in the Bosphorus Strait in northwestern Turkey show Russia began to step up naval and airborne deliveries to Syria on Feb. 28, the day after 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in Syria.
    That incident prompted concern in Moscow that Turkey might close the Bosphorus to Russian warships and bar Russian military transport planes from using Turkish air space.
    The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    A Turkish official, who asked not to be identified, said there was no plan to close the strait, which would force Russia to take longer routes to Syria.
    But Russia appears to be reinforcing Syria at its fastest rate since October, when U.S. forces withdrew from some parts of Syria and Moscow scrambled to fill the vacuum.
    Reuters’ monitoring of the Bosphorus since Feb. 28 shows Russia has sent five warships toward Syria within six days.    That exceeds a usual pattern of one or two warships ships per week.
    The Russian military announced the departure of the Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Makarov frigates for Syria, but three other warships have followed unannounced.
    One is the Orsk, a landing ship capable of carrying 20 tanks, 50 trucks or 45 armored personnel carries and up to 400 troops.    The others – the Novocherkassk and the Caesar Kunikov – are landing ships that can carry over 300 troops, tanks and armor.
    Turkey has responded by beefing up its escort protocol for Russian warships using the Bosphorus.    Three Turkish patrol boats and a helicopter escorted the Russian frigates – such ships are usually accompanied by a single coast guard vessel.
SHOW OF MUSCLES
    Since Feb. 28, at least five passenger and cargo planes operated by the Russian military have also flown to Syria, including three in a single day, the flight data showed.
    That followed a further 12 military planes in the previous 18 days and represents the most intense level of Russian military air activity with Syria since October.
    Publicly available tracking data gives only a snapshot of Russian military flights to Syria because not all such planes can be tracked.
    One person who has worked closely with Russian forces in Syria said Moscow’s reinforcement effort was meant to send Ankara a message and was “a show of muscles
    The same person said the swift build-up was an insurance policy in case the Putin-Erdogan meeting flopped and Ankara applied restrictions on the Bosphorus or in its airspace.
    Turkey shows sign s of having noticed Russia is also concentrating its forces near its main air base in Syria, Hmeymim, in Latakia province.
    “Russia is conducting a serious build-up near Hmeymim,” said a Turkish security official, who added that Moscow had also stepped up its logistical support for the Syrian army.
    “These are steps that may damage the positive atmosphere that could be found before tomorrow’s meeting,” said the official though hoping for “positive results.”
(Additional reporting by Rinat Sagdiev in Moscow and Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

3/4/2020 Greek, Turkish police fire tear gas as migrant border crisis deepens by Lefteris Papadimas and Bushra Shakhshir
Soldiers stand guard as tear gas is being fired near the Turkey's Pazarkule
border crossing, in Kastanies, Greece March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    KASTANIES, Greece/EDIRNE, Turkey (Reuters) – Greek and Turkish riot police deployed on their shared border fired tear gas on Wednesday as hundreds of migrants tried again to cross into Greece, amid an escalating war of words between Athens and Ankara about what was happening.
    Turkey accused Greek forces of shooting dead one migrant and wounding five others, a charge strongly denied by Greece, which said Turkish police were using tear gas to help the migrants illegally cross onto its territory.
    More than 10,000 migrants have been trying to breach the border since Turkey said last Thursday it would no longer abide by a 2016 deal with the European Union to halt illegal migration flows to Europe in return for billions of euros in aid.
    Plumes of smoke wafted above the Kastanies border crossing as Greek soldiers fired warning shots in the air.
    A Greek army truck with loud speakers told the migrants – mostly from Syria, other Middle Eastern nations and Afghanistan – in Arabic and other languages that the border was closed.
    Greece and the EU accuse Turkey of deliberately goading the migrants to cross the border as a way of pressuring Brussels into offering more money or supporting Ankara’s geopolitical aims in the Syrian conflict.
    Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and faces another influx from an upsurge in fighting in northwest Syria, says it cannot take in any more and complains that EU aid falls well short of what is needed for the refugees.
    EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, speaking in Ankara after talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, announced additional humanitarian aid worth 60 million euros for the most vulnerable people in northwest Syria.
    Borrell also described the current situation on the Turkey-Greece border as “unacceptable” and urged Ankara not to encourage more migrants to enter the EU illegally.
    Senior EU officials visited Kastanies on Tuesday and announced 700 million euros of new aid to Athens to help tackle the migrant crisis.
‘FAKE NEWS’
    Erdogan, long at odds with the EU over a range of issues including Cyprus and Turkey’s human rights record, told his ruling AK Party that Greece must respect migrants’ human rights.
    He repeated his claim that Greek forces were firing at defenseless migrants trying to enter Greece.
    Asked about the Turkish assertion that a migrant had been killed by Greek forces, Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said: “Turkey is disseminating fake news… I dismiss this categorically.”
    A Turkish doctor at Edirne hospital near the border, Mustafa Burak Sayhan, said the emergency ward had received five patients on Wednesday with various firearm wounds as well as the body of one man shot dead.
    Three of the patients who spoke to Reuters said Greek police had opened fire at them at the border.
    “We threw stones at them as they didn’t open the border.    Then they fired tear gas.    Because the tear gas was not effective, they got out rifles and shot us with the rifles,” said Adel Jaberi, a migrant from Iran.
    A Greek security official said the Turkish police were firing tear gas in an effort to push back Greek forces and help the migrants to pass.    A Turkish security official said they were trying to protect the migrants from Greek fire.
    EU leaders fear a repeat of the 2015-16 migrant crisis, when more than a million migrants trekked to western Europe via Turkey and the Balkans, straining European security and welfare services and boosting support for far-right parties.
    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, known for his tough anti-immigrant stance, said 130,000 migrants had crossed the Greek border from Turkey and that they must be stopped as far south as possible.    It was unclear how he arrived at that figure, which is much higher than any previously mentioned.
    Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of Bulgaria, which also shares a land border with Turkey, called after talks with EU officials in Sofia on Wednesday for renewed dialogue with Ankara on how to handle the migrants and shore up regional stability.
LESBOS
    An unknown number of migrants have also arrived on Lesbos and other Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast in the past week, though choppy seas discouraged sailings for a second consecutive day on Wednesday.
    A navy ship docked at Lesbos port will take in 508 migrants who have arrived since March 2, a Greek coastguard official said. He did not say where the ship would take them.
    Hussein, in a group of about 100 migrants which arrived in Lesbos four days ago and has been camping on the shore, said he left Afghanistan with his 17-year-old brother a month ago and crossed Iran and Turkey before reaching the island by dinghy.
    “Our future is going to be bright because I am an educated person so I don’t need much help.    I want to complete my education and then I will need a job,” he told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou in Lesbos, Michele Kambas, Foo Yun Chee and George Georgiopoulos in Athens, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul and Marton Dunai in Budapest; writing by Gareth Jones; editing by Mike Collett-White)

3/4/2020 Palestinians protest as Israeli bulldozers clear land by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi
Israeli machineries, guarded by Israeli forces, bulldoze lands near the Palestinian village
of Qusra, in the Israeli occupied West Bank, March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    QUSRA, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinians have launched protests in the occupied West Bank after Israeli bulldozers began clearing land in what villagers fear is an attempt to confiscate it for future Jewish settlements.
    Scuffles intensified this week as Israeli voters voted in an election, with Palestininans saying settlers had been emboldened by U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan and Israeli election rhetoric about annexing settlements.
    Villagers from nearby Qusra challenged troops guarding Israeli bulldozers as they worked in a field close to Migdalim settlement in the northern West Bank.
    In another nearby village, Beita, residents protested over several days, planting a Palestinian flag and erecting a tent on the hilltop of al-Arma to defend it against settlers from Itamar settlement, near the city of Nablus.    Some demonstrators hurled rocks at Israeli troops.
    “I came here because this is my land, and I want to die on my land but they are not letting me come near it,” said Joudat Odeh, from Qusra.
    “They are happy at the victory of Netanyahu,” said Odeh, 70.    “They are coming to control this land and we are helpless.”
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party leads the vote count after Monday’s election, but with 99% of votes counted on Wednesday he was still short of securing enough seats for a governing coalition.
    Victory would pave the way for Netanyahu to make good on his pledge to annex settlements in the West Bank under Trump’s peace plan.
    Palestinians have rejected the proposal, saying it would kill their dream of establishing a viable state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    More than 400,000 Israeli settlers now live among about 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, with a further 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem.    Palestinians and much of the world view the settlements as illegal under international law, a position Israel and the United States dispute.
    An Israeli military statement said that on March 1 Israelis were carrying out “agricultural work” near Migdalim when around 30 Palestinians “came to the area, hurled rocks and came into physical confrontation with the Israelis. Military forces came to the area and dispersed the crowd.”
    Soon afterwards, the statement said, 120 Palestinians gathered nearby in what it termed a “riot.”    It said its troops were confronted with burning tyres and “large amounts of rocks” and “responded with riot dispersal means.”
    Qusra protesters said Israel had stopped Palestinians using or farming the lands in question since the 1990s, and now they feared settlers would seize them for their own use.
    “I am afraid that in a few days Netanyahu may come to lay the cornerstone of a new settlement,” said Mohammad Shokri, 80, from Qusra.
    “He gave them a promise he would increase settlement.    They want to take over all the mountains and to leave nothing for the Arabs
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Timothy Heritage)

3/4/2020 EU finds money to contain immigration, but at odds over Turkey by Gabriela Baczynska
European Commission Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas attends a press
conference for immediate measures to support Greece, in Brussels, Belgium March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union countries offered more money on Wednesday to Greece for border policing and for humanitarian aid to Syria’s Idlib in an effort to avert a mass influx of migrants, but were at odds over what to do about Turkey.
    EU interior ministers meet in Brussels on Wednesday for emergency talks, to be followed by foreign ministers on Thursday and Friday, as some 25,000 refugees and migrants gather on the Greek border, seeking to cross into Europe.
    That came after Turkey – citing the latest fighting in Syria – backed away from a 2016 deal with the EU to keep refugees and migrants away from Europe.
    “Turkey is not an enemy, but people are not weapons either,” the EU’s top migration official, Margaritis Schinas, said in explaining that 700 million euros’ worth of extra funding for Greece would fortify the EU’s external border there.
    Greek riot police used water cannon and tear gas on Wednesday against migrants at the border, while a top EU official met Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to sound out his demands in exchange for Ankara’s reverting to keeping refugees in Turkey.
    The EU was also preparing to offer 60 million euros in new humanitarian aid to Idlib, diplomats said.    The city has been the latest flashpoint in the nine-year-old war in Syria, where Russia-backed Syrian forces are fighting rebels supported by Turkey.
    Humanitarian efforts to support nearly 1 million people who fled the fighting have been overwhelmed, Mark Lowcock, the U.N. aid chief, has said.
TURKEY
    EU member states are at odds over Turkey, however.    Greece and Cyprus are demanding a tough line, focusing on border tensions and condemning what the bloc sees as Erdogan’s migration “blackmail.”
    Others are willing to offer further aid to support the more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees stranded in Turkey, on top of the 6 billion euros already granted in 2016.
    The EU is desperate to avoid any repeat of 2015 and 2016, when more than a million refugees arrived on its soil, overwhelming security and welfare systems and fuelling support for euro-sceptic and nationalist groups across the bloc.
    But EU’s ties with Turkey, a NATO ally, are strained over human rights and security issues, as well as Ankara’s hydrocabons drilling in east Mediterranean.
    At the same time, EU countries have been at loggerheads since 2015 over how to share out migrants arriving in the bloc, leaving themselves at the mercy of Turkey.
    Human rights groups decried Athens’ hard-nosed action on the border and its decision to suspend accepting asylum claims, but the EU expressed solidarity with Greece.
    “The right to asylum does not mean that Erdogan can send how many migrants he wants into the European Union,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told journalists on Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by John Chalmers and Francesco Guarascio; writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by William Maclean, Larry Kiing)

3/4/2020 OPEC struggles to win Russian backing for big oil cut amid coronavirus by Rania El Gamal, Alex Lawler and Olesya Astakhova
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) sits outside its headquarters
ahead of the OPEC and NON-OPEC meeting, Austria December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members struggled on Wednesday to win support from Russia to join them in additional oil output cuts in a bid to prop up prices which have tumbled by a fifth this year because of the coronavirus outbreak.
    A panel of several ministers from OPEC, Russia and other producers failed to clinch a preliminary agreement for additional cuts, OPEC sources said.
    At the panel meeting in Vienna, the sources said Russia proposed keeping existing cuts by the group known as OPEC+ until the end of the second quarter.
    Saudi Arabia wants extra cuts of 1 million to 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) for the second quarter while keeping existing cuts of 2.1 million bpd in place until the end of 2020.
    Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, who had held talks with his Saudi counterpart Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman earlier on Wednesday, left the meeting of the panel, known as the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, after three hours of talks.
    Sources said Novak went to Moscow for more consultations and would return for the full OPEC+ meeting on Friday, while OPEC will hold its full ministerial meeting on Thursday.
    “OPEC hopes for a cut bigger than 1 million but the challenge is still Russia,” one OPEC source said. When asked whether Wednesday’s panel made a recommendation, the Saudi minister responded to reporters: “I want to keep you in suspense.”
    The Russian minister made no public statement before heading back to Moscow.
    The talks in Vienna were following a familiar pattern to previous meetings.    In the past, Moscow had initially been hesitant before ultimately agreeing to joint cuts with OPEC.
BURDEN OF CUTS
    Benchmark Brent oil prices , which had been up 2% earlier on Wednesday, were trading down 1% near $51 a barrel later in the day on news Russia was still resisting new steps.
    At those levels, oil prices are too low for many OPEC states to balance their budgets, although Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the level was acceptable for Moscow.
    Moscow has said it is worried by the rise of shale oil in the United States, which is not part of OPEC. U.S. producers have boosted output at the expense of the group.
    Sources had told Reuters earlier this month that OPEC could agree deeper cuts even without Russia.
    But two OPEC sources said Riyadh did not want to carry most of the burden of cuts alone and was pressing Moscow to join in with a proper contribution.
    “Cuts will need to at least be towards the top end of the range, as we see further downward revisions in demand growth as Covid-19 spreads,” Warren Patterson from ING said in a note.
    Existing cuts have not been enough to counter the impact of the coronavirus on China, the world’s biggest oil importer, and on the global economy.    Factories have been disrupted, fewer people are traveling and other business has slowed, driving down oil demand.
    “Whatever action OPEC ultimately takes seems unlikely to produce the desired effect of rebalancing the market and substantially raising prices.    Rather, the strategy today may be one of attempting to stem further bloodletting and hope demand recovery can be achieved later in the year,” analysts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report.
(Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla and Ahmad Ghaddar; Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Edmund Blair)

3/4/2020 Netanyahu election lead shrinks, raising prospect of another Israel vote
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks to supporters following the announcement of
exit polls in Israel's election at his Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel appeared headed into another political stalemate on Wednesday after nearly-complete results indicated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had failed to secure a clear majority for a right-wing bloc in parliament, despite his claim of victory.
    With 99% of votes counted, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party was seen taking 35 of parliament’s 120 seats, down from 36 initially projected after Monday’s election. His centrist challenger, Benny Gantz, was seen holding steady at 32 seats for his Blue and White party.
    Israeli premiers generally need a coalition commanding 61 seats for their governments to survive.    Wednesday’s tally suggested that, with like-minded parties, a Netanyahu coalition could now expect to garner only 58.
    The four-term leader has been hamstrung by corruption cases in which he denies wrongdoing.    Gantz has cited Netanyahu’s unprecedented indictment in refusing to join him in a coalition.
    Yet Gantz, a former general who leads the centrist Blue and White party, seemed no closer to clinching a coalition, given ideological differences in a camp of Netanyahu-naysayers which includes ultranationalist ex-defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and Arab-Israeli parties.
    That could spell further deadlock and another snap election to follow Monday’s vote, which was Israel’s third in a year.
    Netanyahu had claimed victory on Tuesday.    Some Israeli commentators ridiculed that, on Wednesday, as “fake news
    “Most of Israel’s citizens said unequivocally: Just not Bibi,” tweeted Attila Somfalvi, anchor for Ynet TV, using Netanyahu’s nickname.    “That raises the danger that Netanyahu will again try to drag the countries to elections.”
    Netanyahu has faced calls, including from within Likud, to step aside so he can defend himself in a corruption trial that begins on March 17.    He refuses, and is under no legal obligation to go.
    Israeli media said Blue and White might table legislation that would bar a prime minister under indictment from forming the next government.    Asked about the reports, a Blue and White spokeswoman said: “All options are currently on the table.”
    The Joint List, a party representing Israel’s 21% Arab minority and which surged in Monday’s election with a projected 15 seats, said it was cooperating with Blue and White – an apparent confirmation that the disqualification initiative was under way.
    Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, one of Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition partners, described the reported initiative as “a radical, anti-democratic move.”
    “The right absolutely opposes this move and we will fight it with all our might,” Bennett said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Dan Williams and Rami Ayyub, Editing by William Maclean)

3/5/2020 Greece blocks 35,000 migrants, plans to deport arrivals after March 1 by Lefteris Papadimas and Bulent Usta
FILE PHOTO: Migrants from Afghanistan who arrived the previous days, wait to be transferred to the port of Mytilene
from the village of Skala Sikamias, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    KASTANIES, Greece/EDIRNE, Turkey (Reuters) – Greece has repulsed nearly 35,000 migrants trying to cross onto its territory illegally since Turkey opened its border nearly a week ago, government sources said on Thursday, as it prepares to deport hundreds of others who made it through.
    Thousands of migrants have made for Greece since Ankara said on Feb. 28 that it would let migrants cross its borders into Europe, reneging on a commitment to hold them on its territory under a 2016 deal with the European Union.
    Ankara has accused Greek forces of shooting dead four migrants. a charge rejected by Athens, which says Turkish forces are helping the migrants to cross the border. Both sides used tear gas at the Kastanies border post on Wednesday.
    Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, visited Edirne province bordering Greece on Thursday and announced the deployment of 1,000 special police to the area to halt the pushback of migrants toward its territory.
    Soylu, who said on Wednesday that Turkey was preparing a case at the European Court of Human Rights over Greece’s treatment of migrants, accused Greek forces of wounding 164 people and pushing back nearly 5,000 into Turkey.
    The situation at the Kastanies border crossing was calm on Thursday.    Migrants – many of whom are from Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Syria and other Arab nations – huddled in tents and makeshift camps on the Turkish side of the border.
    Greek border guards rebuffed nearly 7,000 attempts in the last 24 hours alone, taking the total since Feb. 29 to 34,778 and the number of arrests of those who got through to 244, the Greek government sources said.
    Migrants who arrived in Greece illegally after March 1 will be transferred to the northern city of Serres and deported back to their own countries, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said late on Wednesday.
    “Our aim is to return them to their countries,” he told the Athens News Agency.
CRITICISM
    Mitarachi also said migrants who entered Greece prior to Jan. 1, 2019 and are living on its Aegean islands would be transferred to the mainland in the coming days.
    Athens announced on March 1 that it would not accept any new asylum applications for a month following the build-up of migrants at the border.    This has triggered criticism from human rights agencies.
    The Aegean Sea remained choppy on Thursday and there were no further sightings of dinghies carrying migrants to Lesbos and other Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast.
    Lesbos already hosts more than 20,000 asylum seekers, many of them living in filthy conditions in overcrowded camps Greece and the EU accuse Turkey of deliberately goading the migrants to cross the border as a way of pressuring Brussels into offering more money or supporting Ankara’s geopolitical aims in the Syrian conflict.
    Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and faces another influx from an upsurge in fighting in northwest Syria, says it cannot take in anymore and complains that EU aid falls well short of what is needed for the refugees.
    President Tayyip Erdogan discussed the migrant issue with senior EU officials in Ankara on Wednesday but his spokesman said the Europeans had made “no concrete proposition” on how to resolve the crisis.
    Ankara’s change in policy toward the migrants on its soil came after at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed by Russian-backed Syrian government forces in an air strike in Syria.
    Erdogan flew to Moscow on Thursday for talks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin over a potential ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib, where their militaries are facing off in a war that has displaced nearly a million people in three months.
(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas in Kastanies and Angeliki Koutantou in Lesbos; writing by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/5/2020 Palestinian Authority bars foreign tourists from West Bank over coronavirus
A tourist wearing a mask as a preventive measure against the coronavirus visits the Church of the Nativity
in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) – The Palestinian Authority on Thursday ordered hotels in the West Bank to stop receiving foreign tourists after four suspected cases of the coronavirus were found in the town of Bethlehem.
    The two-week restriction, announced by the Palestinian Tourism Ministry, goes into effect on Friday.
    Palestinian health officials said they were examining whether four hotel workers in Bethlehem had contracted the disease from tourists who stayed there.
    Police surrounded the hotel, as authorities awaited the results of laboratory tests.    Many tourists at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity on Thursday wore masks as they visited the traditional birthplace of Jesus.     The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank under interim peace accords.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Cawthorne)

3/5/2020 U.S. divided over support for Turkey in Syria, Jeffrey says by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: James Jeffrey, U.S. Special Representative for Syria, addresses the media after a meeting with senior officials from seven Arab
and Western countries along with United Nations Special Envoy Geir Pedersen in Geneva, Switzerland October 25, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – There is no unanimity in Washington over support for Turkey in Syria’s Idlib because of Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 defense systems, U.S. envoy James Jeffrey said on Thursday.
    Fighting in Idlib has intensified in recent weeks as Russia-backed Syrian government forces mounted an offensive to retake the last rebel-held bastion in the country, displacing nearly a million people.
    Turkey, which backs rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has launched a counter-offensive and asked its NATO allies for support, including a request to the United States to use U.S. Patriot missile defense systems.
    However, Washington and Ankara have been at odds over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian missile systems, which Washington says are not compatible with NATO defenses and may compromise its F-35 stealth fighter jets.
    Speaking in Istanbul, Jeffrey repeated that Washington had already offered humanitarian assistance and information sharing with Turkey, but added that U.S. officials were divided over any further support.
    “There is not unanimity of views in Washington on what to do and how fast to do it.    This is still being reviewed,” U.S. Syria envoy Jeffrey told a panel on Idlib in Istanbul, describing the S-400 issue as “a very serious concern for the U.S. Congress and for our defense establishment.”
    Jeffrey said Turkey and the United States were looking for ways to work around the S-400 issue, reiterating that the United States was pressing its NATO and European allies for significant contributions to efforts in Idlib.
    U.S. Ambassador to Ankara David Satterfield said on Tuesday that the United States had received Turkey’s request for the use of Patriot systems and that Washington was evaluating it within the context of the S-400s.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Moscow on Thursday for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on developments in Idlib.    Ankara has said it is hoping to reach an agreement on a ceasefire in the region.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

3/5/2020 UK’s Raab hopeful for Yemen war de-escalation this year by Stephen Kalin
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz shakes hands with Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Dominic Raab,
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 5, 2020. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, criticized by some at home for British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, said on Thursday he was hopeful for a de-escalation this year in Yemen’s five-year-old civil war, in which London backs the Saudi-led coalition.
    The United Nations has been trying to re-launch political negotiations and Saudi Arabia began informal talks with the Iran-backed Houthi movement last September.    Riyadh had significantly reduced its air strikes while the Houthis halted missile and drone attacks on the kingdom, but a spike in violence since January shattered the calm.
    Asked about the chances of getting back on track, Raab said: “I certainly hope so.    I think that should be the aim and I think with political will galvanized on all sides, 2020 could be a year of change for Yemen.”
    He spoke to Reuters in the Saudi capital Riyadh after meeting Yemen’s president at the end of a Middle East tour that also included Turkey and Oman.
    In meetings with the Saudi king, foreign minister and deputy defense minister, Raab also discussed trade, Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the G20 and Britain’s hosting of the COP26 climate summit.
    He said he had raised human rights issues, including the detention of women’s rights activists and the 2018 killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
    The killing by Saudi agents has strained Saudi Arabia’s ties with the West and battered the image abroad of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom some Western governments believe ordered the hit.    Prince Mohammed has denied that but said he ultimately bears responsibility for the killing.
    Britain has said Saudi Arabia needed to hold to account those responsible for the murder and take action to build confidence that such an event would not recur.
    In December, a Saudi court sentenced five people to death and three to jail over the murder, but a U.N. investigator accused Riyadh of making a “mockery” of justice by exonerating senior figures who may have ordered the killing.
    “We had exactly the reassurances you described – this will never happen and never be repeated again,” Raab said.
    “And the sense that I get is of genuine will to improve the position in Saudi Arabia and of course to free us up to talk about all the positives in the relationship that we have.”
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; editing by Nick Macfie)

3/5/2020 Palestinians declare state of emergency over coronavirus: prime minister
A worker wearing a protective suit arrives to disinfect the Church of the Nativity as a preventive measure against
the coronavirus, in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a 30-day state of emergency on Thursday after coronavirus cases were reported in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
    The decree was announced by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh hours after officials closed Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplaces of Jesus, and banned foreign tourists from West Bank hotels.
    “We have decided to declare a state of emergency in all Palestinian areas to confront the danger of the coronavirus and prevent it from spreading,” Shtayyeh said, reading from the decree.
    Shtayyeh said Abbas had given him full authority to oversee implementation, and that he had accordingly decided to close all schools, colleges and kindergartens and to cancel foreign tourist reservations.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Writing by Stephen Farrell)

3/6/2020 Uneasy calm in Syria’s Idlib as Russia-Turkey ceasefire takes effect by Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Jonathan Spicer
Syrian army soldiers gesture in southern Idlib province, Syria in this
handout released by SANA on March 5, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    AMMAN/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Syria’s war-battered Idlib region was quiet but tense on Friday as a ceasefire deal between Moscow and Ankara took effect, with residents and opposition forces describing a lull in air raids that have pounded the last rebel-held enclave in Syria.
    Russia and Turkey made the agreement on Thursday evening, after six hours of talks in Moscow, to contain a conflict that has displaced nearly a million people in three months in northwest Syria.
    Russia and NATO-member Turkey back opposing sides in Syria’s nine-year-old war.    Moscow supports President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey backs some rebel groups, and the two sides had been edging closer to direct confrontation in recent weeks.
    Several previous deals to end the fighting in Idlib have collapsed.    Analysts and residents said they feared the latest ceasefire would also fizzle out as it did not address the humanitarian crisis or air protection in any detail.
    “This deal isn’t designed to last, rather it is designed to fail – and I am afraid in the not too distant future,” said Galip Dalay, IPC-Mercator fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
    “Any ceasefire arrangement in Idlib, unless it has a no-fly zone dimension, is bound to fail.    Deals in the past never de-escalated.    They merely froze the crisis until the next escalation.”
    Arriving for a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Zagreb, Dutch minister Stef Blok said the ceasefire deal should be cemented with a no-fly zone to stop any further bombing of hospitals.
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
    The latest offensive in Idlib by Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air strikes, sparked what the United Nations says may be the worst humanitarian crisis yet in a war that has driven millions from their homes and killed hundreds of thousands.
    Russia had repeatedly played down any talk of a refugee crisis and accused Turkey of violating international law by pouring troops and equipment into Idlib since early last month.    About 60 Turkish troops have been killed in that time.
    Turkey, which has the second largest army in the transatlantic NATO alliance, has tried to resist the Syrian government advance and prevent a wave of refugees over its southern border.    It already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
    The ceasefire deal establishes a security corridor on each side of Idlib’s key east-west M4 highway, along which joint Russian-Turkish patrols will begin on March 15.    The corridor stretches 6 km (3.7 miles) to the north and 6 km to the south of the M4 – effectively advancing Russia’s presence further north into Idlib.    Details of its operation are due to be agreed in the next week.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin, standing next to his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan, said on Thursday he hoped the deal “will serve as a good basis for a cessation of military activity in the Idlib de-escalation zone.”
    Erdogan said the sides would work together to supply aid to Syrians in need, but that Turkey retained the right to “respond to all (Syrian) regime attacks in the field.”
    Residents and fighters in the region said the main front lines – which have seen heavy air strikes by Russian and Syrian jets, and intense Turkish artillery and drone strikes on Assad’s forces – were quiet hours after the ceasefire came into effect at midnight.
VERY TENSE CALM
    There was only sporadic fire from machine guns, mortars and artillery by Syrian government forces and Iranian militias on some front lines in the south of Idlib and also in the adjacent Aleppo province, they said.
    “In the first hours, we are witnessing a very tense calm from all warring parties,” said Ibrahim al-Idlibi, an opposition figure in touch with rebel groups on the ground.
    “Everyone is aware that violations by any side would be met with a response.    But this a very fragile truce.”
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported that the first eight hours of the ceasefire had passed with “relative calm,” and the skies had been free of Syrian government and Russian warplanes.
    As the ceasefire was being negotiated on Thursday, Turkey staged an attack with a combat drone against Assad’s forces and “neutralised” 21 Syrian government soldiers, a term commonly used to mean killed, the Turkish Defence Ministry said.    Earlier, two Turkish troops were killed by the Syrian side.
    Syrian state media did not report the latest ceasefire deal.    In particular, it did not address a Turkish demand that Syrian forces withdraw to the edge of a buffer zone agreed in Sochi in 2018.
    It also did not detail a “safe zone” or describe how displaced people could return to the homes they have fled to escape the Russian-backed offensive.
    “No one has mentioned a safe zone or areas of withdrawal. There is no pullout, and where will the displaced go (who) would never accept going to (Assad) regime areas?    What we have heard is not comforting,” said Ahmad Rahhal, a former general in the Syrian government forces who defected to the opposition.
    U.N. Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped the deal would lead to “an immediate and lasting cessation of hostilities that ensures the protection of civilians in northwest Syria, who have already endured enormous suffering,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul, Samar Hassan in Cairo and Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/6/2020 Abu Dhabi crown prince talks coronavirus cooperation with Bill Gates
FILE PHOTO: Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan attends the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in
Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 30, 2019. Picture taken May 30, 2019. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The crown prince of the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi tweeted on Friday that he had discussed cooperation in fighting the new coronavirus with U.S. billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.
    Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates federation, which has reported at least 27 coronavirus cases.
    “My good friend @BillGates and I discussed over a call the importance of enhancing cooperation between multilateral institutions and private entities in the global fight against all diseases and COVID19 in particular,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the de-facto ruler of the UAE, tweeted.    “We have been and will remain strong partners in this effort.”
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/6/2020 Saudi Arabia reopens Mecca, Medina holy sites after coronavirus closure: state TV
The Kaaba is seen in the Grand Mosque which is almost empty of worshippers after officials closed it temporarily
to be sanitised following the outbreak of the coronavirus, in the holy city of Mecca,
Saudia Arabia in this still image from a video taken March 5, 2020. Video taken March 5, 2020. VIDEO OBTAINED BY REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia reopened two of the most holy religious sites in Islam, Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca and Al-Masjid al Nabawy in Medina, after they were closed for sterilization to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, state TV Al-Ekhbariya reported on Friday.
    Saudi Arabia closed the sites to foreign pilgrims and traditional tourists from some 25 countries to stop the spread of the virus.    It also said that citizens and residents of Gulf Cooperation Council countries wishing to enter must wait 14 days after returning from outside the region.
    Saudi Arabia has reported five cases of the coronavirus.
    It was not clear from the Al-Ekhbariya report if pilgrims would be allowed to return to the sites.
(This story corrects typographical error in headline.)
(Reporting by Samar Hassan; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

3/6/2020 Ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib comes at a cost for Turkey’s Erdogan by Tuvan Gumrukcu
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President
Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Days before he flew to Moscow to strike a ceasefire deal with Russia to halt fighting in Syria’s Idlib, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan warned Syrian government forces to pull back or they would not have a “head left on their shoulders.”
    After six hours of talks with Vladimir Putin, a somber Erdogan announced an accord which cements territorial gains by Russian-backed Syrian forces over Turkish-backed rebels.
    Returning from Russia, Erdogan said his deal with Putin will lay the ground for stability in Idlib and protect civilians who could otherwise become refugees in Turkey, after months of fighting that has displaced nearly a million people.
    “The ceasefire brings about important gains,” he said.
    The agreement, if it holds, does stem the advances of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, easing Ankara’s greatest fear – an influx of Syrians fleeing bombardment in Idlib and clamoring to cross its border and join 3.6 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey.
    But by freezing the front lines, and agreeing joint Russian-Turkish patrols on a major east-west highway running through Idlib, the deal consolidates Assad’s recent battlefield victories and allows Russia to deploy deeper into Idlib than before.The Syrian army was stopped, but not repelled. That is perhaps Turkey’s biggest loss,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli of the German Marshall Fund.
    Assad’s progress in weeks of fierce combat includes taking full control of the other main highway running through Idlib, the north-south road linking the capital Damascus to Aleppo and other important Syrian cities.
    In Moscow, Thursday’s deal was widely seen as a triumph for Putin and Assad at Erdogan’s expense.
    “The agreement is unexpectedly more favorable to Russia and Damascus…,” said former pro-Putin lawmaker Sergei Markov.    “Russia is winning on the battlefield and that’s why it’s winning on the diplomatic front.”
BRIEF RESPITE?
    The region around Idlib and parts of neighboring provinces formed one of four rebel-held areas which Russia, Iran and Turkey designated “de-escalation zones” three years ago in an effort to stem the bloodshed.
    The agreements were short-lived, however.    Since then, Syrian forces and their Russian and Iranian allies have retaken the other three “de-escalation zones” from the rebels and Assad has vowed to regain all of Idlib too.
    The latest accord risks being as short-lived as other ceasefire deals in Syria, analysts in Turkey and Russia said.
    “The agreement between Turkey and Russia is not a final one, it’s a temporary ceasefire,” Unluhisarcikli said.    “Clashes may start again in the coming days.”
    Fifteen people were killed in fighting between jihadist insurgents and Syrian government forces in southern Idlib just hours after the ceasefire came into effect, a war monitor said, but elsewhere in the province residents said violence subsided.
    Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and a former Turkish diplomat, said Erdogan had to make concessions to Putin because the alternative – a return to military conflict – would be “a lose-lose scenario for Turkey.”
    Russia’s air control over Idlib, although challenged by Ankara when it carried out waves of drone assaults on Syrian forces and shot down three Syrian warplanes, would have left Turkish troops exposed to lethal firepower.
    At least 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in Idlib last week, the deadliest attack suffered by the Turkish military in nearly three decades.
    “Turkey sat at the negotiating table with this military vulnerability,” Ulgen told Reuters.    “Achieving a ceasefire was important from that aspect, but this ceasefire had a cost.”
    Turkey’s other vulnerability in Idlib are the dozen military observation posts originally set up to monitor the 2017 “de-escalation” agreements.    Most of those were surrounded by Syrian troops in recent months, and remain isolated from some 20,000 troops Erdogan has deployed into Idlib in the last month.
    Thursday’s brief, three-point declaration did not spell out the fate or future role of the observation posts, but Erdogan said they were important and would remain.    “All of these will retain their current status.    There is no change at the moment.”
    It was not clear, however, what role those posts could play, deep inside areas controlled by Assad’s forces.    “With this agreement, that region was given to the (Assad) regime, so those observation posts have no meaning,” Ulgen said.
    Despite the concessions, analysts say Erdogan is likely to be able to sell his deal domestically because it addresses the main concerns of Turkish voters – stopping a flow of migrants toward its borders and preventing attacks on its troops.
    “If we look at it from a citizen’s perspective, those were the two things that were important,” Unluhisarcikli said.    “Why would a Turkish citizen care about the internal borders and limits in Syria? That is not their job.”
(Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Editing by Dominic Evans/Mark Heinrich)

3/6/2020 Bethlehem deserted after Palestinians declare coronavirus emergency by Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh and Ali Sawafta
A man walks past closed shops as preventive measures are taken against the coronavirus,
in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) – The streets of Bethlehem were near-empty on Friday as Palestinian police wearing masks patrolled the traditional birthplace of Jesus, hit hard by a state of emergency declared over coronavirus.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the 30-day measure across the occupied West Bank on Thursday after seven coronavirus cases were found in Bethlehem among hotel workers thought to have caught it from tourists.
    In other parts of the West Bank, Palestinian security forces staffed checkpoints and turned some foreigners away.
    The full impact of the order to close schools and colleges and cancel foreign tourist reservations will only be felt after Friday, when most offices were closed for the weekend.
    South of Jerusalem, the gate was closed at the main Israeli checkpoint into Bethlehem, where tourist coaches were turned away.    While some visitors got in through other entrances they found the heart of the town, the Church of the Nativity, closed.
    “It is sad because we really wanted to visit and see the city,” said Leonardo Cairoli, a tourist from the Netherlands as he stood in a near-deserted Manger Square.
    Seeing Cairoli’s disappointed family, Father Essa Thalgi came out to talk to them.    He said the church was being sanitised and would likely reopen in 14 days.
    With 1.5 million tourists and pilgrims visiting Bethlehem annually, many local businesses face huge losses.
    “You’re talking about a catastrophe economically but we should take care of our health,” said Nabil Giacaman, a souvenir shop owner.
    Nearby, Alaa Salameh’s falafel restaurant was empty.
    “All the time we are ready for the political situation like war in Gaza or some clashes on the checkpoints or on the wall, but this,” Salameh said, “it’s something new for us.”
    Religious authorities closed around 30 mosques, conferences were cancelled and national parks shut across the West Bank.
    Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said movement between areas should only be done “in cases of extreme necessity.”
    The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank under interim peace accords with Israel, where around 15 people have been diagnosed with the virus.
    There were lower numbers than usual praying at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque on Friday, but observers cited different factors, including heavy rain, checkpoint closures and health fears.
    Elsewhere, West Bank towns such as Jericho have seen foreigners turned away at checkpoints and some visitors have reported feeling uncomfortable.
    “I don’t feel safe.    If I go out, people shout ‘corona’ or some people follow me for five minutes taking pictures,” said one East Asian student.
    No coronavirus cases have been reported in Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas.    Nonetheless, the U.N. agency which aids Palestinian refugees said it would close its 274 schools there on Saturday to assess the situation.
    Eight Gaza universities and colleges said they would close for a month in accordance with Abbas’s emergency decree.
(Reporting by Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh in Bethlehem, Ali Sawafta and Zainah El-Haroun in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem. Editing by Stephen Farrell and Janet Lawrence)

3/6/2020 South African coronavirus case came via Dubai to Durban
A general view of Cowan House school that has been closed after the first coronavirus case was confirmed
in the country, in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s first coronavirus case came from Italy via Dubai to the main airport in the eastern city of Durban, the health minister said on Friday.
    Zweli Mkhize was briefing media in Hilton, the eastern South African town where the man with the virus is admitted to hospital after testing positive the day before.    Mkhize was correcting earlier reports that the man had come through the main international airport in Johannesburg.
    He added that there was currently no other South African coronavirus patient apart from the one reported already.    The patient was a 38-year-old male who traveled to Italy with his wife, part of a group of 10 people and returned on March 1.
    President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday warned that the virus would hurt travel and tourism, and have a negative impact on South Africa’s already struggling economy, but urged citizens not to panic.
    Since the coronavirus outbreak began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December, it has infected almost 100,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000, mostly in China.
    It had largely spared sub-Saharan Africa, but since last month has been detected in Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and on Friday the first case was reported in Cameroon.
    Last week, Ramaphosa ordered the repatriation of nearly 200 citizens from Wuhan.    Mkhize said none of those citizens, who are expected to return home in the next few days, had contracted the virus.
(Reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo)

3/6/2020 OPEC’s pact with Russia falls apart, sending oil into tailspin by Rania El Gamal, Alex Lawler and Olesya Astakhova
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) sits outside its headquarters
ahead of the OPEC and NON-OPEC meeting, Austria December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – A three-year pact between OPEC and Russia ended in acrimony on Friday after Moscow refused to support deeper oil cuts to cope with the outbreak of coronavirus and OPEC responded by removing all limits on its own production.
    Oil prices plunged 10% as the development revived fears of a 2014 price crash, when Saudi Arabia and Russia fought for market share with U.S. shale oil producers, which have never participated in output limiting pacts.
    Brent has lost about a third of its value this year, tumbling towards $45 a barrel, its lowest since 2017, putting oil-dependent nations and many oil firms under heavy strain as the global economy reels due to the virus outbreak, which has dampened business activity and stopped people traveling.
    “From April 1 neither OPEC nor non-OPEC have restrictions,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters after marathon talks at the OPEC headquarters in Vienna on Friday.
    Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told reporters when asked whether the kingdom had plans to increase production: “I will keep you wondering.”
    The failure of talks may have more far reaching implications as OPEC’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia and Russia have used oil talks to build a broader political partnership in the last few years after effectively supporting opposite sides in the Syrian war.
    “Russia’s refusal to support emergency supply cuts would effectively and fatally undermine OPEC+’s ability to play the role of oil price stabilizing swing producer,” said Bob McNally, founder of Rapidan Energy Group.
    “It will gravely rupture the budding Russian-Saudi financial and political rapprochement.    The result will be higher oil price volatility and geopolitical volatility,” he said.
SHALE SLOWDOWN
    Beyond Moscow and Riyadh’s ties, plunging oil prices will put pressure on U.S. shale producers, whose output costs are much higher than those of Russian and Saudi production, even though many shale producers are well hedged against price falls.
    “This crisis has revealed that Saudi is not willing to keep a floor under shale and other producers.    They are expediting the slowdown on shale,” said Christyan Malek, head of JP Morgan oil and gas research for Europe, Middle East and Africa.
    The OPEC+ talks collapsed after OPEC effectively presented Russia with an ultimatum on Thursday, offering it a choice of accepting a deal with much bigger than expected cuts or no deal at all.
    Forecasts for 2020 demand growth have been slashed but Moscow has long argued it was too early to assess the impact.    Sources said Novak delivered the same message on Friday.
    OPEC ministers said on Thursday they backed an additional 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil cuts until the end of 2020, in addition to rolling over existing cuts of 2.1 million bpd.    That would have meant removing a total of about 3.6 million bpd from the market, or 3.6% of global supply.
    Moscow rejected the proposal on Friday, saying it was only willing to extend existing OPEC+ cuts of 2.1 million bpd, which were due to expire at the end of March. But in response, OPEC even refused to extend the existing cuts.
    The Kremlin said on Friday President Vladimir Putin had no immediate plans to talk to the Saudi leadership, an announcement that dashed hopes that a deal could be salvaged at the very top.
    The collapse of the deal means OPEC members and non-OPEC producers can in theory pump at will in an oversupplied market.
    “This is an unexpected development that falls far below our worst case scenario and will create one of the most severe oil price crises in history,” said Bjoernar Tonhaugen of Rystad Energy.
(Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla and Ahmad Ghaddar; Editing by Edmund Blair and Dmitry Zhdannikov)

3/7/2020 Turkey says ceasefire holds in Syria’s Idlib, Russia reports some shootings
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar attends a NATO defence ministers meeting at the
Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    ISTANBUL/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Saturday there had been no violations of the ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib, as part of an agreement with Russia, while Russia said there have been a few shootings in the region.
    “We will continue to be a deterrent force to prevent any violation to the ceasefire.    None occurred since ceasefire entered into force,” the Turkish Defence Ministry quoted Akar as saying.
    The ceasefire was reached in Moscow on Thursday after talks to contain an escalating conflict.
    Nearly a million people have been displaced in a three-month Russian-backed offensive by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in northwest Syria.    Ankara supports rebel fighters, although it has less sway over jihadists who control large parts of Idlib.
    Russian news agencies, citing the defense ministry, said there have been three cases of shooting in Idlib in the past 24 hours.
    It also said there were seven cases of shootings in Latakia and nine in Aleppo.    The defense ministry also reported that 860 refugees have returned to Syria from Jordan and Lebanon for the past day.
    Akar also said Turkey would use its right to self-defense if there is any attack targeting its forces or bases in the region.
    The deal called for joint patrols of Turkish and Russian forces around the M4 road in Idlib region starting on March 15.
    Turkey has started to work on the procedures and principles of the safety corridor around the road, Akar said, adding that a Russian military delegation will visit Ankara next week for discussions.
    Russia and Turkey back opposing sides in Syria’s nine-year conflict, with Moscow supporting Assad and Turkey backing some rebel groups.    Several previous deals to end the fighting in Idlib have collapsed.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Shri Navaratnam and Frances Kerry)

3/7/2020 Lebanon in ‘final hours before’ declaring it cannot pay its debts: senior MP
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, presents his government's policy statement to parliament during a
session for a vote of confidence in Beirut, Lebanon February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon is in “the final hours before” formally announcing it cannot pay its debts, senior MP Alain Aoun said on Saturday, as the president, prime minister and parliament speaker met ahead of an official declaration later in the day.
    Sources told Reuters on Friday Lebanon was set to announce on Saturday it cannot make upcoming dollar bond payments and wants to restructure $31 billion of foreign currency debt unless a last-minute deal with creditors could be found to avoid a disorderly default.
    Debt default would mark a new phase in a financial crisis that has hammered Lebanon’s economy since October, slicing around 40% off the value of the local currency and leading banks to deny savers full access to deposits.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab will announce Lebanon’s decision on the Eurobonds at 6:30 p.m. (1630 GMT), just two days before the state is due to pay back holders of a $1.2 billion Eurobond due on March 9.
    “This unprecedented event is the result of an accumulation of policies, crimes and choices that exhausted the public finances,” said Aoun, a senior figure in the Free Patriotic Movement party founded by President Michel Aoun, his uncle.
    “There is no use in crying over the ruins … what is helpful now is starting a rescue plan to get out of the bottom of the abyss as Greece did,” he added, writing on Twitter.
    Lebanon hired U.S. investment bank Lazard and law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP last week as advisers on the widely expected restructuring.
    The financial crisis came to a head last year as capital inflows slowed and protests erupted over state corruption and bad governance.
    The import-dependent economy has shed jobs and inflation has risen as the pound has slumped, adding to grievances that have fuelled protests.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams and Frances Kerry)

3/7/2020 Saudi Arabia detains two senior royals, including king’s brother: sources
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, the interior minister, attends the 34rd session
of the Council of Arab Interior Ministers in Tunis,Tunisia April 5, 2017.REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has detained two senior members of the Saudi royal family – Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the younger brother of King Salman, and Mohammed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.
    Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman’s son and the de facto ruler of the world’s top oil exporter and key U.S. ally, has moved to consolidate power since ousting his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, as heir to the throne in a palace coup in 2017. He arrested several royals in an anti-corruption campaign later that year.
    One source said the detentions took place on Friday.    Reuters could not immediately determine the reasons behind the detentions.
    The Wall Street Journal reported the detentions of the two royals earlier on Friday, and said they related to an alleged coup attempt.
    Saudi officials could not be immediately reached for comment early on Saturday.    The Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
    Prince Mohammed has fueled resentment among some prominent branches of the ruling family by tightening his grip on power and some question his ability to lead following the 2018 murder of a prominent journalist by Saudi agents and the largest-ever attack on Saudi oil infrastructure last year, sources have said.
    They said royals seeking to change the line of succession view Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, as a possible choice who would have support of family members, the security apparatus, and some Western powers.
    Saudi insiders and Western diplomats say the family is unlikely to oppose the crown prince while the 84-year-old king remains alive, recognizing that the king is unlikely to turn against his favorite son.    The monarch has delegated most responsibilities of rule to his son but still presides over weekly cabinet meetings and receives foreign dignitaries.
    Prince Ahmed has largely kept a low profile since returning to Riyadh in October 2018 after 2-1/2 months abroad.    During the trip, he appeared to criticize the Saudi leadership while responding to protesters outside a London residence chanting for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty.
    He was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the ruling Al Saud family’s senior members, who opposed Mohammed bin Salman becoming crown prince in 2017, sources have earlier said.
    Mohammed bin Nayef’s movements have been restricted and monitored since then, sources have previously said.
    The latest detentions come at a time of heightened tension with regional rival Iran and as Crown Prince Mohammed implements ambitious social and economic reforms, including an initial public offering by oil giant Saudi Aramco on the domestic bourse last December.    Saudi Arabia is also the current chair for the Group of 20 major economies.
    Prince Mohammed has been lauded at home for easing social restrictions in the Muslim kingdom and opening up the economy.    But he has come under international criticism over a devastating war in Yemen, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate and the detention of women’s rights activists seen as part of a crackdown on dissent.
(Reporting by Gulf newsroom; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Daniel Wallis)

3/7/2020 Americans quarantined in Bethlehem hotel in coronavirus scare: Palestinian official by Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh
A man in a protective suit walks outside Angel Hotel where, according to a Palestinian government official,
a group of American visitors have been quarantined as part of precautions against the coronavirus,
in Beit Jala town in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 7, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) – Fifteen Americans have been quarantined in a hotel in Bethlehem as part of precautions against the coronavirus, a Palestinian government spokesman said on Saturday.
    The city in the occupied West Bank has been in lock down since cases of the virus were recorded there on Thursday.
    Some of the first cases there were reported among staff at the Angel Hotel.    On Saturday, spokesman Ibrahim Melhem said a group of American visitors were in isolation in the building, without going into further details on their condition.
    An official from the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem said it was aware of the reports.    “Due to privacy considerations, we have no further details to share,” she added.
    Palestinian security forces wearing masks and gloves were stationed around the hotel on Saturday, as they have been since the first cases were announced.
    “There is a 15-member American delegation in the hotel.    They are still there and they are being dealt with according to quarantine regulations like all the others who are there,” Melhem told Reuters.
    Authorities have put restrictions on travel in and out of the city and turned away tourist busses.    They have also closed the Church of the Nativity, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, and shut schools.
(Reporting by Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh in Bethlehem, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/7/2020 Saudi Arabia asks people arriving from four countries to self-quarantine
FILE PHOTO: General view of the Grand Mosque which is almost empty of worshippers, after Saudi authority suspended umrah (Islamic pilgrimage
to Mecca) amid the fear of coronavirus outbreak, at Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Ganoo Essa
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has asked people who have traveled to Lebanon, Egypt, Italy or South Korea to self-quarantine for two weeks from the day of their arrival in the Kingdom, Saudi state media quoted the health ministry as saying on Saturday.
    It asked people who had visited any of the four countries showing symptoms of the virus to contact the authorities.
    Saudi Arabia reported two new coronavirus cases on Saturday, a woman who came from Iran via Bahrain and another woman who came to the Gulf kingdom from Iraq via the United Arab Emirates, taking the total number of cases to seven.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan; Editing by David Clarke)

3/8/2020 Saudi Arabia, Gulf neighbors report more cases of coronavirus
FILE PHOTO - General view of Kaaba at the Grand Mosque which is almost empty of worshippers, after Saudi authority suspended umrah
(Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca) amid the fear of coronavirus outbreak, at Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Ganoo Essa
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s authorities have recorded four news cases of the coronavirus, taking the total of infections to 11, the kingdom’s health ministry said on Twitter on Sunday.
    The new four individuals, which include three women, have interacted with another case reported previously who had been in Iran but did not disclose his travel details to the authorities.
    The individual traveled from Iran via the United Arab Emirates, the ministry said.
    Iran has emerged as an epicenter for the disease in the Middle East. The Islamic republic has reported 145 deaths from the virus on March 7, putting it on a par with Italy as the country with the highest death toll outside China.
    Saudi Arabia banned travel to Iran and said legal actions will be taken against any Saudi national traveling there.    Riyadh also called on Tehran to disclose the identity of Saudi citizens who visited Iran since Feb. 1.
    The Saudi government restricted land crossings with the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain on Saturday to commercial trucks only, adding that passenger arrivals will be limited to three airports in the country.
    Bahrain said on Sunday its Formula One Grand Prix will go ahead this month without spectators due to the coronavirus crisis, a blow to the Gulf’s Arab states important tourism sector.
    In the UAE, where number of coronavirus cases has risen to 45, a Wizz Air press conference in Abu Dhabi, planned on Tuesday, has been canceled due to the coronavirus, organizers said on Sunday.
    Kuwait recorded one new case of the disease on Sunday, bringing its infection tally to 62, the Gulf state’s health ministry said. Qatar reported its 12th case on Saturday.
    Kuwait’s central bank said on Sunday it was setting up a 10 million Kuwaiti dinar ($32.79 million) fund to support government efforts to fight the virus.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Louise Heavens)

3/8/2020 Israel to set up $1 billion fund to help companies through coronavirus crisis
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he chairs the weekly cabinet
meeting in Jerusalem, March 8, 2020. Oded Balilty/Pool via Reuters
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday his government would establish a 4 billion shekel ($1.2 billion) fund to help Israeli companies impacted by the global coronavirus outbreak.
    Netanyahu said Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon had drawn up plans for the fund and would present them at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. No further details were immediately available.
    Also on Sunday, El Al Israel Airlines said it expects an even bigger decline in revenue for the start of the year than previously thought due to the coronavirus.    The airline has requested government aid.
    Israel’s central bank said last week the coronavirus outbreak has not had a major impact on the economy, but if conditions worsen significantly, it is prepared to use monetary policies accordingly.
(Reporting by Tova Cohen, Editing by Ari Rabinovitch)

3/8/2020 Lebanon debt talks won’t last more than nine months if well-intentioned: minister
Lebanese Economy Minister Raoul Nehme arrives to attend the cabinet meeting at the
presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Negotiations to restructure Lebanon’s foreign currency debt should not last more than nine months if well-intentioned, the economy minister was quoted as saying, after the heavily indebted state said it could not meet its debt repayments.
    Lebanon is set to default on its sovereign debt after declaring on Saturday it could not pay forthcoming maturities – the first of which is a $1.2 billion bond due on Monday.    The state has called for restructuring negotiations.
    The country is grappling with a major financial crisis which came to a head last year as capital inflows slowed and protests erupted over decades of state corruption and bad governance.
    The default will mark a new phase in a crisis that has hammered the economy since October, slicing around 40% off the value of the currency, denying savers free access to their deposits and fuelling unemployment and unrest.
    Face-to-face negotiations between Lebanon and bond holders are expected to begin in about two weeks, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab, in a televised address to the nation on Saturday, said foreign currency reserves had hit a “critical and dangerous” level and were needed for basic imports.
    “The negotiation process will last for months and if we have good intentions will not go on for more than nine months,” Raoul Nehme, the economy minister, told broadcaster al-Jadeed in comments published on its website overnight.
    Lebanon has a total of some $31 billion in dollar bonds that sources have said the government will seek to restructure.
    Lebanon’s banks, big holders of the sovereign debt, are ready to talk with the foreign creditors as the government seeks to restructure its debt, a source familiar with the matter said on Saturday.
    There was no timetable yet for any restructuring and the discussions with foreign creditors are likely to start slowly, the source added.    Houlihan Lokey has been appointed financial adviser by the Association of Banks in Lebanon to help with the process, the source said.
    Diab said public debt has reached around 170% of gross domestic product, meaning Lebanon is close to being the world’s most heavily indebted state.
    The financial crisis is seen as the biggest risk to Lebanon’s stability since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
    There has been no sign of a bailout from foreign states that aided Lebanon in the past.    Western governments insist Beirut first enact long-delayed reforms to fight waste and corruption.
    Many analysts believe that the only way for Lebanon to secure financial support would be through an IMF program.
    But this is opposed by the powerful, Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which has said the kind of terms the IMF would seek to impose would cause a “popular revolution” in Lebanon.
    Lebanon has however sought technical assistance from the IMF.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam in Beirut and Tom Arnold in London; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Potter and Elaine Hardcastle)

3/8/2020 Erdogan to discuss migrant crisis with EU, urges Greece to ‘open your gates’ by Ezgi Erkoyun
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters in Silivri near Istanbul, Turkey,
March 8, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged Greece on Sunday to “open your gates” to refugees trying to enter the European Union from Turkey and said he hoped to win more help from the EU at talks on Monday.
    Tens of thousands of migrants have been trying to get into Greece, an EU member state, since Turkey said on Feb. 28 it would no longer try to keep them on its territory – as agreed in 2016 with the EU in return for billions of euros in aid.
    Turkey hosts about 3.6 million war refugees from Syria, where its troops and allied rebel forces are battling Russian-backed government forces, and says the EU has failed to honor promises made to Ankara.
    “We were hoping to get much more support from the international community when it comes to refugees,” Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul.    “I have a meeting with European Union officials tomorrow in Belgium.    We will discuss these issues.”
    In response, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said “negotiating on the backs of the weakest” would not yield the desired result.
    More than 1 million migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Asia, reached the EU in 2015 and 2016, most of them traveling through Turkey and Greece, until the agreement stopped the flow in March 2016.    Turkey now fears a new influx of refugees following the latest fighting in Syria.
    “We have fulfilled the obligations of the agreement we have made with the EU.    However, the EU did not fulfill its commitments except for minimal contributions … I hope we will achieve different results this time,” Erdogan said.
FAIR SHARING OF THE BURDEN
    Under the 2016 deal, the EU was to provide 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) to help Turkey finance housing, schools and medical centers for the refugees.    Erdogan said Turkey had received only half of this so far.
    Turkey says the EU has not carried out promises of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and an enhanced customs union.    Ankara also wants more European support in Syria, where it aims to build settlements for refugees to return to northern Syria.
    Erdogan is due to meet Charles Michel, who chairs summits of EU leaders, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive Commission.
    “If there is a shortage of money for providing essential humanitarian aid to refugees, whether in Turkey, Idlib or Jordan and Lebanon, we (the EU) will never refuse to talk,” Maas told Funke newspapers on Sunday.    “But that depends on Turkey sticking to its side of the bargain.”
    EU foreign ministers said last week they were ready to take “all necessary measures” to stop illegal crossings into Greece, but Erdogan said the migrants would not stay in Greece once they had crossed.
    “Greece, I am calling on you from here, you too should open your gates and let them go,” he said.    “We are looking for fair sharing of the burden.”
    Greece says it has thwarted thousands of attempts by migrants to cross by land from Turkey since last week.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Berlin; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Kevin Liffey)

3/8/2020 Israel considers broadening entry restrictions for coronavirus
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he chairs the weekly cabinet
meeting in Jerusalem, March 8, 2020. Oded Balilty/Pool via Reuters
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday Israel might broaden its entry restrictions over coronavirus fears to include visitors from all countries.
    Israel already requires travelers arriving from more than a dozen countries and territories in Europe and Asia to go into home quarantine for 14 days.    The measure has effectively cut off tourism from those countries and led some foreign airlines to suspend flights to Israel.
    The number of coronavirus cases in Israel rose to 39 from 25 on Sunday, with no deaths so far, the Health Ministry said.    Some 80,000 Israelis are in self-quarantine after returning from travel abroad.
    Netanyahu spoke by telephone on Sunday with U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence to discuss coronavirus concerns amid Israeli media reports that Israel was considering barring visitors from parts of the United States where the illness has spread.
    Israeli political commentators have said Netanyahu, fearful of drawing criticism from a main ally, U.S. President Donald Trump, has resisted pressure by Israeli public health officials to add New York, the state of Washington and California to the restricted list.
    At a news conference, Netanyahu said Israel was “weighing quarantine for everyone” flying into the country.
    “We have reached the decision that if we take additional steps, it will apply to all countries,” he said.    “But on the other hand, it is very difficult decision.”
    He said a decision would be made on Monday in consultation with Israeli health authorities and emergency authorities.
    Netanyahu and Pence agreed to follow up their telephone call with discussions between U.S. and Israeli health officials on technological and scientific cooperation and ways to tackle the virus, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
    Israel has already ordered travelers from Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Andorra, San Marino, Austria, Switzerland, China, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand to go into home quarantine.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/8/2020 Egypt reports first coronavirus fatality as German tourist dies by Mahmoud Mourad and Nadeen Ebrahim
FILE PHOTO: A tourist wearing a mask observes the engravings on the inner walls of the standing step pyramid
of Saqqara after its renovation, south of Cairo, Egypt March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt reported its first fatality from coronavirus on Sunday, with the health ministry saying a 60-year-old German tourist, who had arrived in the country seven days ago and was taken to hospital in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, had died.
    The country has been rushing to protect its important tourism sector, reassuring travelers it is safe to travel after an outbreak of the virus on a cruise ship on the River Nile.
    Officials said on Saturday the coronavirus had been detected in 45 people, including foreign tourists, after the vessel reached the southern city of Luxor.    Until then, Egypt had reported only three confirmed cases of the virus.
    The ministers of tourism, health and civil aviation toured a temple on Sunday in central Luxor, across the Nile from the Valley of the Kings where pharaohs were buried in tombs carved into rock.
    “We are here to respond to rumors saying that there are no tourists and people are afraid of coming.    Thank God, people are here,” Khaled al-Anani, the tourism and antiquities minister, told state television before the camera panned across to show tourists queuing to enter the site.
    “No to exaggerated reactions.    Our eyes are on everything,” said Health Minister Hala Zayed.
    The German man who died had tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday, the health ministry said. He was in Luxor before being moved to Hurghada.
    The tourism industry is an important driver of Egypt’s economic growth and has rebounded after a decline following the 2011 uprising that toppled long-serving leader Hosni Mubarak.
    Revenue was a record high of $12.57 billion in the financial year that ended last July, according to central bank figures.
    At another top tourism site, the Giza Pyramids outside Cairo, guides and souvenir sellers said business had slowed over the past month because of fears over the coronavirus.
    Ali Hamouda Hassan, who gives tours of the pyramids on horseback, said he now had “one customer every two days.”
    The cruise boat struck by the virus has been towed outside Luxor and placed under quarantine, state media reported.    Those who tested positive were flown by military plane for quarantine in northern Egypt.
    Officials say the newly announced cases and others discovered in people who passed through Egypt originate from a Taiwanese-U.S. national who returned to Taiwan in February after traveling on the cruise ship.
    Karim ElMinabaway, president of Emeco Travel Egypt, said there had been few cancellations from travelers abroad through to the end of June but tourism could be badly hit.
    “We are receiving 10% of what we had been expecting for the first quarter of next year,” he said.
    Maged Fawzi, who heads the country’s hotels facilities chamber, said in a statement ministers had agreed with managers of hotels and cruise ships in Luxor to buy infrared thermometers and to hire a foreign company to check food safety.
    EgyptAir, the national carrier, on Sunday announced it would waive fees for changes to international flights for all passengers in relation to the cornoavirus from Saturday until the end of the month regardless of the date of travel.
    The spread of the coronavirus outside Egypt could have other knock-on effects on the economy, including on Egyptians working abroad, an important source of foreign currency remittances.
    Hundreds of people were queuing on Sunday at Cairo’s main public laboratory center for blood tests required by Saudi Arabia for workers traveling from Egypt to show they do not have the coronavirus.
(Additional reporting by Samar Hassan, Omar Fahmy and Patrick Werr, Editing by Aidan Lewis/Timothy Heritage/Jane Merriman)

3/8/2020 Turkish police use tear gas in Istanbul to disperse Women’s Day crowd by Emin Caliskan
Police try to disperse a march marking International Women's Day in Istanbul, Turkey, March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish police used tear gas to disperse a few dozen women who were still in central Istanbul after trying to march on Sunday evening to celebrate International Women’s Day.
    Reuters reporters saw the crowd, which was originally few hundred women, at the edge of Taksim Square holding banners and waving flags.    The police formed a human blockade to stop them from entering Istiklal Street, the district’s main pedestrian avenue.
    A large part of the crowd dispersed as they were not allowed to march on Istiklal Street.
    Istanbul’s governor Ali Yerlikaya decided to close down Taksim metro station and parts of nearby Sishane station and said all roads leading to main square would be blocked.
    “All roads leading to Taksim Square and Istiklal Street will be closed as these places are not classified as designated areas for assembly and demonstrations according to law,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
    The government did allow some activities by non-governmental organizations to celebrate International Women’s Day around the city, the statement said.    But it said the gathering in Istiklal Street was not granted a permit.
    Last year, on International Women’s Day, the police had fired tear gas to break up a crowd of women who had gathered for a march.
(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Jane Merriman)

3/8/2020 Israel might widen entry restrictions: Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 8, 2020. Oded Balilty/Pool via Reuters
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel was considering broadening entry restrictions to include travellers from all countries, a move that would effectively cut off foreign tourism.
    At a news conference, he said the measure, if taken, would require anyone arriving in Israel to go into home quarantine for 14 days and that a decision would be made, in consultation with health experts, on Monday.    Israel already requires self-quarantine for travellers arriving from 15 countries.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

3/8/2020 Egypt reports death of German national, its first from coronavirus
A tourist wears protective mask as a means of prevention against the coronavirus (COVID-19) at the
Great Pyramids of Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – A 60-year-old German tourist has died in Egypt, becoming its first fatality from the new coronavirus, the health ministry in Cairo announced on Sunday.
    The man was taken to hospital with fever after arriving in Hurghada from Luxor on March 6, and was placed in intensive care but refused to be transferred to a designated isolation hospital, the ministry said.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/8/2020 U.S. church group in West Bank tests negative for coronavirus
Members of Palestinian security forces stand guard outside Angel Hotel, where American tourists have been quarantined
amid coronavirus precautions, in Beit Jala town in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    BEIT JALA, West Bank (Reuters) – Thirteen Americans quarantined in a West Bank hotel on suspicion of having caught the coronavirus have tested negative, a Palestinian official said on Sunday.
    “The American tourists will leave either later this evening or tomorrow morning,” said Ibrahim Melhem, a spokesman for the Palestinian government.
    The group, from the 3Circle Church in Fairhope, Alabama, were placed in quarantine at the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala, which is next to Bethlehem, on Wednesday.
    3Circle Church works with a school in Bethlehem, part of the reason for group’s visit to the Holy Land.
    The Angel Hotel was the first area of coronavirus concern in the Bethlehem area. After several of its workers tested positive this week, the Palestinian Authority put restrictions on foreign tourist travel and later declared a 30-day state of emergency.
    The measures effectively shut down the city, including the Church of the Nativity, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, and local mosques.
    Elsewhere in the West Bank, Palestinian security forces were turning foreigners back at checkpoints, while schools, colleges, kindergartens and national parks were closed.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/8/2020 Coronavirus deaths in Iraq rise to six: state news agency
Workers in protective suits spray disinfectants near the gate of Shalamcha Border Crossing, after Iraq
shut a border crossing to travellers between Iraq and Iran, Iraq March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani
    DUBAI – (Reuters) – Iraq confirmed two further deaths due to the coronavirus, taking the total number to six, the state news agency reported on Sunday.
    The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed to 54 so far, according to health officials.
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam, editing by Louise Heavens)

3/8/2020 Erdogan to Greece: Open your borders by OAN Newsroom
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters, outside Istanbul,
Sunday, March 8, 2020. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has called on Greece to open its borders and allow migrants to move into Europe.    On Sunday, Erdogan stated women and children have suffered the most among the refugees coming to their borders.
    He has claimed the migrants won’t stay in Greece, but will move to other European countries.    He added they had been warned if Turkey didn’t get EU support, he would “open the gates.”
Migrants take cover during clashes as Greek police sprays water between the Kastanies border gate, Greece and the Pazarkule
border gate, Turkey at the Turkish-Greek border in Edirne region, on Sunday, March 8, 2020. (Ismail Coskun/IHA via AP)
    Migrants waiting in one border city said some of those trying to cross were not Syrian and were ruining the image of refugees in Europe.
    “There are a lot of people who say they are Syrian and want to leave here, but when you look at their ID, they’re not Syrian,” stated one Aleppo resident.    “They’re from different nations…(and) they’re all our brothers, but it’s not right for them to pretend to be Syrian and ruin our name.”
    The call to open the border came after the Greek government released a video, which they claimed showed a Turkish armored vehicle trying to pull down a border fence.    The government has also claimed a Turkish police officer was caught on camera firing tear gas over the fence into Greece.
A migrant throws a stone as others gather at a border fence on the Turkish side during clashes with the Greek riot police
and army at the Turkish-Greek border in Pazarkule, Edirne region, on Saturday, March 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

3/9/2020 Libya’s Haftar committed to signing ceasefire: French presidency
FILE PHOTO: Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar meets Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis
(not pictured) at the Parliament in Athens, Greece, January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    PARIS (Reuters) – Khalifa Haftar, Libya’s eastern military commander, has told France’s president he will sign a ceasefire and stick to it if militias backed by the internationally recognized government respect it, a French presidency official said on Monday.
    “Marshal Haftar assured (us) that he was committed to signing the ceasefire but this commitment would cease if the militias do not respect it,” the official said after Haftar met President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
    The official gave no further details.
    Despite a peace conference held in Berlin in January, violence has increased in Libya, with combatants in the west and east preparing for a long conflict as foreign weapons flood in, eastern factions close oil ports and rival alliances wrangle over revenues from Africa’s largest petroleum reserves.
    Several countries backing rival factions in Libya have violated an arms embargo, according to the United Nations, which has previously named the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey for breaching the embargo.
    After the Berlin conference the violations increased and the U.N. denounced them without naming countries.
    The Libyan National Army led by Haftar and forces aligned with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli have been fighting for control of the capital since April last year.
    The UAE and Egypt support Haftar, while the GNA is backed by Turkey.    France has been accused of lending political support to Haftar, but Paris has denied this.
    “Haftar is one of the main actors on the Libyan political scene and must be taken into consideration,” the French presidential official said.
    The official said there were no plans for Macron to meet or speak to the head of the Tripoli government, Fayez Seraj.
    The standoff over oil is one of several factors that could prolong the almost year-long conflict over the capital, where the GNA last month secured military backing from Turkey including Turkish-backed fighters from Syria.
    The official said Macron had raised the issue of oil and moves to ensure the revenues serve all the population and lead to blockades of ports being lifted, but Haftar said it had nothing to do with him.
(Reporting by Marine Pennetier; writing by John Irish; editing by Leigh Thomas and Timothy Heritag)

3/9/2020 Israel orders 14-day self-quarantine for anyone entering country
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a mask looks on at a terminal at Ben Gurion International
airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
    With 42 confirmed cases of the virus, Israel has already taken some tough counter-measures, forcing visitors from many countries in Asia and Europe into home isolation.    The virus has hit travel and trade, with tourism in particular expected to suffer.
    “Anyone who arrives in Israel from abroad will enter a 14-day isolation,” Netanyahu said in a video statement.    He said the new measures would be in effect for two weeks initially.
    “This is a difficult decision.    But it is essential for safeguarding public health, and public health comes first.”
    Government officials said the order would come into force immediately for Israelis returning to the country.    From Thursday, any non-Israelis seeking to enter the country will have to prove they have the means to self-quarantine, the officials said.
    Israeli media said the latest measure would mean quarantine for some 300,000 citizens in a country of around 9 million.
    Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank have also been hit by the virus, reporting 25 confirmed cases.    The Palestinian Authority (PA) has turned foreigners away at checkpoints and ordered schools and national parks closed.
    The PA said on Monday it was barring Palestinians from traveling to neighboring Jordan through the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge crossing, with immediate effect.    Foreigners would still be allowed to leave and all entries allowed, the PA said.
    Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the Allenby measures.
    Uncertainty in Israel about the impact of the new measures hit Tel Aviv’s blue-chip stock index and the broader TA-125 which were both down around 6.5%.
    The shekel, which peaked against the dollar in mid-February at 3.416, was trading at about 3.5 on Monday.
    Israel’s central bank has said it did not expect a major economic impact if the virus was halted in the coming months, but that it was ready to use monetary policy tools “whenever necessary” should conditions worsen.
    Netanyahu invited the media on Monday to a video conference he held with leaders of Italy, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus to discuss cooperation on the crisis.    Among his proposals was to regularly disinfect select airports in Europe to help preserve international deliveries of supplies.
    Israeli public broadcaster Kan said the quarantine restrictions were even affecting the country’s intelligence service.    Kan said, without citing sources, that returning Mossad operatives had been ordered to stay at home for two weeks.
    Thirteen Americans were heading home from the Holy Land on Monday after they were cleared in a coronavirus scare, the mayor of the Palestinian town where they had been quarantined said.
    The group, from the 3Circle Church in Fairhope, Alabama, was placed in quarantine at the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala on Wednesday after several hotel staff there tested positive.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jane Merriman and Lisa Shumaker)

3/10/2020 Turkey says 2016 migrant deal with EU needs to be updated
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a joint news conference following talks with
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia January 13, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey said on Tuesday a 2016 migration deal with the EU needs to be updated in light of the crisis in northern Syria, as tensions continued to flare on the Turkish-Greek border after Ankara said it would no longer to stop migrants trying to cross.
    In an interview with state-owned Anadolu news agency, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that European Union visa liberalization and an update of the country’s customs union with the bloc must be implemented to help solve the migrant issue.
    Late on Monday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan left meetings in Brussels with EU and NATO leaders without issuing a joint statement nor appearing at a joint news conference, as had been planned.
    Erdogan made the trip to Brussels as a dispute deepened over the fate of tens of thousands of migrants trying to enter EU-member Greece.    Ankara decided last month to encourage the migration to extract more European support and funding in its military effort in Syria’s Idlib region.
    Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian migrants and has stemmed migration to Europe under the 2016 deal in return for billions of euros in aid.    But it has become frustrated with what it regards as too little European support over the war in Syria, where its troops faced off against Russian-backed government forces.     The pact also envisaged the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from camps in Turkey, rewarding Turks with visa-free travel to the bloc, faster progress in EU membership talks and upgrading their customs union.
(Reporting Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

3/10/2020 Turkey says U.S. offering Patriot missiles if S-400 not operated by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Orhan Coskun
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin
(not pictured) following their talks in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – The United States has offered to sell Turkey its Patriot missile defense system if Ankara promises not to operate a rival Russian system, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said, in what he called a significant softening in Washington’s position.
    Two Turkish officials told Reuters that Turkey was evaluating the U.S. offer but that Ankara had not changed its plans for the Russian S-400 systems, which it has said it will start to activate next month.
    In Washington, the Pentagon said that U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had not changed his position on the issue, which was: “Turkey is not going to receive a Patriot battery unless it returns the S-400.”
    NATO allies Turkey and the United States have been at odds over Ankara’s purchase last year of the S-400s, which Washington says are incompatible with the alliance’s defense systems.
    After heavy fighting in northwestern Syria’s Idlib region this year Turkey asked Washington to deploy Patriots along its border with Syria for protection but the United States said Turkey cannot have both the S-400s and the Patriots.
    Speaking to reporters on his return flight from Brussels, Erdogan said Ankara had told Washington to deploy Patriot systems to Turkey and that it was ready to purchase the systems from the United States as well.
    “We made this offer to the United States on the Patriot: If you are going to give us Patriots, then do it.    We can also buy Patriots from you,” he said.
    “They also softened significantly on this S-400 issue.    They are now at the point of ‘promise us you won’t make the S-400s operational’,” Erdogan added.
    Previous talks between Turkey and the United States on the purchase of the Patriots have collapsed over a host of issues, from the S-400s to Ankara’s dissatisfaction with Washington’s terms.    Turkey has said it will only agree to an offer if it includes technology transfer and joint production terms.
    While ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained, the United States has offered support for its ally as it battles to stop Russia-backed Syrian government advances in Idlib.
    But U.S. officials said on Tuesday Ankara had to clarify its position on the S-400s for their security ties to advance.
    U.S. special representative for Syria James Jeffrey and U.S. Ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield told reporters on a conference call from Brussels that Washington was discussing with NATO what support it can offer Turkey militarily.
    Jeffrey also said they had considered possible responses should Russia and the Syrian government break a ceasefire in Idlib, officials said.
    He suggested other NATO states could individually or as an alliance provide military support to help Turkey.    But he ruled out sending ground troops and said there still needed to be a resolution to the S-400 issue for the security relationship to move forward.
    “You can forget ground troops.    Turkey has demonstrated that it and its opposition forces are more than capable of holding ground on their own,” Jeffrey said.    “The issue is the situation in the air and it’s what we are looking at,” he said.
    Washington did not believe that Russia and Syrian had any interest in a permanent ceasefire in Idlib, he said.
    “They are out to get a military victory in Syria and our goal is to make it difficult for them to do that,” Jeffrey said.
    “Our goal is…to make them think twice.    If they ignore our warnings and preparations and move forward, then we will react as rapidly as possible in consultation with our NATO and European allies on what the package of sanctions and other reactions will be.”
POSITION “UNCHANGED
    While Erdogan has frequently referred to the S-400 purchase as a “done deal” and said Turkey will not turn back from it, he did not repeat that stance in his comments on Tuesday.    Turkish officials, however, said Turkey’s position remained unchanged.
    “The United States has once again brought up the Patriot offer.    The United States’ previous strong stance isn’t the case anymore.    They are approaching Turkey more empathetically now,” a senior official said.
    “The core condition is that the S-400s are not activated, or in other words that they are not unboxed.    This offer is being evaluated, but there is no change of stance on the S-400s,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity said.
    A separate Turkish official told Reuters the latest offer by Washington also included Turkey’s return to the F-35 stealth fighter jet program, which Turkey was involved in both as manufacturer of plane parts and customer for the jets.
    After Ankara bought the S-400s, Washington suspended its involvement in the program and threatened sanctions.
    “There is a U.S. offer for Patriots, but this offer includes the F-35s,” the Turkish official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.    “Air defense systems can be purchased, but Turkey’s conditions are clear: there has to be issues like the know-how transfer and joint production.”
    Turkey has said it plans to activate the S-400s it received from Russia in April.    The United States has warned that such a move will trigger U.S. sanctions, though Ankara has repeatedly said good ties between Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump may be able to avert this.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Orhan Coskun and Ece Toksabay, additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Dominic Evans, Angus MacSwan and Lisa Shumaker)

3/10/2020 Turkey defies EU pressure to shut border, says to host migration summit by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and EU Council President Charles Michel
pose in Brussels, Belgium March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he would not stop migrants trying to cross Turkey’s border into Greece despite EU pressure to do so, but he also announced a summit next week in Istanbul with European leaders to seek a solution to the crisis.
    Tens of thousands of migrants have been trying to get into Greece, a European Union member state, since Turkey said on Feb. 28 it would no longer keep them on its territory as part of a 2016 deal with Brussels in return for EU aid for the refugees.
    Greece has sent troops to the border area and used tear gas and water cannon against the migrants, but the pressure has continued. Greece said it stopped 963 illegal migrants in the 24 hours to 6 a.m. on Tuesday and arrested 52.
    Erdogan, speaking to reporters on his plane back to Turkey after discussing the migrant crisis on Monday in Brussels with top EU officials, repeated his call on Greece to change tack.
    “We are not thinking of closing these gates.    Our proposal to Greece is to open the gates.    These people won’t stay in Greece.    Let them cross from Greece into other European countries,” he said, calling for a “just, humane sharing” of the burden.
    His comments will revive memories of the 2015-16 migrant crisis, when more than one million people, mostly fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Asia, reached the EU via Turkey and Greece, boosting support for far-right parties.
    Greek military vehicles and soldiers on foot continued on Tuesday to patrol along the wire and steel fence that separates the Kastanies crossing from Turkey’s border post at Pazarkule.
    Greek officials said the 52 migrants arrested from Monday to Tuesday included Syrians, Afghans and Iranians.
    Ankara says Greece’s stance violates the migrants’ human rights.    It has also accused Greek forces of shooting dead four migrants on the border, a claim Athens strongly denies.
    On Tuesday Turkey’s migration authority said it had filed two applications to the European Court of Human Rights regarding one migrant it says was killed by Greek forces and a family it said was pushed back from the border.
    More lawsuits are being prepared on behalf of migrants whose rights have been violated, it said.
SUMMIT
    Erdogan said he would convene a summit in Istanbul on March 17 on the migrant issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and possibly British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
    He said he had stressed in the Brussels talks the need to update both the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and the EU and Turkey’s customs union with the bloc, and also to revive Turkey’s stalled EU accession process.
    “The EU leaders accepted that Turkey had fulfilled its responsibilities under the March 18 (2016) agreement and that the EU had acted slowly,” Erdogan said, adding that technical and political teams would now produce a road map.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, will conduct this process and try to come up with proposals in time for a summit of EU leaders on March 26, Erdogan said.
    Ankara says the EU has so far handed over only about half of the six billion euros initially promised to help house, feed, educate and care for the 3.6 million refugees living in Turkey.
    Turkey also wants more European support over the war in neighboring Syria, where Turkish troops face off against Russian-backed Syrian government forces.
    The 2016 pact also envisaged European countries taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from camps in Turkey and rewarding Turks with visa-free travel to the EU.
    On Tuesday a German official said Germany would take in up to 100 children living in refugee camps in Greece.    Germany took in nearly one million refugees in 2015-16, but Merkel has since faced a political backlash from right-wing voters.
(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou in Kastanies, Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul and Madeline Chambers in Berlin; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/10/2020 Saudi Arabia, Russia raise stakes in oil production standoff by Rania El Gamal and Olesya Astakhova
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Aramco logo is pictured at the oil facility in Khurais, Saudi Arabia October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    DUBAI/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it would boost its oil supplies to a record high in April, raising the stakes in a standoff with Russia and effectively rebuffing Moscow’s suggestion for new talks.
    The clash of oil titans Saudi Arabia and Russia sparked a 25% slump in crude prices on Monday, triggering panic selling on Wall Street and other equity markets that have already been badly hit by the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
    Oil prices recovered some ground on Tuesday, but were still 40% down on the start of the year.
    U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a call on Monday to discuss global energy markets, the White House said on Tuesday.
    Trump is seeking re-election this year and will benefit from lower gasoline prices at the pump.    But the U.S. government will also be concerned by the potential for bankruptcies in the U.S. shale industry, which plays an increasingly important economic role.
    Several U.S. oil firms said on Tuesday they would cut spending and dividends.
    Amin Nasser, chief executive of Saudi Aramco <2222.SE> said the state-run oil giant would increase supply in April to 12.3 million barrels per day (bpd), or 300,000 bpd above its maximum production capacity, indicating it may draw from storage.
    Saudi Arabia has been pumping around 9.7 million bpd in the past few months, but has extra production capacity it can turn on and it has hundreds of millions of barrels of crude in store.
    Moscow said Russian oil companies might boost output by up to 300,000 bpd and could increase it by as much as 500,000 bpd, sending the Russian rouble and stocks plunging.
    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Russia that energy markets needed to stay “orderly.”
    Brent oil prices jumped 8% on Tuesday to above $37 per barrel after Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Moscow was ready to discuss new measures with OPEC. [O/R]
    Russia’s Energy Ministry also called for a meeting with Russian oil firms on Wednesday to discuss future cooperation with OPEC, two sources told Reuters.
    But Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman appeared to rebuff the suggestion.
    “I fail to see the wisdom for holding meetings in May-June that would only demonstrate our failure in attending to what we should have done in a crisis like this and taking the necessary measures,” he told Reuters.
STRAINED BUDGETS
    Riyadh’s unprecedented hike in supply follows the collapse of talks last week between members of the OPEC+ grouping, an informal alliance of OPEC states, Russia and other producers that has propped up prices since 2016.
    Russia rejected OPEC’s call to deepen existing supply cuts, prompting OPEC to scrap all production limits and Russia to say it would also boost output, sending crude prices briefly down to almost $31 and reviving fears of a 2014-style price crash.
    Saudi Arabia needs an oil price of around $80 to balance its budget, but has cash reserves and the ability to borrow to deal with a price plunge for now.    Russia needs about $42 to balance its books and also has hefty cash reserves it can draw on
.
    Iraq and some other OPEC nations, with more meager financial resources to cope with a dramatic drop in oil revenues, called for action to shore up prices.
    Ratings agency Fitch said a sustained sharp drop in oil prices would hit the sovereign ratings of those exporting countries with weaker finances, particularly those with exchange rates pegged to the dollar.
    But even Saudi Arabia, with its hefty financial reserves and sovereign wealth fund, did not have “infinite leeway” to support its A (stable) rating, Fitch analyst Jan Friederich said.
    Aramco shares, which slid at the start of the week, were up 9.9% at 31.15 riyals at 1353 GMT on Tuesday but were still below their December listing price of 32 riyals.
    Shares in U.S. firms which had also dropped recovered slightly on Tuesday.    Occidental Petroleum said it would cut dividend and spending, while Chevron said it might cut spending and production.
    The U.S. Department of Energy said on Tuesday it had suspended a sale of up to 12 million barrels of oil from the government’s emergency crude reserve due to the price drop.
    OPEC+ had effectively been cutting output by 2.1 million bpd, including the extra voluntary cuts by Saudi Arabia.
    OPEC had sought further cuts that would have brought the total to about 3.6 million bpd or roughly 3.6% of global supplies, but Moscow’s rejection of that plan led to the collapse of the whole deal.
(Reporting by Rania El Gamal and Olesya Astakhova; Editing by Maha El Dahan, Jason Neely and Edmund Blair)

3/10/2020 Can’t pay, won’t pay: What now for Lebanon’s debt crisis? by Marc Jones
FILE PHOTO: The skyline of Beirut is seen during sunset from Antelias, Lebanon
November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Lebanon has bowed to the inevitable and said it won’t be honoring a $1.2 billion bond payment that was due on Monday.    It will be its first default, but what options does one of the world’s most debt-strained countries now have?
OPTION 1 – THE IMF
    Lebanon has been crushed by more than $90 billion of debt, equivalent to roughly 170 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and its prime minister has acknowledged that it has little in the way of useful foreign exchange reserves left.
    With the country’s economy also on its knees the usual approach would be to ask the International Monetary Fund for support while at the same time trying to broker a deal with the creditors that it has just reneged on.
    It had a “technical” visit from the IMF last month which the Fund said was “very informative and productive” but that won’t cut it.    It needs cash and quickly, otherwise the risk is more violence on the streets as the money begins to run out completely.
    The IMF would need to see a credible economic plan but that is hard right now.    Beirut is a banking hub and the banks now need recapitalizing and the country’s other main revenue earner, tourism, is being hammered by the coronavirus.
    The politics are difficult too.    Hezbollah, a heavily armed Shi’ite group which is backed by Iran and designated a terrorist organization by Washington, is one of the main backers of the new Lebanon government.
    Hezbollah’s leaders have been arguing against IMF involvement, saying the likely terms of a bailout would be so painful that they would spark “a popular revolution.”
    Lebanon doesn’t have many bilateral and multilateral loans so even if all those debts were written off it would only reduce the debt burden by 3.5% of GDP according to Capital Economics.
    The country’s commercial banks hold the bulk of its Lebanese pound-denominated debt and 16% of its foreign currency debt, so a restructuring would risk wiping out their capital.
(GRAPHIC: Who holds Lebanon debt – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/LEBANON-DEBT-BONDS/0H001R8FGC82/eikon.png)
OPTION 2 – BEG, STEAL AND BORROW
    Beirut could try and manage without the IMF but it would still need to do what no previous government has been able to do – slash government spending and start a longer-term program of tax hikes to get the finances back in shape.
    Credit rating agency Fitch has said the government may even raid the deposits and savings held in the country’s banks like Cyprus did at the height of its crisis, though the government is saying that won’t happen.
    Either way it would still have to renegotiate the rest of its debts with its international creditors.
    Recent defaulters like Ukraine convinced their lenders to write-off some of their money and agree to push back remaining payments and lower interest rates, though that was with the assistance of the IMF.
    Lebanon’s bonds also lack legal wording known as ‘enhanced collective action clauses’, meaning its bonds might need to be renegotiated almost one at a time rather than in one or two big hits as other countries might do.
    And if any bond holder or group of bond holders with 25% or more of a bond doesn’t like the terms the government is offering they could potentially block the whole process.
    As Lebanon’s economy minister Raoul Nehme explained, “we are proposing to them (bondholders) to work hand-in-hand to find a solution, which is always better than litigation.    But it is their choice to decide whether to cooperate.”
(GRAPHIC: Hot spring for Lebanon – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/LEBANON-DEBT/0H001QXWPBFZ/eikon.png)
OPTION 3 – THE ARGENTINA ROUTE
    The final option would be to try and strongarm any resistant bond holders into a deal by effectively locking their money in the country, but it would come with extreme risk.
    Sovereign debt lawyers warn it could end up like Argentina.    A litigious group of funds took the country’s government to a New York court when it refused to pay.    That court effectively banned international banks from buying any new Argentina bonds while the case went on and Argentina found itself locked out of international debt markets for the best part of a decade.
    If it does end up in a legal battle the funds involved might make claims for the country’s remaining assets which could include anything from government-owned property to state-owned firms or infrastructure.
    “I just cannot see how they can offer any sensible debt reduction plan,” said Aberdeen Standard Investments’ portfolio manager Viktor Szabo.    “If it ends up as a legal battle it could be worse than Argentina."
(Additional reporting by Tom Arnold; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

3/11/2020 Iraq cancels Friday prayers in Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala over coronavirus fears
FILE PHOTO: A member of the civil defense team sprays disinfectant to sanitize an area in the neighbourhood of the house of
the person who was diagnosed with coronavirus and died, in Kerbala, Iraq, March 7, 2020. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa al-Deen
    KERBALA, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq canceled Friday prayers in the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala due to concerns about the coronavirus, a statement from the administration of the city’s holy site said on Wednesday.
    Kerbala, like the neighboring holy city of Najaf, attracts Shi’ites pilgrims from Iraq and abroad.    Prayers had already been canceled last Friday.
(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Peter Graff)

3/11/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan accuses Greece of Nazi tactics against migrants at border by Daren Butler and George Georgiopoulos
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reacts ahead of a meeting with EU Council
President Charles Michel pose in Brussels, Belgium March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    ISTANBUL/ATHENS (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Greek security forces on Wednesday of behaving like Nazis for using force against migrants trying to cross the border from Turkey into the European Union.
    Tens of thousands of migrants have been attempting to get into EU member Greece since Turkey said on Feb. 28 it would no longer keep them on its territory as part of a 2016 deal with Brussels in return for European aid for the refugees.
    Greek security forces have used tear gas and water cannon to stop the migrants.    Athens has suspended asylum applications for a month and says it has prevented more than 42,000 illegal migrants illegally entering the EU over the past two weeks.
    In the Turkish parliament, Erdogan showed lawmakers of his ruling AK Party video footage of scenes at the Greek border.
    “There is no difference between those images on the Greek border and what the Nazis did,” he said.
    “Opening fire on innocent people, exposing them to all kinds of inhumane treatment… (It) is barbarism in the full sense of the word,” he said, repeating his call on Greece to let migrants cross its territory to reach richer western European countries.
    “Why are you obstructing them so much and carrying out Nazi tortures on them?” he added.
    Turkey has previously accused Greek security forces of shooting dead four migrants, a claim rejected by Athens as “fake news.”    Greece says it has a duty to protect the EU border.
KNOCK ON THE DOOR, SAYS GREECE
    Responding to Erdogan’s latest comments, Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said: “He is constantly trying to torpedo the climate with such statements.”
    “We tell everyone that they shouldn’t attempt to get in through the window.    There is a door.    Whoever is entitled to protection should knock on that door and be entitled to protection based on international law,” Petsas added.
    Petsas also denied a report in The New York Times that said Greece was holding illegal migrants at a secret “black site” where they are denied access to lawyers and cannot file asylum claims.
    Greece summoned Turkey’s ambassador on Wednesday to lodge a complaint after the Greek coastguard said one of its vessels had been rammed deliberately by a Turkish coastguard boat.
    Later on Wednesday, Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned the Greek ambassador to Ankara, who was told that Greece must stop “violations of Turkish waters and the detention of journalists,” the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.    It did not provide further details.
    The EU is desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2015-16 migrant crisis, when more than one million people, mostly fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond, reached the bloc via Turkey and Greece, bolstering support for far-right parties.
    That mass influx ended when Turkey agreed in 2016 to keep migrants on its territory in return for EU aid.    Erdogan said Ankara had upheld its side of the deal but that the EU had not.
    “Until all expectations are met in a concrete way, we will continue our current practice at our borders,” Erdogan said, referring to aspirations that also include updating Turkey’s customs union with the EU, reviving its stalled EU accession bid and allowing Turks to visit the bloc without visas.
    Turkey hosts 3.6 million refugees from the civil war in neighboring Syria and is braced for the arrival of more as fighting in Syria drags on.
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, and George in Athens; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean)

3/11/2020 In Syria’s northwest, medics fear the worst if corona hits crowded camps by Khalil Ashawi
A health worker tests an internally displaced Syrian boy as part of security measures
to avoid coronavirus, in Azaz, Syria, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) – In Syria’s northwest, where people uprooted by war are crammed into camps, medics fear the coronavirus would spread widely if it reaches a country with its healthcare system in ruins.
    Doctors and aid workers say they have recorded no cases so far. But they warned that camps would not cope in the event of an outbreak, with hospitals already struggling to treat even basic illnesses after nine years of war.
    Omar Hammoud, a children’s doctor in Azaz town, says a clear plan has yet to be drawn up for Syria’s northwest, the last big insurgent bastion outside state hands.
    “I’ve taken my precautions in dealing with patients and I’m trying to calm their panic, because there is so much talk about the virus,” he told Reuters at a clinic that belongs to IDA, a Turkey-based aid agency that runs healthcare facilities on the Syrian side of the border.
    Across the world, the number of coronavirus cases has topped 119,000 and nearly 4,300 have died as the outbreak spread to more countries, prompting greater economic damage.
    Within the Middle East, Iran has been worst hit with around 9,000 people infected and 354 deaths.    Turkey by contrast, which borders northwest Syria and has forces stationed across the frontier, confirmed its first case on Wednesday.
    The World Health Organization said on Wednesday only half of health facilities remained operational in northwest Syria, where fighting has forced about 1 million people to flee since December.
    Many live in squalid makeshift camps and sleep outdoors in olive groves in a region where much of the population had already fled battles in other parts of Syria earlier in the war.
    “If the virus spreads in the camps, controlling it would be very difficult, with the tents so close to each other,” Hamoud said.    “There is no safe distance between people here, there is overpopulation.”
    He said medics, who received gloves and masks from the aid group, were checking patients, disinfecting everything and trying to keep camp residents informed about symptoms of the virus.
    But there was only so much they could do.
    The UK-based Islamic Relief charity warned that healthcare in Idlib in the northwest was already “at the brink of collapse
    The population suffers from mass homelessness and chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes as well as trauma injuries from the conflict, it said in a statement on Wednesday.
    “People’s immune systems have been systematically worn down by the violence and years of malnutrition and poverty,” it said.    “The conditions are rife for an outbreak that we simply do not have the resources to handle.”
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

3/11/2020 Lebanon halts flights, bans entry from countries hit by coronavirus: PM
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab leaves after speaking during a televised address to the
nation, at the governmental palace in Beirut, Lebanon March 7, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon said on Wednesday it will halt all travel to and from Italy, South Korea, China, and Iran to curb coronavirus and gave nationals four days to return from other virus-hit countries before a more sweeping shutdown of flights would take effect.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab told a news conference that Lebanon was stepping up measures to curb the outbreak after a second death was recorded on Wednesday and the country’s total confirmed cases reached 68 according to Lebanese media.
    Diab said Lebanon was also banning entry of passengers from France, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Spain, Britain, and Germany.
    He said that Lebanese nationals, diplomats accredited in Lebanon, residents and NGO workers would have four days to return from these countries before flights to and from them would also be halted.
    As part of heightened countermeasures, Lebanon also will ban public gatherings and shut public venues such as malls and restaurants, Diab said.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Eric Knecht; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alison Williams)

3/11/2020 Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian teen during West Bank protest, Palestinian ministry says
A Palestinian demonstrator hurls a tear gas canister fired by Israeli forces during a protest against Israeli
settlements, near the town of Beita in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli troops killed a Palestinian teenager in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday during a protest against feared Israeli land confiscation, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
    A Reuters cameraman at the scene said protesters threw rocks at soldiers, who opened fire and shot tear gas canisters while trying to clear them from a hilltop near the Israeli settlement of Itamar.
    The Israeli military said that about 500 Palestinians were burning tyres and throwing rocks at the soldiers during what it described as a violent riot, and that the incident will be reviewed.
    The Palestinian Health Ministry said one youth, aged 15, was killed by a live bullet, and another 18 protesters were wounded by rubber-coated metal bullets fired by the troops.
    Palestinians and much of the world view settlements that Israel has built in territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal.    Israel disputes this.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta; Writing by Jeffrey Heller)

3/11/2020 Turkey confirms first coronavirus case, wins WHO praise for vigilance by Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca speaks during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Cagla Durak
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey confirmed its first case of the coronavirus on Wednesday, becoming the last major economy to report an outbreak after taking what the World Health Organization (WHO) described as “vigilant, cautious” measures to delay the disease.
    Health Minister Fahrettin Koca confirmed early on Wednesday that a Turkish man had been isolated after being diagnosed with the virus following high fever and a cough.
    “This is the first case confirmed in our country.    The findings show the diagnosis of coronavirus was made early and if the virus has spread it is limited,” he told a news conference.
    “Our country is prepared for this.    All measures to prevent the spread (of the virus) have been taken,” he said, referring to comprehensive screening and testing programs.
    Until the announcement, Turkey – a member of the Group of 20 biggest global economies and a major transit hub between Europe, Asia and Africa – had officially managed to avoid an outbreak, though all its neighbors except war-ravaged Syria had reported cases.    Iran has an especially high number of cases.
    In an interview hours before the announcement of the first case, Irshad Shaikh, the WHO Health Security Program Leader in Turkey, praised Ankara’s preventative measures and good organization, saying it had been “very lucky, vigilant and cautious.”
    Turkey’s tourism sector, which accounts for about 13% of its economy, stepped up calls on the government for financial help to deal with the expected negative impact of the outbreak.
    Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said a support package for the sector would be announced within the week.    He added Turkey would move to reduce tourist demand until the end of April, and hotels had been advised to postpone summer openings.
    The Tourism Evaluation Council said it suggested financial support for tour operators and airlines, reductions in utilities costs, and measures to increase bookings.    It added the sector is “starting to be negatively impacted.”
    Medical firms have been told to prioritize local demand, the government said.
‘TURKEY WAS READY’
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who arrived in parliament with an aide using a thermal camera to scan people he met for a fever, said: “No virus is stronger than our measures.”
    The WHO has given guidance globally, and is in contact with health officials in Turkey on legislation, risk management, testing and screening practices, among other issues, Shaikh said.    “In all those areas…Turkey has taken that to heart.”
    “Turkey is an advanced country, and most of the systems were already there.    What was needed was to make sure they are quick to this outbreak,” Shaikh told Reuters.
    Ankara has said that all 81 of its provinces are geared up to handle a potential outbreak and that it has set up seven test centers across the country.
    Turkey says it has developed its own testing kit, which it is also exporting to other countries, to get faster results.    On Wednesday, Koca said Turkey used a combination of its own kit and the global PRC method for testing.
    State media also reported that Turkish authorities launched investigations of 29 people who are accused of spreading false information about the virus on social media.
    Shaikh said the spread of misinformation hindered efforts to convey accurate information, adding the “infodemic” was one of the main concerns for the WHO and Turkish officials.
(Additional reporting by Mert Ozkan in Ankara and Ali Kucukgocmen, Ezgi Erkoyun and Ceyda Caglayan in Istanbul; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Gareth Jones and Lisa Shumaker)

3/12/2020 Turkey largely agreed with Russia on details of Idlib ceasefire: Anadolu
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar attends a NATO defence ministers meeting at the
Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish and Russian officials have largely reached an agreement on details of a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib region during talks in Ankara, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying by state media on Thursday.
    Last week, Turkey and Russia agreed on the ceasefire meant to halt an escalation of violence in Idlib.    A Russian delegation arrived in Ankara this week to discuss the details including a security corridor and joint patrols on the key M4 highway.
    Akar said talks with the Russians were still underway, and all Turkish forces in Idlib remained in place.    He said Turkey would continue its military offensive in Idlib if the ceasefire is violated, reiterating a warning by President Tayyip Erdogan a day earlier.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

3/12/2020 Pentagon: Military response ‘on the table’ after Iranian-backed deadly strike on Camp Taji base by OAN Newsroom
Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday, March 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
    The Defense Department is considering a military response to the latest deadly attack on a coalition military base in Iraq.    On Thursday, Secretary Mark Esper stated “all options are on the table” in terms of the potential response to the recent rocket attack on Camp Taji.
    Two Americans and one British citizen were killed in Wednesday’s attack.    More than two dozen rockets were launched at the facility from a nearby truck, 18 of which reportedly hit the base.    According to the defense secretary, the strike was carried out by an Iranian-backed Shia militia, which targeted coalition troops in the region.
    The two U.S. service members who fell victim to the attack have not been publicly identified.    Officials are working to inform their families.
    Esper has stressed the U.S. will not tolerate this incident and will bring the perpetrators to justice.
This photo released by the government-affiliated Media Security Cell on Thursday, March 12, 2020, shows a rocket-rigged truck
launcher after a rocket attack on Camp Taji, a few miles north of Baghdad, in Rashidiya, Iraq. (Media Security Cell via AP)
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also condemned the rocket strike.
    U.S. Central Command General Frank McKenzie has said the investigation remains underway.    He believes Iran has retreated back to its proxies to avoid any state-on-state attack, which could trace accountability directly back to Tehran.
    Despite this, Secretary Esper reiterated, “You don’t get to shoot at our bases, kill and wound Americans, and get away with it.”
    Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has echoed these remarks, claiming that Iran will face an aggressive U.S. response.    He suggested President Trump should respond to Iran with the harshest possible terms.
    “I think the president’s going to be very aggressive,” he said.    “At the time of our choosing, we should hit back.”
    According to Graham, the Iranian-backed militants who carried out the attack will be the main target of retaliatory measures.

3/12/2020 Bahrain accuses Iran of ‘biological aggression’, Gulf states try to curb coronavirus by Nafisa Eltahir and Lisa Barrington
Employees sit behind their desks, as they wait for customers at a travel agency, following the outbreak of coronavirus,
after the decision to ban travel to several countries, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 12, 2020. REUTERS/ Ahmed Yosri
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain accused Iran on Thursday of “biological aggression” by covering up the spread of the coronavirus and failing to stamp Bahraini travelers’ passports.
    As the death toll continued to rise in Iran, Gulf Arab states took new steps to contain the virus, with Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority saying anyone diagnosed with coronavirus was forbidden from attending Friday prayers.
    Attendance is generally mandatory for able-bodied men in Islam, but Riyadh said those under quarantine and those afraid of being infected or infecting others need not attend.
    Many of the recorded infections throughout the Gulf region are linked to travel to Iran, which hosts several important shrines and pilgrimage sites for Shi’ite Muslims.
    “With this behavior, Iran has allowed the disease to travel abroad, and in my estimation this constitutes a form of biological aggression that is criminalised by international law, as it has put in danger our safety and health and that of others,” Bahraini Interior Minister General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa said on Twitter.
    In an apparent response, Amir Abdollahian, special aide to Iran’s parliamentary speaker, tweeted: “America, which rules Bahrain through the presence of its Fifth Fleet, is a major cause of biological warfare and initially denied the existence of coronavirus.”
    Saudi Arabia, which has a minority Shi’ite population and had already made it a crime to travel to Iran, last week denounced its regional rival for granting Saudi citizens entry.
    Bahrain, where Shi’ites make up a majority of the population, has no such restrictions.
    Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi has denied that not stamping passports has anything to do with coronavirus and called on Riyadh to avoid politicizing the epidemic.
    No Gulf Arab state has reported a coronavirus death.
    But Bahrain on Wednesday reported 77 new infections among citizens evacuated from Iran.    A second government-chartered repatriation flight was scheduled for Thursday.
    Bahrain said non-compliance with isolation measures would be punishable by up to three months in jail and a fine of up to 10,000 Kuwaiti dinars ($32,000).    Three people have already been reported to the public prosecutor, state news agency BNA said.
FLIGHT BANS
    Saudi Arabia, which has suspended the Umrah pilgrimage and locked down its eastern Qatif region where many infections are located, announced 24 new cases for a total of 45.
    Riyadh halted flights to the European Union and 12 other countries, extending an earlier ban and giving Saudi citizens and residents 72 hours to return, state news agency SPA said.
    The flight ban now includes many countries from where millions of Saudi Arabia’s migrant workers hail.
    Passenger traffic through all land crossings with Jordan was also suspended.    Commercial and cargo traffic continued.
    Saudi authorities asked people to avoid shaking hands and congregating in groups of more than 50.    They announced that wedding halls and hotels would be closed to all social gatherings from Friday.
    Kuwait reported eight new infections, taking its total to 80, and started a two-week public holiday declared to help contain the virus.    Authorities shut the stock market on Thursday and banned all commercial passenger flights to and from Kuwait.
    Oman suspended tourist visas from all countries and banned cruise ships from docking.    The United Arab Emirates reported 11 new cases, taking its total to 85.
    Dubai’s Emirates airline said it had frozen recruitment and was suspending flights to Italy until April 3, in addition to other routes in the United States, Europe and Far East. Sister carrier flydubai said it was suspending flights to Italy.
    Dubai’s crown prince announced an AED 1.5 billion ($408 million) stimulus package to support the retail, trade, tourism and energy sectors.
    Qatar, which reported 238 new cases among expatriates in a single residential compound, announced on Thursday the indefinite closure of cinemas, theaters, gyms and museums.
($1 = 0.3067 Kuwaiti dinars)
($1 = 3.6728 UAE dirham)
(Additional reporting by Samar Hassan, Ahmed Hagagy, Parisa Hafezi, Alaa Swilam, Saeed Azhar and Stephen Kalin; Writing by Nafisa Eltahir and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Gareth Jones, Timothy Heritage and Daniel Wallis)

3/12/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu orders schools closed, calls for unity government by Ari Rabinovitch
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement at the
Health Ministry in Jerusalem March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday ordered most schools in the country to close as a precaution against coronavirus, and called for the formation of an emergency national unity government.
    Primary and secondary schools, with some exceptions such as special education programs, would be shut, he said.
    “We are altering our internal routine in order to handle an outside threat, the threat of the virus,” Netanyahu, 70, said in remarks broadcast live.
    The right-wing leader’s tenure is in doubt after three inconclusive elections in less than a year.
    Calling for a unity government, he said: “It will be an emergency government for a limited time, and together we will fight to save the lives of tens of thousands of citizens.”
    Netanyahu’s principal rival, centrist Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, said he would be willing to discuss the proposal in a responsible fashion.    He tweeted that any such government should be “broad” and represent all sides of Israeli society.
    Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz command a clear majority in parliament after the latest election, on March 2.
    Netanyahu has faced calls to step aside ahead of a corruption trial that begins on March 17.
    He faces charges including bribery, breach of trust and fraud, but denies any wrongdoing and is under no legal obligation to resign while the legal proceedings continue.
    The latest coronavirus measures follow a series of tightening restrictions imposed by Israel and the Palestinians.
    Earlier this week Netanyahu ordered all visitors to Israel to self-isolate for two weeks, and the Allenby Bridge crossing between Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank was closed in what Israeli officials said was a joint Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian effort to stop the virus from spreading.
    Israel’s flag carrier El Al said on Thursday it would start suspending most of its flights on Sunday but would maintain regular flight routes to the United States, Canada, England, France and South Africa.
    The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, said it would restrict travel with Egypt and Israel for all but the most urgent cases from Friday, and anyone entering Gaza would be put under “mandatory quarantine.”
    It ordered schools and universities closed until the end of March.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, additional reporting byt Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza. Editing by Stephen Farrell, Toby Chopra and Mike Collett-White)

3/12/2020 Turkey’s first coronavirus case shuts schools, impacts sports by Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: A worker in a protective suit disinfects a bus due to coronavirus
concerns in Istanbul, Turkey March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish schools will be closed for one week and universities for three weeks from March 16 and sports events will be held without spectators until end-April, Turkey said on Thursday, stepping up its response to coronavirus after its first reported case.
    Turkey confirmed its first coronavirus infection on Wednesday, becoming the last major economy to report an outbreak after taking what the World Health Organization (WHO) described as “vigilant, cautious” measures.
    “We have the ability to overcome this period together, God willing, without becoming complacent or panicking,” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told a news conference to announce the moves.
    “When you look at the global picture, we can see that the measures taken in Turkey are effective,” he said after President Tayyip Erdogan chaired a meeting of ministers at the presidential palace to discuss Ankara’s response to the pandemic.
    Erdogan’s foreign visits will be postponed for an unspecified period of time due to the spread of the virus, while state officials will have to seek permission to travel abroad, Kalin also said.
    He said primary, middle and secondary schools would be closed for one week and after that students will receive remote online tuition for another week from March 23.
    Until Wednesday’s announcement of a coronavirus case, Turkey had officially managed to avoid an outbreak, though all its neighbors except war-ravaged Syria had reported cases.    Iran has an especially high number of cases and deaths.
    Kalin said that the patient who tested positive was in a good condition and that there was also no problem with others who had been quarantined.
    Despite having only one confirmed case, Turkey is poised to stretch its central bank and public finances even more to defend the economy and tourism sector from the pandemic, having already unleashed massive stimulus to recover from a 2018 currency crisis.
    Turkey is the world’s sixth-largest tourist destination but waves of travel restrictions and cancellations could pinch a sector that accounts for some 12% of the import-dependent economy, analysts said.
    Ankara has said that all 81 of its provinces are geared up to handle a potential outbreak and that it has set up seven test centers across the country.
    Turkey says it has developed its own testing kit, which it is exporting to other countries, to get faster results.    Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has said Turkey used a combination of its own kit and the global PRC method for testing.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Lisa Shumaker)

3/13/2020 Second patient diagnosed with coronavirus in Turkey – minister
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A second patient has been diagnosed with coronavirus in Turkey, the country’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Friday after Ankara announced a series of measures to curb the spread of the virus.
    Koca wrote on Twitter that the second patient, whose test results came on Thursday evening, was from the circle of people close the first patient diagnosed on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

3/13/2020 U.S. strikes Iranian targets across Iraq by OAN Newsroom
Destroyed buildings are seen at an airport complex under construction in Karbala, Iraq, Friday, March 13, 2020. Iraq’s military
said five security force members and a civilian were killed early Friday in a barrage of U.S. airstrikes, which were launched hours after
a rocket attack killed and wounded American and British servicemen at a base north of Baghdad. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)
    The U.S. Air Force recently launched retaliatory strikes against an Iranian-backed terror-group in Iraq.    On Thursday, U.S. and coalition jets hit multiple targets in four provinces of Iraq.
    The strikes allegedly targeted an Iranian-backed militant group that is part of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces and is suspected of staging a deadly strike on the Camp Taji base Wednesday. Two American soldiers and a British nurse died in that attack.
    The Defense Department has yet to provide information on the latest aerial operation and its targets, however, Iraq’s military released a statement Friday morning condemning the strikes.
    Meanwhile, the United Nations has called for maximum restraint after the fatal attack in Iraq.    UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric addressed the press in New York on Thursday.    He was commenting on Wednesday’s rocket strike. The attack was reportedly carried out using a truck rigged with Katyusha rockets.
This photo released by the government-affiliated Media Security Cell on Thursday, March 12, 2020, shows a rocket-rigged truck
launcher after a rocket attack on Camp Taji, a few miles north of Baghdad, in Rashidiya, Iraq. (Media Security Cell via AP)
    Dujarric urged for caution in response to the attack, but also called on Iraqi authorities to use their full powers to bring justice to the perpetrators.
    “The UN Mission says that these ongoing attacks are a clear and substantial threat to the country, and the risk of rogue action by armed groups remains a constant concern,” he stated.    “The last thing Iraq needs is to serve as an arena for vendettas and external battles.”
    Defense officials have said the recent up-tick in attacks may be due to multiple reasons, including the coronavirus or deceased Gen. Qasem Soleimani’s birthday which was Wednesday.
    Iran’s foreign minister has called on the U.S. to lift sanctions on the country, which he described as a “campaign of economic terrorism.”    Mohammad Javad Zarif made the demand Thursday in a letter to UN Secretary Gen. Antonio Guterres.
    The Iranian official also requested the UN and member states stand in solidarity with the Iranian people.    Zarif claimed the sanctions are crippling Iran’s oil industry and noted that it’s interfering with the country’s effort to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
    New financial reports show Iranian oil production has dropped dramatically since sanctions were imposed back in 2018.

3/13/2020 Iraq condemns U.S. air strikes, warns of consequences by Ahmed Saeed, Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali
A worker checks the damages at a civilian airport under construction which, according to Iraqi religious authorities,
was hit by a U.S. air strike, in the holy Shi'ite city of Kerbala, Iraq March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    KERBALA, Iraq/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iraq condemned overnight U.S. air strikes on Friday, saying they killed six people and warning of dangerous consequences for what it called a violation of sovereignty and targeted aggression against the nation’s regular armed forces.
    President Barham Salih said repeated such violations could cause Iraq to unravel into a failed state and revive the Islamic State militant group.    Iraq’s foreign ministry announced plans to bring a complaint to the United Nations.
    The United States defended the air strikes, saying all five targets were legitimate and stored Iranian-supplied weapons used by the Kataib Hezbollah militia to attack the U.S.-led coalition.    Washington launched the strikes in retaliation for a rocket attack on Wednesday on a base north of Baghdad that killed U.S. and British troops.
    “These locations that we struck are clear locations of terrorist bases,” said Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the U.S. military’s Central Command.
    “If Iraqis were there and if Iraqi military forces were there, I would say it’s probably not a good idea to position yourself with Kataib Hezbollah in the wake of a strike that killed Americans and coalition members,” he told a Pentagon news briefing.
    The Iraqi military warned the air strikes would have consequences while the foreign ministry said it summoned the U.S. and British ambassadors.
    Long-standing antagonism between the United States and Iran have mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months, stoking deep-seated tensions between elements of Iraqi society who oppose the U.S. military presence and those who see U.S.-led coalition support as vital to preventing the resurgence of Islamic State militants.
    McKenzie said the death toll from the strike appeared limited.    Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement that three soldiers, two policemen and one civilian were killed, according to an initial toll, and that four soldiers, two policemen, a civilian, and five militiamen were injured.
    “The pretext that this attack came as a response to the aggression that targeted the Taji base is a false pretext; one that leads to escalation and does not provide a solution,” Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement.
    The civilians killed and wounded were construction workers at an airport building site in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Kerbala, Iraqi religious authorities said.
    McKenzie acknowledged that a structure had been hit near the Kerbala airfield but said it was being used to store weapons.
    “That was a clear target,” he said.
PROXY WAR
    Around 5,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, most in an advisory capacity, as part of a wider international coalition formed to help Iraq drive back and defeat Islamic State militants.
    But the Iraqi military said the new U.S. air attack went against “any partnership” under the coalition.    “It will have consequences that subject everyone to the most serious dangers.”
    Iran’s foreign ministry said on Friday that the “presence and behavior” of U.S. and allied forces in Iraq was to blame for attacks against them.
    Iranian-backed paramilitary groups have regularly rocketed and shelled bases in Iraq that host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
    The United States, which believes Iran wants to drive it from the region, has conducted several strikes inside Iraq, killing top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January.
    Many Iraqis say it is they who stand to suffer most from U.S.-Iranian tensions and some, including caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, have called for U.S. troops to withdraw.
    McKenzie said he was confident the United States would be able to keep troops in Iraq.
    He added that while the latest U.S. strikes would deter militia from waging similarly deadly rocket attacks, the risk from Iran and the groups it backs remained high.
    “I think the tensions have actually not gone down,” he said.
    Parliament passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave after Soleimani was killed.    The recent air strikes could see those calls renewed.
    Iraq has suffered decades of war, sanctions and sectarian conflict, including the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
    Iraq is grappling with anti-government unrest in which almost 500 people have been killed since Oct. 1.
    It also faces an unprecedented power vacuum after Abdul Mahdi stood down from most of his duties and his designated successor withdrew his candidacy.
(Reporting Ahmed Saeed; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein and Phil Stewart; Editing by Nick Tattersall, Mark Heinrich and Tom Brown)

3/13/2020 Kenya, Ethiopia join expanding list of African states with coronavirus by Duncan Miriri and Omar Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: Kenyan nurses wearing protective gear prepare a ward during a demonstration of preparations for any potential coronavirus
cases at the Mbagathi Hospital, isolation centre for coronavirus, in Nairobi, Kenya March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Njeri Mwangi/File Photo
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Guinea all confirmed their first cases of the new coronavirus on Friday, giving the disease a foothold in 18 countries on the African continent.
    Africa had until now largely been spared the rapid spread of COVID-19, which has infected at least 127,000 people and killed 4,700 worldwide.
    Most of Africa’s reported cases were foreigners or people who had traveled abroad.    Rapid testing and quarantines have been put in place to limit transmission.
    But concerns are growing about the continent’s ability to handle the disease.
    Cases have been reported in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia.
    The numbers of cases in most of the countries are still in single figures.
    Senegal confirmed 11 new cases on Friday, raising the total in the West African nation to 21.    The Health Ministry said 16 had been infected by the same man who had returned from Italy.
    Among those confirming cases on Friday, Kenya is the richest economy in East Africa and a hub for global firms and the United Nations, while Ethiopia is Africa’s second-most populous nation, with 109 million people.    Addis Ababa and Nairobi are regional transit hubs.
    In Nairobi, the Kenyan authorities banned all major public events and said they would restrict foreign travel.    The mayor of Addis Ababa urged citizens to avoid close personal contact but Ethiopia’s health minister said there were no plans to cancel flights.
TRAVELERS FALL SICK
    Kenyan Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said the country’s first case, a 27-year-old Kenyan, was diagnosed on Thursday after traveling home via London on March 5.
    He said the government had traced most of the people she had been in contact with, including fellow passengers on her flight, and a government response team would monitor their temperatures for the next two weeks.
    The Ethiopian case was a 48-year old Japanese national who arrived in Ethiopia on March 4, the Health Ministry said.
    Guinea’s first case was an employee of the European Union delegation who had self-isolated after she felt ill upon returning from Europe, the EU delegation said.
    Sudan’s first confirmed coronavirus case was a man who died on Thursday in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, the Health Ministry said.    He had visited the United Arab Emirates in the first week of March.
HALTING THE SPREAD
    Kenyan Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said the government had suspended all public gatherings, sporting events, open-air religious meetings and events “of a huge public nature.”    Schools will remain open but inter-school events were suspended.
    Public transport operators must install hand sanitizers in their vehicles and clean them regularly, Kagwe said, while foreign travel would be restricted.
    Soon after the announcement, shoppers in one Nairobi supermarket were buying up cart loads of staples like maize flour and water, as well as hand sanitizers and soap.
    Kenya Airways suspended flights to China last month and on Thursday added Rome and Geneva to the list of suspended destinations.
    Kenya, which relies on heavily on Asian imports, has seen disruptions to its supply chain and a decline in tourism, an important source of hard currency and jobs.
    “We are going to be hit badly,” Tourism Minister Najib Balala told journalists.
    The Nairobi Securities Exchange halted trading in the afternoon after the main NSE 20 share index dropped by more than 5% following the news.
    Mauritius, an island nation off the coast of East Africa whose economy depends on tourism and financial services, has yet to report any COVID-19 cases but said it was offering liquidity to banks to support struggling firms hit by the impact of the virus and cutting banks’ cash reserve requirements.
(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld, Humphrey Malalo, Dawit Endeshaw and Giulia Paravicini; Editing by Katharine Houreld, Nick Tattersall and Philippa Fletcher)

3/13/2020 Muslims pray in thousands, heed coronavirus warnings at Jerusalem holy site
People sit in front of the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary
and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City March 13, 2020 REUTERS/ Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Muslims gathered in smaller-than-usual numbers at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on Friday after religious authorities decided to keep Islam’s third holiest site open for prayers but enact health measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
    Thousands of worshippers, some wearing face masks, were asked to keep their distance from one another as they filed into the Old City compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
    In Israel 126 cases of the disease have been reported and another 35 in the occupied West Bank.
    Israel has banned gatherings of more than 100 people and some religious authorities, including the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, have moved to implement crowd controls at places of worship.
    But the Jordan-appointed council that oversees Islamic sites on Jerusalem’s sacred compound kept it open for Friday prayers, encouraging faithful to congregate on the 35-acre complex’s outdoor grounds rather than inside its covered shrines.
    “Whoever has this sickness, this virus, needs to keep their distance so it won’t spread.    This is an obligation for Muslims,” Sheikh Mohammad Hussein said in his sermon.
    The Waqf council reassured worshippers in a statement that the entire compound, including its golden Dome of the Rock shrine, was being “sterilized continuously.”
    Muslim faithful believe the site to be where the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven.    Jews revere it as the site of the Jewish temples of antiquity.    It is one of the most sensitive venues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
(Reporting by Ammar Awad and Ali Sawafta, Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

3/14/2020 Rocket strike hits Iraq’s Camp Taji in second suspected Hezbollah attack by OAN Newsroom
Photos via OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III Twitter.
    Camp Taji is under attack for the second time this week.    On Saturday, Iraqi Security Forces confirmed 25 rockets struck the base.
    At least seven injuries have been reported.    No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
    The incident came just days after the U.S. Air Force conducted retaliatory airstrikes on Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah.    On Thursday, U.S. and coalition jets hit multiple targets in four provinces of Iraq.
This annotated image provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, shows aerial images of sites that were to
be targeted in U.S. airstrikes in Iraq on Friday, March 13, 2020. (U.S. Department of Defense via AP)
    The strikes allegedly targeted an Iranian-backed militant group that is part of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces and is suspected of staging a deadly strike on the Camp Taji base Wednesday.    Two American soldiers and a British nurse died in that attack.
    The Defense Department has yet to provide information on the latest aerial operation and its targets.    However, Iraq’s military released a statement Friday morning condemning the strikes.

3/14/2020 Three U.S. troops wounded in renewed rocket attacks on Iraq’s Taji base by Ahmed Rasheed, Ahmed Aboulenein and Phil Stewart
A building where the Iraqi Army found unused Katyusha rockets is seen in Umm al-Izam, in this picture
provided by Iraqi Media Security Cell, March 14, 2020. Iraqi Media Security Cell/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Three American troops and several Iraqi forces were wounded on Saturday in the second major rocket attack in the past week on an Iraqi base north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said, raising the stakes in an escalating cycle of attacks and reprisals.
    Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said 33 Katyusha rockets were launched near a section of the Taji base which houses U.S.-led coalition troops.    It said the military found seven rocket launchers and 24 unused rockets in the nearby Abu Izam area.
    The Iraqi military said several Iraqi air defense servicemen were critically wounded.    Two of the three wounded U.S. troops are seriously injured and are being treated at a military hospital in Baghdad, the Pentagon said.
    Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined to speculate on potential U.S. responses but, in a statement, cited Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s warning last week: “You cannot attack and wound American Service Members and get away with it, we will hold them to account.”
    The rocket attacks came less than two days after the United States launched retaliatory air strikes at facilities in Iraq that the Pentagon linked to the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, which it blamed for Wednesday’s attack on Taji.
    The retaliatory strikes were meant to deter militia from staging any more rocket attacks.     Not only did the retaliatory strikes appear to fail to stem more attacks on the U.S.-led coalition, Iraq protested the U.S. air strikes and said members of its security forces were among the dead.
    The official Iraqi casualty figures showed three Iraqi soldiers, two policemen, one civilian and no militiamen were killed in the U.S. strikes, which Baghdad condemned as a violation of its sovereignty and targeted aggression against its regular armed forces.
    The Iraqi military said on Saturday that neither the United States nor other foreign forces should use the latest attack as a pretext to take military action without Iraq’s approval, and should instead hasten to implement a parliamentary resolution expelling them.
    The Pentagon said Iraqi security forces had made an initial arrest and added the United States was assisting with the investigation into the attack.
    Longstanding antagonism between the United States and Iran has mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months.
    Iranian-backed paramilitary groups have regularly rocketed and shelled bases in Iraq which host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
    The United States has in turn conducted several strikes inside Iraq, killing top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January.
    Many Iraqis say it is they who suffer most from U.S.-Iranian tensions and some, including caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, have called for U.S. troops to withdraw.    Parliament voted to expel foreign troops in January.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Phil Stewart; additional reporting by Idrees Ali, Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein and Phil Stewart; Editing by James Drummond, Daniel Wallis and Chizu Nomiyama)

3/14/2020 Palestinians suspend prayers at mosques, churches to fight coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian police officers stand guard outside the Church of the Nativity that was closed as a preventive
measure against the coronavirus, in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    GAZA/RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – The Palestinian Authority suspended prayers in mosques and churches in the occupied West Bank on Saturday to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, and Gaza’s Hamas rulers said all the enclave’s border crossings would be shut for travel.
    The Palestinian Authority’s Religious Affairs Ministry asked Palestinians to worship at home.
    “In light of the Health Ministry’s recommendation to minimize contact between people and to reduce gatherings as much as possible we call upon our Muslim people in Palestine to hold their prayers at home,” a ministry statement said.
    In Ramallah, a prayer leader reciting the Muslim call to prayer at one mosque in the early evening added the words: “Pray at home, pray at home.”
    According to Palestinian health officials, 38 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the West Bank, where the Palestinians have limited self rule under the Palestinian Authority.    None have been reported in the densely-populated Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamist Hamas group.
    The Hamas-led government said it was closing Gaza’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt for travel, excluding life-threatening cases that required medical treatment outside the enclave.    Gatherings would be limited to 100 people and schools were to remain shut through March.
    Citing security reasons, Israel and Egypt keep the coastal Gaza Strip under a blockade with tight control of movements over their border land crossings.
    Religious authorities have so far kept Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque, which is Islam’s third holiest site, open for prayers.
    The Jordan-appointed council that oversees Islamic sites on Jerusalem’s sacred compound has kept it open for Friday prayers, encouraging faithful to congregate on the 35-acre complex’s outdoor grounds rather than inside its covered shrines.
    The Waqf council reassured worshippers in a statement this week that the entire compound, including its golden Dome of the Rock shrine, was being “sterilised continuously.”
    Muslim faithful believe the site to be where the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven.    Jews revere it as the site of the Jewish temples of antiquity. It is one of the most sensitive venues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    In Israel, where 164 coronavirus cases have been confirmed, gatherings have been limited to 100 people.    Some religious authorities in the Holy Land, including the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, have moved to implement crowd controls at places of worship.
    Muslim majority countries have introduced a range of measures to try to halt the infection.
    Egypt will suspend schools and universities for two weeks starting on March 15.    Among Gulf Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait taking the most drastic decisions by cancelling all international flights.
    Attendance at Friday prayers is generally mandatory for able-bodied men in Islam, but Riyadh said those under quarantine and those afraid of being infected or infecting others need not attend.
    Pakistan has shut its schools and land borders and decided to limit international flights and discourage large gatherings.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Maayan Lubell, Editing by William Maclean)

3/14/2020 Four more African nations confirm coronavirus, new controls put in place by Clement Uwiringiyimana
FILE PHOTO: A man washes his hands at a public hand washing station before boarding a bus as a cautionary measure
against the coronavirus at the Nyabugogo Bus Park in Kigali, Rwanda. March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Maggie Andresen
    KIGALI (Reuters) – Mauritania, Rwanda, Seychelles and Central African Republic confirmed their first coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing to 23 the number of African countries that have reported positive tests for the virus.
    Moving swiftly to contain its spread, Rwanda, Senegal, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco and Kenya announced tougher control measures, including bans on public gatherings, halting flights and closing schools and universities.
    Three days after the World Health Organization (WHO) described the outbreak as a pandemic, there is concern among health specialists about the ability of some African nations to meet the logistical and financial challenges posed by the fast-spreading virus.
    Borders are porous and many nations have extremely poor health infrastructure.    Some countries, like Somalia, are fighting insurgencies while others, such as South Sudan, have high levels of malnutrition.
    But governments are implementing preventative steps to try to keep the virus at bay.
    “To prevent the outbreak entering in Madagascar, all flights connecting Madagascar to Europe are suspended for 30 days,” Madagascar President Hery Rajaonarimampianina said in a statement.
    Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest nations where malnutrition is rife and outbreaks of deadly diseases are common, will also suspend air links to the nearby islands of La Reunion and Mayotte, he said.
    The East African nation of Rwanda, which registered its first coronavirus case on Saturday, announced hours later that schools and universities would be closed for two weeks starting from Monday.
    The Health Ministry also called for all places of worship to close their doors and for large gatherings such as weddings and sport events to be postponed.
    In West Africa, Senegal announced schools and universities would stop classes and canceled all religious festivals.    So far, Senegal has reported 21 cases.
    The United Nations said that as of Friday, 39 countries had closed schools worldwide, affecting more than 420 million children and young people.
    Other nations suspended flights.
    Authorities in Kenya, which confirmed its first case on Friday, banned all major public events and said they would restrict foreign travel.    Some private schools said they would close down starting next week.
    Kenya is East Africa’s richest economy, the regional headquarters for many multinationals and a major regional transit hub.
    In North Africa, Morocco suspended flights from 21 countries on Saturday. So far, Morocco has confirmed 13 cases.
    Most cases reported on the continent so far are foreigners or locals who traveled abroad. Rapid testing and quarantines have been put in place to limit transmission.
(Additional reporting by Lovasoa Rabary in Antananarivo, Omar Mohamed in Nairobi, Aaron Ross in Dakar, Kissima Diagana in Nouakchott, Antoine Rolland in Bangui and Ahmed Eljechtimi in Rabat; Writing by Giulia Paravicini; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Helen Popper)

3/14/2020 Egypt shuts schools, universities for two weeks as virus cases increase
FILE PHOTO: People sit in a coffee shop in Cairo, Egypt February March 10, 2020. Picture taken March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Hanaa Habib
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt said it will close schools and universities for two weeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as the number of cases rises, reaching 110 on Saturday with two deaths.
    The suspension of classes from Sunday follows previously announced measures including the cancellation of large public gatherings, restrictions on the time allocated for mass prayers and the halting of local soccer league matches for two weeks.
    “Because we found that the numbers have started rising as of late, we decided to take such precautionary measures from this point in time (to prevent) the rapid spread that happened in other countries that delayed these kinds of decisions,” Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly told a news conference as he announced the temporary closure of schools and universities.
    Egypt has also taken measures aimed at reassuring tourists that it is safe to visit the country after passengers contracted the coronavirus on a Nile river cruise ship.
    Hundreds of tourists and tourism workers have been tested for the virus, and hotel facilities and cruise ships in Luxor and Aswan have been sanitized.
    President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also called for a 100 billion Egyptian pound ($6.38 billion) fund to finance a “comprehensive” state plan for tackling the outbreak, a statement by the presidency said, without giving details about the source of the funding.
    Egypt’s health ministry said late on Saturday that the country had registered 17 new cases of the virus, bringing the total to 110.
(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek, Moamen Saeed Attallah and Mohamed Waly; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Catherine Evans, Ulf Laessing and Helen Popper)

3/14/2020 UAE cancels events, flights as central bank announces coronavirus fiscal plan by Maher Chmaytelli and Hesham Abdul Khalek
FILE PHOTO: Travellers wear masks as they arrive at the Dubai International Airport, after the UAE's Ministry of Health and Community
Prevention confirmed the country's first case of coronavirus, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates said on Saturday it was shutting major tourism and cultural venues to contain the spread of coronavirus and announced a $27-billion plan to counter the outbreak’s economic impact.
    Attractions such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum and the Ferrari World theme park will be closed from March 15-31, the Abu Dhabi Government Media Office said, while the country’s civil aviation authority indefinitely suspended flights to and from Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and Iraq from March 17.
    The UAE, which has reported 85 coronavirus infections but no deaths, and other Gulf Arab states are intensifying measures to halt the virus as the number of cases rises.    Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have taken the most drastic steps, cancelling all international flights.
    Dubai, the UAE’s regional business and transit hub, said it was cancelling all events planned in March and asked hotels to stop hosting wedding celebrations. Some shops have voluntarily closed to boost containment efforts.
    In the capital, Abu Dhabi, cinemas, arcades and entertainment venues have been shuttered, state news agency WAM reported.
    Seeking to soften the impact of the shutdowns on key sectors such as tourism and transportation, the central bank said its program would help banks and companies weather the crisis.
    Saudi Arabia also announced $13 billion to support small and medium enterprises.
    Saudi Arabia, which reported 17 new cases on Saturday bringing its total to 103, said two-week flight suspensions would start on Sunday, while Kuwait did not specify a length for its grounding which began on Saturday.
    Saudi Arabia has already suspended the Umrah pilgrimage and locked down its eastern Qatif region where many infections are located.    On Saturday, it also closed popular family entertainment zones located inside many shopping malls.
    Health ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdelali urged the population of 30 million to avoid gathering in public, minimize movements and stay at home as much as possible.
    “(Such) measures slow the growth of cases so that we can control it, while the countries that take delayed measures experience fast growth which the health systems cannot deal with,” he told reporters.
GULF INFECTIONS RISE
    The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of six oil-rich Arab monarchies which also includes Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, has reported nearly 900 coronavirus cases, mostly in people who had traveled to Iran or who been infected by visitors to Iran.
    No deaths have been reported in the GCC, unlike Iran where the toll rose by nearly 100 on Saturday to 611, out of 12,729 total infections.
    Oman, with the lowest number of infections in the region at 20, said on Saturday all schools and educational institutions would close for a month, a precaution also taken by other GCC states and Yemen.
    Saudi Arabia and Oman canceled all sporting events until further notice, state media said.
    The UAE will stop issuing visas, except for foreign diplomats, from March 17, WAM reported, citing immigration authorities.
    Qatar will halt the issuance of visas upon arrival to a number of European nationalities from Sunday, the government communication office said, while the Qatar Olympic Committee suspended all local sports activities until March 29.
    Qatar confirmed 17 new infections on Saturday, bringing the total number of cases to 337, the highest in the GCC, followed by Bahrain with 211 and Kuwait with 104.
    Gulf health authorities have stepped up pleas to avoid gatherings and are sanitizing public places.
    Police in Kuwait used drones fitted with loudspeakers to urge people on the streets to avoid gathering.    Health Minister Basel Al-Sabah said on state television: “I urge you by God to stay at home.”
    The competing sides in Yemen’s civil war announced airport closures including in the capital Sana’a, a measure that will affect flights operated by United Nations organizations taking part in humanitarian relief efforts.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Mike Harrison and Helen Popper)

3/14/2020 Syria, insisting it is coronavirus-free, takes broad steps to prevent spread
A health worker tests a man as part of security measures to avoid the spread of coronavirus, at the Bab el-Salam border crossing
between the Syrian town of Azaz and the Turkish town of Kilis, seen from Syria, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria has delayed parliamentary elections, shut schools and canceled most public events to prevent any spread of the coronavirus, as officials said the war-ravaged country was still free of the virus despite reports it was hiding cases.
    Education Minister Imad al-Azab told a news conference on Saturday schools would be closed until April 2 as authorities monitor for the virus, saying it was “not possible” for the government to conceal infections.
    Damascus said on Friday that all scientific, cultural, social and sporting events would be halted, and many public institutions would be closed or staffed at 40% of normal levels and operate during reduced hours, state news agency SANA said.
    The Health Ministry said the steps were “precautionary” and intended to raise the health sector’s readiness to control the virus should it be detected.
    The government went further on Saturday, postponing to May 20 parliamentary elections previously slated for April 13.    A top religious council, meanwhile, said Friday prayers at mosques would be suspended until April 4.
    Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian doctors had detected cases of the virus in Damascus and at least three other provinces but were under orders to keep quiet.    Azab denied this.
    “There are some saying that there are infections being hidden, but no government nor the ministry of health can cover up a disease,” he said.    “If a disease is somewhere it wants to spread, so it’s very hard to hide it.”
    Pakistani health officials said on Tuesday that at least five of their country’s cases originated from patients traveling to Pakistan from Syria via Qatar.
    It was not immediately clear whether the infections could have originated in Qatar, where cases have risen to 337, the highest among the Gulf Arab states.
    Syria is one of just three countries in the Middle East that have yet to announce a confirmed coronavirus case along with Libya and Yemen.     The three nations could face a daunting challenge to contain an outbreak after years of war that have ravaged their health care systems.
    Syria had already suspended flights to and from several countries hit by the virus including Iran, with which it has extensive ties.
    Iranian militias back Damascus in its nine-year war and Syrians flock to Iranian holy sites such as Qom, where Iran first detected the virus.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht; Additional reporting by Reuters TV in Damascus and Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi; Editing by Edmund Blair and Helen Popper)

3/14/2020 Jordan tightens lockdown to combat coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Passengers arriving to Jordan walk before being checked with thermal scanners for coronavirus
symptoms at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan said it would stop all incoming and outgoing passenger flights into the country from Tuesday as it tightens border controls and bans public gatherings and events to combat the spread of coronavirus.
    Announcing the move on Saturday, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said universities and schools would be closed for two weeks and all tourist sites and all sports facilities and cinemas would also be shut.
    Jordan’s only confirmed COVID-19 case left hospital on Friday after treatment, but the country is concerned about the speed at which the virus has spread in neighbouring countries.
    It has already closed its borders with Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel.
    Cargo and commercial traffic is exempted from the sea port, land crossing and airport closures to ensure the continued supply of goods and commodities.
    In a televised speech, Razzaz called on citizens to stay at home as much as possible, adding that the measures were needed because of the “unprecedented” nature of the global epidemic.
    “The situation around us is from bad to worse and we are not isolated,” Razzaz said, adding that the restrictions would be reviewed periodically.
    The draconian moves also involved a ban on all prayers in mosques and churches across the country and the halting of all hospital and prison visits.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/14/2020 South Africa’s coronavirus cases rise to 38, Health Ministry says
FILE PHOTO: An airport worker in a protective mask looks on as travelers arrive at the O. R. Tambo
International Airport (ORTIA) in Kempton Park, South Africa March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
    CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa rose to 38 on Saturday from 24 a day earlier, the Health Ministry said, as the government weighs new measures to contain the outbreak.
    Seven of the new cases were registered in the country’s economic heartland, Gauteng province, six in the tourism hotspot of Western Cape and one in KwaZulu-Natal province, a ministry statement said.
    All 14 of those infected had traveled abroad to countries including the United States, Britain, France and Italy — the worst-affected European nation.
    South Africa, Africa’s most-advanced economy, first detected the virus on March 5 and the jump in its positive test results comes as the outbreak spreads across the continent with Kenya, Ethiopia and Namibia reporting their first confirmed cases.
    Also on Saturday, 114 South Africans who were stuck in the Chinese city of Wuhan during a lockdown in the epicenter of the virus were flown home to spend between 14-21 days at a special quarantine center in the northern city of Polokwane in Limpopo province.
    So far, all of them have tested negative, the Health Ministry said.
    President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for an urgent cabinet meeting on Sunday to explore ways of intensifying measures to contain the outbreak, the ministry said.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Edmund Blair and Helen Popper)

3/15/2020 Coronavirus crisis delays start of Netanyahu corruption trial
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding the new
measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial was delayed on Sunday for two months, until May, due to the coronavirus crisis.
    Israel’s Justice Ministry said the trial, due to have opened on March 17 with the reading of an indictment against Israel’s longest-serving leader in three graft cases, would begin on May 24 “due to developments related to the spread of the coronavirus.”
    Netanyahu, who is spearheading Israel’s tough measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, has denied any wrongdoing in the investigations.    Charges against him include bribery, breach of trust and fraud.
    In addition to the legal battle, Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, is fighting for his political life after an inconclusive election on March 2, following ballots in April and September that also ended without a clear victor.
    Netanyahu, 70, is accused of wrongfully accepting $264,000 worth of gifts from tycoons, which prosecutors say included cigars and champagne, and of dispensing regulatory favours in alleged bids for improved coverage by a popular news website.
    He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

3/15/2020 Israel to use anti-terror tech to counter coronavirus ‘invisible enemy’ by Maayan Lubell
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding the
new measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel plans to use anti-terrorism tracking technology and a partial shutdown of its economy to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.
    Cyber tech monitoring would be deployed to locate people who have been in contact with those carrying the virus, subject to cabinet approval, Netanyahu told a news conference in Jerusalem.
    “We will very soon begin using technology … digital means that we have been using in order to fight terrorism,” Netanyahu said.    He said he had requested Justice Ministry approval because such measures could infringe patients’ privacy.
    In an escalation of precautionary measures, Netanyahu’s government announced that malls, hotels, restaurants and theaters will shut down from Sunday, and said employees should not go to their workplaces unless it was necessary.
    However vital services, pharmacies, supermarkets and banks would continue to operate.
    Health officials urged people to maintain social distancing, and not to gather more than 10 people in a room.
    The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, confirmed that it was examining the use of its technological capabilities to fight coronavirus, at the request of Netanyahu and the Health Ministry.
    Avner Pinchuk, a privacy expert with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said such capabilities could include real-time tracking of infected persons’ mobile phones to spot quarantine breaches and backtracking through meta-data to figure out where they had been and who they had contacted.
    “I am troubled by this announcement.    I understand that we are in unique circumstances, but this seems potentially like over-reach.    Much will depend on how intrusive the new measures are,” said Pinchuk.
    The Shin Bet, however, said in its statement that quarantine enforcement was not on the table.    “There is no intention of using said technologies for enforcement or tracking in the context of isolation guidelines,” it said.
    Netanyahu said it was not an easy choice to make and described the virus as an “invisible enemy that must be located.”    He said Israel would follow similar methods used by Taiwan.
    “In all my years as prime minister I have avoided using these means among the civilian public but there is no choice,” Netanyahu said.
    The latest announcement follows a series of ever-stricter restrictions imposed by Israel to contain the virus.
    The Israeli military said earlier on Saturday that it had ordered all troops to be back on their bases by Sunday morning, and that combat soldiers should prepare for a lengthy stay with no leave for up to a month.
    Last week anyone entering Israel was ordered to self-isolate for two weeks and schools have been shut.    Tens of thousands of Israelis are presently quarantined.
    Israel’s Health Ministry said 193 people have tested positive, with no fatalities.    Many had been on international flights in the past two weeks.
(Additional reporting by Tova Cohen, Dan Williams and Steven Scheer; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by William Maclean, Stephen Farrell, Daniel Wallis and Michael Perry)

3/15/2020 Israel’s president to ask Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz to form government by Jeffrey Heller and Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: Leader of Blue and White party, Benny Gantz looks on after voting at a polling station
in Israel's national election in Rosh Ha'ayin, Israel March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Opposition leader Benny Gantz will be asked to form a new government, Israel’s president said on Sunday, boosting his chances of ousting veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
    It was a blow to Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political life amid unprecedented political deadlock and a criminal indictment for corruption, which he denies.
    But it remains unclear whether Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party can break a stalemate that has been marked by three inconclusive elections in less than a year.
    Netanyahu, 70, is Israel’s longest-serving leader and has been heading the country’s efforts to combat the coronavirus.
    But last year he twice tried unsuccessfully to put together a ruling coalition.
    And on Sunday Gantz won support from two key parties, leading President Reuven Rivlin to say that he would get the first chance at forming a government after the latest election on March 2.
    “Tomorrow, around midday, the president will assign the task of forming the government to head of (Blue and White party) Benny Gantz,” Rivlin’s office said in a statement.
    The announcement came at the end of a day in which Rivlin held consultations with all parties in the 120-seat Israeli parliament, the Knesset.
    “At the end of the consultations, 61 Members of Knesset had recommended… Benny Gantz, as opposed to 58 Members of Knesset who had recommended the current prime minister and head of Likud, MK Benjamin Netanyahu,” the statement said.    One member of parliament gave no recommendation.
UNLIKELY PARTNERS
    As things stand, a Gantz coalition would likely have to be underpinned by two bitter enemies, who have both endorsed him.
    One is the Joint List, a coalition of lawmakers from Israel’s 21% Arab minority, and the other is hawkish former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu.
    Netanyahu, 70, was due to go on trial this Tuesday, but the coronavirus emergency has promoted restrictions of gatherings that delayed the start of proceedings for alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. He has denied any wrongdoing, accusing his enemies of a witch-hunt.
    Netanyahu proposed a six-month “national emergency” government, led by him, to confront the coronavirus crisis.
    Rivlin has voiced support for a unity government to break the deadlock.    But Gantz, who made an issue of Netanyahu’s character during the election campaigns, has been cool on teaming up with his rival.
    Lieberman said on Sunday: “We recommend Benny Gantz for a very, very simple reason.    In the previous election, we said the most important thing was to prevent a fourth election.”
    And Joint List head Ayman Odeh said his Arab coalition’s voters had said “an emphatic ‘no’ to a right-wing government and Benjamin Netanyahu.”    Odeh said his bloc would not join a government led by Gantz, but could potentially provide it enough votes to govern.
    About a fifth of Israeli citizens are Arabs, Palestinian by heritage but Israeli by citizenship.    No Israeli government has ever included an Arab political party.
Netanyahu’s office announced on Sunday that he had tested negative for coronavirus.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Graff, Alexander Smith and Frances Kerry)

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3/15/2020 Saudi Arabia restricts movement as Gulf states report new coronavirus cases by Stephen Kalin and Alaa Swilam
FILE PHOTO: Expatriates wait for mandatory coronavirus testing in a makeshift
testing centre in Mishref, Kuwait March 14, 2020.REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee
    RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia closed malls, restaurants, cafes and public parks on Sunday and other Gulf Arab states expanded measures to contain the coronavirus as infections spread across the region.
    The United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar reported new cases, raising the total number in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to 948, with no deaths reported.
    The UAE recorded 12 more travel-linked infections among various nationalities — South African, Australian, Chinese, Filipino, Italian, Lebanese, British, Iranian, Emirati and three Indians — raising the country’s total to 98.
    Qatar’s health ministry announced 64 new cases, Doha-based Al Jazeera TV reported and a Qatari official confirmed, saying they were quarantined.    Oman reported two more infections, including a national who had visited Italy.
    In Saudi Arabia, local municipalities tweeted directives for the closure of malls, restaurants, coffee shops and public parks, while exempting supermarkets, pharmacies and food delivery. Al Arabiya TV said the measures would apply across the country, where 103 infections have been diagnosed.
    The justice ministry postponed all non-urgent judicial hearings indefinitely.
    Regional tourism and business hub Dubai joined the UAE capital Abu Dhabi in closing cinemas, arcades, spas, gyms and parks, prompting a rush on supermarkets where many shoppers wore masks and gloves, residents said.
    The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange closed all trading halls until further notice, a day after Kuwait’s bourse did the same.
DRASTIC MEASURES
    Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which previously canceled the Umrah pilgrimage and locked down its eastern Qatif region, have taken the most drastic steps among Gulf Arab states by halting international passenger flights.    The UAE and Qatar have restricted entry visas. Emirates airline suspended more flights.
    Saudi Arabia’s central bank will intervene to support the kingdom’s economy if liquidity is tight or credit is affected, its governor told     Al Arabiya, reiterating its commitment to the riyal’s dollar peg.
    An American living in the Saudi capital Riyadh said his parents cut short their visit ahead of the kingdom’s two-week international flight suspension which went into effect at 0800 GMT.
    “I’m glad that they’re off even though it means 24 hours in the airport hotel in Dubai.    Given their age and medical issues, it’s definitely better than stuck here for weeks,” he said.
    Two gated compounds in Riyadh housing hundreds of expatriates each reported one case among residents, according to internal emails seen by Reuters.    Some compounds restricted residents’ movements and guest access.
    Asked about the cases, the Saudi health ministry spokesman said all cases are announced as they are identified.
    Citizens and residents in Kuwait, which went into virtual lockdown on Thursday, had their temperatures tested before entering banks, where long queues formed on Sunday after the state limited the number of operational branches.
    Kuwait, where the flights ban began on March 13, offered citizens stranded in London accommodation at an airport hotel with three meals a day, according to an embassy notification.
RIVALRIES
    Many cases in the Gulf are linked to travel with Iran, which emerged as an epicenter for the disease in the Middle East. Tehran on Sunday raised its toll to 724 dead and more than 13,900 infected.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday the government had no plans to quarantine cities, state TV reported.
    Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, both adversaries of Iran, have criticized the Islamic Republic for allowing their citizens to enter without stamping their passports.
    However, the outbreak has also seen rivalries sidelined.
    In a rare phone call, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan told his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif the UAE was ready to help, state media said on Sunday.
    Iranian media said Zarif thanked the UAE, which has facilitated medical supply shipments.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin, Maher Chmaytelli, Dahlia Nehme, Parisa Hafezi and Alaa Swilam and Gulf newsroom; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, William Maclean)

3/15/2020 Saudi Arabia detains 298 public officials in new corruption probes
FILE PHOTO: The gates of the Ritz-Carlton hotel are seen open in Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia, February 11, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia on Sunday announced the detention of hundreds of government officials, including military and security officers, on charges involving bribery and exploiting public office, and said investigators would bring charges against them.
    Scores of the kingdom’s economic and political elite were detained in 2017 at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in a corruption crackdown that unsettled some foreign investors.
    The royal court said last year it was winding down that campaign after 15 months, but the authorities later said they would start going after graft by ordinary government employees.
    An anti-corruption body known as Nazaha tweeted on Sunday that it had arrested and would indict 298 people on crimes such as bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power involving a total of 379 million riyals ($101 million).
    Among those implicated are eight defense ministry officers suspected of bribery and money laundering in relation to government contracts during the years 2005-2015, and 29 interior ministry officials in the Eastern Province, including three colonels, a major general and a brigadier general.
    Two judges were also detained for receiving bribes, along with nine officials accused of corruption at Riyadh’s AlMaarefa University which resulted in severe damage to a building and caused deaths and injuries, Nazaha said.
    The agency provided no names and few other details about the cases.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin, Editing by William Maclean)

3/15/2020 Saudi Arabia closes malls, restaurants, cafes and parks over coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Visitors are seen at King Fahd Library Garden, following the outbreak of coronavirus, in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 12, 2020. Picture taken March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia ordered the closure on Sunday of malls, restaurants, coffee shops and public parks and gardens, while exempting supermarkets, pharmacies and food delivery, in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.
    Several local municipalities tweeted the directives, which Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television said would apply across the country, where 103 infections but no deaths have been reported.
    The orders appeared to go into effect immediately.    A diner in Riyadh told Reuters the restaurant she had been sitting in shuttered about 45 minutes before the announcement was made.
    Saudi Arabia has taken some of the most drastic steps among Gulf Arab states by halting international passenger flights, cancelling the umrah pilgrimage and locking down its eastern Qatif region, where many cases are centered.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad, Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Alexander Smith)

3/15/2020 Saudi desert offers respite from coronavirus lockdown
FILE PHOTO: Visitors walk near the King Fahd Library, following an outbreak of coronavirus, in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 12, 2020. Picture taken March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    JEBEL FIHRAYN, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – As Saudi Arabia suspended international flights and shuttered entertainment venues this weekend over coronavirus fears, locals and residents once again turned to wide-open desert spaces for recreation, including the breathtaking ‘Edge of the World.’
    The conservative kingdom only recently lifted bans on public entertainment, including cinemas and concerts, as part of social and economic reform efforts, but the virus’s spread has prompted authorities to pause such activities again.
    Getaways to the rugged desert just outside the capital Riyadh are witnessing a surge of interest, guides say.
    Those seeking isolation away from home can make the two-hour drive northwest from the capital Riyadh to ‘The Edge of the World’ site, where 300-metre-high cliffs offer expansive desert vistas.
    “I came to enjoy trail hiking because many places are closed: cinemas, public spaces and we cannot travel,” Khalid al-Harbi, a Saudi from the Eastern Province, told Reuters.
    Sarah, a Briton living in Riyadh, said the metropolis had gone quiet nowadays.    “But here is an incredible place to come, lots of fresh air, you’re outside.    There are lots of people here but there’s such a lot of space,” she said.
    Saudi Arabia has reported 103 coronavirus cases but no deaths.    It suspended the Umrah pilgrimage and locked down its eastern Qatif region where many infections are located.
    The authorities have shuttered sports, entertainment and wedding halls, asked people to avoid shaking hands, and urged the population of 30 million to limit their movements.
    Buses and 4x4s transport families and young people to the desert site for a day of trekking and a campfire barbecue with music, dancing and waterpipes.    The cliffs, officially known as Jebel Fihrayn, overlook ancient caravan trade routes.
    “Corona is negative, but the positive is that this place is full of people,” said Abdulrahman Edres, who knows the area well as a rescue volunteer.
(Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

3/15/2020 African nations close borders, cancel flights to contain coronavirus spread by Omar Mohammed and Duncan Miriri
Catholic faithfuls use sanitizer provided by the church to clean their hands to prevent the outbreak of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) after a Sunday mass at the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi, Kenya. March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Njeri Mwangi
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Several African countries on Sunday closed borders, canceled flights and imposed strict entry and quarantine requirements to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, which has a foothold in 26 nations on the continent as cases keep rising.
    “The government is suspending travel for all persons coming into Kenya from any country with reported coronavirus cases … only Kenyan citizens, and any foreigners with valid residence permits will be allowed to come in provided they proceed on self-quarantine,” President Uhuru Kenyatta told the nation in a televised address.
    Anyone entering Kenya in the last 14 days should self-quarantine, he said.    The ban would take effect within 48 hours and remain in place for at least 30 days, he said.
    Schools should close immediately and universities by the end of the week, he said.    Citizens would be encouraged to make cashless transactions to cut the risk of handling contaminated money, he said.
    In west Africa, Ghana will from Tuesday ban entry to anyone who has been to a country with more than 200 cases in the last 14 days, unless they are an official resident or a Ghanaian national.
    In southern Africa, Namibia ordered schools to close for a month following two confirmed cases of coronavirus announced on Saturday.
    Other nations have also shuttered schools, canceled religious festivals and sporting events to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission.    Some 156,500 people worldwide have been infected and almost 6,000 have died.
    Kenya and Ethiopia have now recorded three and four cases respectively, authorities in each nation said on Sunday, two days after they both reported their first case.    All the new cases were discovered through tracing the contacts of the first case in each country, authorities said.
    Djibouti, which has no confirmed case of COVID-19, announced on Sunday it is suspending all international flights. Tanzania, which also has no cases yet, canceled flights to India and suspended school games.
    As of Sunday, cases have been reported in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Senegal, Togo, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Rwanda, Seychelles, eSwatini, Namibia, Central African Republic, Congo Brazzaville and Equatorial Guinea.
(Reporting by Ed Mc Allister in Dakar, Omar Mohammed and Duncan Miriri in Nairobi, Giulia Paravicini in Addis Ababa and Nyasha Nyaungwa in Windhoek; Writing by Giulia Paravicini, Editing by Katharine Houreld and Alexandra Hudson)

3/15/2020 Lebanon declares medical emergency, urges home working
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's President Michel Aoun attends the cabinet meeting at the presidential
palace in Baabda, Lebanon January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Michel Aoun declared a medical state of emergency in Lebanon on Sunday and called on people to work from home as the country steps up measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
    “Each of us is called upon to continue his work, from home, in the way he sees appropriate,” Aoun said in a televised address at the start of a cabinet meeting expected to declare measures to deal with the outbreak.
    Lebanon, which is already hit by a deep financial crisis, said the total number of cases had reached 99. Three people have so far died.
    Health officials have warned that any wider outbreak could severely strain Lebanon’s strapped medical resources after a months-long dollar shortage that has strained supplies.
    Lebanon last week ordered the closure of restaurants and many public venues, and halted flights from many corona-infected countries.
    In a bid to reduce potential exposure, security forces were dispatched to Beirut’s seaside corniche to disperse crowds who had come to enjoy one of the city’s few public spaces.
    “We heard they are going to issue a curfew so we said let’s take advantage of the last Sunday and the sea,” said Mohamed Sabah, a film producer.
    Lebanon’s banks will shut until March 29, according to Lebanese media, two days after the central bank asked commercial banks that have imposed strict capital controls to prioritise hard currency for the import of corona-related supplies.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht and Tom Perry; Editing by Edmund Blair and Alexandra Hudson)

3/15/2020 First Russian-Turkish patrol on Syrian highway cut short by protests
People stand on a Turkish military vehicle during a protest against an agreement on joint Russian and
Turkish patrols, at M4 highway in Idlib province, Syria, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    IDLIB,SYRIA/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and Turkey cut short their first joint patrol in Syria’s Idlib on Sunday after rebels and civilians opposed to a ceasefire agreement cut off a main roadway to block its path, according to witnesses and Russian news agencies.
    The patrol on the M4 highway in Idlib province was the result of a March 5 ceasefire accord between Moscow and Ankara, which back opposing sides in Syria’s nine-year war.    The ceasefire has largely held since then.
    Under the deal, which halted hostilities after an escalation of violence that displaced nearly a million people, Turkish and Russian forces are to establish a security corridor on either side of the M4, as well as carry out joint patrols along it.
    But on Sunday hundreds of civilians and rebels cut off the roadway, rejecting the presence of Russian forces and what they said was an agreement that did not guarantee their re-settlement after being pushed out by violence.
    “If the patrols happen without people being able to return to their lands, we oppose them,” said Osama Rahal, a military commander with the Syrian National Army, a Turkey backed rebel group.
    Protesters, some waving Syrian National Army flags, climbed atop Turkish tanks or stood in their path, according to witnesses.    Photos posted by the Syrian Observatory, a Britain-based war monitor, showed people lighting fires in the street and forming human chains.
    “We are at odds with Russians who have been killing us for six years and have bombed us by air.    So we oppose their entry into our towns,” said Ahmed Shehad, 22.
    The Russian Defense Ministry said the joint patrols were cut short because of rebel “provocations” and civilians being used as a human shield, forcing them to take a shorter route, according to Russian news agency RIA.
    Ankara has been given more time to rein in rebels undermining the patrols, the Russian defense ministry said.
    The Turkish Defense Ministry said the first patrol had been completed with air and land assets.    It released photos showing Russian and Turkish military vehicles traveling along a highway and officers in discussion as they looked at a map.
    It subsequently said the two sides in coordination “took necessary measures, with the aim of preventing potential provocations and harm to the civilian population in the region.”    It did not give further details.
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi, Andrey Ostroukh and Daren Butler; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

3/15/2020 Idlib protesters block Russian vehicles from patrols of Syria’s M4 highway by OAN Newsroom
Syrians climb on a Turkish tank in Neyrab, Sunday, March 15, 2020 as they protest agreement
on joint Turkish and Russian patrols in northwest Syria. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)
    Peaceful protesters in Idlib have effectively blocked the Russian element of joint military patrols with Turkey on Syria’s M4 highway.    Hundreds of protesters gathered in northwest Syria on Sunday.
    Many waved rebel flags, while some went so far as to climb onto Russian tanks and hit them with palm branches.
    Parked civilian vehicles partially obstructed the roadway in places, while Turkish patrol vehicles were reportedly allowed to proceed.
    “As you can see behind me, it is a civilian protest with revolution flags.    People came to reflect on its stance towards the Turkish-Russian patrols.    As you can see, they are blocking the roads.    They are allowing any Turkish patrol to go in, but they are opposing the Russian one.” – Ossamah Rahhal, protester

Syrians block main highway in Neyrab, Sunday, March 15, 2020 as they protest agreement
on joint Turkish and Russian patrols in northwest Syria. ( AP Photo)
    The protest may complicate Ankara and Moscow’s tentative March 5th agreement to patrol the roadway together.    Idlib residents reportedly remain worried over resettlement concerns following recent Syrian Army advances.
    A ceasefire in Idlib has largely been maintained since March 5th.
Syrians block the main highway in Neyrab, Sunday, March 15, 2020 as they protest agreement
on joint Turkish and Russian patrols in northwest Syria. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

3/15/2020 Israel MPs, President Rivlin mandate Benny Gantz to form new cabinet by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Wednesday, March 27, 2019 file photo, retired Israeli general Benny Gantz, one of the
leaders of the Blue and White party, prepares to deliver a speech during election campaigning
for elections to be held April 9, in Ramat Gan, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)
    Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz has received parliamentary approval to form the nation’s new government.    On Sunday, a thin majority of the country’s parliament gave Gantz the mandate to form a new cabinet, resolving a months-long political stalemate.
    The Blue and White political alliance leader secured a narrow plurality of votes in a general election earlier this month.    These latest developments marked a stunning political defeat for sitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
    Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has confirmed he will formally ask Gantz to assemble the new government on Monday.
    “Dealing with emergencies has never been at the expense of Israeli democracy. On the contrary, it strengthened it and made our country, the State of Israel, more resilient.    We are committed more than ever, in light of the urgent need for a government, to hold essential democratic processes, even at time of crisis.” – Reuven Rivlin, President of Israel
    According to officials, ending the almost a year-long political crisis was necessary to improve the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu votes during Israel’s parliamentary
elections in Jerusalem, Tuesday, April 9, 2019 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, Pool)

3/16/2020 Turkey reports 12 new coronavirus cases in largest daily rise, brings total to 18
A worker in a protective suit disinfects the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey identified 12 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its total to 18, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Monday, marking the highest daily rise since the country announced its first case last week.
    Koca said two of the new cases were related to the first case reported in the country, seven had traveled from Europe and three from the United States.
    Last Wednesday, Turkey became the last major economy to report an outbreak after taking what the World Health Organization (WHO) described as “vigilant” measures to delay it.
    Since then, the government has ramped up measures to halt the spread of the virus, closing schools and universities, holding sports events without spectators and halting flights to many countries.
    Thousands of Muslims returning to Turkey from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia were taken into quarantine on Sunday and the Interior Ministry said that bars and nightclubs will be closed from Monday to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/16/2020 Retaliatory rocket strikes targeting U.S. service members continue in Iraq by OAN Newsroom
Air Force Staff Sgt. Marshal D. Robert, left, and Army Spc. Juan Miguel Mendez Covarrubia,
right, are pictured. (Photos/COURTESY OF ROBERTS FAMILY/U.S. ARMY)
    Violence has escalated in Iraq as tit for tat rocket strikes targeting U.S. service members have continued.    On Saturday, the Pentagon confirmed at least three unidentified American troops were wounded Saturday, following a second rocket attack on Iraq’s Camp Taji.
    The coalition military base is located just outside Baghdad and houses U.S. as well as allied forces.    In recent days, it has become the site of two terrorist attacks believed to have been carried out by Iranian-backed insurgent group Hezbollah.
    Officials have said the attack involved approximately 33 rockets launched at the base.    Over a dozen of those landed on the facility.    It’s the latest barrage of explosions Camp Taji has seen in recent days since a separate and similar attack just three days prior.
    “We have information that confirms Kata’ib Hezbollah conducted the rocket attacks on Camp Taji on March the 11th that killed three coalition members and injured 14 others,” stated Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, U.S. Central Command.
    That attack left two U.S. service members, identified as 28-year-old Air Force Staff Sgt. Marshal D. Roberts and 27-year-old Army Specialist Juan Miquel Mendez Covarrubias, killed.    It also sparked U.S. retaliatory strikes against Iranian terror group Hezbollah, who officials have said were behind the strike.
    “We carried out precision defensive strikes to degrade and destroy advanced conventional weapons that have been provided to Kata’ib Hezbollah by their Iranian backers,” explained Ge. McKenzie.
    At least one arrest has been made and an investigation into the incidents remains underway.    The Pentagon has maintained they reserve the right to defend U.S. forces whenever they are attacked or threatened.
This annotated image provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, shows aerial images of sites that were to be targeted in U.S.
airstrikes in Iraq on Friday, March 13, 2020. U.S. officials said the airstrikes’ intended targets were mainly weapons facilities
belonging to Kataib Hezbollah, the militia group believed to be responsible for Wednesday’s attack on Camp Taji base. (U.S. Department of Defense via AP)

3/16/2020 Syria faces severe shortages of cancer medicine, other drugs amid ongoing war by OAN Newsroom
In this Thursday, March 12, 2020 photo, women walk in a neighborhood heavily damaged by airstrikes
in Idlib, Syria. Idlib city is the last urban area still under opposition control in Syria, located
in a shrinking rebel enclave in the northwestern province of the same name. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
    Syrian officials are sounding the alarm over a critical shortage of medical drugs in the country.    It reportedly does not have enough cancer medicine due to the ongoing war and international sanctions.
    Officials have said the nation’s health care system was once among the best in the Middle East, but it has been ruined by fighting.
    The Assad government has blamed the U.S. by suggesting its sanctions, passed last December, are endangering the lives of children who have cancer.    Additionally, refugee camps and poor infrastructure expose Syria to coronavirus risks.
    “We received a child, but we were three-months late to provide proper treatment due to the lack of medicine and we could not find the medicine even in the black market,” explained Dr. Firas Alowaed of the Syrian Children with Cancer Assistance Center.    “So he relapsed, which means that he had had 70 percent possibility to be cured, but that later declined to just 30 percent.”
In this Thursday, March 12, 2020 photo, Abdullah Alhassan, 50, who lost both legs after
stepping on a landmine, recovers in Idlib central hospital, Syria. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
    The international community has recently ramped up efforts to help Syrian civilians, but officials have said the nation may still be facing a massive health crisis.

3/16/2020 Israel to fast-track cyber-monitoring of coronavirus cases by Maayan Lubell
Health Ministry inspectors speak with a woman who is in self quarantine as a precaution
against coronavirus spread in Hadera, Israel March 16, 2020 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s government will invoke emergency regulations to speed up the deployment of cyber monitoring in the fight against the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
    The plan to use anti-terrorist technology to track infected people and anyone with whom they have come in contact drew criticism from civil rights groups when Netanyahu first proposed it over the weekend.
    Such a move would normally require parliamentary consent.    Netanyahu moved to circumvent that process when he said in a nationally televised address on Monday night that his cabinet would invoke emergency regulations overnight to put the order into effect, for 30 days only.
    “Israel is a democracy and we must maintain the balance between civil rights and the public’s needs,” Netanyahu said.    “These tools will very much assist us in locating the sick and stopping the virus from spreading.”
    The Association for Civil Right in Israel called the move, “a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope.”
    Further measures announced by Netanyahu on Monday included putting most the country’s public sector workforce on a one-month leave and reducing private sector employees to 30 percent attendance at their workplaces.
    There are nearly 300 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness that can cause pneumonia in Israel and no fatalities reported so far.
    Israel has taken stringent steps to contain coronavirus – closing schools, malls, restaurants and most places of leisure, as well as limiting gatherings to 10 people.
    Israel’s defense minister said on Monday that some empty hotels would be converted to isolation centers for patients, and would begin operating this week.
    The measures even affected the swearing-in of The Knesset, Israel’s parliament.    Lawmakers on Monday took the oath in groups of three at a time to comply with the social distancing instructions, instead of the usual ceremony attended by all 120 parliamentarians.
    The March 2 election, the third in less than a year, has left the country in political deadlock with Netanyahu’s caretaker government running the country on a version of the 2019 budget.
    The Finance Ministry’s chief economist said on Monday that Israel’s economy will likely grow between zero and 1% in 2020, if the impact of the coronavirus subsides by June.    A recession would be inevitable if the health crisis continues for a longer period, she said.
    In the Palestinian territories, 39 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the occupied West Bank, with none in the Gaza Strip.    The Palestinian Health Ministry said on Monday that anyone coming into the West Bank from Jordan must go into self isolation for 14 days.
(Additional reporting by Steven Scheer and Ali Sawafta; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Bill Berkrot)

3/16/2020 Turkey detects 29 more coronavirus cases, total rises to 47
People wear protective face masks due to coronavirus concerns in Istanbul, Turkey March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in Turkey rose to 47 on Monday, with 29 new cases confirmed, the country’s health minister said.
    “All recent 29 cases are directly or indirectly related to the United States, Middle East and Europe, while 3 cases have arrived from Umrah,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.
    “Contact with foreign countries will remain a risk,” Koca warned.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Leslie Adler)

3/16/2020 Tunisia suspends all international flights, closes its land borders – PM
FILE PHOTO: Tunisia's Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh speaks during a handover
ceremony in Tunis, Tunisia February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    (Reuters) – Tunisia will suspend international flights and close its land border in an effort to prevent the outbreak of coronavirus, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh said on Monday.
    He added in a speech that all gatherings and markets will be banned and work hours for state employees will be reduced.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

3/16/2020 UAE urges citizens abroad to return home as coronavirus spreads
FILE PHOTO: People are seen at the Ice Rink at the Dubai Mall, following the outbreak of coronavirus,
in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 12, 2020. Picture taken March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Satish Kumar
    CAIRO (Reuters) – United Arab Emirates has urged its citizens abroad to return home due to travel difficulties amid the spread of coronavirus and suspensions of flights from some countries, state news agency WAM said on Monday, citing the ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation.
    UAE has recorded 98 cases of the virus.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan and Nayera Abdallah; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

3/16/2020 Pompeo to Iraq PM: U.S. will take action in self-defense if attacked
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks to the media at
the State Department in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraq’s prime minister that the United States would take measures in self-defense if attacked, according to a statement on Monday after a rocket attack on an Iraqi base that houses U.S. troops helping fight Islamic State.
    Pompeo spoke to Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Sunday, a day after three American troops and several Iraqi forces were wounded in the second major rocket attack in the past week on an Iraqi base north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said, raising the stakes in an escalating cycle of attacks and reprisals.
    He said Iraq’s government should defend the U.S.-led coalition helping it fight Islamic State, according to the statement from State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.
    “Secretary Pompeo underscored that the groups responsible for these attacks must be held accountable.    Secretary Pompeo noted that America will not tolerate attacks and threats to American lives and will take additional action as necessary in self-defense,” it said.
    Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said 33 Katyusha rockets were launched near a section of the Taji base which houses U.S.-led coalition troops.    It said the military found seven rocket launchers and 24 unused rockets in the nearby Abu Izam area.
    The Iraqi military said several Iraqi air defense servicemen were critically wounded.    Two of the three wounded U.S. troops are seriously injured and are being treated at a military hospital in Baghdad, the Pentagon said.
    Longstanding antagonism between the United States and Iran has mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months.
    Iranian-backed paramilitary groups have regularly rocketed and shelled bases in Iraq which host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
    The United States has in turn conducted several strikes inside Iraq, killing top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alex Richardson and Andrea Ricci)

3/17/2020 Israel imposes cyber-monitoring of coronavirus cases by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a speech at his Jerusalem office,
regarding the new measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel invoked emergency regulations on Tuesday to deploy cyber monitoring in the battle against the coronavirus, saying halting its spread outweighed concerns about the invasion of privacy.
    The move will provide the government with cellular data to retrace the movements of people infected by the virus and locate and alert those who had been in their vicinity.
    Such cyber monitoring would normally require parliamentary ratification and judicial oversight.        Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who announced the measure on Monday, circumvented the process by winning cabinet approval on Tuesday to put the order into effect under emergency regulations.
    The use of anti-terrorism technology to track infected people and anyone with whom they have come in contact drew criticism from civil rights groups when Netanyahu first proposed it over the weekend.
    Israeli authorities said cyber data collected by the Shin Bet internal security service would be limited to halting the spread of the disease and deleted when the emergency is over.
    But The Association for Civil Right in Israel called the move “a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope.”
    Justice Minister Amir Ohana dismissed the criticism.
    “The concerns of those disturbed by cyber monitoring are outweighed by the threat we are facing,” he said on Israel Radio.
    Gabi Ashkenazi, a senior member of the centrist Blue and White party, whose leader, Benny Gantz, was tapped by Israel’s president on Monday to try to form a new government following a March 2 election, also criticized the use of emergency orders.
    “It’s inappropriate to approve such a measure in this manner, without public and parliamentary supervision,” he wrote on Twitter.
    Further measures announced by Netanyahu on Monday included putting most of the public sector workforce on a one-month leave and reducing private sector employees to 30 percent attendance at their workplaces.
    There are more than 300 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel.    In the Palestinian territories, 41 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the occupied West Bank, with none in the Gaza Strip.
    Israel has taken stringent steps to slow its spread, closing schools, malls, restaurants and most places of leisure, as well as limiting gatherings to 10 people.
    The Palestinian Health Ministry said on Monday that anyone coming into the West Bank from Jordan must go into self-isolation for 14 days.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/17/2020 Azeri Turkish businessman arrested over alleged Gulen links, police says
FILE PHOTO: A man poses with an effigy of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen during a ceremony marking the first
anniversary of the attempted coup at the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey July 15, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Azeri Turkish businessman Mubariz Mansimov Gurbanoglu has been arrested in one of the highest-profile detentions of a crackdown against suspects linked to a network accused of carrying out an attempted coup in 2016, Istanbul police said on Tuesday.
    Gurbanoglu is the founder and chairman of the Istanbul-based Palmali group, which operates a fleet of freight vessels.
    After he was detained at the weekend, a court ordered his formal arrest over ties to the network of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen which President Tayyip Erdogan blames for the failed putsch in which about 250 people died, police and state-owned Anadolu news agency said.
    Gurbanoglu’s home and company were searched.
    Nobody from Palmali was available to comment.
    The Istanbul court ordered that he be kept in custody on a charge of belonging to a terrorist group, Anadolu said.
    He was listed by Forbes as worth $1.3 billion in 2015, with interests in dairy products, media, resorts and planes, as well as having a fleet of oil tankers.    Born in the Azeri capital Baku, he became a Turkish citizen in 2006, taking the name Gurbanoglu.
    Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied any involvement in the attempted coup.    He was once an ally of Erdogan but became his arch foe.
    Gulen’s supporters have for years been accused by Ankara of establishing a “parallel state” by infiltrating the police, judiciary and other state institutions.
    About 80,000 people have been jailed pending trial and some 150,000 civil servants, military personnel and others sacked or suspended from their jobs since the coup attempt.
    Prosecutors last month ordered the arrest of another nearly 700 people, including military and justice ministry personnel.
    The European Union and rights groups have criticized the scale of the crackdown, while Ankara has defended the measures as a necessary response to the security threat.
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Cawthorne)

3/17/2020 Little-known ex-governor nominated as Iraqi PM, Shi’ite groups object by Ahmed Rasheed
Iraq's President Barham Salih meets with new prime minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi
in Baghdad, Iraq March 17, 2020. The Presidency of the Republic of Iraq Office/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s president named little-known former regional governor Adnan al-Zurfi as prime minister-designate on Tuesday in another bid to overcome months of unrest and deadlock, but powerful Shi’ite blocs quickly lined up to reject his nomination.
    Zurfi now has 30 days to try and form a government which must then survive a vote of confidence in Iraq’s deeply divided parliament.
    He is the second man chosen to succeed Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned as prime minister in November amid mass anti-government protests.     The next candidate, Mohammed Allawi, quit on March 1, accusing parties of obstructing him.
    Lawmakers told Reuters that President Barham Salih had named Zurfi only after larger rival Shi’ite political parties failed to agree on one candidate.
    Some of those same groups rounded on the new candidate, who is head of the small Nasr parliamentary group of former prime minister Haider al-Abadi, a U.S. ally.
    “We hold the president fully responsible for the repercussions of these provocative steps,” read a statement from the Fatih alliance, which represents mostly Iran-backed Shi’ite militia leaders in parliament.
    “He’s an American joker and we reject him,” said Hassan Salim, a lawmaker from Asaib Ahl al-Haq Iranian-backed group which the United States designated as a terrorist organization in January.
    Zurfi lived in the United States as a refugee in the 1990s after fleeing the regime of Saddam Hussein and is seen as a comparatively secular figure in a country long dominated by sectarian parties.
    After Saddam’s overthrow, he served as governor of the predominantly Shi’ite Najaf province during the U.S. occupation.
    Zurfi will have to deal with both the powerful Iran-backed groups and with protesters who have been camping out for months, demanding an overhaul of the whole political elite.
    President Salih called on Zurfi to work on holding “early fair elections” and to meet protests’ demands.
    Hours before the nomination, two rockets fell inside Basmaya military camp to the south of Baghdad, which houses U.S.-led coalition troops, without causing any damage on injuries.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Peter Graff and Andrew Heavens)

3/17/2020 Turkey confirms first coronavirus death, more than doubles cases to 98
Municipality workers in protective suits disinfect entrance of Taksim metro station, due to
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) concerns, in central Istanbul, Turkey, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey confirmed late on Tuesday its first death related to the coronavir1us and the country more than doubled its confirmed cases to 98, from 47 a day earlier.
    Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told a press conference that an 89-year old died after contracting the virus from someone who had contact with China, the epicenter of the global outbreak.
    Turkey diagnosed 51 more cases on Tuesday, he said.
(This story has been refiled to corrects date to Tuesday from Wednesday in lead paragraph).
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Chris Reese)

3/18/2020 Blockaded Gaza looks wryly on as world isolates itself by Nidal al-Mughrabi
FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian woman walks past a United Nations-run school closed as a precaution measure
against coronavirus, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA (Reuters) – “Dear world, how is the lockdown?    Gaza.”
    A sly dig at the international community, this is just one among a torrent of social media posts that has emerged from the blockaded Gaza Strip in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
    The sight of a world locking itself down seems to have unleashed a wellspring of emotions in Gaza, from sardonic political commentary to schadenfreude, emerging from Palestinian denizens of the tiny coastal enclave that has for years lived with enforced isolation and confinement.
    “Have you got bored with your quarantine, the closure of your crossings, your airports and your trade?    We in Gaza have been living this for 14 years,” one social media user posted this week.
    “Oh world, welcome into our permanent reality,” he added.
    Gaza, measuring 375 square kilometers (145 square miles) is home to around two million Palestinians, more than half of them refugees.
    Along 90% of its land and sea boundaries its access to the outside world is controlled by Israel, and by Egypt on its narrow southern border.
    An Israeli-led blockade has put restrictions on the movement of people and goods for years, amid security concerns following the 2007 takeover of Gaza by the Islamist militant group Hamas, and three subsequent wars which killed thousands of Palestinians and around 100 Israelis.
    The irony is not lost on Gazans that the restrictions they chafe against may also have contributed to slowing the entry of coronavirus, with no cases reported thus far in Gaza.
    But prolonged closure and isolation have contributed to the crippling of Gaza’s economy, with unemployment at 52 percent and poverty levels of over 50 percent.
    Standing in his empty metal factory in northern Gaza City, businessman Youssef Sharaf recalled the years when he used to be able to export electric heaters to Israel and the West Bank.
    “I had 70 people working here, today I only have one,” Sharaf told Reuters.    Although the underlying causes of his closure were man-made, he empathized with those facing shutdown because of disease.
    “It is tough,” he said.    “May God be with them.”
    But in Gaza’s small but resilient high-tech sector, the obstacles that stop travel abroad also forced the early adoption of teleconferencing and other practices that world is now catching up with.
    At Gaza Sky Geeks, an incubator for young entrepreneurs, computer programmers and web developers work remotely with international firms.
    “Because of the years-long blockade on us, Gaza people better understand the current situation in world countries,” said Angham Abu Abed, 24, a computer engineer who works with a software company in Britain.
    “We hope the blockade on us will end, and we hope the virus will disappear from the world.”
(Additional reporting by Zainah El-Haroun in Ramallah; Writing by Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem; Editing by Giles Elgood)

3/18/2020 Israel’s confirmed coronavirus cases jump by 40 percent in 24 hours
Israeli Health Ministry inspectors put on protective gear before they go up to the apartment of a person in self
quarantine as a precaution against coronavirus spread in Hadera, Israel March 16, 2020 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel have jumped by 40 percent to 427 in the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday, predicting a steeper rise as mass-testing is implemented.
    Having urged Israelis to stay home and approved cyber-monitoring of their movements to reduce infection risks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at least 3,000 coronavirus tests would be conducted daily, including at new drive-through stations.
    “We will reach a situation in which there are many hundreds of new patients each day, and possibly more,” Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, director-general of the Health Ministry, told Israel’s Army Radio.
    Up from the 304 confirmed cases reported on Tuesday morning, five of the 427 patients were in a critical condition, the ministry said.
    There have been no reports of coronavirus fatalities in Israel or the Palestinian territories.
    In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians health officials have confirmed 44 cases.    None have been detected in the densely populated Gaza Strip.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/18/2020 Rockets hit Green Zone in Baghdad, marking fourth attack this week by OAN Newsroom
Mourners carry the flag-draped coffins of two fighters of the Popular Mobilization Forces who were killed during the US attack on against militants
in Iraq, during their funeral procession at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, Iraq, Saturday, March 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)
    Baghdad’s Green Zone, which is not far from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, was struck with several rockets on Tuesday.    An Iraqi coalition spokesman reported that at least three rockets landed just over a mile away from the embassy.
    There are no reported injuries at this time.    The incident marked the fourth attack of its kind this week.
    However, no group has claimed responsibility for the strike.
    In the meantime, Iraqi forces are investigating the explosions.

3/19/2020 Israeli parliament speaker shuts Knesset, enraging opposition
    JERUSALEM – Israel’s Knesset speaker on Wednesday abruptly adjourned all parliamentary meetings until next week, apparently a response to the new coronavirus, in a move that froze opposition efforts to discuss bills seeking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ouster.    The decision drew angry accusations from Netanyahu’s opponents that the embattled prime minister is using the crisis to cement his hold on power.    Netanyahu’s rival vowed to challenge the parliamentary delay in the Supreme Court.

3/19/2020 Israelis ordered to stay at home to halt coronavirus spread – Netanyahu
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding the
new measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday tightened a national stay-at home policy, announcing guidelines aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus would now be enforced by police under emergency orders.
    “Under these orders, you, Israel’s citizens, are required to stay at home.    It is no longer a request, it is not a recommendation, it is an obligatory directive that will be enforced by enforcement authorities,” Netanyahu said in a televised address.
    The measures stopped short of a total national lockdown: Netanyahu said Israelis would still be allowed to shop for food and medicine, and some workers would be exempted from the restrictions.
    Netanyahu had threatened on Wednesday to turn shelter in place guidelines into official orders, enabling police to fine or arrest those who ignore them, unless the public stepped up compliance.
    Israel’s Health Ministry has reported 573 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection.    Forty-seven cases have been reported among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Rami Ayyub)

3/19/2020 Coronavirus hits migrant workers in Qatar
FILE PHOTO: General view of a empty kids playground, following the outbreak of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Doha, Qatar March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar’s old industrial zone has emerged as a hot spot for the coronavirus in the Gulf Arab state, putting at risk many migrant workers who live and work in the area of car service centers, warehouses and small shops.
    The tiny country, where expatriates comprise the majority of the population, on Thursday reported eight more infections to take its tally to 460, the highest number among the six Gulf Arab states that have reported a total of more than 1,300 coronavirus cases.
    Government spokeswoman Lulwa Rashed al-Khater told a news conference that the new cases included two Qataris who had been in Europe, with the rest migrant workers.
    Qatari authorities on Tuesday announced the closure of several square kilometers of the industrial area in Doha, the capital, which also contains labor camps and other housing units.
    The country relies on about 2 million migrant workers for the bulk of its labor force, mainly from Asian countries.
    “The majority of (coronavirus) cases in Qatar to date have been located in the Industrial Area,” the Government Communication Office (GCO) said earlier in a statement in response to a Reuters’ query.
    “Every effort is being made to prevent the spread of the disease in Qatar and protect every member of the population.    As a result, some areas of Qatar have been cordoned off to contain the virus,” it said.
    The GCO did not comment on the total number of people under lockdown in the industrial zone, the total number of migrant workers who have tested positive or the number under quarantine.
    Authorities on March 11 said 238 people under quarantine in a residential compound tested positive for the disease.    Subsequent announcements have linked most reported cases to migrant workers without mentioning nationalities.
    The GCO said authorities were working with employers to ensure payment of salaries and distribution of food, water, masks and hand sanitizer to people in lockdown sites, and people under quarantine were being tested and monitored by medics.
    Like other Gulf states, Qatar has taken drastic measures to contain the spread of the virus, including banning non-Qataris from entering and shutting public venues.
    “This is a crucial stage in breaking the chain of the virus spread,” al-Khater said, urging people to stay at home.
    Qatar, locked in a dispute with larger neighbor Saudi Arabia and its allies that has seen them impose a boycott on Doha since mid-2017, has been gearing up to host the 2022 World Cup by building venues and scaling up its infrastructure.
    Since being named host of the event, Qatar has been criticized by rights groups for poor labor conditions.    It responded by enacting broad reforms to guard worker rights.
    The event’s organizing body, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ query on whether there were any infections among World Cup workers, but said it was working with the government and contractors to ensure the health and safety of all involved.
    It said World Cup preparations remain on track.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous, Lisa Barrington and Marwa Rashad; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Leslie Adler)

3/19/2020 Africa coronavirus cases to rise as some undetected: AU body by Giulia Paravicini and Duncan Miriri
FILE PHOTO: A man wears a face mask, due to the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, as he rides
his motorbike along a busy shopping street in Dakar, Senegal March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Africa will likely see higher numbers of coronavirus cases in coming weeks because of the likelihood some are slipping through the net, the head of a regional disease control body said on Thursday.
    The virus has multiplied in Africa more slowly than Asia or Europe, but 34 nations on the continent have now reported a total of more than 600 cases.    Worldwide, it has infected more than 227,000 people and killed more than 9,000.
    “We are picking (up) some people but we are also missing some people,” said John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which is a branch of the African Union bloc.
    “The situation will get worse before it gets better because the chances are clear that people have slipped through.”
    Over the past 24 hours, additional African countries announced aggressive measures to restrict travel and close public spaces.
    Senegal and Sierra Leone said they would suspend all international commercial flights. Democratic Republic of Congo banned all flights from “at-risk” countries and ordered schools and restaurants closed.
    Chad, which recorded its first case on Thursday, and Djibouti ordered schools closed, as did Zimbabwe, which has not yet confirmed any cases.
    Nkengasong said the number of confirmed cases in Africa was expected to rise in coming days and such travel bans would delay but ultimately fail to contain the virus.
    “Anyone who has followed pandemics over the years, you know that doesn’t work,” he told a news conference in the Ethiopian capital.    “When you lock down countries, you should understand clearly how to unlock the country.”
    Nkengasong said testing was going to increase as more kits became available.    U.S. company Abbott, Swiss-based Roche Diagnostics and California-based Cepheid’s GeneXpert were all ramping up production, he said.    The testing could be rolled out quickly through existing HIV infrastructure, he said.
    Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Africa head, was less concerned than the CDC head about missing cases.    “We actually don’t believe that there are large numbers of African people who are undetected and infected,” she said on a teleconference with the media.
    Moeti said 40 African countries can now test for the virus, up from just South Africa and Senegal at the start of February.
    WHO Africa is planning to help countries set up pop-up hospitals that could be equipped with ventilators and oxygen, she added.    Moeti said countries should isolate suspected and confirmed cases but without cutting off other nations.
    In Kenya, which has seven confirmed cases, the government will start doing random screenings for coronavirus, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; additional reporting by Bate Felix in Paris, Duncan Miriri in Nairobi, MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare and Stanis Bujakera in Kinshasa; Writing by George Obulutsa and Aaron Ross; Editing by William Maclean, Andrew Cawthorne, Kirsten Donovan)

3/19/2020 Africa talks tough against coronavirus but many wonder why by Cooper Inveen
A woman wears a face mask, due to the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, as she
walks along a busy shopping street in Dakar, Senegal March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    FREETOWN (Reuters) – Shoppers threaded their way between stalls hawking everything from watches to pigs’ feet in Sierra Leone’s capital on Wednesday, two days after the government banned large gatherings to combat the coronavirus but exempted markets such as this.
    Buyers and sellers at the Abacha market say they can’t afford to stay away anyway.    They depend on it for their daily food and wages.
    A growing number of African countries are announcing increasingly restrictive measures to try to halt the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 200,000 people globally and killed nearly 9,000.    They have shut borders, closed schools and universities and barred large public gatherings.
    On Wednesday, Uganda banned religious gatherings and weddings, despite not having a single coronavirus case.    South Africa strongly encouraged restaurants and bars to provide take-out services only.
    Sierra Leone, despite not having a reported infection, banned gatherings of more than 100 people on Monday.    Markets that draw thousands of people were exempt.
    “We don’t have this virus here yet, so why should we stop?” said Abacha soap vendor Adama Jalloh, as a baby dozed against the back of her traditional print dress.
    “Even during Ebola time we were able to sell,” she said, referring to a deadly outbreak that killed thousands in West Africa in 2013-16.
    Africa was slower to feel the impact than Asia or Europe, but 33 African nations have now reported more than 600 cases, with 17 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.    Its director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday advised African countries to avoid mass gatherings and “wake up” to the growing threat.
PATIENTS ON THE RUN
    On Wednesday, Kenya – which has seven cases – announced that anyone entering the country who fails to observe the required 14 days of self-isolation would be arrested.    But there’s no system for monitoring new arrivals, and some flout the rules.
    A Kenyan legislator who turned up in parliament this week was forced out by cries of “quarantine! quarantine!” after another lawmaker pointed out he’d recently arrived from London.
    In South Africa, which has 116 cases – more than any other sub-Saharan nation – a family that tested positive for the virus refused to go into quarantine this week, forcing officials to get a court order.
    “Patients who are tested positive for the COVID-19 virus are required to stay (in quarantine).    Not for their safety, but also for the safety of others,” said Kwara Kekana, spokeswoman for the Gauteng provincial health department.
    Some Africans find the measures draconian.
    In western Ivory Coast, which has six coronavirus cases and no deaths, some people thought it was a bit much when the government told them to keep one metre apart and wash their hands rigorously.
    “People are exaggerating a bit.    The disease hasn’t really spread far here, and they’re scaring us by telling us not to greet and to wear masks,” said Namory Doumbia, a 28-year-old chauffeur.
    Bans on large gatherings are sometimes selectively applied, confusing citizens.    Senegal, a mostly Muslim West African country, cancelled religious festivals five days ago, but initially spared Islamic prayers.
    “We cannot forbid religious gatherings,” said Mbackiou Faye, a representative of Senegal’s powerful Mouride Muslim brotherhood.    “It is with our prayers and our incantations that God answers them and spares us from diseases.”
    Late on Wednesday, Senegal – which has 36 cases – ordered both churches and mosques closed.    But they remained open in other nations like Burkina Faso, where hundreds prayed together side-by-side in one of the capital’s largest mosques.
    Both Kenya and South Africa have directed public minibuses that provide transport to millions of people to provide passengers with hand sanitizers.    Checks by Reuters revealed that few had done so.
    Passengers at a busy minibus rank in Johannesburg’s financial centre said they lived too far from their jobs to walk, and there was no other transportation.
    “I don’t feel safe in the (minibus) taxi,” said 29-year-old Lerato Sibandi, who needed to travel to her retail job.    “But I don’t have a choice.”
(Reporting by Tumelo Modiba in Johannesburg, Humphrey Malalo, Omar Mohammed and George Obulutsa in Nairobi, Hereward Holland in Kinshasa, Christophe Van Der Perre in Dakar,and Loucoumane Coulibaly in Abidjan; Writing by Tanisha Heiberg and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Nick Macfie)

3/19/2020 Saudi king urges solidarity to overcome ‘difficult period’ of coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends the 14th Islamic summit of the
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia June 1, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman spoke publicly on Thursday for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, pledging to continue measures to curb its spread and urging citizens to work together to confront the global pandemic.
    “We are living through a difficult period in the history of the world, but we are fully aware that it will pass despite its cruelty, bitterness and difficulty,” the 84-year-old monarch said in a televised address to the nation.
    In a five-minute speech, he urged people to act with solidarity and cooperation and to adhere to official directives.br>     Saudi Arabia recorded 36 new infections on Thursday, bringing its total to 274 with no deaths so far.
    It has taken drastic measures to address the outbreak, including halting international flights, suspending the Umrah year-round pilgrimage to Mecca, closing mosques, schools, malls and restaurants, and asking people to stop going to work.
    Amid volatility in regional markets and plunging oil prices, the world’s top crude exporter has prepared a 50 billion riyal ($13 billion) package to help small- and medium-sized enterprises cope, and has cut its state budget by nearly 5%.
    De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s son and heir apparent, has talked by phone with several foreign leaders but not spoken publicly since the country went into virtual lockdown last weekend.    The government has halted its regular Cabinet meetings.
    Coronavirus infections among the Gulf Arab states now top 1,300, with one death in Bahrain.    Many of the cases are linked to travel to Iran, an epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East with 1,284 deaths and more than 18,000 cases of infection.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Marwa Rashad; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/19/2020 Without soap or sanitizer, Syrian refugees face coronavirus threat by Walid Saleh and Laila Bassam
A Syrian refugee woman puts a face mask on a boy as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, in
al-Wazzani area, in southern Lebanon, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC2TJF9DU5PR
    AKKAR, Lebanon/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian refugee Mohamed al-Bakhas is doing his best to protect his family from coronavirus by keeping their camp as clean as he can.    But without enough soap or the money to buy sanitizer or face masks, there is only so much he can do.
    “They gave us an awareness session and one bar of soap each, but this is not enough,” said Bakhas, 40, referring to aid workers who visited his camp in northern Lebanon this week.
    “We ask for disinfectants, sanitizers for the camp.    We are a big group,” said Bakhas, who fled to Lebanon from Homs in Syria eight years ago and lives with his wife and child.
    Lebanon has recorded 149 cases of coronavirus.    Four people have died from the virus so far.
    No cases have been recorded yet among Syrian refugees, who number around 1 million of Lebanon’s population of 6 million.
    As Lebanon’s public health system struggles with the outbreak, the government is worried about the virus spreading to camps for both Syrian and Palestinian refugees.
    Health Minister Hamad Hassan said refugee health care was a responsibility shared by the state and United Nations agencies but he said the international community had been slow to react to the crisis.
    “The international community with its U.N. agencies is a bit late in putting plans, thinking about establishing a field hospital or supporting the health ministry so that it can carry out its obligations toward its people: Lebanese society in addition to the Palestinian and Syrian brothers,” Hamad said.
    The UNHCR refugee agency said efforts to fight the spread of coronavirus to refugee communities had started early on.
    Awareness campaigns and the distribution of hygiene materials were underway and preparations were being made for additional hospitalization capacity that may be needed.
    “We are all working around the clock,” said Lisa Abou Khaled, communications officer at UNHCR in Lebanon.
    Given the high population density of the camps, Hamad noted the difficulties of maintaining personal hygiene and said the spread of coronavirus was a real danger.
    Field hospitals would allow for the isolation and treatment of the infected.
    “The international community and U.N. institutions must without delay prepare the ground to save these communities in case the virus spreads among them,” he said.
    Lebanon was grappling with a financial and economic crisis before coronavirus hit.    The government is appealing for foreign aid for its public health system.
    Coronavirus poses a host of new difficulties to refugees who have been struggling in poverty for years in Lebanon.
    With water mostly trucked to their camps, refugees do not have enough for regular handwashing, relief workers say.
    As it currently stands, accessing health care can also be a big problem: if refugees need to go to hospital, they cannot afford the ride or pay for treatment.
    “We are exploring all options including setting up additional facilities in existing hospitals or separate field hospitals…its likely that a combination of both will be needed,” Abou Khaled said.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam in Beirut; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/19/2020 Egypt to shut all cafes, malls, sports clubs in evenings until March 31
A woman wears a protective face mask inside a Carrefour hypermarket while Egypt ramps up its efforts to slow
the spread the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cairo, Egypt March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt said on Thursday it would shut all cafes, shopping malls, sports clubs and nightclubs from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. local time every night until March 31, strengthening measures introduced to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
    The government said supermarkets, pharmacies, bakeries and neighbourhood corner stores were exempt from the closure, which comes at a time when schools and universities are already shut.
    It has also moved to cut the number of public sector employees reporting to work in an effort to discourage crowding and slow the spread of the disease.
    Flights were grounded by noon local time on Thursday until the end of March, with the exception of outward-bound flights needed by foreign tourists.
    The government said that during the flight ban and school shutdown, hotels and all educational facilities would be sanitised.
    Egypt has so far registered 256 cases of the respiratory disease, including seven deaths.    It said that 42 people had recovered after receiving treatment.
(Reporting by Moamen Saeed Atallah; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Gareth Jones and Jan Harvey)

3/19/2020 Palestinians defy leaders’ health crisis ban on work in settlements by Rami Ayyub and Ammar Awad
Palestinian Labourers work at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Ramat Givat Zeev as the
Palestinian Authority imposes a ban on Palestinians to work in Israeli settlements over concerns
of the spread of coronavirus disease, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    RAMAT GIVAT ZEEV, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinians on Thursday defied their government’s call to cease work in Israeli settlements over coronavirus concerns, saying bringing money home to their families came first.
    More than 500 cases of infection have been confirmed in Israel, and nearly 50 in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) exercises limited self-rule.
    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh asked the some 25,000 Palestinians who work in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – areas Israel captured in a 1967 war – to stay home from Thursday as part of efforts to reduce transmission.
But in the West Bank settlement of Ramat Givat Zeev, Palestinian day laborers dismissed the PA’s order and shrugged off virus fears.
    “You have to adapt, put yourself in a bit of danger so you can provide food for your children,” said Omar Hamad, a construction supervisor from Ramallah.    “We have rent, we have expenses, we have lots of things.”
    The wrangling sheds a light on how workers in the interwoven Israeli and Palestinian economies might push back on coronavirus restrictions that could threaten their jobs and income.
    Palestinian laborers earn relatively higher incomes in Israel, where some 100,000 work, and in the settlements than in Palestinian cities.
    Their salaries made up 14% of the Palestinians’ $18 billion gross national income in 2018, according to Raja Khalidi, director general of the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute.
    Khalidi was skeptical the PA would enforce the settlement work ban, which would be hard to implement without cooperation from Israel.
    “The (PA) cannot pay the price of cutting off the livelihoods” of Palestinians working in settlements, he said, especially with unemployment in Palestinian cities in the West Bank hovering around 15%.
    “They would be unemployed and have to fend for themselves in an otherwise hostile and depressed economic environment,” Khalidi said.
    For its part, Israel has made no effort to ban the entry of Palestinians with work permits.    But the laborers face new restrictions as both the PA and Israel try to limit peoples’ movements during the health crisis.
    The Palestinian Authority has imposed curfews in Bethlehem and other West Bank cities under its control.    It has given workers with jobs in Israel until March 22 to find housing there, after which the PA intends to ban cross-border travel.
    Israeli authorities said that due to the health crisis Palestinians with work permits, who typically return home to the West Bank daily, will be allowed to stay in Israel for up to two months, depending on the nature of their work.
    Employers will be responsible for finding housing for the Palestinian workers, COGAT, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, said.
(Rami Ayyub reported from Tel Aviv and Ammar Awad from Ramat Giv’at Ze’ev; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, William Maclean)

3/20/2020 Turkey postpones events until end-April over coronavirus
A worker in protective suit disinfects a residential area in response to the spreading
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Istanbul,Turkey March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan issued a decree on Friday postponing all events related to science, culture and art, as Turkey seeks to contain a surge in coronavirus cases.
    The country’s death toll has reached four, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said late on Thursday, after an 85-year-old woman died of the highly contagious respiratory illness, and the doctors’ association called for more tests.
    The number of confirmed cases in the country has surged since the first case was announced last week, reaching 359 on Thursday.    The cases have roughly doubled every day since Sunday.
    Koca said Turkey had conducted 1,981 tests in 24 hours to midnight Thursday, 168 of which came back positive.
    The decree published in the Official Gazette on Friday said all meetings and activities, indoors or outdoors, related to science, culture, art and other similar fields would be postponed until the end of April.
    The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) told Reuters on Friday that in order to see where Turkey really stands in terms of the outbreak, the number of tests should be increased.
    “We have only carried out around 10,000 tests.    Only after tens of thousands of tests, if we can see a proportional decline, we will know if we are successful or not,” said TTB vice chairman Ali Cerkezoglu.
    State-owned Anadolu news agency quoted Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu as saying on Thursday that a total of 9,800 people had been quarantined.
    Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turks should stay home for at least three weeks, but did not ask them to stay away from work.
    Ankara has suspended flights to 20 countries, closed schools, cafes and bars, banned mass prayers and indefinitely postponed matches in its main sports leagues.
    To alleviate the economic impacts of the virus, the central bank cut its policy rate by 100 basis points to 9.75%, while the government revealed a $15 billion package to support businesses.
    Clothing retailers shuttered, dimming the economy’s prospects and raising questions for hundreds of thousands of workers. Malls, with some 530,000 employees and annual turnover of $160 billion, were set to follow suit.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Can Sezer; Editing by Dominic Evans)

3/20/2020 Shops close across Turkey, dimming hopes of a boom year by Ceyda Caglayan and Orhan Coskun
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks during a news conference following a coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) meeting in Ankara, Turkey, March 18, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) – Shops closed across Turkey on Thursday to help halt the coronavirus spread, dimming the economy’s prospects and raising questions for hundreds of thousands of workers after Ankara pledged $15 billion in support and advised Turks to stay home.
    Clothing retailers shuttered and malls, with some 530,000 employees and annual turnover of $160 billion, were set to follow suit after Turkey announced cases of the virus had nearly doubled to 191 including a second death.
    A day after President Tayyip Erdogan announced a series of steps to backstop the economy, two sources said government officials are in the early stages of trimming private expectations for economic growth, which was publicly forecast to be 5% this year.
    A drop in unemployment from above 12% last month to below 9% by year end is now seen as unlikely, while public spending is expected to be a bigger-than-expected driver for the major emerging market economy, they said, requesting anonymity.
    However Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said in a TV interview on Thursday he has “no concerns” about meeting the government’s growth, budget and inflation targets in 2020.
    Turkey – which had just recovered from a recession last year – has taken steps in the last week to rein in the coronavirus spread, closing cafes, banning mass prayers and halting flights to 20 countries.
    The worldwide effects of the highly contagious respiratory illness, including mass quarantines and travel restrictions, have raised prospects of a severe global recession that would slam Turkey’s tourism and export sectors.
    On Wednesday Erdogan called on people to minimize social contact until the virus threat recedes, but he did not tell them to stay away from work as he announced a 100 billion lira ($15.40 billion) economic support package.
    Ankara is eyeing potential measures beyond those announced by Erdogan, including on taxes and unemployment insurance, which could be taken in the future, the two sources told Reuters.
    “There are several steps that are being worked on and these could be implemented step by step when necessary” after a re-evaluation in April, said one of the sources.
    The lira was 0.9% weaker against the dollar on Thursday – hitting its weakest level since the depths of a currency crisis in September 2018 – and bringing its losses this year close to 10%. It shed 36% in the last two years.
    The head of Turkey’s United Brands Association, which represents 384 brands and 70,000 domestic stores, told Reuters store sales had dropped 70% in the past week due to the virus and companies cannot make up for them.    Online sales infrastructure was insufficient, added Sinan Oncel.
‘SHARP’ CONTRACTION
    Retailers including listed companies Mavi Giyim and Vakko Tekstil said they were closing retail stores.    Mavi shares dropped 4.7% and Vakko fell 3.5%.
    Mavi said its priority was the health and safety of staff and customers as it closed stores in Turkey, Germany and Canada, adding that its online stores would remain open.
    The AYD shopping centres’ association said its board recommended that malls shut and it was awaiting instructions from authorities.    “None of our employees will lose their work and (the situation of) our tenants will be eased as necessary,” said the AYD, which says Turkey has 435 malls.
    After meeting ministers and business leaders, Erdogan said on Wednesday Turkey would postpone debt payments and reduce the tax burden on some sectors.    “None of our citizens must leave their homes or get into contact with anyone, unless absolutely necessary, until the threat disappears,” he said.
    Among specific measures, Erdogan said Turkey’s tourism accommodation tax was being suspended until November to support the key tourism sector, which accounts for some 12% of the economy.    Debt repayments of companies affected by the coronavirus will be postponed for a minimum of three months.
    Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said Turkey’s containment measures “will lead to severe disruptions to economic activity” and cause the economy to “contract sharply” in the second quarter.
    On Tuesday, Turkey’s central bank cut its key interest rate by 100 basis points at an earlier-than-scheduled policy meeting.
    On Thursday, luxury goods chain Vakko said it was temporarily halting production activities and shutting stores.    Others announcing closures included Boyner, Ipekyol and Marks & Spencer stores in Turkey, operated by Fiba Retail.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butlner; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan)

3/20/2020 South Africa’s health minister says coronavirus cases rise to 202
FILE PHOTO: South African Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize confirms the first case of Coronavirus in
South Africa at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, March 5, 2020. Reuters/ Sumaya Hisham/File Photo
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Friday that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases had risen by 52 to 202, with the first cases recorded in the Free State province.
    The virus has multiplied in Africa more slowly than in Asia or Europe, but the number of cases has started to rise more rapidly in South Africa in recent days. Africa’s most industrialized economy has the most cases in sub-Saharan Africa.
(Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Alexander Winning)

3/20/2020 Mosques face up to pandemic as Friday prayers bring coronavirus risk by Yuddy Cahya, Umit Bektas and Abdi Sheikh
A man wearing a protective face mask takes a selfie photo by his mobile phone after attending the
Friday prayers inside Al-Azhar mosque in the old Islamic area of Cairo while Egypt ramps up its efforts to
slow down the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cairo, Egypt March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    JAKARTA/ISTANBUL/MOGADISHU (Reuters) – The coronavirus stopped communal Muslim prayers for the first time in living memory in many mosques from Indonesia to Morocco on Friday, but in some places believers have defied medical advice to join together in worship.
    In Islam’s holiest sanctuary in Mecca, the usually crowded courtyard around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, towards which all Muslims pray, was silent and empty.
    At Riyadh’s massive al-Rajhi mosque, only the imam, the muezzin who sings the call to prayer, and other staff were praying inside instead of the thousands who normally attend.
    “This feeling is indescribable … the minarets are crying.    The mosques were once full of worshippers,” said the muezzin, Nasser Mohammed, weeping.
    The Blue Mosque of Istanbul, with its pencil minarets and cascading domes, Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock under its gilt roof, and the massive Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca with its ornate square minaret had all shut their doors.
    But in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, mosques were crowded as a cleric told his congregation via loudspeaker: “We are not too weak to let this one virus empty our mosques.”
    Elsewhere, Muslims flocked to mosques from Cairo to Mogadishu, whatever the risks.
    “I am not telling you to reject the preventative measures, but there is too much exaggeration of coronavirus,” Sheikh Abdi Hayi in Mogadishu said in his sermon, as people prayed on the street, unable to join the throng within.
    Prayer is one of the “five pillars” of Islam, performed five times a day by the devout, but enjoined as a communal activity only at noon on Fridays.
    But as the pandemic spread, some governments suspended communal prayers or closed mosques entirely, leaving many of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to pray at home, at work, in parks or in the street.
    A religious gathering in Malaysia last month, attended by 16,000 people, generated 670 coronavirus cases in four countries in southeast Asia.    Weekly prayers were later called off in Malaysia.
    Crowded shrines in Iran, drawing pilgrims from that country and Shi’ites from other nations, helped accelerate the spread of one of the largest outbreaks of the coronavirus so far.
‘I’M NOT RUNNING AWAY FROM CORONA’
    Many Muslims in the Indonesian capital Jakarta prayed at home, and Southeast Asia’s biggest mosque, the Istiqlal, stopped prayers.
    Its imam, Nasaruddin Umar, cited an edict from the country’s clerical council.    “There’s enough of a reason to avoid such religious gatherings,” he told a news conference.
    However, elsewhere in the world’s most populous Muslim country, people crowded into their mosques.
    “Allah is protecting those who abide by their obligations,” said Aswin Jusar, 76, in the town of Depok, south of Jakarta, as he prepared to attend Friday prayers despite a call from the mayor for religious activities to be suspended.
    Outside the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, named for the 15th century Ottoman sultan who captured the city from the Byzantine empire, 85-year-old Mustafa Emin Ozbakan stood bereft.
    He has been praying there since 1941.    “I’m not running away from corona.    Even if I ran, if death is in your destiny, you can have a traffic accident or die some other way,” he said.
‘ISLAM PROMOTES LIFE, NOT DEATH’
    In Cairo, where mosques stayed open, religious authorities urged imams to shorten sermons and prayers and said the faithful should perform their ritual ablutions at home.
    But Mohamed Mosleh, a 31-year-old praying at the al-Azhar mosque, said he was not concerned.
    “Why should I be afraid to go out, shop, work, pray or go anywhere else?    But only after taking precautions, taking care of my hygiene, and all those rules that Islam dictates,” he said.
    But from Morocco to Libya, governments have shut mosques, a step never before taken even in times of war or revolution.
    Some mosques broadcast an altered version of the call to prayer, exhorting the faithful to stay at home.
    An Algerian expert in Islamic law, Mohamed Mouloudi, said it was the right decision: “Islam promotes life, not death.”
    In Jerusalem, where the Dome of the Rock and the neighboring al-Aqsa have closed, clerics allowed prayer in the sacred compound that contains the two mosques.    Some worshippers scuffled with Israeli police, who tried to limit the numbers.
    In Syria, already stricken by war, the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus closed for the first recorded time in over a thousand years.
    Buthaina, 44, who had prayed there for years, felt as if she had lost her home.    “I don’t want to leave.    I just want to sit here a bit,” she said after praying outside.
    In Nairobi, Kenya’s biggest mosque was also closed.
    “We, as Muslims pray to God to help us overcome this disaster because as you can see, we are praying on the verandas, all the mosques are closed,” said worshipper Abdalla Hakim.
(Reporting by Yuddy Cahya in Jakarta, Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur, Gibran Peshimam in Karachi, Nael Shyoukhi in Riyadh, Amr Abdallah Dalsh in Cairo, Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem, Umit Bektas in Istanbul, Kinda Makieh in Damascus, Omar Mohammed in Nairobi and Lamine Chikhi in Algiers; Writing by Angus McDowall in Tunis; Editing by Giles Elgood)

3/20/2020 Jerusalem Friday prayers sees smaller crowds amid partial coronavirus lockdown by Stephen Farrell
A man walks in front of the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary
and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City while Israel tightened a national stay-at-home
policy following the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian worshippers scuffled with Israeli police in East Jerusalem on Friday as crowds headed to Al-Aqsa Mosque to pray, amid a partial lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
    Police in riot gear and wearing face masks put barricades up outside Damascus Gate and other entrances to the walled Old City ahead of Friday noon prayers, and checked identity papers to limit the numbers attending.
    The crowds were much lower than usual, witnesses said, with only a few hundred in attendance.    Some who were refused access prayed in the rain-sodden streets outside the walls, and there were light scuffles as police used tear gas and horses to disperse a crowd.
    Al-Aqsa Mosque and the adjacent Dome of the Rock were closed by Muslim authorities last week, in a move to protect worshippers at Islam’s third holiest site.
    But the clerics permitted prayers on the huge open area around the two shrines, which sit atop the sacred compound known to Muslims worldwide as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount.
    However on Thursday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tightened a national stay-at-home policy, saying police would enforce restrictions.    The guidelines said that no more than 10 people should gather in one place.
    Superintendent Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said health measures were being taken in all neighborhoods, including the Old City.
    “With the ongoing spread of the coronavirus it is critical not to have public gatherings and absolutely necessary to keep at a distance of at least 2 meters from one another,” he said.
    The Israeli government has threatened to impose lockdown orders unless people observed the instructions – pointing a finger at Israel’s Arab minority and ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
    Israel’s Chief Rabbinate said earlier this month that Jewish worshippers should not come to the Western Wall or gather en masse there.    The wall, built by Herod the Great, is a sacred place of prayer for Jews.
    Some turned up to pray on Friday, but the area was much quieter than usual, like much of the city center that is normally crowded with tourists.
    Israeli authorities say 705 people have tested positive for coronavirus.    Of them, 10 are in serious condition.
    Palestinian officials say there have been 48 cases detected in the West Bank, 17 of whom have recovered.
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; editing by Nick Macfie)

3/20/2020 Israel reports first coronavirus fatality
A general view shows the Clock square as Israel tightened a national stay-at-home policy following the
spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tel Aviv, Israel March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Corinna Kern
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel reported its first fatality from the coronavirus on Friday, an 88-year-old man who suffered from previous illnesses.
    The Health Ministry said in a statement he had been brought to Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem about a week ago in serious condition.
    Israel has so far reported 705 cases of coronavirus, the large majority with mild symptoms.    About 10 patients are in serious condition and 15 have recovered completely.
    Israel was one of the first countries to enact strict travel restrictions and on Thursday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tightened a national stay-at-home policy, saying police would enforce restrictions.
    The guidelines said that no more than 10 people should gather in one place and the government has threatened to impose lockdown orders unless people observed the instructions.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Chris Reese and Andrew Cawthorne)

3/20/2020 Coronavirus death toll in Turkey rises to nine, 670 confirmed cases: health minister
Workers in protective suits disinfect a street in response to the spreading coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Istanbul,Turkey March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The death toll in Turkey due to the coronavirus rose to nine, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said late on Friday, after five elderly patients died of the highly contagious respiratory illness.
    The number of confirmed cases in the country has surged since the first case was announced last week, reaching 670 on Friday.    The cases have roughly doubled every day since Sunday.
    Koca said 3,656 tests had been conducted in the past 24 hours, 311 of which came back positive.
    Separately, the Turkish health ministry said all hospitals, including private ones, will have to admit and treat suspected patients of new coronavirus.
    The ministry also declared any hospital with at least two specialists in infectious diseases, pulmonology or internal diseases as a coronavirus pandemic hospital in order to ease the burden on health institutions and personnel.
    Ankara has suspended flights to 20 countries, closed schools, cafes and bars, banned mass prayers and indefinitely postponed matches in its main sports leagues.
    The government also said all meetings and activities, related to science, culture and art would be postponed until the end of April to stem the spread of coronavirus. [nL8N2BD0LD]
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Chris Reese and Marguerita Choy)

3/21/2020 War-ravaged Syria takes new steps against coronavirus, says no recorded cases yet
A worker sanitises a door at a hospital, as hospitals enforce a series of measures to prevent the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Damascus, Syria March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria, already shattered by nine years of war, has banned entry for foreigners arriving from many countries hit by the coronavirus as part of widening measures to combat the epidemic.
    Although the government says it has yet to document any infections, Syria is seen at high risk.
    “We have vulnerable populations in camps, refugees, slum areas at the outskirts of large urban centers,” the World Health Organization’s Syria representative, Nima Saeed Abid, told Reuters.
    “If we take the scenarios in China or even in Iran, we are expecting we may have large number of cases and we are preparing accordingly.”
    Coronavirus infections have also yet to be recorded in the large parts of Syria outside government control – the east, northeast and northwest.
    The rebel-held northwest was already facing a major humanitarian crisis with nearly one million people displaced by fighting in the past few months as the Russian-backed government mounted an offensive.
    U.N. political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo said on Friday that she had heard from sources on the ground about the potentially devastating impact of coronavirus in Syria.
    “If anyone – incredibly – still needed a reason to stop the fighting there, this is it,” DiCarlo posted on Twitter.
    The entry ban announced overnight by Damascus followed the closure of schools, parks, restaurants and various public institutions.    A health hotline is being launched, Health Minister Nizar Yazigi said.
    He also responded to suggestions of a cover-up.
    “The health ministry is the only source of information about this matter and not rumors circulating on social media,” the state news agency quoted him as saying on Thursday.    “When there is an infection, it will be announced.”
    Still, Kurdish-aligned authorities that govern much of northeastern and eastern Syria are not convinced.
    “We took decisions to close all crossings with the regime,” said Ghassan al-Yousef, head of a council that administers areas of Deir al-Zor province east of the Euphrates River.
    He cited fear of the virus crossing from government territory west of the Euphrates River, particularly areas controlled by pro-Damascus Shi’ite militias that are backed by Iran and recruit from countries where the virus has spread.
    The Kurdish-led administration has banned movement between towns in its region starting from Saturday and a curfew will begin Monday.
    In the opposition-held northwest, rescue workers whose usual role is to respond to government bombardments have been sanitizing classrooms.    Medics in the northwest fear the virus would spread very quickly in crowded camps for the displaced.
    All the countries bordering Syria have coronavirus outbreaks.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Sonya Hepinstall)

3/21/2020 Jerusalem’s Sepulchre church tells visitors to keep distance due to coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: A boy lights candles in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's
Old City March 9, 2020. Picture taken March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Leaders of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, revered as the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial, urged worshippers on Saturday to maintain social distancing to help fight the coronavirus.
    Church leaders at the ancient holy site in Jerusalem’s walled Old City called on visitors to “avoid any act of devotion that might include physical contact such as touching and kissing the stones, touching icons, vestments and the personnel.”
    In a statement, the church said worshippers should not enter in groups of more than 10 and ought to maintain a distance of at least two meters between each other.
    “The Holy Sepulchre is the ultimate place of hope.    Hope that faith will defeat doubt, light will defeat darkness and life will triumph over death,” the statement added.
    With the usually busy Easter holiday approaching, the coronavirus crisis has led to a sharp decline in the number of visitors to the Holy Land.    The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a particular favorite among pilgrims and tourists.
    Other sacred sites have ordered similar precautions, including the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and in Bethlehem, revered as Jesus’s birthplace, the Church of the Nativity has shut down entirely.
    Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, has limited Friday prayers to the open outdoor areas of the mosque compound – one of the most sensitive spots in the Middle East – which Muslims refer to as the Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount.
    At the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism where Jews are allowed to pray, religious authorities have instructed the faithful to refrain from holding mass prayers and from kissing the stones of the ancient wall which abuts the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary complex.
    Israel has reported 883 confirmed cases of coronavirus to date and one death.    The Palestinians have confirmed 52 cases in the occupied West Bank and none in the Gaza Strip.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Helen Popper)

3/21/2020 Lebanon PM orders security forces to enforce virus curbs
FILE PHOTO: Hassan Diab talks to the media after being named Lebanon's new prime minister, at the
presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir//File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab asked the security forces on Saturday to enforce stricter measures to keep people at home and prevent gatherings to rein in the coronavirus outbreak.
    In an address to the nation, Diab said this would include patrols and checkpoints.
    He called on the Lebanese to go out only if absolutely necessary and warned that the rising number of infections “foreshadows an imminent danger threatening society.”
    The health ministry recorded on Saturday a 29% rise in cases from the day before, bringing the total to 230, Diab said.    Four people have died in the past month.
    Lebanon’s government declared a medical state of emergency earlier this week and ordered most of the country closed, including the airport.
    Experts warn the country’s healthcare system is ill-prepared, as a financial crisis and dollar shortages have for months drained it of critical supplies.
    “The interior ministry and army command … will announce binding plans that will protect the health of the Lebanese,” Diab said on Saturday.    “It is a very difficult and tough period. Let us reduce our losses.”
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Daniel Wallis)

3/21/2020 Netanyahu says near unity government to fight coronavirus, but rivals disagree by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding the new
measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that he was nearing a power-sharing deal with his centrist political rivals, but they swiftly denied it.
    The goal, according to the veteran conservative leader, was a government empowered to confront the coronavirus crisis and end an unprecedented political deadlock that has seen Israel hold three inconclusive elections in less than a year.
    He would head the government for 18 months, Netanyahu said, after which former general Benny Gantz would take over.
    “The details have all been agreed,” Netanyahu said in an interview to Israel’s Channel 12 News.    “I will evacuate (office) on the date we decide, there will be no tricks, no shticks.    Millions of citizens are waiting for us to save Israel.”
    “This is the last call for unity,” Netanyahu added.
    Gantz’s Blue and White Party immediately cast doubt on the sincerity of Netanyahu’s offer.
    “Netanyahu, anyone who wants unity doesn’t impose ultimatums, use partial leaks and most certainly does not hurt democracy or the citizens and does not paralyze parliament,” Gantz said on Twitter.
    Netanyahu’s critics have accused him of compromising democracy while spearheading the country’s fight against the coronavirus.
    Last week Netanyahu bypassed parliament and enacted emergency regulations to allow Israel’s security forces to use anti-terrorist cyber-tracking of coronavirus patients in an effort to fight the epidemic’s spread.
    Netanyahu’s Likud and Blue and White have also been at loggerheads over the formation of legislative committees, including one that would address the phone-tracking issue.
    The four-term prime minister is also facing criminal charges in three corruption cases, which he denies.
    His trial was supposed to begin last Tuesday but has been put off until May because of the coronavirus crisis.
    With a razor-thin majority of supporting lawmakers following the March 2 election, Gantz has been asked by Israel’s president to try and form a new government.
    But neither Likud nor Blue and White won enough seats in parliament in the election to secure a ruling majority on their own, repeating the stalemate of two previous elections in 2019.
    At least 883 coronavirus cases and one fatality have so far been confirmed in Israel.    Netanyahu tightened a national stay-at-home policy this week which also limits any gatherings to 10 people.
    Netanyahu floated a proposal on Saturday to have mass blood tests to check people for antibodies of the virus, so that they can go back to work.
(Editing by Stephen Farrell and Daniel Wallis)

3/21/2020 Jordan blows sirens for start of nationwide curfew to combat coronavirus: witnesses by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
Jordanian army members stand guard at a check point after the start of a nationwide curfew, amid concerns over
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, in Amman, Jordan March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan blew sirens at the start of a nationwide curfew on Saturday that limits the mobility of its 10 million citizens indefinitely in an effort to combat the spread of coronavirus, witnesses and officials said.
    Anyone violating the curfew, which severely restricts movement beyond emergency and essential services, can be jailed up to a year, the army said.
    “Anyone going outside will be subjecting themselves to punishment,” Justice Minister Bassam Talhouni told Jordan’s Al Mamlaka news channel.
    The curfew, in which thousands of soldiers have been deployed inside cities and on main highways across the country, is in place until further notice.
    Armored police vehicles roamed the streets of main cities, calling on people to heed warnings not to leave their homes, witnesses said.
    Streets across the capital and main cities were deserted, with shops shuttered as police patrolled neighborhoods and the army manned checkpoints, witnesses said.
    Jordan has closed land and sea border crossings with Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Israel, and suspended all incoming and outgoing flights since Tuesday.
    King Abdullah enacted an emergency decree giving the government sweeping powers to enforce an army-imposed curfew and other measures that restrict civil and political liberties.br>     Health Minister Saad Jaber said on Saturday the confirmed cases of coronavirus had risen to 99 after 15 new cases were identified, with officials warning numbers could rise.
    “This number is a dangerous indication,” Jaber said.
    The curfew came after officials criticized the presence of many people on the streets even after warnings to stay at home, a ban on gatherings and public worship, and suspension of work for civil servants and private companies.
    “Unfortunately we have seen recklessness in scenes of shopping and moving around in the streets.    These pose a grave danger to our efforts to contain the epidemic,” cabinet minister and government spokesman Amjad Adailah said.
    Adailah later said hundreds of people were arrested for violating the curfew and legal action would be taken against them.
    Panicky shoppers went on last-minute shopping sprees before the start the curfew, leading to long queues at bakeries and food stalls.
    The government has said the kingdom, which imports most of its food and is an energy importer, has a strategic stockpile of commodities for several months alongside several months of gasoline and petroleum products.
    The monetary authorities have also in recent days taken several moves, including delaying loan payments, slashing interest rates and injecting liquidity to help cushion the economic impact of the crisis.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Gerry Doyle, Louise Heavens and Chris Reese)

3/21/2020 Egypt shuts mosques and churches over coronavirus fears by Mahmoud Mourad
A view of Old Cairo with a mosque minaret and the Great Pyramids following the government instructions as Egypt ramps up its
efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cairo, Egypt March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt on Saturday ordered mosques and churches to shut their doors to worshippers in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, after calls for the government to follow steps taken by neighboring countries.
    The North African country reported nine new coronavirus cases and two fatalities on Saturday, the health ministry said in a statement, bringing the totals to 294 confirmed infections and 10 deaths.
    Many on social media had criticized the government for not cancelling weekly Friday prayers and masses at which worshippers crowd into mosques and churches.
    The Ministry of Islamic Endowments said it would shut all mosques for two weeks “for the necessity of preserving souls,” but will allow them to broadcast prayer calls through loudspeakers.
    In another statement, the ministry stressed that mosques will not open during the closure even for funeral prayers, adding such sermons should be done in open areas.
    Egypt has more than 100,000 mosques.
    Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim authority, said it would shut its historic mosque in old Cairo starting from Saturday “for the safety of worshippers, and until the end of the coronavirus epidemic.”
    On March 15, Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars said that governments had the right to shut mosques “to protect people from the coronavirus.”
    Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church on Saturday ordered all its churches to shut their doors and suspend masses for two weeks over coronavirus fears, it said in a statement.
    The church also banned visits to monasteries and closed condolences halls attached to churches.
    Each parish will name only one church for funeral prayers and the sermons will be restricted to the family of the deceased.
    Christians represent around 10% of Egypt’s population of 100 million, according to unofficial estimates.    The vast majority of the country’s Christians are orthodox.
    The Coptic Catholic Church followed the same approach?? ??and ordered its followers on Saturday to pray at home until further notice.    Its churches will open their doors for funeral prayers only, which will be restricted to family members.
Strengthening measures
    Egypt, which has seen its tourism sector badly affected by the epidemic, will close all museums and archaeological sites starting March 23 until the end of the month for sanitization, the tourism ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
    Tourism revenue rose to a record high $12.57 billion in the financial year that ended in July 2019.
    The most populous Arab country said on Thursday it would shut all cafes, shopping malls, sports clubs and nightclubs from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. local time every night until March 31. It exempted supermarkets, pharmacies, bakeries and neighborhood corner stores.
    Egypt also shut schools and universities and moved to cut the number of public sector employees reporting to work in an effort to discourage crowding and slow the spread of the disease.
    Flights were grounded on Thursday until the end of March, with the exception of outward-bound flights needed by foreign tourists.
    The government said that during the flight ban and school shutdown, hotels and all educational facilities would be sanitized.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad, editing by Louise Heavens and Jason Neely)

3/22/2020 First coronavirus cases confirmed in the Palestinian Gaza Strip
FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian woman, wearing a mask as a preventive measure against coronavirus, looks out of a car upon her
return from abroad, at Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/File Photo
    GAZA (Reuters) – The first two cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the densely-populated Gaza Strip, Palestinian health officials said on Sunday.
    Two Palestinians who had traveled from Pakistan and entered Gaza through Egypt had tested positive for the virus late on Saturday and have been in quarantine in Rafah, a town near the Egyptian border, since their arrival on Thursday, the Gaza health ministry said.
    Schools, public markets and event halls have all been shut in Gaza over the past two weeks to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission.
    The coastal enclave, measuring 375 square kilometers (145 square miles) is home to around two million Palestinians and poverty and unemployment rates are high.
    An Israeli-led blockade has put restrictions on the movement of people and goods for years, amid security concerns following the 2007 takeover of Gaza by the Islamist militant group Hamas, three subsequent wars and frequent rounds of violence.
    Last week Hamas said it would allow only patients requiring urgent medical treatment outside Gaza to cross into Egypt or Israel.    According to the Palestinian health ministry 53 people coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the occupied West Bank.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

3/22/2020 Prayers at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound suspended over virus
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary
and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, after Israel tightened a national stay-at-home policy
following the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID19), March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – All Muslim prayers at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound will be suspended from Monday until further notice in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, religious officials said on Sunday.
    The doors of the mosque and the adjoining Dome of the Rock had already been shut, but worshippers were still able to gather in the open areas of the hilltop compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
    “It was decided to suspend the arrival of worshippers to prayers through all the gates to al-Aqsa mosque starting Monday,” said a statement issued by the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs in Jordan, which acts as custodian of the site, the third holiest in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
    The new edict suspends the outdoor prayers as well.    Those sessions usually draw large crowds, though the numbers have dwindled in recent weeks.
    The Palestinian director of the mosque, Sheikh Omar Kisawni, confirmed the decision to Reuters.
    Religious leaders at other holy sites in Jerusalem’s walled Old City, such as the adjacent Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, have also set precautionary limitations.
    The compound’s religious workers and guards will continue to be allowed entry and the Muslim call to prayer will continue as normal, said the Waqf council, which oversees Jerusalem’s Islamic sites.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/23/2020 Turkey threatens to seize factories unless they sell masks to government
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu speaks during a news conference for foreign
media correspondents in Istanbul, Turkey, August 21, 2019. Ahmet Bolat/Pool via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish authorities will seize factories of mask-producing firms unless they agree to sell products to the government by Monday night, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was quoted as saying, as Ankara seeks to contain the local coronavirus outbreak.
    Turkey’s death toll from the virus increased by nine to 30 on Sunday, with 1,256 confirmed cases after a surge in the last two weeks.
    Authorities carried out simultaneous raids on the depots of all face mask producers in Turkey early on Sunday to demand they sign contracts with the Health Ministry and stop hoarding stock, Soylu was cited as saying by the Hurriyet newspaper.
    “We warned them once again to sign contracts with our Health Ministry by 20:00 tonight.    Otherwise, we have other authorities and we will never shy away from using these,” Soylu was cited as saying.
    “We will buy these (masks), and for a good price,” he said.    “God is our witness, they have 10-12 hours or we will seize their factories tomorrow.”
    Turkey has taken a series of measures to prevent the spread of the virus since its outbreak two weeks ago, limiting the use of public spaces, imposing travel restrictions, and announcing a $15 billion economic support package to help its ailing economy amid the outbreak.
    Turkey says it has conducted 20,345 coronavirus tests.    It has exported several medical supplies to other countries, but has said its priority will now be on local needs after the local outbreak.    Last week, Ankara moved to curb sales of masks by mandating a doctor’s prescription for some masks.
    With the surge of cases in Turkey, thousands of people have also been quarantined across the country.    On Monday, Soylu said 10,750 people were in quarantine, adding that those not complying with regulations were subject to fines.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

3/23/2020 Turkey will hire more medics, stop exporting face masks: minister by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen
A woman wearing a protective face mask walks in a market at Eminonu neighbourhood during the
outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will hire 32,000 more medical staff and stop exporting locally-made face masks so its own services can use them as the coronavirus spreads across the country, the health minister said on Monday.
    Fahrettin Koca announced Turkey had ordered rapid testing kits from China, as well as medicine that he said he been used to treat coronavirus patients – though he did not give details on the treatments.
    “Masks produced in Turkey will not be exported while we need them here,” Koca told journalists in Ankara.
    Turkey has confirmed 1,236 cases of the coronavirus, Koca said on Sunday – a rise of 289 from the day before – as well as 30 deaths.    He said some patients had recovered, but did not provide any details.
    “The cases were mostly from abroad initially, but I can say that through contacts, it has increased … I can say it has spread almost across the whole country,” the minister said.
    “We have activated the rapid test kit.    Today, 50,000 arrived from China.    On Thursday, 300,000 additional kits will come, and we have made arrangements to use up to 1 million kits.”    Some medical staff had been infected, he added.
    Earlier, the Hurriyet newspaper quoted Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu as saying authorities had raided warehouses storing masks.    The government would seize factories if local producers did not agree to sell the masks to the health ministry by Monday night, Soylu was quoted as saying.
    “God is our witness, they have 10-12 hours or we will seize their factories tomorrow,” he added, according to the report.
    Turkish producers had been exporting medical gear to a number of countries, including Iran.
    But Ankara has been increasing controls on the trade to meet its own demands.    Last week, it moved to limit private sales by mandating a doctor’s prescription for some masks.
    Separately, Soylu was quoted as saying 10,750 people had been quarantined across the country, and anyone violating the quarantines would face fines.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Andrew Heavens)

3/23/2020 Saudi Arabia imposes coronavirus curfew, UAE halts passenger flights by Rania El Gamal and Dahlia Nehme
A general view shows an empty street after a curfew was imposed to prevent the spread of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia imposed a nationwide curfew on Monday after reporting a jump of almost a quarter in coronavirus cases, while the United Arab Emirates will suspend all passenger flights starting Wednesday, state media reported.
    Saudi King Salman ordered a curfew from 7pm to 6am for 21 days to slow the virus’ spread, state media said. Anyone breaking it will be fined 10,000 riyals ($2,665) and repeat offenders could be jailed up to 20 days.
    Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Talal Mashhoud told a news conference, where 51 new infections were announced, that security forces would enforce the curfew and if needed “military authorities may be called upon.”
    Police vehicles blaring sirens and flashing emergency lights lined up in one Riyadh neighborhood, a Reuters witness said, and more deployed on a highway.
    The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council has recorded more than 1,800 infections and four deaths from the virus.    Saudi Arabia has the most confirmed cases with 562.
    The UAE, an air hub, said it would halt all passenger and transit flights for two weeks, state news agency WAM said.    Cargo operations continue.    It called on nationals studying abroad to return within 48 hours.
    The country reported 45 new cases among Western, Arab and Asian nationalities, taking its total to 198.
    State-owned Emirates, one of the world’s biggest long-haul airlines, earlier said it would stop passenger operations this week, except for some repatriation flights.
    The UAE will close malls from Wednesday, exempting pharmacies, supermarkets, wholesale produce providers and delivery services, WAM reported.    Dubai said it would shut food establishments from Monday.
    The UAE urged the public to stay home and Dubai police instructed people on the street through loudspeakers to go home, but Reuters journalists saw joggers outside and shoppers scooping up goods at supermarkets.
    The country, the region’s business hub, has yet to suspend work.    Government ministries and departments, including the central bank, said staff were asked to work remotely.
    “We are not immune…The only way to guarantee that we safeguard the wellbeing of our loved ones is to ACT now, TOGETHER and WITHOUT exceptions.    Stay Home,” Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid wrote on Instagram.     Qatar reported seven new cases on Monday, bringing its total to 501.
    Saudi Commerce Ministry spokesman Abdulrahman al-Hussein told the news conference that pharmacies, supermarkets and restaurants would offer delivery services during the curfew.
    Kuwait said it would issue expatriate teachers exit permits.    State news agency KUNA later said EgyptAir would operate a daily flight to Cairo for a week starting on Wednesday for Egyptian residents who wish to leave.
($1 = 3.7530 riyals)
(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba, Rania El Gamal, Stephen Kalin, Ahmed Hagagy, Alaa Swilam, Dahlia Nehme, Alexander Cornwell and Marwa Rashad; Writing by Rania El Gamal and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/23/2020 Shattered by years of war, Syria braces for coronavirus spread by Eric Knecht
A view of an empty street as Syria confirmed its first case of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) on Sunday, in Damascus, Syria, March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Yamam Al Shaar
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The spread of coronavirus to Syria brings the prospect of a deadly outbreak to a population devastated by nine years of war, with ravaged hospitals and tightly-packed camps likely to accelerate infection, doctors and aid workers said on Monday.
    The Syrian government announced on Sunday its first case after unconfirmed reports suggested the virus had been detected but covered up, a charge officials denied while rolling out tight measures as the disease swarmed neighboring countries.
    In the rebel-held northwest, no cases have been confirmed, but patients have been showing possible symptoms for weeks and 300 test kits should arrive in the next two days, the World Health Organization and a medics group said.
    “Health infrastructure and basic services have all been decimated over much of the country … and Syrians are very likely to be some of the most vulnerable to the spread of the virus globally,” said Rachel Sider, policy and advocacy adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
    “What’s very clear is they’re nowhere near ready for an outbreak,” said Sider.
    In Damascus on Monday, crowds of pedestrians, many in masks, still filled some streets, despite curbs like shutting schools and businesses, banning public transport and suspending flights.
    The army command declared on Saturday it had prepped military hospitals and gave orders to minimize gatherings.
    Samer Khodr, head of Damascus hospital, said all private and public hospitals across the country were ready under a national plan to tackle the virus.
    Residents say prices of disinfectants and masks have skyrocketed in the capital, where panic buying has also gripped shoppers in recent days.
    The head of a local Damascus-based NGO said there was limited capacity to determine cases, with only one main lab testing for the virus so far.    Some cases were being treated in military hospitals, the person added, asking to remain anonymous.
    Despite just a single case declared, one diplomat said the virus was likely more widespread than known, owing to low testing capacity and lack of transparency.
    The Syrian Observatory, a Britain-based war monitor, said doctors had received threats from the government not to disclose cases.    “Doctors have been instructed to refer to cases that are suspected to be corona infections as severe pneumonia,” said its director Rami Abdulrahman.
    A U.N. source said three Syrians who tested positive at the weekend in Beirut, which is trying to contain a coronavirus outbreak, had recently arrived from Syria.
    The government has denied covering up any cases, though close ties with its top regional ally Iran, the worst hit country in the Middle East, had increased the likelihood of the virus gaining a foothold.
    Militias backed by Iran, which operates military and civilian flights to Syria, fight alongside Syrian army soldiers. Thousands of Shi’ite pilgrims from Iran and other countries also usually visit Damascus.
    In parts of Syria outside state rule, Kurdish-led forces in the northeast and Turkey-backed opposition groups in the northwest have also closed crossings.
    Displaced Syrians in the northwest live in overcrowded makeshift camps, leaving medics worried that an outbreak would be particularly lethal.
    A Russian-backed Syrian government offensive there has uprooted nearly 1 million people in recent months and left its infrastructure in tatters.
    Ahmad al-Dbis of the U.S.-based medical charity UOSSM, which operates in opposition territory, said fighting in the past year had destroyed much of the region’s medical facilities and left a stock of only 175 ventilators.
    “Countries like Italy, France, Spain and others couldn’t escape from the coronavirus crisis so what will it be like for northwest Syria?” said Dbis.
    The arrival of test kits this week, though limited, will allow doctors to finally begin checking for the virus.    A handful tests were shipped to Turkey so far but no cases have come back positive.
    “There are many cases coming to facilities and hospitals with the symptoms but we don’t have the capacity to make the diagnosis,” said Bashir Taj Aldin, a doctor with the Syrian American Medical Society which operates in Idlib.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht in Beirut, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman and Dominic Evans in Istanbul; Editing by Mark Potter)

3/24/2020 Russia sends ship with military ambulances toward Syria after virus outbreak
The Russian Navy cargo ship Dvinitsa-50 sails in the Bosphorus, on its way to the
Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey, March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A cargo ship operated by the Russian Navy transited Turkey’s Bosphorus strait en route to Syria on Tuesday loaded with ambulances, a Reuters reporter saw.
    Syria reported its first case of coronavirus on Sunday after weeks of rejecting opposition allegations that the disease had already reached a country with a wrecked health system and thousands of Iranian-backed militias and Shi’ite pilgrims.
    The Russian Dvinitsa-50 ship, part of Moscow’s auxiliary fleet, was carrying at least three military ambulances along with a shipping container on its deck.
    Russia, which has provided military support for President Bashar al-Assad since 2015, operates a naval facility at Tartus in Syria and an airbase in Latakia.
    The Russian military said on Monday that none of its servicemen had contracted the coronavirus.
    Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was tested for the virus after returning from Syria this week, Russia’s TASS news agency reported on Tuesday. He tested negative.
(Reporting by Yoruk Isik in Istanbul, writing by Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Gareth Jones)

3/24/2020 Hit by war and oil blockade, Libya prepares for pandemic
FILE PHOTO: Members of Red Crescent spray disinfectants, as part of precautionary measures against coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) at government offices in Misrata, Libya March 21, 2020. Picture taken March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili
    MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – Both the warring factions in Libya have imposed lockdowns to guard against the coronavirus but fighting is still going on, compounding difficulties the country faces in preparing to combat the disease.
    So far, testing has confirmed no cases there.    But officials are worried about what will happen if and when it does.
    “This is a health system that was close to collapse before you get the coronavirus,” said Elizabeth Hoff, head of mission for the World Health Organisation in Libya.
    Both the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, in the west, and a rival administration ruling from Benghazi in the east have imposed lockdowns, stopped foreign travel and promised resources for the health service.
    The eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA)has been trying to capture Tripoli since last year.    Despite a ceasefire call by the United     Nations last week to allow all sides to focus on preparing for the pandemic, fighting has continued, with shelling reported by both sides.
    Equipment for testing is limited, there is very little protective gear and there is a severe shortage of medical workers, particularly in rural areas, Hoff said.
    “There is a national plan, but funding has not yet been allocated for implementation,” she said.
    A blockade of oil ports by forces aligned with the LNA in eastern Libya has cut off most revenue to the Central Bank of Libya in Tripoli, which funds state institutions and the salaries of public workers across the country.
    A doctor in a medical center in Tripoli said she had not been paid since last year.
    The parallel central bank in Benghazi, set up by the eastern administration, said on Tuesday it paid salaries to government workers in east Libyan areas for the first time this year, but a doctor said no money had arrived in his account.
    Some medics in Benghazi had refused to work at a hospital over the lack of pay and adequate protective gear, a doctor there said, but the problem was later resolved.
    Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), an international medical charity working in Tripoli, said the latest bout of warfare had made things worse.
    “Libya…is a high-risk country essentially due to the deficiencies of the Libyan healthcare system that has been further impacted by the latest armed conflict,” said Joris de Jongh, MSF project coordinator in Tripoli.
    In Misrata, a port city held by forces loyal to the internationally recognized government in Tripoli to its west, cleaning companies disinfected parks and public gardens.
    Volunteers distributed face masks and gloves as people entered banks, where marks on the floor showed where to stand to ensure a safe distance from others waiting in line.
    “If we sit down and do nothing, waiting for the government, we won’t get any results,” said Taher Alzarooq, a 55-year-old volunteer.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Sahili in Misrata; Writing and additional reporting by Angus McDowall in Tunis; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/24/2020 Saudi reports first coronavirus death, UAE gears up for lockdown by Stephen Kalin and Alexander Cornwell
A security guard wears a face mask, amid fear of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the entrance of
almost an empty building in Media City in Dubai, United Arab Emirates March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
    RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia on Tuesday reported its first death from the coronavirus, a 51-year-old Afghani resident, while the United Arab Emirates’ main airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi said they would suspend all passenger flights from midnight.
    Saudi Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdelali told a news conference the fatality occurred on Monday night in Medina, where the man’s health had deteriorated quickly after he reported to the emergency room.
    The kingdom took drastic measures early on to contain the disease, including halting international flights, suspending the Umrah year-round pilgrimage, closing mosques, schools, malls and restaurants, and imposing a nighttime curfew.
    It recorded 205 new infections on Tuesday, bringing the total in the six Gulf Coordination Council states to more than 2,100, mostly in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.    Six people have died three in Bahrain, two in the UAE and the latest in Saudi Arabia.
    Kuwait, which has also imposed a curfew, arrested and will deport nine expatriates for violating the curfew, state news agency KUNA said.     The health ministry said all citizens and residents arriving from abroad must enter 14-day quarantine.
    The UAE, the region’s tourism and business hub and an air transit centre, has 248 infections.
    It has followed other Gulf Arab states in trying to curb the spread of the virus, urging people to stay at home, but not announcing an official curfew or suspending work.
    It has suspended prayers in mosques for four weeks starting Tuesday and plans to close malls, commercial centres, restaurants and cafes as well as open retail food markets for two weeks from Wednesday.
    On Monday it said it would suspend all passenger flights after 48 hours.    But the latest announcements from Dubai Airports and Abu Dhabi Airport said the halt in passenger flights, including transit flights, would start as of 11:59 p.m. local time on Tuesday. Evacuation flights and cargo services continue.
    Dubai’s Emirates [EMIRA.UL] and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways have said they would halt passenger flights as of Wednesday and temporarily cut staff wages.
    Emirates said its flights remain suspended from Wednesday, though Etihad said it would suspend all departures from Abu Dhabi immediately and the last arrivals would be on Wednesday.
    “There is a lot of confusion on the flight suspension,” a European diplomat said, adding that the sudden changes were making it increasingly difficult to get European citizens home.
    The suspensions are likely to add more economic pressure on Dubai, which does not have the oil and gas wealth of the capital Abu Dhabi.
    Gulf rival Qatar Airways on Tuesday said it was operating over 150 flights a day to more than 70 cities and would look to add more flights or use bigger aircraft “wherever possible.”
    Some stores at malls in Dubai, a popular shopping destination, were shut ahead of the Wednesday closure deadline.
    “This is a global problem.    I don’t know why they haven’t closed (earlier),” said an employee.
    Oman, with 84 coronavirus cases, announced it was suspending all domestic and international flights as of March 29, except cargo operations and flights to Musandam, an Omani enclave inside the UAE, according to state TV.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai and Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; editing by Angus MacSwan and Philippa Fletcher)

3/24/2020 U.N. seeks total ceasefire in Syria, prisoner releases, to combat coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen speaks during a meeting with Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured), in Moscow, Russia January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. Special Envoy for Syria called on Tuesday for an immediate nationwide ceasefire across Syria to enable an “all-out-effort” to stamp out COVID-19.
    In a statement, Geir Pedersen also appealed on humanitarian grounds for “large-scale releases of detainees and abductees” in Syria and access for medical workers to detention facilities to help ensure that adequate medical care is provided to inmates.
    The spread of coronavirus to Syria brings the prospect of a deadly outbreak to a population devastated by nine years of war, with ravaged hospitals and tightly packed camps likely to accelerate infection, doctors and aid workers said on Monday.
    The Assad government announced on Sunday its first case after unconfirmed reports suggested the virus had been detected but covered up, a charge officials denied.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)

3/25/2020 Israelis told to keep within 100m from home for recreation
FILE PHOTO: A general view of a usually busy street is seen as Israel tightened a national stay-at-home policy
following the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Jerusalem March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israelis hoping for a stroll or jog were instructed on Wednesday to stay within 100 meters (110 yards) of their homes for a week under tightened restrictions to curb the coronavirus.
    Israel has confirmed more than 2,000 cases and five fatalities so far.
    The new restrictions further reduced public transport, required employers to check workers for fever and set sanctions for people who defy rules.
    Israelis have been instructed to stay home where possible, schools have been shut and many businesses have closed, prompting more than 500,000 layoffs so far.
    The specter of people, out for fresh air, jogging and congregating on city streets has alarmed health authorities.    The new 100 meter limit is meant to end such activity.
    The private sector has had to limit employees at the workplace to 10 people or 30% of the company’s workforce, and most of the public sector has been put on leave.
    Public transportation, already operating on reduced schedules, was restricted further to journeys to and from “essential” businesses and taxis were limited to one passenger.
    Israelis, though, could still drive themselves to work or to shops for essentials, and food delivery services were operating.
    Penalties ranging from fines to a six-month jail term were set for anyone defying the orders.
    Employers were ordered to prevent anyone with a fever of 38 Celsius (100.4F) from entering the workplace.
    Israel’s central bank on Tuesday projected an economic contraction of 2.5% in 2020 as long as the partial lockdown eases by the end of April.
    The coronavirus crisis comes as Israel is grappling with political deadlock after three inconclusive elections in less than a year.    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is heading a caretaker government and his centrist political rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, has been tasked with forming a new coalition government.
    But neither Gantz nor Netanyahu won the backing of a clear and stable parliamentary majority in the March 2 election and negotiations to form a unity government comprising both their parties have come to a halt in the past few days.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Cawthorne)

3/25/2020 Jordan eases nationwide curfew and allows shops to open by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: The streets of the Jordanian Capital are seen empty during the second day of a nationwide curfew, amid concerns
over the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Amman, Jordan March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said on Tuesday the government would allow people to go on foot to buy groceries in neighbourhood shops to ease daily life for the nearly 10 million inhabitants under a tight curfew to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
    The curfew was imposed on Saturday after King Abdullah enacted an emergency decree giving the government sweeping powers to enforce an army-imposed curfew and other measures that restrict civil and political liberties.    The government justified the severe restrictions by saying that many people had flouted calls to stay at home, risking the fast spread of the virus.
    Shops, bakeries and even pharmacies have since closed in a complete lockdown of businesses and commercial activity, and the army, which was deployed on streets across the country, warned that anyone leaving their homes would face up to a year in jail.
    Razzaz said that as of Wednesday people would be allowed to leave their homes from 10 a.m. to 18:00 p.m. to walk to corner shops, groceries, bakeries and pharmacies.
    “I understand the worry and anxiety.    … The curfew is not a natural state that we have ever experienced before and reflects negatively and psychologically on us,” Razazz said.
    Large supermarkets will reopen on Thursday to sell goods online and to be home-delivered, also to avoid crowding in public places, Razzaz said in a briefing.
    Razzaz warned any stampede or rush in any shops would prompt immediate closure.    He said the ban on private vehicles would be maintained.
    “Either there is discipline or we will close shops that we see congestion,” he said.
    Jordan a week ago closed land and sea border crossings with Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Israel, and suspended all incoming and outgoing flights.
    The government brought in public transport buses on Tuesday to help bakeries sell bread in residential neighbourhoods across the country.    But panic buying in some inner city areas erupted as people rushed from their homes for bread, which many Jordanians consume as a daily staple food item, witnesses said.
    Health Minister Saad Jaber said on Tuesday that confirmed cases of the virus jumped to 153, with 26 new cases in the biggest daily rise since numbers began to steadily grow last week.    There have been no deaths.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Leslie Adler)

3/25/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu says complete lockdown unavoidable unless new infections ebb
FILE PHOTO: A general view of a usually busy street is seen as Israel tightened a national stay-at-home policy following
the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Jerusalem March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday there would be “no avoiding” a complete lockdown of the country without a decrease in the rate of new coronavirus infections.
    Israel has seen five deaths and close to 2,400 cases so far.
    Citizens hoping for a stroll or jog were instructed earlier on Wednesday to stay within 100 metres (110 yards) of their homes for a week under tightened restrictions to curb the contagion.
    The new restrictions further reduced public transport, required employers to check workers for fever and set sanctions for people who defy rules.
    Israelis have been instructed to stay home where possible, schools have been shut and many businesses have closed, prompting more than 500,000 lay-offs.
    “If we do not see an immediate improvement in the trendline there will be no avoiding a full closure,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks.    “(The decision) is a matter of a few days (away).    And we are making all of the preparations for it.”
    The sight of people, out for fresh air, jogging and congregating on city streets has alarmed health authorities.    The new 100-metre limit is meant to end such activity.
    The private sector has had to limit employees at the workplace to 10 people or 30% of the company’s workforce, and most of the public sector has been put on leave.
    Israelis, though, could still drive themselves to work or to shops for essentials under the new restrictions, and food delivery services were operating.
    Penalties ranging from fines to a six-month jail term were set for anyone defying the orders.
    Israel’s central bank on Tuesday projected an economic contraction of 2.5% in 2020 as long as the partial lockdown eases by the end of April.
    In his remarks, Netanyahu said his caretaker government was setting up an economic plan to help businesses and the self-employed, and that a team was set-up to prepare for the day after the virus ends.
    The coronavirus crisis comes as Israel is grappling with political deadlock after three inconclusive elections in less than a year.    Netanyahu’s centrist political rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, has been tasked with forming a new coalition government.
    But neither Gantz nor Netanyahu won a stable parliamentary majority in the March 2 election and negotiations to form a unity government comprising both their parties have come to a halt in the past few days.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Dan Williams and Steven Scheer; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Andrew Cawthorne and Alex Richardson)

3/25/2020 Libya battles escalate as coronavirus arrives in country
FILE PHOTO: Damage is seen after shells fell on a residential area, in Abu Slim
district south of Tripoli, Libya February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
    TUNIS (Reuters) – An intense bombardment shook Tripoli on Wednesday as new battles erupted around the capital hours after Libya reported its first case of coronavirus and despite U.N. calls for ceasefires around the world during the epidemic.
    Residents of the Libyan capital, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), said the shelling was the worst in weeks, shaking windows in the city centre miles from the front line in the southern suburbs.
    “We are done in this country.    There is a war and we hear clashes all day, fearing a missile will fall near us.    Now there is coronavirus.     If it spreads in Libya, I think we can only pray,” said Issa, 30, a shop owner in Tripoli.
    The Libyan National Army (LNA) of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar has been trying to capture Tripoli for almost a year, backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.    The GNA is supported by Turkey and allied Syrian fighters.
    An LNA shelling attack last week drew U.N. condemnation after it killed four girls and young women.    On Tuesday, shells hit a prison in an area held by the GNA, also drawing U.N. anger.
    Pro-GNA forces launched attacks on several fronts on Wednesday against the LNA, including at al-Watiya airbase, 125 km (80 miles) west of Tripoli, the closest such facility to the capital in LNA hands.
    “In response to the heaviest bombardments Tripoli has seen, we launched a series of counter attacks against Haftar,” said Mohamed Geblawi, spokesman for the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement.
    Geblawi cited what he called “indiscriminate shelling” by the LNA after both sides had agreed to a ceasefire to tackle the coronavirus.
    A pro-GNA military operations room said its forces had captured LNA fighters, including some foreigners.
    The LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari said it had repulsed the attack and that the GNA had fielded Turkish and Syrian fighters.    “The truce was not put into effect” by the pro-GNA forces, he added.
    The escalation in the fighting could spell disaster for Libya’s already fragmented and badly stretched health system in handling the coronavirus, after authorities confirmed the first case of the disease late on Tuesday.
    “Libyans have suffered for years under this brutal conflict, and now they face yet another threat to their health and wellbeing,” said Elizabeth Hoff, the World Health Organisation representative in Libya.
    U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres had called for a complete ceasefire in conflicts around the world as governments and local authorities struggle with a pandemic that has spread to most countries.
    “We sit at home hearing the clashes, which are a daily routine since 2011.    But now we are scared of coronavirus.    I am scared for my family.    Libya doesn’t have a good healthcare system,” said Akram, a 28-year-old barista in Tripoli with three children.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall in Tunis and Ayman al-Warfalli in Benghazi; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Jane Merriman)

3/25/2020 Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre closes amid coronavirus fears
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the structure housing the purported tomb of Jesus in the burial place,
known as the Edicule, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, during a prayer session amid concerns over the
spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Jerusalem's Old City March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/FIle Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, revered in Christian tradition as the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial, was closed on Wednesday as a precaution against the coronavirus.
    The closure, initially for a week, followed a meeting between Israeli police and church leaders, said Wadie Abu Nassar, spokesperson of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, after the Israeli government announced tighter restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
    “The initial understanding is that this order is valid for one week, although nobody knows how long this crisis will take,” he said.
    Adeeb Joudeh, a Palestinian whose family holds one of the keys to the church, confirmed the decision on Facebook.
    The closure comes in the build-up to Easter, the most important festival in the Christian calendar, which Roman Catholics this year celebrate on April 12. It would normally see thousands of pilgrims and tourists flock to the city, whose streets are now virtually deserted.
    Greek Orthodox celebrations are held a week later, including the traditional ceremony of the Holy Fire in the church, a hugely popular and colourful event symbolising the resurrection of Jesus after his death on the cross.
    Abu Nassar said that, “if, God forbid, this situation goes on too long and it enters into the season of Easter,” church authorities hoped that an arrangement could be found to celebrate within the new guidelines, perhaps by limiting attendance.
    The anti-virus restrictions began last month when Roman Catholic priests were told to place communion wafers into the hand only, rather than onto worshippers’ tongues.
    Jerusalem’s walled Old City houses places sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the other religions have taken similar precautions.
    Jewish authorities on Wednesday instructed all synagogues to close and hold prayers outdoors, for no more than 10 people at a time.
    At the Western Wall, they have instructed the faithful to refrain from holding mass prayers and from kissing the stones of the ancient wall, which abuts the compound known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
    On Sunday, Muslim religious officials suspended all prayers at the nearby al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
(Reporting by Roleen Tafakji and Stephen Farrell, Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/25/2020 Turkey rounds up hundreds for social media posts about coronavirus
A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant at Grand Bazaar, known as the Covered Bazaar, to prevent
the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey has arrested 410 people for making “provocative” posts on social media about the coronavirus outbreak, its interior minister said on Wednesday.
    Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu praised Turks for complying with social distancing measures imposed so far to curtail the spread of the disease, and said this meant tighter controls such as a curfew may be unnecessary.
    Turkey has shut schools, cafes and bars, banned mass prayers, postponed sports matches and suspended flights.    The number of confirmed cases of the virus in Turkey rose by 343 to 1,872 on Tuesday. Forty-four people have died.
    Soylu noted that since the restrictions were put in place, the number of passengers on inter-city buses had fallen 83% and traffic intensity within 15 major cities had fallen 65%.
    “So far, our citizens are complying to the highest level with all the measures we have imposed.    This is a particularly good point for us,” Soylu said in an interview with broadcaster TV 24.    “As long as citizens observe their own emergency rules themselves, it may not be necessary for now to take tighter measures.”
    The minister said almost 2,000 social media accounts had been identified making provocative posts about the outbreak, resulting in the detention of 410 people “attempting to stir unrest.”
    He said that most of the accounts were linked to militant groups, without giving further details of the identities of the suspects.
    Some of the arrests were over posts that showed youths mocking elderly people for venturing outside during the lockdown, he said.    Such posts have been a source of public anger in Turkey.
    Turkey’s leadership has been accused in the past by rights groups and political opponents of cracking down on social media to limit criticism.    The government says its strict monitoring of social media is necessary to guarantee public safety.
(Reporting by Ceyda Caglayan; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Peter Graff)

3/25/2020 Tunisia coronavirus cases jump by around 50%
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a deserted square around the clock tower at the end of Avenue Habib Bourguiba,
following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tunis, Tunisia March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia has confirmed 59 new cases of the coronavirus, Health Minister Abdelatif el-Mekki said in a televised news conference on Wednesday, taking the total number to 173.
    Tunisia has instituted a curfew at nights and a lockdown during the day in which people are only allowed out to buy food or medicine or work in some key sectors.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Jon Boyle)

3/25/2020 Saudis tighten anti-virus curfew, UAE closures leave travellers stranded by Stephen Kalin and Alexander Cornwell
A Saudi man walks past a poster depicting Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, after a curfew was imposed to prevent the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia reported its second coronavirus death and tightened a nationwide curfew on Wednesday, barring entry to and exit from the capital Riyadh and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina as well as movement between all provinces.
    The orders, approved by King Salman and published by state media, also brought forward the start of curfew in the three cities to 3 p.m. from 7 p.m., starting on Thursday.
    Saudi Arabia introduced the curfew on Monday, initially for 21 days, after registering a jump in infections.    Its second fatality was a 46-year-old foreign resident of Mecca, among 133 new cases that took Saudi Arabia’s total to 900.
    Across the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, the tally rose to 2,472 with seven deaths, as the United Arab Emirates registered 85 new infections, Oman 15 and Kuwait four.
    Saudi Arabia has also halted international flights as well as suspending visas for the year-round Umrah pilgrimage and closing mosques, schools, malls and restaurants.
    The restrictions have altered the rhythm of daily life in the country of some 30 million, where late-night gatherings at coffee shops or private homes are common.
    Turkish resident Nasif Erisik, who plays cards most nights with friends at one of their homes, said the group had resorted to online gaming to keep in touch: “Corona has … changed our habits and everything in our lives.”
    The authorities say they will fine or jail those who violate restrictions.    The Interior Ministry on Wednesday reported high compliance.
QUARANTINE BREACHED
    But in the UAE, the region’s tourism, business and transit hub, 64 people were facing legal action for not obeying a 14-day home quarantine order after coming into contact with people confirmed to be infected, the government tweeted.
    Hundreds of Europeans were stranded in the UAE after Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports stopped flights on Tuesday night with little warning.
    Oil engineer Jamie Richardson had been due to return to Britain on Wednesday for a new job.    “It’s proper stressful,” he said.    “You have no idea what’s going on.”
    UAE authorities have urged people to stay home but not announced an official curfew or suspended work.
    On Wednesday the business regulator in Dubai, one of the member-emirates, told private companies to implement remote working for 80% of staff through April 9.
    Pharmacies, grocery stores, supermarkets and cooperative societies were exempted.    It later clarified that other sectors, including banking, industrial and manufacturing, construction, logistics and delivery were also exempt.
    Food shops were told to stay open 24 hours a day but not exceed 30% customer capacity, to be able to maintain a 2-metre (6-foot) distance between shoppers.
    Organisers of the Expo 2020 Dubai world fair, scheduled to start in October and expected to draw 11 million overseas visitors, confirmed one coronavirus case among staff and said they were reviewing their preparations.
(Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Alaa Swilam, Lisa Barrington, Ghaida Ghantous and Yousef Saba in Dubai, and Marwa Rashad and Reuters TV in Riyadh; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alex Richardson)

3/25/2020 Erdogan says Turkey will overcome coronavirus in two-three weeks through measures
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President
Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will overcome the coronavirus outbreak in two to three weeks through good measures, with as little damage as possible, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, adding that he expected patience, understanding and support from Turks in the process.
    “We have preparations for every scenario,” Erdogan told a televised address to the nation.    “By breaking the speed of the virus’ spread in two to three weeks, we will get through this period as soon as possible with as little damage as possible.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Leslie Adler)

3/25/2020 Egypt deep cleans pyramids site emptied of tourists
Members of the medical team spray disinfectant as a precautionary move amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak at the Great Pyramids, Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt began deep cleaning the area around the Giza pyramids on Wednesday as authorities work to disinfect tourist spots closed down by the coronavirus outbreak.
    Workers wearing face masks and gloves swept and sprayed the walkways around the bases of the pyramids, as well as the ticket office and a visitor center – though the giant stone structures were not themselves cleaned.
    All Egypt’s famed archaeological sites and museums from the Egyptian museum in Cairo to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor have been shut since Monday as authorities try to prevent coronavirus from spreading.
    With passenger flights suspended — except for those repatriating the last remaining tourists — officials have been sterilizing hotels and tourist sites up and down the country.
    “We started the first phase of disinfection, and there are other phases.    We are in the process of disinfecting all tourist sites, though the artefacts themselves require specific materials and (cleaning) must be carried out by a specialised team of excavators,” said Ashraf Mohie El-Din, director general of the pyramids area.
    “We are making use of this period to sanitize the entire area, but also to carry out some maintenance work and renovation to have this area ready to accept visitors again,” he added.
    Egypt has so far reported more than 400 cases of coronavirus, including 21 deaths.
    Most early cases were linked to a cruise ship on the Nile from which both foreign passengers and local crew tested positive, dealing a blow to the country’s crucial tourism sector.
(Reporting by Sherif Fahmy; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

3/25/2020 Palestinians report first death from coronavirus
A Palestinian man walks past Baghdad mosque after it was shutdown as a precaution against the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Beach refugee camp in Gaza City March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – The Palestinians reported their first death from the coronavirus on Wednesday, a woman in her 60s who lived in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    “The woman had experienced symptoms and was later hospitalised” before succumbing to the illness, said Ibrahim Melhem, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank.
    The woman was from Bidu, a Palestinian village north of Jerusalem and southwest of Ramallah, Melhem added.
    There are 62 confirmed coronavirus cases among Palestinians in the West Bank, and two in the Gaza Strip.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/26/2020 G20 leaders to convene remotely as coronavirus cases near half a million
Journalists sit in the media center during the meeting of G20 finance ministers and
central bank governors in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Leaders from the Group of 20 major economies will speak by video link on Thursday about combating the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impacts, as global infections top 471,000 with more than 21,000 dead.
    G20 finance ministers and central bankers agreed this week to develop an “action plan” to respond to the outbreak, which the International Monetary Fund expects will trigger a global recession, but they offered few details.
    World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will address the leaders to seek support for ramping up funding and production of personal protection equipment for health workers amid a worldwide shortage.
    “We have a global responsibility as humanity and especially those countries like the G20…” Tedros told a news conference in Geneva late on Wednesday.    “They should be able to support countries all over the world…
    King Salman of Saudi Arabia, which as this year’s G20 chair called for the extraordinary virtual summit, tweeted overnight that its goal was “to unite efforts towards a global response.”
    There are growing concerns about protectionist measures being discussed or adopted as countries scramble to respond to the virus.    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged G20 leaders to match a pledge by countries like Australia and Canada to keep supply chains open and avoid export controls.
    The video-conference scheduled for 1200 GMT also risks complications from an oil price war between two members, Saudi Arabia and Russia, and rising tensions between two others, the United States and China, over the origin of the virus.
    In preparatory talks, China and the United States agreed to call a timeout on their coronavirus blame game, the South China Morning Post reported citing diplomatic sources.
    But talks among U.N. Security Council nations have stalled over U.S. insistence that any joint statement call attention to the coronavirus’ origins in China, NBC News reported. Outbreaks, which began in central China late last year, have been reported in 196 countries.
    “The U.S.-China dynamic is pivotal to successful G20 coordination, never more so than now as countries grapple 24/7 to confront and contain a pandemic we do not yet fully understand,” former acting U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro said.
    Meanwhile, Washington may use the summit to launch a debate about ending an oil price war between Riyadh and Moscow that has pushed crude prices to near 20-year lows as the pandemic destroyed global demand, The Wall Street Journal reported.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah in Cairo, Stephen Kalin in Riyadh, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/26/2020 UAE to clear streets for coronavirus disinfection drive, Bahrain evacuates citizens by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Yousef Saba
FILE PHOTO: A view shows the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, mostly deserted, following the outbreak
of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates will halt all public transport and restrict people’s movements in the evening for a weekend nationwide disinfection campaign starting Thursday to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
    The regional business hub, which has confirmed 333 cases of the virus with two deaths, has not announced an official curfew or work suspension but has increasingly clamped down on movement.
    Authorities announced late on Wednesday that the UAE will restrict movement of traffic and people from 8 p.m. (1600 GMT) Thursday to 6 a.m. Sunday as it disinfects public transport and public facilities.
    The restrictions will be limited to those dates, a security forces spokesman clarified in a press conference on Thursday, adding that only essential service workers would be allowed out. Violators will face fines.
    Public transport including trams and metro services will be suspended, while private cars, cabs and delivery vehicles can operate outside those hours.
    The UAE has slowly followed other Gulf states in suspending passenger flights and closing public venues such as restaurants and malls.    Dubai emirate on Wednesday directed the private sector to implement remote working for most staff but exempted a broad spectrum of businesses.
    Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have taken the most drastic steps, including imposing partial nationwide curfews and suspending work at most public and private sector establishments.
BAHRAINIS EVACUATED
    The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council has recorded nearly 2,500 coronavirus cases, with eight deaths. Saudi Arabia has the highest tally of infections at 900.
    Bahrain continued to evacuate several hundred Bahraini pilgrims stranded in Iran, which is an epicenter for the disease in the region.
    A second repatriation flight of around 60 Bahrainis arrived overnight from the holy Shi’ite Iranian city of Mashhad, operated by Iranian airline Kish, families and a Bahraini official told Reuters.
    Bahrain earlier this month repatriated 165 people, but a number of subsequent scheduled flights were canceled. At least 85 of the first batch of evacuees tested positive for the virus.
    The island state, which has reported 419 coronavirus cases and 4 deaths, most of them linked to travel to Iran, has longstanding differences with Iran and has criticized the Islamic Republic for not stamping Bahraini citizens’ passports.

3/26/2020 Israel’s top court, in blow to Netanyahu, expedites a parliamentary vote by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein attend a ceremony marking the annual Israeli Holocaust
Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s Supreme Court arranged for a vote for a parliamentary speaker to be held on Thursday in a showdown with an ally of Benjamin Netanyahu, a move that could threaten the prime minister’s long hold on power.
    In what the court called an unprecedented challenge of its authority by a public official, current speaker Yuli Edelstein had disobeyed its order to hold an election for the post – a vote he was set to lose.    Instead, he quit on Wednesday.
    Attacking Edelstein’s defiance but stopping short of penalizing him in a contempt hearing, the court empowered Amir Peretz, a veteran legislator and a Netanyahu opponent, to hold a vote for the speaker’s post later in the day.
    Edelstein belongs to Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, and his resignation removed a potential obstacle to opposition plans to pass a law barring the prime minister, as an indicted suspect in three corruption cases, from forming a new government following a March 2 national election
.
    But under law, Edelstein remains at his post until Friday, and Peretz’s appointment to oversee the vote on his replacement meant it could be held before the next scheduled session of parliament on Monday.
    Amid a deep political stalemate, no government has been formed to replace a caretaker administration.    But the main opposition party, centrist Blue and White led by former general Benny Gantz, controls a slim majority of 61 of parliament’s 120 seats.
    For Gantz, time is of the essence in choosing a new speaker from Blue and White who could help put the legislation into motion to block Netanyahu’s quest for a fourth consecutive term.
    Gantz’s 28-day presidential mandate to establish a governing coalition expires in a little over two weeks, when Netanyahu could get the nod.
    Under law, Gantz could ask for a two-week extension but after three inconclusive national elections in less than a year, he might not get one.
    Edelstein had cited the coronavirus crisis and pursuit of Netanyahu’s call for a “national emergency government” with Gantz as valid reasons for postponing the election for speaker in the newly sworn-in parliament. He said he was acting as a matter of conscience.
    In a decision released on Thursday, Chief Justice Esther Hayut said Edelstein’s disobedience of the rule of law set a bad example for ordinary Israelis faced with restrictions on their movement to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
    Netanyahu, who has denied charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, has made no comment on the controversy.    But some Likud members accused the court of undermining democracy in forcing a Knesset vote.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/26/2020 Turkey hints curfew could come if coronavirus spread worsens by Ece Toksabay and Nevzat Devranoglu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks during a news conference following a coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) meeting in Ankara, Turkey, March 18, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey can resort to the “highest measure” of adopting a complete curfew if coronavirus infections continue to spread, the government said on Thursday as it clamped down further on medical tools leaving the country.
    Turkey had announced a partial curfew for senior citizens older than 65 over the weekend, but not for the general public as some other hard-hit countries have done.
    The highly contagious respiratory disease has killed 59 in Turkey after cases surged in two weeks to 2,433, the world’s nineteenth highest https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html count.
    “Complete social isolation is always on our agenda,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on AHaber TV.    Asked whether a complete curfew would be announced, he said: “If we cannot prevent the epidemic with these measures, we can of course take the highest measure.”
    To contain the virus, Ankara has closed schools, cafes and bars, banned mass prayers, and suspending sports matches and flights.    President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey will overcome the coronavirus outbreak in two to three weeks.
    Separately on Thursday, the government decreed that companies now need permission from authorities to export medical tools used for respiratory support, given rising domestic demand.
    The rule covers the export ventilators and related gear, oxygen concentrators, intubation tubes and intensive care monitors, and other medical equipment.    Ankara previously said it would stop exporting locally made face masks.
    Turkey’s Higher Education Council said there would be no face-to-face classes in the spring term, distance learning would continue and the university exam would be postponed to July 25-26.
    Separately the central government said all municipality meetings in April, May and June, should be postponed except under extraordinary circumstances.
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Jonathan Spicer)

3/26/2020 Iraq extends flight and travel ban to prevent coronavirus spread
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers place barbed wire on a street during a curfew imposed to prevent the spread
of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Baghdad, Iraq March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq is extending a travel ban within the country and to and from its airports until April 11 as part of strict steps to curb the outbreak of the coronavirus, the government said in a statement.
    Iraq’s authorities began the restrictions on March 17, banning travel and all inbound and outbound flights from the country’s airports.
    At least 346 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed so far in Iraq, according to the Health Ministry, and 29 people have died.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/26/2020 IMF approves $1.3 billion loan for Jordan, adjusts for coronavirus expenses by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
Jordanian police officers are seen at a checkpoint as people walk in the street after Jordan announced
it would allow people to go on foot to buy groceries in neighborhood shops, amid concerns over
the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Amman, Jordan March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
    AMMAN (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday its board had approved a four-year, $1.3 billion loan program for Jordan, signaling confidence in the country’s reform agenda at a time it was taking measures to cushion its economy from the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.
    The extended fund facility program was anchored by Jordan’s commitments to make structural reforms designed to lower electricity costs for businesses and create incentives for them to hire more young people, the IMF said.
    “The aim is to support stronger and more inclusive growth, create jobs, especially for women and young people, and reduce poverty,” the IMF said in a statement.
    The program was designed before the coronavirus outbreak, but the IMF said changes were made to support unbudgeted spending covering emergency outlays and medical supplies and equipment.
    “If the impact of the outbreak is deep enough to put at risk program objectives, the program will be adapted further to the changed circumstances, upon reaching understandings with the authorities,” the IMF said.
    The IMF said the approval would immediately make available about $139.2 million for disbursement, with the remaining amounts phased over the life of the program, subject to eight reviews.
    Jordanian Finance Minister Mohammad Al Ississ told Reuters earlier that the loan had been approved. He said in a statement that loan and associated reforms would help Jordan attract more donor and investment funds.
    “It signals confidence in Jordan’s economic reform process, and support for our efforts to mitigate the impact of the virus on vulnerable economic sectors and individuals,” Al Ississ said.
    Officials are worried the coronavirus crisis, which has hit the thriving tourist sector, will slash growth projections and deepen an economic downturn and a slowdown in domestic consumption.    The tourist sector generates around $5 billion annually.
    The monetary and fiscal authorities have taken a series of measures from injecting over $700 million in liquidity to reducing interest rates and delaying bank loan installments and customs and tax payments to help soften the negative impact.
    The IMF’s approval of Jordan’s programme was testimony to the macroeconomic stability of a country where regional conflict in recent years has weighed on investor sentiment, Al Ississ said.
    Al Ississ said late last year that a new IMF deal would help the country secure concessional grants and loans at preferential borrowing rates to ease annual debt servicing needed to reduce the debt to GDP ratio.
    Public debt has shot up by almost a third in a decade to 30.1 billion dinars ($42.4 billion) in 2019, equivalent to 97% of GDP.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting by David Lawder and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Diane Craft and Leslie Adler)

3/26/2020 Israeli police enforce new movement restrictions amid outbreak by OAN Newsroom
Israeli police patrols deserted street in Jerusalem’s Old City, in Jerusalem, Monday, March 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
    Israeli Police have increased their efforts to enforce new movement restrictions amid the coronavirus outbreak.    Hundreds of officers took to the streets on Thursday to make sure people stayed at home, received regular fever checks and observed the new rules.
    According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel will participate in partial lockdowns to curb further spread of the virus.    The new rules will prohibit people from going more than 110 yards away from their home.

A woman argues with a police officer as police shut down a food market in order to reduce the spread
of the coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, March 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
    Police have said the majority of Israeli citizens acknowledged their role in curbing the illness.
    “In general, the public are mostly understanding to what is going on, they understand the seriousness.    We’ve seen over 2,000 people that have become infected by the virus, we know the virus is here, it’s around.    Minimum amount of movement, that’s absolutely critical.” – Micky Rosenfeld, Israeli Police spokesperson
    The country has reported five deaths from coronavirus, while the total number of cases has approached 2,500.

3/26/2020 Yemen warring parties back U.N. truce call, as U.S. starts aid reduction by Mohammed Ghobari and Lisa Barrington
FILE PHOTO: A girl wears a protective face mask amid fears of the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sanaa, Yemen March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen’s warring parties welcomed a U.N. call for an immediate truce on Thursday as the country entered its sixth year of a conflict that has unleashed a humanitarian crisis, rendering it more vulnerable to any coronavirus outbreak.
    In response, the United Nations’ Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths said he would call the parties to a meeting to “put their words into action
    A Saudi-led military coalition said late on Wednesday that it backed the Yemeni government’s acceptance of the U.N. appeal. Their foe, the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, welcomed that stance but said it wants to see implementation on the ground.
    The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) meanwhile said it had started to reduce aid to areas controlled by the Houthis, on concerns the group hinders the delivery of assistance, a spokesperson told Reuters.
    The new coronavirus has yet to be documented in the impoverished Arabian peninsula nation where conflict has killed more than 100,000 and left millions on the brink of starvation.
    Following his call for a global ceasefire to focus on combating the pandemic, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday urged Yemen’s parties to end hostilities and restart peace talks last held in December 2018.
    The Sunni Muslim coalition, which intervened in Yemen in March 2015, supports efforts for a ceasefire, de-escalation, confidence-building measures and work to prevent a coronavirus outbreak, spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a statement.
    “The coalition’s announcement … is welcome.    We are waiting for it to be applied practically,” a senior Houthi official, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, wrote on Twitter late on Wednesday.
    Yemen had witnessed a lull in military action after Saudi Arabia and the Houthis launched back-channel talks late last year.    But there has been a recent spike in violence that threatens fragile peace deals in vital port cities.
    “We have a global coronavirus pandemic threatening to overwhelm an already broken health care system,” said Tamuna Sabadze, country director at the International Rescue Committee, adding that Yemen was already battling a large cholera outbreak.
    Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthis ousted the government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.    The group still controls most major urban centres despite years of war.
    Millions are dependent on humanitarian aid in Yemen, but aid agencies in recent months have increasingly complained of interference and obstruction from Houthi authorities and threatened to scale down aid if conditions did not improve.
    “The Houthis have failed to demonstrate sufficient progress towards ending unacceptable interference in these operations,” the USAID spokesperson said, adding that it would continue to support the most urgent life-saving assistance.
    “The coronavirus crisis demonstrates now more than ever the need for our partners to be able to deliver aid to those who need it most without interference or delay.”
    Aid agency Oxfam warned that USAID’s approach would endanger an effective coronavirus response, “leaving Yemen uniquely vulnerable to the most deadly pandemic in generations,” it said in a statement.
BAHA’I RELEASES
    The head of the Houthi political office said on Wednesday the movement was open to de-escalation efforts with its foes, including prisoner releases.
    Mahdi al-Mashat, in comments carried by al-Masirah TV, then ordered the release of all Baha’i faith members imprisoned by the Houthis, including Hamed bin Haydara whose death sentence was upheld earlier this week by a Sanaa court.
    The Baha’i International Community welcomed the decision, which it said in a statement applied to six people “wrongfully imprisoned” for religious beliefs.
    It said the order should lead to the lifting of charges brought in 2018 against around 20 members of the faith, which regards its 19th-century founder as a prophet.    Muslim countries, including Iran where the sect originated, consider it an heretical offshoot of Islam.
    Amnesty International said the move to release Baha’i prisoners was a “positive signal,” especially in light of the coronavirus.
    “We reiterate our call on all parties to the conflict to immediately and unconditionally release all those imprisoned solely for their peaceful activism, expression or political views,” Amnesty Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf said.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, Nayera Abdullah and Lisa Barrington; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Nick Macfie and Daniel Wallis)

3/25/2020 Turkey struggles to ramp up tests as outbreak reaches critical phase by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Can Sezer
FILE PHOTO: A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant at Grand Bazaar, known as the Covered Bazaar, to
prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A week after sending half a million coronavirus test kits to the United States, Turkey is struggling to ramp up its own testing for the disease as doctors warn the country has reached a crossroads in containing the fast-growing outbreak.
    Turkey reported its first infection just over two weeks ago.
    Since then, a surge in cases to 3,629 has outstripped rates in most other countries and the government has fallen short of its target to conduct 10,000 tests per day.
    In interviews with Reuters, experts have urged stronger stay-at-home orders and some said it was risky for Ankara to export 500,000 kits to the United States only to turn around and order a million more from China.
    “Our test numbers are low.    We were certainly not prepared. Countries that are ready must have high test numbers,” said Sinan Adiyaman, chairman of the Turkish Medics Association (TTB).
    The government has said it took timely measures to delay the outbreak.
    But Adiyaman said Turkey was slow on some steps, including suspending sports leagues and quarantining those coming from abroad, especially the thousands returning this month from an Umrah pilgrimage.
    “Around 200,000 people arrived from abroad since the outbreak began, and they were just given a simple fever test and released across Turkey in an uncontrolled manner,” he said.    “You cannot fight a pandemic this way.”
    The coronavirus has so far killed 75 people in Turkey, an international crossroads with one of the world’s biggest airports in Istanbul.
    About 40,000 tests have been done including about 7,000 in the last 24 hours, suggesting Turkey is edging toward the target Health     Minister Fahrettin Koca set out a week ago, but only two-thirds of the way there.    South Korea, seen as the global leader, does more tests each day than Turkey’s total.
(Click here https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-GLOBAL-TESTING/0100B5LC45H/index.html for a graphic of global tests; click here https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html for its global spread.)
    To contain the virus, Ankara has closed schools, cafes and bars, banned mass prayers, and suspended sports matches and flights.    President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey, which has a population of about 83 million, would overcome the outbreak in two to three weeks.
    Mustafa Cankurtaran, head of geriatrics at the Hacettepe University Faculty of Medicine, said his team is following the national guidelines, testing only “risky” patients with cough and fever.    But next month will be critical since the outbreak will widen, he said.
RAZOR THIN MARGIN
    Earlier this week Koca said the kits sent to the United States were locally produced PCR tests for the coronavirus.    He said Turkey had a monthly production capacity of 2 million tests, and added that the tests purchased from China were “rapid tests,” not PCR.
    The TTB’s Adiyaman said sending the test kits jeopardised the health of the public and medical personnel.    “Exporting testing kits to the United States as Turkey needs them and while they need to be used here will be an unforgivable mistake,” he said.
    Irshad Shaikh, the World Health Organisation’s health security program Leader in Turkey, said the country now had little room for error and must test everyone who has had contact with the virus. He said, however, that the export of test kits to the United States, which he said was in a “i>perilous situation,” could be seen as a form of capital investment.
    “From now on, it’s a very slippery slope and razor-thin margin moving forward,” he said.    “Now if the U.S. succeeds in vaccine development, we already have our invested cash in the bank in the form of our IOUs,” Shaikh told Reuters.
    Among the containment measures, Ankara said it quarantined Muslims returning from Umrah in Saudi Arabia.
    But Nihat Gonul, the local administrator of a village in Sakarya province some 120 km east of Istanbul, said two returning pilgrims continued their lives normally and attended gatherings for days before authorities came to quarantine them.
    “There is this atmosphere of uncertainty in the village.    People are scared, not sure what to think,” Gonul said.
(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Angus MacSwan and Leslie Adler)

3/26/2020 Turkey could impose stay-at-home order if coronavirus outbreak worsens by Ece Toksabay and Nevzat Devranoglu
A man wearing a protective face mask and a woman are seen on a train as the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Istanbul, Turkey, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey could order the public to stay at home if coronavirus infections continue to spread, the government said on Thursday as it clamped down further on medical equipment leaving the country.
    The government announced such a measure for people older than 65 over the weekend, but not for the general public as some other countries have done.
    Istanbul’s mayor urged national authorities to do so on Thursday, saying nearly a million people were still using public transport in the country’s largest city.
    The respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus has killed 75 people in Turkey after cases surged in two weeks to 3,629.
(Click here https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html for a graphic of the virus’s global spread)
    “Complete social isolation is always on our agenda,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on AHaber TV.    Asked whether a complete curfew would be announced, he said: “If we cannot prevent the epidemic with these measures, we can of course take the highest measure.”
    To contain the virus, Ankara has closed schools, cafes and bars, banned mass prayers, and suspended sports matches and flights.    President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey, which has a population of about 83 million, would overcome the coronavirus outbreak in two to three weeks.
    However, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu called on the government to impose a general stay-at-home order, at least in his city if it was not possible nationwide.     “We are in the most critical phase of the outbreak,” he said on Twitter.    “If the necessary steps aren’t taken today, it is evident there will be disappointment in the future.”
    Separately on Thursday, the government decreed that companies now need permission from authorities to export medical tools used for respiratory support, given rising domestic demand.
    The rule covers the export of ventilators and related gear, oxygen concentrators, intubation tubes and intensive care monitors, and other medical equipment.    Ankara previously said it would stop exporting locally made face masks.
    Turkey’s Higher Education Council said there would be no face-to-face classes in the spring term, distance learning would continue and university exams would be postponed to July 25-26.
    Ankara has also rolled out measures to cushion the blow to its economy, announcing a $15 billion economic package including support for businesses and hard-hit sectors such as tourism and transport.
    The central bank said it was monitoring the economic impact of the outbreak and would deploy all policy tools resolutely to ensure the smooth functioning of financial markets.
    And the Turkish banking watchdog has decided to provide flexibility for banks’ liquidity ratio requirements until Dec. 31 due to the outbreak, it said.
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen, Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Pravin Char and Alex Richardson)

3/26/2020 Egypt reports 39 new coronavirus cases, three deaths
A general view of an empty street with a mosque and a church, after night-time curfew to contain the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19 in Cairo, Egypt March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt on Thursday reported 39 new coronavirus cases and three deaths, the health ministry said in a statement, bringing the total number of infections to 495 including 24 fatalities.
    The new cases are all Egyptians who were in contact with other patients, with the exception of one Libyan man.    The three dead are all Egyptians from Cairo, a 30-year woman and two men aged 78 and 72 years.
    The statement added that 102 of the people infected had recovered and been released from a quarantine hospital.
    Egypt on Tuesday declared two-week a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/26/2020 South Africa coronavirus cases exceed 900, Ramaphosa urges G20 aid by Alexander Winning
A man walks past a poster covering the side of a building ahead of a 21 day lockdown aimed at limiting the
spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Cape Town, South Africa, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
    PRETORIA (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in South Africa jumped to more than 900 on Thursday and President Cyril Ramaphosa called for richer countries to help African nations deal with the economic fallout, hours before the start of a countrywide lockdown.
    The president underwent a test on Tuesday on the advice of doctors and received a negative result on Wednesday night.
    “We now have more than 900 people who are infected, as the minister told me, and we fear that it might rise even much further than that,” the president said in Pretoria.
    “We as Africa have called upon the countries of the G20, particularly the more developed economies, to support stimulus packages to Africa,” he said, adding that they had also called for IMF and World Bank debt relief.
    Ramaphosa has been praised for ordering some of the toughest measures on the continent, including a 21-day lockdown to begin on Friday morning from midnight.    He has deployed the army to support the police.
    But the lockdown threatens to cripple an economy already beset by power cuts and shrinking since the end of last year.
    “I’ve got two months cash in the bank.    Nothing more.    After that, we close down,” Rajan Govender, 51, said at his family-run Indian restaurant in a Johannesburg suburb as he prepared to send staff on compulsory paid leave.
    “We can weather a few weeks, but not longer.”
    Mining and metal refining companies, the core of South Africa’s economy, are either reducing or shutting down production altogether.
    Mines Minister Gwede Mantashe said on Wednesday that South Africa would continue to process platinum group metals, even as gold, chrome, manganese are scaled down.
    The rand has hovered around four-year lows for the past two and a half weeks, and on Thursday it weakened from a brief respite, as relief faded over an announcement by the central bank of a quantitative easing programme.
    State power utility Eskom has applied for its critical staff to be exempt from the stay-at-home order so electricity supplies will not be interrupted.    It has said coal supplies are adequate.
    Businesses are bracing for further damage from the lockdown, with Airlink becoming the latest local airline to suspend flights from midnight on Thursday. State-owned South African Airways (SAA), already massively unprofitable and with an unsustainable debt burden, has also cancelled flights.
    SAA’s creditors have authorised an extension of a deadline for the airline’s business rescue plan until May 29, the airline’s administrators said on Thursday.
    The Banking Association of South Africa (BASA) said the industry would try to help customers suffering with the economic fallout of the coronavirus, but without the kind of fiscal back-up on offer elsewhere in the world, their options were relatively limited.
    Banks will, on a case-by-case basis, help customers that were in good standing and up to date on their commitments, with options including payment deferral, debt restructuring or bridging loans, BASA said.If government is able to create some fiscal space for us then we can do more,” BASA managing director Cas Coovadia told Reuters, adding the sector could not take steps that would harm its credibility.
(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks, Mfuneko Toyana, Emma Rumney and Tanisha Heiberg in Johannesburg; Writing by Tim Cocks, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie)

3/26/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu and rival Gantz move closer to unity government by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein
attend a ceremony marking the annual Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem World
Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rival, Benny Gantz, was elected parliamentary speaker on Thursday in a surprise maneuver that could herald a unity government keeping the veteran leader in power.
    With the support of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and allied parties, former general Gantz left many of his own political allies fuming over the smoothing of a path to partnership with a prime minister under criminal indictment.
    The surprise twist in 48 hours of political drama plunged Gantz’s Blue and White Party into disarray just 13 months after it came into existence as a coalition of centrist Netanyahu opponents intent on bringing down the 70-year-old right-winger who is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
    Gantz’s move opened the possibility of a “rotation” deal in which he and Netanyahu would take turns as leader.
    It follows a year of political deadlock in which a jaded Israeli electorate had voted in three inconclusive elections, with no appetite for a fourth.
    Even more urgently, it faces the coronavirus pandemic that with more than 2,600 confirmed cases, 8 people dead and much of the country under partial lockdown, has hit the economy hard.
    “These are not normal days and they call for special decisions.    Therefore, as I’ve said, I intend to examine and advance, in any possible way, the creation of a national emergency government,” Gantz told parliament, accepting the speaker’s gavel.
    His short speech followed a somber scene underlying the gravity of the health crisis in which parliamentarians walked into the Knesset’s near-empty main chamber one by one to vote, to maintain social distancing.
NATIONAL EMERGENCY
    After the March 2 election, Gantz was asked by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin to try and form a government.    The widely respected Rivlin had already pressed both Gantz and Netanyahu to join forces, with the country facing a possible national lockdown to try and stop the coronavirus spread.
    But without enough support on the center and left to form a coalition, Gantz’s chances were slim to none.
    This repeated the pattern of two elections in 2019, with neither Netanyahu nor Gantz able to form a government, so coalition talks were soon underway even though both men had excoriated each other during the election campaigns.
    Netanyahu proposed a “national emergency” government to tackle the coronavirus, promising to step down as prime minister within an agreed period.    Some Israeli media reports said Gantz would take over by September 2021, but this was not confirmed by either side.
    During the election campaign Gantz had ruled out serving with Netanyahu, citing the prime minister’s looming trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which he denies.
    But Likud had threatened to abandon unity efforts if Blue and White went ahead with their original candidate for speaker, who opposed any deal with Netanyahu.
    “Why did Gantz give up?    It’s very simple.    Gantz is tired.    And so would you be after 14 months of being relentlessly smeared and outmaneuvered by Netanyahu,” Anshel Pfeffer, a political analyst for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, wrote on Twitter.
    “And now most of the Israeli public wants a unity government during the Coronavirus crisis.    Very simple.”
    At least one member of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, publicly congratulated both Netanyahu and Gantz on a unity agreement, but there was no formal announcement that a deal had been reached.
    Gantz, a former head of the Israeli military, is a political newcomer.    He has portrayed himself as a straight-shooter who will restore simple values to Israel.    But what he would do in power is not entirely clear, as he has sent mixed messages.
    He casts himself as more diplomatically accommodating than Netanyahu, urging redoubled efforts to restart peace talks.    But he has also embraced U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, which was rejected outright by the Palestinians for what they see as pro-Israel bias.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Nick Macfie and Daniel Wallis)

3/27/2020 Netanyahu, rival Gantz make peace by Josef Federman, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief rival was chosen on Thursday as the new speaker of parliament, an unexpected step that could pave the way to a power- sharing deal between the two men as the country grapples with a worsening coronavirus crisis.
    The sudden turnabout by Benny Gantz, who has spent the past year trying to topple Netanyahu in three inconclusive elections, appeared to give the embattled prime minister a new lease on life as he prepares to go on trial for corruption charges.    It also looked likely to rip apart Gant’s Blue and White party, an alliance of three anti-Netanyahu factions.
    The vote passed 74-18, with many of Gantz’s former allies, including half of Blue and White, skipping the vote.
    Israel’s Channel 12 TV reported that Gantz and Netanyahu had agreed on a broad coalition in which Netanyahu would remain as prime minister and Gantz would become his foreign minister.    In September 2021, the two are to swap posts, the report said.    There was no comment from Blue and White.    Likud dismissed the reports as “rumors.”
[I am amused by this because the change in power will be a few months from the year 2022 the end of my 1950-2022 72 years of the 6 12 year periods that I have proposed.].

3/27/2020 Gantz supporters angry as he moves towards deal with Netanyahu on Israeli leadership by Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: A banner depicts Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, and Israel Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as part
of Blue and White party's campaign ahead of the upcoming election, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel appeared headed for a unity government on Friday after opposition leader Benny Gantz moved towards an agreement with Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu, disappointing voters who had hoped to bring down the right-wing premier.
    Gantz was elected parliamentary speaker on Thursday with support from Netanyahu’s Likud and allied parties, leaving many of his own partners furious over the possibility he could form an alliance with a leader under criminal indictment.
    He cited the coronavirus epidemic as the reason for his decision.
    The shock move splintered Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party just 13 months after it came into existence as a coalition of Netanyahu opponents intent on bringing down the 70-year-old, who is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
    It is also drew an angry response from some among the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who turned out to support Gantz’s coalition in three elections in the past year.    Some commentators accused the former general of caving in to Netanyahu.
    “It makes me feel terrible.    It’s exactly what I did not want to happen, to see Gantz actually partner with Netanyahu,” said Tami Golan, 46, who voted for Gantz in all three elections.
    “I understand the coronavirus makes for a special situation, but I can’t help but feel disappointed – we might not be done with Netanyahu,” Golan said.
    Many Blue and White voters felt betrayed, commentator Nahum Barnea wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
    “The only reason that led them to vote for this half-baked party was the desire to see Netanyahu outside of Balfour Street,” he said, referring to the prime minister’s official Jerusalem residence.
    In accepting the speaker’s gavel late on Thursday, Gantz said the coronavirus epidemic required what he called a “national emergency government.”
    “Israel should not be dragged into a fourth election in such a challenging time, when the country is dealing with the coronavirus crisis and all its implications,” Gantz said on Twitter.
    Israel is under partial lockdown due to the virus, which has killed 10 people and infected more than 3,000.
    During the election campaign Gantz had ruled out serving with Netanyahu, citing the prime minister’s looming trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which he denies.
    But Gantz lacked enough support on the centre and left to form a coalition after being asked by President Reuven Rivlin to try to form a government following a March 2 election.
    Netanyahu has proposed a unity government to tackle the coronavirus, promising to step down as prime minister within an agreed period and with Gantz then taking over.
    Gantz’s move Thursday opened up the possibility of such a “rotation” deal, but there has been no formal announcement that such an agreement had been reached.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/27/2020 Turkey adopts ‘voluntary’ stay-at-home quarantine by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant at Grand Bazaar, known as the Covered Bazaar, to
prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan called on Friday for a “voluntary quarantine” in which Turks stay at home except for shopping or basic needs to stem a surge of coronavirus cases, which jumped by a third in a day to 5,698 with 92 dead.
    “If we don’t want these measures to reach a further stage, we must abide by the voluntary quarantine rules verbatim.    What does this voluntary quarantine mean?    It means do not leave your house,” Erdogan told a press conference late on Friday.
    The rate of infections in Turkey has outstripped most other countries in the last two weeks with 2,069 more cases in the last 24 hours, the country’s health minister said earlier on Friday in calling for wider measures to contain the outbreak.
    Erdogan also announced an end to all international flights, and said pandemic councils will be formed in Turkey’s 30 biggest cities to take additional precautions if necessary.
    “By taking care of social distancing at home and at work, by not using public transportation unless necessary, by not leaving the house apart from fundamental shopping needs, by taking care of our cleanliness, it is mandatory that we increase the effectiveness of these measures,” he added.
    Turkey’s government says it is not disclosing the location of cases to prevent the risk of increasing transmission rates by encouraging people to move from areas with high rates to places where there are no or few cases.
    Ramping up measures against the outbreak, Turkey also limited intercity bus travel and banned walks and fishing along the seashore and beaches, as well as jogging in forests and parks on weekends.
    Local governors could decide to extend the decision to week days, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told an interview on NTV news channel.
    One town and four villages in Turkey’s Black Sea province of Rize have been quarantined over the coronavirus outbreak, the local mayor said on Friday, marking the country’s first case of a lockdown.
(Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Toby Chopra)

3/27/2020 Syria bans most domestic travel in coronavirus lockdown
A views shows closed shops, as restrictions are imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in the old city of Damascus, Syria March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Yamam Al Shaar
    DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria said on Friday it was banning travel between cities and governorates as part of tightening measures to curb the spread of coronavirus, state-run Ikhbariya TV reported, citing the interior minister.
    Syria has recorded five cases of corona virus so far but relief agencies worry that any outbreak could be lethal after years of conflict that has ravaged its healthcare system.
    The travel restriction, effective from Sunday, comes on top of a curfew announced this week from 6 pm to 6 am and after the country has halted flights and ordered the closure of most businesses.
    Humanitarian agencies have expressed deep concern over the prospect of coronavirus spreading in Syria’s northwest, where hundreds of thousands of people displaced by war live in tightly packed camps and have severely limited access to healthcare.
(Reporting by Kinda Makieh; Writing by Eric Knecht, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

3/27/2020 Nigeria needs $330 million for coronavirus battle, turns to private sector
Two men with protective face mask walks past a poster at Wuse market, as the authorities try
to limit the spread of coronavirus in Abuja, Nigeria March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria has appealed to private companies to make voluntary contributions towards the 120 billion naira ($330 million) the government says it needs to fight the coronavirus epidemic.
    “So far, the federal government has made giant strides in the fight but it is clear that the private sector needs to step in and support efforts already being made,” Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said.
    The crash in oil prices, which have fallen by nearly two-thirds this year due in large part to a coronavirus-induced demand collapse, has seriously battered Nigeria’s finances.
    Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed this week pledged 6.5 billion naira to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, and a further 10 billion naira for Lagos state, which has the bulk of the nation’s confirmed cases.
    “To procure all needed equipment, material, and all infrastructure needed to fight this pandemic, over N120b need to be raised,” Emefiele said.
    He has formed a coalition led by the Aliko Dangote Foundation and Access Bank that is already working to raise funds.
    On Friday, Nigeria’s state oil company NNPC pledged $30 million, with the help of 33 oil companies, including international majors Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil and Nigerian companies Oando, Lekoil and Seplat.
    NNPC said it would offer more in partnership with downstream companies.    That assistance, offered by companies, includes 200 ambulances, test kits and laboratory equipment, NNPC said in a tweet.
    Bank UBA Group, led by Tony Elumelu, on Thursday pledged 1 billion naira to Nigeria as part of a broader 5 billion naira coronavirus donation.    Other prominent Nigerians, including Dangote and five others, would ensure their organizations also contribute 1 billion naira each, Emefiele said.
    As of Friday, Nigeria had 65 coronavirus cases and one death.
(Reporting by Paul Carsen and Camillus Eboh, additional reporting by Libby George in Lagos; writing by Libby George; editing by Angus MacSwan, Larry King and Tom Brown)

3/27/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan calls for ‘voluntary quarantine’ against coronavirus
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a videoconference with G20 leaders to discuss the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak, at Huber Mansion in Istanbul, Turkey, March 26, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called on more than 80 million citizens to implement a “voluntary quarantine” and not to leave their homes unless for basic and emergency needs, as the country’s death toll from coronavirus reached 92 on Friday.
    Erdogan also announced an end to all international flights, and said pandemic councils will be formed in Turkey’s 30 big cities to take additional precautions if necessary.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

3/27/2020 South Africa struggles with lockdown as records first coronavirus death by Tim Cocks and Siyabonga Sishi
A soldier stands guard as he is joined by police officers to check vehicles as a 21-day lockdown aimed at limiting the
spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) takes effect in Cape Town, South Africa, March 27,2020.REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Bustling streets and long queues at supermarkets highlighted South Africa’s struggle to adapt to a new lockdown on Friday, as the country recorded its first coronavirus death.
    In the poor township of Alexandra near Johannesburg’s financial district, a group of men drank openly in the street until police intervened and ordered the supermarkets to close.
    “How can you stay home without food?    The reason we are here is because we are hungry.    We are here to get groceries so we can be able to stay indoors, you can’t stay indoors without food,” Alexandra resident Linda Songelwa told Reuters.
    South Africa’s 21-day lockdown restricts people to their homes for most activities including exercise, only permitting them to go out to buy food or for health emergencies.
    With shops, restaurants and offices shuttered and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rising to 1,170, streets in affluent parts of Johannesburg appeared quieter than usual.
    Some staff of supermarkets that remained open hitched a ride to work in police cars.
    But in Alexandra and other townships, where cramped conditions make social distancing almost impossible, large crowds gathered.
    The townships, where people rely on an ailing public health system, offer a rich breeding ground for the coronavirus.    Many residents are too poor to weather the associated economic fallout and lack the funds to stock up on adequate food.
    Police Minister Bheki Cele said there had been “a few issues” with the lockdown, including in Alexandra and where people had not observed social distancing in shop queues.
    “Sometimes people that join those queues are not even there to make the shopping, they are there for outing because they don’t have other activities. … So we are sifting all those things, and we are going to be very tough with those people.”
    South Africa’s health ministry said on Friday that one person had died from the coronavirus, while four patients were in intensive care, with three on ventilators.    The government is expanding its testing capacity.
TOUGH TO ENFORCE
    The lockdown ordered by President Cyril Ramaphosa is among Africa’s strictest, empowering the government to call out the army to enforce it.     But it will be a challenge, as authorities in some other African countries are finding.     In Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa, police fired teargas and hit citizens who tried to force their way onto a ferry used for transport between the mainland and an island off the coast.     Authorities had announced a queuing system to reduce congestion, part of measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak.     In Congo’s capital Kinshasa, 10 million people will go under lockdown on Saturday, but the scheme will be relaxed for 48 hours after just four days.
    In one part of downtown Johannesburg, close to the city’s townships, Reuters saw police sweep up 300 homeless people to take them to a shelter, while crowds gathered to try to buy groceries or just walk down the streets.
TIME FOR THE IMF?
    Ramaphosa has lobbied richer countries to help cushion the blow to Africa from a pandemic that has killed more than 24,000 people globally and devastated supply chains.
    South Africa’s economy appears particularly vulnerable.    Its rand currency lost more than 1% against the dollar following the news of the rise in cases and first death.
    The country was already mired in recession caused mostly by power cuts at its dysfunctional state-run utility, Eskom.
    Mining companies, the core of its economy, are either cutting or shutting production, although platinum group metal output will continue.    South Africa’s airports and ports are also shut, interrupting global copper supplies.
    State logistics firm Transnet said on Friday it would scale down non-essential cargo operations.
    Only Moody’s has South Africa’s credit rating above “junk” status, and it is expected to cut to below investment grade on Friday.
    The central bank launched a bond-buying scheme this week to try to revive a moribund credit market, while Ramaphosa announced measures aimed at helping small businesses.
    But unemployment is at a decade high of some 30% and ailing state companies have already bled billions of rand.
    “It’s extremely difficult to see what South Africa can do.    The structural problems that have held the country back are not … going to be easily fixed now,” Charles Robertson, global chief economist at Renaissance Capital, said.
(Additional reporting by Emma Rumney, Alexander Winning, Sisipho Skweyiya, Siphiwe Sibeko, Tanisha Heiberg and Mfuneko Toyana in Johannesburg, Hereward Holland in Kinshasa, Angela Ukomadu in Lagos and Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa; Editing by John Stonestreet and Alexander Smith)

3/27/2020 In Iraq, coronavirus terrifies even doctors hardened by conflict by John Davison
Jamal Yusuf Ali, a zoo keeper who volunteered to stay with animals, is seen at the Erbil zoo,
during a curfew which was imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),,br> in Erbil, Iraq March 26, 2020. Picture taken March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Through decades of conflict, Dr Haidar Hantoush has watched wounded soldiers and civilians flood into Iraq’s emergency wards.    But he’s never been so scared.
    “Violence we can just about handle.    Patients stream into hospitals for hours at a time – but you can see how many there are.    You get a lull to prepare for the next round,” said Hantoush, public health director for southern province Dhi Qar.
    “With coronavirus, there’s no safe place. We don’t know when the number of cases will explode…. Even the world’s best healthcare systems can’t cope.”
    Doctors and nurses across Iraq have treated hundreds of thousands of victims during decades of civil war, violence and sanctions, while watching what was once one of the best healthcare systems in the Middle East crumble.
    Now, they say Iraq may be singularly unprepared for the coronavirus.
    Iraq has a porous border with Iran, the worst-hit Middle Eastern country so far.    The Iraqi religious calendar is dotted with annual pilgrimages, some of the biggest mass gatherings on earth, which typically attract millions of worshippers.
    And since last year, Iraq’s major cities have seen mass anti-government demonstrations that killed hundreds of people.    State institutions are paralyzed by political deadlock after the government resigned and politicians failed to form a new one.
    So far, Iraq has counted more than 450 coronavirus cases and 40 deaths, most of them in the past week.    But doctors worry that those figures barely scratch the surface of an epidemic that may already be raging undetected across crowded cities.
PROTESTS, PILGRIMS, TRIBAL HONOUR
    “There are many unrecorded cases.    People aren’t getting tested or taking it seriously,” Hantoush said.
    Loudspeakers on mosques in Baghdad blast out government guidelines daily urging people to stay at home and get tested if they think they are ill.    A curfew is in place until April 11. Borders are shut and international flights halted.
    But getting the message across is difficult in a country with deep distrust of the authorities.    Tribes have sometimes refused to allow women with symptoms to be isolated because they do not want them to be alone in hospitals, Hantoush said.
    Thousands of Iraqis participated in the most recent of Iraq’s major pilgrimages, to the shrine of a Shi’ite Imam in Baghdad, where they crowded in defiance of the curfew.
    “We’re now asking pilgrims to self-isolate for 14 days,” said Dr Laith Jubr, 30, who works at a Baghdad ward testing suspected coronavirus cases.
    The hospital had three deaths from the virus in the last week, he said, and several staff tested positive.    Some people showing symptoms refused to be tested because they did not want to spend time in isolation.
    “If this gets bigger it could be beyond our control.    We could have 1,000 cases next week.    There’s a lack of ventilators and other equipment – maybe 10 ventilators at our hospital.”
    Jubr said many Iraqis were nonchalant because they thought they had “seen it all” through years of war.    “This is dangerous.    We’re facing a hidden enemy that requires not just doctors but the whole population to combat it.”
    Security forces deployed on Friday to Baghdad’s densely populated Sadr City district, home to millions including many pilgrims, to enforce the curfew, a statement said.
    The United Nations praised Iraq’s early measures in closing borders last month but has urged respect for the curfew.     One Baghdad doctor, requesting anonymity because the ministry forbade medical staff from speaking to media, said a sharp rise in cases is imminent.    “We’re bracing for what happens in the next two weeks.    And we can’t cope,” he said.
(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Peter Graff)

3/28/2020 Turkey halts intercity trains, limits domestic flights over virus outbreak
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask waits for a train as the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) continues, Istanbul, Turkey, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey halted all intercity trains and limited domestic flights on Saturday as part of measures to contain a fast-growing coronavirus outbreak, as the number of cases jumped by a third in a day to 5,698, with 92 dead.
    President Tayyip Erdogan called on Friday for a “voluntary quarantine” in which Turks stay at home except for shopping or basic needs.     Announcing new measures to contain the virus, he said all international flights were stopped and that intercity travel would be subject to a governor’s approval.
    Turkish Airlines CEO Bilal Eksi said domestic flights would only operate from Ankara and Istanbul to certain big cities as of midnight Saturday.    He said passengers would need to receive permission from the governor’s office after 1400 GMT.
    “As of Saturday 23:59, our domestic flights will be carried out from Istanbul Airport and Ankara Esenboga Airport.    Our domestic flights     list will be prepared and announced during the day,” Eksi wrote on Twitter.
    Turkey’s state railways authority also said all intercity trains had been halted as of Saturday until further notice.
    In a notice detailing the travel restrictions, the Interior Ministry said all citizens must remain in the cities they reside and would only be allowed to leave with a doctor’s note, in the event of the death of a close family member or if they have no accommodation.
    It said citizens would need to apply to the Travel Permission Council, tied to the local governor’s office, to travel.    All bus terminals will be equipped with medical personnel to carry out regular checks on workers and passengers, it added.
    Separately, the Health Ministry announced on Friday that all resignations were suspended for there months.    It said all health personnel in the public or private sector were barred from resigning in that period to meet the needs of hospitals, clinics and other health centers.
    The rate of infections in Turkey has outstripped many other countries in the last two weeks, with 2,069 more cases in the last 24 hours, the country’s health minister said on Friday.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Mark Potter)

3/28/2020 Lebanese police remove Beirut protest camp
A general view shows an empty area around Martyrs' Square after Lebanese security forces cleared
away a protest camp and reopened roads blocked by demonstrators since protests against the
governing elite started in October, in Beirut, Lebanon March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese security forces cleared away a protest camp in central Beirut on Saturday and reopened roads blocked by demonstrators since protests against the governing elite started in October.
    The camp centered around Martyrs Square had mostly fallen dormant in recent months as the protests waned.    Lebanon this week tightened measures to restrict movement as part of its effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.
    Security forces began pulling down tents on Friday night, meeting resistance from several dozen protesters who were still camped out.    One protester set himself on fire before being quickly smothered in blankets by members of the security forces, a Reuters witness said.
    On Saturday, a handful of protesters took away furniture used during the sit-in.    Although Martyrs’ Square was reopened to traffic, a security source said roads leading to the nearby Riyad al-Solh Square remained closed.
    The government declared a medical emergency on March 15 to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
    This week it banned people from leaving their homes from 7pm to 5am.    Lebanon has recorded 412 cases of coronavirus and eight deaths.
    Martyrs’ Square was a focal point of large nationwide protests that erupted on Oct. 17.
    Fueled by the corruption and bad governance of Lebanon’s ruling elite, the protests cut across sectarian divisions and led to Saad al-Hariri quitting as prime minister, toppling his government.
    Lebanon has sunk deep into a long-brewing economic crisis since October.
    The heavily-indebted state this month declared it could not meet its foreign debt repayments.    The local currency has sunk more than 40% against the dollar.
(Writing by Eric Knecht/Tom Perry, editing by Ed Osmond)

3/28/2020 Lebanon’s Berri may suspend cabinet support over coronavirus expat policy
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri attends a parliament session at
the parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri threatened on Saturday to suspend his support for Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government if it did not act to bring home expatriates stranded abroad during the coronavirus pandemic.
    Berri is one of Lebanon’s most powerful figures and named the finance minister and others in a government already grappling with a financial crisis prior to the epidemic, and likely to be paralyzed if he withdraws.
    The government wants Lebanese stuck abroad to be tested before they return.    On Saturday, the prime minister’s media office said the health minister was preparing a procedure for their safe return with necessary checks once the required equipment and materials are secured.
    “If the government keeps its position on the issue of the expatriates beyond this coming Tuesday we will suspend our representation in the government,” Berri, head of the Shi’ite Amal Movement, said in a statement from his office.
    Other leaders echoed the call for their speedy return.
    Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah, said immediate action was needed to bring back Lebanese who are appealing to be allowed home.
    Leading Christian politician Samir Geagea also attacked the government, expressing concern that countries struggling with outbreaks would prioritize their own nationals over expatriates.
    The situation of Lebanese stuck abroad is complicated by tight restrictions imposed by Lebanese banks on transfers abroad and cash withdrawals from ATMs overseas.    Lebanon has been struggling with a crippling financial crisis since October.
    Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti said this week the ceilings for bank transfers to students stuck abroad would be increased.
    Authorities wanted to bring home Lebanese, but tests must be carried out “because there is great danger in a person infected with corona boarding a plane with those who are not infected,” he wrote on Twitter this week.
    The government would arrange flights to bring home expatriates, he said, urging Lebanese abroad to register with embassies to obtain help.
    Most of Lebanon’s main politicians have close ties to diaspora communities from which they draw support.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Ros Russell and Andrew Cawthorne)

3/29/2020 Saudi Arabia expands partial lockdown, German tourists leave UAE
FILE PHOTO: A general view of Business Bay area, after a curfew was imposed to prevent the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia halted entry and exit into Jeddah governorate on Sunday while hundreds of German tourists were repatriated from the United Arab Emirates as the coronavirus continued to spread in the region.
    The Gulf Arab region has taken drastic measures to try to combat the disease.
    Oman, where a suspension of international passenger flights went into force on Sunday, documented 15 more infections and Kuwait reported 20 new cases, taking the total in the six Gulf Arab states to over 3,100, with 11 deaths.
    Saudi Arabia, which has the highest tally at over 1,200, imposed entry and exit bans on Jeddah, after doing so for Riyadh, Mecca and Medina last week, state news SPA reported. [S8N25U02O]
    The kingdom late on Saturday extended indefinitely its suspension of international passenger flights and a bar on workplace attendance in both public and private sectors.
    Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have imposed partial curfews and the UAE has put in place an overnight curfew until April 5 under a nationwide campaign to sterilize streets and public venues.
    UAE Attorney-General Hamad Saif Al Shamsi issued a statement detailing coronavirus-related fines, including 50,000 dirhams ($13,613) for non-compliance with home quarantine orders and 3,000 dirhams for individuals violating curfew.
    The UAE, the region’s tourism and business hub, has also halted passenger flights at its main airports, except for evacuation trips. Kuwait has done the same.
    The UAE emirate of Ras Al Khaimah said late on Saturday that hundreds of German tourists had been repatriated from its airport.
    Qatar Airways, one of the few airlines maintaining scheduled commercial passenger services, will continue to fly, Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker told Reuters, but warned the carrier could soon run out of cash and seek state support.
    Bahrain said it would send a charter flight on Sunday to evacuate 31 citizens who had been received by Qatar after traveling to Doha from Iran, one of the epicenters of the disease.
    They are unable to fly directly from Qatar to Bahrain, which is among four countries that have boycotted Doha since mid-2017.    Qatar said on Saturday it had offered to send the group home on a chartered flight for free but that Bahrain refused.
    Bahrain, which has struggled to source charter flights willing to go to Iran, said in a statement it was working to repatriate all its citizens and asked Doha “not to interfere.”
($1 = 3.6728 UAE dirham)
(Reporting by Yousef Saba, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Alexander Cornwell; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/29/2020 Saudi officials stop 2 ballistic missile attacks by OAN Newsroom
In this Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 photograph released by the U.S. Defense Department, German soldiers assigned
to Surface Air and Missile Defense Wing 1, fire the Patriot weapons system at the NATO
Missile Firing Installation in Chania, Greece. (Sebastian Apel/U.S. Department of Defense, via AP)
    Two people were injured in the capital of Saudi Arabia following two attempted missile attacks.    The strikes were reported Saturday by Saudi Air Defense officials, who have said they were able to stop each of the attacks.
    One of the missiles was intercepted over the capital city of Riyadh and the other was shot down over a city near the Yemeni border.
    No group has claimed responsibility.    However, Saudi officials reportedly suspect Houthi rebels of carrying it out.
    “The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen confirmed to Al Ekhbariya, the interception and destruction of a ballistic missile in the sky of Riyadh,” stated one local reporter.    “The sound of anti-missile fire to intercept the missile in the city of Riyadh was also heard earlier.”
    The insurgent group is primarily located in neighboring Yemen and backed by Iranian forces.

3/29/2020 Syria reports first coronavirus death as fears grow of major outbreak by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: A view shows closed shops as part of the preventive measures against the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in the old city of Damascus, Syria March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Yamam Al Shaar/File Photo
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Syria’s health ministry said on Sunday that a woman who died after being rushed to hospital for emergency treatment was found to have been infected by coronavirus in the country’s first officially reported death from the disease.
    Syria also said its confirmed cases rose to nine from an earlier five cases, but medics and witnesses say there are many more.    Officials deny a cover-up but have imposed a lockdown and draconian measures including a nationwide night curfew to stem the pandemic.
    The moves to shut businesses, schools, universities, mosques and most government offices, as well as stop public transport, have spread fear among war-weary residents.
    Several cities saw panic buying, with residents saying they saw food shortages and a surge in demand that pushed up prices ahead of the start of the curfew.
    The United Nations says the country is at high risk of a major outbreak because of a fragile health system devastated by a nine-year war and lack of sufficient equipment to detect the virus, alongside large numbers of vulnerable people.
    The World Health Organization has warned that the country has a limited capacity to deal with a rapid spread of the virus.
    On Sunday, the army announced an end to a call-up of army reserves.    It has already ended conscription in what military defectors said was an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus among the rank and file.
    The government also banned movement of people between governorates.    Security forces manned checkpoints around provincial cities and only allowed army vehicles and essential services to pass, witnesses said.
    Opposition figures and independent politicians point to Damascus’ strong ties with Iran, the worst affected country in the region, as a source of possible contagion.
    They say the virus is also being transmitted by members of Iranian-backed militias who are fighting alongside the Syrian army, as well as Shi’ite pilgrims who visit shrines in Syria.
    Western intelligence sources say Iran’s proxy Shi’ite militias continue to cross the Qaim border crossing between Iraq and Syria, where they have a strong presence across the country.
    Senior Syrian army officers have in recent days taken leave of absence and been ordered not to mingle with the Iranian-backed militias, military defectors say.
    Syrian officials said Damascus airport has halted commercial flights, and the government has also ordered the closure of its main border crossings with neighboring states.
    Thousands of Shi’ite pilgrims have been arriving in Syria to visit the Sayeda Zainab shrine in Damascus, a neighborhood that also houses the main headquarters of the Iranian-backed militias.
    Iraqi health officials confirmed on Sunday that returning Shi’ite pilgrims from Syria have tested positive for the coronavirus, raising concern that such travel could be a source for a wider spread of the disease.
(Reporting Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman. Additional reporting by Samar Hassan in Cairo, Kinda Makieh in Damascus and Ahmad Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Giles Elgood and Daniel Wallis)

3/30/2020 In Jerusalem, a Palestinian family under coronavirus lockdown
The Palestinian Sara family pray together while observing a partial lockdown to curb the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at their home in Jerusalem March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian English teacher, Jizelle Sara, faces a double challenge while observing a partial lockdown in her Jerusalem home during the coronavirus crisis.
    Not only does she have to find ways to keep her own children busy, but she has to ensure her pupils are up to date with schoolwork online.
    “Teaching online is not easy at all since you have to connect and follow up with the girls remotely and not face-to-face – and besides, the kids are at home 24/7,” said Sara, 42.
    Like families staying at home all over the world as part of efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus, the Saras pass the time with their children with online worksheets, exercise, coloring books and computer games.
    “You have to keep them busy all of the time,” said Sara, whose children are aged five, six and 11.
    Sara’s husband, Victor, a receptionist at a hotel closed by the lockdown, sees a bright side.
    “Today we are gathered all together as a family, which is a very positive thing, that the person stays and sees his children, plays with them and cares for them, when work would usually have unfortunately taken us away from our family,” said Victor, 41.
    “I think we are stronger than corona.    Everyone can be stronger than corona,” said Victor.    “Of course there is some boredom, but we shall overcome this boredom and overcome this with good health and peace.”
    Israel has reported more than 4,000 coronavirus infections and 15 deaths.    Authorities have tightened a partial lockdown, requiring citizens to stay within 100 meters (110 yards) of home and setting sanctions for defying rules.
    In the Palestinian territories, 108 cases and one death have been confirmed.
(Reporting by Ammar Awad; Additional reporting by Nuha Sharaf; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Ed Osmond)

3/30/2020 Africa’s megacity Lagos braces for two-week coronavirus lockdown by Angela Ukomadu
FILE PHOTO: A general view of a food market after Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari called for a lockdown starting
tonight to limit the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Lagos, Nigeria March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja
    LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s announcement imposing a 14-day lockdown on sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest city triggered a last-minute rush on Monday as people hurried to stock up on food and other supplies.
    Traffic snarled the streets and touts made quick money taking cash to let people leave cars in no-parking zones.
    “Everything is expensive, may God help us,” said Jimoh Kolawole at the Oyingbo market on Lagos Island.
    “Rice, beans, cassava grain and palm oil are all expensive, even onions.    Only God can help us,” he said, the back of his car laden with sacks of flour, rice and yam.
    Both Lagos and Abuja, the capital, will ban movement for two weeks from Monday night.
    Lagos, the epicenter of Nigeria’s coronavirus outbreak which has so far spawned 111 confirmed cases, is home to at least 20 million people.    Many of them dwell in slums and eke out a living at the best of times.    Social safety nets do not exist.
    “It’s not easy at all, even to buy one week’s food, talk less of two weeks,” said Omolara Adejokun, an evangelist who lives off donations from her preaching.
    She said her family simply did not have the money to buy in bulk.
    Adejokun lives in Iwaya, a flood-prone slum nestled on the shores of city’s namesake lagoon.
    Her home is a one-storey compound shared with about 20 other families, each with one room.    A wooden board divides Adejokun’s house into a bedroom and parlor.    That accommodates her, her husband, three children and her mother-in-law. All the residents share a single toilet and bathroom.
    It is not the coronavirus that has sparked people’s worries about survival, but having enough food and water to get by.
    Buhari’s edict has left people from various backgrounds confused.    While he ordered movement to cease, he allowed food retailers, medical facilities and some other businesses to remain open.
    But he did not say whether people could leave their homes to go to such places.
    In Lagos, drinking water vendors were not sure if they could operate.    Farmers who deliver food to apartments and homes said they were not registered as companies so might not be exempt.
    Banks became another casualty of the uncertainty, as throngs of people filled branches around the city to withdraw as much cash as possible before isolation began.
    A week earlier, Lagos State’s governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, acknowledged the difficulty of a total lockdown.
    “We know what our poverty line is, and I’m a very realistic leader,” he said.    “We need to be considerate of that, that while we are fighting corona, we are not also fighting hunger.”
    For Adejokun, whose family is living off her evangelism and some savings from before her husband stopped being paid, the matter is out of her hands.
    “We pray maybe government finds us something to eat.”
(Reporting by Angela Ukomadu in Lagos; Additional reporting by Libby George; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram)

3/30/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu tests negative for coronavirus after aide confirmed carrier
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement during his visit at the
Health Ministry national hotline, in Kiryat Malachi, Israel March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tested negative for the coronavirus on Monday after a parliamentary aide was confirmed to be carrying the virus, though the 70-year-old leader would remain in isolation, a spokesman said.
    Spokesman Ofir Gendelman said on Twitter that Netanyahu, his family and staff all tested negative, but “he will remain quarantined until further instructions are issued by the Ministry of Health.”
    Israel’s Health Ministry regulations generally require 14-day self-isolation for anyone deemed to have been in proximity to a carrier, with the duration reduced for the number of days that have passed since the suspected exposure.
    Israeli media said the infected aide had been present at a parliament session last week attended by Netanyahu as well as opposition lawmakers with whom he is trying to build an emergency coalition government to help address the coronavirus crisis.
    Israel has reported 4,695 cases and 16 fatalities.
    An Israeli official said Netanyahu has been following medical advice and holding most meetings by video-conference.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Toby Chopra, Alison Williams, William Maclean and Giles Elgood)

3/30/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus deaths up to 168, with 10,827 total cases: minister
FILE PHOTO: Women wearing protective face masks and gloves are seen as the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Istanbul, Turkey, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s deaths from the new coronavirus increased by 37 to 168 on Monday, as the number of confirmed cases rose by 1,610 to 10,827, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
    Some 162 patients have recovered so far.
    The minister added on Twitter that 11,535 tests had been conducted on Monday – the highest since the start of the outbreak – bringing the total number of tests carried out in Turkey to 76,981 since the outbreak began.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans)

3/30/2020 Saudi king offers to pay for coronavirus patients’ treatment
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends via video link a virtual G20 summit on coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 26, 2020. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will finance treatment for anyone infected with the coronavirus in the country, the health minister said on Monday, while the agriculture ministry took steps to boost wheat and livestock supplies amid global fears of a food shortage.
    The kingdom has registered eight deaths among 1,453 infections, the highest among the six Gulf Arab states.
    Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah said King Salman would cover treatment for citizens and residents diagnosed with the virus, urging people with symptoms to get tested.
    “We are all in the same boat,” he told a news conference, adding that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was overseeing containment efforts “night and day.”
    King Salman last week chaired an extraordinary virtual summit of G20 leaders to advance a global response to the coronavirus pandemic.    G20 trade ministers are holding an emergency video conference on Monday to discuss cooperation on supply chains.
    At a separate news conference, the agriculture ministry spokesman said Saudi Arabia would start importing at least 1.2 million tonnes more wheat next month, adding to strategic reserves of over 1 million tonnes. [L8N2BN5X8]
    Abdullah Abalkhail said the kingdom had also expanded the list of countries from which it can import livestock.
    Public health officials say Saudi Arabia’s past experience combating the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) helped prepare it for the new coronavirus outbreak.
    The kingdom has taken drastic steps to contain the disease, halting international flights, closing most public places and imposing a partial curfew.
    Restrictions on movement have tightened, with entry and exit to Riyadh, Mecca, Medina and Jeddah heavily restricted.    The interior ministry said on Monday it was curbing access to six districts in Mecca, as it did over the weekend with several neighborhoods in Medina.
    Elsewhere in the region, the United Arab Emirates recorded two deaths on Monday in Arab and Asian nationals, both in their 40s with pre-existing heart conditions, raising the death toll to five among 611 infections.    The country extended distance learning until the end of the academic year.
    Organizers of Expo 2020 Dubai on Monday supported a proposal to postpone the world fair due to start in October in the UAE for one year following requests by member states hit by the coronavirus pandemic. [L8N2BN3A1]
    The health ministry in Bahrain, which has recorded four deaths and 500 cases, said another plane of evacuated citizens from Iran landed in Manama, without providing details.
    Kuwait has repatriated hundreds of citizens from Britain, France and Iran since Saturday, the civil aviation authority said.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Alaa Swilam in Dubai and Stephen Kalin and Marwa Rashad in Riyadh; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean)

3/31/2020 Egypt’s Sisi calls for boost of strategic food reserves during coronavirus outbreak
FILE PHOTO: Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi arrives at Buckingham Palace
in London, Britain January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/Pool
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has told the relevant authorities to boost strategic reserves of staple goods, a presidency spokesman said on Monday, as global concerns about food security rise amid the coronavirus crisis.
    Egypt reported 47 new coronavirus cases and one death on Monday, the health ministry said in a statement, bringing the total confirmed infections to 656 with 41 fatalities.
    The country is due to begin harvesting its local wheat crop in April from which the government expects to procure some 3.6 million tonnes of wheat, supply minister Ali Moselhy said earlier this month, seeking to reaffirm that Egypt is well-stocked.
    Egypt, the world’s largest wheat buyer, said it already had enough wheat stocks for 3.5 months of consumption, rice reserves sufficient for 4.6 months and enough vegetable oil reserves to last until October.
    The state commodity buyer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC,) bought 120,000 tonnes of vegetable oils at its last tender on March 19 and 360,000 tonnes of Russian and Romanian wheat at its last wheat tender on Feb. 11.
    Egypt has not witnessed scenes of mass panic-buying as is prevalent in many European countries during the pandemic.    But officials have nonetheless sought to reassure citizens that this behaviour was not necessary and that the country is well-stocked.
    Millions of Egyptians depend on the government’s subsidy programme for access to discounted staples such as bread, pasta and cooking oil.
    The president also stressed the importance of the role of consumer protection agencies to ensure the flow of staple goods to Egyptians ahead of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin in late April and is a time when consumption normally increases.
(Reporting By Omar Fahmy, Mohamed Waly and Mahmoud Mourad, Writing By Maha El Dahan and Nadine Awadalla, Editing by Catherine Evans, Jane Merriman and Bill Berkrot)

3/31/2020 U.S. troops leave Iraq military bases after defeat of ISIS, officials say Iranian proxies still a threat by OAN Newsroom
FILE – An Iraqi soldier mans a machine gun onboard an army helicopter that is passing over the border town of al-Qaim during military
operations of the Iraqi Army’s Seventh Brigade, code named “Will of Victory,” in Anbar, Iraq. Troops from the U.S.-led coalition
pulled out from a base in western Iraq on Thursday, March 19, 2020, as part of a planned drawdown, Iraqi and coalition officials said,
while training activities by the coalition were suspended amid concerns about the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)
    The anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq has continued to gradually withdrawal its troops from the country and hand over military facilities to     Iraqi forces.    Over the past few days, U.S. troops have left military bases near the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.    They are now on their way home.
    However, officials have warned that although the Islamic State has been obliterated on the ground, its terror cells are still very much active.
    “Intent of us leaving the base, strictly like I said before, long time coming in coordination with the government of Iraq,” stated Brig. Gen. Vincent Barker, anti-ISIS coalition, Iraq.    “We’ve got about 500 soldiers who will be leaving with about a million dollars worth of equipment, but will be staying back.”
    The withdrawal of U.S. troops is expected to save billions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of American lives as part of President Trump’s push to end foreign wars.
    However, the Pentagon said it will be closely watching Iraq as the threats posed by ISIS remnants and Iranian-backed paramilitaries still remain.    For instance, ISIS prisoners recently tried to take advantage of the coronavirus panic and escape from detention in Kurdish-held areas of Iraq.
    For their part, the Ayatollah regime recently ramped up threats against U.S. interests after staging two attacks on U.S. troops this year.
    “Today our most vicious enemy is the U.S. — we have many foes, but the one who is the most vicious is called the United States,” said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.    “American authorities are liars, and they are rude and greedy.”
    Despite this, Democrat lawmakers and the mainstream media are working to protect Iran by trying to ban President Trump from using military power against the Ayatollahs.
    While the U.S. is pulling troops out of Iraq, some experts have warned Iran may boost its own presence there by disguising its emissaries as Iraqi self-defense forces.    In this light, intelligence gathering and tight surveillance is crucial to prevent Iraq’s handover from the coalition to the Ayatollahs.
    “U.S. Central Command is well postured to defend our forces around the region and to respond to any further aggression against our forces,” stated Gen. Kenneth MckKenzie Jr., commander – U.S. Central Command.    “In fact, I have asked and the secretary has granted my request to continue to operate two aircraft carrier strike groups in the region.”
    As of now, Pentagon officials are welcoming the cooperation and mutual trust they have established with their Iraqi counterparts.    They have said Iraq now has every chance of becoming a stable and prosperous country without America’s direct involvement.

3/31/2020 Some ultra-Orthodox Israelis chafe at coronavirus restrictions by Dan Williams
Israeli police detain an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man during scuffles as police enforce a partial lockdown against the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mea Shearim neighbourhood of Jerusalem March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    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.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

3/31/2020 Ethiopia postpones August election due to coronavirus by Dawit Endeshaw
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed smiles during the opening of an African Union
summit meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia has postponed parliamentary elections scheduled for August due to the coronavirus outbreak, the electoral board said on Tuesday, a move endorsed by some key opposition parties.
    The vote had been regarded as an important test of the reformist agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in what was once one of the continent’s most repressive nations.
    “Due to the pandemic we were forced to suspend our activities,” said an Amharic-language statement from the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia.    The board will announce a new timeline once the pandemic has subsided, it said.
    The Horn of Africa nation has 25 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far.
    Ethiopia is Africa’s second-most populous nation with 105 million citizens.    Abiy promised to liberalise the state-run economy and oversaw reforms that freed thousands of political prisoners, journalists and opposition activists.
    Previous elections in Ethiopia, a parliamentary democracy, have been marred by allegations of rigging and intimidation.
    Abiy has promised to hold free and fair elections and has been positioning himself as a unity candidate whose reforms could replace repression as the glue holding Ethiopia’s often fractious federal regions together.
    But his party would have faced a stiff challenge from many newly resurgent regional, ethnically based parties.
    Representatives of some of the regional parties – the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) – said they would not oppose the delay.
    “For now, our priority is how to overcome the pandemic,” said Yesuf Ebrahim, NAMA’s spokesman.    Opposition parties and the government must discuss what will happen when parliament’s term ends in September, Yesuf said.
    Dawud Ibsa, OLF’s chairman, told Reuters that his party was ready for further discussions.
    But Jawar Mohammed, a prominent activist from Abiy’s Oromo ethnic group, warned that the opposition must be consulted during the next steps.    Jawar has evolved from Abiy’s ally to one of his fiercest critics; an unsuccessful attempt to arrest him in October caused protests that led to 78 deaths.
    “The ruling party cannot and should not make unilateral decisions,” he said.
    William Davison, the International Crisis Group think tank’s senior analyst for Ethiopia, said the election postponement could be used to strengthen Ethiopian democracy.
    “A start would be the ruling party discussing with opponents critical topics such as the conditions for a fair election, transitional justice and reconciliation, and the federation’s major political fault lines,” he said.
    The openness fostered by Abiy when he became premier in 2018 won him plaudits at home and abroad.    But it also fanned the embers of long-repressed rivalries between ethnic groups as regional strongmen sought to mobilise local voting blocs.
    The resulting clashes, along with natural disasters, forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations, although some have now returned.
(Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw in Addis Ababa; Writing by Katharine Houreld and Duncan Miriri; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Matthew Lewis)

3/31/2020 Saudi minister tells Muslims to wait on making haj plans: state TV
FILE PHOTO: Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba and pray at the Grand mosque at the end of their Haj pilgrimage
in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 13, 2019. Picture taken August 13, 2019. REUTERSUmit Bektas
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is urging Muslims to wait before making plans to attend the annual haj pilgrimage until there is more clarity about the deadly coronavirus pandemic, the kingdom’s minister for haj and umrah said on Tuesday.
    Some 2.5 million pilgrims usually flock to the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina each year for the week-long ritual, which is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim and a major source of income for the kingdom.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Chris Reese)

3/31/2020 Lebanon, in coronavirus lockdown, to allow expats to come home
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab arrives at the presidential
palace in Baabda, Lebanon, January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s government agreed a procedure on Tuesday to allow citizens abroad to come back despite a coronavirus lockdown after its expat policy drew criticism from political leaders.
    Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, one of the country’s most powerful figures, had threatened to withdraw support for the cabinet if it did not act to bring home Lebanese stranded abroad during the pandemic.
    Beirut airport has been closed to flights for two weeks as part of efforts to limit transmissions of the virus, which has so far infected 463 people with 12 deaths.    The government has ordered a shutdown and an overnight curfew until April 12 in a country where dollar shortages had drained the healthcare system of critical supplies months before the outbreak.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose government was already grappling with a severe financial crisis before the virus hit, pledged strict measures to ensure safe returns of expatriates, his office said on Tuesday after a cabinet session.
    “We cannot bear any faltering step, and none of the political forces can bear having on its conscience the spread of the (virus) and the collapse of the health system,” Diab said.
    Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said returns would start on Sunday and all passengers would be screened before they board flights to Lebanon.    She said cabinet may make changes to the procedure for returns in a session on Thursday.
    Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti told local broadcaster al-Jadeed earlier on Tuesday that based on an initial tally from embassies, some 20,000 Lebanese may want to return home.
    With the world’s big cities in lockdown, Lebanese overseas have faced complications due to curbs by Lebanon’s banks which have blocked transfers abroad in recent months and severely limited cash withdrawals from ATMs.
    Lebanon’s banking association said on Sunday that the lenders were “committed to transferring the appropriate sums for Lebanese students living abroad.”
    Other leaders have also echoed Berri’s call for returning expats, including the head of the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and Christian politician Samir Geagea.
    Most of Lebanon’s main politicians have close ties to the country’s large diaspora communities from which they draw support.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/31/2020 Workers in hazmat suits collect prayers from ‘God’s mailbox’ in Jerusalem
A labourer sanitizes the stones of the Western Wall as part of measures to prevent the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while old notes placed by worshippers in the cracks of the wall were cleared to create
space for new notes ahead of the Jewish holiday of Passover, in Jerusalem's Old City March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Twice a year, cleaning teams using long sticks gouge out tens of thousands of written prayers that visitors traditionally cram into the crevices of Judaism’s Western Wall in Jerusalem.
    It was spring cleaning again at the wall on Tuesday.    But this time, the rite was held with precautions against coronavirus infection in place.
    Workers in hazmat suits and gas masks sprayed sanitizer on the wall’s ancient stones while others held onto their sticks with gloves as they extracted the paper notes left in “God’s mailbox
    Religious authorities also operate a service in which people can email their prayers for placement between the stones.
    One would-be worshipper, who stepped up to the wall and kissed it, was removed by police, a day after Israel tightened public prayer restrictions.
    The Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, who oversees the collection of the notes to ensure there’s always room for more, offered a prayer for salvation “from this difficult virus that has attacked the world.”
    The papers were placed into bags for ritual burial on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.    A short distance away from the Western Wall, al-Aqsa mosque was also being sanitized.
    The Western Wall is a remnant of the compound of the Second Temple that was destroyed in 70 AD.    It stands today beneath a religious plaza revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)
[I guess God's mailbox just got robbed.].

4/1/2020 Turkey could tighten coronavirus controls as strains, criticism grow by Mert Ozkan and Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a videoconference with G20 leaders to discuss the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, at Huber Mansion in Istanbul, Turkey, March 26, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will step up measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak if it keeps spreading and people ignore “voluntary” quarantine rules, President Tayyip Erdogan said, as the death toll rose and doctors demanded action to ease the strain on hospitals.
    Turkey’s death toll from the pandemic rose by 63 to 277 on Wednesday, its sharpest daily increase yet, while the total number of cases from the disease rose by 2,148 to 15,679, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
    The government has urged people to stay at home, halted all international flights, limited domestic travel, closed schools, cafes, bars and suspended mass prayers and sports fixtures.
    But, it has so far stopped short of imposing a full lockdown on public life in an effort to cushion the economic impact.
    “We are determined to continue production and exports,” Erdogan told a meeting of provincial leaders of his AK Party in a televised video conference on Wednesday.
    “We won’t need further measures if all our citizens keep themselves in a voluntary quarantine.    However, we may have to take much more advanced measures if the pandemic spreads and our citizens don’t stay at home.”
    Later on Wednesday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu warned that intercity travel would be further restricted in the coming days, after Ankara limited domestic transport at the weekend.
    “Our message to citizens is very clear: Do not travel from one city to the other, stay at home. We will make it harder for you,” he told broadcaster CNN Turk, adding that one step could be curbing the use of personal vehicles in intercity travel.
    He said some 100,000 people had applied to local governors to receive permission for intercity travel, and the government will take steps based on the pace of the pandemic and directives from the health ministry.
    In the last 24 hours, 14,396 tests had been conducted in the country, bringing the total number to 106,799 since the outbreak began, Koca said.    He added that Turkey would conduct 20,000 to 25,000 tests per day next week and then rapidly reach 30,000.
GROWING PRESSURE
    In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city which has the highest number of infections, the mayor has pushed for a lockdown to slow the spread of the virus because millions of people were still going to work each day.
    On Wednesday, Koca said the virus had spread across all 81 provinces in Turkey, but that 60% of cases were in Istanbul.    He said there were 8,852 cases and 117 deaths in Istanbul, with the western coastal province of Izmir and the capital Ankara as the next most afflicted regions with 853 and 712 cases respectively.
    The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) has criticised what it says is a lack of government readiness and transparency as cases surged over the last three weeks, and has been among those pressing Ankara to adopt and enforce a stay-at-home order.
    The TTB, citing its own data, said there are more than 200 patients in intensive care, with over 100 medical staff infected so far in Istanbul through March 30.    It added that hospitals in the city of 16 million were short of masks, gloves, goggles and other protective equipment and could face a severe lack of beds.
    Koca said 601 medical staff had been infected nationwide.
    “This is surely the tip of the iceberg,” TTB Chairman Sinan Adiyaman told Reuters.    “Every person in the public and private sector must stay at home unless it is essential they go out,” he said, adding that this would mean granting them “certain social rights (including) paid leave.”
    “Layoffs must be absolutely banned. Every worker’s social rights must be protected this way to ensure they stay at home apart from mandatory cases.”
    The government has announced a 100-billion-lira ($15 billion) package to support the economy that includes some wage protection for workers, though many, including in the vast tourism sector, are not covered.
    The TTB’s office in Izmir said doctors were struggling to access patient data and that not enough was being done to ensure the separation of diagnosed and suspected cases.
($1 = 6.6909 liras)
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)

4/1/2020 Coronavirus stokes tensions between Erdogan and Istanbul’s mayor by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: Workers in protective suits spray disinfectant at Grand Bazaar, known as the Covered Bazaar, to prevent the
spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic has rekindled rivalry in Turkey between President Tayyip Erdogan and Istanbul’s opposition mayor, with disputes over fundraising and a potential lockdown possibly endangering a coordinated effort to combat the outbreak.
    The central government in Ankara has said a money-raising campaign launched by the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, is illegal and it has threatened to prosecute those involved.
    Imamoglu, seen as a possible future candidate for the presidency, launched the campaign this week with the slogan “We will succeed together,” seeking cash and other donations from wealthier Turks for hundreds of thousands of those in need.     Erdogan then launched a rival “National Solidarity” campaign and promised seven months of his salary to the cause.    Various state institutions, firms and politicians made contributions and the president condemned the municipal campaigns on Wednesday.
    “There is no sense in having a state within a state,” he told AKP officials in a televised video conference, saying nobody had the right to raise funds aside from the presidency.
    Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Imamoglu’s campaign contravened a law requiring that permission be sought from authorities before collecting money for the needy and said it would act against those responsible.
    The rivalry is about much more than money-raising, though.
    Imamoglu wants a lockdown in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city with 16 million people, to slow the spread of coronavirus, while Erdogan – who has adopted some other containment measures – is resisting such a move to cushion the economic pain.
    Turkey’s death toll from the outbreak increased by 63 to 277 on Wednesday, in its sharpest increase yet, while the number of cases from the disease rose by 2,148 to 15,679, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
    Ankara has halted all international flights, limited domestic travel, closed schools, bars and cafes and suspended mass prayers and sports fixtures to counter the outbreak.    But people are still going to work as Erdogan seeks to sustain economic production and exports.
ISTANBUL AT RISK
    Imamoglu said he has not discussed the pandemic with Erdogan since the first case was reported in Turkey on March 11, though he said “we would like to” share information.
    “Istanbul is clearly now the fundamental centre of this disease,” Imamoglu told FOX TV.    “If just 15% of people go out in Istanbul, that is 2.5 million people – as much as the (entire population of some) cities in Europe which are lamenting their situation.”
    Later on Wednesday, Koca said 60% of cases in Turkey were in Istanbul, with 8,852 cases and 117 deaths.    Imamoglu repeated his call for a stay-at-home order in Istanbul shortly after.
    Imamoglu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), dealt Erdogan the worst electoral setback of his career when he beat a candidate from the ruling AK Party in a mayoral vote a year ago, and later logged an even bigger victory in a re-run.
    Imamoglu has since repeatedly locked horns with the central government on issues such as funding and an Istanbul canal project.    Now Istanbul, with nearly a fifth of Turkey’s population, is central to the fight against the pandemic.
    In response to the fundraising campaign, state banks blocked donation accounts run by both Istanbul and the municipality of Ankara, where a CHP mayor was also elected last year, and which also launched a local fundraising campaign.
    The Istanbul municipality said on Wednesday it had launched a court case seeking to lift the block on its accounts and revive the fundraising campaign.
    Eleven mayors from CHP-run cities issued a joint statement calling for the Interior Ministry to reverse its move, saying it was a time to put politics aside and avoid polarisation.
    Later on Wednesday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said he had discussed the issue with Imamoglu in a phone call on Tuesday and urged him to cooperate, not work against each other.
    “We must not be in a blind fight, that is wrong” Soylu said, adding that an unapproved fundraising campaign was illegal.
    Separately, Istanbul has filed a legal complaint about what it said were orchestrated social media posts accusing the city council of allowing overcrowding on public transport.    Soylu said an investigation into the issue showed no ill intention from the municipality.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)

4/1/2020 Israelis told to wear face masks in public, mark religious holidays with close family only by Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement during his visit
at the Health Ministry national hotline, in Kiryat Malachi, Israel March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – All Israelis should wear face masks while in public as a precaution against the coronavirus, and upcoming Jewish, Muslim and Christian holidays should be marked only with immediate family, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.
    In televised remarks, Netanyahu also announced curbs on movement around an ultra-Orthodox Jewish town that has experienced a disproportionately large outbreak.
    Israel has taken stringent measures to try to halt the spread of the virus, after recording more than 6,000 cases.    At least 25 Israelis have died of COVID-19, according to Health Ministry data.
    “We ask you, citizens of Israel, all of you, to wear masks in the public sphere,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks, adding that people could improvise “with a scarf or any other facial covering” in the absence of factory-produced masks.
    Increasingly tight restrictions have largely confined Israelis to their homes, forcing businesses to close and causing unemployment to skyrocket to 24.4%.
    On Monday, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said Israel would spend 80 billion shekels ($22 billion) to help the economy weather the crisis and predicted a gradual return of business activity after the Passover holiday from April 8-15.
    Netanyahu on Wednesday said the government would give Israeli families 500 shekels per child, up to a maximum of four children.    The elderly would also receive 500 shekels, Netanyahu said, terming all the payments a “Passover gift.”
    Those stipends would cost the state a total of 1.5 billion shekels, public broadcaster Kan estimated.
    Netanyahu also said Israel’s majority Jews must mark Passover “with the nuclear family only,” adding that including elderly relatives in celebrations “would be to endanger them.”
    Those same restrictions apply to Muslims and Christians, Netanyahu said, who make up most of Israel’s 21% Arab minority and will mark Easter and the beginning of Ramadan, respectively, later this month.
    Israeli authorities will also tighten curbs on movement around Bnai Brak, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish town near Tel Aviv, which the Channel 12 TV news on Wednesday projected may account for as many as 30% of the coronavirus cases nationwide.
    “We have decided to reduce to the minimum necessary the access and egress from the city,” Netanyahu said, while adding that residents would still be allowed to move around within the city if required.
    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 ultra-Orthodox rabbis have also cast doubt on the coronavirus risk.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Steve Scheer and Tova Cohen; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Hugh Lawson)

4/2/2020 Death in the Holy Land: Coronavirus changes burial for Jews, Muslims
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian workers make their way to disinfect religious sites as preventive measures against the coronavirus,
in Ramallah in the in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 7, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A rising death toll in the coronavirus crisis is forcing a change in Jewish and Muslim burial and mourning traditions in the Holy Land.
    In Israel, Jewish dead are normally laid to rest in a cloth smock and shroud, without a coffin.    Now, the bodies of coronavirus victims are taken for ritual washing – performed in full protective gear – wrapped in impermeable plastic.
    They are wrapped again in plastic before interment.
    “Feelings are very much mixed,” said Yakov Kurtz, who works for Chevra Kadisha, the main group overseeing Jewish burials in Israel.    “We don’t know what to expect, we don’t know how many dead we will have to tend to.    There are many fears.”
    New decrees for handling the coronavirus dead have been given for Muslim burials, said Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories.
    “This is a rule of necessity and necessities allow for prohibitions, therefore the deceased is not washed, nor shrouded and is buried in a plastic body-bag,” Hussein said.
    Israel has reported 29 coronavirus deaths so far.    The Palestinians have confirmed one fatality so far.
    Funerals and mourning rituals have changed for everyone since Israeli and Palestinian authorities imposed stay-at-home directives and restricted the size of public gatherings to try to halt the spread of infection.
    Funerals in Israel can be attended by no more than 20 people in an open space only.
    Social distancing rules mean that embracing the bereaved is just not done.
    That has affected the Jewish tradition of Shiva – a seven-day period that begins after a funeral, in which people come to the family home to offer condolences, bring food and reminisce about the departed.
    In Gaza and the occupied West Bank bereaved families have taken to accepting condolences over social media.
    Ihab Nasseraldin lost his brother to cancer last week.    His body was taken from the hospital to the cemetery, and the family could not hold a service they had planned at Jerusalem al-Aqsa’s mosque.
    “We buried him and condolences were accepted at the burial site.    We had already requested everybody not to shake hands, no hugging or kissing, which is custom here.    This was uncomfortable,” said Nasseraldin.
    Few were able to attend the funeral. Friends and relatives were told not to visit the family home during the customary three-day mourning period.
    “I truly feel sad that we were not able to pray at al-Aqsa over the body,” said Nasseraldin.    “But there is nothing we can do. May God accept this from us.”
(Reporting by Rami Amichay, Nuha Sharaf, Ali Sawafta; Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, William Maclean)

4/2/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu back in isolation after minister gets coronavirus by Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman gesture as they deliver statements
during a visit to the Health Ministry national hotline, in Kiryat Malachi, Israel March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is returning to self-isolation for another six days after his health minister was diagnosed with coronavirus, the premier’s office said on Thursday.
    Netanyahu, 70, the nation’s longest-serving leader, had just ended a two-day period of isolation on Wednesday night after a parliamentary aide was diagnosed with the disease.
    He immediately went on national TV to announce new measures to curb the epidemic.
    But his office said the prime minister would self-isolate again – for six days this time – in line with medical recommendations after Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and his wife tested positive for coronavirus.
    Litzman, 71, has appeared regularly alongside the premier to give coronavirus updates.    Netanyahu tested negative on Monday.
    Several other senior officials were also self-isolating due to contact with Litzman.
    The head of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency Mossad, Yossi Cohen, will self-isolate at the intelligence agency’s headquarters for three days, Israeli media reported.
    And the health ministry’s director-general Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov announced via Twitter his own self-isolation at a facility at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv.
    Israeli regulations generally require 14-day self-isolation for anyone in proximity to a carrier, with the duration reduced for the days passed since the suspected exposure.
    Israel has reported at least 29 deaths and more than 6,200 infections.    Tight curbs have confined Israelis to their homes, forcing businesses to close and sending unemployment over 24%.
    In a statement, the health ministry said Litzman and his wife were feeling well despite having the coronavirus.
    Litzman heads an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party and has urged his community to obey curbs after some rabbis and members cast doubt on risks and chafed against stay-at-home orders.
    Israeli officials describe the ultra-Orthodox as especially prone to contagion because their districts tend to be poor and congested.
    Netanyahu announced new curbs on Wednesday to deter movement around Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish town that has suffered a disproportionately large outbreak.
    “The situation there is horrible.    Every day we stall, we put lives at risk,” Litzman said in an interview published on Tuesday in the Yedioth Ahronot newspaper.
    “The public now has to listen to the health ministry.”
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Rami Ayyub and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Cawthorne)

4/3/2020 Israel seals off ultra-Orthodox town hit hard by coronavirus by Ilan Rosenberg
Israeli police let an ambulance pass through the town of Bnei Brak as they enforce a lockdown of the ultra-Orthodox
Jewish town badly affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Bnei Brak, Israel April 3, 2020. REUTERS/ Ilan Rosenberg
    BNEI BRAK, Israel (Reuters) – Israeli police threw up metal barricades and roadblocks on Friday to enforce a lockdown of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish town badly affected by coronavirus.
    Emergency regulations approved by the cabinet late Thursday declared Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, a “restricted zone” due to its high rate of infections.    The new designation allows authorities to tighten curbs on public movement.
    Police units, wearing surgical masks and gloves, moved swiftly early on Friday to cordon off major intersections around the town and enforce the new rules.
    “Bnei Brak is on lockdown, as of this morning, and police will prevent any movements in or out of the city,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
    “People are only allowed in or out for medical reasons or medical support,” he added.
    Medical experts estimate that as many as 38% of Bnai Brak’s 200,000 residents are infected with coronavirus and that the town could soon account for as many as 30% of cases in Israel’s 8.7 million population.
    This is due to Bnai Brak’s population density, which Israeli officials say is almost 100 times higher than the national average.    Many residents are poor and some have heeded rabbis who, distrusting the state, spurned anti-virus measures.
    With the elderly especially prone to the illness, Israel’s military plans to evacuate 4,500 people aged 80 and above in the town, and place them in isolation in hostels requisitioned by the armed forces.
    Israel has reported at least 34 deaths and close to 7,000 cases of coronavirus.    Tight curbs have confined Israelis to their homes, forcing businesses to close and sending unemployment over 24%.
    In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday night extended a state of emergency for another month, starting April 4.    The order was issued by presidential decree last month after a coronavirus outbreak in Bethlehem which forced closure of the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
(Reporting by Ilan Rosenberg in Bnei Brak; Writing by Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/3/2020 Iraq has confirmed thousands more COVID-19 cases than reported, medics say
A barber wearing protective face mask and gloves shaves hair of a man at his garden, during a curfew imposed to prevent the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the holy city of Kerbala, Iraq April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq has thousands of confirmed COVID-19 cases, many times more than the 772 it is has publicly reported, according to three doctors closely involved in the testing process, a health ministry official and a senior political official.
    The sources all spoke on condition of anonymity.    Iraqi authorities have instructed medical staff not to speak to the media.
    Iraq’s health ministry, the only official outlet for information on the coronavirus, dismissed the sources’ reading of the spread of the disease.
    “It’s incorrect information,” said Saif al-Badr, the health ministry spokesman, in a text message sent to Reuters without elaborating.
    The ministry said in its latest daily statement on Thursday that the total recorded confirmed cases for Iraq were 772, with 54 deaths.
    But the three doctors, who work in pharmaceutical teams helping test suspected COVID-19 cases in Baghdad, each said that confirmed cases of the disease, based on discussions among fellow medics who see daily results, were between about 3,000 and 9,000 although they each gave different estimates.
    The health ministry official, who also works in testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, said that there were more than 2,000 confirmed cases from eastern Baghdad alone, not counting the number in other areas or provinces.
    The political official, who has attended meetings with the health ministry, also said thousands of cases were confirmed.
    The new coronavirus has hit Iraq’s neighbour Iran worse than any country in the region.    Iraq has close trade and religious ties with Iran and a large border, which Iraq shut in February over fears of the spread of the infection.
    Iraq’s healthcare system, among other infrastructure, has been stretched by decades of sanctions, war and neglect, one among several problems that spurred mass anti-government protests in recent months.
PILGRIMS
    Governments across the world have struggled to cope with the pandemic.    The United States, Italy and Spain are the countries worst hit by the disease, which has infected nearly a million people worldwide and killed nearly 47,000.
    The three Iraqi doctors and the political official said national security officials had attended health ministry meetings and urged authorities not to reveal the high figures because it could create public disorder with a rush on medical supplies, and make it harder to control the disease’s spread.
    The health ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on any such discussions.
    One of the doctors said the death toll was also likely higher than the official toll, but not by much.    “On Saturday last week alone, about 50 people were buried who died from the disease,” he said.    At that time the official death toll was 42.
    Testing facilities are limited and Iraq has publicly acknowledged that the actual number of cases must be higher than the number of confirmed cases.
    Many doctors blame the accelerating spread of the disease on people refusing to be tested or isolated and on the flouting of a nationwide curfew, including by thousands of pilgrims who flocked to a Shi’ite Muslim shrine in Baghdad last month.
    The three doctors and the health official said many new cases were from eastern Baghdad where those pilgrims live.
    Separately, some Shi’ite pilgrims returning to Iraq from Syria have tested positive for the coronavirus, a senior Iraqi official and health officials said on Sunday.
(Reporting by Baghdad bureau, Editing by William Maclean and Nick Macfie)

4/3/2020 Turkey imposes curfew on youth, shuts borders of 31 cities: Erdogan
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a videoconference with G20 leaders to discuss the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak, at Huber Mansion in Istanbul, Turkey, March 26, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey imposed a partial curfew on citizens under the age of 20 effective from midnight on Friday as part of measures against the coronavirus outbreak, President Tayyip Erdogan said.
    Turkey also decided to shut down the borders of 31 cities, including Istanbul, for all vehicles, excluding transit passage and essential supplies such as food, medical and sanitary products, to contain the disease, Erdogan said.
    Turkey’s death toll from the outbreak rose to 425 on Friday, while the number of confirmed cases from the disease rose to over 20,000, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
    “We have decided to bring partial curfew into effect for people under the age of 20 as of midnight Friday,” Erdogan said.
    “The shutdown of city borders will be in effect for 15 days initially, however this period can be extended if necessary,” Erdogan told a news conference.
    Mask usage in crowded public places, in public transport, grocery stores and workplaces will be obligatory, he also said.
    Ankara has halted all international flights, limited domestic travel, closed schools, bars and cafes and suspended mass prayers to counter the outbreak.    But people are still going to work, as Erdogan seeks to sustain economic production and exports.
In late March, Turkey ordered elderly citizens over 65, and those with chronic diseases to stay at home.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Chris Reese, William Maclean)

4/3/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises to 425, total cases 20,921: health minister
FILE PHOTO: A funeral vehicle stands in front of a morgue to carry a coffin of a coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) victim to a cemetery in Istanbul, Turkey March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak increased by 69 to 425 on Friday, while the number of confirmed cases from the disease rose by 2,786 to 20,921, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
    Koca said 16,160 tests had been carried out in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of tests carried out in Turkey to 141,716 since the outbreak began.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/3/2020 Istanbul mayor says time running out to halt coronavirus spread by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu speaks after being awarded with the German-Turkish Friendship
Award 'Kybele 2019' in Berlin, Germany, November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Europe’s largest city, Istanbul, is running out of time to impose a lockdown and stop a surge in coronavirus cases as around two million people are still going out into the streets every day, its mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said on Thursday.
    Compounding the problem, revived tensions between his opposition CHP municipality and President Tayyip Erdogan’s government are distracting attention from the battle against the disease, he told Reuters in an interview.
    The number of coronavirus cases in Turkey has surged above 18,000 in less than three weeks.
    The central government has urged people to stay at home and ordered a string of restrictions.    But it has stopped short of imposing a full lockdown on public life in an effort to cushion the economic impact.
    Imamoglu repeated his call for a stay-at-home order for his city, the country’s commercial hub where 60% of the cases have been recorded.
    “The measures you take for 16 million people, the methods for stopping the pandemic will save Turkey,” he said at the mayoral residence.
    “We are in the most critical time,” he added.    “Looking at the situation across the world, we are in a period that is very intense and could lead to figures that will upset us very much.”
    He said an estimated 15% of Istanbul’s population were still using public transport or private vehicles.
    “This means more than two million people (are still going out), and this is very frightening.    It’s as much as the population of a prominent city in Europe.”
CALL FOR COOPERATION
    Last year Imamoglu beat Erdogan’s AK Party candidate in municipal elections, ending 25 years of rule in Istanbul by the AKP and its Islamist predecessors.    Since then they have been at odds over issues such as funding and a city canal project.
    This week Imamoglu, seen as a possible future candidate for the presidency, launched a fundraising campaign for the needy in the city, but it was blocked by Ankara, reviving the tensions.
    Erdogan criticized the municipal fundraising, saying the presidency must run aid efforts.
    On the calls for a lockdown, Erdogan has said Turkey must “keep wheels turning” to sustain an economy recovering from recession.
    The government has halted all international flights, limited domestic travel, closed schools, cafes, bars and suspended mass prayers and sports fixtures.
    The mayor said he had sent messages to Erdogan and that they needed to establish an atmosphere where they can work together. But as yet the two have not spoken since the outbreak began.
    “Around 60-65% of the problem in Turkey is in Istanbul right now.    Therefore, we must be able to contact them directly and solve our issues together,” he said.
    Imamoglu said the state had been slow to respond to his repeated calls for talks, and it was wrong that he was only able to meet the state-appointed provincial governor last weekend, a month into the fight against the spread of the virus.
    “Clearly it has a political basis and this saddens us because such environments cannot have politics,” he said.
    Imamoglu said he had held a video conference with around 45 of the biggest municipalities across the world and heard warnings, especially from Milan, Madrid and Rome, about how bad things could get.
    “Istanbul is one of Europe’s busiest cities economically.    Stopping the pandemic in such a big city will bring comfort to Europe and the world too,” he said.
(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Heavens)

4/4/2020 Dubai imposes two-week lockdown as Gulf states step up coronavirus fight
FILE PHOTO: Police car patrols Al Ras district, famous for its gold and spice markets, after a full lockdown, following the outbreak
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike/File Photo
    DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) – Dubai imposed a two-week lockdown Saturday night and Saudi Arabia sealed off parts of the Red Sea city of Jeddah as Gulf states tightened measures in big cities to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
    Dubai had been under an overnight curfew along with the rest of United Arab Emirates since March 26 but its Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management said the lockdown would now run around the clock for two weeks, state news agency WAM said.
    In neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the authorities announced a lockdown and a partial curfew in seven neighbourhoods of Jeddah also starting on Saturday as part of measures to contain the outbreak, the interior ministry said in a statement.
    Saudi Arabia is the country worst hit by the pandemic in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) group of Arab oil monarchies. It had reported 2,179 cases of confirmed infections up until Saturday and 29 deaths.
    In Dubai, mobility will be restricted and legal action taken against violators though supermarkets and pharmacies as well as food and drug delivery services would continue to operate as normal, WAM said.
    People can only leave their homes except for essential purposes and just one family member is permitted to go out at any one time.    People working in vital sectors, or those exempted from the restrictions, will not be affected.
    Dubai’s metro and tram service will be suspended for two weeks and free bus transportation and a 50% discount on taxi rides will be offered during the lockdown.
    The emirate, which had previously sealed of the Al Ras area where there is a large migrant population, will conduct extensive medical tests across densely populated areas.
DISINFECTION DRIVE
    The United Arab Emirates, where infected cases have jumped by 840 since April, also extended its de facto overnight curfew indefinitely to disinfect public areas by spraying streets, parks and public transport facilities.
    The oil-rich federation has reported an uptick in coronavirus cases with several hundred people diagnosed since April 1 and a total number of cases of 1,505.
    The UAE recommends that people wear masks when leaving home, a health ministry spokeswoman told a news conference on TV.
    On Saturday, UAE reported 241 infections and one death over the past 24 hours, taking the total confirmed cases to 1,505 and the death toll to 10, according to government tweets.
    In Saudi Arabia, said residents in seven Jeddah neighbourhoods could only go out for grocery shopping and medical care between 6 a.m (0300 GMT) and 3 p.m and movement in and out of the areas will be restricted.
    Similar measures have been announced in the past few days in other Saudi cities, including the Gulf port of Dammam, the main entry point for supply to the kingdom’s oil industry.
    Kuwait announced its first death from COVID-19 on Saturday. The total number of people diagnosed with the disease in the country rose by 62 over the past 24 hours to 479, Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA said, citing the health ministry.
    Kuwait and Oman are the GCC countries least affected by the pandemic.    Oman had reported 277 cases and one death up until Saturday while     Qatar last updated its official COVID-19 page on Friday, reporting 1,075 cases and three deaths.
(Reporting Alexander Cornwell, Marwa Rashad, Ahmed Tolba and Lisa Barrington; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Helen Popper and David Clarke)

4/4/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises above 500: minister
FILE PHOTO: A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant at Grand Bazaar, known as the Covered Bazaar, to prevent the
spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Confirmed coronavirus cases in Turkey rose by more than 3,000 to 23,934 on Saturday with deaths related to COVID-19 rising by 76 to 501 people, Heath Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.     In the last 24 hours, 19,664 tests were conducted bringing the total performed in Turkey so far to 161,380, Koca, said.
(Reporting by Irem Koca and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by David Clarke)

4/5/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus death toll reaches 574 with 27,069 cases: minister
The medic checks the temperature of a passenger in a bus on a highway near Istanbul after the government decided to
shut down the borders of 31 cities for all vehicles excluding transit passage for essential supplies, as the spread
of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, at the outskirts of Istanbul, Turkey April 4, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s death toll from the new coronavirus rose by 73 on Saturday to total 574, and new confirmed cases rose by 3,135 to bring the country’s total to 27,069, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.
    He added that 20,065 tests for the COVID-19 disease had been performed in Turkey in the last 24 hours.
(Reporting by Irem Koca and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Pravin Char)

4/6/2020 Israel declares coronavirus lockdown for Passover holiday feast
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement during his visit
at the Health Ministry national hotline, in Kiryat Malachi, Israel March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday a national lockdown would begin on Tuesday and end on Friday to try to stem the spread of the new coronavirus during the Jewish holiday of Passover.
    In a televised address, he said travel restrictions would be tightened on Tuesday and that Israelis will be banned from leaving their homes on Wednesday evening, when families traditionally travel to festive Passover “seder” meals.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

4/6/2020 U.N. finds ‘highly probable’ Syrian government, allies targeted school, hospitals by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres makes a statement at U.N. headquarters
in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Yana Paskova/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – It is “highly probable” the government of Syria or its allies carried out attacks on three healthcare facilities, a school and a refuge for children in northwest Syria last year, according to a summary of an internal United Nations inquiry seen by Reuters on Monday.
    The inquiry also found it “probable” that a deadly attack on a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria’s Aleppo was carried out either by armed opposition groups or by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance formerly known as Nusra Front.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia, began an offensive early last year on the last major insurgent stronghold in northwest Syria.        Russia and Syria have said their forces do not target civilians or civilian infrastructure.
    The Russian and Syrian missions to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the summary of the U.N. report, which Secretary-General Antonio Guterres submitted to the 15-member Security Council on Monday.
    “The impact of the hostilities on civilian and humanitarian sites in north-west Syria is a clear reminder of the importance for all parties to the conflict to observe and ensure respect for international humanitarian law,” Guterres wrote in a letter to the council.
    “According to numerous reports, the parties have failed to do this,” he said.
    Under pressure from two-thirds of the Security Council, Guterres announced in August that the world body would investigate attacks on U.N.-supported facilities and other humanitarian sites in northwest Syria.
    The locations of the U.N.-supported facilities and other humanitarian sites had been shared with the warring parties in a bid to protect them.    However, the United Nations has questioned whether it made them a target.
    Guterres noted that the members of the board of inquiry were unable to visit Syria to investigate as the government of Syria did not respond to repeated requested for visas.    The attacks investigated by the board took place in April, May and July.
    Fighting has calmed in the northwestern region after Turkey, which backs rebels opposed to Assad and ramped up its deployment earlier this year, agreed on a ceasefire with Russia a month ago.    The fighting has displaced nearly 1 million people in Idlib.
    A crackdown by Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to Syria’s civil war.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown)

4/6/2020 Saudi capital, cities get 24-hour curfew, Kuwait isolates two districts over coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows Kuwait City after the country entered virtual lockdown,
following the outbreak of coronavirus, in Kuwait City, Kuwait March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia placed its capital Riyadh and other big cities under a 24-hour curfew on Monday, locking down much of the population as the largest Gulf Arab country expanded efforts to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
    The new curfew applies to the cities of Riyadh, Tabuk, Damam, Dharan, Hofuf, and the provinces of Jeddah, Taif, Qatif and Khobar, a statement from the interior ministry said.
    Entry to or exit from those areas will not be allowed, except for vital workers.    Residents are allowed to leave their homes for medical or food needs inside their residential area and between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. only.
    Saudi Arabia reported four more deaths from the virus on Monday, bringing the total death toll there to 38.
    The government on Thursday imposed a 24-hour curfew in the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina.    Saudi’s eastern oil-producing province of Qatif, where the kingdom’s first coronavirus cases were reported among Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims returning from Iran, has been on lockdown for four weeks.
    Countries of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have recorded almost 8,000 cases of infection and 60 deaths.
    In Kuwait, the government announced a full lockdown on two densely-populated districts and extended a public holiday by two weeks until April 26 as precautionary measures against the coronavirus.
    It also extended its partial curfew by two hours in the morning to run from 5 p.m. (1400 GMT) until 6 a.m. effective Monday until further notice.    The interior minister urged people to stay indoors even during non-curfew hours.
    The Gulf Arab country has recorded 665 cases of the new coronavirus and one death so far.
    It declared a two-week public holiday from March 12 except for entities providing essential services, which has since been extended.
    On Monday, the cabinet said all ministries and government institutions would now remain on holiday until April 26.
    The two districts to be put under a two-week “complete isolation” are Jleeb al-Shuyoukh and Mahboula, two heavily populated areas where poorer expatriate workers live.
    “The decision to isolate (the two area areas) is in order to test everyone in there and treat them so it does not impact other areas,” the state news agency KUNA reported the interior minister as saying.
    The United Arab Emirates reported 277 new coronavirus cases, its biggest daily jump, and one new death.    Dubai has also sealed off a densely populated neighbourhood where many blue-collar workers live.
    In total, the UAE has recorded 2,076 coronavirus cases and 11 deaths.    A ministry of health spokeswoman said the rise in case numbers in recent days was due to increased numbers of tests being carried out.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah and Ahmed Hagagy; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Chris Reese, Mark Heinrich and Tom Brown)

4/7/2020 Israel seeks immediate resumption of talks on citizens held in Gaza by Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi
FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian man playing the role of Israeli soldier Oron Shaul stands in a mock jail during a rally in solidarity
with Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, in the northern Gaza Strip December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo
    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 neighbouring 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.,br>     But rightists in Netanyahu’s coalition government, including Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, oppose any further releases of Palestinian militants.
(Writing by Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing Jeffrey Heller and Bernadette Baum)

4/7/2020 Egypt to ban Ramadan gatherings to counter coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Men are seen walking at Al Moez street in al-Hussein and al-Azhar district as mosques
are closed in old Islamic Cairo, as Egypt ramps up efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) in< Cairo, Egypt, April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt will ban any public religious gatherings during the holy Muslim fasting month Ramadan starting in around two weeks to counter the spread of the new coronavirus, a government statement said on Tuesday.
    Muslims usually break the fast at sunset together with their families, go to the mosque to pray and spend maximum time with relatives.
    Despite the government order, people should still fast as this ritual had no link to the coronavirus, said a committee of scholars at Cairo’s al-Azhar university, Egypt’s highest religious authority and one of the world’s most eminent seats of Sunni Muslim learning.
    Only the usual exemptions apply, it said in a statement. Travel or sickness are reasons not to fast.
    But with health experts recommending social-distancing measures during the global coronavirus crisis, Egypt will ban any gatherings and public iftars – fast-breaking meals – as well as collective social activities, the ministry of Islamic endowments said in a separate statement.
    Typically, mass iftars are held for poor people.
    The ban will also apply to the seclusion of Itikaf when Muslims spend the last 10 days of the month in mosques to pray and meditate, the ministry said.
    Egypt, a country of around 100 million people, has reported more than 1,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus with more than 250 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
    Ramadan will start around April 23, depending on the sighting of the moon marking the start of the month.
    Egypt last month ordered mosques and churches to shut their doors to worshippers to help prevent transmission of the coronavirus.    Prayer calls are broadcast via loudspeakers.
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla, Mahmoud Mourad and Ulf Laessing Editing by Grant McCool and Mark Heinrich)

4/7/2020 Israel makes masks in public compulsory as Passover lockdown begins by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: An ultra-Orthodox Jewish family wearing masks walk on a pavement in Bnei Brak, a town badly
affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and which Israel declared a "restricted zone" due to
its high rate of infections, near Tel Aviv, Israel April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli government issued orders on Tuesday requiring citizens to wear face masks in public to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus as the country enters a lockdown for the Jewish Passover holiday.
    The government also approved a timeline for tightened travel restrictions throughout much of the week-long festival, which begins on Wednesday when Jewish families gather for a meal commemorating the Biblical exodus from slavery in Egypt.
    Israel has introduced the tougher measures in the hope the coronavirus will have been sufficiently contained once the April 8-15 festival is over to begin a gradual easing of restrictions.
    But national leaders have made clear a recovery will take time.
    “We will return to full routines within a year,” Defence Minister Naftali Bennett told Army Radio on Tuesday.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week urged Israelis to wear masks in public, a measure the government said would become compulsory on Sunday.
    Children under six, the mentally disabled or those alone in vehicles or workplaces are exempt.    The government said masks could be homemade.
    A ban on unnecessary out-of-town travel began on Tuesday evening and will last until Friday morning, effectively preventing large gatherings for Passover.
    Food shopping within towns will be forbidden from 3 p.m. Wednesday, a few hours before the meal begins, until the following morning.
    The government said the holiday shopping ban would not apply to non-Jewish minorities.    Around a fifth of Israeli citizens are Arabs, mostly Muslims, Druze and Christians.
    Israel has more than 9,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.    At least 60 people have died.
    Ahead of the holiday, Israel’s military distributed some 50 tons of fruit and vegetables to residents of an ultra-Orthodox town that has been hit hard by the coronavirus and was sealed off last week, the military said on Tuesday.
    Bnei Brak, a town of some 200,000 near Tel Aviv, was declared a restricted zone on Thursday and police have restricted access.
    Around one third of Bnei Brak residents who were tested for the virus were found to have it, Israeli media have reported, citing health ministry data.
    Many of the town’s residents are poor and some have heeded rabbis who, distrusting the state, spurned anti-virus measures.
    In a broadcast Passover benediction on Tuesday, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar sought to reassure the country.
    “May the Lord lift the dark and heavy cloud of this pestilence from over us,” he said.
(Reporting by Dan Williams; editing by Jeffrey Heller, Raissa Kasolowsky and Barbara Lewis)

4/7/2020 Coronavirus leaves Senegal’s street children more exposed than ever by Juliette Jabkhiro
Members of the Village Pilote association supply children with a meal during a food distribution to street children
amid an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dakar, Senegal April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    DAKAR (Reuters) – Dozens of children in plastic sandles and shabby clothing rounded a street corner in Senegal’s capital Dakar and sprinted towards a car manned by volunteers bearing sandwiches and water.
    The daily food distribution is run by Village Pilote, a local charity that has stepped up its efforts to help Dakar’s street children during the coronavirus outbreak.
    Life has always been difficult for the children, who have ended up on the street for various reasons.    But the expanding outbreak, which has infected 195 people to date, and resulting dusk-to-dawn curfew ordered by the government last month have left the children more vulnerable than ever.
    Some have run away from home, others are Koranic school students known as ‘talibes’, who are forced to beg for money and sometimes beaten if they do not come back with enough.    There are also those who fled such schools.
    Families across Senegal have long enrolled their children in schools called daaras to learn Islamic scripture and build character.     Historically, part of that teaching included begging for food to instill humility.
    Since the outbreak of the virus, many of the restaurants and bakeries that would offer the children food have closed.    Another lifeline, generous pedestrians, are scarcer and often afraid to get close to the children.    Stepped-up police patrols to enforce the curfew have forced some children to sleep out of sight under parked cars, activists say.
    “The situation is difficult now.    There are more police, and there is nothing to eat,” said Alpha Kamara, 19, who had come to the food distribution in Dakar’s Reubeuss neighbourhood.
    Village Pilote has been around for nearly 30 years, but it wasn’t until last week that the organisation, which ordinarily shelters and cares for children it removes from the streets, felt compelled to begin daily food distributions.
    Faty Diop, who oversees vocational training for the organisation, said street children were also especially vulnerable to the coronavirus because of poor sanitation and medical problems linked to drug use.
    “Before the coronavirus arrived in Dakar, we had noticed there were many cases of tuberculosis in the street,” she said.    “People don’t realize that these kids are a ticking time bomb for Senegal.”
    The campaign group Human Rights Watch estimated last year that 100,000 talibes across the country are forced by their teachers to beg.
    The government says it is intervening to take children off the streets and prosecute those who force them to beg, but rights activists say authorities have not done enough to address the problem.
(Reporting by Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Aaron Ross and Alexandra Hudson)

4/7/2020 South African union takes government to court over COVID-19 gear shortage by Wendell Roelf and Alexander Winning
A health worker talks to residents as they conduct screening during the 21-day nationwide lockdown aimed at limiting the
spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bo Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa, April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s main health workers’ union planned to challenge the government in court on Tuesday over shortages of protective gear for frontline staff as the country braced for a surge in new coronavirus cases.
    Under a strict 21-day lockdown imposed from March 27 in a bid to contain the outbreak, South Africa has 1,749 confirmed cases, the continent’s highest number, and 13 deaths.
    “The risk of employees being infected with the COVID-19 virus is real,” Zola Saphetha, general secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU), said in court papers. COVID-19 is the potentially lethal respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
    A health ministry spokesman did not respond to a request for comment, but Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Tuesday that the country as a whole had not run out of protective equipment.
    He encouraged health workers to point out where there were shortages so the government could move stocks around and said no one would be forced to work if they didn’t feel adequately protected.
    Many doctors are buying their own protective gear in a desperate bid to ward off infection.    Officials in the worst-hit Gauteng province appealed over the weekend for public donations of ventilators and vital masks and gloves.
    The union wants the ministers of health and labour, among others, to establish rules on treatment in the absence of appropriate protective equipment.
    “The failure to provide guidelines to mitigate the risk to employees in the circumstances unjustifiably and without valid reason places employees at great risk and violates their right to work in a safe environment,” the affidavit said.
    The union expressed outrage last week that several of its members had contracted the coronavirus at a hospital in KwaZulu-Natal province.    Mkhize said on Tuesday that around 48 staff members at the hospital had now tested positive and that provincial officials were discussing closing down parts of the facility.
    Unions exert great power in South Africa.    NEHAWU’s quarter of a million members are part of a group of unions that are in a alliance with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.
    “We don’t have an unlimited reserve of doctors and nurses, and we know the case numbers are going to rise,” Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, which represents some 16,000 doctors, told Reuters.
    A global scarcity of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, for nurses, doctors, porters and other health workers is a big obstacle to attempts to curb death tolls, elsewhere in Africa and on other continents.
    In Zimbabwe, where health workers had been striking over pay and working conditions before COVID-19 arrived, doctors have also gone to court to force the government to provide equipment, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said on Monday.    The court has not yet set a date for a hearing.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf in Cape Town and Alexander Winning in Johannesburg; Additional reporting by Tanisha Heiberg in Johannesburg and MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare; Editing by Tim Cocks, Angus MacSwan and Jonathan Oatis)

4/7/2020 Saudi Arabia says it could reach 200,000 coronavirus infections
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows almost empty streets, during the 24 hours lockdown to counter the
coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    RIYADH (Reuters) – The new coronavirus could eventually infect between 10,000 and 200,000 people in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s health minister said on Tuesday, urging the public to adhere more closely to state directives against mixing and movement.
    The country of some 30 million has so far reported 2,795 cases and 41 deaths, the highest in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), despite halting all passenger flights, suspending most commercial activities and imposing a 24-hour curfew in major cities including the capital Riyadh.
    “We stand today at a decisive moment as a society in raising our sense of responsibility and contributing together with determination to stop the spread of this pandemic,” Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said in a rare televised address.
    Four studies by infectious disease experts indicated the number of cases was likely to reach between 10,000 and 200,000 in coming weeks, he said.    The virus has already infected more than 1.3 million people worldwide.
    Rabiah said the 24-hour curfews, imposed on Monday night, were needed because some were not taking the danger of infection seriously but leaving their homes and gathering in groups; passenger road traffic had only fallen by barely 50%.
    The interior ministry subsequently brought forward the start of curfew in all areas not already under a 24-hour lockdown to 3 p.m. from 7 p.m.
    Despite the new restrictions, many people were still moving about on Tuesday morning in Riyadh.
    Rabiah said keeping infections at current levels for four to 12 months would give the kingdom more time to prepare and prevent the virus from overwhelming the health system, as it has in other countries.
    King Salman approved another 7 billion riyals ($1.86 billion) for the health ministry to combat the disease and another 32 billion could be disbursed before the end of the year, Rabiah added.
    He said the economy and planning minister would speak later about new decisions to combat the epidemic’s impact on the Saudi economy, the largest in the Arab world.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin, Alaa Swilam and Marwa Rashad; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

4/8/2020 Oman Sultan pardons 599 prisoners, including 336 foreigners: Oman News Agency
FILE PHOTO: Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said gives a speech after being sworn in before
the royal family council in Muscat, Oman January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Sultan Al Hasani
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, has pardoned 599 prisoners jailed for various offenses, including 336 foreigners, the state-run Oman News Agency said on Twitter on Wednesday.
    The tweet did not say if the release was related to the coronavirus outbreak or the holy month of Ramadan, which starts later this month.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Catherine Evans)

4/9/2020 African leaders rally around WHO head after Trump criticism by Alexander Winning
FILE PHOTO: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference
on the coronavirus in Geneva, Switzerland, Feb. 24, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – African leaders have rallied around the Ethiopian head of the World Health Organization (WHO) after U.S. President Donald Trump criticised the United Nations agency and threatened to withhold his country’s contribution to its budget.
    Trump had on Tuesday accused the WHO of being too focused on China and of issuing bad advice on the COVID-19 pandemic.
    South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union (AU), said in a statement late on Wednesday that WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had shown “exceptional leadership … from the very earliest stages of this unprecedented global health crisis.”
    “The AU calls upon the international community to join hands to support the efforts of the DG and the entire WHO family as they lead global efforts to fight this pandemic,” Ramaphosa added.
    “If there was a time for global unity, solidarity and cooperation, this is that time.”
    Posting on Twitter, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame said the WHO chief “has the full confidence and support of Africa,” while AU Commission head Moussa Faki urged leaders to focus on fighting COVID-19 and said the time for accountability would come later.
    Tedros, a former foreign minister of Ethiopia, has rejected Trump’s suggestion that the WHO has been “China-centric” in its efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
    “We are close to every nation, we are colour-blind,” he said on Wednesday, adding the WHO had “kept the world informed about the latest data, information and evidence.”
    China has said Tedros had played an important role in promoting international cooperation to combat the pandemic, which has infected more than 1.47 million people and killed more than 87,000, according to the latest Reuters tally.
    Africa accounts for a fraction of global cases of the disease, but its countries are feeling the impact with economies expected to contract, putting about 20 million jobs at risk.
    “The window for containing the virus at the subnational and national level is closing in many countries,” Tedros told diplomats in Geneva on Thursday.    “The infection numbers in Africa are relatively small now, but they are growing fast.”
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Joe Bavier and David Holmes)
[Your African partners may like you but as the Congressman said if they turned China's president Xing upside down Tedros would fall out of his pockets.].

4/9/2020 Saudi-led ceasefire in Yemen begins, raising hopes for peace by Mohammed Ghobari
FILE PHOTO: Dust rises from the site of a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa, Yemen March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    ADEN (Reuters) – A nationwide ceasefire in response to the global coronavirus outbreak went into effect in Yemen on Thursday, stirring hope for an end to the five-year-old war that has pushed millions to the brink of famine.
    A Saudi-led coalition fighting against Yemen’s Houthi movement announced overnight it would halt military operations from 0900 GMT for two weeks in support of United Nations efforts to end the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people.
    The Houthi leadership has yet to announce whether the Iran-aligned movement, which controls the capital Sanaa and most major urban centres in Yemen, would follow suit in what would be the first major breakthrough in peace efforts since late 2018.
    The coalition said its move aims to facilitate talks sponsored by U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths for a permanent truce, motivated in part to avoid a potential outbreak of the new coronavirus, though no cases have been reported so far in Yemen.
    “We are tired of the war… We want it to stop for good,” said 49-year-old Abd al-Basset Muhammad, who owns a juice shop in the southern port of Aden, interim headquarters of the Saudi-backed government.
    “If the war hasn’t already killed you, you are dying of hunger or disease,” he told Reuters.
    The conflict, widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been in military stalemate for years.    Riyadh last year took over most of the costly and unpopular military campaign after key coalition partner the United Arab Emirates significantly scaled down its presence.
    A Houthi official said on Wednesday that the group had sent the United Nations a proposal calling for an end to the war and what it describes as a coalition blockade.    The coalition, which patrols the coast, denies imposing a blockade and says it aims to halt import of weapons.
CORONAVIRUS FEARS
    University student Amal Abd al-Rahman, 24, said Yemenis had suffered enough.    “We want to live to learn.    If coronavirus appears, Yemen will be facing an unprecedented catastrophe.”
    The United Nations and Western allies have pointed to the threat of the coronavirus to push the combatants to restart talks to end the war, which has shattered Yemen’s health system.
    The warring parties last held political negotiations at U.N.-sponsored talks in Sweden in 2018.    They agreed a peace deal for the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, but this has yet to be fully implemented due to deep mistrust among all sides.
    “We cannot control a global pandemic amongst bombs and airstrikes,” said Tamuna Sabedze, International Rescue Committee’s Yemen country director, calling for a permanent ceasefire.
    “Two weeks is not enough time to prepare this country for the devastating impacts COVID-19 will have on the country, nor to reach those in need and alleviate their suffering,” Sabedze said, referring to 24 million Yemenis reliant on aid.
    Yemen had witnessed a lull in hostilities after Saudi Arabia and the Houthis began back-channel talks late last year.    But there has been a recent spike in attacks, including Houthi missile launches at Saudi cities and retaliatory coalition air strikes.
    UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter post on Thursday that he hoped the Houthis would “rise to the occasion.”
    Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has been mired in violence since the Houthis ousted the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in Sanaa in late 2014, prompting the coalition to intervene in March 2015 to restore him.    The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system.
(Reporting by Muhammad Ghobari, Lisa Barrington and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Peter Graff)

4/9/2020 Lockdown in West Bank, crowds in Gaza: Palestinians divided over coronavirus by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta
Footprints are seen on a beach during sunset amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in the northern Gaza Strip April 8, 2020. Picture taken April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
    GAZA/WEST BANK (Reuters) – Political and physical divisions between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have induced two very different responses to the coronavirus pandemic, with a strict lockdown in the first and crowds milling about freely in the second.
    In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which has 250 recorded cases of the COVID-19 lung disease, a lockdown on public life was swiftly imposed – Bethlehem was sealed off after the first outbreak in March and a state of emergency declared.
    But in the Gaza Strip, a densely populated coastal enclave, there have been few restrictions on movement and people packed into public markets and beaches, with few wearing masks against the risk of coronavirus contagion.
    Forty km (25 miles) apart and separated by Israel, the West Bank and Gaza have no direct link between them.
    Gaza, measuring 375 sq km (145 square miles), is home to around two million Palestinians.    Since 2007 it has been under the control of the     Islamist militant group Hamas, bitter rivals of President Mahmoud Abbas’s more secular Palestinian Authority whose power base is in the West Bank.
    Smaller and poorer, Gaza has for years been under a blockade by Israel, which cites security concerns to stop weapons and money reaching Hamas.    Gazans say the blockade has crippled their economy and undermined the development of medical facilities, weakening their ability to face a pandemic.
    But the geographical isolation that Gazans chafe against may also have helped stem the entry of the new coronavirus, with only 13 reported cases.    All are at quarantine facilities.
    Hamas says health conditions make a full lockdown unnecessary in Gaza, but it has closed schools, mosques and wedding halls and banned large street gatherings.
    However, public markets remained busy this week.    “We will stay home (to avoid coronavirus) when they give us money, food, aid and diapers, our children want to eat,” greengrocer Ahmed Al-Nahal said in the Beach Camp market.
    But many fear disaster if the coronavirus penetrates further into the teeming Mediterranean enclave.
    Scenes of crowds on beaches last weekend provoked criticism on social media, prompting Hamas to deploy police along the coast urging people not to gather.
    “I kept my mouth shut last week but I’m genuinely concerned for Gaza, my family and people here,” Gaza journalist Omar Ghraieb tweeted.    “Do we think we are invincible?
    Eyad Al-Bozom, a Hamas interior ministry spokesman, said: “We will not hesitate to impose a curfew if we have to…We are taking necessary decisions in accordance with our daily evaluation.”
    The reaction has been different in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule over around 3 million Palestinians living alongside Israeli settlements and military bases.
    President Abbas ordered tight restrictions that left some West Bank towns nearly deserted except for shoppers going to groceries and pharmacies.
    Some flouted the lockdown, prompting security forces to seize their cars, and to intervene last week after hundreds of government employees gathered outside banks to draw salaries.
    Palestinian labourers also angered the authorities after reports that they had become infected in Israel then sneaked back into the West Bank, bypassing Israel’s military barriers and Palestinian health officials.
    “There are health measures that must be heeded to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” said Ghassan Nimer, a Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman.
(Additional reporting by Zainah El-Haroun in Ramallah. Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/9/2020 Turkish prosecutor appeals acquittal verdict in landmark protests trial
FILE PHOTO: Ayse Bugra (L), the wife of Turkish businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala,
leaves a restaurant after learning that the Istanbul prosecutor's office had demanded the re-arrest of
her husband, in Silivri, near Istanbul, Turkey, February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish prosecutor appealed the acquittal of philanthropist Osman Kavala and eight others over their alleged role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests, calling for convictions as charged, a document obtained by Reuters showed on Thursday.
    The protests, in which hundreds of thousands marched in Istanbul and across Turkey against plans to redevelop the central Istanbul park, posed a serious challenge to then-Prime Minister, now President Tayyip Erdogan.
    The court case was condemned by Western allies and rights groups and after hours following his surprise acquittal on Feb. 18, prominent businessman Kavala was re-arrested in connection with an attempted military coup in 2016.
    A 90-page document from the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office, dated April 8, called for the Gezi case acquittal rulings to be annulled and for the defendants to be convicted as charged.
    It also called for a re-arrest order to be imposed on Kavala in connection with the Gezi case, even though he is already in custody.
    In the Gezi case, Kavala and two other defendants had been facing life sentences without parole, while the other defendants were accused of aiding them in trying to overthrow the government by organising the protests.    They had denied the allegations.
    Kavala has spent more than two years in jail.    In December, the European Court of Human Right demanded his immediate release, saying there was a lack of reasonable suspicion that he had committed a crime.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Mark Heinrich)

4/9/2020 Iraq names its third prime minister in 10 weeks
Iraq's President Barham Salih instructs newly appointed Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in
Baghdad, Iraq April 9, 2020. The Presidency of the Republic of Iraq Office/Handout via REUTERS

4/9/2020 Israelis mark Passover, a celebration of freedom, in virtual isolation by Rami Ayyub
A main road in Jerusalem is seen deserted in the morning of Passover amid coronavirus ( COVID-19) government restrictions April 9, 2020 REUTERS/ Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Jewish Passover holiday typically draws crowds of Israelis outside to burn heaps of leavened bread, commemorating the Biblical exodus from slavery in Egypt.
    But on Wednesday, a coronavirus lockdown meant the streets of Jerusalem and other cities were nearly empty on the first day of the week-long holiday, when they would normally be dotted with fires and columns of smoke.
    Israel this week imposed holiday restrictions to try to halt the spread of the disease.
    Jews may only celebrate the traditional “seder” meal that kicks off the April 8-15 holiday season with immediate family.    Travel between cities is banned until Friday.
    A full curfew took effect on Wednesday, just before the seder begins, and will last until Thursday, prompting a dash for last-minute shopping, which saw long lines of Israelis wearing face masks outside grocery stores.
    Police have thrown up roadblocks and will deploy drones and helicopters to enforce curbs on movement throughout the lockdown, a spokesman said.
    But some areas found workarounds to keep festive traditions alive in a month that will also see Christians celebrate Easter and Muslims mark the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.
    The Jerusalem municipality on Wednesday collected leavened products from designated dumpsters outside peoples’ homes and took them away to be burned in a large open area on the city’s outskirts.
    A rabbi accompanied by a firefighter tossed a long, fire-tipped stick onto a patch of flammable liquid leading to a pile of the leavened bread products, many still in plastic bags, engulfing the mound in smoke and flames.
LEAVENED BREAD
    One Jerusalem man, Daniel Arusti, disposed of a paper bread box in one of the dumpsters outside his house, instead of gathering with his ultra-Orthodox community to burn it in public.
    “Next year … when there will hopefully be no (coronavirus) threat, we’ll be able to come and redo public burning of chametz (leavened bread) together, as we should,” Arusti said.
    Throughout Passover, Jews abide by special dietary laws which include eating unleavened bread known as matzo.    The tradition marks a Book of Exodus tale that the Jews did not have time to prepare leavened bread before leaving for the promised land.
    But in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighbourhood of Mea Shearim, some Israelis flouted the restrictions and gathered in small groups or by themselves to burn leaven alongside the district’s sandstone homes and concrete walls.
    Some ultra-Orthodox have heeded rabbis who, distrusting the state, spurned Health Ministry restrictions.
    Unable to gather in person, other Israelis plan to hold the seder with friends and extended family online by video conferencing platforms.
    The holiday restrictions added to anti-virus measures that have seen Israelis largely confined to their homes, forcing many businesses to close and sending unemployment to 25%.
    Israel has reported more than 9,400 cases and at least 71 deaths from COVID-19, according to Health Ministry data.
(Additional reporting by Suheir Sheikh; Editing by Alison Williams and Janet Lawrence)

4/10/2020 In parts of Africa, police are accused of excess force amid coronavirus lockdowns by Stanis Bujakera and Ayenat Mersie
FILE PHOTO: A soldier and a member of the South African police service search a house as they enforce a 21-day nationwide
lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus in Eldorado Park, South Africa, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo
    KINSHASA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Days after Congo announced emergency restrictions to curb the new coronavirus, a police video started circulating online showing an officer in the capital beating a taxi driver for violating a one-passenger limit.
    The driver pleads with officers as they order him to lie face down on the road.    But the punishment is meted out anyway: a sharp truncheon blow to the calves that leaves him writhing in pain.
    Sylvano Kasongo, who heads the Kinshasa police and is seen in the March 26 video, sent a copy to Reuters because he said he wanted to encourage others to obey the rules.    The force respects human rights, he said.
    Reuters was unable to reach the driver in the video, which caused public outrage in Democratic Republic of Congo.    The head of the drivers’ union, Jean Mutombo, said members are scrambling to make a living in lean times.
    “We call on drivers to respect the decisions taken by the authorities to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but at the same time, we condemn any act of violence by the police,” he said.
    As in some other parts of the world, allegations of police brutality have surfaced in several African countries as governments impose lockdowns, curfews and other restrictions in response to COVID-19.
    But populations who cannot afford to stay locked down for long pose a problem for governments in countries where the virus could overwhelm their fragile health systems.
    “We need to be very careful about the way the governments implement these measures,” said Samira Daoud, regional director for West and Central Africa at London-based rights group Amnesty International.
    “The people responsible for these violations should be sanctioned, and a clear message should be sent to security forces in order to make sure that they respect human rights.”
EXCESSIVE INTERVENTIONS
    In Senegal, where clashes between police and civilians are rare, the first night of a nationwide curfew in late March was marred by violence.    Videos posted online showed police swiping at fleeing civilians with batons.
    Reuters could not verify the footage, but police in a statement apologised for the use of “excessive interventions” and promised to punish officers involved.     Crowded living conditions make it hard to obey rules demanding people keep a safe distance from each other.    That has led to clashes.
    On the evening of April 2, in Lorokwo West village in northern Uganda, police moved in to disperse people from informal settlements to reduce crowding.    They broke down doors and dragged out occupants, injuring about 30 women and some men, police said in a statement on Monday.
    It denounced the behaviour of the officers as “outrageous” and said 10 police and six military officers had been arrested.
    In South Africa, where police are enforcing a nationwide lockdown, an officer and a security guard were arrested in connection with the shooting death of a man caught drinking in a township tavern last week.
    No charges have been brought against the officer pending an investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, its spokesman Sontaga Seisa told Reuters on Wednesday.    The security guard has been charged with murder.
    Videos purporting to show South African security forces beating people who defy the rules with whips and forcing them to do squats are also circulating on social media.
    South African police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo did not respond to requests for comment.    In a statement last week, he said the videos had yet to be verified, but added “such alleged behaviour by security forces is unacceptable … (and) can be neither tolerated nor condoned.”
    In Kenya, residents say violence has got worse since the outbreak began.
    In one incident involving police enforcing the curfew, a 13-year-old boy, Yasin Moyo, suffered a fatal bullet wound on March 30 while playing on a balcony in Nairobi.
    Police offered condolences to the family and said an investigation was underway.
    Seven people have been killed by Kenyan police enforcing curfew or lockdown orders, according to Missing Voices, a website documenting police killings run by a coalition of rights groups including Amnesty’s Kenya chapter. Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    President Uhuru Kenyatta apologised for the violence in a televised speech last week.
    “Maybe in the initial stages there were some challenges,” he said.    “I want to apologise to all Kenyans maybe for some excesses that were conducted.”
(Additional reporting by Aaron Ross and Alessandra Prentice in Dakar, Alexander Winning and Tim Cocks in Johannesburg and George Obulutsa and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Giles Elgood)

4/10/2020 Nigeria rejects U.S. senator’s query over $300 million Abacha loot repatriation by Libby George
FILE PHOTO - U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks to reporters at the U.S.
Capitol in Washington, U.S. December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria’s anti-graft agency has criticised a letter from a powerful U.S. senator questioning the return to Nigeria of more than $300 million in funds looted by former military ruler General Sani Abacha.
    The dispute, relating to a tri-partite agreement signed in February between the United States, the British dependency of Jersey and Nigeria, casts doubt on the extent to which the United States will aid efforts to move cash back to the West African country.
    Abacha ruled Africa’s largest oil producer from 1993 until his death in 1998. Corruption watchdog Transparency International estimates he stole as much as $5 billion of public money during that time, though he was never charged with corruption while he was alive.
    Nigeria has been working with governments worldwide in recent years to help repatriate some of the funds stolen by Abacha and boost its finances.
    President Muhammadu Buhari has also made tackling corruption a priority since taking office in 2015.    Endemic graft among the political elite dating back decades has left most Nigerians mired in poverty, despite the country being Africa’s biggest economy.
    U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley earlier this month wrote to the head of the U.S. Justice Department’s anti-money laundering unit asking for proof that funds returned to Nigeria would go toward infrastructure projects, as its government has stated.
    Grassley accused Ibrahim Magu, head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Attorney General Abubakar Malami of using their roles as an “enforcement arm against anyone voicing opposition to Buhari’s government.”     The EFCC, in a statement issued on Friday, said it “would not be dragged into any controversy over an allegation that has no fact or any iota of proof.”
    “The Commission remains focused on its mandate against economic and financial crimes and will not be deterred by spurious allegations from individuals with hidden agenda,” EFCC spokesman Tony Orilade said in the statement.
    Grassley said “it seems odd that the (U.S.) DOJ would help facilitate the payment of $320 million to the Nigerian government without first insisting on proper safeguards to prevent the further misuse of funds.”
    “Given all these circumstances, it is critical for Congress to understand what steps the United States government is taking, before it helps transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to Nigeria, to ensure that the money is not fuelling more corruption and government abuses.”
    A spokesman for Malami also rejected Grassley’s allegations, and said the government’s anti-corruption battle was “impartial, objective and non-discriminatory.”
(Reporting By Libby George; Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh and Felix Onuah; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram)

4/10/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises to 1,006: minister
FILE PHOTO: Funeral vehicles stand in front of a morgue to carry coffins of people who died during the outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), to cemeteries in Istanbul, Turkey April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s confirmed cases of coronavirus increased by 4,747 and 98 people died in the last 24 hours, taking the total death toll from the disease to 1,006, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Friday.
    The total number of recovered cases stood at 2,423, with 281 recoveries in the last 24 hours, and the number of tests carried out in that time was 30,864, Koca said on Twitter.
    Turkey’s total confirmed cases stood at 47,029, he added.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Susan Fenton)

4/10/2020 War-ravaged Yemen confirms first coronavirus case, braces for more by Mohammed Ghobari
A view of a deserted street, during a curfew after the state's first case of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), was announced,
in al-Sheher, Hadhramout province, Yemen April 10, 2020. Picture taken through a car window. REUTERS/Ibrahim al-Bakri
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen reported its first coronavirus case on Friday as aid groups braced for an outbreak in a country where war has shattered health systems and spread hunger and disease.
    The news of the laboratory-confirmed case came after a nationwide ceasefire prompted by the virus pandemic began on Thursday.    A Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi movement said it would halt military operations for two weeks, though the Houthis have yet to follow suit.
    A 60-year-old Yemeni man was diagnosed in the southern oil-producing region of Hadhramout, an area controlled by Yemen’s internationally-recognised government, the supreme national emergency committee said.
    Spokesman Ali al-Walidi told a news conference the man, who works in the small port of Ash Shihr, was in stable condition at a quarantine centre.
    Authorities have ordered the closure of Ash Shihr port for a week for deep cleaning and instructed workers there to isolate themselves at home for two weeks, according to a directive seen by Reuters.
    They have also imposed a 12-hour nightly curfew in Hadhramout starting from 6:00 pm on Friday.
    The governors of neighbouring Shabwa and Al Mahra ordered the sealing of their borders with Hadhramout as of Friday.
    If the virus spreads in Yemen, the impact would be “catastrophic,” its U.N. humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande had told Reuters, as the health status of at least half the population is “very degraded” and the country does not have sufficient supplies or facilities.
    “This is one of the biggest threats in the past 100 years to face Yemen,” Grande said in a statement on Friday.    “It’s time for the parties to stop fighting each other and start fighting COVID together.”
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
    The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was providing support to Yemen’s health ministry.
    “We are following the case and its contacts to assess the level of exposure,” Yemen representative Altaf Musani said.
    WHO recently told Reuters it was working to provide Yemen with the ability to test thousands of patients.    It has already provided 500 testing kits. Some 37 health facilities have been dedicated as isolation units.
    Yemen’s five-year-long war has killed more than 100,000 people and triggered a humanitarian crisis.    Only half of its hospitals are fully functional and 18 million people do not have access to proper hygiene, water and sanitation, the International Rescue Committee says.
    Cholera, dengue and malaria are rife.    Around 80% of Yemenis, or 24 million people, rely on humanitarian aid while millions live on the brink of starvation and are vulnerable to disease.
    Al-Walidi earlier told Reuters that quarantine centres had been set up in Hadhramout, Al Mahra and Aden in the south.
    He said the government committee was requesting ventilators, oxygen tanks and hospital beds from the WHO in coordination with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to be divided between areas under control of the Saudi-backed government and those held by the Houthi movement.
    The Houthis, who ousted the Saudi-backed government from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014, control most big urban areas.    They have set up a quarantine centre at a Sanaa hospital and one in Sanaa Airport.
    The United Nations is trying to set up virtual talks among the warring parties to discuss a permanent truce, a coordinated coronavirus response, humanitarian and economic confidence-building steps and the resumption of peace negotiations.
    Yemen relies heavily on imported food, fuel and medicines.
    The World Food Programme said on Thursday it would halve the aid it gives to people in Houthi-controlled areas from mid-April after donors cut funding over concerns that Houthi authorities were hindering aid deliveries.    The WFP feeds more than 12 million Yemenis a month, mostly in Houthi areas.
    Houthi authorities have complained about mismanagement of aid programmes by international bodies.
    A U.S. State Department official told reporters in a teleconference on Thursday that the onus was on the Houthis.
    “We encourage them to, one, join the ceasefire; and two, to end their problematic humanitarian practices,” said David Schenker, assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)
(This story has been refiled to remove repeated paragraphs at end of first section)
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, Mohammed Mokhashef and Reuters TV team, Lisa Barrington, Humeyra Pamuk and Samar Hassan; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Gareth Jones and Hugh Lawson)

4/10/2020 Chadian soldiers kill 1K Boko Haram fighters in raid by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Wednesday Nov. 25, 2014 file photo, hunters gather during a meeting in Yolo, Nigeria. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)
    According to authorities in Chad, the military killed around 1,000 Boko Haram militants during an operation on the islands of Lake Chad.
    An army spokesman announced the results of the raid Thursday, saying the operation cleared extremists from the islands in a region between Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon.    The lake has been described as a “marshy body of water” bordering the four countries.
    52 soldiers were also reportedly killed in the eight-day operation, while around 200 were wounded.
FILE – In this March 7, 2015, file photo, Chadian troops and Nigerian special forces participate in the Flintlock
exercises with the U.S. military and its Western partners in Mao, Chad. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)
    “The Operation Boma Rage, launched on March 31st under the supervision of the supreme army commander, has ended,” stated Colonel Azem Bermandoa.    “The defense and security forces, with courage and determination, have rooted the terrorists of Boko Haram from the islands of Lake Chad.”
    Reports said Boko Haram launched a campaign of violence from the western shores of the lake 11 years ago.    The raid came after more than 90 Chadian soldiers were killed late last month in an attack by the extremists.

4/10/2020 U.N. condemns water shutoff to Libyan capital
FILE PHOTO: A displaced family carries gallons of water in Tripoli, Libya January 16, 2020.
Picture taken January 16, 2020. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/
    TUNIS (Reuters) – The United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Libya on Friday condemned the cutting off of water supply to the capital Tripoli over the past week as “particularly reprehensible” and said it must stop immediately.
    An armed group on Monday stormed a control station at Shwerif, stopping water from being pumped and threatening workers, the Great Man Made River Project, which supplies water to much of Libya, said in a statement.
    The armed group is seeking to use the water cut-off as pressure to force the release of detained family members, U.N. humanitarian coordinator Yacoub El Hillo said in a statement.
    The supply has been cut to more than 2 million people in Tripoli and nearby towns and cities.
    Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), has been under assault for a year by the eastern-based Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar.
    An escalation in fighting since mid-March has involved intense bombardment, particularly in the south of the city near the front lines, with projectiles hitting a hospital.
    The warfare has hindered efforts to prepare Libya’s already tattered health system for an outbreak of the coronavirus, with 24 cases confirmed in the country.    State efforts to slow the spread of the disease have included a curfew.
    Electricity supply has also been repeatedly cut in Tripoli and some other areas over the past week.
    “At this moment when Libya is fighting the threats of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to water and electricity is more than ever life saving, and such individual acts to collectively punish millions of innocent people are abhorrent and must stop immediately,” Hillo said.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

4/10/2020 Lebanon’s Hariri attacks government over draft economic plan by Tom Perry
FILE PHOTO - Lebanon's former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks during a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the
assassination of his father, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, in Beirut, Lebanon February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Former Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri on Friday criticised the government over a draft programme for tackling a major financial crisis, saying it appeared on course for an “economic suicide plan.”
    The draft that surfaced this week included a proposal for a “a transitory exceptional contribution from large depositors” as part of measures to address huge losses in the financial system, among other politically difficult measures.
    “Since the formation of this government it has been promising Lebanon and the world an economic salvation plan,” Hariri, the leading Sunni politician in Lebanon’s sectarian system, wrote on Twitter.
    “But it seems that it is heading towards a… suicide plan built on confiscating the money of Lebanese deposited in the banks.”
    The comments highlight the political minefield facing Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government – formed with backing from Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah, its Shi’ite ally Amal and the President Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement – as it seeks to tackle a crisis rooted in decades of state corruption and waste.
    Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the Amal leader, is also strongly against any haircut on bank deposits, calling them sacred.
    Walid Jumblatt, Lebanon’s main Druze leader, said on Friday the government aimed to “confiscate the people’s wealth.”    Samir Geagea, head of the Christian Lebanese Forces party, said it was absolutely unacceptable that deposits be touched.
    Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, in comments to an-Nahar newspaper on Friday, said the government plan “did not yet get to restructuring the banking sector and it is still studying the available options.”
    The government blueprint projected $83.2 billion of losses in the banking sector stemming from the impairment of assets held by the central bank, the impairment of banks’ loans portfolio and government debt restructuring.
    The draft plan said a phased restructuring of commercial bank balance sheets would include a full bail-in of existing shareholders estimated at $20.8 billion in capital write-offs, with the remaining $62.4 billion covered by the “transitory exceptional contribution from large depositors.”
    A special fund would compensate depositors’ losses, with the proceeds coming from a programme that will track and recover ill-gotten assets.
(editing by John Stonestreet)

4/11/2020 Netanyahu rival Gantz seeks more time to form coalition government
FILE PHOTO: Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks to supporters following the announcement of exit polls
in Israel's election at the party's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Corinna Kern
    (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election rival Benny Gantz asked for additional time on Saturday to try to form a government with the long-time leader, to end more than a year of political deadlock.
    A 28-day mandate to put together a governing coalition, following an inconclusive March 2 election, expires on April 14.    Gantz, an ex-armed forces chief who heads the centrist Blue and White party, asked President Reuven Rivlin for a 14-day extension to the mandate.
    Gantz had run on a promise not to serve in a government with Netanyahu, citing the prime minister’s indictment on corruption charges. Netanyahu denies those charges.
    But in a reversal that dismayed many of his supporters, Gantz said the coronavirus crisis had made a national emergency government with Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party an imperative.
    “The political, health and social crisis have brought me to the decision that even at a heavy political and personal price, I will do all     I can to establish a government with the Likud,” Gantz wrote in a letter to the president, published by his party.
    Rivlin gave no immediate word on whether he would grant more time to Gantz, who in his letter said the two political rivals appeared close to a final agreement.
    According to Israeli media reports, the parties have already agreed on a power-sharing deal in which Netanyahu would serve as prime minister for 18 months, after which Gantz would take over.    Israel has held three inconclusive elections since last April.
    With more than 10,000 reported cases of COVID-19 and 101 deaths, Israel’s tight restrictions on movement aimed at curbing the coronavirus spread have forced many businesses to shut down and have sent unemployment rates soaring to about 25%.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Hugh Lawson)

4/11/2020 Sudan’s health minister says country needs $120 million to fight coronavirus by Khalid Abdelaziz
Sudan's Minister of Health Akram Ali Altom speaks during a Reuters interview amid concerns about the spread of
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Khartoum, Sudan April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan urgently needs $120 million to fight the new coronavirus, the country’s health minister told Reuters on Saturday, amid a shortage of the equipment to fight the epidemic which has ravaged richer countries.
    Although Sudan has so far reported relatively few cases, the global outbreak has arrived at a time when it faces an economic crisis.
    “We are preparing a strategy to face coronavirus that extends until the end of June, but to execute it we urgently need $120 million to provide protective equipment for healthcare workers and to prepare healthcare facilities and advanced lab testing equipment,” said health minister Akram Ali Altom.
    Altom serves in the civilian-led government which has run Sudan following a power-sharing agreement with the military signed in August.    Exactly one year ago, months of protests brought down three-decade ruler Omar al-Bashir.
    Until now, Sudan has reported 19 confirmed coronavirus cases, including two deaths, but Altom said that “if it spreads, Sudan’s situation health-wise and economically means it cannot handle a large outbreak.”
    Current capacity for beds with ventilators was just in the “hundreds,” he said.
    The coronavirus outbreak is the latest epidemic to face Sudan, which has had to deal with outbreaks of cholera with a depleted infrastructure.
    Sudan began testing for those who arrived at its international airport in February.    In March it closed all airports and border crossings to non-commercial traffic.
    The government also imposed a twelve-hour curfew, shut down schools and universities, and banned events and gatherings. Some of its measures have been met with a lack of cooperation.
    The minister said that his ministry has recommended a complete lockdown of the capital Khartoum for three weeks, as well as an increase in the number of quarantine centres and testing capacity.
    A major barrier to any lockdown is likely to be the large number of Sudanese people who work in the informal economy.
    The minister said that he expected that a new health emergency law would be introduced on Sunday.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, writing by Nafisa Eltahir, editing by Ulf Laessing and James Drummond)

4/11/2020 Coronavirus keeps relics of Jesus’s friend Lazarus behind closed doors
A priest carries what the Greek Orthodox Church says are relics of Lazarus during a procession around the Church of St. Lazarus, as faithful
are not allowed to attend due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Larnaca, Cyprus, April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
    NICOSIA (Reuters) – Eight days before Orthodox Easter each year, a casket containing remains of Jesus’s friend Lazarus is carried through the streets of the Cypriot town of Larnaca, believed by many Christians to be the saint’s second resting place.
    Only this year, Lazarus’s remains are staying inside a stone church in the town due to the coronavirus outbreak and a strict lockdown on the Mediterranean island, which has reported 595 cases of the virus and 10 deaths.
    Normally a major celebration attended by hundreds of worshippers, Saturday’s mass marking Lazarus’s Biblical resurrection was low-key and the doors of the church were shut to the faithful.
    A procession of a small silver casket containing what the Church says are relics of Lazarus, and which takes place through the seaside town each year was cancelled. Instead clerics took a short walk around the church building.
    “We share the pain of people who have to stay away from churches over Easter,” said Bishop Nektarios, of Kitium, the diocese of the Larnaca district.
    The Church of Cyprus, which traces its lineage back to Jesus’s first followers, has closed its doors to services during Easter week, the most important on the Christian Orthodox calendar. Orthodox Easter falls on April 19.
    “This pandemic might be an opportunity for us all to start anew, to come even closer to God and to others, (and be) people able to live and savour the beauty of life offered by Christ,” Nektarios said in a speech transmitted live by a local news website, Larnakaonline.com.
    According to the Biblical Gospel of John, Lazarus was restored to life by Jesus four days after his death.
    The Greek Orthodox Church believes that after Jesus’s crucifixion Lazarus fled to Cyprus, where he lived for another 30 years and became a Christian Bishop, the first in Kitium.    Legend has it that he only ever smiled once after resurrection.
    The St. Lazarus church is thought to have been built over his tomb, which lies under the iconostasis of the church and contains a stone sarcophagus.
    Clerics say that most of Lazarus’s relics were transferred to Constantinople in the ninth century by Byzantine emperor Leo the Wise in return for money to build the church, but that locals managed to retain some of the remains.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Helen Popper)

4/12/2020 Saudi Arabia extends coronavirus curfew indefinitely
FILE PHOTO: Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends via video link a virtual G20 summit on coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 26, 2020. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman extended a nationwide curfew until further notice due to the spread of the new coronavirus, the interior ministry said on Sunday, after the kingdom reported more than 300 new infections on each of the last four days.
    Last week Saudi Arabia placed its capital Riyadh and other big cities under a 24-hour curfew, locking down much of the population to stem the spread of the virus.
    Elsewhere, the curfew which began on March 23 runs from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m.
    The country of some 30 million has recorded 4,033 infections with 52 deaths, the highest among the six Gulf Arab states where the total count has surpassed 13,200 with 88 deaths despite strict measures to curb transmissions.
    The kingdom has halted international flights, suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage, and closed most public places. Other Gulf states have taken similar precautions.
    The interior ministry said all precautionary measures across Saudi Arabia’s 13 regions remain in place.
    The eastern Qatif region, where its first coronavirus cases were reported among Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims returning from Iran, has been sealed off since March 8.
    The United Arab Emirates, the region’s tourism and business hub, has the second highest tally at 3,736 cases with 20 deaths.
    Several Gulf Arab states have seen the virus spread among low-wage foreign workers, many of whom live in overcrowded accommodations.
    Qatar has locked down a large section of an industrial area, Dubai has sealed off two commercial districts with a large population of migrant workers, and Oman has closed off its Muscat governorate, which includes the capital.
    Millions of migrant workers, mainly from Asian countries, including Nepal, India and the Philippines, are among the region’s large expatriate population.
    India’s ambassador to the UAE told local English-language daily Gulf News on Saturday that the Indian government cannot repatriate a large number of its nationals while trying to break the chain of infection at home.
    “At this stage, we feel that it is best for them (Indians wishing to return home) to stay where they are,” Pavan Kapoor was quoted as saying.    “Once the lockdown in India is lifted, we will certainly help them get back to their home towns and their families.”
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; writing by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by Daniel Wallis and Jason Neely)

4/12/2020 Passover blessing at Western Wall downsized due to coronavirus
A small number of Jewish worshippers pray during the priestly blessing, a traditional prayer which
usually attracts thousands of worshippers at the Western Wall on the holiday of Passover,
amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Jerusalem's Old City April 12, 2020 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Ten Jewish worshippers wearing face masks prayed at the Western Wall on Sunday at a special “Priestly Blessing” during the holiday of Passover, an event usually attended by thousands.
    Because of coronavirus restrictions banning large public gatherings the group maintained social distancing at the holy site in Jerusalem’s walled Old City.
    U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman was among the group attending on Sunday.
    “Last year I was among 100,000; this year, unfortunately, far less,” Friedman wrote on Twitter.    “I will pray that the world is spared further illness or sorrow from COVID-19 or otherwise
.”
    The blessing is carried out by members of the Jewish priestly caste, known as “Kohanim” in Hebrew.
    Holding prayer shawls above their heads and covering their faces, they chanted the blessing, starting with: “The Lord blesses you and keeps you
    Kohanim are thought to be descended from the line of the biblical Aaron and are often referred to as Jewish priests because of their prominent role in worship in Judaism’s ancient Temples in Jerusalem.
    The ceremony is held during the Jewish holidays of Passover and Sukkot.
    The Western Wall abuts the sacred compound known to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary.
    The holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray in Jerusalem, it was built more than 2,000 years ago by Herod the Great.
(Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Frances Kerry)
[I have a file http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterFive/MosesGenealogyCancerToAries.htm, which shows Adam to Moses genealogy leading to Jesus' birth and it is looked at by more people than any file of mine and I put Moses line in there just to put time frames where the ages are suspect, but many persons think that Moses was part of Jesus genealogy but it is not because Moses line formed by his brother Aaron were the Levites and was the line of priest for Israel and they are the ones who will be it in our times if the Temple is built again as is seen in the article the Kohanim are thought to be descended from the line of the biblical Aaron and are often referred to as Jewish priests because of their prominent role in worship in Judaism’s ancient Temples in Jerusalem.
    kohanim, "priests" is the Hebrew word for "priest," used in reference to the Aaronic priesthood or Levitical priests or kohanim are traditionally believed and halakhically required to be of direct patrilineal descent from the biblical Aaron (also Aharon), brother of Moses.].

4/12/2020 Israel closes off Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox areas to stem coronavirus spread
Israeli police check a driver in a car on a roadblock in a main road in Jerusalem as they try to contain the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) from the densely populated neighborhoods where the infection rate is high, April 12, 2020 REUTERS/ Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel locked down mainly ultra-Orthodox Jewish areas of Jerusalem on Sunday to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus from the densely populated neighbourhoods where the infection rate is high.
    The entry and exit restrictions, enforced by police roadblocks, were imposed on the same day that a government order for the wearing of masks in public went into effect throughout the country.
    Residents of the restricted neighbourhoods in Jerusalem can still shop close to home for essentials.    Synagogues have been closed to try to stem infections, as they have been across the country.
    The neighbourhoods are home to large families living in close quarters.    Compliance with social-distancing guidelines has been spotty.
    Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox town of 200,000 near Tel Aviv, was declared a restricted zone on April 2 and police have limited access to the area.
    Israel has reported 10,878 confirmed coronavirus cases and 103 deaths.    Palestinian officials listed 268 cases in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, with two fatalities.
    In the West Bank, Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said the Palestinian Authority (PA) asked Israel to help it deal with the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus crisis.
    Israel usually collects some 700 million shekels ($195 million) a month, in exchange for a 3% commission in tax revenues for the PA from imports that arrive via Israeli ports.    But the PA expects such revenues to decline by more than 50% due to reduced trade during the coronavirus crisis.
    Bishara said he had requested Israel loan the PA money as required to ensure the handovers amount to at least 500 million shekels ($140 million) a month.    Any loans would be repaid to Israel out of future tax revenues, possibly post-crisis.
    Were Israel to agree, “we can add another 200 million shekels ($56 million) monthly aid from donor countries, in addition to 100 million shekels ($28 million) from local revenues,” Bishara told reporters via a video link.
    “That would make us 200 million shekels short (of normal figure), a sum we can make up for through taking (bank) loans,” he said.    “That should keep us going that way for six months.”
    A spokeswoman for Israel’s Finance Ministry declined to respond in detail, saying: “We will not comment before a deal is signed.”    But she said Israel had already stated its willingness to loan the PA money to assist in the anti-coronavirus efforts.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Giles Elgood and Frances Kerry)

4/12/2020 Turkey’s interior minister says resigns over short-notice coronavirus lockdown
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu speaks during a news conference for foreign
media correspondents in Istanbul, Turkey, August 21, 2019. Ahmet Bolat/Pool via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Twitter on Sunday that he was resigning from his post over the implementation of a two-day curfew in major Turkish cities to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
    Turkey announced the weekend lockdown late on Friday, but in the brief time before it went into effect many people rushed out to buy food and drink in the country’s commercial hub Istanbul, a city of 16 million people, and other cities.
    “Although in a limited period of time, the incidents that occurred ahead of the implementation of the curfew was not befitting with the perfect management of the outbreak process,” Soylu said in his statement.
    The lockdown decision was taken with good intention and aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus, he said.    The lockdown will end at 2100 GMT on Sunday.
    Turkey’s death toll from COVID-19 has risen above 1,100, with more than 50,000 confirmed cases since first patient diagnosed a little over a month ago.     If his resignation is accepted by President Tayyip Erdogan, Soylu would be the second Turkish minister to leave his post since the coronavirus pandemic struck.
    Transport minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan was removed two weeks ago after the ministry drew criticism for holding a tender amid the outbreak to prepare to build a huge canal on the edge of Istanbul.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Alison Williams and Dominic Evans)

4/12/2020 OPEC-Plus convinces Mexico to join deal to cut oil production by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by Saudi Energy Ministry, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, Minister of Energy
of Saudi Arabia, third right, chairs a virtual summit of the Group of 20 energy ministers at his office in Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia, Friday, April 10, 2020, to coordinate a response to plummeting oil prices due to an oversupply
in the market and a downturn in global demand due to the pandemic. (Saudi Energy Ministry via AP)
    Global oil cartel OPEC and its allies have agreed to the deepest production cuts in history.    On Sunday, the nations of OPEC-Plus announced they’ve convinced Mexico to join the agreement to reduce oil output by almost 10 million barrels per day.
    Under the terms of the deal, the U.S., Brazil and Canada will cut production by almost 4 million barrels per day.    Meanwhile, Russia and Saudi Arabia will reduce output by 2.5 million barrels per day each.
    President Trump has praised the move and claimed it will help America’s energy industry stay afloat.
    “There’s a tremendous glut of oil and we don’t want anything to hurt our incredible industry, actually, the largest producer in the world now,” stated the president.    “…We want to keep those jobs, so we’re working on it.”     The new agreement is expected to support oil prices at $40 a barrel in the near term.

4/13/2020 Netanyahu gains strength in turnaround by Josef Federman, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JERUSALEM – Israel’s president on Sunday rejected a request to extend coalition talks, appearing to give a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pushing the nation toward an unprecedented fourth consecutive election in just over a year.
    The decision by President Reuven Rivlin capped a stunning turnaround in fortunes of Netanyahu, who just a month ago was fighting for his political survival as he prepared to go on trial for corruption charges.
    His challenger, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, now faces an uphill struggle as he races to salvage a power-sharing arrangement with Netanyahu.
    While Gantz now appears desperate for a deal, Netanyahu is riding a wave of popularity thanks to his handling of the nation’s coronavirus crisis.
    Israel has reported nearly 11,000 cases and over 100 dead, but appears to be weathering the crisis better than most countries.
    This popularity could give Netanyahu the upper hand in last-minute negotiations with Gantz, or position him well for a future election.

4/13/2020 Displaced Syrians wary of coronavirus risk return to war-torn Idlib by Khalil Ashawi
Vehicles carrying belongings of internally displaced Syrians drive back to their homes, as some people are afraid of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in crowded camps, in Dayr Ballut, Syria April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    IDLIB, Syria (Reuters) – Thousands of displaced Syrians have begun moving back to their homes in war-torn Idlib province despite the risk of renewed conflict, some driven by fear that the new coronavirus could wreak havoc on crowded camps near the Turkish border.
    About one million Syrians fled Idlib and its surrounding countryside in northwest Syria this past year after Russian-backed government forces stepped up a campaign to retake the last rebel stronghold after nine years of war.
    Fighting has calmed since March when Ankara, which backs some groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, agreed a ceasefire with Moscow, which has supported Damascus with heavy air power.
    Syria’s northwest does not yet have a confirmed case of coronavirus, but doctors fear the area’s ravaged medical infrastructure and overflowing camps would quickly turn any outbreak into a humanitarian disaster.
    As the tentative peace holds, displaced Syrians are weighing up grim options: remain in tightly packed camps with few services where a viral spread could be lethal, or return to homes still at risk of getting caught in renewed bloodshed.
    “Our lives go from danger to danger as we flee from bombing, the regime, and conflict, to overcrowding and coronavirus,” said Abu Abdo, 45.    On Sunday Abdu returned with his family of seven to a village in Idlib’s countryside.
    “Here it’s agricultural land and the air is clean and there’s no congestion, but it’s still a dangerous area,” he said.
    Vans and trucks stacked with mattresses and household appliances choked a road snaking south through Idlib province on Sunday as families driven out just months earlier by air strikes sought to return.
    “We fear there will be a regime escalation again but life in the town, in our home, is better than displacement and poor conditions,” said Fayez al-Assi, 49, who fled Jabal al-Zawiya in Idlib’s southern countryside two and a half months ago.
    The Syrian Response Coordination Group, a northwest Syria relief agency, said 103,459 Syrians had returned to towns in the Aleppo and Idlib countryside since the ceasefire.
    “Even if there is bombing we aren’t afraid of it.    We’ve gotten used to it,” said Zakaria Shawish, 25, from the town of Ariha, south of Idlib.    “Sitting here under the bombing is better than being displaced in the camps and not having a home.”
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/13/2020 Israel political deadlock persists with unity deal still out of reach
FILE PHOTO: A combination picture shows Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 23, 2019 and
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Kiryat Malachi, Israel March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Corinna Kern, Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz remained in political deadlock on Tuesday with a deal to form a national emergency government to battle the coronavirus crisis still out of reach.
    Gantz’s 28-day presidential mandate to put together a ruling coalition after last month’s inconclusive election expired at midnight.    The centrist leader failed to woo enough allies to secure a parliamentary majority and had yet to clinch a power-sharing deal with right-wing Netanyahu.
    The two men met overnight in a last-ditch effort to settle their differences.
    The impasse, after national elections in April and September 2019 and again last month, raises the prospect of a fourth ballot, complicating any plans for economic recovery once the virus outbreak eases.
    Without a deal, it will be up to parliament to pick a candidate who would then have 14 days to form a government.
    Failure to do so would automatically trigger a snap election.
    “Netanyahu, this is our moment of truth.    It’s either a national emergency government or, God forbid, a fourth election which would be expensive and, in this crisis period, gratuitous,” Gantz said late on Monday in broadcast remarks.
    Gantz said the enormity of the coronavirus emergency had caused him to break a campaign promise not to sit in a government with Netanyahu, who has been indicted on corruption charges. Netanyahu denies the charges.
    Netanyahu, who has headed successive caretaker administrations during the political impasse, said he hoped the two could still reach an agreement.
    In his own televised statement, the veteran leader imposed a ban on inter-city travel for the final days of the Passover holiday this week to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
    Restrictions already in place have confined most Israelis to their homes for weeks, forcing many businesses to close and sending unemployment soaring to more than 25%.
    Netanyahu said his cabinet could formulate an “exit strategy” as soon as this weekend, though he cautioned restrictions on the economy and education system would be eased gradually and that there would be no full return to routine before a coronavirus vaccine is discovered.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams; Editing by Tom Brown)

4/13/2020 U.N. says Saudi deportations of Ethiopian migrants risks spreading coronavirus by Dawit Endeshaw and Giulia Paravicini
An Ethiopian health worker sprays disinfectant as part of measures to prevent the potential
spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 29, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The United Nations said on Monday that deportations of illegal migrant workers by Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia risked spreading the coronavirus and it urged Riyadh to suspend the practice for the time being.
    Saudi Arabia has so far deported 2,870 Ethiopian migrants to Addis Ababa since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.N. migration agency said. Ethiopian authorities confirmed that large-scale deportations were taking place.
    An internal U.N. memo seen by Reuters said Saudi Arabia was expected to deport some 200,000 Ethiopian migrants in total.    Other Gulf Arab states, Kenya and other neighbouring countries are also expected to repatriate Ethiopian migrants, it said.
    “Large-scale migratory movements which are not planned make the transmission of the virus much more likely to continue.    We are therefore calling for the temporary suspension of large-scale deportations,” Catherine Sozi, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, told Reuters.
    The Saudi media ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but many migrant workers worldwide have been left unemployed due to economic lockdowns imposed by governments in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.
    Saudi Arabia, which has around 30 million people, has so far reported 4,934 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, with 65 deaths.
    Ethiopia, with a population of 105 million, has so far reported only 74 coronavirus cases and just two deaths.
TESTING AND QUARANTINE
    Health Minister Lia Tadesse told Reuters that some of the deported migrants had tested positive for coronavirus but she did not have exact numbers.
    All migrants will be tested for coronavirus and will be quarantined for 14 days in schools and universities which have been closed and converted to serve that purpose, said Zewdu Assefa from the Ethiopian Public Health Institute.
    “They have been deported in a very congested way, with 300 to 500 squeezed onto single flights, and the number of people who will be returned keeps growing,” he said.
    The U.S. State Department said in its annual report on human trafficking last year that some 100,000 Ethiopians travel illegally to Saudi Arabia every year, lured by promises of work and a better life.    An estimated 200,000 Ethiopians live in the kingdom, it said.
    A humanitarian aid organisation which asked to remain anonymous said it had raised concerns that the frequency of the flights and the large numbers of deportees involved could overwhelm Ethiopia’s quarantine system.
    “These migrants are very vulnerable.    They have undertaken an extremely dangerous journey and many arrive in Ethiopia with high medical and mental health needs,” the aid group said.
(Writing by Giulia Paravicini, Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/13/2020 Nigeria to extend coronavirus lockdowns for 14 more days: President Buhari by Libby George
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addresses the nation over the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in Abuja, Nigeria April 13, 2020. Nigeria Presidency/Handout via REUTERS
    LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria will extend lockdowns in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states for an additional 14 days to combat the new coronavirus, President Muhammadu Buhari said in an address to the nation on Monday that acknowledged the sacrifices of the country’s poor
    Initial 14-day lockdowns in the three areas began on March 30. Buhari said it was crucial to extend the lockdown due to an “alarming” increase in positive cases in a number of states.
    “It is a matter of life and death,” Buhari said of the nation’s response.    “The repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable.”
    There are currently 323 confirmed cases of the virus in Nigeria, nearly three-quarters of them in Lagos and the capital territory of Abuja, and 10 people have died from the virus.
    Nigeria, with 200 million people, is Africa’s most populous nation.    Some 20 million reside in the megacity of Lagos alone.
    Health experts have raised the alarm over the impact of any spread in the virus, warning that the country’s unprepared and underfunded healthcare system could quickly become overwhelmed.
    But the economic impact on the millions of Nigerians who rely on daily wages, particularly in Lagos, has hit residents hard.    The shutdown exempts only critical workers, including those selling food, water and medicine, but has left many without money to buy food and other essentials.
    Videos have circulated on social media showing armed robberies, fires and small riots in some Lagos neighbourhoods.
    Earlier on Monday, the police said they would deploy additional units to Lagos and Ogun to tackle unrest and crime stemming directly from the lockdowns.
    The Lagos state government has been distributing food packages to 200,000 of the state’s most vulnerable households, and plans to double the aid.
    Buhari did not address the unrest specifically, other than saying he urged the security forces to “maintain utmost vigilance,” but he acknowledged the difficulties many people would facing by sticking to the rules.
    “We made this very difficult decision knowing fully well it will severely disrupt your livelihoods and bring undue hardship to you, your loved ones and your communities,” he said.    “However, such sacrifices are needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our country.”
    He said the federal government, which has also been distributing cash and food, would add 1 million households to the programme, which is currently targeting 2.6 million.
    He also said the government would develop a comprehensive policy to bring its economy through the crisis, and set up a task force to minimise the impact of lockdowns on farmers and the agricultural sector.
(Reporting By Libby George; Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos and Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jan Harvey and Alison Williams)

4/13/2020 South Africa coronavirus cases rise to 2,272, deaths at 27
FILE PHOTO: A man carries home groceries during a nationwide 21 day lockdown in an attempt to contain the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Umlazi township near Durban, South Africa, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa has recorded 99 new coronavirus cases, taking the total in the country to 2,272, health minister Zweli Mkhike said on Monday.     The country has also recorded a further two deaths from the virus, increasing the death toll to 27, Mkhize told participants of a Zoom meeting with media, scientists, academics and others that was also broadcast on television.
(Reporting by Emma Rumney, Editing by Franklin Paul)

4/13/2020 Sudan imposes lockdown on capital after 10 new coronavirus cases
FILE PHOTO: Customers queue to buy bread at a bakery in Khartoum, Sudan
February 19, 2020. Picture taken February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan will impose a lockdown on the capital Khartoum for three weeks after 10 more cases of the new coronavirus were discovered on Monday, its information minister said.
    The lockdown in the country’s most populous city will start on Saturday, Faisal Saleh told Reuters.    In total, 29 coronavirus cases have been discovered in Sudan, with four deaths, the health ministry said in a statement.
    Sudan has already imposed a nationwide curfew, closed its airports and halted all long-haul bus trips between cities.
    On Saturday, the health minister told Reuters authorities urgently need $120 million to fight the virus, which causes respiratory disease COVID-19, saying current capacity for beds with ventilators was just in the “hundreds.”
    Sudan’s health system was neglected during the 30-year rule of Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled a year ago, analysts say.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Nafisa Eltahir; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Alison Williams and Catherine Evans)

4/13/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises by 98 to 1,296: health minister
FILE PHOTO: Paramedics escort a woman as she walks toward an ambulance during a two-day curfew which was imposed to
prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s confirmed cases of the coronavirus increased by 4,093 in the past 24 hours, and 98 more people have died, taking the death toll to 1,296, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Monday.
    The total number of cases in the country stood at 61,049, he said.
    A total of 3,957 people have recovered so far, and the number of tests carried out over the past 24 hours was 34,456, the minister said.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/13/2020 Nigerians shake off coronavirus lockdown boredom with group exercise by Abraham Achirga
People are seen during an exercise session held on a highway with low traffic, as the authorities struggle to
contain the coronavirus disease (COVID19) outbreak in Abuja, Nigeria April 13, 2020 REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    ABUJA (Reuters) – The bored and the brave have taken over the six-lane highways of Nigeria’s capital, now on coronavirus lockdown.
    Vehicles in Abuja are mostly gone.    In their place: hundreds of people doing group workouts with little concern for a disease that has so far killed 10 and infected 300 in Nigeria.
    “Since the lockdown, we are just at home doing nothing, no work, no food, nothing, nothing, so we decided to come and exercise our body instead of us sitting at home and just getting fat,” said Akinyemi Busayo, a trader, who was doing aerobics and other exercises in a group.
    Behind Busayo, dozens of people lined a footbridge spanning one of Abuja’s massive highways, doing sit-ups as a stream of runners jogged between them.
    The government has ordered people to remain indoors and isolate themselves unless they need essentials such as food, water or medical services.
    But enforcement has varied from the draconian – with security agents beating and arresting even health workers they found outside – to non-existent, as with the sportswear-clad crowds in Abuja.
    “For me I believe it is not yet here in this my vicinity,” said Agboola Sabinat, a student, referring to the novel coronavirus.
    “Everyone is scared, like my mom she is scared, she is like I should not go out for this work-out, that they said everybody should be at home, that we should just keep cool and stay at home, but I can’t,” Sabinat said.
(Reporting by Abraham Achirga in Abuja; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/13/2020 Turkey to impose fresh lockdown next weekend to halt COVID-19 spread: Erdogan
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a videoconference with G20 leaders to discuss the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Huber Mansion in Istanbul, Turkey, March 26, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey would impose a fresh lockdown next weekend as part of measures to halt the spread of COVID-19, having locked down 31 provinces last weekend.
    Erdogan was speaking after a cabinet meeting.    The 48-hour curfew lifted overnight covered all the country’ major cities including its commercial hub Istanbul, which is home to 16 million residents.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Ezgi Erkoyun)

4/13/2020 U.S. welcomes apparent consensus on forming a government in Iraq: Pompeo
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses the daily coronavirus task force briefing
at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that his country welcomes an apparent agreement among Iraq’s Shia, Sunni and Kurdish groups to form a new government, adding it would need to be capable of confronting the coronavirus pandemic, helping the economy and bringing arms under control.
    “We welcome that Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish political leaders seem to have arrived at a consensus on government formation, and hope the new government puts Iraq’s interests first and meets the needs of the Iraqi people,” Pompeo said in a statement.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

4/14/2020 Israel’s coalition talks falter ahead of midnight deadline
    JERUSALEM – Israel braced for more political turmoil Monday as talks between the country’s rival political leaders faltered ahead of a midnight deadline to form a coalition government.    Former army chief Benny Gantz urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seal a coalition deal or risk dragging the country toward an unprecedented fourth straight election in just over a year.    What seemed to be nearly a done deal last week reportedly faltered over a demand by Netanyahu to have more influence over judicial appointments.

4/14/2020 Iraq suspends Reuters for three months over report on coronavirus cases
FILE PHOTO: An Iraqi soldier wearing a protective suit sprays disinfectant to sanitize a vegetable stall, during a curfew
imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Baghdad, Iraq March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iraq has suspended the licence of the Reuters news agency after it published a story saying the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country was higher than officially reported.
    Iraq’s media regulator said it was revoking Reuters’ licence for three months and fining it 25 million dinars ($21,000) for what it said was the agency’s violation of the rules of media broadcasting.
    In a letter to Reuters, the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) said it had taken the action “because this matter is taking place during current circumstances which have serious repercussions on societal health and safety.”
    Reuters said it regretted the Iraqi authorities’ decision and that it stood by the story, which it said was based on multiple, well-placed medical and political sources, and fully represented the position of the Iraqi health ministry.
    “We are seeking to resolve the matter and are working to ensure we continue to deliver trusted news about Iraq,” the news agency said in a statement.
    Asked about the Reuters suspension in an interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN, Iraqi President Barham Salih said it was a “regrettable decision” taken by a commission which is independent of the government.     “From my vantage point you would not get me in a situation where I would defend that.    I’m working with our legal team in order to revoke that and manage the situation,” Salih said.
    He said the Reuters story had caused distress because it implied a deliberate falsification of records by the government, which he said had not been the case.
    The Reuters report, published on April 2, cited three doctors involved in the testing process, a health ministry official and a senior political official as saying Iraq had thousands of confirmed COVID-19 cases, many times more than the 772 it had publicly reported at that time.
    The report was updated on April 2 to include a denial from a health ministry spokesman, sent by text message, who dismissed the sources’ assertions about the spread of the disease, describing them as “incorrect information.”
    In addition to the three-month suspension, Reuters was ordered to issue a formal apology.
    As of April 13, Iraq had recorded 1,378 cases of COVID-19, including 78 deaths, according to the health ministry.
(Editing by Nick Tattersall)

4/14/2020 Turkey repeats working group offer to U.S. to solve row over Russian defense purchase
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a new S-400 "Triumph" surface-to-air missile system after its deployment at a military base
outside the town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Turkey on Tuesday repeated an offer to the United States to establish a technical working group including NATO to help solve a dispute over Ankara’s purchase of Russian missile defenses that angered Washington.
    Ties between the NATO allies were badly strained last year when Turkey bought Russian S-400 defense systems, prompting Washington to threaten sanctions and to suspend Turkish involvement in its F-35 jet program.
    The United States says the S-400s are not compatible with NATO systems and threaten the stealth capabilities of its Lockheed Martin F-35 jets.    Turkey rejects this and says the S-400s will not be integrated into the alliance’s defenses.
    Before the outbreak of the coronavirus shifted focused away from the issue, Ankara’s bilateral ties with Moscow took a heavy blow over Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military offensive on northwestern Syrian town of Idlib.
    In early March as fighting between Syrian government forces and the Turkish military and allied Syrian rebels intensified, Ankara sought help from the United States to give it ammunition as well as humanitarian assistance for hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing the battle.
    Since then, both Turkey and the United States have largely kept silent on the S-400 issue.    Turkey had previously said it would make the Russian missile defense systems operational in April but so far there has been no sign of such a move.
    Speaking at a virtual Atlantic Council event, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey’s stance on how to solve the issue had not changed.
    “We offer the U.S. to establish a technical working group with NATO’s inclusion and NATO can lead this technical working group actually.    And this offer is still on the table,” he said.
    He also added that Turkey was still willing to purchase Patriot batteries if it had a good offer.    Washington has repeatedly said it was unwilling to provide Patriots to Turkey unless it returned the S-400s.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan visited Washington last November and met with U.S. President Donald Trump and agreed him with about setting up a working group but the effort made little progress.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Alistair Bell)

4/14/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises by 107 to 1,403: health minister
FILE PHOTO: Women wearing protective face masks and gloves are seen as the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Istanbul, Turkey, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s confirmed cases of the coronavirus increased by 4,062 in the past 24 hours, and 107 more people have died, taking the death toll to 1,403, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Tuesday.
    The total number of cases in the country stood at 65,111, he said.
    A total of 4,799 people have recovered so far, and the number of tests carried out over the past 24 hours was 33,070, the minister said.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Chris Reese)

4/15/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu, Gantz fail to reach unity deal, deadlock persists by Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: A banner depicts Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, and Israel Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as part of
Blue and White party's campaign ahead of the upcoming election, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz failed to strike a unity government deal in last-ditch talks late on Wednesday.
    Even the medical and economic crises brought on by the coronavirus outbreak have so far failed to end an unprecedented political deadlock that has pushed Israel into three inconclusive elections in the last year, and perhaps now a fourth.
    Gantz and Netanyahu had been negotiating a power-sharing deal that would have kept the right-wing premier in office for another 18 months, Israeli media reported.
    Under the arrangement, centrist former general Gantz would have taken over after that.
    It was Gantz, a relative newcomer to politics, who was given the first chance to put together a government after the most recent election, in March.
    President Reuven Rivlin, who is overseeing the talks, said on Monday that progress justified his decision to grant Gantz a two-day extension to hash out a deal with Netanyahu.
    But Gantz’s mandate expired at midnight on Wednesday after a last-minute attempt by the two leaders’ envoys to clinch a deal.    Failure complicates plans for economic recovery once the coronavirus outbreak is brought under control, and the country’s stringent lockdown is eased.
    Without a deal, it will be up to parliament to pick a candidate who would then have 14 days to form a government.    Failure to do so would automatically trigger a snap election.
    Gantz had previously said he would not serve in a government led by Netanyahu, who is facing indictment on corruption charges but denies any wrongdoing.    The trial is due to begin next month.
    But the enormity of the coronavirus crisis prompted Gantz to break his campaign promise and to consider a deal, a move that angered many of his anti-Netanyahu supporters.
    The outcome appeared to weaken Gantz while strengthening Netanyahu, whose caretaker government is overseeing the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
    A Monday poll from Israel’s Channel 12 news said that if an election were held now, Netanyahu’s Likud party would see a four-seat boost to 40 in the 120-member Knesset, while Gantz’s weakened Blue and White party would win only 19.
    The poll also found that some 64% of citizens were satisfied with Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic.
    Israel has reported over 12,500 COVID-19 cases and at least 130 deaths.    Restrictions have confined most Israelis to their homes, forcing businesses to close and sending unemployment to more than 25%.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv; Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Matthew Lewis)

4/16/2020 Millions face hunger as African cities impose coronavirus lockdowns by Libby George and Katharine Houreld
FILE PHOTO: Shehu Isah Daiyanu Dumus, 53, poses for a photo near his home in
Lagos, Nigeria April 6, 2020. Picture taken April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja
    LAGOS/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Shehu Isah Daiyanu Dumus has run out of cash and says he only has a few handfuls of cassava flour left to eat.
    The 53-year-old paraplegic man usually sells phone cards.    But an extended lockdown to fight the new coronavirus in Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos, has left him stranded.
    The Lagos state government sent him a text after the lockdown began on March 30 saying he would receive a food parcel.    But no food came, and with government offices closed, he had no idea when or how he would get any.
    “I am sure that if this coronavirus did not kill people with disability, definitely this order of stay at home will kill people,” he told Reuters outside a building near the airport where a friend is letting him stay.
    Hunger and anger are building in Lagos and other major African cities with little or no social safety net to protect the poor from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The World Food Programme says at least 20% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people are already undernourished – the highest percentage in the world.
    The combination of widespread poverty, reliance on imported food and price spikes due to the epidemic could prove deadly if African governments don’t act quickly, it says.
    Under new restrictions in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, millions who once lived on daily wages are running out of food.
    Many work as traders, labourers or craftsmen in the informal sector, which accounts for 85% of employment across the continent, and must now stay home with no savings as a buffer.
A WAR ZONE
    In Lagos, three out of seven of its 20 million residents can’t always get enough food under normal circumstances, according to the Lagos Food Bank Initiative, a nonprofit.    The 14-day lockdown, extended by another two weeks on Monday, has thrown millions more into need.
    Food prices spiked as residents raced to stock up.    Imported rice rose 11% and the price of garri, a staple made from cassava, nearly doubled, said Lagos-based risk consultancy SBM Intelligence.
    Michael Sunbola, the food bank’s president, said his organization was getting 50% more calls than usual from frantic residents.    Some trek for five hours to collect food.
    As his team unloaded rice, beans, oil and cassava flour this month in Agboyi Ketu, he said many would struggle as the shutdown continues.
    “We are afraid some people might starve,” Sunbola said.
    The Lagos state government is trying to help.    It distributed 200,000 food packs during the first weeks of the lockdown and aims to give out 2 million as soon as possible, Agriculture Commissioner Gbolahan Lawal told Reuters.
    The federal government has promised cash grants for the poorest Nigerians, and food vouchers.
    But videos online show angry Lagos residents tearing apart what they consider paltry offerings.
    Lawal said those people did not understand that the aid was meant only for the most vulnerable.    But officials acknowledge they are barely scratching the surface of the problem.
    Mohammed Zanna, with the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, said desperate residents mobbed his truck when he tried to deliver food for the disabled on Monday in the run-down Agege neighbourhood.
    Gangs of men armed with machetes, cutlasses and iron bars prowled the area as he sped away, dodging burning tyres.
    “It is a war zone,” he said, and the group can no longer distribute food in some neighbourhoods without police escorts.
    Police said they had deployed extra units to tackle the crime wave.
UNDERESTIMATES
    Kenya has imposed a night curfew and forbidden most movement – apart from food – in and out of the capital, Nairobi, the country’s coronavirus epicentre.
    On Sunday, hundreds of desperate residents in the city’s biggest slum, Kibera, stampeded during an aid distribution by opposition leader Raila Odinga.    The next day, the government banned direct donations, insisting they go through government to prevent “unnecessary disorder.”
    Kennedy Odede, whose charity Shining Hope for Communities works in Kibera, said the restrictions could cause more unrest.
    “Food is more important than corona,” he said.    “The government must see how people are desperate – they will risk their life for food.”
    In South Africa’s Gauteng province – which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria – the government is distributing food to 54,000 people deemed vulnerable due to a nationwide lockdown.
    But even before the restrictions, at least 16% of Gauteng’s 12 million people needed food aid, according to government estimates.
    “The reality is that we underestimated the number of poor … (and) homeless people,” said Panyaza Lesufi of the Department for Social Development.
    Back in Lagos, Dumus managed to reach a state worker after Reuters gave him a flyer distributed by Lawal’s team.    But he said he has yet to receive any government aid.
    He noted that the government is seeking private donations to fight COVID-19.
    “Even the federal government now is begging,” he said.
(Reporting by Libby George in Lagos and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Johannesburg; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram, Alexandra Zavis and Giles Elgood)

4/16/2020 U.S. gives $5 million to Palestinians amid pandemic, after years of aid cuts
FILE PHOTO: Members of Palestinian Hamas security forces wear protective gear as precaution against the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), at Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip April 13, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/File Photo
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – The United States is giving $5 million to the Palestinians to help them fight the coronavirus epidemic, a U.S. envoy said on Thursday.
    The donation announced by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman follows years of aid cuts by President Donald Trump’s administration to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.
    “I’m very pleased the USA is providing $5M for Palestinian hospitals and households to meet immediate, life-saving needs in combating COVID-19,” Friedman wrote on Twitter.
    “The USA, as the world’s top humanitarian aid donor, is committed to assisting the Palestinian people,” he added.
    The $5 million will be international disaster assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to the State Department’s website.
    There was no immediate comment from the Palestinians.
    The Trump administration since 2018 has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.    The cuts have largely been seen as a bid to pressure them back to the negotiating table in peace talks with Israel.
    The Palestinians have boycotted Trump’s peace efforts since 2017, accusing him of pro-Israel bias after he declared Jerusalem Israel’s capital and later moved the American embassy there from Tel Aviv.
    Trump released his Middle East plan in January. Israel embraced it, while the Palestinians rejected it out of hand, in part because it endorsed Israel keeping its settlements in West Bank territory it captured a 1967 war.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
[Trump gave you the money to help yourself with the virus so quit be idiots and use it to help your people.].

4/16/2020 Ramadan prayers banned at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque due to virus
FILE PHOTO: A man walks in front of the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to
Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, after Muslim clerics shut the doors of Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of
the Rock until further notice as a precaution against coronavirus March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/ FIle Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound will be closed to Muslim worshippers throughout the holy fasting month of Ramadan due to the coronavirus epidemic, Muslim clerics at Islam’s third-holiest site said on Thursday.
    Ramadan typically draws tens of thousands of Muslims daily to the mosque and the adjoining Dome of the Rock for evening prayers known as Taraweeh.    Muslim faithful believe the site to be where the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven.
    The decision to ban Muslim prayer at the 35-acre complex, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and site of the Jewish temples of antiquity, extends a March 23 ban on Muslim prayer there.
    In a statement, the Jordan-appointed council that oversees Islamic sites on the sacred compound called the decision “painful” but said it was “in line with legal fatwas (clerical opinions) and medical advice.”
    Muslims should “perform prayers in their homes during the month of Ramadan, to preserve their safety,” the council said.
    Ramadan will start around April 23.
    In one sign of normalcy, the Muslim call to prayer will still take place five times daily at the site during Ramadan, and religious workers will still be allowed entry, the statement added.
    Jerusalem has sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and all three religions have taken coronavirus precautions.
    Last week, Jews marking Passover in Jerusalem and across Israel were required to stay at home and celebrate only with immediate family.
    Typically large Passover prayers at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest place Jews are allowed to pray in the city, were attended by only a handful of worshippers.
    At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, what are usually festive, pilgrim-filled Easter ceremonies at the shrine revered as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial have been marked by small groups of clergy, often wearing face masks.
    Israel has reported at least 140 deaths and nearly 12,600 cases of coronavirus.    There have been two deaths and nearly 300 cases in the Palestinian Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    All mosques in Gaza have been closed since March 25, and since March 14 in the West Bank.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Roleen Tafakji in Jerusalem, Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

4/17/2020 Beware the boar: wild pigs patrol Israeli city under coronavirus closure by Dan Williams
Wild boars cross a road in a residential area after the government ordered residents to stay home to fight
the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Haifa, northern Israel April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    HAIFA, Israel (Reuters) – While coronavirus closures are coaxing wildlife into the abandoned streets of many a metropolis, in one Israeli city the four-legged interlopers are assertive and, well, quite boorish.
    Wild boars, some as bulky as Rottweilers and traveling in family packs, have been trotting through Haifa in increasing numbers.    Their once-nocturnal visitations now take place throughout the day, as they root through refuse, spook domestic pets and even block roads.
    The visitation, since nationwide lockdowns came into effect this month, has revived debate among residents of the hilly port city as to policy regarding the pests.
    “We are scared to go out, even to throw out the garbage.    I don’t which way the boars will come,” Meirav Litani, a music instructor, said as a boar loomed in the distance.
    “They come here and turn over our garbage dumpsters … This is lack of protection.    We actually feel defenseless.”
    The municipality last year suspended culls of the boars, whose urban incursions, some experts say, are a response to human expansion into their natural habitat – the surrounding Carmel forest range, of biblical fame.
    Less sympathetic city folk – especially religious Jews or Muslims who consider pigs ritually unclean – worry that the larger, tusked animals could turn violent.
    For now, residents must turn to “pig patrols” made up of volunteer animal-rights activists who can be summoned at all hours to shoo the boars away.
    “I’m scared that after the coronavirus passes, the boars will have gotten used to coming every day, every night, every hour,” said Yaron Hanan, 63, who runs a public campaign that has been calling for a municipal crackdown on the animals.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/17/2020 Saudi Arabia faces coronavirus crisis with strong reserves, low debt-minister
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Jadaan speaks during an interview with Reuters at the
Four Seasons hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Hadeel Al Sayegh/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is facing the global crisis from a position of strength, given its strong financial position and reserves, with relatively low government debt, its finance minister said, referring to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
    The Saudi government’s priorities are necessary resources for the health care system and financial and economic support to those affected by coronavirus, the minister was quoted as saying in a state news agency SPA report published early on Friday.
    It is also taking into account the re-prioritization of spending under the current circumstances, Mohammed al-Jadaan said in comments to a virtual meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee on Thursday.
    The finance minister expected the global economy to fall into ‘the worst recession’ this year, saying it would be much worse than during the global financial crisis.
    The minister also stressed the need to adapt time-bound and transparent financial and monetary measures that will help lead to a rapid economic recovery and contain financial risks.
    Al-Jadaan reiterated the Kingdom’s readiness to provide further support if necessary, saying they are closely monitoring the overall situation.
    He urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to continue to have flexibility in responding to the needs of members given the uncertainty amid coronavirus outbreak.
    The minister said the Kingdom encourages (IMF) to continue its participation and support for the Middle East and North Africa, pointing out that (IMF) has a good position to support its members, with its ability to support $1 trillion in lending.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Kim Coghill)

4/17/2020 Dubai extends 24-hour coronavirus curfew by a week
FILE PHOTO: A general view of Business Bay area, after a curfew was imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Dubai, the United Arab Emirates business hub, has extended by one week a 24-hour-a-day curfew imposed as part of a sterilisation drive to control the spread of the coronavirus, the government said in a Twitter post on Friday.
    The UAE has imposed a nationwide nightly curfew since March 26 for the disinfection campaign, but Dubai on April 4 expanded it within the emirate to a 24-hour lockdown for two weeks.
    The Gulf Arab country on Friday reported 477 new cases and two more deaths, both Gulf nationals, taking its tally to 6,302 with 37 deaths.    Authorities do not provide a breakdown for each of the seven emirates.
    The Emirates Red Crescent humanitarian organisation will “foster and care for” the families of those who have died in the UAE from the COVID-19 lung disease caused by the virus, the federal government said in a Twitter post.
    The UAE has the second highest infection count after its much larger neighbour, Saudi Arabia, among the six Gulf Arab states, where the total number of infections has surpassed 22,500, with more than 140 deaths.
    Saudi Arabia has installed thermal cameras to monitor the body temperature of the limited number of worshippers allowed to enter the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, local media said.
    Gulf states have taken drastic containment measures agains the virus but seen a spread among low-income migrant workers living in cramped quarters.
    Several countries have offered free testing to foreign workers, who make up the bulk of the labour force, and taken steps to rehouse thousands in schools or dedicated centres.
    Qatar, which has locked down part of an industrial zone where many migrant workers live and work, on Friday announced 560 new cases, mostly among expatriate workers quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19 cases.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, Lisa Barrington, Marwa Rashad and Hesham Abdul Khalek; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich)

4/17/2020 Rwanda uses drones to help catch lockdown transgressors by Clement Uwiringiyimana
A Rwandan police drone fitted with a megaphone speaker flies in a residential neighbourhood to enforce a lockdown
to stem the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Kigali, Rwanda April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana
    KIGALI (Reuters) – Tech-savvy Rwanda is using drones to keep residents of the capital Kigali informed of coronavirus lockdown measures – and help catch those who abuse them.
    While police stop cars and pedestrians on streets to ask why they are out, two drones buzz above them, one loudly broadcasting instructions and the other monitoring movements.
    “Drones are flying in areas where checkpoints are not mounted and where patrols could not be there,” said police spokesman John Bosco Kabera.
    Among culprits have been a pastor who pretended to be on her way to give a radio interview when in fact she was heading to church despite the ban on public gatherings.
    She was arrested and held for several days.
    In another case, a man with permission to supply food was found transporting liquor instead, Kabera said.
    “Just stay at home.    That’s what we are enforcing.”
    Like many African nations, Rwanda has relatively few coronavirus cases so far – just 138 confirmed, with no deaths – but there are fears the pandemic could do far worse damage in the world’s poorest continent in coming months.
    Rwanda began a major lockdown on March 21, with residents only allowed to leave their homes to buy food or medicine and travel between cities and districts forbidden. On Friday, those measures were extended until April 30.
    Rwanda has long aspired to be a regional technology hub, but its use of drones to combat the coronavirus is not unique.
    From Indian slums to English countryside, a host of nations are deploying drones to publicize rules, check movements and even spray disinfectant.
    Rehema Kanyana, a 50-year old Rwandan mother of four, said she had only left home once since the lockdown came into effect on March 21, to withdraw cash to take one of her children to hospital, but was struck by the strict enforcement.
    “On the way to hospital, police stopped us like four or five times,” she said.    Staying at home was tough for many, who were short of food, she added, though state handouts were helping.
(Reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Editing by Omar Mohammed, Andrew Cawthorne and Lisa Shumaker)

4/18/2020 Israel to ease some coronavirus restrictions, Netanyahu says
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding
the new measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will gradually ease its coronavirus lockdown from Sunday by letting some businesses reopen and relaxing curbs on movement after a slowdown in infection rates, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
    Authorities have steadily tightened a partial lockdown imposed on March 14, shuttering offices, closing schools and ordering people to stay mostly at home.
    The measures have battered Israel’s economy, forced many businesses to close and sent unemployment above 25%.
    But in televised remarks, Netanyahu said Israel had “succeeded in (its) mission so far” in combating the pandemic and argued that the restrictions had “proven themselves in a slowdown” in infection rates.
    “Our good results enable us today to start taking steps in the opposite direction – not a tightening, but an easing,” he said on Saturday.
    Israel has reported at least 164 deaths and nearly 13,300 cases of COVID-19, as of Saturday evening.
    However, infection rates have generally declined over the past two weeks, according to Israeli health ministry data.
    New cases peaked on March 31 at 741 but have since more than halved, with 271 new cases recorded on April 17, ministry data showed.
    Beginning on Sunday, workplace staffing levels can increase to 30% from 15% and some shops will be allowed to reopen, though malls and large markets will remain closed, Netanyahu said.
    From the start of the crisis, Israelis have been allowed to travel to grocery stores, pharmacies and some workplaces, but were prohibited from walking more than 100 metres from their homes.
    Under the new rules, the 100-metre restriction will be expanded to 500 metres, the prime minister said.    Open-air prayers in groups of 10 will also be permitted, though worshippers must maintain social distancing and wear face masks, he added.
    Schools, except for limited special education classes, will remain closed.
    Netanyahu’s cabinet will vote on the relaxed measures later on Saturday, Israeli media reported.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

4/18/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus cases overtake Iran, highest in Middle East
FILE PHOTO: A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant at Grand Bazaar, known as the Covered Bazaar, to prevent
the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s confirmed coronavirus cases have risen to 82,329, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Saturday, overtaking neighbouring Iran for the first time to register the highest total in the Middle East.
    An increase of 3,783 cases in the last 24 hours also pushed Turkey’s confirmed tally within a few hundred of China, where the novel coronavirus first emerged.
    Koca said 121 more people have died, taking the death toll to 1,890.    A total of 10,453 people have recovered from coronavirus so far, and the number of tests carried out over the past 24 hours came to 40,520, the minister said.
    The Interior Ministry also said it was extending restrictions on travel between 31 cities for a further 15 days starting at midnight on Saturday.
(This story corrects number of patients who recovered in third paragraph)
(Reporting by Irem Koca/Dominic Evans; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/18/2020 Holy Fire lit as Orthodox Easter bells echo over near-empty Jerusalem by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell
A priest prays at the entrance of the Church of the Nativity that is closed amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), before the arrival of the Holy Fire in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Holy Fire ceremony symbolising Jesus’ resurrection was lit in a deserted Jerusalem on Saturday, without the joyful throng of Orthodox Christian pilgrims who normally attend a spectacle that brings the Easter season to a colourful climax.
    Bells tolled above a near-empty Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Theophilos III, emerged carrying the flame from the crypt where Christians believe Jesus was buried.
    This year, amid coronavirus precautions in a locked-down Jerusalem, he was accompanied only by a handful of mostly Orthodox clergy, some wearing face masks.
    Outside in the medieval courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre, by tradition the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection, the plaza was empty of all but a few Israeli police and clerics maintaining social distancing.
    The Holy Fire ceremony typically draws tens of thousands of worshippers to the imposing grey edicule in the Holy Sepulchre that is believed to contain the tomb where Jesus lay two thousand years ago.
    Sunbeams that pierce through a skylight in the church’s dome are believed by worshippers to ignite a flame deep inside the crypt, a mysterious act considered a Holy Saturday miracle each year before Orthodox Easter Sunday.
    Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Patriarch then lights a candle with the Holy Fire and disperses it to the faithful.
    In normal years this would be to the thousands of tiny candles held by cheering worshippers packed into the passageways of the building.
    But this year only a handful of Greek, Armenian, Russian and Coptic clergy, many garbed in black and wearing face masks, were present inside the church to receive the flame from the patriarch.
    Ripples of applause broke out from a small group awaiting the flame outside the church, including envoys from Orthodox Christian countries.
    As the fire passed through the Christian Quarter of the Old City, worshippers who had been unable to attend the church ceremony thronged into the back streets to receive it, ignoring coronavirus restrictions as they chanted, banged drums, waved crucifixes and climbed on each others’ shoulders.
    Taking a more stately approach, diplomats from states such as Russia and Armenia were permitted to transport the flame with a police escort from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, where it will be flown out on designated jets.
    Delegations on board were not permitted to disembark due to virus restrictions, Israeli media reported.
    As he left Jerusalem’s walled Old City through the ancient Jaffa Gate, one Armenian official spoke with delight as he prepared to transport the flame to the airport and back to his homeland.
    “We congratulate all the world, all the Christians by the Holy Light, which is a prediction of the resurrection of the Christ,” he said, carrying a bundle of lit candles and a white lantern.
    “Christ… broke the doors of hell and… gave to us a hope for the future, for the eternal life. Christ is risen,” he added.
    The Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches share custody of Church of the Holy Sepulchre with Roman Catholics, who celebrated Easter last week.
    The flame was also transported by oil lamp a few miles south to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, where clergy witnessed the Holy Fire arrive at the Church of the Nativity.
    The church, revered in tradition as Jesus’ birthplace, has been closed for weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak in Bethlehem, as have other churches in the Holy Land.
    Jerusalem has sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.    Leaders of all three religions have closed holy sites or restricted access, and have urged followers to celebrate festivals at home this year.
(Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Christina Fincher)

4/19/2020 Nigerian president’s chief of staff dies from coronavirus by Alexis Akwagyiram
Men wearing protective gear bury the body of Nigerian president's chief of staff, Abba Kyari, who died on Friday after contracting
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Gudu Cemetery in Abuja, Nigeria April 18, 2020. Nigeria Presidency/Handout via REUTERS
    LAGOS (Reuters) – The Nigerian president’s chief of staff died on Friday from COVID-19, the presidency said on Saturday, making him the most high profile person in the country to die in the coronavirus outbreak.
    Abba Kyari had acted as the gatekeeper to 77-year-old President Muhammadu Buhari.    After his re-election last year, Buhari ordered ministers to channel all communications through him.
    Kyari had underlying health problems including diabetes.    Reuters reported on March 24 that he had contracted the disease.
    “Mallam Abba Kyari, who died on 17th April, 2020, at the age of 67 from complications caused by the coronavirus, was a true Nigerian patriot,” said Buhari in a tweet, using an honorific title for Kyari.
    He referred to Kyari as his “loyal friend and compatriot for the last 42 years” who, as chief of staff, “strove quietly and without any interest in publicity or personal gain” to implement the president’s agenda.
    Kyari travelled to Germany in early March with a delegation of other Nigerian officials for meetings with Siemens AG.    He attended meetings with senior government officials upon his return to Nigeria before he was diagnosed as having contracted the new coronavirus.     Nigeria has 493 confirmed cases and 17 deaths, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.     Buhari, whose public pronouncements are rare, himself has undisclosed medical ailments and spent five months in London for treatments in 2017.
    Kyari’s death might leave a potential opening for a rethink of policy at the heart of government.
    Analysts said the government’s statist approach since Buhari took office in 2015 was in large part influenced by his chief of staff, a former executive at the United Bank for Africa Plc.
    Antony Goldman, head of Nigeria-focused PM Consulting, said Kyari was “the central figure in driving forward” government policies on agricultural reform, investment in infrastructure and power.
    “Kyari was very close to Buhari and arguably the most powerful man within the administration,” said Malte Liewerscheidt, vice president of Teneo Intelligence in a note.
    “Kyari’s death removes the centre of gravity from Buhari’s inner circle and might provide an opening for more reform-minded elements such as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo,” he said.
    Kyari’s death could be very significant because he showed “an immense ability to wield power in the context of a largely absent president,” said Clement Nwankwo, director of the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre think-tank.
    “There is no evidence that the chief of staff shared that power with anyone.    He was totally trusted and it isn’t clear who could fill those shoes,” said Nwankwo.
    Kyari died at a private hospital in the commercial capital, Lagos, a statement issued by Lagos state government said.
    His body was flown to the capital, Abuja, on Saturday.    He was buried at a cemetery in the city in a private ceremony after funeral prayers at his residence, said Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu.
(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/19/2020 Anti-Netanyahu rally draws thousands under coronavirus curbs
A man wearing a protective face mask holds an Israel's flag as Israelis demonstrate against
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under strict restrictions made to slow down the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel April 19, 2020 REUTERS/Corinna Kern
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Wearing face masks, waving black flags and keeping two yards apart, thousands of Israelis demonstrated against prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu under strict coronavirus restrictions on Sunday.
    Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, is under criminal indictment in three corruption cases.
    He is also negotiating a power-sharing deal with his rival Benny Gantz to form a coalition government that would end a year of political deadlock after three inconclusive elections.
    Demonstrations are allowed under Israel’s coronavirus restrictions, as long as participants maintain distance from each other and wear face masks.
    Under the banner of “Save the Democracy,” protesters called on Gantz’s Blue and White party not to join in a coalition led by a premier charged with corruption.
    Gantz has campaigned for clean government, but said that the coronavirus crisis has forced him to go back on his election pledge.
    A Reuters cameraman estimated that a few thousand demonstrators attended the rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.    Israeli media put the figure at about 2,000 people.
    Israel has reported more than 13,000 coronavirus cases and 172 deaths.    A partial lockdown has confined most Israelis to their homes, forced businesses to close and sent unemployment to about 26%.    Some restrictions have been eased since Saturday.
(Reporting by Rami Amichay; Editing by Alexander Smith)

4/19/2020 Trump and Turkey’s Erdogan agree cooperation against coronavirus: Turkish presidency
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan hold a during a joint
news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan agreed in a phone call on Sunday to work together to counter the threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak, Turkey’s presidency said.
    The two leaders “agreed to continue their close cooperation against the threats that the coronavirus pandemic poses to public health and our economies,” it said, without give details.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/19/2020 Nigerian oil union suspends industrial action after Exxon Mobil workers freed by Tife Owolabi
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows waterways in the city of Port Harcourt, in Rivers State,
Nigeria June 19, 2017. Picture taken June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Carsten/File Photo
    YENAGOA, Nigeria (Reuters) – A major Nigerian oil union has suspended planned industrial action after 21 Exxon Mobil Corp. employees quarantined last week after their arrest for violating coronavirus-related movement restrictions were freed, it said on Sunday.
    The governor of southern oil hub Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, on Friday said Exxon Mobil workers were arrested after entering the state from neighbouring Akwa Ibom State in violation of an executive order restricting movement into the state as part of measures imposed last month.
    He said 22 workers, whose coronavirus status was unknown, were quarantined in line with relevant health protocols and would be charged in court.
    But Wike’s spokesman, Simeon Nwakaudu, on Sunday issued a statement that said the workers were all released without charge “following interventions by well-meaning Nigerians
    The union said its statement referred to 21 Exxon Mobil workers who were union members, whereas Rivers State included the driver in its tally to total 22 people.
    Exxon Mobil declined to comment on the situation.
    The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) said it had instructed its members to withdraw all forms of services relating to crude oil production, refining, distribution and supplies from Monday unless the Exxon Mobil workers were freed.
    “Having achieved the primary demand in our ultimatum, we hereby suspend the planned industrial action,” PENGASSAN said in a statement on Sunday.
    Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State, is the hub of the oil industry in Africa’s biggest producer of crude.    Sales of crude oil make up about 90% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings.
    Rivers State has recorded two cases of coronavirus so far.    Nigeria has 541 confirmed cases nationwide and 19 deaths.    The most high profile victim was the president’s chief of staff, Abba Kyari, who died on Friday.
    Nigeria’s petroleum regulator has ordered oil and gas companies to reduce their offshore workforce and move to 28-day staff rotations, instead of the usual 14 days, to help to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
    PENGASSAN, in its statement, called on the government to “guarantee unfettered movement of oil and gas workers on essential services in all territories of the federation” so they could continue to provide services.
(Reporting by Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa and Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Additional reporting and writing by Alexis Akwagyiram. Editing by Jane Merriman)

4/19/2020 A Holy Land Easter season like no other – under the shadow of coronavirus by Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: An Orthodox Christian worshipper is silhouetted as he holds a palm frond outside the
closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Orthodox Palm Sunday amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in Jerusalem's Old City April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/ FIle Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter in Jerusalem on Sunday, bringing to a close a holiday season uniquely devoid of the colourful ceremonies that would normally have echoed around the Old City’s Christian Quarter.
    From the moment in late March that the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre slammed shut to the public half way through the penitential season of Lent, Eastern and Western churches alike knew that the most important festival in the Christian calendar would likely be marked without pilgrims this year.
    That was the case, as Israel moved swiftly to curb the spread of the coronavirus with restrictions on public gatherings.
    With Roman Catholics celebrating Easter on April 12, a week ahead of the Orthodox church, the Latin Patriarchate marked Holy Week without the usual Palm Sunday procession into the Old City accompanied by thousands of worshipers.
    Instead. a handful of Franciscan friars led by Father Francesco Patton, the custodian of the Holy Land for the Catholic church, carried out lonely pilgrimages along a deserted Via Dolorosa, reciting, he said, “a special prayer for the pandemic.”
    After the Western church held their congregation-less Good Friday and Easter Sunday services inside the Sepulchre, it was the turn of the Eastern churches.
    These were led by the Greek Orthodox and Armenians who share with the Catholics the main rights to the Sepulchre through an arrangement drafted under 19th century Ottoman Turkish rulers to ease centuries-old tensions between the denominations.
    “The world today became united, east and west, to combat this pandemic.    What I wish is that after we overcome this pandemic, we should unite to defend human morals and values,” said Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna after a downsized ‘Washing of the Feet’ ceremony on Thursday.
    Two days later, with only tolling bells and a few clerics for company inside the cavernous Sepulchre, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III carried out the normally cacophonous ceremony of the Holy Fire, symbolising Jesus’ resurrection.
    Jerusalem, which has sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, must wait until next year to see if normality returns.
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; editing by Jason Neely)

4/20/2020 South Africa to increase welfare provision over coronavirus: Ramaphosa
FILE PHOTO: President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address at parliament
in Cape Town, South Africa, February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham/File Photo
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa will increase welfare provision to help poor households suffering because of a nationwide lockdown aimed at containing the country’s coronavirus outbreak, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.
    In a weekly newsletter to the nation, Ramaphosa said that the lockdown had revealed “a very sad fault line in our society that reveals how grinding poverty, inequality and unemployment is tearing the fabric of our communities apart.”
    He cited images of desperate people clamouring for food parcels at distribution centres as the lockdown leaves millions of people who are unemployed, working in the informal sector or in low-paid jobs struggling to support themselves.
    Ramaphosa did not specify how the government would lift welfare provision, but some economists and labour unions have called for social grant payments to be topped up.
    Africa’s most industrialised country is one of the world’s most unequal, with starkly different living conditions for those at the top and bottom of the income pyramid.
    It has the most confirmed coronavirus cases in sub-Saharan Africa, at 3,158, with 54 deaths from the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus.    Ramaphosa said the government was preparing for a probable surge in infections in the coming weeks and months.
    Ramaphosa’s cabinet is due to meet on Monday to discuss new measures to cushion the economic and social impact of COVID-19, among them whether to close down ailing South African Airways, a major drain on state resources in recent years.
    He said in the newsletter that the government would this week announce interventions to shield people from starvation.
    “Even when the nationwide lockdown is lifted, its effects will continue to be felt for some time,” Ramaphosa said.
    “Food support is a short-term emergency measure.    It will need to be matched by sustainable solutions that help our most vulnerable citizens weather the difficult times that are still to come.”
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

4/20/2020 In shadow of coronavirus, Muslims face a Ramadan like never before by Hamid Ould Ahmed, Ulf Laessing and Gayatri Suroyo
FILE PHOTO: A municipality worker in a protective suit disinfects Kilic Ali Pasha
Mosque due to coronavirus concerns in Istanbul, Turkey March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
    ALGIERS/CAIRO/JAKARTA (Reuters) – Days before the holy fasting month of Ramadan begins, the Islamic world is grappling with an untimely paradox of the new coronavirus pandemic: enforced separation at a time when socialising is almost sacred.
    The holiest month in the Islamic calendar is one of family and togetherness – community, reflection, charity and prayer.
    But with shuttered mosques, coronavirus curfews and bans on mass prayers from Senegal to Southeast Asia, some 1.8 billion Muslims are facing a Ramadan like never before.
    Across the Muslim world the pandemic has generated new levels of anxiety ahead of the holy fasting month, which begins on around Thursday.
    In Algiers, Yamine Hermache, 67, usually receives relatives and neighbours at her home for tea and cold drinks during the month that Muslims fast from dusk till dawn.    But this year she fears it will be different.
    “We may not visit them, and they will not come,” she said, weeping.    “The coronavirus has made everyone afraid, even of distinguished guests.”
    In a country where mosques have been closed, her husband Mohamed Djemoudi, 73, worries about something else.
    “I cannot imagine Ramadan without Tarawih,” he said, referring to additional prayers performed at mosques after iftar, the evening meal in which Muslims break their fast.
    In Jordan the government, in coordination with neighbouring Arab countries, is expected to announce a fatwa outlining what Ramadan rituals will be permitted, but for millions of Muslims, it already feels so different.
    From Africa to Asia, the coronavirus has cast a shadow of gloom and uncertainty.
‘WORST YEAR EVER’
    Around the souks and streets of Cairo, a sprawling city of 23 million people that normally never sleeps, the coronavirus has been disastrous.
    “People don’t want to visit shops, they are scared of the disease.    It’s the worst year ever,” said Samir El-Khatib, who runs a stall by the historic al-Sayeda Zainab mosque, “Compared with last year, we haven’t even sold a quarter.”
    During Ramadan, street traders in the Egyptian capital stack their tables with dates and apricots, sweet fruits to break the fast, and the city’s walls with towers of traditional lanterns known as “fawanees.”
    But this year, authorities have imposed a night curfew and banned communal prayers and other activities, so not many people see much point in buying the lanterns.
    Among the few who ventured out was Nasser Salah Abdelkader, 59, a manager in the Egyptian stock market.
    “This year there’s no Ramadan mood at all,” he said.    “I’d usually come to the market, and right from the start people were usually playing music, sitting around, almost living in the streets.”
    Dampening the festivities before they begin, the coronavirus is also complicating another part of Ramadan, a time when both fasting and charity are seen as obligatory.
‘ALL KINDS OF TOGETHERNESS MISSED’
    In Algeria, restaurant owners are wondering how to offer iftar to the needy when their premises are closed, while charities in Abu Dhabi that hold iftar for low-paid South Asian workers are unsure what to do with mosques now closed.
    Mohamed Aslam, an engineer from India who lives in a three-bedroom apartment in downtown Abu Dhabi with 14 others is unemployed because of the coronavirus.    With his apartment building under quarantine after a resident tested positive, he has been relying on charity for food.
    In Senegal, the plan is to continue charity albeit in a limited way.    In the beachside capital of Dakar, charities that characteristically hand out “Ndogou,” baguettes slathered with chocolate spread, cakes, dates, sugar and milk to those in need, will distribute them to Koranic schools rather than on the street.
    Meanwhile in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, some people will be meeting loved ones remotely this year.
    Prabowo, who goes by one name, said he will host Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of the fasting month, via the online meeting site Zoom instead of flying home.
    “I worry about the coronavirus,” he said.    “But all kinds of togetherness will be missed. No iftar together, no praying together at the mosque, and not even gossiping with friends.”
(Reporting by Sulaiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Ulf Laessing and Seham Eloraby in Cairo, Diadie Ba in Dakar, Gayatri Suroyo in Jakarta and Alexander Cornwall in Abu Dhabi; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Robert Birsel)

4/20/2020 UAE tells Muslims to pray at home during Ramadan
FILE PHOTO: People keep distance in a line outside a supermarket to prevent the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates April 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Religious authorities in the United Arab Emirates said medical workers treating COVID-19 patients are exempt from fasting during Ramadan and urged Muslims not to congregate for prayers during the holy month expected to start this week.
    The Emirates Fatwa Council said in a statement carried on state media late on Sunday that all healthy people are obliged to fast but medical workers on the frontline of the novel coronavirus pandemic need not do so “if they fear that fasting could lead to weakening their immunity or to losing their patients.”
    It said Muslims should comply with physical distancing while praying during Ramadan and the Eid Al Fitr holiday that marks its end.    The UAE has suspended prayer in all houses of worship including mosques as part of containment measures.
    “Congregating to perform the prayer could endanger lives, an act that is strictly forbidden in Islam,” said the statement.
    The UAE, the region’s business hub, has recorded 6,781 infections with 41 deaths, the second highest count after Saudi Arabia in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council where the number of cases has steadily risen to surpass 26,600 with more than 160 deaths as countries ramp up testing.
    Several Gulf Arab states have suspended passenger flights, imposed curfews and closed most public venues, but have seen a rise in transmissions among low-income migrant workers, many of whom live in cramped quarters.    Some Gulf governments are trying to arrange repatriation flights for expatriates who have lost jobs or been put on leave.
    UAE Vice-President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also ruler of Dubai emirate, announced the launch of a humanitarian campaign on Sunday to provide 10 million meals or food parcels to communities hit by the outbreak in the country.
    “Providing food for everyone, with the approach of the Holy Month of Ramadan, is a social priority in our battle against the pandemic,” he said in an English-language Twitter post.    “In the UAE, no one sleeps hungry or in need.    No one is left.”
    Millions of foreign workers, many from Asia, form the backbone of Gulf economies and work in sectors that have been hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
    The pandemic is also likely to disrupt the significant remittances those workers send back to their home countries.
(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/20/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu, rival Gantz sign unity government deal: joint statement
FILE PHOTO: Traffic moves past a Blue and White party election campaign poster, depicting party leader Benny Gantz,
and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist election rival Benny Gantz signed an agreement on Monday to form an emergency coalition government that would end a year of political deadlock.
    Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White party issued a joint statement saying they had signed a unity deal, which follows elections in April and September 2019 and on March 2 in which neither won a governing majority in parliament.
    Israeli media reported they would take turns as prime minister, with Netanyahu going first.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

4/20/2020 Netanyahu and rival Gantz clinch Israel power-sharing deal
FILE PHOTO: A banner depicts Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, and Israel Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as part of
Blue and White party's campaign ahead of the upcoming election, in Tel Aviv, Israel February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist election rival Benny Gantz signed a deal on Monday to form a national emergency government, ending a year of unprecedented political deadlock.
    The power sharing agreement clinched after weeks of negotiations gave a clear end-date for the premiership of Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving leader, who has become for many the face of the nation.
    Netanyahu, who is under criminal indictment in three corruption cases, will remain prime minister for 18 months after which Gantz will replace him, according to the agreement signed by both men.
    Netanyahu’s trial on charges that include bribery, fraud and breach of trust is due to begin on May 24. He denies any wrongdoing.
    Over the past year the right-wing leader, in power for more than a decade, has presided over a caretaker government following three inconclusive elections in April and September 2019 and on March 2, just as the country began grappling with the coronavirus outbreak.
    “We have prevented a fourth election.    We will protect democracy.    We will fight coronavirus and care for all Israel’s citizens,” Gantz said on Twitter after signing the deal.    Netanyahu Tweeted the Israeli flag.
    Until he takes over as premier, Gantz, a former armed forces chief, will serve as defence minister with his political allies receiving the same number of ministerial portfolios as Likud.
    The coalition agreement, released to the media, also states that while the new government will strive for peace and regional stability, plans to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank – land that the Palestinians seek for a state – could be promoted.
    The move would mean a de-facto annexation of territory presently under Israeli military control.    It would have to be greenlighted by the United States, after which Netanyahu would be permitted to advance plans from July 1, the agreement says.
    “Given the Trump administration’s close relationship with Netanyahu, we have very serious, challenging days ahead,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official.    “This is extremely dangerous not just for Palestine, for Israel, for the region, but for the world.”
    A U.S. peace proposal announced by President Donald Trump in January was embraced by Israel and rejected flat out by the Palestinians, partly because it awards Israel most of what it has sought during decades of conflict, including nearly all the occupied land on which it has built settlements.
    But the new Israeli government’s first priority would be managing the coronavirus crisis.
    Israel, with a population of about 9 million, has so far confirmed more than 13,500 COVID-19 cases and 173 deaths.    Restrictions to curb coronavirus transmission have sent unemployment above 26%.
    On the campaign trail, Gantz pledged not to serve in a government led by a prime minister facing criminal charges, but he backtracked last month, saying the enormity of the coronavirus crisis necessitated an emergency unity government.
    The decision to join forces with Netanyahu enraged many of Gantz’s political allies who split from the party and will be part of the opposition in Israel’s 120-member parliament.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

4/20/2020 Wearing face masks, Syria’s Assad and Iran’s Zarif condemn West at Damascus meeting
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, wearing face masks as protection against the spread of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), meet in Damascus, Syria, in this handout released by SANA on April 20, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif wore face masks on Monday for their meeting in Damascus where they said the West was exploiting the coronavirus pandemic for political ends, state media said.
    State media said Assad conveyed condolences to Iran, where more than 5,200 people have died from the disease.
    Echoing comments by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Zarif, who was also wearing gloves, was quoted as saying the U.S. administration showed its “inhumane reality” by its refusal to lift sanctions on Syria and Iran when coronavirus was spreading around the world.
    Assad said the handling of the crisis showed the West’s moral failure.
    U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held out the possibility that the United States may consider easing sanctions on Iran and other nations to help fight the epidemic but given no concrete sign it plans to do so.
    Speaking last month, Pompeo said humanitarian supplies were exempt from sanctions Washington reimposed on Tehran after President Donald     Trump abandoned Iran’s 2015 multilateral deal to limit its nuclear programme.
    The United States has also ratcheted up sanctions on Syria since the uprising against Assad began in March 2001.    The State Department says it is “trying to deprive the regime of the resources it needs to continue violence against civilians.”
    The Syrian government says it has 39 confirmed cases of coronavirus and three dead.    Medics and witnesses say there are many more.     Officials, who deny any cover-up, have imposed a lockdown and measures including a night-time curfew to stem the pandemic.
    The presence of thousands of Iranian militias fighting alongside Assad’s forces in Syria and Iranian pilgrims have been cited by some medics and humanitarian workers as a main source of the contagion in Syria.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/20/2020 Coronavirus puts missile showdown between Turkey and U.S. on hold by Dominic Evans and Orhan Coskun
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leave the stage after family photo during
the annual NATO heads of government summit at the Grove Hotel in Watford, Britain December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Pool/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s plans to switch on its new Russian missile defence systems have been delayed by the coronavirus outbreak but it does not intend to reverse a decision which has raised the threat of U.S. sanctions, a senior Turkish official said.
    Tensions between NATO allies Turkey and the United States over the S-400 air defence systems had looked set to reach a showdown in April, when President Tayyip Erdogan and the government had said they would be activated.
    But the coronavirus outbreak has focused Turkish efforts on combatting the pandemic and ring-fencing an economy which only just pulled out of recession last year. In recent weeks Erdogan and his government have not raised the S-400 issue publicly.
    “There is no going back on the decision to activate the S-400s (but) due to COVID-19 … the plan for them to be ready in April will be delayed,” the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    It could be several months before the Russian system is activated, the official said, adding some technical issues remained to be overcome.
    The Turkish defence ministry declined to comment.
    The United States says the S-400s, which Moscow delivered to Turkey last July, are incompatible with NATO defences and would jeopardise U.S. F35 stealth jets which Turkey planned to buy.
    Their acquisition by Turkey means Ankara could face U.S. sanctions under legislation designed to punish countries which buy defence equipment from Russia.
    Turkey’s presidency made no mention of the S-400s in a statement following a call between Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday, which it said focused on cooperation to protect health and the economy from coronavirus.
NEW CRISIS
    Deploying the S-400s in the same airspace as U.S. planes would be a “massive problem” which would create a new crisis between the two countries, Richard Outzen, a senior adviser at the State Department, told an online discussion last week.
    Turkey’s air force includes U.S. F16 jets and it had been due to take delivery of the new F35s before Washington cut it from the F35 programme in response to the S-400s contract.
    The issue “is muffled right now because of COVID, but the thinking in Washington prior to COVID dominating the discourse was that the Turks were probably going to activate the system in April and Congress was going to move to impose sanctions,” Outzen said.    “I don’t think any of that has gone away.”
    The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.
    The delay in deploying the S-400s gives Ankara more time to consider its next move, analysts say.    A recent alignment of U.S.-Turkish interests in Syria and the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis could also have a bearing.
    “The economic shock is such that Turkey may indeed down the line seek some kind of external financing,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who heads the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies think tank.
    “If and when that time comes there will be more pressure on the Turkish government to permanently sideline the S-400s.”
    A Turkish military operation in February against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian-backed forces in the rebel-held Idlib region also put Ankara on the same side as Washington, and against Moscow.
    That was in marked contrast to Turkey’s festering dispute with the United States over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, seen as a top security threat by Ankara.
    “In Washington, people saw that Turkey is not lost entirely, that there is a chance it could distance itself from Russia and get closer to the United States,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund research group in Ankara.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

4/20/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan announces four-day lockdown from Thursday
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of the deserted July 15 Martyrs' Bridge, known as the Bosphorus Bridge, during a two-day curfew which
was imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, April 18, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that a four-day lockdown would be imposed in 31 cities from Thursday as part of efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
    Turkey has imposed such measures over the past two weekends.    Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Erdogan said the lockdown would be longer this time due to a national holiday that falls on Thursday, adding that weekend lockdowns could continue “for some time.”
    Over the weekend, the number of confirmed cases in Turkey exceeded any country outside Europe and the United States.    Total cases rose to 90,980 on Monday.
    Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 123 people had died in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 2,140.
    Koca has said the rate of increase of confirmed cases in the country has slowed, despite an increase in testing numbers in recent weeks.    He said a peak would be reached in the number of cases in coming days.
    Erdogan said Turkey aimed to bring the outbreak to a level that would allow for a normalization of life after the Eid al-Fitr religious holiday at the end of May, adding that steps could be taken before that.
    A total of 13,430 people have recovered from the new coronavirus so far, the minister said, adding that nearly 674,000 tests had been carried since the outbreak began.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Gareth Jones and Giles Elgood)

4/20/2020 Rights group accuses Burkina security forces of killing 31 unarmed detainees
FILE PHOTO: Displaced people, who fled from attacks of armed militants in Roffenega, are engulfed in dust as they sit at
the camp built by the German Ngo HELP in Pissila, Burkina Faso January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Anne Mimault/File Photo OUAGADOUGOU
    (Reuters) – International advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday that it believed security forces in Burkina Faso had summarily executed 31 unarmed detainees earlier this month during operations against Islamist militants.
    The bullet-riddled bodies of the men from the Fulani ethnic group were discovered in the northern town of Djibo on April 9, shortly after they had been arrested by security forces and taken away in a convoy, 17 witnesses and people with knowledge of the situation told HRW.
    The defence ministry said in a statement that the minister had ordered an investigation on April 10 and that perpetrators would be sanctioned if the allegations proved to be true.
    The government is struggling to contain jihadist groups in northern Burkina Faso, who have stoked ethnic conflict by closely associating themselves with Fulani herders.    As a result, Fulani civilians have borne the brunt of reprisals by soldiers and vigilantes, rights groups say.
    Since 2017, armed Islamist groups, some with ties to al Qaeda and Islamic State, have killed more than 300 civilians in Burkina Faso, while the government has killed several hundred men for their alleged support of these groups, according to HRW.
    Burkinabe officials have promised to investigate similar allegations in the past but rights group say the government has not done enough to hold perpetrators accountable.
    “The Burkinabe security forces apparently executed 31 men in a brutal mockery of a counter-terrorism operation that may amount to a war crime and could fuel further atrocities,” said Corinne Dufka, HRW’s director for the conflict-hit Sahel region in West Africa.
    “The government should stop the abuse, fully investigate this terrible incident, and commit to a rights-respecting counter-terrorism strategy,” Dufka said in the report.
    The defence ministry said in its statement that Burkinabe forces were committed to not stigmatising particular ethnic communities “as the success of their missions depends on the confidence and collaboration of local populations.”
    Last year was Burkina Faso’s deadliest in recent memory, and the violence has continued unabated this year.    Two attacks in northern regions in January killed 36 and 39 people, respectively, while at least 43 people were killed in raids on northern villages by unidentified assailants in March.
(Reporting by Henry Wilkins; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Aaron Ross and Giles Elgood)

4/20/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises by 123 to 2,140: minister
FILE PHOTO: A municipal worker checks a woman's temperature as the spread of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) continues, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease increased by 4,674 in the past 24 hours, and 123 more people have died, taking the death toll to 2,140, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Monday.
    The total number of cases in the country stood at 90,980, he said, the highest total for any country outside Europe or the United States.     A total of 13,430 people have recovered from the new coronavirus so far, and the number of tests carried out over the past 24 hours stood at 39,703, the minister said.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Chris Reese)

4/20/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan accuses Syrian government of violating Idlib ceasefire
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin
(not pictured) following their talks in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that the Syrian government was violating a ceasefire in the northwestern Idlib region, warning that Damascus would suffer “heavy losses” if it persisted.
    Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in Syria’s war, agreed on March 5 to halt hostilities in northwestern Syria after an escalation of clashes there displaced nearly a million people and brought the two sides close to confrontation.
    Speaking in Istanbul after a cabinet meeting, Erdogan said the Syrian government was using the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to ramp up violence in Idlib, and added that Turkey would not allow any “dark groups” in the region to violate the ceasefire either.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/22/2020 Israeli forces kill Palestinian attacker near Jerusalem: police
Israeli forces and medics gather at the scene of a Palestinian ramming and stabbing attack near the Jewish
settlement of Maale Adumim in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli security forces shot and killed a Palestinian man who stabbed a police officer at a checkpoint near Jerusalem on Wednesday, an Israeli police spokesman said.
    “The terrorist drove his vehicle into the border policeman … then stabbed (him) with scissors,” said spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.    “Officers in the area responded to the attack and the terrorist was shot and killed.”
    Rosenfeld said the policeman was moderately wounded in the incident near the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank and that an explosive device was also found at the scene.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Heavens)

4/22/2020 Saudi king Salman approves performing Tarawih in the two holy mosques
A worker cleans and sterilises the roof of Kaaba, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in the Grand mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia April 21, 2020.
Picture taken April 21, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi king Salman approved performing Tarawih in the two holy mosques and reducing them with the continued suspension of entry of pilgrims, the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques’ Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday.
    Saudi Arabia plans to ease curfew hours it imposed on several cities during the month of Ramadan to allow people more time to shop for essential needs within the boundaries of their neighborhoods, state news agency (SPA) reported on Tuesday.
(Reporting By Ahmed Tolba; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

4/23/2020 Too poor to buy, too scared to meet: Palestinians face joyless Ramadan by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Sinan Abu Mayzer
A Palestinian vendor makes Ramadan traditional sweets ahead of the holy fasting month, amid concerns about the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the southern Gaza Strip April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafab
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The electric lanterns and ornate decorations of Ramadan would normally be hanging in the streets of Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem by now, but not this year amid coronavirus restrictions and growing economic woes.
    The holy fasting month is expected to start on Friday but, as elsewhere, Palestinians this year are facing the prospect of celebrations without the usual large gatherings for family meals or evening prayers, known as Tarawih.
    And the same closures that are set to dampen the mood are also suppressing the economy – Palestinian officials have ordered the closure of schools, wedding halls, restaurants and mosques, sending tens of thousands into unemployment.
    With two deaths and 335 infected cases reported, different coronavirus regulations have been imposed by Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and by Israel in East Jerusalem, where Muslim religious authorities have stopped worship at the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam.
    “There are no worshippers, there are no people, and the closure of Al-Aqsa Mosque has a great influence on the Palestinian people and on the people of Jerusalem in particular,” said Ammar Bakir, a resident of east Jerusalem.
    Tens of thousands would usually pray in Al-Aqsa in Ramadan, rising to hundreds of thousands in the final days.    Instead prayers will be broadcast from inside the mosque.
    “Such a decision was the first in 1,400 years, it is tough, and it pains our hearts,” said Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, the director of Al-Aqsa Mosque.
GAZA
    In Gaza, with no confirmed coronavirus cases outside quarantine centres, Hamas said a full lockdown was not yet needed.    Customers still flock to markets and stores display the dates, cheese, pickles, nuts and other snacks favoured during Ramadan meals.
    But with families saving money in case of an outbreak, many are just window shopping.
    “People will be very cautious to visit one another because of the coronavirus crisis,” said restaurant owner Anas Qaterji.
    “People are coming to the market to waste time, they are entertaining themselves after the cafes are closed,” said Sameh Abu Shaban, 57, who owns a store selling dates and sweets.    “No one is buying.”
WEST BANK
    In the West Bank the Palestinian Authority has declared a state of emergency, but a full lockdown has been eased to allow some businesses resume partial operations, amid predictions of a 50% fall in revenue.
    “It is a sad Ramadan,” said Maher al-Kurdi, a supermarket owner in Hebron.
    “Usually shops would be crowded with large numbers of people.    And mosques are closed, which would spoil the flavour of Ramadan,” he said.
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/23/2020 Palestinian jailed in Gaza for breaking coronavirus quarantine
Palestinian policemen loyal to Hamas stand gaurd in a street amid concerns about the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the southern Gaza Strip April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA (Reuters) – A Gaza court has sentenced a Palestinian man to six months in jail for escaping from a coronavirus quarantine facility on the Egyptian border, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.
    The 33-year-old was arrested on Saturday, a few hours after breaking out of the compound at Rafah, where people crossing from Egypt into Hamas Islamist-controlled Gaza are confined for a mandatory 21-day period.
    He had been in the facility for less than a week and tested negative for the novel coronavirus after being apprehended, the ministry said.
    In addition to the prison term handed down on Tuesday by a Hamas-run military court, the man was fined $700.    It was the first time a jail term has been imposed in Gaza for violating restrictions aimed at stemming coronavirus infection.
    The ministry gave no details on how the man escaped from the 500-room compound of single-storey concrete buildings surrounded by a wall and guarded by police.
    In its statement, the ministry said the man would also face drug-selling charges relating to membership in a narcotics gang.
    Health officials said 17 people had tested positive for the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip.    The densely populated enclave is home to two million people.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Nick Tattersall)

4/23/2020 In Syria rebel stronghold, building makeshift ventilators to fight virus by Khalil Ashawi
FILE PHOTO: A volunteer wearing gloves builds a prototype ventilator to help combat the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in the rebel-held Idlib city, Syria April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    IDLIB, Syria (Reuters) – A team of volunteers in Syria have cobbled together prototypes of a ventilator and a testing machine – homemade equipment to fight the new coronavirus if it hits the last rebel stronghold, where hospitals lie in ruins after nine years of war.
    The group of 12, mainly technicians and engineers, hope to build hundreds of makeshift machines to combat the pandemic in Syria’s northwest, where an army advance made nearly 1 million people homeless this year.
    “If coronavirus cases start to surface here, it will spread widely,” said Ayoub Abdul-Karim, a 20-year-old graduate who specialized in medical equipment. “We’re working on this today because there won’t be enough machines. We suffer in the hospitals from a big lack of ventilators.”
    His homemade ventilator is assembled inside a brown wooden box, with white plastic hoses sticking out to help the patient breathe.
    Doctors worry that people in overcrowded camps would be impossible to protect if an outbreak hits the area.    The region, home to 3 million people many of whom fled other parts of Syria, has no confirmed cases so far, but little testing has been done.    There is only one machine to run a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to detect the virus.
    The volunteers have so far tried out their prototype ventilator at a hospital and have the green light from local doctors.    They hope to get funding or equipment from aid agencies in the northwest and across the border in Turkey to produce hundreds of the breathing machines – critical to keeping COVID-19 patients alive.
    While the virus has forced the world’s big cities into lockdown, Syrians crammed in refugee camps and makeshift settlements face grave risks.    Clean water is often scarce, illnesses are rife and social distancing is nearly impossible.
    A truce that Russia and Turkey brokered in March has brought some calm, halting the army’s offensive.
    “There are very few ventilators, much less than the need if the coronavirus spreads, and this had us very worried,” said Yamen Abu al-Walid, 37, who helped set up the team to bring together expertise and try to meet the region’s needs.
    “The infrastructure is destroyed.    We risk having many deaths if the disease strikes if there’s no preparation.”
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Syria; Writing by Ellen Francis in Beirut; Editing by Peter Graff)

4/23/2020 Algeria eases coronavirus lockdown for Ramadan
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows an outdoor market set up by the Algerian government to prevent crowding inside supermarkets, ahead of the Muslim
holy month of Ramadan, amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Algiers, Algeria April 19, 2020. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria will ease confinement measures from the first day of the holy month of Ramadan on Friday by shortening a night curfew and lifting a full lockdown for a province near the capital Algiers, the prime minister’s office said on Thursday.
    It said the full lockdown in the Blida province south of Algiers will be replaced with a curfew from 2 p.m. to 7 a.m. while a 3 p.m.-7 a.m. curfew in nine provinces, including Algiers, will be shortened to run from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.
    The government made no changes to the confinement measures in the remaining provinces where a 7 p.m.-7 a.m. curfew has been imposed for weeks.
    “The government reiterates its call for citizens to remain vigilant,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.    “Changing or keeping the confinement measures will depend on the evolution of the epidemiological situation.”
    Algeria has so far reported 3,007 cases of the novel coronavirus, with 407 deaths and 1,355 recoveries.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

4/23/2020 Egypt loosening some lockdown restrictions for Ramadan; coronavirus toll rises
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks, walk near traditional Ramadan products which are displayed for sale, amid concerns
over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Al Khayamia street in old Cairo, Egypt April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt will ease its coronavirus lockdown for the holy fasting month of Ramadan by allowing more businesses to reopen and shortening a night-time curfew, the prime minister said on Thursday, as new coronavirus cases reached the highest daily toll since the first infection was confirmed in February.
    Starting on Friday, the curfew will start at 9 p.m. instead of the previous 8 p.m. and run until 6 a.m., Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly told a televised news conference.
    The holiest month in the Islamic calendar, which starts on Friday, is one of family and togetherness – community, reflection, charity and prayer.
    Egypt on Thursday reported 232 new cases of the respiratory disease, including 11 deaths, bringing the country’s total to 3,891 infections and 287 deaths.
    Shopping malls and businesses will be allowed to open on weekends, but will still be required to close at 5 p.m.
    Last month, Egypt stepped up measures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus – closing airports and gyms, as well as suspending classes at schools and universities.    Shops other than supermarkets and pharmacies were required to close at 5 p.m. on weekdays, as well as on weekends.
    But mosques will remain closed and any public religious gatherings will still be banned.
    Madbouly said some restrictions were being eased but that authorities were ready to reimpose curbs if infections began to exceed predictions.
    The government will review the measures in two weeks to decide whether to keep them in place, he said.
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla, Amina Ismail, Momen Saeed Atallah and Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Alison Williams, Nick Macfie and Peter Cooney)

4/23/2020 South Africa to begin phased easing of lockdown on May 1
FILE PHOTO: South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses members of the South African Defence Force (SANDF),
before their deployment ahead of a nationwide lockdown for 21-days to try to contain the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Johannesburg, South Africa, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday the government will allow a partial reopening of the economy on May 1, with travel restrictions eased and some industries allowed to operate under a five-level risk system.
    Ramaphosa struck a cautious tone in his second national address of the week while emphasizing that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic had yet to pass and that people needed to remain vigilant.
    South Africa has spent nearly a month under restrictions requiring most of the population of about 58 million to stay at home apart from essential trips, leaving many struggling without wages and short of supplies.
    “Pressures to ease the lockdown are growing on the ground but that comes against the biggest daily rise in positive cases,” said political analyst Daniel Silke.
    “Politically, these are unprecedented circumstances.    It’s easier to impose a lockdown but unravelling restrictions poses many more dangers,” Silke said.
    Ramaphosa won wide praise for his quick move to implement and then extend a national shutdown that began in late March, but as the economic impact has deepened, criticism has grown, with sporadic protests and calls by industry to ease regulations.
    Ramaphosa said the National Coronavirus Command Council decided restrictions would be lowered from level 5 – the strictest lockdown stage – to level 4 from next Friday.
    International borders will remain closed while travel will be only allowed for essential services.    Social distancing rules remained in place, and a government monitoring system would determine which sectors would be allowed to operate.
    “We have to balance the need to resume economic activity with the imperative to contain the virus and save lives,” Ramaphosa said.
    “We cannot take action today that we will deeply regret tomorrow, we must avoid a rushed reopening that could risk a spread which would need to be followed by another hard lockdown.”
    The country has recorded 3,953 confirmed cases including 75 deaths with 143,570 people tested for the virus.
    Thursday saw the highest one-day leap in infections with 318 new cases, though the health ministry said this was largely due to intensified screening.
    Ramaphosa did not give details, as expected, on the 500-billion rand ($26 billion) rescue package he announced on Tuesday, only saying it was a priority to get the recession-hit economy restarted while ramping up testing.
    The stimulus package, about 10% of gross domestic product and South Africa’s first since the global financial crisis a decade ago, includes 40 billion rand of unemployment benefits and 50 billion rand for social grants for the poor.
    But the increased spending is set drag the fiscal deficit into double digits and push debt near the 90% mark, raising the risk of further downgrade into subinvestment after Moody’s and Fitch pulled the trigger in late March.
(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Joe Bavier and Grant McCool)

4/23/2020 Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews take to internet in coronavirus lockdown by Tova Cohen and Steven Scheer
FILE PHOTO: An Ultra-orthodox Jew takes a photo with his mobile phone while others pray at a Tel Aviv beach before
emptying their pockets during the Jewish New Year ritual of Tashlich, October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel’s religiously devout Jews, who traditionally shun the use of internet or smartphones, are increasingly going online to shop, study and video chat as the coronavirus outbreak forces them to stay largely home.
    Ultra-Orthodox rabbis restrict internet use among their followers to avoid exposure to sexually explicit and other religiously objectionable material, a policy that helps to keep their communities largely isolated.
    But densely populated ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods have been particularly hard hit by the virus, with the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak forced into a complete lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease.
    The result is a 40% surge in online traffic in these neighbourhoods since March 15, according to Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecoms group.
    One company that markets solely to the ultra-Orthodox has offered deals for heavily filtered internet that will cancel automatically after the coronavirus crisis is over.
    More than half of ultra-Orthodox Jews surveyed by Bezeq have increased use of digital media, while 8% of Bezeq’s new internet users are ultra-Orthodox, triple the normal average.
    When asked whether they would continue using the internet for video calls after the crisis, 53% said they would.
    “An existential need is leading to one of the fastest processes of internet adoption we have seen,” said Bezeq’s vice president for marketing and innovation, Keren Leizerovitch.
DEEP CHANGE
    “We see in our survey that ultra-Orthodox will continue to use these tools even after the end of the crisis so we are talking about a deep change that may impact their way of life, expand their connection to the general population and contribute to economic growth.”
    Gilad Malach, head of the Israel Democracy Institute’s ultra-Orthodox programme, noted that while the ultra-Orthodox did not use internet at home, many did use it at work for specific needs and with filters.    “Regarding the coronavirus, the damage from not using the internet was clear.    People realize that they are not updated about the situation like others,” he said, noting that members of the community were using not just special ultra-Orthodox sites but general news sites, something their rabbis have long feared.
    Malach said nearly 60% of ultra-Orthodox Jews use the Internet – up from 50% before the outbreak and versus 90% in the rest of Israel.
    Benjamin Fox, a father of 10, said he still does not have internet at home in Ramat Bet Shemesh, an ultra-Orthodox town in central Israel.    But he noted that his study partner just got the internet because his wife, a computer programmer, has been forced to work at home.
    “That’s one of the reasons why the rabbis permit people to have internet,” he said.
    Shoshana Schwartz, an ultra-Orthodox addiction counsellor from Bet Shemesh, said she previously used internet for email and work, with occasional online purchases and Zoom sessions.
    Now she uses Zoom extensively for clients.    That, she said, had increased her internet use by “1,000%.”
    Israel has reported nearly 14,600 cases of COVID-19 and 191 deaths.    Restrictions imposed on public life to stem the spread of the virus have forced many Israeli businesses to close and sent unemployment above 26%.
    The death toll is considerably lower than in many countries, however, and Israel is already easing some curbs to revive the economy.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/24/2020 Hundreds protest Lebanese currency crash by OAN Newsroom
Lebanese citizens wear masks and gloves to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, as they queuing outside a Western Union
shop to receive their money transfer in U.S. dollar currency, during the last day that they are allowed to dispense dollars
to customers following new Central Bank rules, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, April 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
    Hundreds of Lebanese citizens are protesting as the country’s currency rate takes a deep plunge due to the COVID-19 pandemic.    Residents continued their third consecutive day of rallies in Beirut as the value of the Lebanese pound decreased significantly against the U.S. dollar.
    Since 1990s, 1,500 Lebanese pounds equaled to one U.S. dollar, but this week it took a sharp increase.    It reached up to 3,700 pounds to the dollar.    On Thursday, residents crowded around money transfer offices as it marked the last day they would be allowed to dispense dollars to customers following new central bank rules.
    The rules will require the banks to convert cash withdrawals from foreign currency bank accounts to the local currency at market price in an effort to lessen the demand of the U.S. dollar.
    “There must be one price which is the one amount from the government, so it is about a game which is not focused or centralized between the banking, central bank, the politicians and the rights of the people,” said local resident Yousef Abd Al.    “So those four stakeholders, actually there is no governance in between, and that will lead actually to what you are seeing now.”
Anti-government protesters shout slogans as they march during a protest against the Lebanese central bank’s governor Riad Salameh and against
the deepening financial crisis, at Hamra trade street, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, April 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
    Meanwhile, residents nationwide who have depended on a stable national currency feel they will be losing money because of the new exchange rate.
    “We are here to tell them that the revolution will stay, the revolution will not die and the revolution will go on in all parts of Lebanon,” said protester Hassan Makahal.    “You are putting us in trouble, you are taking the coronavirus as a pretext.”
    Anti-government protests has been ongoing since October as the country has seen its worst economic crisis since the Lebanese Civil War in 1975.

4/24/2020 Saudi Arabia to end flogging as form of punishment: document
FILE PHOTO: A Saudi flag flutters atop Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is ending flogging as a form of punishment, according to a document from the kingdom’s top court seen by Reuters on Friday.
    The decision by the General Commission for the Supreme Court, taken sometime this month, will see the punishment replaced by prison sentences or fines, or a mixture of both.
    “The decision is an extension of the human rights reforms introduced under the direction of King Salman and the direct supervision of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman,” the document said.
    Flogging has been applied to punish a variety of crimes in Saudi Arabia. Without a codified system of law to go with the texts making up sharia, or Islamic law, individual judges have the latitude to interpret religious texts and come up with their own sentences.
    Rights groups have documented past cases in which Saudi judges have sentenced criminals to flogging for a range of offences, including public intoxication and harassment.
    “This reform is a momentous step forward in Saudi Arabia’s human rights agenda, and merely one of many recent reforms in the Kingdom,” the president of the state-backed Human Rights Commission (HRC) Awwad Alawwad told Reuters.
    Other forms of corporal punishment, such as amputation for theft or beheading for murder and terrorism offences, have not yet been outlawed.
    “This is a welcome change but it should have happened years ago,” said Adam Coogle, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.    “There’s nothing now standing in the way of Saudi Arabia reforming its unfair judicial system.”
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad and Raya Jalabi; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alex Richardson)

4/24/2020 Armenia commemorates mass killings anniversary under quarantine by Nvard Hovhannisyan
FILE PHOTO: A view shows the illuminated Tsitsernakaberd memorial during an event commemorating victims
of the 1915 mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in Yerevan, Armenia April 23, 2020.
Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure/File Photo via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenians have used text messages and mobile phone flashlights to mark the 105th anniversary of mass killings in the Ottoman Empire, dropping their usual march because of coronavirus restrictions.
    Yerevan, which describes the 1915 killings of Armenians in what is now Turkey as genocide, has traditionally held annual torchlight processions to a hilltop memorial.
    That description and commemorations around the world have enraged Turkey, which denies the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide, and disputes the figures.
    Armenia’s government said it was calling on citizens not to go out on Friday, but instead to send text messages to be projected onto the pillars of the memorial.
    On Thursday night, in the build-up to the anniversary, it asked people to turn off lights in their houses and light a candle or shine their mobile phone flashlights towards the memorial.
    Streets and public squares also went dark as church bells rang out.
    “This year millions of people from around the world will have the opportunity to attend the April 24 march that will take place in a virtual space,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a national address on Friday.
(Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
[If you are not up on the Armenian claim do not forget that Turkey and Erdogan attack the northern border of Syria to displace the people in that area which were descendants of the Armenians, which shows you the bias against the Armenians.].

4/24/2020 Saudi-led coalition announces one-month extension of Yemen ceasefire
FILE PHOTO: Houthi troops ride on the back of a police patrol truck after participating
in a Houthi gathering in Sanaa, Yemen February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition on Friday said it was extending a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen by one month to support efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, citing a coalition spokesman.
    A two-week ceasefire announced by the coalition that is battling the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen expired on Thursday without leading to a permanent truce.
    The Houthi group did not accept the coalition’s previous ceasefire announcement and violence has continued in several provinces, raising fears that the war will grind on and shatter Yemen’s already weakened ability to combat the coronavirus.
    The Houthis ousted the internationally recognized Saudi-backed government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.    They want a lifting of air and sea blockades imposed by the coalition to the regions they control before agreeing to a ceasefire, sources have told Reuters.
    “The coalition’s command reaffirms that there is still an opportunity to focus all efforts in order to achieve a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,” coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki was quoted as saying by the SPA.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month called for ceasefires in conflicts across the world to allow countries to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.
    While Yemen has reported only one confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, aid groups fear a catastrophic outbreak should the virus spread among an acutely malnourished population in a country without adequate testing capabilities.
(This story corrects paragraph 4 to show blockades are to Houthi-controlled regions)
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Alison Williams and David Goodman)

4/26/2020 Israel reopens some businesses, eyes schools as coronavirus curbs ease
FILE PHOTO: Israeli policemen wearing masks talk to residents from their window as they enforce government restrictions placed
to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mea Shearim neighbourhood of Jerusalem March 26, 2020. The placards
on the wall explain the rabbis’ opinion on “the use of iPhones and their like” in Hebrew " REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel permitted some businesses to reopen on Sunday and said it would consider allowing children back to school as part of trial efforts to ease coronavirus restrictions and help the struggling economy.
    After weeks of closures, shops with street access resumed operations, though malls and markets stayed off-limits as a precaution against public congregation.    Restaurants were allowed to offer take-away food, in addition to delivery services.
    Israel, with a population of 8.8 million, has had 15,398 coronavirus cases and 199 deaths.    With around 100 COVID-19 sufferers on ventilators and 2,000 more hospital beds on standby, officials see an opportunity to review pandemic policy.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene cabinet members by Monday for a decision on reopening schools, Defence Minister Naftali Bennett told Israel’s Channel 13 TV.
    The Education Ministry has proposed that if the school year resumes it should run into the summer holiday to make up for lost time.
    With unemployment hitting 27% last week, the government also approved small-business stipends and other emergency grants.
    Officials described the easing of restrictions as reversable, should new contagions follow.    Signalling a shift away from nationwide curbs, Israel imposed lockdowns on Sunday in neighbourhoods of two towns with local virus outbreaks.
    “If we are diligent about three rules – masks, social distancing and hygiene – I believe that we will succeed in combining routine life with preventing the spread of the disease.    Do not be nonchalant,” Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov said on Twitter.
    Palestinian officials have reported 342 coronavirus cases and two deaths in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/26/2020 Saudi eases coronavirus curfews, keeps 24-hour curfew in Mecca
FILE PHOTO: General view of deserted streets, during the 24 hours lockdown to counter the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia eased curfews on Sunday across the country, while keeping 24-hour curfews in the city of Mecca and in neighbourhoods previously put in isolation, state news agency SPA said.
    Outside those exceptional areas, curfews will be eased between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (0600-1400 GMT) effective Sunday until May 13.    The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began on Friday.
    The royal order also allowed some economic and commercial activities to re-start, including wholesale and retail shops and shopping malls, from Wednesday until May 13.
    Activities which do not allow for physical distancing, including salons and cinemas, will remain closed.    Social gatherings of more than five people are forbidden.
    Authorities in the capital Riyadh issued additional advice saying banknotes were not to be used.
    Shops that do open should ensure no more than one customer per 10 square metres.    Malls must be sterilised every 24 hours and children under 15 are not allowed to enter.
    Saudi Arabia has recorded 16,299 cases of infection with the new coronavirus and 136 deaths.    These are the highest numbers in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which together have recorded almost 43,000 cases and 250 deaths.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; writing by Lisa Barrington; editing by Diane Craft and Jason Neely)

4/26/2020 South Africa seeking $5 billion from multilateral lenders to fight virus: Treasury official
A member of medical staff arrives for a screening and testing campaign aimed to combat the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Lenasia, South Africa, April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa is seeking 95 billion rand ($4.99 billion) from multilateral lenders to help it fight the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior Treasury official said on Sunday.
    Africa’s most advanced economy is talking to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, New Development Bank of the BRICS and African Development Bank to source funding to contribute to a 500 billion rand rescue package aimed at cushioning the impact of the new coronavirus on businesses and poor households.
    The IMF has said South Africa is entitled to apply for up to $4.2 billion in response to the crisis, and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said on Friday the government could negotiate for a facility of “maybe between $55 and $60 million” at the World Bank.
    Dondo Mogajane, director general of the National Treasury, said in an interview with eNCA television on Sunday that South Africa “will certainly go” for the IMF funding.
    “The World Bank has said …South Africa can access a loan of about $50 million, the New Development Bank did say long ago that they have set aside a billion dollars that we can access and again we will be accessing that,” Mogajane said.
    “All in all, all of these interventions, currently we are looking at 95 billion rand coming from these institutions only for COVID-related interventions.”
    Mogajane said the government has to do everything at its disposal to make sure the coronavirus is contained, including reprioritising money from projects that are not a priority for now and looking for new cheap money.
    “I am emphasising new money that is cheap because currently the discussions obviously should centre around what the term rates are going to be.    That is where we are currently, we are discussing with them (lenders),” he said.
    “The IMF has said upfront that it is 1% interest that is available so we will certainly go for it because it is cheap.”
    Mboweni on Friday played down worries in some governing party circles and within the influential trade union movement that the money would come with onerous conditions.
    An IMF official told Reuters that the emergency funds on offer came with no requirement for a structural adjustment programme.
    The economy was in recession when the virus outbreak hit South Africa and public finances were already strained as the government bailed out struggling state firms.
    South Africa had recorded 4,361 cases, including 86 deaths, with 161,004 people tested for the virus as of Saturday.
($1 = 19.0213 rand)
(Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; editing by Jason Neely)

4/26/2020 Israel’s Elbit Systems gets $103 million electronic warfare contract
Logo of Israeli defence electronics firm Elbit Systems is seen at their offices in Haifa, Israel February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems said on Sunday it won a contract worth about $103 million to supply electronic warfare (EW) suites for an air force of an Asian country.
    The contract will be carried out over three years and includes long-term integrated logistic support.    Elbit did not name the Asian country.
    Under the contract, Elbit Systems will fit the customer’s helicopters with complete EW suites, including countermeasure systems.
    “Demand for combat-proven EW systems is getting stronger as the electro-magnetic spectrum becomes increasingly contested and the threat to aircraft gets more acute,” said Edgar Maimon, general manager of Elbit Systems EW.
(Reporting by Tova Cohen; Editing by Steven Scheer)

4/26/2020 Face masks to strawberries: Abu Dhabi hospital keeps tabs on resources by Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: A technician hangs N95 face masks to be sterilized with UVC light, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak, at the Cleveland Clinic hospital in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike
(This April 23 story clarifies that masks are disinfected, not sterilized, in paragraph 2)
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Dozens of N95 protective face masks hang on a line in a room of an Abu Dhabi hospital to be decontaminated so they can be used again by medical staff should there be a shortage due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
    Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi this month started disinfecting N95 masks with ultraviolet light, a method used by other hospitals to extend the wearability beyond single use.
    “We want to make sure we can give N95 masks to all of our caregivers,” Sterile Processing Manager Jason Unger told Reuters.    “We are getting up to just over 200 masks a day which greatly increases our supply and will help us in case we have any supply chain problems.”
    The hospital has treated over 100 patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and is currently testing over 800 people a day for the virus.    All medical staff treating infected or potentially infected patients wear N95 masks, which fit extremely closely and filter airborne particles.
    They are considered essential for protecting healthcare professionals and are in short supply in many places.
    The UAE, which has ramped up testing, has the second highest infection count among the six Gulf Arab states at more than 8,000 with over 50 deaths.
    Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi said it began stockpiling personal protective equipment in the early days of the outbreak in the United Arab Emirates, which began in late January, and currently has a sufficient supply.    But demand has soared globally.
    It has not been able to stockpile produce for the hospital kitchen however, such as strawberries, asparagus and herbs due to the impact on global supply chains.    Like other Gulf states, the UAE relies heavily on food imports.
    “We have had a lot of challenges, but challenges are minimal,” Raghuprasad Pillai, who works in the kitchen, told Reuters.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

4/26/2020 Thousands protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by OAN Newsroom
A man with protective face mask amid concerns over the country’s coronavirus outbreak, holds a sign during a
protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, April 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
    Israeli citizens are protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.    Around 2,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Tel Aviv this week and called for him to step down.
    According to protesters, Netanyahu shouldn’t be in power while criminal corruption charges are pending against him.
    This came after the prime minister and his challenger, Benny Gantz, formed an emergency coalition government to tackle the pandemic earlier this week.    Protesters believe the move still isn’t enough.
    “I came to demonstrate for the democracy, for a rule that is not by someone who is accused, who has issues with the law,” stated one demonstrator.    “The person has issues with the law cannot rule a government.”
People keep social distance amid concerns over the country’s coronavirus outbreak, during “Black Flag” protest against Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu and government corruption, at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, April 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
    Protesters have said as long as Netanyahu is still in power, he has influence over the court in his own criminal investigation.    He’s expected to stand trial next week on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud.
[I suspect that this rally was set-up by the Blue-White party who are angry that they did not take over since Benny Gantz did not win the Prime Minister title, and I am telling you that if he had Israel would have been under control by Arab and Palestinian entities and Israel would no longer be Israel but something else not what the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob attended anymore.    So Netanyahu will be in charge still from now until August 1, 2021 when Gantz takes it for 18 months, and if you have followed my work you will see that I have something to occur in the supernatural by 2022.].

4/26/2020 Netanyahu ‘confident’ U.S. will allow West Bank annexation in two months
FILE PHOTO: Birds fly as the Israeli settlement of Ramat Givat Zeev is seen,
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced confidence on Sunday that Washington would give Israel the nod within two months to move ahead with de facto annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank.
    Palestinians have expressed outrage at Israel’s plans to cement its hold further on land it seized in the 1967 Middle East war, territory they are seeking for a state.
    Netanyahu, in announcing a deal with his centrist rival Benny Gantz last week to form a unity government, set July 1 for the start of cabinet discussions on extending Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and annexing outright the area’s Jordan Valley.
    Such a move would need to be agreed with Washington, according to the Netanyahu-Gantz agreement.
    In a video address on Sunday to a pro-Israeli Christian group in Europe, Netanyahu described a U.S. peace proposal announced by President Donald Trump in January as a promise to recognise Israel’s authority over West Bank settlement land.
    “A couple of months from now I am confident that that pledge will be honoured,” Netanyahu told the European Commission for Israel.
    Palestinian officials offered no immediate comment on Netanyahu’s remarks.
    Palestinians have flatly rejected the Trump peace proposal, partly because it awards Israel most of what it has sought during decades of conflict, including nearly all the occupied land on which it has built settlements.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday it was up to Israel whether to annex parts of the West Bank and said that Washington would offer its views privately to its new government.
    The Palestinians and many countries regard Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as illegal under the Geneva Conventions that bar settling on land captured in war.
    Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Hugh Lawson)

4/26/2020 Dubai lifts lockdown on two densely populated commercial districts
FILE PHOTO: A worker wears a protective face mask during the outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The emirate of Dubai said on Sunday it has lifted its full lockdown on two commercial districts which have a large population of low-income migrant workers, after the United Arab Emirates eased nationwide coronavirus curfews over the weekend.
    Dubai on Friday cut its emirate-wide 24-hour lockdown back to a 10:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew.    It has now taken the same step in the Al Ras and Naif districts, which had been sealed off as part of efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
    The Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management took the decision since no new COVID-19 cases were recorded in the two areas in the last two days, the government media office said in a statement. It said more than 6,000 tests were conducted among Al Ras and Naif residents in less than a month.
    The UAE has reported more than 10,300 cases and 76 deaths resulting from the virus, the second-highest count among the six Gulf Arab countries after Saudi Arabia.    It does not give breakdowns for each of the seven emirates that make up the country.
    The Gulf states, where expatriates make up the bulk of the labour force, have seen infections spread among low-wage foreign workers living in cramped quarters despite measures to combat the disease including the suspension of passenger flights, curfews and the closure of public spaces.
    Dubai, the Middle East’s business hub, on Friday allowed dine-in cafes and restaurants to resume business with a maximum capacity of 30% and shopping malls to be reopened partially.    Mosques, cinemas and playgrounds remain closed.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/26/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises to 2,805, new cases 2,357: ministry
The dog sits in front of Suleymaniye Mosque during the first day of Ramadan and the second of a four-day curfew, as
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Istanbul, Turkey April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by 2,357 in the past 24 hours, and 99 more people have died, taking the death toll to 2,805, Health Ministry data showed on Sunday.     The total number of cases in the country stood at 110,130, the data showed, the highest total for any country outside Western Europe or the United States.
    A total of 29,140 people have so far recovered from the new coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.    The number of tests carried out in the past 24 hours was 30,177.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

4/27/2020 UAE against unilateral changes to situation in Yemen: official
FILE PHOTO: UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash attends an interview
with Reuters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Abdel Hadi Ramahi
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates stands against a decision by a main Yemeni southern separatist group to declare self-rule in areas it controls, and urges full implementation of a peace deal agreed last year for the south, minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said on Monday.
    The UAE backs the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) group and is also a key player in the Saudi-led coalition which is fighting the Houthi movement in Yemen and backs the internationally recognized Yemeni government.
(Reporting by Maher Chmeytelli; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Toby Chopra)

4/27/2020 Libya’s eastern leader Haftar says army to take formal control
FILE PHOTO: Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar meets Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis
(not pictured) at the Parliament in Athens, Greece, January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Balta/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Libya’s eastern-based military leader Khalifa Haftar said on Monday his Libyan National Army (LNA) was accepting a “popular mandate” to rule the country, apparently brushing aside the civilian authorities that nominally govern eastern Libya.
    Haftar, who launched a war a year ago to grab the capital Tripoli and other parts of northwest Libya, was already widely understood to control the parallel administration that rules in the east.
    He did not spell out in his brief televised speech on Monday what form the new power structure would take and the wider political ramifications were not immediately clear.
    Libya has been split since 2014 between areas controlled by the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the northwest, and territory held by eastern-based forces in Benghazi.
    “We announce that the general command is answering the will of the people, despite the heavy burden and the many obligations and the size of the responsibility, and we will be subject to the people’s wish,” he said.
    Although the LNA advanced last year into the southern suburbs of Tripoli, and has been bombarding the capital frequently, it lost ground to pro-GNA forces during fighting this month.     Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia. The GNA is backed by Turkey.
    Though Haftar had long been the de facto ruler of eastern Libya, power was nominally held by a civilian administration.    Benghazi is home to parallel state institutions, as well as the national parliament.
    The GNA falls under a three-man Presidential Council, founded in 2015 in a political agreement aimed at ending the chaos and division that have persisted since the 2011 uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
    Haftar said last week that the agreement had failed.
    Mohammed Ali Abdallah, an adviser to the GNA said, in a statement: “Haftar has once more exposed his authoritarian intentions to the world.    He no longer seeks to conceal his contempt for a political solution and democracy in Libya.”
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfali; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/27/2020 Jordan eases coronavirus curfew and reopens more businesses by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows a closed-down part of Al-Nasr area, amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Amman, Jordan, April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan on Monday eased restrictions on movement aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus and allowed more businesses to reopen to help jump-start the cash-strapped economy, officials said.
    Residents of the capital can now drive their private vehicles as of Wednesday between 0800 and 1800 in the first such move since a nationwide curfew nearly 40 days ago that ordered the country’s population of 10 million to stay at home.
    Public transport and taxi services would also now resume with passenger restrictions and compulsory wearing of face masks and gloves, government spokesman Amjad Adailah.
    The relaxation in curbs on movement in the capital follows a similar move last week in southern Jordan, including the Red Sea port city of Aqaba.
    The government imposed the curfew shortly after the monarch enacted an emergency law that paralyzed daily life, and ordered shops and firms to close, leaving many daily wage earners struggling without pay.
    Minister of Trade and Industry Tariq Hammouri said barbershops, beauty parlors, dryclean and cosmetics shops could now open in the latest string of small businesses from garments to flower shops and furniture outlets that can resume normal work.
    “We hope to ease all restrictive measures with the passing of days as the (virus) threat recedes,” Hammouri said.
    The government of Prime Minister Omar al Razzaz won praise for quick moves that were some of the world’s strictest measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, but the economic impact has deepened, with growing criticism by business lobbies.
    It has carried out over 60,000 tests and detected 449 cases, many of whom have recovered.    There have been seven deaths.
    “Our duty now is to revive our economy and our health and we are able to do that,” Health Minister Saad Jaber said.     Government offices however will remain shut until after the fasting month of Ramadan which is expected to end around May 23 and also schools and universities.
    The country’s airports and border crossing with its neighbours Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel are still closed to passenger traffic.
    The economy has been battered with the tourism sector, a main source of foreign currency especially hard hit due to global travel disruptions.
    The latest relaxation allow construction firms and many firms beyond pharmaceuticals, fertilisers and the agriculture sector that have kept operating but with lower staffing levels.
    The crisis has thrown into doubt International Monetary Fund-backed growth estimates of 2.1 % for 2020 and officials expect the economy to contract for the first time since 1990.
    The country’s record $42 billion public debt, equivalent to 97 percent of GDP, is expected to exceed 100%, with extra financing to cushion the negative impact of the crisis, officials say.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi)

4/27/2020 Burundi vote campaign begins in shadow of violence and COVID-19
Burundi's opposition National Freedom Council (CNL), presidential candidate Agathon Rwasa addresses supporters
during a campaign rally in Ngozi province, Burundi April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Burundi’s political parties started campaigning for next month’s presidential elections on Monday despite opposition accusations of intimidation and the ongoing global coronavirus crisis.
    With only one death and 15 COVID-19 cases found in minimal testing, authorities are pressing on with the May 20 vote for a successor to President Pierre Nkurunziza, an ex-rebel leader in power since the end of a civil war in 2005 that killed 300,000 people.
    Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015 in a move the opposition said violated the terms of the peace deal.    The move triggered violent protests and a failed coup in the East African nation of just over 11 million people.
    Since then, nearly half a million people have fled, the economy has nosedived and low-level political violence has simmered.
    Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party is fielding Evariste Ndayishimiye, a retired army general who heads the department of military affairs in the president’s office.
    His foremost opponent is opposition party CNL’s candidate Agathon Rwasa, a deputy chairman of the National Assembly and another former rebel leader.
    Unlike most other nations, Burundi has not put restrictions on gatherings or internal travel due to the coronavirus crisis, so campaigning should be relatively unimpeded.
    Rights groups and opposition parties say CNDD-FDD’s youth wing members, known as “Imbonerakure” – or “those who see far” in the local Kirundi language – have attacked foes, while the government has threatened and arbitrarily arrested journalists and activists.
UNPSEAKABLE ACTS
    A United Nations report last year accused security forces and the ruling party of gang rapes, torture and killings.
    CNL has also accused the police, intelligence services and officials of carrying out killings and enforced disappearances of its members.
    “Some of the perpetrators of the unspeakable acts are officials of the ruling party and its allies, public officials who are members of the ruling party, youth members of the party in power and workers of the Intelligence Service or the police,” Therence Nahimana, CNL’s spokesman, told reporters last week.
    Nahimana said more than 200 CNL members had been detained and party members’ property, crops, houses and other assets destroyed.
    Burundi government spokesman Prosper Ntahorwamiye told Reuters in a WhatsApp message he had no comment.    The government has previously denied accusations of rights violations.
    Between January and March, Ligue Iteka, an exiled Burundian rights group, documented 67 killings, including 14 extrajudicial executions, and six disappearances.
    “These elections will be accompanied by more abuses, as Burundian officials and members of the Imbonerakure are using violence with near-total impunity to allow the ruling party to entrench its hold on power,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
    Five other candidates are vying for the presidency, including the first vice president Gaston Sindimwo and former president Domicien Ndayizeye.    Parliamentary and municipal elections will be held at the same time.
    Rights groups around the world are concerned that repressive governments may exploit the coronavirus crisis to crack down on opponents and consolidate their power.
    Elsewhere in Africa, Tanzania, Ivory Coast and Guinea are also all due to hold elections this year.
(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Andrew Cawthorne)

4/27/2020 Erdogan says Turkey will send medical gear to United States
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a videoconference with G20 leaders to discuss the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, at Huber Mansion in Istanbul, Turkey, March 26, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey will send medical gear including protective suits and masks to the United States on Tuesday to help its efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
    “At a time when even developed countries are asking for Turkey’s support, we have offered our support to a wide geography, from the Balkans to Africa,” Erdogan told reporters following a cabinet meeting.
    “Most recently, we are sending medical aid to the United States on Tuesday, consisting of surgical masks, N95 masks, hazmat suits and disinfectants,” Erdogan said, adding that the shipment would be delivered via a Turkish military plane.
    Erdogan also said a three-day lockdown would be imposed in 31 cities as of Friday, May 1, and that weekend lockdowns would continue until after Eid al-Fitr in late May.    He said a schedule for returning to normal would be announced soon.
    Turkey’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by 2,131 in the past 24 hours, and 95 more people have died, taking the death toll to 2,900, Health Ministry data showed on Monday.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Alex Richardson)

4/27/2020 Algeria extends coronavirus restrictions to May 14
FILE PHOTO: A view of an empty street, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in Algiers, Algeria March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina/File Photo
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria will extend movement restrictions for the second time by 15 days until May 14 to help limit the spread of the new coronavirus, the prime minister’s office said on Monday.
    Authorities in the North African country earlier this month extended until April 29 measures including a nationwide curfew and shutdowns of mosques, schools and universities.    Public transport and airline flights also remain suspended, and the government has granted paid leave to 50% of state employees.
    But the curfew has been shortened over the past two days by two hours to help some businesses reopen for much of the day including shops for building materials, clothing and shoes, cosmetics and perfumes.
    “The government renews the need for vigilance and sense of responsibility for citizens and merchants,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement, alluding in part to social distancing rules meant to limit transmission of the virus.
    Algeria, a major oil and gas exporter, has confirmed a total of 3,517 COVID-19 infections including 432 deaths and 1,558 recoveries from the highly infectious respiratory disease.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/27/2020 Turkish ruling party, lawyers clash over cleric comments on homosexuality
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate Ali Erbas,
prays during the opening ceremony of a mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A suggestion by Turkey’s leading Muslim cleric that homosexuality causes illness has prompted a clash between President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party and the country’s lawyer assocations over freedom of expression.
    The lawyers condemned the cleric’s comment as harmful to human dignity, but an AKP spokesman said he had simply been speaking up for the values of the Turkish people and accused the lawyers of harbouring a “fascist mentality.”
    On Friday, Ali Erbas, head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, said Islam condemns homosexuality because “it brings illnesses and corrupts generations,” adding that it also causes the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that leads to AIDS.
    Homosexuality does not cause HIV but gay men who do not practise safe sex have been among the groups most vulnerable to the virus.
    “Come and let’s fight together to protect people from such evil,” Erbas said in his weekly sermon.
    Unlike in many other Muslim-majority countries, homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey.    But homosexuals face widespread hostility and gay pride parades, which used to attract thousands of people from around the Middle East, have been banned in Istanbul in recent years.
    The Ankara Bar Association said Erbas’s comments “came from ages ago” and were against human dignity.    The Izmir Bar Association said it was concerned the statement could encourage new hate crimes.
    On Monday, government officials took to Twitter to defend Erbas using the top-trending hashtag “Ali Erbas is not alone.”
    “It is the most natural right for people to speak according to the value system they believe in,” said AKP spokesman Omer Celik on Twitter.
    “What is abnormal is demanding the contrary,” Celik added, accusing the Ankara Bar Association of displaying a “fascist mentality” that sought to deprive Erbas of his right to free speech.
    Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, using the same hashtag, said Erbas had voiced the “divine judgment.”
    On Monday, the Ankara prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the heads of the Ankara Bar Association on suspicion that they may have insulted Turks’ religious values, the state Anadolu news agency reported.
    Human rights groups and the European Union have long accused Erdogan and his government of neglecting, and in some cases of rolling back, the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, homosexuals and women.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones)

4/28/2020 Israeli airstrike kills 7 in Syria by Bassem Mroue and Albert Aji, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIRUT – Israeli warplanes flying over Lebanon fired missiles toward areas near Damascus early Monday, killing three civilians, the Syrian military and state media said, while a war monitoring group said four Iranbacked fighters were also killed.
    The military said Syrian air defenses shot down some of the missiles in the attack, which happened around dawn.    The Britain-based Syrian     Observatory for Human Rights, a group that tracks the Syrian civil war, said the missiles hit positions belonging to Iran and its regional proxies, killing four fighters and causing damage south of Damascus.    It did not give the nationalities of the dead gunmen, saying only that they were not Syrians or members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.
    The airstrike is the fourth in Syria in less than a month and comes amid rising tensions between Israel and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group in Syria as well as along the Lebanon-Israel border.
    The Syrian military statement, carried by state TV, gave no other details about the attack or what it targeted specifically.    Syria’s state SANA news agency said shrapnel from the Israeli missiles hit homes in the Damascus suburbs of Hajira and Adlieh, killing three people there and wounding four.
    Israel did not comment.

4/28/2020 Protester killed in Tripoli as Lebanon hit by unrest by Walid Saleh
Demonstrators throw pieces of concrete during a protest against growing
economic hardship in Beirut, Lebanon April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) – Protests against growing economic hardship erupted in Tripoli and spread to other Lebanese cities on Tuesday, with banks set ablaze after a night of rioting that left one demonstrator dead, according to security and medical sources.
    A collapse in the currency, soaring inflation and spiralling unemployment are convulsing Lebanon, in deep financial crisis since October.    A shutdown to fight the new coronavirus has made matters worse for the economy.
    Protesters in Tripoli set two banks on fire and smashed their facades, prompting the army to deploy and dozens of soldiers to take position in a street lined with several banks, some firing rubber bullets and tear gas.
    Riots that began a night earlier and which set several other banks and an army vehicle on fire in the city ended with the death of a man in his 20s, according to a security source who said it was not immediately clear who was responsible for his death.
    Later on Tuesday protesters in the southern city of Sidon chanting “revolution” hurled petrol bombs at a central bank building, setting its exterior on fire before smashing the fronts of several banks.
    In Beirut dozens marched across the city, some wearing medical masks while chanting against the financial system and shouting for more Lebanese to join.    Later, crowds hurled stones toward security forces positioned in front of the central bank.
    The unrest threatens to tip the country back into violence even as Beirut looks to pass an economic rescue plan and enter negotiations with foreign creditors after defaulting on its hefty debt obligations last month.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab urged Lebanese to refrain from violence and said “malicious intentions behind the scenes” were “shaking stability.”
    “We are faced with a new reality, a reality that the social and living crisis has made worse at record speed, especially with the rise of the U.S. dollar exchange rate to record levels on the black market,” Diab said in a statement.
    Lebanon’s pound has lost more than half its value since October and slid sharply over the past week, triggering small protests despite a coronavirus lockdown and pleas by officials for people to remain home.
    U.S. dollars sold for 4,200 Lebanese pounds on Tuesday according to one importer, despite a central bank directive capping the price at 3,200.    Several currency dealers were arrested on Monday for violating the cap, prompting their trade association to announce an open-ended strike.
    In a phone call to Diab, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris was ready to convene an international support group meeting for Lebanon as soon as coronavirus lockdown measures were lifted.
    Diab’s government, formed in January with the support of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah, has struggled to enact reforms demanded by foreign donors to release billions of dollars in pledged financing.
    People have lost their purchasing power and the state has no plan to do anything.    Banks are closed and not giving money to people.    I think this government should resign,” said Tripoli lawyer Fahed Moukaddem.
    Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said after a Cabinet meeting that “final touches” were being put to the rescue plan, a draft of which this month estimated losses in the banking sector at $83 billion.
WARNING
    Tripoli, a port city 80 km (50 miles) north of Beirut and long dogged by poverty and unemployment, was the stage for protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite last October.
    This is not a riot, this is expressing (anger) that the dollar has reached 4,000 Lebanese pounds. … How are people going to eat?    And this is the holy month of Ramadan,” said Abou Hussein, a Tripoli activist.
    The army said a firebomb was thrown at one of its vehicles and a hand grenade hurled at a patrol.    It blamed “infiltrators” and called on peaceful protesters to leave the streets.
    It said 40 soldiers were wounded in Tripoli and elsewhere after patrols sent to reopen roads were attacked with stones.    Three banks and several ATMs in Tripoli were burned overnight and nine protesters arrested, a statement said.
    A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut said: “The frustration of the Lebanese people over the economic crisis is understandable, and the demands of protesters are justified. But incidents of violence, threats, and destruction of property are deeply concerning, and must stop.”
    The U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, said the violence was a warning for Lebanon’s political leaders.
    “This is the time to provide material support to increasingly desperate, impoverished and hungry majority of Lebanese all around the country,” he wrote in a tweet.
    The banking association declared all banks in Tripoli shut until security is restored.    Only a handful of branches have been open during the coronavirus lockdown.
    Banks have been a target of savers angered by being frozen out of their deposits.    One each in the southern cities of Sidon and Tyre were attacked on Saturday and Sunday.
(Writing by Tom Perry and Eric Knecht; Additional reporting by Eric Knecht, Yara Abi Nader and Issam Abdallah; Editing by Peter Graff, Janet Lawrence and Jonathan Oatis)
[This is an example or what happens to a country when it lets Iran and its offshoot Hezbollah became infiltrated into their government and has slowly over time pushed to the brink of disaster.].

4/28/2020 Coronavirus probably circulating in Yemen, U.N. says, amid funding shortage
FILE PHOTO: Health workers wearing protective suits pose for a picture before being deployed to disinfect streets amid concerns
of the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sanaa, Yemen April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – There is a “very real probability” the new coronavirus is circulating in Yemen, the United Nations said on Tuesday, warning that an aid funding shortfall would compromise efforts to combat the virus in one of the most vulnerable countries.
    The war-damaged nation, whose population has been weakened by widespread hunger and disease, has reported one laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case but due to inadequate testing and a shattered health system aid groups fear a devastating outbreak.
    The office of the U.N. aid chief in Yemen said that based on transmission patterns in other countries and given 17 days have passed since Yemen reported its first case, “agencies are warning there is now a very real probability that the virus has been circulating undetected and unmitigated within communities.”
    “This increases the likelihood of a surge of cases which may quickly overwhelm health capacities,” it said in a statement.
    The case announced on April 10, a 60-year-old port official, has since recovered and tested negative for the virus, Yemen’s coronavirus committee said on Monday.
    But authorities told Reuters they have been unable to track down “patient zero,” an important step in tracing people potentially exposed to infection and containing an outbreak.
    Yemen is already grappling with the world’s largest humanitarian crisis after five years of war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi group that ousted the internationally recognised government from power in the capital, Sanaa.
    Around 80% of Yemen’s population, or 24 million people, rely on aid, and 10 million are facing famine.    Yemen has the world’s fourth highest internally displaced population and healthcare is scarce in rural areas.
    Under such conditions the virus could spread rapidly, and the funding gap is compounding risk.    The statement said 31 of 41 major U.N. humanitarian assistance programmes will scale-down or stop in coming weeks without more money.
    One major donor, the U.S. Agency for International Development, cut funding last month over concerns that Houthi authorities are hindering aid distribution.    The group, which controls most major urban centres, has dismissed the charges as baseless.
    In mid-April the World Food Programme (WFP) said it had halved food aid to Houthi-controlled areas.
    Refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday it received only 28% of funding required this year and needs $89.4 million to assist more than 3.6 million displaced people, alongside foreign refugees and host communities.
    A senior U.S. official recently told Reuters the United States is preparing a “substantial contribution” to help Yemen’s coronavirus efforts.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington, Editing by William Maclean)

4/28/2020 Turkey aims to reopen economy starting late May: senior official by Orhan Coskun and Ceyda Caglayan
FILE PHOTO: A man stands in fron of closed Eyup Sultan Mosque during the first day of Ramadan and the second of a four-day
curfew, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Istanbul, Turkey April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s government aims to begin reviving the economy in late May after a sharp slowdown due to measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak, while minimising the risk of a second wave of infections, a senior official said on Tuesday.
    Separately, the head of a group of Turkish malls – which closed their doors independently last month – said there were plans for a gradual reopening from May 11 depending on demand from retailers and approval from a health advisory board.
    The emerging time frame from both the government and private sector reflects signs that the outbreak may be ebbing in Turkey, unease over the economy’s rapid slide toward its second recession in less than two years, and examples provided by some other countries acting to loosen their coronavirus lockdowns.
    “Recent studies have indicated that a reopening of the economy will be possible at the end of May and current developments confirmed this.    Steps will be taken to reopen without allowing a second wave,” the senior official told Reuters.
    In keeping with that outlook, Turkish Airlines on Tuesday extended its cancellation of flights by a week to May 28.
    Turkey has shuttered schools, restaurants and cafes to curb a surge in cases of the COVID-19 disease.    Though some workplaces remain open, it has imposed partial stay-at-home orders, largely closed borders and slowed domestic movement.     The country is seventh globally in confirmed cases of the new coronavirus at more than 112,000.    And while some 2,900 people have died, there has been a fall in newly reported deaths over the last eight days.
    “When we look at the case and death numbers we have come to a positive point (and) there is a possibility for the economy to reopen,” said the senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
SMALL STEPS
    Levels of trade, spending, manufacturing and consumer confidence have deteriorated due to containment measures and touched record lows this month.    The lira fell on Tuesday to below 7 to the dollar, its weakest since the worst day of a 2018 currency crisis.
    While Italy and some other countries are beginning to relax their lockdowns as infection rates have declined, others such as Russia are standing pat or tightening restrictions.
    President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey aims to return to normal life after the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in late May, and on Monday he said the government would soon set out specific steps and dates.
    The senior official said Turkey’s cabinet had on Monday discussed further possible tax adjustments and incentives to protect jobs and cut business costs, adding the government aims to boost hard-hit tourism and airline sectors.
    Reopening “will allow positive GDP readings in the second half of the year and will minimise the annual contraction,” he said.
    Some Turkish firms are already taking initial steps.
    Private lender Denizbank said it had extended working hours in branches to help corporate borrowers, while the head of an auto parts manufacturers association said reopening the economy in May would be a best case scenario in which production only falls some 15% and returns to normal by September.
    In an interview, Huseyin Alltas of the Council of Shopping Centres said a planned phased reopening from May 11 would initially exclude cinemas, playgrounds and restaurants – which the government shut down due to an especially high risk of coronavirus transmission – until approvals are given.
    Malls in hard-hit cities such as Istanbul – the worst area of outbreak in Turkey – may remain closed longer but could reopen by June, the official said.
    Sinan Oncel, head of the United Brands Association representing around 50,000 stores, said retailers would ask malls for rent discounts and aim for 50% of normal revenues over the first few months.
(Additional reporting by Ebru Tuncay, Can Sezer and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)

4/28/2020 Turkish mosque lights tell the faithful to stay home during Ramadan
Mahya reads "life fits at home" is seen installed between the minarets of Yeni New mosque, as the outbreak of the coronaviru
disease (COVID-19) continues in Istanbul, Turkey, April 27, 2020. Picture taken April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The traditional lighting that hangs between the minarets of Turkish mosques, usually packed for evening prayers in the holy month of Ramadan, is urging Turks to stay at home this year as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
    Known as “mahya,” the tradition of stringing up devotional messages in lights from the soaring minarets of Istanbul’s Ottoman-era mosques is unique to Turkey and dates back hundreds of years.
    The process of hanging the lights is overseen by masters of the art.    Working from sketches, they set lightbulbs on cords to spell out the desired message, before rolling them onto ropes draped between the minarets of the mosque using a pulley.
    Suspended between the minarets, the lights normally declare religious messages in huge letters, visible from afar and intended to reward and inspire the faithful who have spent the daylight hours fasting.
    This year, with Turkey at the peak of coronavirus outbreak at the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, the messages are different.
    Kahraman Yildiz, one of the last remaining experts on the art, wears a mask for the first time in his long career as he hangs the lights between two minarets of the 400-year-old New Mosque in Istanbul’s Fatih district.
    “We were giving nice religious messages during the month of Ramadan.    This month, something different happened because of this pandemic,” he says.
    “We are sharing (messages) related to that,” Kahraman adds, unfurling the string of lights that read: “Life fits at home.”
    He then begins hanging the lights one by one on a rope between the minarets as he and his colleagues carefully abide by social distancing rules in a city which has borne the brunt of Turkey’s 112,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.
    The lights are lit every evening during Ramadan at the time of the call to prayer that announces the end to the day’s fast.
    “Mahyas have given beautiful messages with excerpts from verses (of the Koran)… for centuries.    But this year for the first time, we have mahyas that we hung up aimed at protecting our health,” said Burhan Ersoy, General Director of Foundations.
    He said other examples included, “Stay responsible, stay healthy,” and “Stay home, stay healthy.”
(Reporting by Yesim Dikmen; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

4/29/2020 In letter to Trump, Turkey’s Erdogan urges better U.S. understanding
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks during a news conference following a coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
meeting in Ankara, Turkey, March 18, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said in a letter to President Donald Trump he hoped the U.S. Congress would better understand the strategic importance of their relations, given solidarity and supplies shared during the coronavirus pandemic.
    Erdogan’s letter arrived on Tuesday with a delivery of Turkish medical gear, including protective suits and masks, to help the NATO ally contain its COVID-19 outbreak.    The Palace’s office in Ankara released the letter on Wednesday.
    The U.S. Congress has threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of S-400 defence systems from Russia, but the pandemic has delayed the plan to activate the systems as Ankara focuses on battling the disease at home.
    “I hope that in the upcoming period, with the spirit of solidarity we have displayed during the pandemic, Congress and the U.S. media will better understand the strategic importance of our relations,” the Turkish president said in the letter.
    He said he hoped that they acted “in a way that our common fight against our common problems necessitates.”
    Turkish-U.S. relations have also been soured in recent years by disagreements over Syria, notably U.S. support for a Kurdish militia there, and the U.S. conviction of a Turkish bank executive.
    Earlier this month, Turkish officials said Turkey has held talks with the United States about possibly securing a swap line from the U.S. Federal Reserve and has discussed other funding options to mitigate the pandemic’s economic fallout.
    The Fed has ramped up swaps lines – in which it accepts other currencies in exchange for dollars – to central banks in several countries to backstop financial markets amid the crisis, but Turkey has not been among the recipients.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

4/29/2020 Turkey extends closure of schools to end-May over coronavirus: minister
FILE PHOTO: A member of the honour guard wearing a face mask stands guard during a ceremony to mark the
National Sovereignty and Children's Day at Anitkabir, mausoleum of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk,
as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, in Ankara, Turkey, April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has extended the closure of schools until the end of May as part of its measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, Education Minister Ziya Selcuk said on Wednesday.
    Ankara announced the initial closure of schools on March 12 after it reported its first case of COVID-19 and now has nearly 115,000 cases with a death toll of nearly 3,000.    Selcuk made the announcement at a news conference.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)

4/29/2020 Key U.S. official urges Lebanon to prove commitment to reforms: Al-Arabiya
A Lebanese police officer confronts a demonstrator during a protest against growing
economic hardship in Beirut, Lebanon April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department’s top diplomat for the Middle East has urged crisis-hit Lebanon to prove its commitment to reform in order to secure international assistance, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV channel said on Wednesday.
    Lebanon is grappling with renewed protests following a collapse in its currency, soaring inflation and spiralling unemployment, but its dire financial straits have only been worsened by a shutdown to rein in the coronavirus pandemic.
    The growing unrest threatens to tip Lebanon into more serious conflict, even as Beirut looks to pass an economic rescue plan and enter talks with foreign creditors after defaulting on hefty debt obligations last month.
    An accumulation of bad financial decisions, inaction and entrenched corruption and cronyism, were the cause of Lebanon’s crisis, Al Arabiya quoted David Schenker, the U.S. assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, as saying.
    “For Lebanon to be in a position to receive assistance from international financial institutions it must prove that it is ready to make difficult choices and decisions to show it is 100% committed to reform,” it quoted him saying in an interview.
    Its subsidiary channel, Al Hadath, also interviewed Schenker, who specified reforms to the power sector, customs, telecommunications and tax collection.
    Lebanon’s government, formed in January with the support of the powerful Iranian-backed movement Hezbollah, has struggled to make economic reforms demanded by foreign donors.    The United States has classified Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
    The U.S. official also welcomed a ceasefire announcement by the Saudi-led coalition that has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen for five years.    The truce was prompted by the pandemic and as a measure to support U.N. peace efforts.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Clarence Fernandez)

4/29/2020 Syria extends night curfew but allows businesses to reopen by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: A picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen on a door of a butcher shop, during a lockdown to
prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Damascus, Syria April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yamam Al Shaar
    AMMAN (Reuters) – The Syrian government said on Wednesday it extended a nationwide curfew to stem the spread of coronavirus but had eased a tight lockdown by allowing all businesses and public markets to go back to work.
    The government imposed the nationwide curfew just over a month ago after it announced its first official confirmed coronavirus case following weeks of denying claims of a cover-up by medical sources and witnesses who said there were many more cases.
    U.N. bodies and humanitarian workers have warned the country, which has now reported 43 confirmed cases and three deaths, is at high risk with a fragile health sector and lack of sufficient resources in the event of a major outbreak.
    Under pressure to soften the economic impact on the sanctions-hit country ravaged by a nine-year civil war, the authorities more than a week ago allowed a partial return to work for a wide range of professions and businesses.
    The government said the decision will allow once bustling bazaars to fully reopen.    The lockdown has hit a merchant class that have traditionally relied on a surge in spending during the fasting month of Ramadan that began last week.
    “The ministerial committee agrees to the opening of all popular markets and all commercial industrial enterprises and services firms,” said the government statement adding that the opening hours were restricted between 8 am to 5 pm.
    “All enterprises and shops must stick to public safety and disinfecting their shops,” the statement said.
    In recent weeks, the strict measures have led to panic buying during the day people are allowed to shop before the curfew, leading to shortages and price hikes as the local currency came under renewed pressure against the dollar.
    Many daily wage earners have been left struggling without income and deepening poverty among the country’s population.
    Damascus’s moves included restricting movements between provinces and halting military conscription and the call up of reserves to stem the pandemic within the ranks of the army.
    The cabinet also decided to begin a phased resumption of work in government ministries that had been closed, with the aim of a full return to work after the end of Ramadan late in May.
    The government, however, decided to end the school year for students, who had earlier been expected to return to school after May 2.
    The authorities also said it hoped in the coming few days to lift a quarantine of the Sayeda Zainab suburb of Damascus where a major Shi’ite shrine visited by Iranian and Iraqi pilgrims is believed by U.N. officials to have been a main source of the contagion.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

4/29/2020 Pompeo says U.S. ‘concerned’ over south Yemen separatist self-rule declaration by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a press briefing at the
State Department in Washington, U.S., April 22, 2020. Nicholas Kamm/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday Washington was ‘concerned’ over the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a separatist group, declaring self-rule in Yemen’s south, warning such actions threatened efforts to revive talks between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels.
    “Such unilateral actions only exacerbate instability in Yemen,” Pompeo said in a statement.    “They are especially unhelpful at a time when the country is threatened by COVID-19 and also threaten to complicate the efforts of the UN Special Envoy to revive political negotiations between the government and the Houthi rebels.”
    The Saudi-led coalition has announced a unilateral truce prompted by a United Nations plea to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.    The Houthis have not accepted it and violence has continued.
    Yemen’s internationally recognized government warned of “catastrophic consequences” after the STC on Sunday declared emergency rule in southern governorates including Aden, interim seat of the government that was ousted from power in the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthi group in late 2014.
    “We call on the STC and the Republic of Yemen government to re-engage in the political process provided under the Riyadh Agreement,” Pompeo said.
    On Monday, the Saudi-led coalition engaged in Yemen urged the STC to rescind its move, saying it was an “escalatory action” at a time when all parties should focus on confronting the novel coronavirus.
    Yemen has been mired in violence that has killed more than 100,000 since the coalition intervened in March 2015 on the side of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government.    There has been military stalemate for years and the Houthis hold most big urban centres.
    The STC, which is backed by Riyadh’s main coalition partner the United Arab Emirates, has long sought self-rule in the south and accuses Hadi’s government of mismanagement and corruption, a charge it denies.
    While Yemen has reported only one confirmed COVID-19 case, aid groups fear a catastrophe if it spreads among a malnourished population in a country with a shattered health system.
    The United Nations is trying to convene virtual talks on the truce, coordinated coronavirus efforts and confidence-building steps to restart talks to end the war.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Lincoln Feast.)

4/29/2020 Lebanon cities erupt against economic hardship, one protester killed in Tripoli by Walid Saleh
A view of the damaged bank interior that was set ablaze during unrest overnight, as an economic crisis brought
demonstrations back onto the streets, in Tripoli, Lebanon April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim
    TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) – Protests against growing economic hardship erupted in Tripoli and spread to other Lebanese cities on Tuesday, with banks set ablaze and violence boiling over into a second night.
    One demonstrator was killed in riots overnight Monday, according to security and medical sources, as a collapse in the currency, soaring inflation and spiralling unemployment convulse Lebanon, a country in deep financial crisis since October.
    A shutdown to fight the new coronavirus has made matters worse for the economy.
    Protesters in the northern city of Tripoli on Tuesday set banks on fire and smashed their facades, prompting the army to fire rubber bullets and tear gas.    Demonstrators on Tuesday night piled into a main square while on side streets some threw stones at security forces.
    Riots a night earlier left a trail of bank facades charred and cars and ATMs smashed.    The violence led to the death of a man in his 20s, according to a security source who said it was not immediately clear who was responsible for his death.
    Banks have been a target of people angered by being frozen out of their deposits.
    Protesters in the southern city of Sidon chanting “revolution” hurled petrol bombs at a central bank building and set its exterior on fire before smashing the fronts of banks.
    In Beirut dozens marched across the city, some wearing medical masks while chanting against the financial system and shouting for more Lebanese to join.    Later, crowds hurled stones toward security forces positioned in front of the central bank.
    The growing unrest threatens to tip Lebanon into more serious conflict even as Beirut looks to pass an economic rescue plan and enter negotiations with foreign creditors after defaulting on its hefty debt obligations last month.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab urged Lebanese to refrain from violence and said “malicious intentions behind the scenes” were “shaking stability.”
    “We are faced with a new reality, a reality that the social and living crisis has made worse at record speed, especially with the rise of the U.S. dollar exchange rate to record levels on the black market,” Diab said in a statement.
    Lebanon’s pound has lost more than half its value since October and slid sharply over the past week, triggering small protests despite a coronavirus lockdown and pleas by officials for people to remain home.
    U.S. dollars sold for 4,200 Lebanese pounds on Tuesday according to one importer, despite a central bank directive capping the price at 3,200.    Several currency dealers were arrested on Monday for violating the cap, prompting their trade association to announce an open-ended strike.
    In a phone call to Diab, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris was ready to convene an international support group meeting for Lebanon as soon as coronavirus lockdown measures were lifted.
    Diab’s government, formed in January with the support of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah, has struggled to enact reforms demanded by foreign donors to release billions of dollars in pledged financing.
    “People have lost their purchasing power and the state has no plan to do anything.    Banks are closed and not giving money to people.    I think this government should resign,” said Tripoli lawyer Fahed Moukaddem.
    Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said after a Cabinet meeting that “final touches” were being put to the rescue plan, a draft of which this month estimated losses in the banking sector at $83 billion.
WARNING
    Tripoli, a mainly Sunni Muslim port city 80 km (50 miles) north of Beirut and long dogged by poverty and unemployment, was the stage for protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite last October.
    “This is not a riot, this is expressing (anger) that the dollar has reached 4,000 Lebanese pounds. … How are people going to eat?    And this is the holy month of Ramadan,” said Abou Hussein, a Tripoli activist.
    The army said a firebomb was thrown at one of its vehicles and a hand grenade hurled at a patrol.    It blamed “infiltrators” and called on peaceful protesters to leave the streets.
    It said 40 soldiers were wounded in Tripoli and elsewhere in the first night of riots after patrols sent to reopen roads were attacked with stones and nine protesters were arrested.
    A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut said: “The frustration of the Lebanese people over the economic crisis is understandable, and the demands of protesters are justified.    But incidents of violence, threats, and destruction of property are deeply concerning, and must stop.”
    The U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, said the violence was a warning for Lebanon’s political leaders.
    “This is the time to provide material support to increasingly desperate, impoverished and hungry majority of Lebanese all around the country,” he wrote in a tweet.
    The banking association declared all banks in Tripoli shut until security is restored.    Only a handful of branches have been open during the coronavirus lockdown.
(Reporting by Walid Saleh; additional reporting by Eric Knecht, Yara Abi Nader and Issam Abdallah; writing by Tom Perry, Peter Graff, Janet Lawrence; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

4/29/2020 Small protests break out in Lebanese cities in third night of unrest
A worker cleans up broken glass from a bank facade after overnight protests against
growing economic hardship in Sidon, Lebanon April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Small protests fueled by worsening economic conditions in Lebanon broke out across several cities late on Wednesday, marking a third night of unrest.
    Lebanon is in the throes of a deep economic crisis that has seen its currency lose more than half its value since October, soaring inflation, and spiraling unemployment
.
    In the northern city of Tripoli protesters lobbed fireworks and stones at soldiers who pushed them back with rubber bullets.    In the southern city of Sidon demonstrators set a central bank building ablaze with petrol bombs for a second night.
    The latest wave of unrest comes after a plunge in the value of the pound currency last week that has threatened to further hike prices in the import-dependent country.
    Banks that have locked savers out of their U.S. dollar accounts in a bid to preserve scarce hard currency have been primary targets in recent days, with bank fronts burned and ATMs smashed in several cities.
    The unrest comes as Beirut is on the verge of finalizing an economic rescue plan that will form the basis of negotiations with foreign bondholders after defaulting on its debt last month in a bid to preserve cash for vital imports.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

4/29/2020 Jordan lifts driving ban as it eyes normality after tight lockdown by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
A man wears a protective face mask as he walks along the main market in downtown after the government eased the restrictions on
movement aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Amman, Jordan April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordanians took to the streets after a ban was lifted on driving and many businesses reopened in a rapid return to normality after the authorities relaxed a tough forty-day curfew to stem the spread of coronavirus.
    A car driving ban for most of the country’s 10 million inhabitants was imposed shortly after King Abdullah enacted an emergency law in the middle of last month that gave the government sweeping powers that curb civil and political rights and deploy the army in cities.
    The government, which announced the move on Monday, said it could revert back to limiting movement by foot from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for people to shop under stay at home orders before a night curfew if people did not observe social distancing rules.
    “Continuing to ease measures depends on the degree of compliance and in the event people and businesses don’t abide, we will unfortunately go back to closures and tough measures,” cabinet minister and government spokesman Amjad Adailah said.
    The curfew brought the army to main squares of the capital for the first time on this scale since martial law decades ago, paralyzing daily life, business activity and leaving many daily wage earners struggling without pay.
    The government of Prime Minister Omar al Razzaz won praise for quick moves that were some of the world’s strictest measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, but the economic impact has deepened, with growing criticism by business lobbies and fears of social unrest.
    The closure of firms and the disruption of tourism, a main source of foreign currency, has choked the aid dependant economy with officials warning this year of the first contraction in growth since 1990 and a record public debt that will exceed 100% of GDP.
    Public buses and taxis were also allowed to resume on Wednesday in the phased reopening of thousands of businesses and industries since last week and now extended to beauty parlors, cosmetics to dentists and garments and malls.
    Medical officials, who say with only 451 confirmed cases and only eight deaths the country can risk more steps to open the economy, warned, however, cases could spike again if people did not take heed of safeguards.
    “There is an impression by some that the disease has ended and any recklessness or steering away from preventive measures will lead to the return of the disease and in a worse way,” said Health Minister Saad Jaber said.
    The government has not indicated when civil servants in most government agencies will be allowed to go back to work nor timing of the resumption of schools and universities.
    The country’s airport remains closed to passenger traffic and land borders crossings with neighbors Syria, Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia only open for commercial traffic.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

4/29/2020 Saudi malls fill again as kingdom eases coronavirus closures by Marwa Rashad
Shops and open-air markets are seen packed with people at southern Batha market after the Saudi government eased a curfew and allowed stores to open,
following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Marwa Rashad
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudis began tentatively returning to shopping malls and open-air markets on Wednesday after authorities relaxed restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
    Security guards took shoppers’ temperatures as a small number of visitors entered upscale malls in central Riyadh.    A strong smell of sanitizer wafted through the homewares, cosmetic and clothing stores.
    Many welcomed the semblance of normalcy after being cooped up at home due to curfews imposed since late March, especially with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Friday.
    The kingdom on Sunday eased movement restrictions between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. except in Mecca.    Schools, restaurants, mosques and other public venues where physical distancing is difficult to maintain remain closed and social gatherings of more than five people are banned.
    “The reopening is being done in a limited way, it’s very well done so that we can get our essential goods,” said 22-year-old Faisal al-Qanas at Hayat Mall.
    With online shopping still fairly new to the kingdom, malls remain popular, particularly for large numbers of Saudi Arabia’s under-30s, who make up roughly 80% of the country’s 30 million population. Many shoppers on Wednesday were young women.
    “They’ve taken precautions – there are gloves, masks, they’re making sure people keep enough distance between each other,” said 19-year-old Nojod Alshammari, who was also visiting Hayat Mall.
    Authorities urged shoppers to practice social distancing and recommended that children, the elderly and those with compromised immunity remain at home.
    In Riyadh’s southern Batha neighbourhood, where many low-income foreign workers live and work, shops and open-air markets were packed with people, a few wearing face masks or gloves.
    Vendors were eager to see customers return.
    “I hope I can make some gains today, as the last few weeks were dead and I ran out of most of my savings,” Khorshid, a Pakistani fruit and vegetable seller, said.
    He was selling produce from a small cart on a dusty side street for half the price of large supermarkets.
    “I want to sell as much as possible.    I didn’t send any money to my wife and children for the last two months.”
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad and Reuters TV News; writing by Raya Jalabi; editing by Alexandra Hudson)

4/29/2020 Riot rocks coronavirus-hit prison in Sierra Leone
Police officers stand in front of the Male Correctional center after riot erupted at a prison amid the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Freetown, Sierra Leone April 29, 2020. REUTERS/ Cooper inveen
    FREETOWN (Reuters) – Smoke billowed from the central prison in Sierra Leone’s capital and gunfire could be heard from nearby streets on Wednesday after a riot broke out, a Reuters reporter said.
    The morning violence at Pademba Road Prison followed confirmation on Monday of a coronavirus case there, but the government said late in the day that it believed the unrest was caused by a failed prison break and not related to the epidemic.
    The information ministry said authorities were still collecting information about injuries and damage to the facility.
    The prison was rocked by a series of riots in the 2000s due to overcrowding and poor conditions.    Its numbers have risen in recent days with the transfer of inmates from a reintegration centre back to the prison due to the coronavirus pandemic.
    The West African nation has so far confirmed 104 cases of the virus and five deaths.    On Monday, the Chief Justice said an inmate at Pademba prison had tested positive for the disease and been transferred out of the facility for treatment.
    The correctional centre, designed to house 324 inmates, held over 2,000 in 2019, according to a U.S. State Department human rights report that described conditions in Sierra Leone’s prison system as harsh and life-threatening.
(Reporting by Cooper Inveen; Writing by Alessandra Prentice and Aaron Ross Editing by Angus MacSwan/Mark Heinrich)

4/29/2020 Nigeria to ease lockdowns in three states over six-week period by Paul Carsten
FILE PHOTO: A volunteer carries food parcels to distribute to vulnerable residents, during a lockdown by the authorities in
efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Lagos, Nigeria April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja
    ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria will ease coronavirus lockdowns in three states over a six-week period from May 4, the head of the country’s task force on the virus said on Wednesday.
    The easing of restrictions in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states will be split into
two-week phases, said Boss Mustapha, the chairman of Nigeria’s presidential task force for COVID-19.
    He was providing details after President Muhammadu Buhari announced on Monday that there would be a “phased and gradual” easing of the lockdowns.
    The number of coronavirus cases has, however, continued to rise.    On Tuesday, Nigeria reported 195 new cases of the novel coronavirus, nearly double the previous daily high. There are now 1,532 confirmed cases and 44 deaths.
    “The easing of restrictions and introduction of revised measures do not amount to the end of this battle against COVID-19,” Mustapha said, referring to the respiratory disease that the coronavirus can cause.
    “Indeed, it signifies the need for more vigilance and stringent compliance so that we are not lulled into complacence capable of diminishing the progress we have made so far.”
    Sani Aliyu, the national coordinator of the task force, said people may move around for work, buying food, exercise and healthcare. Banks will be allowed to open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and gatherings of up to 20 people are allowed.
    But schools will remain closed, passenger flights will remain banned, restaurants will operate only on a takeaway basis, and all cultural events are cancelled.
    Public places will need to require temperature checks, and businesses can reopen only if they fumigate and decontaminate their offices, enable social distancing and offer hand sanitizer and hand washing.
    On Monday, Buhari also announced an overnight curfew, mandatory face masks in public and a ban on non-essential interstate travel.
(Writing by Libby George; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

4/30/2020 After U.S., Israeli pressure, Germany bans Hezbollah activity, raids mosques
German special police leaves the El-Irschad (Al-Iraschad e.V.) centre in Berlin, Germany, April 30, 2020, after Germany
has banned Iran-backed Hezbollah on its soil and designated it a terrorist organisation. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany banned all Hezbollah activity on its soil on Thursday and designated the Iran-backed group a terrorist organisation, a much-anticipated step long urged by Israel and the United States.
    Police also conducted early morning raids on mosque associations in cities across Germany which officials believe are close to the heavily armed Shi’ite Islamist group.
    “The activities of Hezbollah violate criminal law and the organization opposes the concept of international understanding,” said the interior ministry in a statement.
    The move means that Hezbollah symbols are banned at gatherings and in publications or in the media and Hezbollah assets can be confiscated, said the ministry, adding as it is a foreign organisation, it is not possible to ban and dissolve it.
    Security officials believe up to 1,050 people in Germany are part of what they describe as Hezbollah’s extremist wing.
    Israel, which with the United States had been pushing Germany to ban the group, praised the move.
    “It is a very important decision and a valuable and significant step in the global fight against terrorism,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz.
    “I call on other European countries as well as the European Union to do the same.    All the parts of Hezbollah, including the social, political and military wings are terror organizations and they should be treated as such,” he added.
DAWN RAIDS
    Previously, Berlin had distinguished between Hezbollah’s political arm and its military units, which have fought alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s army in Syria.
    Hezbollah is also a significant backer of the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, which took office in January.
    The EU classifies Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist group, but not its political wing.    Britain introduced legislation in February of last year that classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
    The American Jewish Committee also hailed it as a landmark decision.
    “This is a welcome, much-anticipated, and significant German decision,” said AJC head David Harris.
    As a legacy of the Holocaust, Germany feels a special responsibility towards protecting Israel.
    Germany’s interior ministry said Hezbollah calls for the violent elimination of the State of Israel and questions the right of the State of Israel to exist.
    “The organization is therefore fundamentally against the concept of international understanding, regardless of whether it presents itself as a political, social or military structure,” it said.
    In dawn raids, police searched mosque associations in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bremen and Berlin which they believe are close to Hezbollah and the private residences of the leaders of each association.
    The associations under investigation are suspected of forming part of Hezbollah due to their financial support and propaganda for the terrorist organization, said the interior ministry.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke and Jeffrey Heller in Israel, Editing by William Maclean)

4/30/2020 Aerial footage shows miles-long queue for food aid in South Africa
Locals are seen during the distribution of food amid the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in Alexandra township, South Africa, April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Aerial footage showed thousands of people queuing for miles down a dirt road in South Africa for charity food aid meant to relieve hunger caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
    The images from the neighbouring slums of Mooiplaas and Spruit, on the outskirts of the capital Pretoria, show the extent of need that     South Africa’s economic lockdown has generated among many who even before the pandemic were living a hand-to-mouth existence.
    Africa’s most industrialised nation has recorded 5,350 cases and 103 deaths from the virus.
    About 90 percent of the inhabitants of these informal settlements are foreigners or undocumented migrants from other southern African nations like Zimbabwe, Yusuf Abramjee, a spokesman for the charity coalition said by telephone.
    They do not qualify for food aid from a government busy attending to its own large numbers of impoverished citizens.
    The footage shot on Wednesday and reviewed by Reuters shows a dirt track flanked by bush, large patches of which are burnt or covered in rubbish, and iron-roof shanty towns.    In places the queue looks orderly; in others, it disintegrates into a crowd.
    “That just shows you the levels of desperation that we have,” said Abramjee.    “I’ve not seen anything on this scale, not these levels of poverty and hunger in South Africa.    It’s heartbreaking,” he said, adding the queue was 4 km (2.5 miles) at one stage.
    In total, the charity delivered 8,000 food parcels to an estimated 12,000 families, he said.
    South Africa has spent five weeks under restrictions requiring most of the population of about 58 million to stay at home, apart from essential trips.
(Reporting by Siyabonga Sishi and Tim Cocks; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

4/30/2020 UAE calls on all Libyan parties commit to political process, renews support to Haftar
FILE PHOTO: Libya's eastern-based military leader Khalifa Haftar is seen in an unknown location in this screen
grab taken from a video released on April 27, 2020. LIBYAN NATIONAL ARMY HANDOUT/Reuters TV via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates called on Thursday on all Libyan parties to commit to the U.N.-supervised political process to end the war, while at the same time saluting the eastern Libya based-army led by general Khalifa Haftar.
    The UAE statement did not comment directly on Haftar’s declaration on Monday that his army would take power, ripping up a 2015 political agreement that has been the basis for all international peacemaking efforts.
    The UAE “commends the Libyan National Army for conducting anti-terror operations,” a statement by the Emirati Foreign Ministry said, expressing “its categorical rejection of the Turkish military intervention” in support of the rival, Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
    The statement expressed the UAE’s support for a political solution based on the Berlin conference, calling on “all parties to commit to the political process under the supervision of the United Nations.”
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/30/2020 Yemen reports first two deaths from coronavirus by Mohammed Ghobari and Mohammed Mokhashef
FILE PHOTO: A health worker wearing a protecitve suit disinfects a market amid concerns of the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sanaa, Yemen April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen reported multiple coronavirus infections and deaths linked to the disease for the first time on Wednesday and an official in the southern port of Aden said the number of cases was very likely to increase in the coming days.
    The United Nations has said it fears the novel coronavirus could be spreading undetected in a country where millions face famine and lack medical care after Yemen announced its first COVID-19 case in the southern Hadhramout province on April 10.
    Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthi group ousted the internationally recognised government from power in the capital Sanaa, prompting a Saudi-led alliance to intervene in March 2015. The war has shattered health and sanitation systems and authorities lack testing capabilities.
    The Saudi-backed government’s health minister told Yemen TV late on Wednesday that five COVID-19 cases with two deaths were reported in Aden and noted that the prevalence of other diseases with similar symptoms, such as dengue fever, made it difficult to detect coronavirus infections without testing.
    “We have all been waiting for this moment and preparing for it despite our scarce (health) capabilities,” said an official in the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which on Sunday declared self-rule in Aden and other southern regions.
    “Yes this is yet another suffering for us but we must be firm, calm and patient … It is very likely the numbers will increase in coming days,” Abdul Nasser al-Wali said.
    The STC, which is locked in a power struggle with the Saudi-backed government in its interim seat in the south, on Wednesday declared a three-day, 24-hour curfew and closure of mosques.
    Authorities have told Reuters they have been unable to track down “patient zero” for Yemen’s infections, an important step in tracing people potentially exposed to infection and containing an outbreak.
    On Tuesday the United Nations said there was a “very real probability” the virus was circulating within communities.
    Health workers say the virus could spread rapidly in a country where 24 million people – 80% of the population – rely on aid, and 10 million are at risk of famine.    Disease is rife.
DIVIDED COUNTRY
    Two sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters there has been at least one confirmed case in Houthi-controlled Sanaa, but the movement’s health ministry denied this and said all suspected cases had tested negative for COVID-19.
    On Wednesday the Aden-based government’s emergency coronavirus committee voiced concerns that Houthi officials were not admitting to a coronavirus outbreak in the capital.
    The Saudi-led coalition has declared a temporary nationwide ceasefire due to the pandemic as the United Nations seeks to hold a virtual meeting of the warring parties to cement a permanent truce, coordinate coronavirus efforts and restart peace talks.
    The Iran-aligned Houthis, who control most big urban centres, have not accepted the truce and violence has continued.
    Tensions also resurfaced in the south after the STC declared emergency rule, threatening to renew conflict between the separatists and the Saudi-backed government, both part of the anti-Houthi coalition.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Nayera Abdallah; writing by Samar Hassan and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Kim Coghill and Jon Boyle)

4/30/2020 Special Report: Trump told Saudis: Cut oil supply or lose U.S. military support – sources by Timothy Gardner, Steve Holland, Dmitry Zhdannikov and Rania El Gamal
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a family photo
session with other leaders and attendees at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    WASHINGTON/LONDON/DUBAI (Reuters) – As the United States pressed Saudi Arabia to end its oil price war with Russia, President Donald Trump gave Saudi leaders an ultimatum.
    In an April 2 phone call, Trump told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that unless the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) started cutting oil production, he would be powerless to stop lawmakers from passing legislation to withdraw U.S. troops from the kingdom, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
    The threat to upend a 75-year strategic alliance, which has not been previously reported, was central to the U.S. pressure campaign that led to a landmark global deal to slash oil supply as demand collapsed in the coronavirus pandemic – scoring a diplomatic victory for the White House.
    Trump delivered the message to the crown prince 10 days before the announcement of production cuts.    The kingdom’s de facto leader was so taken aback by the threat that he ordered his aides out of the room so he could continue the discussion in private, according to a U.S. source who was briefed on the discussion by senior administration officials.
    The effort illustrated Trump’s strong desire to protect the U.S. oil industry from a historic price meltdown as governments shut down economies worldwide to fight the virus.    It also reflected a telling reversal of Trump’s longstanding criticism of the oil cartel, which he has blasted for raising energy costs for Americans with supply cuts that usually lead to higher gasoline prices.    Now, Trump was asking OPEC to slash output.
    A senior U.S. official told Reuters that the administration notified Saudi leaders that, without production cuts, “there would be no way to stop the U.S. Congress from imposing restrictions that could lead to a withdrawal of U.S. forces.”    The official summed up the argument, made through various diplomatic channels, as telling Saudi leaders: “We are defending your industry while you’re destroying ours.”
    Reuters asked Trump about the talks in an interview Wednesday evening at the White House, at which the president addressed a range of topics involving the pandemic.    Asked if he told the crown prince that the U.S. might pull forces out of Saudi Arabia, Trump said, “I didn’t have to tell him.”
    “I thought he and President Putin, Vladimir Putin, were very reasonable,” Trump said.    “They knew they had a problem, and then this happened.”
    Asked what he told the Crown Prince Mohammed, Trump said: “They were having a hard time making a deal.    And I met telephonically with him, and we were able to reach a deal” for production cuts, Trump said.
    Saudi Arabia’s government media office did not respond to a request for comment.    A Saudi official who asked not to be named stressed that the agreement represented the will of all countries in the so-called OPEC+ group of oil-producing nations, which includes OPEC plus a coalition led by Russia.
    “Saudi Arabia, the United States and Russia have played an important role in the OPEC+ oil cut agreement, but without the cooperation of the 23 countries who took part in the agreement, it would not have happened,” said the Saudi official, who declined to comment on the discussions between U.S. and Saudi leaders.
    The week before Trump’s phone call with Crown Prince Mohammed, U.S. Republican Senators Kevin Cramer and Dan Sullivan had introduced legislation to remove all U.S. troops, Patriot missiles and anti-missile defense systems from the kingdom unless Saudi Arabia cut oil output.    Support for the measure was gaining momentum amid Congressional anger over the ill-timed Saudi-Russia oil price war.    The kingdom had opened up the taps in April, unleashing a flood of crude into the global supply after Russia refused to deepen production cuts in line with an earlier OPEC supply pact.
    On April 12, under pressure from Trump, the world’s biggest oil-producing nations outside the United States agreed to the largest production cut ever negotiated.    OPEC, Russia and other allied producers slashed production by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd), or about 10% of global output.    Half that volume came from cuts of 2.5 million bpd each by Saudi Arabia and Russia, whose budgets depend on high oil-and-gas revenues.
    Despite the agreement to cut a tenth of global production, oil prices continued to fall to historic lows.    U.S. oil futures dropped below $0 last week as sellers paid buyers to avoid taking delivery of oil they had no place to store. Brent futures, the global oil benchmark, fell towards $15 per barrel – a level not seen since the 1999 oil price crash – from as high as $70 at the start of the year.
    The deal for supply cuts could eventually boost prices, however, as governments worldwide start to open their economies and fuel demand rises with increased travel.    Whatever the impact, the negotiations mark an extraordinary display of U.S. influence over global oil output.
    Cramer, the Republican senator from North Dakota, told Reuters he spoke to Trump about the legislation to withdraw U.S. military protection from Saudi Arabia on March 30, three days before the president called Crown Prince Mohammed.
    Asked whether Trump told Saudi Arabia it could lose U.S. military support, U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Reuters the president reserved the right to use every tool to protect U.S. producers, including “our support for their defense needs.”
    The strategic partnership dates back to 1945, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Saudi King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud on the USS Quincy, a Navy cruiser. They reached a deal: U.S. military protection in exchange for access to Saudi oil reserves.    Today, the United States has about three thousand troops in the country, and the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet protects oil exports from the region.br>     Saudi Arabia relies on the United States for weapons and protection against regional rivals such as Iran.    The kingdom’s vulnerabilities, however, were exposed late last year in an attack by 18 drones and three missiles on key Saudi oil facilities.    Washington blamed Iran; Tehran denied it.
THIRTEEN ANGRY SENATORS
    Trump initially welcomed lower oil prices, saying cheap gasoline prices were akin to a tax cut for drivers.
    That changed after Saudi Arabia announced in mid-March it would pump a record 12.3 million bpd – unleashing the price war with Russia.    The explosion of supply came as governments worldwide issued stay-home orders – crushing fuel demand – and made clear that U.S. oil companies would be hit hard in the crude price collapse. Senators from U.S. oil states were infuriated.
    On March 16, Cramer was among 13 Republican senators who sent a letter to Crown Prince Mohammed reminding him of Saudi Arabia’s strategic reliance on Washington. The group also urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to investigate whether Saudi Arabia and Russia were breaking international trade laws by flooding the U.S. market with oil.
    On March 18, the senators – a group that included Sullivan of Alaska and Ted Cruz of Texas – held a rare call with Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States.    Cramer called the conversations “brutal” as each senator detailed the damage to their states’ oil industries.
    “She heard it from every senator; there was nobody that held back,” Cramer told Reuters.
    The Saudi embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
    Cramer said the princess relayed their comments to officials in Saudi Arabia, including the energy minister.    The senators told the princess that the kingdom faced rising opposition in the Senate to the Saudi-led coalition that is waging a war in Yemen against Houthi rebels.
    Saudi and U.S. officials have said the Houthis are armed by Iran, which Tehran denies.    The backing of Senate Republicans over Yemen had proved crucial for Saudi Arabia last year.    The Senate upheld Trump vetoes of several measures seeking to end U.S. weapons sales and other military support to Saudi Arabia amid outrage over the Yemen conflict, which has caused more than 100,000 deaths and triggered a humanitarian crisis.
    Cramer said he made a phone call to Trump on March 30, about a week after he and Sullivan introduced their bill to pull U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia.    The president called Cramer back the same day with Energy Secretary Brouillette, senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on the call, the senator said.
    “I said the one person that you don’t have on the call that can be very helpful is Mark Esper,” the defense secretary, Cramer recounted, saying he wanted Esper to address how U.S. military assets in Saudi Arabia might be moved elsewhere in the region to protect U.S. troops.
    The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment on whether Esper was involved in discussions of pulling military assets out of Saudi Arabia.
BENDING THE KNEE
    Trump’s oil diplomacy came in a whirlwind of calls with Saudi King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed and Russian President Vladimir Putin starting in mid-March.    The Kremlin confirmed Putin’s conversation with Trump and said they discussed both oil supply cuts and the coronavirus pandemic.
    On the April 2 call with Prince Mohammed, Trump told the Saudi ruler he was going to “cut them off” the next time Congress pushed a proposal to end Washington’s defense of the kingdom, according the source with knowledge of the call.    Trump also publicly threatened in early April to impose tariffs on oil imports from Saudi Arabia and Russia.
    After the conversation with the Saudi crown prince, and another the same day with Putin, Trump tweeted that he expected Saudi Arabia and Russia to cut output by about 10 million barrels, which “will be GREAT for the oil & gas industry!
    Riyadh and Moscow later confirmed they had restarted negotiations.
    On April 3, Trump hosted a meeting at the White House with senators Cramer, Cruz, and Sullivan, and oil executives from companies including Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp, Occidental Petroleum Corp and Continental Resources.
    During the public portion of the meeting, Cramer told Trump that Washington can use the billions of dollars it spends defending Saudi Arabia on other military priorities “if our friends are going to treat us this way.”
    The prospect of losing U.S. military protection made the royal family “bend at the knees” and bow to Trump’s demands, a Middle Eastern diplomat told Reuters.
    After prolonged and fractious negotiations, top producers pledged their record output cut of 9.7 million bpd in May and June, with the understanding that economic forces would lead to about 10 million bpd in further cuts in production from other countries, including the United States and Canada.
    Trump hailed the deal and cast himself as its broker.    “Having been involved in the negotiations, to put it mildly, the number that OPEC+ is looking to cut is 20 Million Barrels a day…” he tweeted shortly after the deal.
    Riyadh also took credit.    Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz told Reuters at the time that the crown prince had been “instrumental in formulating this deal.”
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Steve Holland in Washington, Dmitry Zhdannikov in London and Rania El Gamal in Dubai; additional reporting by Alexandra Alper and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, and Marwa Rashad in Riyadh; writing by Michael Georgy; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Brian Thevenot)

4/30/2020 In Syria’s Idlib city, a caravan spreads the word about coronavirus
Volunteers dressed in coronavirus-themed costumes stand on a vehicle during a campaign organised by the
Violet Organization, in an effort to spread awareness and encourage safety amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
fears, in the rebel-held Idlib city, Syria April 29, 2020. Picture taken