From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved

    This file is attached to 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 March-April or continue to King Of The South 2020 July-August.


    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.
    The following image below is seen at 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.”
    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 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.


5/1/2020 Turkey’s contact tracers race to contain coronavirus by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen
Medics wearing protective suits, members of Turkish Health Ministry's coronavirus contact tracing team, leave after visiting
a home to check a suspected coronavirus disease (COVID-19) case in Ankara, Turkey, April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Tuvan Gumrukcu
    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Two medics in protective suits jumped out of a car in a deserted street in central Ankara and hurried inside a building – one carrying medical equipment and the other, paperwork.
    Some 15 minutes later, they sped off to their next appointment, one of nearly 6,000 teams deployed across Turkey to try to stem the coronavirus pandemic by tracking down the contacts of those found to have become infected.
    After recording some of the fastest growth in COVID-19 infections in the world, health officials say the outbreak in Turkey has hit a plateau around six weeks after the first case was confirmed.    The death toll of 3,174 is lower than 11 other countries in the world.
    The daily death toll has been on a downward trajectory for the last 10 days, with 93 deaths confirmed in the past 24 hours, according to health ministry data.
    Health Minister Fahrettin Koca credits the country’s contact tracing efforts along with Turks’ largely voluntary adherence to lockdown measures, for the trend.
    In contrast to South Korea, which limited deaths to below 250 with the help of a contact-tracing app, Turkey has taken a more labour-intensive approach.
    Koca said on Wednesday around 5,800 teams of two or three medics had identified 468,390 people who have been in contact with coronavirus patients.    He said around 99% of those had been reached and were regularly monitored by health officials.
    In the capital Ankara, a coordination centre oversees the field visits and follow-up calls by telephone.    The two groups cooperate to identify, test and report cases across the city.
    “Since a household is on average four to five people, with the workplace added in, there have been cases where we tracked 200 people at once,” said Ayse Cigdem Simsek, the Ankara Provincial Health Directorate Deputy Chairwoman of Public Health Services.
    Under the system, the teams are tasked with telling contacts of a COVID-19 sufferers to stay at home for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms.
    Other teams are then instructed to call them daily to ensure compliance and check on their health.    If they report symptoms, they get another visit to give a sample for testing in hospital, Kerime Altunay, a public health doctor and coordinator of the remote monitoring team in Ankara, told Reuters.
    The system grew out of a method Turkey had been using for decades to contain previous outbreaks of measles and flu, Simsek told Reuters.
    But while testing was launched on the day the first case was confirmed, March 11, it took a while to roll out.
    Initially Ankara sent testing kits to the United States when it was short of them at home, but has since ramped up testing.
    Turkey, with a population of 83 million is now doing 30,000-40,000 tests a day, according to data from the Health Ministry.
    Schools were closed immediately and other measures, including the closure of non-essential shops and factories and compulsory lockdowns at weekends, were brought in in stages.
    The lockdown has been stricter than South Korea but less stringent than some European countries like Spain or Italy.
    The head of the Turkish Medics Association (TTB), Sinan Adiyaman, said early in the outbreak that not enough tests were being done.    The TTB has also questioned the death toll, as experts have done for other countries, and said it wants the government to include those who died with COVID-19 symptoms even if they have not tested positive.
    The government says it is following reporting standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO).    The WHO Office in Turkey declined to comment and the TTB was not available for comment.
    Koca said on Wednesday that the coronavirus outbreak was at its peak and would decline, and that contact tracing would continue to ensure it does not reignite.
    Mustafa Necmi Ilhan, head of the Public Health Department at Gazi University Medical School, said the initial speed of the outbreak in Turkey, which was similar to the worst affected countries such as Italy, prompted fears, but that contact tracing helped break the chain of infection.
    Turkey also says its distinctive practice of delaying transfer of patients to intensive care from other wards has helped limit the death toll by easing pressure on instensive care resources, such as medical gear and staff.
    Ankara has stressed the early use of high flow oxygen instead of intubation when respiratory difficulties appear, as well as early administration of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, before patients develop more severe symptoms.
    The government said this had lowered the death rate and shortened recovery times.
    Hydroxychloroquine, a decades-old generic medicine, has been touted by U.S. President Donald Trump and others as a “game changer” treatment for the highly contagious respiratory illness, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized its use in COVID-19 on an emergency basis.    But there is not yet scientific proof that it works.
    There are currently no approved medicines or vaccines specifically for COVID-19.
    Last week the U.S. FDA cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients, saying it could cause abnormal heart rhythms and dangerously rapid heart rate.
    Ilhan said the drug was administered carefully, in different doses depending on the age and health of the patient.    While it may have side effects, none had appeared so far, he said.
(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen; editing by Dominic Evans and Philippa Fletcher)

5/1/2020 Yemen records first coronavirus case in Taiz province as virus spreads
FILE PHOTO: A view of a street during a curfew amid concerns about the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Aden, Yemen April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Wael al-Qubati
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen reported the first case of the novel coronavirus in a third province on Friday, raising the number of diagnosed infections to seven with two deaths in one of the world’s most vulnerable countries.
    The United Nations says it fears the virus could be spreading undetected in the country where a five-year war has shattered health systems and left millions acutely malnourished.
    “A new confirmed case of coronavirus was reported, the first in (southwestern) governorate of Taiz, in a man in his 40s,” the national emergency coronavirus committee said in a Twitter post.
    “The patient is receiving care at a quarantine centre and measures have been taken by the monitoring teams and the health department for those who interacted with him.”
    Yemen recorded its first case of COVID-19 in southern Hadharamout province on April 10.    On Wednesday, it announced five infections in the southern port of Aden, with two deaths.
    Yemen is already grappling with the world’s largest humanitarian crisis caused by the war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi group that ousted the government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.
    The World Health Organisation has said it fears the worst about the COVID-19 impact in Yemen as its population has some of the lowest levels of immunity and most acute vulnerability to disease compared with other countries.
    Around 80% of the population, or 24 million people, rely on humanitarian aid and 10 million are at risk of starvation.    Disease is rife and some like dengue fever share the same symptoms as the novel coronavirus, making it harder to detect.
    Yemen is also split into rival power centres.    On Wednesday the Aden-based government’s emergency coronavirus committee voiced concern that Houthi officials were not admitting to a coronavirus outbreak in Sanaa.    The group’s health authorities said all suspected cases there had tested negative for COVID-19.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Lisa Barrington; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)

5/1/2020 Coronavirus quarantine in Syria’s northwest looks to shield most vulnerable by Khalil Ashawi
A Syrian man is sprayed with disinfectant at the entrance of a quarantine centre, where those entering from
Turkey are carefully monitored as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in the town of Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib province, Syria April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    JISR AL-SHUGHOUR, Syria (Reuters) – At a quarantine centre in war-torn northern Syria, doctors near the Turkish frontier are providing a first line of defence to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading to one of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
    The centre was set up last month in the countryside of Jisr al Shughour, part of the last major pocket of the country still in rebel hands after nine years of war, where nearly a million people were driven from their homes this year.
    The area has yet to record its first confirmed case of the coronavirus.    But tests are scarce, medical infrastructure has crumbled, and doctors fear any outbreak in the overflowing camps for the displaced would lead to a humanitarian disaster.
    The quarantine centre makes it possible for Syrians to return safely to the area from neighbouring Turkey, where more than 3,000 people have died of the virus so far.
    “No one likes to be quarantined, but when you look at it as a way to save the lives of 4 million people, of course it is excellent for us,” said Omar Al-Khaled, 27, who arrived at the centre this week from Turkey.
    Fouad Moussa, the centre’s 33-year-old director, said people coming from Turkey are taken by private car across the border and directly to the facility, where they enter a sterilisation room before being given a mattress and pillow.
    During a visit by journalists, men under quarantine wearing medical masks were mostly playing video games on their phones on beds in a large dormitory room.
    “The number of people arriving is increasing everyday.    Each day we receive new groups, so we are requesting any support in order to set up other centres because of the growing numbers and tightness of the place,” said Moussa.
    The centre has brought some peace of mind to nervous families in northern Syria welcoming back relatives from Turkey, said Khaled.
    “Personally, I was surprised by the capabilities of the centre.    The place is sterilized four times a day, and they give us food to break our (Ramadan) fast…and masks and medical gloves are distributed on a daily basis,” said Khaled.
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Peter Graff)

5/1/2020 Syria says Israeli helicopters strike targets in southern Syria by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
People inspect the damage after a blast east of Homs city, Syria in this handout released by SANA on May 1, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Israeli helicopters fired several rockets from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on targets inside southern Syria, Syrian state media reported on Friday, in what intelligence sources say is part of an increase in strikes against Iran-backed militias.
    Opposition sources in the area said several militia posts near Quneitra were targeted in the attack, which reports said caused only material damage.
    There was no immediate comment from the Israeli army.
    Bases and convoys run by Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia, which has a strong presence in the Syrian Golan Heights, have been hit by Israel in recent years.
    A regional intelligence source said Israel was stepping up raids in Syria at a time when world attention and the region, including Syria, were distracted by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Separately, the Syrian army said on Friday a series of blasts at an ammunition depot east of Homs had led to casualties but was not caused by an attack as earlier announced.
    However, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blasts were caused by Israeli strikes targeting a military base on the Homs-Palmyra road run by Hezbollah.
    Two weeks ago, an Israeli drone attack targeted a car carrying forces from Hezbollah in southern Syria along the border with Lebanon without causing casualties.
    A few days later, Israel struck central Syria near the ancient city of Palmyra, in what regional intelligence sources said were Iranian-backed outposts and a command centre.
    Israel has acknowledged in recent years it has conducted many raids inside Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.
    After Syria announced last Monday it had intercepted airstrikes by Israel near the capital Damascus, Israeli defence minister Naftali Bennett told Israeli media that Israel would step up its campaign against Iran in Syria. [L5N2CF05P]
    “We have moved from blocking Iran’s entrenchment in Syria to forcing it out of there, and we will not stop,” Bennett said in a statement.
    “We will not allow more strategic threats to grow just across our borders without taking action, We will continue to take the fight to the enemy’s territory,” Bennett said.
    The Syrian army said Monday’s strikes had killed three Syrian civilians and injured several others from shrapnel that hit their homes.
    Israel says Iran’s military presence in Syria, where its militias are fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces, is a strategic threat and claims Tehran seeks a permanent presence along its northern borders.
    The threat of direct confrontation between arch-enemies Israel and Iran has long simmered in Syria.
    Assad has said Iranian forces are welcome to stay in Syria after years of military victories in which Iran and Russia have played a key role in bringing back most of the country under his control.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/2/2020 Three new coronavirus cases in Yemen bring total confirmed to 10
FILE PHOTO: A health worker takes temperature of passengers of a van, amid fear of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), on the outskirts of Taiz, Yemen April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Anees Mahyoub/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Yemen has reported three new coronavirus cases, two in Aden city and one in Taiz province, the national emergency coronavirus committee said on Saturday, raising the number of diagnosed infections in the war-town country to 10 with two deaths.
    The United Nations says it fears the coronavirus could be spreading undetected among an acutely malnourished population with inadequate testing capabilities.
    The virus has been diagnosed in three provinces in the vulnerable country which has been mired in conflict for more than five years.
    The new case in Taiz had been in contact with the southwestern province’s first infection which was announced on Friday, the emergency coronavirus committee said in a Twitter post.
    The governor of Taiz on Saturday announced that he was closing the province’s borders for two weeks, with the exception of supplies of food and other essential goods, in order to prevent the virus from spreading.
    Yemen recorded its first case of COVID-19 in southern Hadhramout province on April 10.    On Wednesday, it announced five infections in Aden, with two deaths.
    The country is already grappling with the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis caused by a war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi group which drove the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.
    The World Health Organization has said it fears that COVID-19 will impact Yemen severely as the population has some of the lowest levels of immunity to disease compared with other countries.
    Around 80% of the population, or 24 million people, rely on humanitarian aid and 10 million are at risk of starvation. Disease is rife.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by David Clarke and Nick Macfie)

5/2/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises by 78 to 3,336: ministry
FILE PHOTO - Medics wearing protective suits, members of Turkish Health Ministry's coronavirus contact tracing team, visit a home to
check a suspected coronavirus disease (COVID-19) case in Ankara, Turkey, April 27, 2020. Picture taken April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Tuvan Gumrukcu
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Turkey has risen by 78 in the last 24 hours to 3,336, with 1,983 new cases of the virus, Health Ministry data showed on Saturday.
    The total number of cases rose to 124,375, the data showed, the highest total outside Western Europe or the United States, and slightly more than Russia.
    A total of 58,259 people have so far recovered from the new coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.    The number of tests conducted in Turkey in the past 24 hours stood at 36,318, raising the total number of tests during the outbreak to more than 1.1 million. (Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by David Clarke)

5/2/2020 Saudi to take ‘strict, painful’ measures to deal with coronavirus impact
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Jadaan speaks during a media conference with Saudi Arabia's central
bank governor Ahmed al-Kholifey, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 23, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will take strict and painful measures to deal with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the finance minister said on Saturday, adding that “all options for dealing with the crisis are open.”
    “We must reduce budget expenditures sharply,” Mohammed al-Jadaan said in an interview with Al Arabiya TV, adding that the impact of the new coronavirus on Saudi Arabia’s state finances will appear from the second quarter of the year.
    “Saudi finances need more discipline and the road ahead is long,” he said.
    One measure would be to slow down government projects, including mega-projects, to reduce spending, he said.
    The world’s largest oil exporter is suffering from historically low oil prices, while measures to fight the coronavirus are likely to curb the pace and scale of economic reforms launched by Crown Price Mohammed bin Salman.
    Saudi Arabia’s central bank foreign exchange reserves fell in March at their fastest rate in at least 20 years, hitting their lowest level since 2011, while the kingdom slipped to a $9 billion budget deficit in the first quarter as oil revenue collapsed.
    Jadaan said last month that Riyadh could borrow $26 billion more this year while it would draw down up to $32 billion from its foreign reserves to finance the deficit.
    On Saturday Jadaan told Al Arabiya Saudi Arabia had used some revenue from investments to plug the deficit, and that the crisis presented investment opportunities.
    Jadaan noted the country had introduced stimulus measures aimed at preserving jobs in the private sector and safeguarding the provision of basic services.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington, Marwa Rashad, Ahmed Tolba and Samar Hassan; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Nick Macfie, David Holmes and Daniel Wallis)

5/3/2020 Israel’s Supreme Court discusses Netanyahu’s fate as prime minister
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he chairs the weekly
cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 8, 2020. Oded Balilty/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s Supreme Court began a two-day hearing on Sunday to determine whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been indicted for corruption, will be allowed to form a new government.
    A ruling against Netanyahu would likely trigger a snap election, the fourth since April 2019, as the country grapples with the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.
    Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz signed an agreement last month to form a unity government under which they would take turns leading Israel after three elections that neither of them won.
    In power for more than a decade and currently head of a caretaker government, right-wing Netanyahu will serve as prime minister of a new administration for 18 months before handing the reins to centrist Gantz, according to the unity deal.
    But several groups, including opposition parties and democracy watchdogs, have petitioned the country’s highest court to nullify the deal and bar Netanyahu from leading the government, citing the criminal proceedings against him.
    Responding to the petition, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said there was no sufficient legal ground to disqualify Netanyahu.
    Some Israeli analysts have said the court, cast by Netanyahu loyalists as liberal and interventionist, was unlikely to bar the premier from heading a new government.    A ruling is expected to be announced by Thursday.
    Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, was indicted in January on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.    He denies any wrongdoing in all three cases against him and has said that he is a victim of a political witch-hunt.
    Netanyahu’s trial is due to start on May 24.
    Israeli law says a prime minister under indictment is not obligated to step down until a final conviction.
    Netanyahu is suspected of wrongfully accepting $264,000 worth of gifts from businessmen, which prosecutors said included cigars and champagne, and of promoting regulatory favours in alleged bids for improved coverage by a popular news website and Israel’s best-selling newspaper.
    If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison on bribery charges and a maximum three-year term for fraud and breach of trust.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Edmund Blair)

5/3/2020 Following Dubai, more UAE malls, restaurants reopen
FILE PHOTO: People shop at The Dubai Mall, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Malls in the United Arab Emirates’ capital Abu Dhabi began reopening to a restricted number of customers this weekend as the UAE eases lockdown measures imposed more than a month ago to combat the novel coronavirus.
    Three Abu Dhabi malls reopened on Saturday at 30% customer capacity after adopting safety measures, including installing thermal inspection devices, the government media office tweeted and Sharjah emirate said it would reopen malls on Sunday.
    Malls, dine-in restaurants and cafes in Dubai, the UAE’s business and tourism hub, had earlier resumed operations with limited capacity.    Shoppers must wear face masks and gloves and keep their distance.
    Sharjah emirate’s media office said malls, salons and dine-in restaurants could resume operations on Sunday.
    Other public venues such as schools, mosques and cinemas remain closed in the UAE, which has so far reported nearly 13,600 infections and 119 deaths from the virus.    It does not give a breakdown for each of its seven emirates.
    The UAE had also relaxed a nationwide curfew, first announced on March 26, with the start of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan on April 24.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

5/3/2020 Syrian tycoon decries ‘inhumane’ security forces in unprecedented criticism by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: People walk past the looted premises of cellphone company Syriatel, which is owned by Rami Makhlouf
the cousin of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Deraa March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Sanctions-hit Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf said on Sunday that security forces were arresting employees at his companies “in an inhumane way” amid pressure on him to step down from his business empire and pay millions of dollars in tax.
    Makhlouf, a cousin of President Bashar al-Assad and widely considered part of the president’s inner circle, has a business empire that ranges from telecoms and real estate to construction and oil trading. He played a big role in financing Assad’s war effort, Western officials have said.
    “Today pressures began in an unacceptable ways and the security forces, in an inhumane way, are arresting our employees,” Makhlouf said in a video in an unprecedented attack on the powerful security forces by one of the country’s most influential figures.
    “Mr President (Assad), the security forces have started attacking people’s freedoms.    These are your loyal supporters… The situation is dangerous and by God, if we continue, the situation of the country will be very difficult,” Makhlouf said.
    The security forces did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
    Makhlouf said in the video he had been asked to step down from his companies, including Syriatel, the main mobile operator and main source of revenue for the sanctions-hit government.
    “I have been asked today to step down from my companies and take instructions while I close my eyes.    Authority is not given to put pressure on people to give in,” he said.
    “Did anyone expect the security forces would pounce on Rami Makhlouf’s companies who were their biggest supporters and their patron during the war?
    He said he would not bow to pressure to hand over his wealth.
    The billionaire has been under U.S. sanctions since 2008 for what Washington calls public corruption and it has since toughened measures against top businessmen who are close to him.
    The European Union has also slapped sanctions on Makhlouf since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, accusing him of bankrolling Assad.
    Makhlouf became a hated figure to many pro-democracy protesters who rose up against corruption and the authoritarian rule of Assad in March 2011.
    Makhlouf, who belongs to Assad’s Alawite minority sect that holds political power in Syria, owes his fortune to Assad and was seen by many Syrian businessmen and others as a front man for the president and other members of the ruling family.
    The tycoon was rumoured in private business circles last year to have fallen out of favour with Assad.    But until a first video he released on Thursday, he had kept out of the spotlight.
    In Thursday’s video, Makhlouf lashed out at his critics who accuse him of monopolising sectors of the economy through political patronage, saying his businesses and a charity arm had provided thousands of jobs for Syrians.
    He said he would appeal to Assad to allow Syriatel to reschedule payment of taxes.    He said the government’s demand for 130 billion Syrian pounds ($300 million) was “unjust” but that he would comply.
    Makhlouf said in Sunday’s video that he would not bow to pressure to hand over his wealth to powerful rivals, whom he did not name.
    “This is an attack on private property.    What I already have is something I cannot give up,” he said defiantly.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by David Goodman and Nick Macfie)

5/4/2020 Syria’s Assad warns of ‘catastrophe’ if coronavirus cases spike
FILE PHOTO - Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Russia 24 in
Damascus, Syria in this handout released by SANA on March 5, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned on Monday that the country could face a “real catastrophe” if coronavirus cases spike and overwhelm health services.
    The current low level of infections did not mean Syria had escaped the “circle of danger,” Assad said in an address to the government committee that oversees measures to curb the pandemic.
    “These figures could suddenly spike in a few days or few weeks and we would see in front of us real catastrophe that exceeds our health and logistical abilities,” he said.
    The government imposed a nationwide curfew over a month ago after announcing its first officially confirmed coronavirus case following weeks of denying claims of a cover-up expressed by medical sources and witnesses who said there were many more cases.
    Syrian has now reported 44 confirmed cases and three deaths.    U.N. bodies and humanitarian workers have warned that the country is at high risk in the event of a major outbreak due to a fragile health sector and a lack of resources.
    Under pressure to soften the economic impact on the sanctions-hit country ravaged by a nine-year civil war, the authorities have eased the lockdown in the past week and allowed a wide range of professions and businesses to return to work.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Giles Elgood)

5/4/2020 Hezbollah deems Lebanese government rescue plan an ‘important step’ forward
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters
via a screen in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah’s leader hailed the Lebanese government’s crisis plan as an “important step” on Monday and warned the country should not blindly surrender in talks with the IMF to terms it can not bear.
    Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called on the Lebanese to give the cabinet a chance as it tries to pull the country from a financial crisis that has slashed the value of the local currency by more than half.
    The government, which took office this year with the backing of Iran-backed Hezbollah, has requested assistance from the International Monetary Fund in what Prime Minister Hassan Diab called a “historic moment” last week.
    “It is a step on the path, a big and important step, but it also needs national reinforcement … In our view, it is a step from which it is possible to kick off,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Monday.
    “What we are calling for is dealing with this plan positively because the country needs to be rescued.”
    His comments marked public backing for the plan, including talks with the IMF, from Hezbollah, a political and military movement that holds much sway in Lebanon.    Some analysts see an IMF deal as the only way out for Lebanon.
    “One thing would be unacceptable, which is to blindly surrender, to go wearing handcuffs and give ourselves to the IMF,” Nasrallah said.
    “As I understand it, the government is not going to tell the IMF ‘do what you want with Lebanon’.    There will be help and dialogue, there’s no problem with that,” he added.    “We must see what the conditions are.    Can the country handle them?
    The crisis has hammered Lebanon since late last year with economic woes on a scale the country has never seen, even during its 1975-1990 civil war.    Inflation has soared, confidence in the banking system has collapsed, and the heavily indebted state defaulted on its sovereign debt in March for the first time.
    Lebanon will use the rescue plan to negotiate an IMF programme, Diab said last week after his cabinet approved the 53-page blueprint which says the economy “is in free fall.”
    The new plan envisages tens of billions of dollars of losses in the financial system, which has helped to bankroll decades of large state budget deficits.
    Lebanon’s banking association has rejected the plan and said it was not consulted despite being “a key part of any solution.”
    Nasrallah said on Monday that the banks had made huge profits over the years and must now step in to help.    He also accused the lenders of unjust treatment in their implementation of U.S. banking sanctions against Hezbollah.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alison Williams)

5/4/2020 Hezbollah: Germany bowing to U.S. will with ban
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters through a screen during a rally
commemorating the annual Hezbollah's slain leaders in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon February 16, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Monday that Germany was “succumbing to American will” by banning his Iran-backed movement and designating it a terrorist organisation.
    In a televised speech, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said last week’s German move, which Israel and the United States have long urged, would not deter Hezbollah from confronting its foes.
    He denounced police raids on mosque associations in Germany accused of being close to the heavily armed Shi’ite movement, which Nasrallah said had no official presence in Europe.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/4/2020 Netanyahu fate at stake as coalition deal challenged in top court
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) – Israel’s top court on Monday heard challenges to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to secure a governing coalition, with opposition figures arguing a deal on a new unity administration would unlawfully shield him in a corruption trial.
    The Supreme Court’s 11-justice panel convened for a second day after hearing separate petitions on Sunday against Netanyahu’s authority to form a government given his indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
    Rulings are expected by Thursday.    Should the court find against Netanyahu on either front, it would likely trigger a snap election – the fourth since April 2019 – as the country grapples with the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.
    Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz signed an agreement last month to form a unity government under which they would take turns leading Israel after their three, inconclusive ballot runs.    They cited the coronavirus crisis in forming the pact.     In power for more than a decade and currently head of a caretaker government, right-wing Netanyahu would serve as prime minister of a new administration for 18 months before handing the reins to centrist Gantz, according to the unity deal.
    Netanyahu, 70, would then assume the role of “substitute prime minister,” which some analysts say would exempt him from a law that requires cabinet-level ministers to resign from public office if they are indicted on criminal charges.
    Netanyahu’s trial is due to open on May 24.    He has denied any wrongdoing and accused political rivals of a “witch-hunt.”
    The coalition deal also grants Netanyahu influence over important judicial appointments, which critics argue gives the premier undue sway over the outcome of his own proceedings.
    The pact has support from a majority in parliament.    But several groups, including opposition parties and democracy watchdogs, petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify the deal, arguing in part that it shields Netanyahu from legal penalties.
    Some analysts have said the court, though cast by Netanyahu loyalists as liberal and interventionist, was unlikely to strike down the deal or bar Netanyahu from forming a government.
    Responding to the petitions, Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said that while certain aspects of the deal “raise major difficulties,” there were no grounds to disqualify it.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub, Editing by William Maclean)

5/4/2020 Special Report: How Turkey’s courts turned on Erdogan’s foes by Reuters Staff
Cihan Aydin, a lawyer and the president of Diyarbakir Bar Association, takes part in a protest
in front of the Justice Palace in Diyarbakir, Turkey, February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – It took 16 judges to convict Kurdish politicians Gultan Kisanak and Sebahat Tuncel of belonging to a terrorist organization last year.
    Their trial in Diyarbakir, the biggest city in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast, was concluded in just a dozen sessions, but during that time the three-judge panel was in constant flux.    The women, who maintain their innocence, were brought to court only once – to hear the “guilty” verdict.
    Their lawyer, Cihan Aydin, said mounting a proper defence was all but impossible because he never knew who was going to be sitting in judgment.    The judges, several of them young and inexperienced, were switched without explanation.
    “The chief judge was changed four times as well,” said Aydin, a human rights lawyer and chair of the local bar association.    “At every hearing there was a new group of judges, and every time we had to start the defence from the beginning.”
    The tumult turned the proceedings on their head.    “It was impossible for the judges to read the thousands of pages in the case file, so each time we had to summarise and explain what was in the indictment,” Aydin said.    “It became our job to teach the judges.”
    The court declined to comment about the case.
    Terrorist charges like the ones used to convict the two women have become commonplace in Turkey, especially since a failed attempt by parts of the military to overthrow President Tayyip Erdogan in 2016. Mass arrests followed.
    Also increasingly common is the practice of switching judges during a trial, more than a dozen lawyers and other legal sources told Reuters.    Turkish officials say such changes are merely routine, for health or administrative reasons.    Lawyers interviewed by Reuters say they are convinced it’s a way for the government to exert control over the courts.
    “The constant reshuffling of judges is a simple but very useful mechanism. For every time the government gets involved like this in the judiciary, there are hundreds more cases where the judges learn their lesson” not to act against perceived government interests, said Gareth Jenkins, a political analyst based in Istanbul.
    Neither Erdogan’s office nor the justice ministry responded to detailed questions for this article by the time of publication.    Mehmet Yilmaz, deputy chairman of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, the state-body that appoints law officials, said Turkey’s legal system is “not behind any country in the world.”
    The judiciary has been used as an instrument to advance political agendas in Turkey for decades.    Under Erdogan, his opponents say, it has been deployed as a political cudgel and hollowed out to an unprecedented degree.
    Under his purge, thousands of judges and prosecutors have been sacked, by the government’s own count.    They have been replaced by inexperienced newcomers, ill-equipped to handle the dramatic spike in workload from coup-related prosecutions.    At least 45% of Turkey’s roughly 21,000 judges and prosecutors now have three years of experience or less, Reuters calculated from Ministry of Justice data.
    “We aren’t claiming that the judiciary was independent from governments before,” said Zeynel Emre, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).    “However, a period like this where the government wields the judiciary like a sword on politics and especially the opposition is unprecedented.”
    At the time of their arrest in late 2016, Kisanak and Tuncel were prominent figures in the Kurdish minority’s decades-long campaign for social, economic and political equality.    Kisanak, 58, a former journalist, had recently been elected Diyarbakir’s mayor.    Tuncel, 44, was a lawmaker in parliament, representing an Istanbul constituency.    They were jailed for 14 and 15 years, respectively, for spreading terrorist propaganda and belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey and branded a terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU.    They denied the charges.
    Istanbul Bar Association chairman Mehmet Durakoglu said that by using the judiciary as a tool against its opponents, Erdogan’s government “has achieved what it couldn’t do by political means” at the ballot box.    The Turkish government counters that its legal system is as advanced as any Western country and that threats against its national security require strict anti-terrorism laws.
    Yilmaz, from the state Council of Judges and Prosecutors, acknowledged “we have been experiencing problems like an increase in work.    Our workload is considerably above the global average.”
    Erdogan has towered over Turkish politics for nearly two decades, first as prime minister, from 2003 to 2014, and since then as president.
    There have been challenges to his rule.    In 2013, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest policies they deemed authoritarian. The trigger was a government plan to build on a small park in downtown Istanbul.    Two years later, peace talks broke down between the government and the militant PKK, which for decades had been waging a violent separatist campaign.    In July 2016 came the coup attempt.
    On each occasion, the authorities responded with a crackdown.
    The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the second-biggest opposition party in Turkey’s parliament, says thousands of its members and supporters have been detained or jailed since the collapse of peace talks between Turkish authorities and the PKK.    Among them is the party’s former co-leader, Selahattin Demirtas, who has been held since 2016 on terrorism charges that he denies.
    Lawyers defending HDP supporters have also faced prosecution.    In 2017, Aydin, the chairman of the Diyarbakir lawyers’ bar, was fined for disrupting court proceedings.    The complaint stemmed from 2012, when Aydin and other defence lawyers walked out of a mass trial of Kurdish activists accused of belonging to the PKK.    Aydin and his colleagues were protesting the court’s decision to dismiss their clients from the chamber.    The case against Aydin was only brought up five years later.
    The practice of keeping watch over lawyers and activists “is also part of the same trend, the same mentality, keeping track of everyone and making sure there is a file ready against everyone, just in case,” said Aydin.    “If you start talking too much, if you criticise the government too much, if you take on high profile cases, or in my case, if you become a famous lawyer.”
    Prosecutions have extended to academics.    Around four dozen academics were convicted of spreading terrorist propaganda for signing a petition in 2016 that called for an end to the conflict with Kurdish militants and criticised the Turkish military’s campaign in the Kurdish southeast.    They were sentenced to up to three years in jail.
    Turkey’s Constitutional Court, which oversees laws, overturned the verdicts last year, ruling the prosecutions violated academics’ right to freedom of expression.    A few days later, responding to criticism of its decision by some politicians and media, the court issued a statement saying the ruling “does not mean that the Constitutional Court shares the same opinions or supports these opinions.”
    Yonca Demir, an academic at Istanbul Bilgi University was among the more than 2,000 signatories to the petition that sparked the mass arrest.    She called her trial a sham.
    “Whatever you say in court has no impact whatsoever on the judges.    From the indictment to the rulings, everything was a copy-paste,” Demir said.    “Yes, everyone has political views, but they should stick to the law. Instead, they show their ideologies in court.”
    Erdogan blamed U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for orchestrating the failed 2016 coup and set about purging his supporters from public office. Gulen denies any involvement.
    Nearly four years later, more than 91,000 people have been jailed and over 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from their jobs over alleged links to Gulen.    Charges include using the services of a bank founded by Gulen’s followers and communicating through an encrypted messaging app that Ankara says was used by Gulen’s network.
    The purge has hollowed out Turkey’s justice system even as the caseload has exploded.    By last November, 3,926 judges and prosecutors had been sacked from their posts, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul told parliament.    More than 500 are in jail.    The expulsions have resulted in a shortage of experienced judges and prosecutors, the president of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals, Ismail Rustu Cirit, told Reuters.
    The purges have added to the workload of Turkey’s judicial system. More than half a million people have been investigated since the coup attempt.    As of late 2019, around 30,000 were still awaiting trial as the courts try to process the vast number of coup-related cases.    Some suspects have been jailed for months without an indictment or a trial date.
    Speaking last year at a ceremony to honour the police, Erdogan said that authorities had still not fully rooted out Gulen’s followers and Turkey could not and would not let up in its crackdown.    Erdogan’s lawyer, Huseyin Aydin, told Reuters the coup trials were “the fairest proceedings in modern Turkish history.”
    The laws were applied to the letter, said Aydin, who isn’t related to the human-rights attorney.    “When we look at the general Turkish judicial traditions, these are cases that have most accurately obeyed the principles of law,” Aydin said.    “Our judiciary is passing the test with flying colours.”
    Not all Turkey’s lawyers agree.    In August, 51 of the country’s 81 bar associations, including those of its three largest cities of Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir, boycotted a judges’ ceremony at Erdogan’s presidential palace.    The choice of venue, they said, signalled a lack of separation of powers and violated their code of ethics.    The Ankara bar association said Turkey’s judicial system had descended into chaos with lawyers jailed, the defence muzzled and confidence in judges and prosecutors destroyed.
    New waves of arrests continue, most recently over online criticism of the government’s response to the global coronavirus outbreak.    The Interior Ministry said last week that 402 people had been detained for “baseless and provocative posts” about the pandemic.
The Young Ones
    Acknowledging his ministry’s struggles with personnel, Justice Minister Gul told parliament last year that Turkey was aiming to increase the number of judges and prosecutors.
    Figures from Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors show at least 9,323 new judges and prosecutors have been recruited since the coup attempt.    That means that at least 45% of Turkey’s roughly 21,000 judges and prosecutors have three years of experience or less.
    Hakki Koylu, chairman of the Justice Commission in Turkey’s parliament and a lawmaker for Erdogan’s AK Party, acknowledged to Reuters that some judges and prosecutors “have been appointed without adequate training.”
    “Unfortunately, it all happens quite haphazardly,” Koylu said.    “We see some of the rulings they make.    Now we can only hope that the upper courts correct these rulings” upon appeal.
    But the Supreme Court of Appeals, the highest appeals court, has been hollowed out too.
    Cirit, the court’s president, told Reuters the appointment of judges with less than five years experience to the Supreme Court of Appeals “poses risks not only for the reasonable duration of proceedings, but also for the right to a fair trial.”
    New judges often lack experience, a dozen lawyers and current and former judges said.
    “I became a judge in a criminal court at the age of 48,” said Koksal Sengun, who retired in 2013.    Now, after the widespread dismissals and new appointments, Sengun said, the average age of judges in some provinces has fallen to 25.    He didn’t say what data his observation about the average age was based on.
    “In my opinion, the minimum age for criminal court should be 40.    Maybe even higher,” Sengun said.    “You have to climb the stairs one by one.    In the current system, they are appointed so early.”    That lack of training leaves newcomers with too little of the emotional and mental toughness needed in the job, he argued.    “These judges have three or five years experience, sitting at the top of a court that hands down the heaviest sentences.    These kids come under such pressure, and get crushed.    You can’t expect much from such a young judge.”
    The impact of such inexperience goes beyond criminal cases.    Yesim, a commercial lawyer practicing in Istanbul, described chaotic proceedings in one case.    She spoke on condition that her full name not be used.
    The case, she said, was “very simple,” a dispute over a small debt involving two companies.    The judge had no trouble making the ruling.    Then, to Yesim’s surprise, he sought a favor.nbsp;   “The judge, who seemed younger than 25, asked me, ‘Ms. Lawyer, can you help me with writing the verdict?    I am not sure about the style.’    I couldn’t help but laugh, but we wrote the ruling together,” she said.
    Turkey shows no sign of changing course.    After the attempted coup, the country cancelled a European Union training program for Turkish judicial officials and opted to train its judges and prosecutors itself.    The European Commission wrote in its annual 2019 report that large scale recruitments of new judges and prosecutors are “concerning.”    Turkey countered that the EU’s criticisms were unfair and disproportionate.
    Lawyer Veysel Ok has defended several journalists against accusations they are part of Gulen’s network.nbsp;   He was awarded last year’s international Thomas Dehler Medal, named for the German lawyer who defended Jewish citizens against Nazi persecution, in recognition of his work in defence of freedom of speech and the rule of law.    Ok said young judges are being promoted because of their political connections, with little life experience, let alone professional experience.
    “This is, by itself, an injustice,” Ok said.    “In the past, we used to research the judges when they were appointed to a case we were representing, and we would adjust our defence according to past rulings they’d handed down and their political views.” Times have changed, he joked darkly.    “Now we don’t have to, because we know they are all pro-government.”
(reporting by Reuters staff, editing by Janet McBride)

5/4/2020 Erdogan begins to ease Turkey’s coronavirus restrictions
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of the city during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in Istanbul, Turkey, March 30, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS//Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will start easing coronavirus containment measures from Monday, President Tayyip Erdogan said, lifting inter-city travel restrictions in seven provinces and easing a curfew imposed on senior and youth citizens.
    Turkey has about 130,000 confirmed coronavirus cases – the highest total outside Western Europe, the United States and Russia – and has been in lockdown at weekends and on national holidays since the start of April.
    Ankara started implementing containment measures after its first coronavirus case was reported in early March.nbsp;   It has imposed travel restrictions in 31 major cities and also shut schools, restaurants, bars and shops.
    However, Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey will start easing measures gradually in May, June and July after the spread of the virus slowed over the past two weeks.
    The number of coronavirus fatalities in Turkey has risen by 65 to 3,461 in the past 24 hours, Health Ministry data showed on Monday, with the number of cases rising by 1,614 to 127,659.
    Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Erdogan said that senior and youth citizens will be allowed outside for four hours for one day a week from next weekend and that travel restrictions would be lifted for seven cities, excluding Istanbul, Izmir and capital city Ankara.
    The restrictions will be lifted for Erzurum, Aydin, Hatay, Malatya, Mersin, Antalya and Mugla but remain in place for 24 other provinces, Erdogan said.
    Shopping malls, barber shops and some stores will be allowed to open on May 11 provided they abide by so-called normalisation rules, adding that universities would return to their academic calendar on June 15.
    “We will implement this normalisation plan dynamically.nbsp;   Some dates may be brought forward or pushed back depending on developments,” Erdogan said in a national address.
    “We will, as all 83 million people, determine when and how we will return to our lives.nbsp;   If measures are not followed and the outbreak spreads once again, we will have to take much harsher measures.”
    After recording one of the fastest growth rates for COVID-19 infections in the world, Turkey has said the outbreak has hit a plateau about six weeks after the first case was confirmed on March 11.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by David Goodman)

5/5/2020 Lebanon to extend virus shutdown, fears second wave
An elderly man wearing a protective face mask watches fishermen dangle their lines to catch fish as Lebanon begins to ease nationwide
lockdown due to spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Beirut's seaside Corniche, Lebanon May 4, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon is set to extend its lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus by two weeks until May 24 with the prime minister warning on Tuesday that a failure to comply with a gradual easing of restrictions risked a second wave of infections.
    Lebanon has recorded 740 cases of the novel coronavirus and 25 deaths.    The government has started to gradually ease some restrictions this week, allowing restaurants to open but at only 30% of their capacity.
    In an apparent reference to low rates of infection, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the general assessment was “excellent.”
    But he also told a meeting of the supreme defence council on Tuesday that “citizens did not comply with the restrictions and measures that are being gradually reduced.”
    This “could reflect negatively on the spread of the virus and there is a fear of a second wave which could be much harder than the first,” he said, recommending the two-week extension, according to a statement issued after the meeting.
    The government is expected to formally extend the lockdown at a cabinet meeting later on Tuesday.
    Economic activities would still be allowed to resume gradually under a previously defined time frame.
    The security forces and army would be asked to act strictly to prevent violations.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson and Giles Elgood)

5/5/2020 Palestinians extend coronavirus state of emergency to June 5
Members of Palestinian security forces stand guard at a checkpoint as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has extended to June 5 a
state of emergency in response to the coronavirus crisis, in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    RAMALLAH (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has extended to June 5 a state of emergency declared in areas under his administration in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in response to the coronavirus crisis, the official news agency Wafa said on Tuesday.
    First announced two months ago, the state of emergency heralded a full lockdown that confined Palestinians to their homes, except for essential travel.    Border crossings with Israel and Jordan were closed.
    But conditions were eased last month, with some businesses allowed to open in the hope of reviving the paralysed Palestinian economy.    On Sunday, Abbas’s administration allowed tens of thousands of Palestinians labourers to resume jobs in Israel.
    Mosques and educational institutions remain closed and Palestinian authorities are still banning public congregations.
    The Palestinians have reported 345 coronavirus cases and two deaths in the West Bank, where some 3 million Palestinians live.
    In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory under the control of Abbas’s Islamist Hamas rivals, 17 cases have been reported among a population of some 2 million.    Hamas has shuttered Gaza’s mosques and schools and restricted large gatherings, but said a full lockdown was not necessary.
    The West Bank and Gaza are 40 km (25 miles) apart and separated by Israel.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Alex Richardson)

5/5/2020 Yemen’s Houthis report first coronavirus case with death in Sanaa hotel
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protecitve face mask rides a bicycle during a curfew amid concerns about
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Aden, Yemen April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Wael al-Qubati
    ADEN (Reuters) – Authorities in Houthi-held north Yemen confirmed their first case of the new coronavirus on Tuesday, a Somali national found dead in a Sanaa hotel, while the government in the south of the war-torn nation reported nine new infections.
    One of the last countries to declare COVID-19 infections on April 10, Yemen has now reported 21 cases, including three deaths, in territory held by the internationally recognised government, and one case, a death, in areas under the Iran-aligned Houthis.
    “We received a report about a situation in a hotel (in Sanaa) on Sunday, and epidemiological investigation teams went there immediately, where the affected person had died,” Houthi health minister Taha al-Mutawakkil told Al Masirah TV.
    The deceased Somali had underlying liver and kidney problems, the minister said, adding that a sample had been tested in a laboratory for the COVID-19 infection.
    Yemen, the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, has long been a transit point for migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa, many of whom are fleeing hunger and violence and trying to reach Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states.
    Yemen is already grappling with the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis caused by a war between the Saudi-led coalition seeking to restore the internationally recognised government, and the Houthi movement that drove the government from power in Sanaa in late 2014.
    Before the first COVID-19 case in Houthi territory was announced, the United Nations had said it feared the coronavirus could be spreading undetected across the country among an acutely malnourished population with inadequate testing capabilities and protective equipment.
    On Tuesday the emergency coronavirus committee belonging to the government – temporarily based in the southern port city of Aden – said that eight new cases had been detected in Aden and another in the Hadhramout region.
    The UAE-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) announced on Tuesday a partial curfew in Aden and other southern governorates, from 10 p.m. to 12 p.m., for three weeks starting Wednesday to curb the spread of coronavirus.
    The Aden-based emergency coronavirus committee had voiced concern that Houthi officials were not admitting to a coronavirus outbreak in Sanaa, the capital.
    The World Health Organization has said it fears COVID-19 could rip through Yemen as the population has some of the lowest levels of immunity to disease compared with other countries.
    Minimal testing capacity has added to concerns.    The WHO said on Tuesday just 200 tests for infection with the coronavirus had been carried out and results received across Yemen.
    Around 80%, or 24 million people, rely on humanitarian aid and 10 million are at risk of starvation.    Disease is rife.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Alaa Swilam; additional reporting Omar Fahmy in Cairo; writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Lisa Barrington; editing by Mark Heinrich and Leslie Adler)

5/5/2020 Ethiopia’s Tigray region eyes election in challenge to national unity by Dawit Endeshaw
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed smiles during an African Union (AU) summit meeting
in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri - RC22XE930YBN/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s Tigray region plans to hold elections, its main party said, setting it on a collision course with the federal government and testing the country’s fragile unity.
    The Horn of Africa country in March postponed parliamentary and regional elections scheduled for August due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.    A new date has yet to be set, and parliament failed to settle on one in a meeting on Tuesday.
    The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the region’s governing party, split acrimoniously from the national Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition last year when its three other parties merged to form the new Prosperity Party.
    The TPLF said late on Monday it would proceed with elections in Tigray despite the nationwide postponement of voting.
    “We are making preparations including the holding of a regional election in order to safeguard the rights of our people from chaos,” a     TPLF statement said. It did not mention a date for the vote.
    Ethiopia’s National Elections Board said no request for a vote was submitted by TPLF and no organisation other than the NEBE had a mandate to conduct any type of election.
    The EPRDF that seized power in 1991 was dominated by minority Tigrayans, and it kept a lid on bubbling tensions for decades by quashing virtually all dissent, including expressions of ethnic nationalism.
    When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took power in Africa’s second most populous country in 2018, he rolled out a series of reforms allowing greater freedoms in what had long been one of Africa’s most repressive states.
    But the reforms have made it possible for long-held grievances against the government’s decades of harsh rule to resurface, and emboldened regional power-brokers such as the TPLF seeking to secure more power for their ethnic groups.
    Jawar Mohammed, a prominent activist from Abiy’s Oromo ethnic group, told Reuters that the Tigray dispute could destabilise the Horn of Africa.
    “The federal and Tigray authorities are being unreasonable.    The Tigray regional council can decide to hold elections and have the power to actually carry out the election,” Jawar said.
    The TPLF statement accused Abiy’s Prosperity Party of having no genuine interest in holding elections and that he was using the coronavirus pandemic as “an excuse to establish a one-man dictatorship.”
    The PP rebuffed the accusation. “The TPLF’s stand has no constitutional basis.    They have no mandate to hold elections.    They are trying to destabilise the country in an attempt to grab power,” PP spokesman Awelu Abdi said.
    Ethiopia’s constitution sets a maximum five-year term for the national government.    Abiy’s mandate expires in September.
    William Davison, the International Crisis Group think tank’s senior analyst for Ethiopia, said the TPLF’s decision to proceed with elections before the rest of the country could be politically explosive given a lack of legal clarity.
    “(It) threatens to deepen Ethiopia’s political crisis, as the legality of regions holding polls without federal permission is unclear and disputed,” he told Reuters.
(Editing by George Obulutsa and Mark Heinrich)

5/5/2020 U.N. Palestinian refugee agency operating on ‘month-to-month’ basis due to U.S. aid cut: official
A Palestinian youth on a bicycle looks on as a boy sits on a wall in Jabalia refugee camp, one of the most densely populated areas in the world,
amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the northern Gaza Strip May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Scrambling to tackle COVID-19 in camps across the Middle East, the U.N. agency supporting Palestinian refugees said on Tuesday it only has enough cash to operate until the end of May because of American funding cuts.
    In 2018 President Donald Trump’s administration halted annual payments of $360 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides assistance to some 5.5 million registered refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
    Elizabeth Campbell, UNRWA’s director in Washington, told reporters that the loss of U.S. aid had a “corrosive impact” on the agency’s ability to help vulnerable people.
    “We are basically operating on a month-to-month basis.    Right now, we have funding to pay our 30,000 health care workers until the end of this month,” Campbell said in a Zoom conference call from Washington.
    She said UNRWA had only secured a third of its $1.2 billion annual budget and that it was suffering its “worst financial crisis” since beginning operations some 70 years ago.
    The agency is trying to plug the $800 million shortfall in part by appealing to European and Gulf countries for emergency donations, Campbell said.
    Donations from the European Union, Britain, Germany, Sweden, Canada and Japan have helped fill UNRWA’s 2020 budget gap, Campbell said, while Saudi Arabia has also provided project-specific funding.
    The United States was by far UNRWA’s biggest donor until it withdrew funding, calling for reforms and suggesting its services be transferred to refugee host countries.
    Palestinian refugees are mostly descendants of some 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled amid fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.    Nearly a third live in 58 camps where UNRWA provides services.
    Many refugees fear the dwindling aid they receive could fall further as the coronavirus crisis persists and donors shift priorities.
    UNRWA has tried to halt the spread of COVID-19 in and around camps, closing all its 276 schools that are attended by close to 300,000 children.
    It has launched a $14 million emergency appeal for coronavirus funding, and says it will issue another, larger, aid request in the coming days.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/6/2020 Pandemic boosts Palestinian PM as potential Abbas successor by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and President Mahmoud Abbas attend the funeral of former senior Fatah
official Ahmed Abdel Rahman, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    RAMALLAH, West Bank/GAZA (Reuters) – One man has become the face of the Palestinians’ response to the COVID-19 crisis, and it’s not President Mahmoud Abbas.
    Rather it is Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, an economist-turned-politician whose prominence in tackling the coronavirus has led many Palestinians to predict that he may one day succeed 84-year-old Abbas as president.
    For Shtayyeh – an unelected Abbas appointee – the urgency of the Palestinian Authority (PA) efforts to curb the virus have helped reinvigorate the domestic image of a body long viewed by some as corrupt and unproductive.
    Some 96 percent of West Bank Palestinians trust the way the PA under Shtayyeh has handled the pandemic, said a recent poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre.
    The West Bank has recorded 354 cases and just two deaths.    After an outbreak in Bethlehem in March the PA moved quickly to impose a full lockdown, fearing its weak health system would be overwhelmed.
    “The current crisis has bolstered Shtayyeh’s presence and cemented the impression that he might be the next president,” said political analyst Akram Atallah.
    “He has brandished an image as a successful administrator in the eyes of the media, a leader who can be trusted to navigate a pandemic.”
    Shtayyeh has consistently said he does not harbour ambitions of the presidency, deferring instead to senior colleagues in the umbrella     Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Fatah, the party that has long dominated it.
    Certainly, as Palestinian president and chairman of the PLO, Abbas still holds the levers of power.
    It is Abbas who retains final authority to impose and lift coronavirus restrictions, acting through press releases and rare television appearances.
    But Shtayyeh, a Fatah loyalist two decades younger than Abbas, has taken the podium each week to reassure Palestinians.
    So far, it has helped his rise.    But prominence is a double-edged sword: if things go wrong, he will likely shoulder much of the blame.
    Shtayyeh’s grasp of financial issues facing ordinary Palestinians has earned him respect.    He was born in the village of Tell, near Nablus, before going on to earn a PhD in economic development from the University of Sussex in Britain.
    Before Abbas installed him as prime minister in 2019, the fluent English-speaking Shtayyeh headed the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, a donor coordination institution.
    But some criticise what they call his “capitalist” background – a criticism also levelled at his technocrat predecessor, Salam Fayyad, who was seen as too close to the West.
    Unlike Fayyad, Shtayyeh has the advantage of belonging to Fatah.
    Palestinian political institutions have stagnated, without any presidential or parliamentary elections for more than a decade, and any successor, no matter who it is, will inherit a multitude of problems.
    Negotiations with Israel broke down in 2014, relations with the United States are at an all-time nadir and the PA’s power base is now confined to parts of the occupied West Bank after the Islamist group Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.
    Beyond coronavirus, Shtayyeh has failed to reconcile with Hamas, and his government has been squeezed by U.S. aid cuts and tax and trade disputes with Israel.
    Shtayyeh also faces internal opposition from Fatah power brokers and security chiefs, who themselves harbour leadership ambitions, said sources within the group.
    Two Fatah sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some establishment figures initially backed Shtayyeh, but now regard him as “a threat.”
    “They thought (Shtayyeh) would serve as an employee at their service, but he proved he could work without them,” said one.
    “Abbas is holding on to power. He keeps his grip on security, foreign affairs and finance,” said another insider.
    But Fatah official Fahmy Azzaarir said Shtayyeh’s main focus was the pandemic, not succession.
    “We all hope the prime minister will succeed in getting us out of the crisis,” Azzaarir said.    “Everyone must support him.”
(Additional reporting and Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

5/6/2020 Turkey starting new phase in coronavirus battle, government says by Ezgi Erkoyun
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca speaks during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Cagla Durak
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said on Wednesday it has brought the coronavirus outbreak under control, two months after it first erupted across the country, and will set out new social guidelines and business practices to prevent any resurgence.
    Turkey has one of the highest numbers of recorded COVID-19 cases in the world but has kept the death toll well below levels in Western Europe and the United States, and the government is now looking to gradually reopen the economy.
    “The coronavirus outbreak is currently under control in Turkey… We aim to eliminate coronavirus in the second phase. We are shifting towards a new way of life,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
    He told a news conference the government’s science council would publish guidelines for businesses to follow as they resume operations, setting out precautions to avoid an upswing in new cases.
    Turks should also wear masks and respect social distancing in public, as part of a new “controlled social life” that would for example restrict numbers of people allowed into shopping malls and introduce changes at places such as hair dressers.
    Around 150,000 people will be scanned across the country next week as part of efforts to assess the latest status of the outbreak, he added.
    The number of cases rose by 2,253 on Wednesday, less than half the level at the peak of the outbreak in mid-April.    But it was the second day showing a slight increase in confirmed cases, highlighting a continued threat of further spread.
    Turkey’s total number of confirmed cases, at more than 131,000, is the highest outside the United States, Western Europe, and Russia, but its death toll of 3,584 is relatively low per capita compared to most of those countries.
    A total of 78,202 people have so far recovered from the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.
    Koca said Turkey will increase its testing capacity, currently running between 30,000 and 40,000 most days, and continue contact tracing efforts which officials credit in part with getting control over the outbreak.
    On Monday President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was starting to reduce coronavirus containment measures, lifting inter-city travel restrictions in seven provinces and easing a curfew imposed on the elderly and people less than 20 years old.
    Shopping malls, barber shops and some stores will be allowed to open on May 11 provided they abide by so-called normalisation rules, and universities would return to their academic calendar on June 15, he said.
    All main Turkish automotive factories will resume operations as of May 11, Industry Minister Mustafa Varank said on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Can Sezer and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans)

5/6/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus death toll rises by 64 to 3,584: minister
FILE PHOTO: Galata Bridge and historical Galata Tower are pictured during the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Istanbul, Turkey, April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Turkey has risen by 64 in the last 24 hours to 3,584, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday.
    The overall number of cases rose by 2,253 to 131,744, the data showed, the highest total outside Western Europe, the United States and Russia.    Both the number of deaths and new cases were slightly higher than the day before, but still well below peaks recorded last month.
    A total of 78,202 people have so far recovered from the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.     The number of tests conducted in Turkey in the past 24 hours stood at 30,303, increasing the total number of tests during the outbreak to more than 1.2 million.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Writing by Ece Toksabay)

5/6/2020 Bahrain eases coronavirus restrictions, Saudis announce hefty fines
FILE PHOTO: Fully equipped beds are seen at a makeshift ICU "Field Intensive Care Unit 2 (Sitra)" set up by Bahrain authorities to
treat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) critical patients, at an island in Sitra, Bahrain, May 4, 2020. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed.
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Shops and industrial enterprises in Bahrain can open from Thursday while restaurants will stay closed to in-house diners, the Health Ministry said, as the Gulf state eases restrictions designed to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
    Bahrain shuttered non-essential shops and businesses in late March and barred entry of foreign visitors, but did not impose a curfew, unlike some other Gulf states.
    Health Ministry officials told a news conference on Wednesday that employees and customers must wear face masks and practice physical distancing as restrictions are relaxed.    Cinemas, sports facilities and salons remain closed.
    The small island state has reported 3,720 infections with eight deaths from the COVID-19 respiratory disease.    The total count in the six Gulf Arab states exceeds 78,014 with 430 deaths.
    Other Gulf countries eased curfews and other social and business restrictions with the start of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan two weeks ago.
    In Saudi Arabia, where malls and wholesale shops reopened last week, authorities announced stringent new penalties for residents and citizens found to violate measures still in place to limit the spread of the virus.
    Citing a royal decree signed on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry spokesman said curfew violators could be fined up to 100,000 riyals and face up to a year in prison.
    Those found to violate quarantine rules could be fined up to 200,000 riyals and face up to two years in prison, while those found to intentionally spread the virus could face a fine of up to 500,000 riyals and up to five years in prison.
    Non-Saudi offenders would also be deported and permanently barred from re-entering the country.
    The number of new infections in the kingdom continues to hover around 1,600 per day.    Saudi Arabia has recorded 31,938 cases in total with 209 deaths so far.
    Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah sought to quell fears over the steadily mounting numbers, saying that the uptick in confirmed cases was due to increased testing by health officials.
    In a video posted on the health ministry’s Twitter page, he also credited the kingdom’s tracking and tracing efforts, as well as its treatment protocols, with keeping the fatality rate, currently at 0.7%, relatively low.
    Bahrain this week opened a 152-bed COVID-19 field hospital intensive care unit on an empty piece of land in Sitra, as part of a plan to create 500 additional ICU beds for critical cases.
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam and Lisa Barrington and Raya Jalabi; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Heinrich)

5/6/2020 Israel plans thousands of new settler homes ahead of Pompeo visit by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: A general view picture shows the Israeli settlement of Efrat (L) in the Gush Etzion settlement block as
Bethlehem is seen in the background, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel announced a plan for thousands of new Jewish settlement homes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday as Washington voiced readiness to back de facto Israeli annexations there.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to visit Israel next week, a source said, a sign that he is weighing in on a territorial issue that has been a centrepiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition-building efforts.
    Netanyahu wants to ally with political rival Benny Gantz and start cabinet discussions on July 1 about declaring Israeli sovereignty over settlements and the strategically key Jordan Valley in the West Bank.    The unity government deal has been contested in Israel’s top court.
    Fresh construction for the settlement of Efrat was approved on land that could accommodate around 7,000 housing units, Defence Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said on Wednesday.
    “The building momentum in the country must not be stopped, even for a second,” tweeted Bennett, a religious-nationalist in Netanyahu’s current caretaker government.
    The settlements are deemed illegal by most world powers and condemned by the Palestinians, who see all the West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war, as theirs for a future state.     The United States has offered to recognise Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank as part of a proposal President Donald Trump unveiled in February, which also envisages talks on founding a Palestinian state in up to 70% of the territory.     Pompeo planned to visit Israel for one day next week and meet Netanyahu, a conservative, as well as the centrist Gantz, a person briefed on the trip said, without elaborating on the agenda.    The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.
    The newspaper Israel Hayom quoted U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman as saying that sovereignty in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley was “an Israeli issue” and adding: “We are ready.”
    In separate remarks to the Jerusalem Post newspaper, Friedman reiterated a call for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking:
    The expectation is that the prime minister will agree to negotiate and, if the Palestinians show up, he will negotiate in good faith based on this (Trump) plan.”
    The Palestinians say the plan is biased against them, and have boycotted Washington’s mediation efforts since it recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017.
    “The Trump Administration’s Annexation plan endorses everything that the illegal Israeli colonial-settlement enterprise is about: A racist narrative, violations of international law and the perpetuation of the denial of Palestinian rights,” Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said.
    Israel and the United States do not use “annexation” for Israel’s planned moves, arguing that the term applies to land taken from a sovereign country, whereas the West Bank was controlled by Jordan but not generally recognised as part of its sovereign territory before the 1967 war.
(Writing by Dan Williams and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/6/2020 Lebanon plan based on flexible exchange rate in ‘coming period’- Finance Minister
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon May 6, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A government plan for getting Lebanon out of a financial crisis is based on a shift to a flexible exchange rate, but in the “coming period,” and a currency peg will be maintained for now, Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said on Wednesday.
    The government approved the plan, which entails vast losses in the financial system, last week, announcing it would form the basis of aid negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
    The crisis is seen as the greatest risk to Lebanon’s stability since its 1975-90 civil war.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the plan was not sacred and could evolve, urging Lebanese to set aside differences during a meeting with some of the country’s fractious politicians.
    The Lebanese pound has lost more than half of its value since October and depositors have largely been shut out of their savings as dollars have become ever more scarce.    Inflation, unemployment and poverty have soared.
    The pound has been pegged at 1,507.5 to the dollar since 1997 and the central bank supplies dollars at this price for the purchase of fuel, medicine and wheat.    Dollars were changing hands at over 4,000 pounds on the parallel market on Wednesday.
    The plan is based on “a policy of a flexible exchange rate in the coming period, in a gradual and studied way,” Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni told the meeting.
    He gave no time frame for the change but said freeing up the exchange rate before restoring confidence and securing international support would lead to a big deterioration in the value of the pound and uncontrolled price rises of basic goods.
    “We are forced in the current phase to continue in the policy of fixing (the rate),” he said.
    The Diab government took office in January with backing from the powerful, Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and allies including President Michel Aoun, the Christian Maronite head of state.
    Speaking after the meeting, Samir Geagea, a Maronite rival to Aoun and Hezbollah opponent, said he would not support this or any other plan that did not start with serious steps to fight corruption and waste, including customs evasion.
    These are widely seen as prime causes of the crisis, landing Lebanon with one of the world’s biggest public debt burdens.    Lebanon defaulted on its sovereign debt in March.
    Neither leading Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, a former prime minister and traditional ally of Gulf Arab and Western states, nor Druze leader Walid attended the meeting.
    “Time is very precious.    The accumulated losses are very big.    The situation is very painful, and the chance to rectify (it) will not last long,” Diab said.
    Wazni said Lebanon had started negotiations to restructure its sovereign debt two weeks ago.    Benefits of going to the IMF included securing financial support of $9-$10 billion, he said.
    Critics of the plan include Lebanon’s commercial banks.    The plan foresees them sustaining losses of some $83.2 billion.
    The banking association is working on its own plan that aims to preserve some of its capital rather than writing it off as set out in the government proposals.
(Reporting by Beirut newsroom; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson, John Stonestreet, William Maclean)

5/6/2020 Israel signs deal to lease drones to Greece for border defence
FILE PHOTO: The logo of state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the country's biggest defence contractor, is seen at
their offices next to Ben Gurion International airport, near Or Yehuda, Israel February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel said it will lease drones to Greece to defend its borders, in the first military deal between the two countries which includes an option to buy the system.
    The Israeli Defence Ministry said on Wednesday that the agreement with the Hellenic Ministry of National Defence was signed digitally due to the coronavirus crisis.
    Under the deal, Israel’s Defence Ministry will lease the Heron unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system, made by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries for three years.
    The Heron system, which is used by Israel’s military and in naval forces around the world, is equipped with both day and night activity platforms, maritime patrol radars and satellite communications.
    It will be used by Greece primarily for border defence, the Israeli ministry said in a statement, adding that security relations between Israel and Greece were expanding.
    “We hope to sign additional agreements with Greece as well as other European partners, assisting them in addressing security challenges – in times of the corona pandemic and beyond,” Yair Kulas, head of the Israel’s International Defence Cooperation Directorate, said.
(Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Alexander Smith)

5/6/2020 Some Egyptians pack streets for Ramadan shopping despite coronavirus threat by Ulf Laessing and Nadeen Ebrahim
FILE PHOTO: Residents of Ezbet Hamada in Cairo's Mataria district gather to eat Iftar, the meal to end their fast
at sunset, during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Cairo, Egypt May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – In the heart of Egypt’s capital, shoppers pack sweet shops and grocery stores to stock up for fast-breaking during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, shrugging off fears about the new coronavirus.
    Little over a month since Egypt imposed strict measures to counter the virus, social customs and economic pressures are drawing people onto the streets, even as newly reported cases of the coronavirus have continued to rise.
    The government is running campaigns in newspapers and on billboards to encourage social distancing.    It has shut cafes and eat-in service at restaurants and imposed a night-time curfew.
    But the curfew has prompted a shopping rush during the day when many stock up for fast-breaking, or iftar, at 6:30 pm.    Store owners often struggle to persuade people to queue in an orderly way.
    “Customers are not afraid of the coronavirus.    It was very crowded (in the shop) at the start of Ramadan, so we were always asking people to stand further apart,” said Osama Ali Ahmed, 60, owner of a sweet shop near the historic al-Sayeda Zainab mosque in central Cairo.
    Customers, some wearing masks, jostled for space, as they did at a nearby grocery store.
    “People are careful, but this does not stop… us from going out to buy the things that we get every year,” said Ashraf Ali, 52, driver at a telecoms company as he bought pickles.
    Egypt, a country of 100 million, has so far reported more than 7,000 cases of the new coronavirus and 452 deaths, fewer than in many European countries, though the number of new infections continues to rise.
    On Sunday Health Minister Hala Zayed Said urged Egyptians to take the lockdown measures more seriously.
    “It is the citizen who will control the way we get through these dangerous times.    The state has completed all procedures it is responsible for,” she said.
    The health ministry and state press centre did not respond to questions for this article.
    Cairo residents say more people are staying at home fasting until sunset, though many roads in the city of nearly 10 million are still jammed during the daytime.
    The start of the curfew has been moved back from 7pm to 9pm, and some cars can be seen flouting curfew rules at night.
    The impact of the coronavirus has hit many Egyptians hard, especially those reliant on informal work such as day labourers.
    Egypt’s Misr El Kheir charity is distributing almost double the number of food boxes this Ramadan compared to last year, said Ahmed Ali, a senior member of its staff.
    “The number of calls we received on our hotline, and this is not normal, has exceeded 30,000 or 40,000,” he said, adding that some were day labourers who are working less due to the curfew.
    Food Bank, another charity, has raised the number of families it hopes to reach during Ramadan to 1.5 million from 500,000.
(Additional reporting by Ehab Farouk, Mahmoud Mourad and Sayed Shaesha in Cairo; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Gareth Jones)

5/6/2020 Masked and partitioned, worshippers return to Jerusalem’s Western Wall
A general view shows the plaza of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, with partitioned areas for worshippers to
adhere to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions on large gatherings in Jerusalem May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Worshippers are returning to the Western Wall in Jerusalem as Judaism’s holiest prayer site gradually reopens under eased coronavirus precautions.    But now they are themselves being walled-off.
    Under revised rules, up to 300 visitors at a time are being allowed to access the Western Wall, a remnant of two ancient Jewish temples in Jerusalem’s Old City.    They must wear masks.
    “Worshippers that have so yearned to visit the sacred stones and pray in front of them can return to the Western Wall while keeping to the health ministry restrictions,” said the site’s chief rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz.
    But the prayer plaza facing the wall, which in peak holidays of the past would throng with thousands of people, is subdivided by barriers and cloth partitions forming temporary cloisters that can each accommodate 19 worshippers – the current cap.
    Full Jewish prayer services require a quorum of 10.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Pravin Char)

5/7/2020 U.S. says Russia is working with Syria’s Assad to move militia to Libya by Humeyra Pamuk
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
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States does not support the offensive of Libya’s eastern-based military leader Khalifa Haftar against Tripoli and believes Russia is working with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transfer militia fighters and equipment to Libya, senior U.S. officials said on Thursday.
    “The United States does not support LNA military action against Tripoli. … The attack on the capital diverts resources from what is a priority for us, which is counterterrorism,” Henry Wooster, deputy assistant secretary at State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said on a conference call, referring to Haftar’s Libyan National Army.
    Haftar launched a war a year ago to grab the capital Tripoli and other parts of northwestern Libya.    Since 2014, Libya has been split between areas controlled by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli and the northwest, and territory held by Haftar’s eastern-based forces in Benghazi.
    Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the government is backed by Turkey.    The U.N. Security Council had imposed an arms embargo on Libya in 2011 amid an uprising that ousted longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
    Libya is a messy battlefield with heavy involvement by foreign fighters.    The United States and the United Nations have warned against the deepening footprint of Russian private contractor forces while Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have also deployed drones, according to diplomats.
    Jim Jeffrey, U.S. special envoy for Syria, speaking to reporters on the same call, said the battlefield could even get more complicated.     “We know that, certainly the Russians are working with Assad to transfer militia fighters, possibly third country, possibly Syrian, to Libya, as well as equipment.”
    He did not elaborate.
    Russian private military contractor Wagner Group has up to 1,200 people deployed in Libya, strengthening Haftar’s forces, a confidential United Nations report seen by Reuters said on Wednesday. [nL1N2CO16W]
    President Donald Trump called Haftar last year, in the first weeks of the offensive, in a move that some diplomats took as a sign Washington might be backing the former Gaddafi officer. Since then the United States has urged all sides to de-escalate, a call that fell on deaf ears.
    When asked if Haftar’s foreign backers could persuade him to end the offensive given recent setbacks on the field, Wooster said: “I don’t think that in the near-term offing, at least in the foreseeable future, there’s any likely prospect whatsoever that that would happen."
    “For as long as there is an objective they can meet through Haftar as an instrument, we don’t see them backing down,” Wooster said.
    U.S. officials also expressed discomfort about ties between Haftar and Assad.
    “There is a very troubling other element here and that is … Haftar’s establishment of so-called diplomatic relations with the Assad regime, which is very much a part of the piece of the question of Syrian mercenaries, at least on his side of the equation,” Wooster said.
    Haftar opened an embassy in Syria in March and called on Damascus to unite in their common fight against Turkey-backed militant groups.    Turkey has long called for the departure of Assad and has backed Syrian rebels against Assad’s forces.
    Assad has looked to shed his country’s pariah status and regain Arab support.    The United Arab Emirates reopened its Damascus embassy in December 2018 and has forged closer ties after once supporting rebels fighting against Assad. [nL8N2AW3E2]
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

5/8/2020 Turkey and Italy say shells hit near their Libyan embassies
FILE PHOTO: A car drives past the Italian embassy in Tripoli, Libya January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Hani Amara/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Shells landed near the Turkish and Italian embassies in central Tripoli late on Thursday, they said, in an apparent expansion of bombardment by eastern-based forces to a central district of the Libyan capital.
    The eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar has been bombarding Tripoli for months as part of a year-long war to capture the city, causing four fifths of civilian deaths in the conflict this year, according to the United Nations.
    At least 131 civilians were killed or injured in the fighting in the first quarter of 2020, the U.N. has said.
    However, Turkish military support for the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has helped its forces push the LNA back from several areas in recent weeks, threatening to end Haftar’s campaign in western Libya.
    The Turkish ambassador told Reuters in a message that a Grad missile had struck the High Court building next to the embassy and another landed by the Foreign Ministry.
    Italy’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter the area near around the Italian ambassador’s residence was hit, causing at least two deaths.    “Italy strongly condemns yet another attack by Haftar forces,” it said.
    Shells also landed around the city’s port, where the United Nations migration agency had to abort an operation to disembark migrants who had been rescued at sea.
    The LNA’s military spokesman had this week announced the start of a new air campaign, and said strikes had targeted an airbase at Misrata.
    Local authorities there said the loud blasts that occurred late on Wednesday were caused by a storage problem with old munitions.
    Pro-GNA forces have been able to reverse some of the losses they suffered last year with the help of Turkish drones and air defence systems, which stopped most air strikes by the LNA and its allies.    The LNA is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
    Wednesday’s Misrata blasts came after an attack by the pro-GNA forces on al-Watiya airbase west of the capital, one of the LNA’s most important strongholds in western Libya.    The pro-GNA forces have also moved towards Tarhouna, another key LNA bastion.
    The U.N. Libya mission said last month that during the first quarter of 2020, at least 131 civilians were killed or injured, a rise of 45% over the last quarter of 2019 as the fighting escalated.
    It said ground fighting was the main cause of the deaths and that four fifths of them were caused by forces affiliated to the LNA.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall, Aidan Lewis and Hani Amara; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

5/8/2020 Kuwait imposes 20-day ‘total curfew’ from May 10 to curb coronavirus by Ahmed Hagagy
FILE PHOTO: Repatriated Kuwaitis from Amman, wearing protective face masks and suits, are seen after arriving at the Kuwait Airport,
following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuwait City, Kuwait April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait will enact a “total curfew” from 4pm (1300 GMT) on Sunday through to May 30 to help to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, its cabinet said in a statement on Friday.
    During the curfew, public sectors will work remotely and private sector activities, excluding vital ones, will be suspended, the statement said.    All banks will be closed, but will continue to provide services electronically.
    Essential sectors like health, security, electricity, oil and municipal services, as well as private sector companies providing vital services like maintenance will be exempt from the curfew, interior minister Anas al-Saleh said in a televised news conference later on Friday.
    Kuwait on April 20 expanded a nationwide curfew to 16 hours a day, from 4pm to 8am, and extended a suspension of work in the public sector, including government ministries, until May 31.
    “Anything that serves the citizens and expatriates at their homes and meets their needs will have all the possibilities to continue their operations,” said Kuwait’s minister of trade and industry, Khaled Al-Rawdan.
    “After the curfew, we hope there will be a gradual comeback,” he added.
    Cooperatives and grocery stores will remain open during the curfew.    People will have to book an appointment in advance and one person from each family will be allowed out for shopping.
    People will be required to wear protective masks and will be able to go out for walks between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. without using any vehicles.
    In addition, print newspapers will be suspended and home deliveries will be allowed only for essential food and pharmaceutical supplies.
    On Friday the Gulf state announced 641 new coronavirus cases and three deaths, bringing its total number of confirmed cases to 7,208, with 47 deaths.
    The number of cases in the six Gulf Arab states has risen steadily to almost 86,000, with 486 deaths, despite containment measures including curfews, the grounding of passenger flights and the closure of most public venues.
    The number of coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia exceeded 35,000 on Friday.
(Reporting by Ahmed Haggagy in Kuwait and Ahmed Tolba and Hesham Abdul Khalek in Cairo; Writing by Lisa Barrington and Marwa Rashad; Editing by Alison Williams, David Goodman and Bill Berkrot)

5/8/2020 Amid ruins of a Syrian town, Ramadan meal reunites a community
FILE PHOTO: Boys eat their Iftar meal provided by a group of volunteers in a damaged neighbourhood, amid fear for the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Atarib, Aleppo countryside Syria May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    ATAREB, Syria (Reuters) – Amid mounds of rubble and the ruins of buildings destroyed during nearly a decade of war, a Ramadan iftar meal has reunited a community in northwestern Syria.
    Dozens of men and children sat out on a long line of blankets on the ground in the town of Atareb for the iftar, when Muslims break their daily fast at sundown during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
    Many have returned to the town from camps for the displaced since a March ceasefire halted the most recent government offensive against the rebel-held territory.
    “This is the first time that we’ve got together since the enormous destruction that happened in the district,” said Mohamad Jabar, 30, who attended the iftar on Thursday with his children.
    “We returned recently to our homes.    Even if they are destroyed or half destroyed, they are better than the camps and the crowding.”
    Fears that the new coronavirus would spread quickly through camps for the displaced at the Turkish border have encouraged some to return to their homes near the frontline.
    So far, no cases of the virus have been confirmed in the rebel-held northwest, where just a few hundred tests have been carried out on a population of some 4 million people.
    The site of the iftar was cleaned and sanitised by Civil Defence workers beforehand, said Abdel Malak al-Sheikh, 37, a member of the charity that organised the meal.
    Organisers encouraged the attendees to stay apart to respect social distancing rules.    But most ended up sitting close together as the ate.
    “From amid the destruction, we are trying to deliver a message to the whole world that we are steadfast.    From the destruction that Bashar al-Assad caused, life and hope will spring,” Sheikh said.
    Northwestern Syria is the last major piece of territory held by rebels fighting President Assad.    Backed by his allies Russia and Iran, Assad waged his latest offensive to recover the area earlier this year.
(This story has been refiled to remove garble in paragraph 8)
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

5/8/2020 Saudi Arabia coronavirus cases exceed 35,000
FILE PHOTO: Saudi security officers stand in front of the Kaaba at empty Grand mosque, as a preventive measure against the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), during the holy month of Ramadan, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 5, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia exceeded 35,000 on Friday as the kingdom struggles to get to grips with rising numbers of new infections.
    Officials reported 1,701 new cases , taking the total to 35,432.    The country has recorded a daily average of around 1,500 new cases over the past week.
    Despite the rising number of cases, the kingdom’s death toll has remained relatively low.    It increased by 10 on Friday to 229.
    Saudi Arabia on Thursday formed a police unit to monitor violations of its coronavirus lockdown rules and banned gatherings of more than five people, according to state news agency SPA, citing hefty fines for any violations.     Fines of up to 100,000 riyals ($27,000) will be handed down to groups larger than one family gathering in public and private spaces, including homes, construction sites and shops.    The same rule applies for parties, weddings and funerals.
    Saudi Arabia recorded its first COVID-19 infection on March 2, several weeks after the initial outbreak in Asia.
(Reporting by Jane Wardell and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Richard Pullin, Alison Williams and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

5/8/2020 Palestine leaders call on banks to defy Israeli order seizing money from prisoners, victims of conflict by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Oct. 28, 2019, file photo, a Palestinian woman holds a portrait of a relative being held in an Israeli jail as they demonstrate
for prisoner release, in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in Gaza City. (AP Photo/ Hatem Moussa, File)
    Palestinian officials are preparing to defy Israel’s order to confiscate money from bank accounts of prisoners and their families.    On Friday, Palestinian President Mohammad Shtayyeh stated banks within the state will not submit to the measure and called to keep the accounts running.
    Officials in Palestine have been giving money to families of prisoners and victims affected by the political unrest of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
    Some are worried about the seizure of funds and claimed they rely on this money to pay for essential items for their families.
    “We are a family of six.    Hamza’s salary while he is imprisoned is what helped us financially.    Even his father’s medicine and his treatments is what was covered with the salary.    It helped us a lot and his father is sick, he does not work.” – Zahiya Almasri, mother of prisoner
In this Tuesday, April 28, 2020 photo, apartment towers loom over the West Bank village of Kufr Aqab. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
    The banks that have been asked to close these accounts are in the West Bank, which is occupied by Israel and partially ruled by the Palestinian Authority.
    The order is set to take place Saturday, which will allow the Israeli military to confiscate funds from the bank if they open these accounts.

5/8/2020 Yemen reports nine new coronavirus cases in Aden, two more deaths
FILE PHOTO: A medic wearing a protective suit attends to a patient at the emergency ward of a hospital amid concerns
about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Aden, Yemen April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Wael al-Qubati
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemen on Friday reported nine new coronavirus cases in Aden, the interim headquarters of the government, including one death, and said a second person infected in the southern province of Lahaj had died.
    This takes the total count in areas under control of the internationally recognised government to 34 infections with seven deaths.
    The Houthi movement, which controls the capital Sanaa and most big urban centres, has so far reported one infection, a Somali national who was found dead in a hotel.
    Yemen has been divided since the Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government from power in Sanaa in late 2014, prompting a Saudi-led military coalition to intervene.
    The five-year war has shattered the health system and left Yemen’s population weakened by widespread hunger and disease.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington; editing by Nick Macfie)

5/9/2020 Jet tanks targeted at Tripoli airport: oil company
FILE PHOTO: Planes are seen after the reopening of Mitiga Airport in Tripoli, Libya December 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Jet fuel tanks at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport were targeted in an attack on Saturday that caused a large fire, Libya’s National Oil Corp (NOC) said.
    Mitiga is the last functioning airport in the Libyan capital, though civilian flights stopped in March because of repeated shelling even before the country imposed a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.
    The NOC statement, posted on the state-run company’s Facebook page, gave no details of the attack but said firemen were working to bring the blaze under control.
    Video shared with Reuters by an airport worker showed plumes of black smoke billowing over the apron.
    The eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), with frequent shelling of the capital.
    Pro-GNA forces have retaken some territory from the LNA during an escalation of fighting in recent weeks with the help of Turkish-supplied drones.
    The LNA is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
(Reporting by Hani Amara in Istanbul and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Christina Fincher)

5/9/2020 Trump, Saudi king reaffirm defense ties amid tensions
U.S. President Donald Trump LISTENS during a meeting with Republican members of Congress in the
State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman spoke by phone on Friday and “,” the White House said, amid tensions over Saudi’s oil output.
    The two men spoke after news the United States planned to withdraw two Patriot anti-missile batteries from Saudi Arabia that have been a defense against Iran.
    Trump had worked last month to persuade Saudi Arabia to cut its oil output after an increase in production during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic put heavy pressure on U.S. oil producers.
    “The two leaders agreed on the importance of stability in global energy markets, and reaffirmed the strong United States-Saudi defense partnership,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.    “The president and King Salman also discussed other critical regional and bilateral issues and their cooperation as leaders of the G7 and G20, respectively.”
    The statement did not mention the Patriot missiles and the White House declined further comment.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed on Friday media reports that the missiles would be withdrawn, but he said it did not signal a decrease in U.S. support for Saudi Arabia and was not an effort to pressure Riyadh on oil issues.    He also said it did not mean Washington thought Iran was no longer a threat.
    “Those Patriot batteries had been in place for some time. Those troops needed to get back,” Pompeo told the Ben Shapiro radio show.    “This was a normal rotation of forces.”
    Saudi Arabia said in a statement about the phone call that Trump confirmed the United States is committed to protecting its interests and the security of its allies in the region.    Trump also reiterated U.S. support for efforts aimed at reaching a political solution to the crisis in Yemen, the statement said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Hesham Abdul Khalek in Cairo; Editing by Leslie Adler and Grant McCool)

5/10/2020 Lockdowns pile job losses and hunger onto Syrian refugees’ plight by Ellen Francis
Syrian refugee girls carry stacks of bread on their heads, as Lebanon extends a lockdown to combat the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a Syrian refugee camp in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Ahmad al-Mostafa can’t afford milk for his baby daughter.    A Syrian refugee, he has barely been able to feed his family since Lebanon sank into economic crisis last year.    But now, a coronavirus lockdown has made things even worse.
    “Nobody will hire us anymore,” said the 28-year-old, who lost his restaurant job a few months ago.    He racked up hundreds of dollars in debt at the local minimarket getting food before the owner said he could borrow no more.
    “We’re afraid of tomorrow,” he said.    “We don’t know what will happen to us.”
    His plight echoes that facing many of the 5.6 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, who had scraped by on meagre daily wages but now find even that is denied them as the coronavirus pandemic forces their host countries into shutdown.
    Many Lebanese have themselves been hit by a financial crisis that has evaporated jobs and sent prices soaring, and have become less tolerant of the Syrians who have boosted the population by around 1.5 million to some 6 million.
    “Every time I go looking for work, they tell me they don’t hire Syrians,” said Mostafa, who fled into north Lebanon in 2014. “I’m sitting indoors – and everything is expensive.”     He can no longer afford diapers, which have doubled in price, and he relies on a charitable neighbour who gets milk for his one-year-old daughter.
    More refugees say they are worried about starving than about the virus, said Mireille Girard, representative of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Lebanon.
    In a survey last month, UNHCR found 70% were going hungry, while many could not buy soap.    Since Syria’s war erupted nine years ago, many have languished in crowded camps where aid workers fear any COVID-19 outbreak would be rapid and lethal.
    In Jordan, the Zaatari camp, home to 80,000 Syrian refugees, has been closed off by the authorities during a two-month lockdown, meaning those who used to go out to work on farms every day can no longer do so.
    Jordan hosts some 900,000 refugees in all, most of whom live outside the camps.
    Abdullah Aba Zaid, who used to get work picking tomatoes, has had no income for two months.
    “For the last 10 days, I haven’t had a single penny in the house even to pay for bread.    I am borrowing from here and there,” he said.    “Everyone is waiting for God’s mercy … hoping things will improve.”
    But even as businesses return to work after the government eased curbs this week, job losses are on the rise, making more Syrians dependent on already strained aid efforts.
    UNHCR is getting more calls for help from refugee families who had been largely self-reliant, said Dominik Bartsch, its Jordan representative.
    Some Syrians said their accumulating debts had forced them to sell U.N. food coupons to pay for rent and basic goods.
    Since Turkey’s economy tipped into a brief recession two years ago, the public mood towards Syrians has soured, with some saying they have driven down wages and taken jobs from locals.
    Many of the three and a half million Syrian refugees work as day labourers in construction and manufacturing, especially textile factories – sectors that have been hard hit by the pandemic curbs.
    Unlike millions of Turkish workers who lost their wages, Syrians do not benefit from government aid packages but can apply for food aid from local municipalities.    Still, many have no basic protection against the virus.
    One in five does not have access to clean water, said Omar Kadkoy of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV).    “This brings the issue to an alarming level and the government should be acting to contain (it).”
    In a camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, which authorities have sealed off during the lockdown, Younes Hamdou cannot find bread.    Clean water is also scarce, illness rife and social distancing nearly impossible.
    “We are prisoners … We have no immunity because of the lack of food,” he said.    “Lebanese people have gone hungry, Syrians have gone hungry. Everyone is hungry.”
(Writing by Ellen Francis; additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Imad Creidi in Lebanon and Dominic Evans in Istanbul; Editing by Tom Perry and Kevin Liffey)

5/10/2020 Massive bombardment hits Tripoli as water supplies threatened
Damage is seen following shelling at Tripoli's Mitiga airport in Tripoli, Libya May 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – A withering bombardment shook Tripoli on Sunday as the eastern-based forces of Khalifa Haftar fought overnight for new territory in the southern suburbs after losing ground recently around the city.
    Adding to the misery of Tripoli residents, the main water supplier to northwest Libya said armed men in the south had stormed one of its facilities, reducing supply.
    “My father said we should be ready to leave at any moment… the fighting last night was heavier than at any time before,” said a resident of Abu Salim district, near a frontline.
    “We would leave to survive, but where can we go?… we will be on the street.    It’s hopeless,” the resident added by phone.
    Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has been trying to capture Tripoli for 13 months, but Turkish military aid this year for the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has helped it regain some ground.
    The LNA, backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, last week announced a new air campaign, but most bombardment since then has been through artillery.
    Last month the pro-GNA forces recaptured a string of towns in the northwest from the LNA, re-establishing their control between Tripoli and the Tunisian border.
    They have also made two attempts to seize the LNA’s strategic al-Watiya airbase, but have been repelled, and have moved towards the LNA’s main northwestern stronghold of Tarhouna.
    An LNA military source said late on Saturday that the fighting was the fiercest so far.    Eastern forces briefly took some ground in Abu Salim.
    Tripoli residents described the bombardment as the worst so far after weeks of fighting as the GNA attempts to end Haftar’s campaign to seize the capital and push his forces out of artillery range.
    Mitiga, the only functioning airport in the Libyan capital, was targeted by rockets for a second day after shelling on Saturday destroyed fuel tanks and sprayed shrapnel across a passenger jet being readied for take off.
    The U.N. Libya mission condemned what it called “indiscriminate attacks,” which it said were mostly attributable to pro-LNA forces.    It said last month that the LNA was responsible for four fifths of civilian deaths in the first quarter of 2020.
    Turkey said on Sunday it would regard Haftar’s forces as “legitimate targets” if attacks on its interests continued.
    Water pressure in Tripoli was already starting to decline on Sunday afternoon after the Great Man-Made River Project, the main water utility, said one of its power stations in the south had been stormed by armed men.
    Ahmed al-Deeb, head of its western region committee, said the men had switched off the electricity because of a shortage of cooking gas and a lack of cash in local banks, and that tribal elders were negotiating with them to restore power.
    The state-run National Oil Corporation said last week it was carrying out work to supply cooking gas from the country’s main Sharara oil field.
(Reporting By Tripoli newsroom, writing by Angus McDowall in Tunis; Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/10/2020 Turkey threatens to target Haftar’s forces in Libya if attacks persist
FILE PHOTO: Libyan transport minister Milad Matouq walks as he inspects damages at Tripoli's Mitiga
airport after it was hit by shelling in Tripoli, Libya May 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey said on Sunday it would deem the forces of Libyan General Khalifa Haftar “legitimate targets” if what it termed their attacks on its interests and diplomatic missions in Libya persisted.
    Turkey backs Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).    It has signed a military cooperation deal with the GNA, which has been trying to fend off an offensive by Haftar’s forces.
    Ankara views Haftar’s forces, which are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, as “putschists.”
    “If our missions and our interests in Libya are targeted, we will deem Haftar’s forces legitimate targets,” the foreign ministry said in a statement in which it also slammed the United Nations for not taking action over Haftar’s attacks.
    “It is unacceptable for the United Nations to remain silent against this carnage any longer,” it said.
    “Countries providing military, financial and political aid to Haftar are responsible for the suffering that the people of Libya are enduring and the chaos and instability the country is being dragged into.”
    It also said attacks on Tripoli’s Mitiga airport early on Saturday, part of an intensified barrage of artillery fire on the capital, were war crimes.
    On Thursday, Turkey and Italy said the area around their embassies in Tripoli had been shelled.    A spokesman for Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) denied that the force was responsible for that bombardment.
    The LNA has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli from the GNA, with frequent shelling of the capital.    The United Nations said four-fifths of the 130 civilian casualties recorded in the Libyan conflict in the first quarter of 2020 were caused by LNA ground fighting.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday the LNA was in a “period of regression” after NATO member Turkey threw its support behind the GNA.
    “Even the efforts of countries that provide him (Haftar) with unlimited financial support and weapons will not be able to save him,” Erdogan said.
    Pro-GNA forces have retaken some territory from the LNA around Tripoli during an escalation of fighting in recent weeks with the help of Turkish-supplied drones.
    The LNA says Turkey has established a military drone base at Mitiga, but the GNA denies this.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/10/2020 Preschoolers return as Israel further eases coronavirus curbs
A girl paints on glass at her kindergarten as preschools across Israel opened under the further easing of
restrictions to prevent the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, in Jerusalem May 10, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel partly reopened nurseries and kindergartens on Sunday, increasing the number of children who have returned to the education system as part of efforts to revive the economy by easing coronavirus restrictions.
    Israel shut down the education system in mid-March as contagions spiked.    With the new case rate levelling out, classes resumed last week, for the first three and last two grades of school, freeing up some parents to go back to work.
    As with school pupils, preschoolers were allowed back with enhanced hygiene requirements and with numbers capped – 17 for each nursery, 18 for each kindergarten – to allow for social distancing. Within each kindergarten, children were sub-divided into groups of nine.
    State-run kindergartens are, for now, accommodating the overflow by admitting children on a rotating half-week basis.    Nurseries, by contrast, have allowed only 70% of children back, on full-week schedules, the Labour and Welfare Ministry said.
    In selecting which nursery children return, staff give priority to those from broken families or with single or working mothers, a Labour and Welfare Ministry spokeswoman said.    “We are trying to find creative solutions for the other 30%,” she said.
    Sunday’s turn-out rate was 60% for the kindergartens and 90% of those eligible for the nurseries, government officials said.    Some parents have preferred to keep their children home for fear of infection.
    Sunday is the beginning of Israel’s working week.
    Israel, with a population of about nine million, has reported 16,477 new coronavirus cases and 249 deaths.    Unemployment has hit 27% as a result of business closures and home-confinements.
    Officials have said that if the partial reopening of schools and return of preschoolers does not unleash uncontrollable new contagions, the rest of Israel’s educational system could be operating by the end of May.
    The Education Ministry is also looking at the possibility of extending studies into the summer holiday to make up for lost time.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones and Pravin Char)

5/10/2020 Iraqi prime minister releases anti-government protesters by OAN Newsroom
Photo of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi via Prime Minister’s Information Office Twitter.
    The newly appointed prime minister of Iraq, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, carried out one of the first decisions of his administration this week.    On Sunday, the country’s judiciary ordered a release of all anti-government protesters who did not partake in violence.
    This came after dozens burned tires in renewed protests against the new leadership.     Protests began back in October, when thousands of citizens denounced government corruption and demanded officials to be held accountable.
    Protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails towards riot police, who responded with rocks and stun grenades.    Authorities also used fire and tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Anti-government protesters burn tires in front of barriers set up by security forces to close the Jumhuriyah Bridge leading
to the Green Zone government area, during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, May 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
    According to human rights groups, at least 600 people died in the following three months of clashes.    Protesters also took a hit when the coronavirus outbreak began, but dozens are still camped out in the capitol in hopes of continuing the movement.
    “We are steadfast and will go on protesting, but we don’t want to have more bloodshed, we don’t want more martyrs,” stated one resident.    “We hope that the youths protesting here will not commit mistakes that others will blame us for.”
    The council released detainees based on an article of the country’s constitution, which guarantees the right to protest as long as citizens do not break the law.
Anti-government protesters stage a sit-in on barriers set up by security forces to close the Jumhuriyah Bridge leading
to the Green Zone government area, during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, May 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
    Alkadhimi has stated his administration’s top priorities will be the coronavirus pandemic and holding those who took citizens’ lives accountable.

5/11/2020 Yemen’s emergency coronavirus committee declares Aden an infested city
FILE PHOTO: A police officer wearing a protective face mask is pictured on a street during a curfew amid concerns
about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Aden, Yemen April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Wael al-Qubati
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Yemen’s emergency coronavirus committee declared Aden, the seat to Yemen’s internationally recognised government, an infested city early on Monday after coronavirus cases there jumped to 35, including four deaths.
    The committee also announced on twitter that the decision came after the spread of several diseases in the city due to the torrential rains that hit it recently.
    Late on Sunday the committee announced 17 new coronavirus cases, 10 of which were in Aden, raising the total number of cases to 51, including eight deaths.
(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

5/11/2020 President says one person infected 533 with coronavirus at Ghana fish factory
FILE PHOTO: Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo addresses participants of the "G20 Investment Summit - German Business and the CwA Countries
2019" on the sidelines of a Compact with Africa (CwA) in Berlin , Germany November 19, 2019. John MacDougall/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ACCRA (Reuters) – A worker at a fish-processing factory in Ghana’s Atlantic seafront city of Tema infected 533 other workers at the facility with the coronavirus, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a broadcast late on Sunday.
    Ghana’s health authorities reported the outbreak at the industrial facility late on Friday, but did not provide details.
    “All 533 persons were infected by one person,” President Akufo-Addo said. He did not provide details of how the disease spread in the facility or if safety measures had been in place.
    He said that the 533 positive cases, which represents around 11.3% of Ghana’s total infections, were part of a backlog of about 921 cases going back as far as April 26 that are only recently being reported.
    The new cases pushed Ghana’s total since the pandemic was first reported in the West African nation in mid-March to 4,700 as of Sunday night, the highest number of infections in West Africa.
    The president said 22 people have died of coronavirus-related causes, while 494 have recovered.
    With 160,501 tests since the outbreak, Akufo-Addo said Ghana had carried out more tests per million people than any other country in Africa.
    “The implementation of our strategy of aggressively tracing, testing and treating is our surest way of rooting out the virus,” Akufo-Addo said.
    He announced an extension of a ban on public gatherings until the end of May, and schools and universities will remain closed.
    Akufo-Addo eased a three-week lockdown on Ghana’s two main cities, Accra and Kumasi, on April 19 amid concerns over a prolonged lockdown on the economy.
(Reporting by Christian Akorlie; Writing by Bate Felix. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

5/11/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan imposes four-day lockdown from Saturday
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
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that a lockdown would be imposed starting on Saturday and ending after Tuesday, May 19, which is a national holiday.
    Ankara has imposed lockdowns in major cities over the past four weekends, as well as on national holidays to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
    Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Erdogan said intercity travel restrictions on nine more cities had been lifted, as Turkey gradually eases measures taken against the coronavirus.
    The restrictions on the three largest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, remain in place.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/11/2020 Lebanon fears second coronavirus wave as new infections surge
FILE PHOTO: A man stands near a mannequin wearing a face mask during Lebanon's shutdown to
curb the spread of the coronavirus, in Sidon, Lebanon, May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese authorities warned of a new wave of coronavirus cases after the number jumped to its highest point in more than a month as the government eased some restrictions on public life.
    The country has been under lockdown since mid-March to rein in an outbreak that has infected 859 people and killed 26.
    Lebanon started lifting restrictions last week as part of a longer-term plan, letting restaurants, hair salons, construction sites and other businesses open so far at lower capacity.
    But the government may shut the country down again to ward off any resurgence, with Lebanon’s higher defence council set to convene on Tuesday.
    Beirut airport has been closed for nearly two months, except for thousands of expatriates returning home, some of whom have added to the rise in infections.    More flights repatriating Lebanese are expected.
    After a drop in cases which the government hailed as a success, the health ministry recorded 36 new infections on Sunday, the highest one-shot uptick in at least least a month, and 14 more on Monday.
    The ministry asked the Lebanese to remain patient and stick to safety guidelines to prevent a second wave.
    More than 10 people got infected after an expat who returned from Nigeria last week received visitors, a ministry official said.    The man, who had tested negative when he first arrived, did not comply with self-isolation rules.
    One of those infected, an army soldier, then carried the virus to a military court where 13 others also caught it.
    The interior ministry has extended the hours of an overnight curfew, from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., warning that most businesses may have to shut again if the danger persists.
    The pandemic has compounded woes in Lebanon, which was already wrestling with a financial crisis that has slashed more than half the value of its currency since late last year.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/11/2020 Coronavirus cases in Gulf Arab region surpass 100,000
FILE PHOTO: People walk outside Dubai mall after the UAE government eased a curfew and allowed stores to open, following the
outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates May 3, 2020. REUTERS/Abdel Hadi Ramahi
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in the six Gulf Arab states surpassed 100,000 on Monday, with 557 deaths, according to Reuters calculations based on official figures.
    Coronavirus infections in the energy producing region had initially been linked to travel.    But despite taking early measures to combat the virus, Gulf states have seen a spread among low-income migrant workers living in cramped quarters, prompting authorities to ramp up testing.
    Saudi Arabia, the largest Gulf state with a population of about 30 million, has the highest count at 41,014 infections and 255 deaths.    It recorded 1,966 new cases and nine new deaths on Monday.    The daily number of new cases in the kingdom first crossed the 1,000 threshold on April 18.
    Health authorities said in April the virus could eventually infect between 10,000 and 200,000 people in Saudi Arabia.
    Elsewhere in the region, the tiny state of Qatar on May 5 overtook regional business hub the United Arab Emirates as having the second highest infection count among the six states.
    Qatar, where health authorities last Thursday said the outbreak had entered its peak, has recorded a steady increase in cases to 23,623 while the number of deaths has held steady at 14.
    The UAE total has so far reported 18,198 infections with 198 deaths.
    Some Gulf Arab states eased anti-virus containment measures with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on April 24.
    The UAE and Saudi Arabia relaxed curfews that had been in place since mid-March.    Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it had formed a police unit to monitor violations of its lockdown rules and banned gatherings of more than five people.
    Kuwait, where there has been a recent spike in the number of new cases, on Sunday imposed a full curfew for 20 days, exempting only essential services, instead of the 16-hour curfew that had previously been in place.
    Dubai emirate, the UAE’s tourism and business hub, allowed malls and dine-in restaurants and cafes to reopen with limitations on April 23.     Some other emirates have followed suit.    Saudi Arabia permitted commercial stores, including malls, to reopen on April 29 with restrictions until May 15.
    Qatar has maintained the closure of public venues with the exception of those providing essential services and goods.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Jon Boyle and Mark Heinrich)

5/11/2020 Turkey turns to medical diplomacy to heal damaged relations by Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Workers wearing protective gear unload a shipment of medical supplies from Turkey intended to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), from a cargo plane arrived at Almaty International Airport, Kazakhstan April 18, 2020. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Emblazoned with Turkish flags and presidential seals, crates packed with medical equipment are loaded onto planes, part of a major aid campaign by Ankara which has dispatched supplies to dozens of countries since the new coronavirus pandemic erupted.
    “There is hope after despair and many suns after darkness,” says a message on every shipment – a line from 13th century Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi, which looks to better days not just in the battle against COVID-19 but also for Turkey’s fraught diplomacy.
    With its relations with NATO allies in Europe and the United States darkened by disputes over Russian missile defences, human rights and Western sanctions on Iran, Turkey hopes the virus crisis is an opportunity to soothe recent tensions.
    Despite battling one of the world’s biggest coronavirus outbreaks at home – where the death toll now exceeds 3,700, Turkey has sent medical aid to 61 countries, including the United States, Spain, Italy, France and Britain.
    By its own calculations, Ankara has been the world’s third biggest aid distributor during the outbreak, sending face masks, protective suits, testing kits, disinfectant and respirators.
    In a letter to President Donald Trump sent with one shipment, President Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped the “spirit of solidarity” Turkey had shown would help U.S. politicians “better understand the strategic importance of our relations.”
    Ankara faces potential U.S. sanctions over its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defences, which it bought last year but has not yet fully deployed.    Despite the threat of sanctions, it says the systems will ultimately be activated.
    On Saturday, Erdogan also called on the European Union to increase its cooperation with Turkey in light of the support Ankara provided member states during the outbreak.    “I hope the EU now understands that we are all in the same boat,” he said.
    Turkey remains a candidate for EU membership but the process has long stalled amid disputes over Turkey’s human rights record, the handling of Syrian refugees and gas exploration around Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean.
    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the aid initiative had lifted the mood with Washington.
    “Has there been a positive atmosphere after the latest aid Turkey sent?    Yes, and there is a positive atmosphere in the eyes of the (U.S.) public too,” Cavusoglu said, adding however that “the core problems with the United States still persist.”
    Turkish aid shipments were also sent to Libya, Iraq, Iran, the Palestinian Authority, Russia, the Balkans and to China, where the new coronavirus first emerged.
    Turkey says it has also sent aid to Israel, despite tensions over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem.    Both sides expelled their top diplomats in 2018.
    Turkey has sent aid to 15 countries in Africa, where it is seeking to expand influence and commercial ties.
    Not all aid shipments have gone smoothly.    A commercial shipment of ventilators to Spain was delayed over export licences.    Another commercial shipment of 400,000 protective suits to Britain was criticised after some failed quality checks, but both Ankara and London said that was not a government-to-government shipment, and that there had been no problem with aid sent directly by Turkey.
    While the diplomatic outreach may have brought a change of tone to some of Ankara’s troubled international relations, analysts say lasting results are unlikely without concrete steps to address fundamental differences.
    “No amount of goodwill, no amount of medical diplomacy will alter the negative repercussions that Turkey’s deployment of the S-400s has produced in Washington,” said Fadi Hakura, consulting fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.
    “If Turkey wants to curry favour with Washington, it has to terminate the S-400s.”
    Gonul Tol, founding director of The Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies in Washington, said Turkey’s differences with the EU would also not be resolved overnight.
    “While some countries have welcomed Turkish aid, Ankara’s problems with its neighbours and Western allies are too serious to be resolved by a few symbolic steps,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Daren Butler and Gareth Jones)

5/12/2020 Trump congratulates Iraq PM Kadhimi on forming government
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak response press briefing
in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump spoke on Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to congratulate him on the approval of his new government by Iraqi lawmakers last week, the White House said.
    Iraq had been without a government since former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahd resigned in November amid anti-government protests.
    Trump spoke with Kadhimi “to congratulate him on his confirmation by the Iraqi Council of Representatives,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.
    “President Trump expressed the support of the United States for Iraq during the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic and emphasized the shared interest with Iraq in achieving the enduring defeat of ISIS,” the statement said.
    “President Trump also encouraged the Prime Minister to address the Iraqi people’s demands for reform and legitimate early national elections,” it said.
    Iraqi lawmakers approved Kadhimi’s government on Wednesday.    Just hours later, the United States announced it would grant a 120-day waiver for Iraq to continue importing electricity from Iran.    Washington said the move was aimed at supporting the new government.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; editing by Richard Pullin)

5/13/2020 Pompeo lauds Israel over coronavirus cooperation, raps China by Dan Williams
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department,
in Washington, U.S., April 29, 2020. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Israel on Wednesday for sharing information during global efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and took another swipe at China over what he said was its lack of transparency.
    U.S. President Donald Trump and his senior officials have engaged in a war of words with China, where the new coronavirus first emerged, saying it failed to inform the world fast enough about the dangers it posed and muzzled those who raised the alarm.    Beijing strongly denies the charges.
    Arriving in Israel on a one-day visit, Pompeo told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “You’re a great partner, you share information – unlike some other countries that try and obfuscate and hide that information – and we’ll talk about that country, too.”
    Pompeo did not name China and did not give specific examples of Israeli cooperation in the fight against coronavirus.
    Earlier, Pompeo repeated Washington’s charges against Beijing in an interview for the Israel Hayom newspaper.
    Here is what we know for sure.    The virus originated in Wuhan, China.    The Chinese Communist Party knew about this virus in December of 2019 (and) attempted to obfuscate this."
    “They denied people the ability to talk, they didn’t share this information quickly enough, they created enormous risk for the world,” he said.
    The United States has previously cautioned Israel against potential security threats from Chinese investment in Israel, prompting the Netanyahu government to set up a committee last October to vet such projects.
    Israel, with a population of nine million, has reported 16,539 new coronavirus cases including 262 deaths.    The United States, which has 328 million people, has reported 1.4 million cases and more than 83,000 deaths, the world’s highest number.
    Israel moved aggressively and early against the pandemic, shutting its borders in mid-March as part of measures that Netanyahu said had been discussed with the White House.
    Pompeo was to meet later with Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s political rival turned designated coalition partner.    The two are scheduled due to swear in their new government on Thursday.
    On their agenda has been a proposed declaration of Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank – territory the Palestinians want for a future state.
    The Palestinians are boycotting the Trump administration over its perceived pro-Israel bias, but Pompeo said he would discuss Washington’s peace vision with Netanyahu.
    “There remains work yet to do and we need to make progress on that – I’m looking forward to it,” Pompeo said.
    With Palestinian leaders warning that a de-facto Israeli annexation move could imperil the already limited cooperation between the sides, there has been a spike in West Bank violence.
    On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teenager during a raid near the West Bank city of Hebron, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
    The Israeli military said soldiers opened fire after Palestinians threw rocks and fire-bombs at them during an arrest operation and that one soldier was slightly wounded.
    A day earlier, a Palestinian stone-thrower killed an Israeli soldier who was taking part in an arrest raid near Jenin city.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones)

5/13/2020 Exclusive: As COVID-19 cases in Yemen surge, some sources see undercounting by Aziz El Yaakoubi
FILE PHOTO: A health worker takes the temperature of people riding a taxi van, amid concerns of the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the main entrance of Sanaa, Yemen May 9, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemen has more suspected coronavirus cases and deaths than the authorities have so far reported, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters, as the United Nations warned the virus is spreading in the war-ravaged country.
    The Saudi-backed government based in the south and the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement headquartered in the north have so far publicly announced a total of 67 cases with 11 deaths.    Only two of those infections and one of the deaths was reported by the Houthi authorities, both in the capital Sanaa.
    The sources said there was apparent undercounting in both the north and south of the country.
    The four sources, who have access to information from hospitals but who declined to be named, said Houthi health authorities had not shared additional test results with the World Health Organization (WHO) for at least 50 further patients with COVID-19 symptoms they were aware of at Kuwait hospital in Sanaa.    Two of the sources said 20 other patients they had seen with similar symptoms died in that hospital.
    The two other sources said they were aware of at least 30 suspected coronavirus cases admitted to another Sanaa facility, Sheikh Zayed hospital, and said test results for those cases had also not been shared.
    Reuters did not see medical records from the hospitals and could not independently confirm the numbers provided by the sources.    The hospitals could not immediately be reached for comment.
    “Houthi authorities do not share the results of the tests with doctors and with the WHO when the results are positive,” one of the sources told Reuters.
    A spokesman for the Houthi movement, Mohammad Abdulsalam, referred Reuters to the Houthi health ministry.    The health ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.    On May 3, a Houthi official told a press conference in Sanaa that authorities had detected suspected cases and tested them but did not provide a figure or mention the results.
    Asked by Reuters whether it was concerned about a coronavirus outbreak going unreported in Houthi-held areas, the WHO said its role was to “actively advise, influence and inform” discussions on case declaration and reporting, which it said it had been doing for weeks.
    It said it saw Yemen as “one country, one people” and cautioned against speculation related to “the number of probable cases not being reported.”
    “Given the testing capacity in country, which is very limited, tests are being done on persons who meet the criteria or case definition and exposure history.    We would not, and frankly no country would, be able to test everyone who was sick or experiencing symptoms,” it said in a statement.
    It said it was “operating under the assumption that full blown transmission is now occurring” across Yemen and that it was ramping up “community engagement and awareness activities.”
    The internationally-recognised government based in the southern port of Aden has accused the Houthis of covering up an outbreak in Sanaa, a charge the group denies. In a tweet on May 7, Information Minister Moammar al-Eryani said there appeared to be a “serious epidemiological coronavirus situation” in Houthi-controlled areas and urged the authorities not to “conceal facts.”
    However, the two sources said authorities in areas under the Saudi-backed government’s control have also not fully disclosed the extent of the pandemic.    At least 13 confirmed COVID-19 patients have died at Al Amal hospital in Aden, they said.    The hospital could not immediately be reached for comment.
    “In Aden, we also have dozens of people dying at home but nobody tested them to know why they died.    Some hospitals refused to take in patients showing coronavirus symptoms because they are not equipped to handle those cases.    We cannot really blame them,” one of the sources said, without naming the hospitals.
    An Aden-based government official, who declined to be named, said the authorities were declaring COVID-19 cases but admitted inadequate testing, a rise in other diseases due to recent flooding and administrative issues after a leading separatist group declared emergency rule were challenges.
    The national coronavirus committee, set up by the internationally recognised government, has publicly announced 4 deaths among 39 confirmed cases in Aden, out of the total of 65 confirmed cases and 10 deaths in southern areas.
    On May 2, the public prosecutor’s office in Aden issued a statement, seen by Reuters, saying it was investigating media reports about the refusal by some private and public hospitals and health centres, which it did not identify, as well as doctors “to admit some emergency medical cases or provide medical attention to critical cases.”
    The WHO said in its statement on Sunday that it had been advising local authorities throughout Yemen to report cases in order to secure resources and equipment already in short supply globally, but that the decision to do so rests with a country’s leaders under international health regulations.
    “WHO encourages all countries to be fully transparent in this regard – only when we have all the data and numbers are we be able to, with the closest degree of accuracy, respond accordingly, and prioritize gaps and needs,” it said.
    As of May 9, Yemen had reported 803 COVID-19 test results, according to WHO data.    At that time, the WHO said Yemen had 38 COVID-19 isolation units – 18 of them operational, four labs with testing capacity, 520 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 154 ICU ventilators.
    The WHO said in a report on Monday that a surge in cases could overwhelm Yemen’s healthcare facilities.
    Yemen has long been plagued by wars and humanitarian disasters.    The latest in a sequence of conflicts escalated in March 2015 when a Saudi-led alliance intervened against the Houthis after they ousted the internationally recognised government from power in Sanaa in late 2014.
    The Western-backed coalition failed to crush the rebellion by the Houthi movement and its allies, and the war has been in stalemate for years with the Houthis holding most large urban centres.
    The conflict, which has killed more than 100,000 since 2015, has already caused what the U.N. says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with some 24 million Yemenis, or 80% of the population, reliant on aid and some 10 million facing hunger.
    Health and sanitation systems are wrecked and diseases such as cholera are rife.    Many diseases such as dengue fever share similar symptoms to COVID-19, complicating efforts to estimate the extent of the pandemic, the Saudi-backed government’s health minister said on April 29.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; editing by Samia Nakhoul and Nick Tattersall)

5/13/2020 Timeline – Lebanon’s ordeal: Economic and political crises since civil war
FILE PHOTO: A general view of demonstrators during an anti-government protest in
downtown Beirut, Lebanon October 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon begins negotiations with the International Monetary Fund this week, seeking the IMF’s financial assistance for the first time as the country grapples with an acute financial crisis.
    The negotiations mark a new phase in a crisis seen as the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    With hard currency growing ever more scarce, the Lebanese pound has more than halved in value since October, depositors have been blocked from withdrawing savings and inflation and unemployment have soared in the import-dependent economy.
    Here are Lebanon’s main previous post-war upheavals.
    Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri is killed on Feb. 14 when a massive bomb exploded as his motorcade travelled through Beirut; 21 others also died.
    A combination of subsequent mass demonstrations and international pressure force Syria to withdraw troops from Lebanon.    Lebanese Shi’ite allies of Damascus stage their own big rallies in support of Syria.
    Lebanon enters a new era free of Syrian domination. Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group and close ally of Damascus, enters government for the first time.
    In July, Hezbollah crosses the border into Israel, kidnaps two Israeli soldiers and kills others, sparking a five-week war.    At least 1,200 people in Lebanon and 158 Israelis are killed.
    After the war, tensions in Lebanon simmer over Hezbollah’s powerful arsenal.    In November, Hezbollah and its allies quit the cabinet led by Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and organise street protests against it.
    Hezbollah and its allies maintain a sit-in protest against the Siniora government for the entire year.    Their stated demand is veto power in the government.
    In May, fighting erupts at a Palestinian camp in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese army and Sunni Islamist militants of the Fatah al-Islam group.    Thousands of Palestinian refugees are forced to flee the Nahr al-Bared camp.    In September, Lebanese troops seize control of the camp after more than three months of fighting that kills more than 300 people.
    May 6, 2008 – Siniora’s cabinet accuses Hezbollah of running a private telecoms network and installing spy cameras at Beirut airport.    The cabinet vows legal action against the network.
    May 7 – Hezbollah said the move against its telecoms network was a declaration of war by the government.    After a brief conflict Hezbollah takes control of mainly Muslim west Beirut.
    May 21 – After mediation, rival leaders sign a deal in Qatar to end 18 months of political conflict.    Parliament elects Michel Suleiman, the army chief, as president.
    In January, Saad al-Hariri’s first government is toppled when Hezbollah and its allies quit because of tensions over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
    The tribunal later indicts four senior members of Hezbollah for the murder of Rafik al-Hariri.    Hezbollah denies any role in the assassination.    Its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said the authorities would not be able to find the indicted men.
    A fifth Hezbollah member is indicted in 2013.
    Hezbollah fighters deploy into Syria, secretly at first, to aid Syrian government forces facing a mostly Sunni rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.    The group plays a major role in beating back the rebellion.
    A crisis about waste erupts when authorities close the main landfill site near Beirut, having arranged no alternative.    Large protests broke out as rotting waste filled streets and demonstrators chanted “You stink!” at the government.    It became a glaring symbol of the failures of a sectarian power system unable to meet basic needs like electricity and water.
    Saad al-Hariri’s ties with Saudi Arabia, which is furious at Hezbollah’s expanding role in Lebanon, hit a nadir in November 2017 when it was widely acknowledged Riyadh had forced him to resign and held him in the kingdom.    Saudi Arabia and Hariri publicly deny this version of events, though France’s Emmanuel Macron confirmed that Hariri was being held in Saudi Arabia.
    Amid a stagnant economy and slowing capital inflows, the government is under pressure to curb a massive budget deficit.
    Proposals to cut the state wage and pension bill meet stiff opposition.    The government vows to enact long-delayed reforms but fails to make progress that might unlock foreign support.
    Oct. 17 – A government move to tax internet calls ignites big protests against the ruling elite. Lebanese of all sects take part, accusing leaders of corruption and economic mismanagement.
    Hariri quits on Oct. 29, against the wishes of Hezbollah.    Lebanon is left rudderless as the crisis deepens.    A hard- currency liquidity crunch leads banks to impose tight curbs on cash withdrawals and transfers abroad.
    After two months of talks to form a new, Hariri-led coalition government hit a dead end, Hezbollah and its allies back Hassan Diab, a little-known academic and former education minister, for the post of prime minister.
    March 7 – Diab announces Lebanon cannot repay a maturing bond and calls for negotiations to restructure its debt.
    May 1 – Beirut signs a formal request for IMF assistance after approving a plan setting out vast losses in the financial system. The banking association rejects the plan, saying its proposals for restructuring the banking sector would further destroy confidence in Lebanon.
(Writing by Tom Perry and William Maclean; editing by Catherine Evans, Larry King)

5/13/2020 Hezbollah leader says Israel turns attention to hitting missile-making sites in Syria
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters
via a screen in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Wednesday that Israel is now concentrating its attacks in Syria on missile-manufacturing sites.
    Israel has conducted many raids inside Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.    It sees the presence of Hezbollah and its ally Iran there as a strategic threat.
    The heavily armed Lebanese Shi’ite movement has played a vital role in the war, helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reclaim much of the country.
    In rare comments on Israeli attacks in Syria, Nasrallah said that with Assad firmly in control, Israel has turned its attention more recently to striking Syrian targets for precision missile manufacturing seen as a threat.
    He denied that Israeli air strikes have pushed either Hezbollah or Iran to retreat from Syria, calling Israel’s insistence that they have done so “imaginary victories.”
    Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett said in April that the Israeli military was working to drive Tehran out of Syria.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Jon Boyle and Angus MacSwan)

5/13/2020 Tunisia relaxes curfew with virus outbreak slowing
FILE PHOTO: People visit a beach, as Tunisia relaxes some of its lockdown rules while keeping other restrictions in place, as preventive
measures against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in La Marsa near Tunis, Tunisia May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Angus McDowall
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia has announced a reduction of its nightly curfew hours, state media reported on Wednesday, after three consecutive days without recording any new coronavirus cases and as the government relaxes a general lockdown.
    The North African democracy imposed the curfew in March, aiming to slow the spread of the virus by keeping people at home, combined with a lockdown that shuttered all but key shops and services.
    President Kais Saied has cut the curfew hours to 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. instead of 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., state news agency TAP reported, 10 days after the start of a gradual reopening of the bureaucracy and economy.
    It follows the government’s announcement that no new coronavirus cases have been recorded for three days in a row, with 1,032 confirmed cases in total and 45 deaths.
    Senior health and hospital officials in different parts of the country told Reuters there were very few coronavirus patients still in care, indicating that the reduction in the number of new cases is not down to a lack of testing.
    However, government officials have warned of a possible second wave and kept in place many restrictions on movement including the closure of schools, mosques, cafes and restaurants.
    Tunisia has only 500 intensive care beds equipped with ventilators and the government said at the start of the outbreak that the health system would struggle to cope with more than 5,000 cases.
    City and town centres have become far busier since the lockdown was relaxed to allow a wider range of shops to open, with crowded markets and even busy public beaches.
    Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh said in a television interview on Tuesday that the government would require about 5 billion euros ($5.4 billion) in external funding this year, double the amount previously expected.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara, Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Jon Boyle and Alison Williams)

5/13/2020 Egypt presses on with new capital in the desert amid virus outbreak by Aidan Lewis and Mahmoud Mourad
Workers wearing protective face masks stand on a building under construction in the New Administrative Capital (NAC), east of Cairo,
amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Egypt May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – While Egypt’s economy has stumbled due to the coronavirus outbreak, construction at a new capital taking shape east of Cairo is continuing at full throttle after a short pause to adjust working practices, officials say.
    The level of activity at the desert site – where trucks rumble down newly built roads and cranes swing over unfinished apartment blocks – reflects the new city’s political importance even as the government grapples with the pandemic.
    Known as the New Administrative Capital, it is the biggest of a series of mega-projects championed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a source of growth and jobs.
    Soon after coronavirus began to spread, Sisi postponed moving the first civil servants to the new city and moved back the opening of a national museum adjoining the pyramids to next year.
    Productivity dipped as companies adapted to health guidelines and some labourers stayed home.
    But officials have sought to keep the mega-projects going to protect jobs, and after 10 days of slowdown construction had fully resumed at the new capital with a shift system, said Amr Khattab, spokesman for the Housing Ministry, which along with the military owns the company building the city.
    “The proportion of the labour force that is present on site doesn’t exceed 70%, so that the workers don’t get too close,” he said as he showed off the R5 neighbourhood, which includes about 24,000 housing units.    “We work less intensively, but we do two shifts.”
    Sisi, who publicly quizzes officials responsible for infrastructure projects about timetables and costs, launched the new capital in 2015.
    Designed as a high-tech smart city that will house 6.5 million people and relieve congestion in Cairo, it includes government and business districts, a giant park, and a diplomatic quarter as yet unbuilt.
    One senior official said last year the cost of the whole project was about $58 billion.    While some Egyptians see the new capital as a source of pride, others see it as extravagant and built to benefit a cocooned elite.
    “We have clear instructions from his excellency the president that the postponement of the opening is not a delay to the project,” said Khattab.    “The project is running on time.”
    Disinfection and other protective measures were visible at the construction site 45km (30 miles) east of the Nile, though some workers were only ordered to don masks when journalists started filming and others drove by crammed into a minibus.    Egypt has confirmed more than 10,000 coronavirus cases, but none at the new capital.
    Delays in payments to contractors and to imported supplies were additional risks, said Shams Eldin Youssef, a member of Egypt’s union for construction contractors.    Khattab said the government had contractors’ payments in hand.
    The Housing Ministry expects to deliver two residential districts by late 2021, while the business district should be finished by early 2022, said Ahmed al-Araby, deputy head of the new capital’s development authority.    Private developers and the army are building six other neighbourhoods.
    In the government district, which Khattab said was 90% complete, ministry buildings fronted with vertical strips of white stone and darkened glass lead to an open area being planted with palm trees and mini obelisks in front of a domed parliament building.
    To one side a large, low-rise presidential palace is under construction.
    Sisi has urged people seeking work to head to new cities being built around the country, including the new capital, which Khattab said employs some 250,000 workers.
    Critics have questioned the diversion of resources away from existing cities, including Cairo, parts of which are in slow decay.
    “The question about how rational this is – whether it makes sense economically, whether it is doable, whether it’s the best course of action – this question is not even asked,” Ezzedine Fishere, an Egyptian writer and senior lecturer at Dartmouth College in the United States, said by phone.
    On the other side of Cairo at the new museum next to the Giza pyramids, work has also been continuing at a slower pace.
    In mid-April staffing levels sank to about 40%, with plans to recover gradually to 100%, said General Atef Muftah, who oversees the project.
(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Giles Elgood)

5/14/2020 Israeli children can go back to school from Sunday: Netanyahu
FILE PHOTO: Parents wait with their children to enter their elementary school in Sderot as it reopens following the ease
of restrictions preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Israel May 3, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s children can go back to school and nurseries full-time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, as the country presses on with easing its coronavirus curbs.
    Israel – population nine million – has reported 16,579 cases of the novel coronavirus and 265 deaths.    With the new case rate levelling out in the past few weeks, it has lifted bans on gatherings, eased travel and reopened malls and markets.
    A partial reopening of schools began on May 3, with the first three grades of elementary school and the last two grades of high school redistributed in classes capped at 15 pupils to enforce social-distancing. Kindergartens joined a week later. [L8N2CL042]
    In a written statement, Netanyahu said that from Sunday all children, from the age of zero, may go back to school on a voluntary basis.     Those in outbreak epicentres, however, would have to stay home for now.
    Under instructions to enforce social distancing, maintain proper hygiene and have children grade four and up wear face masks, it was up to municipalities to decide when each school in its jurisdiction was fully prepared to reopen, Netanyahu said.
    Schools reopening full time could help the economy contend with the fallout of weeks of coronavirus lockdown, relieving working parents from having to stay at home and mind their children.
    More than 1.1 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, which would be equal to a jobless rate of about 27%.    They include employees put on unpaid leave, some self-employed, as well as those who have lost their jobs entirely.
Israel’s airport authority launched a “coronavirus-free area” trial project on Thursday at the country’s main gateway, Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, though commercial flights remain largely suspended.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell)

5/14/2020 Cabinet post disputes delay Israeli government inauguration
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) – The planned inauguration on Thursday of an Israeli unity government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been postponed until Sunday, an official statement said, in last-minute wrangling over cabinet appointments.
    Under a coalition agreement with his former election rival, centrist Benny Gantz, Netanyahu would serve as prime minister for 18 months before the former armed forces chief replaces him.
    Their power-sharing deal ends more than a year of political deadlock in which three inconclusive elections were held and Netanyahu was indicted in three criminal cases on corruption charges he denies.     Gantz agreed to delay the government’s swearing-in ceremony to give Netanyahu more time to allocate cabinet posts to members of his Likud party, a joint statement said.
    Their pact split Gantz’s centrist party, Blue and White.    He cited the coronavirus crisis as a main reason for reneging on campaign promises not to partner with a prime minister under a corruption cloud.
    The unity agreement would leave Netanyahu in power throughout a trial due to begin on May 24, the first such proceedings against a sitting Israeli prime minister, enabling him to maintain a powerful public pulpit in fighting back against what he has termed a political witch-hunt.
    It also opens the way for the right-wing Netanyahu to move ahead with a pledged de facto annexation of territory in the occupied West Bank – land that the Palestinians seek for a state and which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    Netanyahu has set July 1 as a starting point for cabinet discussions on his plan to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.    He has given no stated deadline for implementing the move.
    Annexation, vehemently opposed by the Palestinians who have urged international sanctions against Israel in response, would be certain to heighten tensions in the West Bank and Gaza that could ignite violence and draw international outrage.
    On an eight-hour visit to Israel on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper that West Bank territorial steps were an Israeli decision that Netanyahu had a right to make.
    Pompeo noted, however, that the issue was complex and required coordination with Washington, which has formed a joint team with Israel to map out new territorial lines in the West Bank under a Middle East peace plan announced by U.S. President Donald Trump in January.
    That proposal envisages the vast majority of West Bank settlements being incorporated into “contiguous Israeli territory.”
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

5/14/2020 Walk-through sanitising booth sprays South African commuters by Emma Rumney
A commuter reacts as she is sprayed with sanitiser via walk-through 'tunnels' before boarding public transport,
as South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday he aims to further ease restrictions imposed
to curb the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread in Soweto, South Africa, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Commuters squinted as they streamed into a bus station in the South African township of Soweto on a bright Thursday, but not because of the glare – they were being sprayed with a solution meant to fight the coronavirus.
    Filing one by one through a metal tunnel, they were hit with a cold mist containing a disinfectant supposed to kill the pathogen.    Some recoiled as the fog hit their faces, while others spun around to get an even coating.
    Scientists have cast doubt on the effectiveness of mass disinfecting against the pandemic.    Some commuters, though, said it gave them peace of mind amid the bustle of the station.
    “I’m happy as long as they are trying to sanitise it, it shows … they are doing something,” said Bright Shabani, a 34-year-old merchandiser, who described going to work every day in the rush hour as traumatic.
    South Africa has recorded just over 12,000 cases of the virus, with 219 deaths.    Thursday was the first day the booth was operating at the bus station as a pilot project, but similar installations are in use at other locations including a train station and a mine.
    Keen to show they are doing all they can to protect people, governments around the world have rolled out disinfectant tunnels, sprayed pavements with bleach and used drones to spray public spaces.
    But scientists say that while disinfectants can kill the coronavirus on surfaces, the sprays tend to degrade quickly, so these efforts are far less important than personal hygiene and social distancing.
    “Any individual who walks through a tunnel who is infectious, remains infectious on the other side of the tunnel,” Kerrin Begg and Nandi Siegfried, of South Africa’s College of Public Health Medicine, said in a written response to questions.
    They added that infected individuals will immediately begin to spread the virus again unless they follow guidance on hygiene and distancing.
    Vuyelwa Toni Penxa, managing director of Real African Works Industries, which makes the booths, said the fog they use is plant-based and tests have shown it is 99.9% effective against bacteria and other pathogens, including a virus similar to the novel coronavirus.
    The company is awaiting tests to prove its effectiveness on this strain, so while they can’t yet be 100% certain, she was confident the tunnels could make a difference.
    “We are hoping to reduce the number of people that are infected,” she said, adding however: “No one solution can be prescribed to combat COVID-19.”
(This story corrects to remove reference to University of Cape Town in eighth paragraph)
(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Tim Cocks and Giles Elgood)

5/14/2020 Turkey’s coronavirus death toll reaches 4,000: health minister
Women rest next to the sea as senior Turkish citizens over 65 years old who are not allowed to go out of
their houses since April 4 enjoy a sunny day, after being exempted from curfew for 4 hours amid the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, May 10, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s coronavirus death toll has reached 4,007, after 55 more people died in the last 24 hours, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Thursday
    Turkey has conducted 34,821 more tests on Thursday, taking the total amount of tests carried out so far to over 1.5 million, Koca said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

5/14/2020 Yemen reports first coronavirus cases in southern province
FILE PHOTO: Security officers try to stop people from leaving their houses during a 24-hour curfew amid concerns about the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sanaa, Yemen May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen’s Saudi-backed government on Thursday reported the first cases of novel coronavirus in the southern province of Al Dhalea, underlining fears that the infection had found a foothold in the war-torn country.
    The government’s coronavirus committee said on Twitter seven more cases has been confirmed in the port city of Aden where it is based and that Al Dhalea had recorded its first three infections, bringing the total in areas under its control to 85 cases with 12 deaths.
    The Arabian Peninsula country is divided between the Saudi-backed government in the south and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls the capital, Sanaa, and most large urban centres.
    Houthi authorities have reported only two cases with one death, both in Sanaa.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that the virus “has been circulating undetected and unmitigated in Yemen for some weeks,” increasing the likelihood that a surge in infections could overwhelm its shattered health system.
    Four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that Yemen has more suspected coronavirus cases and deaths than authorities have so far reported.    The first case was announced on April 10.
    The WHO fears an unusually devastating coronavirus outbreak in a population already weakened by hunger.
    “The situation is dangerous and requires united efforts by all to face this pandemic,” the Aden-based committee had said on Wednesday, urging local authorities to comply with precautionary measures.
    The five-year war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis had already caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with 80% of Yemen’s population, or 24 million people, reliant on aid and millions facing famine.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Heaven)

5/14/2020 Palestinians look to a digital future to connect with their past by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell
A Palestinian wearing gloves works on designs for a digital fine arts online event to mark Nakba amid
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, in Gaza City May 10, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Virtual reality tours have replaced flag-waving rallies as Palestinians facing coronavirus restrictions create digital spaces to lament the loss of their physical homeland in 1948.
    Cellphone apps and Zoom video chats are among the other online tools Palestinians are using to mark the Nakba, or “Catastrophe,” when they and their descendants were forced from their villages or fled in the war that surrounded Israel’s creation.
    The Nakba is generally marked on May 15 – the day after Israel’s Independence Day in the western calendar.
    Last year Israeli troops wounded nearly 50 Palestinians during Nakba protests, but rallies were cancelled this year.    In the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas authorized digital activities to mark the anniversary.
    While the Palestinians still have no state on the ground, many are finding new ways to remember their past and express their identity online.
    Palestine VR, a free app, is one of several new tools that aim in part to connect millions of diaspora Palestinians with their forefathers’ towns and villages, some of which now lie abandoned in Israel.
    “Coming to Palestine is transformational, especially for Palestinians who aren’t allowed to visit,” said Ramallah-based Palestine VR founder Salem Barahmeh, 30, as he guided Zoom participants through the app’s 47 virtual tours of Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank.
    “We want to share Palestine with them, and help them feel and understand this place.”
    Majd al-Shihabi, a Palestinian refugee born in Syria, is part of a team that developed Palestine Open Maps, an interactive database of Palestinian villages and Jewish towns as they stood in 1948.
    “Palestinians anywhere can see visual details of their villages, reinforcing our understanding of what Palestine was like before the exodus,” Shihabi, 31, said from Beirut.
    The new initiatives highlight a “digital nation” that has also formed around Palestinian culture, food and fashion, according to activists and entrepreneurs.
    Joudie Kalla, a Palestinian-British chef and author of Palestine on a Plate, says vigorous recipe debates amongst her 124,000 Instagram followers are evidence of a growing community.
    “No one can stop Palestinians from connecting on social media – even if it’s impassioned discussion over whose village makes the best kibbeh,” Kalla, 42, said from London, referencing a traditional Arabic meat pie.
    Palestinians want a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.    Israel captured and occupied those territories in the 1967 Middle East war, later annexing East Jerusalem in a move not recognised internationally and withdrawing from Gaza in 2005.
    In 2012, the U.N. General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine. But full Palestinian statehood has remained elusive.
    Many Palestinians abroad fear losing touch with their roots.
    This has prompted “fusion” projects that are transforming Palestinian fashion staples like the keffiyeh – a black or red-and-white checkered scarf now available in multiple colours.
    Clothing company Threads of Palestine makes keffiyeh tee-shirts, hoodies, and onesies for babies, sourcing fabric from the West Bank’s last keffiyeh factory.
    “The keffiyeh, it oozes with Palestinian culture,” said manager Abed al-Aziz al-Karaki at Hebron’s Hirbawi factory.
(This story corrects to show Palestine Open Maps was created by a team)
(Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/14/2020 Palestinian hits Israeli soldier in car-ramming and is shot dead: military
Israeli forces are seen at the scene of an incident near Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli soldier shot dead a Palestinian on Thursday who drove deliberately at high speed towards troops in the occupied West Bank, injuring one of them, the military said.
    Violence has flared in the territory in the past week in the run-up to the planned inauguration later on Thursday of a new Israeli “unity” government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
    Its agenda includes possible de facto annexation of Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, with cabinet deliberations on the move, vehemently opposed by the Palestinians, set to begin in July.
    Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank, land captured by Israel in a 1967 Middle East war, and regard Israeli settlements in the territory as illegal, as do many countries.
    The military said that a vehicle driven by a Palestinian hit a soldier in a car-ramming attack at an army post outside Negohot settlement near the city of Hebron and that he was shot dead by another soldier.    The injured soldier was taken to hospital.
    The Palestinian Health Ministry first confirmed the driver’s death, after the military originally said only that he had been “neutralised.”    There was no immediate Palestinian comment on the circumstances of the incident.
    On Wednesday, Israeli soldiers shot dead a 15-year-old Palestinian in Fawwar refugee camp in the West Bank.    The military said soldiers, on an arrest raid, had responded with live fire after being attacked with rocks and fire-bombs.
    On Tuesday, a rock thrown from a rooftop in the West Bank village of Yabad killed an Israeli soldier taking part in an operation to detain suspected militants.
    In a separate incident in the West Bank that day, a Palestinian was shot and wounded by police after he tried to stab security staff at a checkpoint, a police spokesman said.
    There was no immediate official Palestinian comment on the Fawwar refugee camp or checkpoint incidents.
    U.S.-backed peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/14/2020 South Africa faces humanitarian disaster amid COVID shutdowns by OAN Newsroom
People line up to receive food handouts in the Olievenhoutbos township of Midrand, South Africa, Saturday May 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
    South Africa is facing a humanitarian crisis as its economy collapses under a coronavirus lockdowns.    Thousands of residents are spending hours in lines to get food after losing their jobs amid the pandemic.
    “These people are hungry, they are vulnerable: the poor, the destitute, the weak, the elderly,” said humanitarian coordinator Yusuf Abramjee.
    The country’s unemployment rate stood at 27 percent before the pandemic, but is now above 30 percent.
    “Civil society, together with the number of NGOs, we decided to return to the Spuit/Mooiplaas area,” stated Abramjee.    “Today, 10,000 bags of maize meal, sanitizers, food hampers, masks are being distributed because these people are desperate.”     According to local authorities, the rising number of suicides across the country may surpass the total number of coronavirus victims in the coming days.
Thousands line up to receive food handouts in the Olievenhoutbos township of Midrand, South Africa, Saturday May 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

5/16/2020 Impoverished Burundi, battered by violence and coronavirus, gears up for elections
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Burundi's ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the
Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), attend a campaign rally of their presidential candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye
at the Bugendana Stadium in Gitega Province, Burundi April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana/File Photo
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Burundi will have its first competitive presidential election since the civil war erupted in 1993, but simmering political violence and fears that campaign rallies could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus have already marred the campaign.
    President Pierre Nkurunziza is stepping down, although he intends to remain a prominent force in the impoverished East African nation.
    He nominated Evariste Ndayishimiye, a retired army general, as his successor for the ruling CNDD-FDD party.    The party is to hold its last rally on Saturday. The election will be held Wednesday.
    Six other candidates are running, including opposition leader Agathon Rwasa, deputy chairman of the national assembly and leader of the CNL party.
    Rwasa has been able to open offices and hold large rallies around the country, said Nelleke van de Walle of the research organisation International Crisis Group.
    “The ruling party and the government is trying to show that this is a legitimate process,” she said.
    But Burundi said most election observers would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine.    Journalists face the constant threat of arrest or attack; many have fled.    Some civil society organisations have been closed.
    Last year the government shut down the United Nations human rights office after repeated criticism that the youth wing of the ruling party and the security services were torturing, gang-raping and murdering political opponents.    Rights groups say those attacks have increased in the run-up to Wednesday’s presidential, legislative and municipal elections.
    Both Ndayishimiye and Rwasa were senior commanders in predominantly Hutu militias during the country’s decade-long civil war that killed around 300,000 people.    Nkurunziza came to power in 2005 as part of a peace deal.
    The country was plunged into violence again in 2015 after Nkurunziza sought a third term in office, a move his opponents said violated the constitution and terms of the 2005 deal.
    Nearly half a million people fled and the economy never recovered.    The violent protests eventually subsided but low-level political violence continues.
    Voters who spoke to Reuters were too fearful to give their names.    A 45-year-old vegetable seller in the capital, Bujumbura, supported the ruling party because it had provided welfare.
    “They give us rice and beans and can build houses for the most vulnerable among us like elders or widows,” she said.
    But a jobless 32-year-old supported the opposition.
    “All of us need change, many Burundians need … one to end this daily violence, these killings, this rampant corruption and economic embezzlement,” he said.
    Nkurunziza will remain president until August, and a new constitution has given him sweeping powers to declare a state of emergency if the results are disputed.
    This week his government expelled the country representative for the World Health Organisation despite mounting fears that Burundi’s election rallies could help spread of the new coronavirus.
    The nation of 11 million has reported 27 cases so far but has only carried out about 520 tests in total.
(Writing by Nairobi newsroom. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

5/16/2020 Saudi Arabia’s coronavirus cases top 50,000: ministry
FILE PHOTO - A Saudi volunteer wearing a protective face mask and gloves hands out Iftar meals provided by a charity organisation following the
outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during the holy month of Ramadan, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia topped 50,000 on Saturday, the health ministry said.
    A ministry official reported 2,840 new cases, taking the cumulative total to 51,980.    That was up from an average of around 1,500 new cases a day over the past week.
    The death toll in the kingdom increased by 10 to 302, the official said on state TV.
    Saudi Arabia recorded its first COVID-19 infection on March 2, several weeks after the initial outbreak in Asia.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Raya Jalabi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

5/16/2020 Qatar’s latest coronavirus cases take total above 30,000
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/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar reported on Saturday another 1,547 cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the country’s total number of confirmed infections to more than 30,000.
    With a population of about 2.7 million people, the energy-rich Gulf state has one of the world’s highest per capita number of confirmed cases.
    The latest health ministry report on confirmed cases took the total to 30,972, according to figures published on the ministry’s website.    One more person died, bringing the death toll to 15.
    Only about 300,000 of Qatar’s population are Qatari nationals and the coronavirus outbreak has affected mainly migrant workers, according to human right groups.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Helen Popper)

5/17/2020 Netanyahu’s new Israeli government approved, eyes West Bank annexations by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a swearing in ceremony of his new unity government with election rival Benny Gantz,
at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 17, 2020. Adina Valman/Knesset spokespersons' office/Handout via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s parliament approved on Sunday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new unity government, ending more than a year of political deadlock, but he still faces a trial starting next week for alleged corruption.     His decision to share power with former rival, centrist Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, opens the way for Netanyahu to proceed towards a pledged annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, land that Palestinians seek for a state.
    After three inconclusive elections, the conservative Netanyahu will remain prime minister for 18 months before handing over to his new partner.
    Gantz, a former armed forces chief, will be Netanyahu’s defence minister and “alternate prime minister,” a new position that Netanyahu will hold when Gantz takes the helm.
    By assuming that “alternate” premiership once he hands over to Gantz, Netanyahu hopes to avoid having to resign under legal rules that allow a prime minister to remain in office even if charged with a crime.
    Israel’s longest-serving leader, Netanyahu, 70, first came to power in 1996 and has served three consecutive terms since 2009.    He goes on trial on May 24 on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud, which he denies.
    “The people wanted unity, and that is what it got,” Netanyahu told parliament, citing a desire to steer clear of a fourth election and the need for a national battle against the coronavirus crisis.
    Lawmakers ratified the new administration by a vote of 73 to 46.
    Netanyahu can now push forward his plan to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, territory Palestinians want for their own independent state.
    These regions are where the Jewish nation was born and rose.    It is time to apply Israeli law on them and write another great chapter in the annals of Zionism,” he said.
    But while Netanyahu has set July 1 as a starting point for cabinet discussions on the highly contentious issue, there is no publicly stated deadline for annexation of land that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war
    Palestinians have vehemently opposed such a move, urging international sanctions against Israel in response.    It would be certain to heighten tensions in the West Bank and Gaza.
    “These colonial and expansionist positions confirm once again his (Netanyahu’s) ideological enmity towards peace,” the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    Gantz, 60, had cited the criminal charges against Netanyahu after the latest election in March when he again pledged to his own voters that he would not serve in a government with the veteran conservative leader.
    Angering many of his supporters and splitting his own party, he made a deal in the end, saying the coronavirus crisis made national unity an imperative.
    The new cabinet will have a record 36 ministers.    Several new posts have been created to ensure both Netanyahu and Gantz can bring loyalists on board.
    Opposition leader Yair Lapid ridiculed the public-health rationale behind the coalition, noting the number of Israeli COVID-19 victims on ventilators had fallen so steeply that the new government “could place a minister next to each bed.”
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Frances Kerry and Gareth Jones)

5/17/2020 Egypt tightens coronavirus restrictions for Eid holiday
FILE PHOTO - People watch Ramadan cannon firing to announce the time to break fast near a statue called "Egypt's Renaissance" during Ramadan as Egypt
ramps up efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Giza, Egypt, May 16, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt will bring forward the start of its curfew by four hours to 5 p.m. and halt public transport from May 24 for six days during the Eid holiday, as it seeks to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said on Sunday.
    Shops, restaurants, parks and beaches will be closed for the extended holiday at the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, and restrictions on citizens’ movements will remain in place for at least two weeks afterwards, Madbouly said.
    Egypt has so far reported 12,229 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, including 630 deaths.    The daily tally of cases has been rising after the government slightly eased a night curfew and other measures.    The number of cases rose by 510 on Sunday, the health ministry said.
    Madbouly suggested there could be a gradual reopening of some venues including sports clubs and restaurants from mid-June.    A reopening of places of worship would also be considered.
    After Eid, the curfew will last from 8pm-6am, as it did before Ramadan.
    Anyone entering enclosed spaces with other citizens or taking public transport will be required to wear a mask, Madbouly said, adding that the government was working on producing washable masks for general use.
(Reporting by Omar Fahmy and Amina Ismail; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Gareth Jones)

5/17/2020 Wear a mask or face jail in Kuwait and Qatar
FILE PHOTO - Police and civil aviation personnel wearing protective face masks work at the Kuwait Airport
as the repatriation process of Kuwait citizens continues, following the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuwait City, Kuwait April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Kuwait and Qatar both said on Sunday they would start jailing people or fining them thousands of dollars for failing to wear a facemask to combat the novel coronavirus.
    Kuwait’s health ministry said anyone caught could face up to three months in prison, while Qatar state TV reported the maximum penalty there would be three years.
    In Kuwait the maximum fine stood at 5,000 dinars ($16,200) and in Qatar 200,000 riyals ($55,000).
    The six Gulf states have reported a total of more than 137,400 infections with 693 deaths from the virus.    Cases in the region were initially linked to travel but later saw a spread among low-income migrant workers in cramped quarters.
    Saudi Arabia, with a population of around 30 million people, has the largest count at more than 54,700 cases with 312 deaths.
    Qatar, a nation of some 2.8 million, has the second highest infection count at above 32,600, with 15 deaths.
    The United Arab Emirates has the second highest number of COVID-19 deaths among the six states at 220.    It has reported more than 23,350 cases.
($1 = 0.3090 Kuwaiti dinars)
($1 = 3.6650 Qatar riyals)
($1 = 0.3090 Kuwaiti dinars)
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

5/18/2020 Yemen could face ‘catastrophic’ food situation as pandemic worsens: FAO by Maha El Dahan
A woker carries a sack of wheat flour outside a food store amid concerns over the spread of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sanaa, Yemen May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemen, already pushed to the brink of famine by a five-year war, could see a “catastrophic” food security situation due to the coronavirus pandemic and lower remittances from the Gulf, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Monday.
    The conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement has caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
    Some 80% of Yemen’s population are reliant on aid and millions face hunger.
    “The health system was already under heavy stress and will now be overwhelmed if COVID-19 continues to spread and in addition it will affect the movement of people and the movement of goods,” Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, the FAO’s assistant director-general and regional representative for the Near East and North Africa, told Reuters.
    “That situation could be really catastrophic if all the elements of worst case scenarios come to be but let’s hope not and the U.N. are working on avoiding that.”
    Yemen, alongside Syria and Sudan, is one of the most vulnerable states in the Middle East in terms of food security.
    Lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus are likely to impact humanitarian supply chains keeping a large part of the population fed, the U.N. agency said in a report on Monday.
    Yemen has been mired in violence since the coalition intervened in 2015 against the Houthi group that ousted the Saudi-backed government in the capital, Sanaa, forcing it to rebase in the south.
    The internationally recognised government has reported 128 COVID-19 infections with 20 deaths in areas under its control.    The Houthis, who control most large urban centres, have announced four cases with one death, both in Sanaa.
    The World Health Organization said last Monday the virus was circulating undetected in Yemen, increasing the likelihood of a devastating outbreak among a malnourished population that would overwhelm a shattered health system with limited testing capacity.
    There are currently 15.9 million Yemenis classified as food insecure out of a population of some 28 million.
    The FAO does not currently have an estimate as to how much bigger that number could get if the disease continues to spread but it continues to monitor the situation.
    The United States said on May 6 it would provide $225 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) for Yemen, including for reduced operations in the north.
    The WFP had said it would halve aid in Houthi-held areas from mid-April over donor concerns that the group is hindering aid deliveries, a charge it denies.
    The FAO said Yemen, the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation, would also be hit by an expected decline in remittances from Yemenis in Gulf countries, which amounted to $3.8 billion in 2019.
    “This is a significant source of income for the country that may be considerably reduced,” Ould Ahmed said.
    Many foreign workers in the energy-producing region have lost jobs, been put on unpaid leave or had salaries cut due to the coronavirus and low oil prices.
    “Without peace we will continue to struggle with food insecurity and there will be no long term recovery,” FAO said.
    The U.N. envoy to Yemen said on Thursday that “significant progress” has been made toward cementing a temporary truce prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and to pave the way for a resumption of stalled peace talks.
(Reporting by Maha El Dahan; editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Jason Neely)

5/18/2020 Israel’s outgoing defence minister says Iran starting to withdraw from Syria
FILE PHOTO: Naftali Bennett arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Iran has begun withdrawing its forces from Syria, Israel’s outgoing defence minister said on Monday, without offering any evidence to support his assertion.
    Naftali Bennett also urged his successor, Benny Gantz, to maintain pressure on Iran, adding that the trend might otherwise reverse.
    Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy in the Middle East, has been a key supporter, along with Russia, of President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s civil war, sending military advisers as well as material and regional Shi’ite militias that it backs.
    Israel, which monitors neighbouring Syria intensively, has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria targeting suspected arms and troop movements by Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas it sponsors.
    “Iran is significantly reducing the scope of its forces in Syria and even evacuating a number of bases,” said Bennett in his valedictory address.
    “Though Iran has begun the withdrawal process from Syria, we need to complete the work.    It’s in reach.”
    It was not immediately possible to get official Iranian or Syrian reaction to Bennett’s comments.
    Israeli officials have suggested in the past that Israel’s military operations were showing signs of success.
    Iran, which is struggling economically under the burden of U.S. sanctions and has also been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, has repeatedly said its military presence in Syria is at the invitation of Assad’s government and that it will remain in Syria as long as its help is needed.
    A senior aide to Iran’s foreign minister, Ali-Ashgar Khaji, reiterated on Saturday that Tehran would continue working closely with the Assad government and Russia to combat terrorism and find a political solution to the Syrian crisis, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported.
    Bennett held the position of Israeli defence minister for about half a year.
    His successor, Gantz, a former armed forces chief and leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, has formed a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which took office on Sunday.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/18/2020 Amid ‘some calm’, U.N. envoy urges U.S., Russia push for Syria peace
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
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United Nations Syria mediator urged the United States and Russia on Monday to make the most of “some calm” in the war-torn country and talk with each other about a push for peace.
    A crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington supporting the opposition.    Millions of people have fled Syria and millions are internally displaced.
    Islamic State also took advantage of the chaos to gain a foothold in Syria.
    U.N. Syria envoy Geir Pedersen told the 15-member Security Council that since the war started too many “fleeting opportunities to turn dynamics towards a political path were lost,” warning that those “missed moments were followed by renewed violence and a hardening of positions.”
    “With some calm, with the common threats of COVID and ISIS, and with the Syrian people continuing to suffer, I want to stress that renewed and meaningful international cooperation, building trust and confidence between international stakeholders and with Syrians … is essential,” Pedersen said.
    “I believe that Russian-American dialogue has a key role to play here, and I encourage them to pursue it,” he said.
    Pedersen is the fourth U.N. envoy to try and mediate peace in Syria.
    Northwestern Syria is the last major piece of territory held by rebels fighting Assad.    Backed by Russia and Iran, Assad waged his latest offensive to recover the area earlier this year.    Fighting has calmed since March when Turkey, which backs some groups opposed to Assad, agreed a ceasefire with Russia.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

5/18/2020 Libyan forces aligned with Tripoli government capture key air base
A rocket launcher vehicle is seen after fighters loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government
took control of Watiya airbase, southwest of Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Forces aligned with Libya’s internationally recognised government took control of an air base south-west of Tripoli on Monday after a sustained assault, in what could be their most significant advance for nearly a year.
    Watiya air base, 125 km (80 miles) from the capital, has been an important strategic foothold for forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive to capture Tripoli in April 2019.
    The campaign sharply escalated a long-running conflict between factions based in eastern and western Libya and caused a surge in military intervention by foreign powers.
    Forces aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA) had taken full control of Watiya, Osama Juweili, a top military commander, was quoted as saying by official media early on Monday.
    Footage posted by GNA forces on social media showed them driving down runways at the base unhindered.        The forces also posted a picture of what they said was a captured Russian-made Pantsir air defence system mounted on a truck at the base, as well as an operating manual in Arabic.
    A separate video post showed the purported destruction from the air of another Pantsir held by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) as it was being transported by road in the early hours of Monday.
    GNA forces said it was the third they had hit in two days.    The video could not be independently verified and the LNA has in recent days denied at least one other GNA claim it had destroyed a Pantsir.     In a statement, the LNA said its forces had withdrawn from the base as a tactical manoeuvre, that Watiya currently held no military importance, and that any equipment recovered there was old and disused.    LNA sources said earlier their forces had withdrawn after the base had come under intensive bombardment.
    GNA forces have pushed back against their rivals in recent weeks with increased support from Turkey, capturing towns on the coast west of Tripoli last month.
    Haftar’s LNA and its allies still control eastern and southern Libya, including most of the country’s oil facilities, which they have been blockading since January. They also hold Sirte, a city at the centrepoint of Libya’s Mediterranean coastline, which they took at the start of the year.
    The capture of Watiya will further boost morale among GNA forces that were on the back foot late last year, and GNA Prime Minister Fayez Serraj signalled they would try to build on the advance.
    “Today’s victory does not constitute the end of the battle but brings us closer than any time before to the bigger victory, the liberation of all towns and regions and bases,” he said in a statement.
    The LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Russia, has been unable to make significant progress from the outskirts of Tripoli since early on in its campaign.
    It lost Gharyan, its main forward base south of Tripoli, in its biggest reversal to date in June 2019, but continues to control Tarhouna, southeast of the capital.
    International efforts led by the United Nations to broker a ceasefire and negotiate a political settlement in Libya have so far come to little, as foreign powers have flouted an arms embargo to send in more weapons and operate drones.
    The leaders of Turkey and Russia, countries that have both sought to protect strategic interests in Libya, spoke by phone on Monday and noted the need for a ceasefire and the resumption of inter-Libyan dialogue, according to a Kremlin statement.
    About half of the 400,000 people who have fled their homes since Libya’s uprising in 2011 were displaced since the start of Haftar’s offensive last year, according to U.N. estimates.
(Reporting by Hani Amara and Ayman al-Sahli, additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Writing by Aidan Lewis, Editing by William Maclean, Raissa Kasolowsky and Mark Potter)

5/18/2020 U.S. Supreme Court heaps more damages on Sudan in embassy bombing cases by Andrew Chung
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. May 8, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a legal setback to Sudan on Monday, ruling that the African nation cannot avoid punitive damages in lawsuits accusing it of complicity in the 1998 al Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.
    Siding with hundreds of people hurt and relatives of people killed in the bombings, the justices ruled 8-0 to throw out a lower court’s 2017 decision that had freed Sudan from punitive damages awarded in the litigation in addition to about $6 billion in compensatory damages.    Justice Brett Kavanaugh did not participate in the case.
    The ruling reinstates about $826 million out of a total $4.3 billion in punitive damages, said Christopher Curran, a lawyer representing Sudan.
    The case hinged on the Supreme Court’s view of a 2008 amendment to a federal law known as the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act allowing for punitive damages.    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2017 upheld Sudan’s liability but ruled that the amendment was made after the bombings occurred and could not be applied retroactively.
    Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in Monday’s ruling that for claims made under federal law, “Congress was as clear as it could have been when it authorized plaintiffs to seek and win punitive damages for past conduct.”
    The remainder of the punitive damages will be subject to further litigation as the ruling ordered the D.C. Circuit to reconsider its decision that the foreign plaintiffs who sued Sudan under state law in the United States also could not seek punitive damages.
    “As always, Sudan expresses sympathy for the victims of the acts of terrorism at issue, but reaffirms that it was not involved in any wrongdoing in connection with those acts,” Curran said.
    Starting in 2001, groups of plaintiffs sued in federal court in Washington under the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which generally bars claims against foreign countries except those designated by the United States as state sponsors of terrorism – as Sudan has been since 1993.
    “It’s hard to imagine an act more deserving of punitive damages, and we are deeply gratified that the Supreme Court has validated our clients’ right to receive this measure of compensation,” said Matthew McGill, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
    Twelve Americans were killed by the Aug. 7, 1998, truck bombs that detonated outside the embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.    The lawsuits involve 567 people, mostly non-U.S. citizens who were employees of the U.S. government and their relatives.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

5/19/2020 Eastern Libyan forces pull out of parts of Tripoli
FILE PHOTO: Members of Libya's internationally recognised government flash victory signs after taking
control of Watiya airbase, southwest of Tripoli, Libya May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces pulled out of parts of Tripoli overnight, they said, after losing one of their main strongholds in western Libya on Monday, in a major blow to their year-long campaign to seize the capital.
    Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said the force had carried out a “redistribution and repositioning in the battle fronts, disengaging from some crowded residential areasz.”
    It has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli, seat of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognised by the United Nations and has moved onto the front foot in the war since January with military help from Turkey.
    The LNA, under Khalifa Haftar, is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt.
    On Monday, pro-GNA forces took the Watiya airbase west of the capital after weeks of attempts, their biggest advance in a year that deprives the LNA of its only airfield near Tripoli.
    After taking the base, they paraded what they said was a captured Russian-made Pantsir air defence system mounted on a truck, along with an Arabic manual.
    Mismari said the base had been abandoned as part of a long-planned strategic decision and that only old, obsolete equipment was left there.
    GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said on Twitter that “Haftar’s chance of success is now effectively zero” following his loss of Watiya.
(Reporting By Hani Amara in Istanbul, Ayman al-Warfali in Benghazi and Angus McDowall in Tunis, Editing by William Maclean)

5/19/2020 Syria’s warring parties agree to Geneva talks: U.N. envoy
FILE PHOTO: United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen meets with Russian Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov (not pictured), in Moscow, Russia January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Opposing sides in Syria’s conflict have agreed to reconvene in Geneva for negotiations on the constitution, United Nations Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said on Tuesday, adding that a lull in fighting could provide an opportunity to start healing “deep, deep mistrust” between them.
    “As soon as the pandemic situation allows, they have agreed to come to Geneva and they have agreed on an agenda for the next meeting,” he told journalists.    He did not give a date and said that a virtual meeting of the constitutional committee would not be possible.
    In the same briefing, Pedersen also repeated a message made to the U.N. Security Council on Monday and urged the United States and Russia to talk about a push for peace.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Catherine Evans)

5/19/2020 Egypt registers 720 new coronavirus cases in one day
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask covers his head during a hot weather, amid concerns
over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Cairo, Egypt May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt on Tuesday registered 720 new coronavirus cases, the health ministry said in a statement, its highest daily toll since detecting the first confirmed case in February.
    The new cases brought the total infections to 13,484 cases, the ministry added in a statement.
    The country’s former daily record was 535 cases on Monday.
    Egypt recorded 14 deaths on Tuesday, the statement said, bringing the total fatalities to 659.    Nearly 3,740 people have recovered and been discharged from isolation hospitals.
    The daily tally of cases has been rising after the government slightly eased a night curfew and other measures.
    The most populous Arab country will bring forward the start of its curfew by four hours to 5 p.m. and halt public transport from May 24 for six days during the Eid holiday, as it seeks to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said on Sunday.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah and Omar Fahmy, writing by Mahmoud Mourad, Editing by Franklin Paul and Chizu Nomiyama)

5/19/2020 Prayers at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound to resume next week: statement
FILE PHOTO: Muslim worshippers pray near the closed gate of the compound housing Al-Aqsa mosque, known to Muslims
as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, for Ramadan prayers, as mosques were closed
due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) around the country April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Muslim prayers at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound will resume next week after a nearly two-month pause now that the spread of the new coronavirus has slowed, a religious council said on Tuesday.
    In a statement, the Council of Islamic Waqf said the restriction on outdoor prayer at the site would be lifted after the Muslim holiday of Eid El-Fitr marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.    Eid El-Fitr is due to start on Saturday or Sunday.
    On March 15, religious officials closed al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, and a week later also banned worshippers from gathering in open areas of the holy hilltop compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount. L8N2BF0VQ
    It was not immediately clear whether worshippers would also be allowed back into al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock next week.    A Palestinian religious official in Jerusalem said further details would be released at a later date.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta; Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Steve Orlofsky)

5/20/2020 Explainer: Why is Israel’s Netanyahu facing trial? by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands next to his wife Sara as he 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/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A week after being sworn into office for a fifth term, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will go on trial on May 24, charged with corruption.
    Bribery, fraud and breach of trust.    Netanyahu, 70, was indicted in three criminal cases last November.    He denies all wrongdoing.
    CASE 4000 alleges that Netanyahu granted regulatory favours worth around 1.8 billion shekels (about $500 million) to Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq Telecom Israel.
    In return, prosecutors say, he sought positive coverage of himself and his wife on a news website controlled by the company’s former chairman, Shaul Elovitch.
    In this case, Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.    Elovitch and his wife, Iris, have been charged with bribery and obstruction of justice.    The couple deny wrongdoing.
    CASE 1000, in which Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust, centres on allegations that he and wife Sara wrongfully received almost 700,000 shekels worth of gifts from Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen, and Australian billionaire businessman James Packer.
    Prosecutors said gifts included champagne and cigars and that Netanyahu helped Milchan with his business interests.     Neither Packer nor Milchan face charges.
    CASE 2000 alleges that Netanyahu negotiated a deal with Arnon Mozes, owner of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, for better coverage.    In return, the prime minister allegedly offered legislation that would slow the growth of a rival newspaper.    Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust.    Mozes has been charged with offering a bribe, and denies wrongdoing.
    Netanyahu says he is the victim of a politically orchestrated “witch hunt” by the media and the left to oust him from office.
    Loyalists in Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party have accused the justice system of bias, and Netanyahu has said receiving gifts from friends was not against the law.
    His legal team says criminal investigations into relations between politicians and the news media threaten press freedom.
    Unlikely.    The trial could take years.    Netanyahu could also seek a plea deal rather than go through the trial process.
    Bribery charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine.    Fraud and breach of trust carry a prison sentence of up to three years.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Timothy Heritage)

5/20/2020 Turkey says low risk of second outbreak, opens to some medical tourism
FILE PHOTO: Tourists wearing protective face masks, due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) concerns, stroll at Sultanahmet square in
Istanbul, Turkey, March 17, 2020. Byzantine-era monument of Hagia Sophia is seen in the background. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey does not risk a second wave of infections from the new coronavirus at the moment and it is preparing to start controlled “medical tourism” with 31 countries as of Wednesday, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
    “If we continue to abide by the rules of social distancing, wearing a mask and a limited social life, then we don’t see a risk of second wave,” Koca told a press conference on Wednesday.
    “Like the rest of the world, we are also monitoring actively such a risk around September or October.    But we are in a position to take necessary measures in the case of a second wave,” he said.
    Turkey’s daily number of new COVID-19 cases has fallen to around 1,000 from some 4,500 last month.    Its official coronavirus death toll stands at 4,199, with more than 110,000 people having recovered.
    Koca said Turkey was starting medical tourism season with 31 countries where the risk of pandemic is lower, despite a lack of international flights.
    “If necessary, and if there is demand, we will organise charter flights for medical tourism,” Koca said, adding that the tourists would be tested for the virus upon arrival.
    Travel restrictions for senior citizens were to be eased in the coming days, the minister said.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

5/20/2020 Israel must abandon annexation threat, says U.N. Middle East envoy by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Nickolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal
Representative of the Secretary-General, briefs the U.N. Security Council during a council meeting on the situation
in the Middle East at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Israel must abandon its threat to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, the U.N. Middle East envoy said on Wednesday, branding such a plan as a serious violation of international law that would “close the door to a renewal of negotiations.”
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said cabinet discussions would begin on July 1 on his plan to extend Israeli sovereignty to territory Palestinians want for their own state.    There is no publicly stated deadline for annexation of land that Israel captured in 1967.
    The continuing threat of annexation by Israel of parts of the West Bank would constitute a most serious violation of international law, deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, close the door to a renewal of negotiations,” U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council.
    “Israel must abandon its threat of annexation.    And the Palestinian leadership to re-engage with all members of the quartet,” he said, referring to the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
    Mladenov urged the 15-member council to back a push by U.N. chief Antonio Guterres against unilateral steps that would hinder diplomatic efforts to renew negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
    Such a statement by the council is unlikely as it has to be agreed by consensus and the United States traditionally shields its ally Israel from any action.
    “This council cannot dictate the end to this conflict.    We can only encourage the parties to sit down together to determine how they wish to make progress,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft said.
    The Palestinians have rejected a peace plan by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.
    Mladenov urged the quartet to “come forward with a proposal that will enable the quartet to take up its mediation role.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bernadette Baum)
[The Globalist henchmen are hard at work but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is in control.].

5/20/2020 Israeli court tells Netanyahu he must appear at start of trial
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting
in Jerusalem, March 8, 2020. Oded Balilty/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli court rejected on Wednesday a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be absent from the opening of his corruption trial next week, saying he must abide by the practice of hearing the charges in person.
    Netanyahu had asked Jerusalem District Court to be excused from his May 24 arraignment, deeming the event a formality and arguing that bringing his bodyguards would be a waste of public funds and a strain on coronavirus rules against congregations.
    Some critics, however, believed Netanyahu was trying to reduce the optics of the first criminal prosecution of a sitting Israeli prime minister.    Indicted for bribery, fraud and breach in three long-running cases, he denies wrongdoing.
    The court said in response that it could accommodate the fifth-term Netanyahu’s security detail, though it declined his additional request to bring a larger legal retinue.
    “It is incumbent upon the requester, as with all other defendants, to appear and have his say in court,” the three-judge panel said in its ruling.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/21/2020 South Africa scientists say up to 50,000 COVID-19 deaths possible
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 could see up to 50,000 coronavirus deaths and as many as 3 million infections by the end of the year as the southern hemisphere winter leads to a higher rate of infection, scientific models showed on Thursday.
    The country already has the highest number of infections and deaths on the continent, with more than 18,000 identified cases and 339 deaths, but a national lockdown entering its sixth week had slowed infections.
    However scientists and statisticians hired by the health ministry to model the spread of the disease said the country could see between 35,000 and 50,000 coronavirus deaths by November.
    “We haven’t really crushed the curve,” said one of the experts, Harry Moultrie, in a presentation shown on television.    “We also have some significant concerns that because of the focus on COVID-19, this may compromise other areas like HIV and TB.”
    The models, which consider best and worst scenarios, see as many 3 million possible coronavirus cases by November, while demand for hospital beds is seen peaking at 45,000, around ten times the current intensive care bed availability.
    One of models showed the lockdown had reduced the rate of infection by 60%, and that since the beginning of May, when lockdown restrictions were eased, that had fallen to 30%.
    “With the lockdown we were creating a physical barrier that prevents the virus from moving,” said Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize.
    “The lockdown had a particular value.    Now we are trying to move to a slightly different strategy which is the risk-adjusted approach.”
(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; editing by Nick Macfie)

5/21/2020 Lebanon at risk of major food crisis, PM warns
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks to the media outside Beirut's
international airport, Lebanon April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon is at risk of a major food crisis and many Lebanese may soon find it hard to afford bread because of an acute financial crunch and the fall-out of COVID-19, the prime minister warned.
    Writing in the Washington Post, Hassan Diab also warned of a global food security emergency triggered by the pandemic.    He said attempts to restrict food exports must be resisted and called on the United States and the European Union to set up an emergency fund to help the Middle East avoid a severe crisis.
    Otherwise, “starvation may spark a new migration flow to Europe and further destabilize the region,” he wrote.
    Lebanon was in deep crisis even before COVID-19.    The local currency has more than halved in value since October amid a hard currency liquidity shortage.    Inflation and unemployment are soaring. Lebanon defaulted on its sovereign debt in March.
    Imported food prices had more than doubled since the start of 2020, Diab wrote.    More than half of Lebanon’s food is imported.
    “Once the breadbasket of the Eastern Mediterranean, Lebanon is facing a dramatic challenge that seemed unimaginable a decade ago: the risk of a major food crisis,” Diab wrote.
    “A few weeks ago, Lebanon witnessed its first ‘hunger protests.’    Many Lebanese have already stopped buying meat, fruits and vegetables, and may soon find it difficult to afford even bread.”
    Diab, who took office this year with backing from the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its allies, also blamed decades of political mismanagement and corruption for a lack of investment in agriculture.
    COVID-19 and lockdowns had “dramatically worsened the economic crisis and profoundly disrupted the food supply chain.”
    Eighty percent of Lebanon’s wheat had been coming from Ukraine and Russia, but last month, Russia suspended wheat exports, while Ukraine is considering a similar move, he said.
(Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/21/2020 Lebanon central bank to give dollars for food imports, defend currency
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab, wearing a mask, arrives to attend a meeting with
Lebanese political leaders to present the plan aimed at steering the country out of a financial crisis,
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s central bank will start providing dollars for food imports as part of “necessary measures” to defend the battered local currency, whose slump has sent prices skyrocketing.
    The Lebanese pound has lost more than half its value since October as the country sinks deep into a financial crisis on a scale it has never seen before.
    Thursday’s central bank statement said its new measures would start next week and commercial banks could take part.
    “I received a promise from the governor … that the (central) bank will intervene in the market, starting from today, to protect the Lebanese pound and rein in the rise of the dollar exchange rate,” Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in a televised speech earlier.
    He also said importing basic foodstuffs would be supported and prices monitored so that Lebanese would soon see a decline in costs.
    In separate comments on Thursday, Diab warned the country risked a major food crisis and many Lebanese might soon find it hard to afford bread because of the situation and the fallout of COVID-19.
    “Lebanon is facing a dramatic challenge that seemed unimaginable a decade ago: the risk of a major food crisis,” the premier wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.
    Inflation, poverty and unemployment have soared.    The prices of many consumer goods have doubled in the past six months.
    The official pegged rate of 1,507.5 Lebanese pounds to the dollar remains available for imports of wheat, medicine and fuel, while the currency has collapsed on the parallel market.
    Banking controls force most importers to get foreign currency on the informal market, where scarce dollars have changed hands at around 4,000 pounds recently.
    The central bank said last week it aimed to provide dollars for imports at an exchange rate of 3,200 Lebanese pounds to reduce food prices.
(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne)

5/21/2020 Palestinians shun CIA after declaring end to security coordination with U.S. and Israel by Rami Ayyub and Nidal al-Mughrabi
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat looks on during a news conference following his meeting with
foreign diplomats, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – The Palestinians have suspended contacts with the CIA after announcing an end to security coordination with Israel and the United States in protest at Israeli proposals to annex territory in the West Bank, a Palestinian official said on Thursday.
    Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Washington had been told of the move after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday his administration was no longer committed to agreements with Israel and the United States, including on security coordination.
    On cooperation with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Erekat told reporters in a video call: “It stopped as of the end of the (Palestinian) president’s speech.”
    Intelligence cooperation with the CIA continued even after the Palestinians began boycotting U.S. peace efforts led by President Donald Trump in 2017, with the sides working together on heading off violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority is based.
    Abbas has threatened before to end security ties, without following through.    Israeli officials say he needs Israel’s support in the face of domestic challenges from the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.
    But Erekat said: “Things change and we have decided it is time now to change.”
    “Security cooperation with the United States is no more.    Security coordination with Israel is no more,” said Erekat.    “We are going to maintain public order and the rule of law, alone.”
    The U.S. embassy in Jerusalem declined to comment.
    Later in the day, a senior Palestinian security official told Reuters that Palestinian forces had begun to pull back from some areas of the West Bank that they had policed in coordination with Israel during the coronavirus crisis.
    “In light of the president’s instructions about ceasing security coordination, the Israeli side was notified” of the partial withdrawal.
    Israeli officials had no immediate comment and it was not clear how widespread the Palestinian forces’ drawback was.
    Palestinians worry that Israel, with the blessing of Washington, could carry out pledges to apply Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, which they see as annexation.
    Palestinians seek statehood in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as their capital.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; writing by Dan Williams; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

5/23/2020 Libya’s Haftar seeks to rouse forces against Turkey
FILE PHOTO: Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar meets Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias (not pictured)
at the Foreign Ministry in Athens, Greece, January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar called on his forces on Saturday to rally against Turkey, which has helped his Tripoli-based rivals turn the tide of a military conflict around the capital.
    Recent advances by forces aligned with the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), including the seizure of a key air base, have thrown a year-long offensive on Tripoli by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) into jeopardy.
    They have also drawn a threat by the LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, to carry out a massive air campaign in retaliation.
    On Saturday the GNA forces pressed forward in some outlying districts of Tripoli, where they say they have had to pick their way through mines and other explosive devices laid by the LNA.
    The LNA said it had withdrawn from some areas, but had also staged an ambush at Yarmouk military camp in Tripoli and killed or captured rival combatants.
    Haftar, in an audio message addressed to his forces, urged them to battle the “colonial” intervention by Turkey until its defeat, in a reference to one-time Ottoman control of Libya.
    “You are creating glory while fighting the odious coloniser greedy for our wealth,” he said.    “And you are waging war on all fronts, a war in which there is nothing but victory.”
    Haftar’s comments were released as U.S. President Donald Trump appealed for a rapid de-escalation of the conflict in Libya in a call with Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said separately his country had “changed the balance” in Libya and averted a “full-blown civil war.”
    “The only solution in Libya is a political solution and Haftar needs to understand this,” he said in a TV interview.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli, Hani Amara, and Jonathan Spicer; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Richard Chang)

5/23/2020 Trump urges Libya de-escalation on call with Erdogan: White House
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose for a family photo
at the NATO leaders summit in Watford, Britain December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump called for a “rapid de-escalation” of the Libyan conflict on a call with Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday, the White House said, after recent gains by forces backed by Turkey prompted threats of retaliation.
    Ankara said the NATO allies agreed to continue pursuing stability in the eastern Mediterranean region, including in Syria, while a spokesman for Erdogan said the international community must stand with Turkey in the Libyan conflict.
    Turkey backs Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which has made significant military gains in recent weeks in battles with the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar.
    With Turkish help, the GNA has seized a string of towns, captured a strategic airbase and destroyed several of the LNA’s Russian-made air defence systems.
    The surge has put pressure Haftar’s 13-month campaign to seize the capital Tripoli and has squeezed his foreign backers Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
    White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement: “President Trump reiterated concern over worsening foreign interference in Libya and the need for rapid de-escalation.”
    As the LNA has promised to respond with a massive air campaign, diplomats have warned of the risk of a new round of escalation with the warring sides’ external backers pouring in new weaponry.
    Turkey “will not bow to threats by Haftar or anyone else,” Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said separately in an interview on NTV.
    “The international community must take a stand against Hafter. We need to go back to the table for a political solution as soon as possible,” Kalin said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Irem Koca in Istanbul, and Steve Holland and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by John Stonestreet and David Holmes)

5/23/2020 Trump, Erdogan discussed need for ‘rapid de-escalation’ in Libya: White House
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
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday discussed turmoil in Libya and Syria, as well as reopening economies around the world amid the global coronavirus pandemic, a White House spokesman said.
    “President Trump and President Erdogan discussed progress on reopening and boosting global economies in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic,” Spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “President Trump reiterated concern over worsening foreign interference in Libya and the need for rapid de-escalation.    President Trump and President Erdogan reaffirmed the urgent need for a political resolution to the conflict in Syria, as well as unimpeded humanitarian access throughout the country.”
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Steve Holland; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

5/23/2020 Palestinians report first coronavirus death in Gaza
Palestinian health workers bring for burial the dead body of a woman, who has died after contracting the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in a cemetery in the southern Gaza Strip May 23, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA (Reuters) – A woman has died in Gaza Strip after contracting coronavirus, the Palestinian enclave’s first known fatality from the global pandemic, the health ministry said on Saturday.
    Blockaded and short on medical facilities, Gaza, run by the Islamist group Hamas, has reported only 55 coronavirus infection cases among its population of two million.    Meanwhile, in the Israeli occupied West Bank, where Palestinians have limited self-rule, there have been two deaths and 423 cases.
    The Gaza health ministry described the fatality as a 77-year-old woman who had entered via the Egyptian border on May 19 and had been kept in quarantine since.    She suffered from a prior chronic illness, the ministry said.
    Hamas, which has run Gaza since 2007, has closed crossings with Egypt and Israel except for essential traffic, but unlike in the West Bank it said a full lockdown was not yet needed.
(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by David Evans and Peter Graff)

5/24/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu goes on trial for corruption
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/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The corruption trial of Benjamin Netanyahu opens on Sunday in a Jerusalem court, where he will become the first serving Israeli prime minister to face criminal prosecution, in a case he calls a political witch-hunt.
    Netanyahu is required to appear for the session in Jerusalem District Court, a week after he was sworn in to a record fifth term as head of a unity government, ending more than a year of political deadlock in the wake of three inconclusive elections.
    He was indicted in November on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in three cases involving gifts from millionaire friends and for allegedly seeking regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage.
    Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, has cast his prosecution as a leftist witch-hunt meant to oust a popular right-wing leader.
    As prime minister, Netanyahu is under no legal obligation to resign and he has said his court battle will not affect his ability to do his job.
    A three-judge panel will hear his case.    On Wednesday, it turned down his request to stay away from the opening session.
    In asking to be excused, Netanyahu called the event a formality and argued that bringing his contingent of bodyguards would waste public funds and make it hard to comply with social distancing rules.
    Some critics said Netanyahu was trying to avoid the optics of a prime minister sitting in the defendant’s dock.
    Turning down his request, the court said it was important for justice to be seen to be done.
    Six years ago, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was found guilty of bribe-taking and served 16 months in jail.    His trial took place after his 2006-2009 term in office.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Potter)
[As you can see that the anti-Israel coalitions and Globalists are so desperate to get rid of him so they can take over the ruling class and destroy the nation of Israel but as we see the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is in control of all of this just as in the Trump "America First".].

5/25/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu says he won’t miss West Bank annexation opportunity by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering the district court room where he
is facing a trial for alleged corruption crimes, in Jerusalem May 24 2020. Yonatan Sindel/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will not miss a “historic opportunity” to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, calling the move one of his new government’s top tasks.
    Palestinians consider such a step as illegal annexation of occupied land they seek for a future state.    Last week, they declared an end to security cooperation with Israel and its ally, the United States, in protest at the territorial plan.
    Netanyahu has pledged to put Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty.    He has set July 1 as a starting date for cabinet discussions on the issue, which has also raised alarm within the European Union.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called the matter complex and said it required coordination with Washington.    Netanyahu’s new political partner, centrist Benny Gantz, has been equivocal about de facto annexation.
    At a meeting of legislators of his right-wing Likud party on Monday, Netanyahu set land moves in the West Bank as “perhaps the first in importance in many respects” of the tasks to be undertaken by the government he and Gantz formed on May 17
    “We have a historic opportunity, which hasn’t existed since 1948, to apply sovereignty judiciously as a diplomatic…step in Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to the year of Israel’s birth and using the biblical names for the West Bank.
    “It is a big opportunity and we will not let it pass by,” he said a day after the start of his corruption trial.    He denies charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
    Netanyahu has cited U.S President Donald Trump’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace as underpinning de facto annexation.    The Palestinians have rejected the proposal, announced in January, under which most Jewish settlements would be incorporated into “contiguous Israeli territory.”
    Palestinians and most countries view the settlements on land Israel took in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal.    Israel disputes this.    Israeli critics of annexation have voiced concern it could increase anti-Israeli violence.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

5/25/2020 Syria eases coronavirus curbs, new cases jump after expats return
FILE PHOTO: A boy arranges protective face masks at a factory during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as the closure of border crossings
in northern Syria has negatively impacted business activities, in the rebel-held Idlib city, Syria May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria said on Monday it would lift an overnight curfew starting Tuesday and allow movement between governorates, easing coronavirus lockdown measures even as the health ministry reported the largest single-day increase in cases.
    The ministry reported 20 new infections of the novel coronavirus on Monday, bringing the country’s tally to 106 cases and four deaths.
    Syria has seen an uptick in infections in recent days, which it has attributed to the return of Syrians from abroad.
    Damascus said on Monday that while it was easing lockdown measures as part of steps to reopen the economy, it would halt flights repatriating Syrians for the time being as it treats those that have recently returned.
    Some diplomats including U.S. Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey have cast doubt on the government’s relatively low figures.
    Doctors and relief groups worry that medical infrastructure ravaged by nine years of conflict would make a more serious outbreak deadly and difficult to fend off.
(Reporting by Kinda Makieh; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Richard Chang)

5/25/2020 WHO fears ‘silent’ virus epidemic unless Africa prioritizes testing
FILE PHOTO: The World Health Organization (WHO) logo is pictured at the entrance of
its headquarters in Geneva, January 25, 2015. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Africa has so far been spared the worst impact of the coronavirus, but the World Health Organization is worried the continent could face a “silent epidemic” if its leaders do not prioritize testing for it, a WHO envoy said on Monday.
    “My first point for Africa, my first concern, is that a lack of testing is leading to a silent epidemic in Africa.    So we must continue to push leaders to prioritize testing,” special envoy Samba Sow told a news conference.
    The WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Africa was the region with the fewest diagnosed coronavirus cases, accounting for less than 1.5% of the global total and just 0.1% of deaths.
    The WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said some countries had taken measures to curb the disease at a high economic cost.    Those measures meant the pandemic was having a milder impact so far than some models had predicted, Moeti said.
    Tedros credited the continent’s experience dealing with other epidemics as helping it scale up its response to the coronavirus and be spared the impact seen elsewhere so far.
    All African countries had preparedness plans in place, he said, although there were still “gaps and vulnerabilities.”
(Writing by Peter Graff; editing by John Stonestreet)

5/25/2020 Palestinians easing coronavirus restrictions in West Bank
FILE PHOTO: Gamal Abdel Nasser mosque is seen closed during Friday prayers over concerns of the spread of the coronavirus
disease, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/File Photo
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Mosques, churches and businesses in the occupied West Bank will reopen on Tuesday in an easing of coronavirus restrictions, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday.
    The Palestinian Authority declared a health emergency in March and imposed lockdowns after the first cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
    Shtayyeh said it was time to “cautiously return life to normal” now that infection rates had slowed.
    The reopening of houses of worship, shops and factories on Tuesday will coincide with the last day of the Eid El-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
    Shtayyeh said that government ministries and offices would reopen on Wednesday and that checkpoints set up to limit traffic between West Bank cities would be removed.
    The Palestinian Health Ministry has confirmed 423 cases of the new coronavirus in the West Bank and two deaths.
    The health crisis has led to a 50% fall in commercial revenues in the West Bank, in a blow to an already ailing economy in which unemployment is at 17.6%, local officials said.
    In the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Palestinian Authority’s rival, the Islamist group Hamas, 54 coronavirus cases and one death have been recorded.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Hugh Lawson)
[What the news is not telling you is that Israel is helping the Palestinians to defeat the coronavirus deaths since they have no one helping them, but will the Palestinian people return the appreciation of that.].

5/26/2020 Israeli leader vows to push ahead with annexing parts of West Bank
    JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday pledged to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in the coming months, vowing to move ahead with the explosive plan despite a growing chorus of condemnations by key allies.    The Palestinians, with wide international backing, seek the entire West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state.    Annexing large chunks of this territory would all but destroy the faint remaining hopes of a two-state solution.    Israel captured the West Bank in 1967.

5/26/2020 Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity reopens as Palestinians ease coronavirus curbs
A worshipper prays in the Church of the Nativity as it reopens after Palestinians ease the restrictions of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) – Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, reopened to worshippers and tourists on Tuesday as Palestinian authorities eased coronavirus restrictions in the occupied West Bank.
    Amid lingering pandemic concerns, the church is capping access to 50 people at a time and requires that they be free of fever and wear protective masks.    It had been shuttered since March 5, in a blow to Bethlehem’s tourism industry.
    “The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ gave hope to people more than 2,000 years ago, and opening the church today will, I think, give hope to the whole world that hopefully this pandemic will end – not only in Palestine but in the whole world,” Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Ma’ayah told Reuters.
    Bethlehem is among areas where Palestinians exercise limited self-rule in the West Bank, under Israeli occupation.    There have been 423 recorded coronavirus cases and two deaths in the West Bank.
    On Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said mosques, churches and businesses would reopen on Tuesday in an easing of anti-pandemic curbs, given the slow pace of infections. [L8N2D71PY]
    The reopening of houses of worship, shops and factories coincides with the last day of the Eid El-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
    “Today is a big Eid for Bethlehem and for believers,” said Bishop Theophylactos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem.
    Muslim prayers at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound are also expected to resume later this week after a nearly two-month pause, according to a statement published last week by Palestinian religious Waqf officials.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh, and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Dan Williams and Gareth Jones)

5/26/2020 Saudi Arabia to end curfew on June 21, except in Mecca
FILE PHOTO: A view of a deserted street, during a curfew imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia April 2, 2020. Picture taken April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Yasser Bakhsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will begin easing restrictions on movement and travel this week, more than two months after stringent measures were introduced to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
    Restrictions will be lifted in three phases, culminating in the curfew completely ending – with the exception of the holy city of Mecca — from June 21, the state news agency reported in a statement early on Tuesday.
    The Hajj and Umrah pilgrimmages — which attract millions of travelers from around the world — will remain suspended until further notice.
    The kingdom has so far recorded 74,795 cases of COVID-19 with 399 deaths.    More than 2,000 cases are still being reported daily.
    The first phase, starting on Thursday, will see the 24-hour curfew reduced to between 3 p.m.-6 a.m. countrywide.
    Free movement between regions and some retail and wholesale activities, including malls, will be allowed to resume.
    Saudi Arabia had imposed 24-hour curfews on most towns and cities but eased them for the start of the fasting month of Ramadan.    The 24-hour curfew was reimposed during the five-day Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, which began on Sunday.
    From Sunday May 30, free movement will be allowed between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., Saudi Press Agency reported.    Domestic flights will be allowed to resume, but a ban on international flights will stay.
    Mosques can hold prayers once again, subject to social distancing and hygiene measures, except for in Mecca where restrictions on attendance will stay in place.
    Public and private sector employees will be allowed to return to their offices.
    Social gatherings of more than 50 people will still be banned, including weddings and funerals.
    Citizens will still be urged to wear masks in public and continue hygiene and social distancing measures after June 21.
    Mecca will stay one phase behind the rest of the country, with curfew times adjusted to 3 p.m-6 a.m until June 20, revised up to 8 p.m. thereafter.    Prayers will only be allowed to resume in mosques from June 21.
(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

5/26/2020 U.S. military says Russia deployed fighter jets to Libya
FILE PHOTO: A boy wearing a Libyan flag takes part in a celebration marking the sixth anniversary of
the Libyan revolution, in Benghazi, Libya February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – The U.S. military said on Tuesday that Russia has deployed fighter aircraft to Libya to support Russian mercenaries fighting for eastern forces, adding to concerns of a new escalation in the conflict.
    “Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fire,” the United States Africa command said in a statement it posted on its website and on Twitter.
    Libya’s civil war has drawn in regional and global powers with what the United Nations has called a huge influx of weapons and fighters in violation of an arms embargo.
    Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt support the eastern-based Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which launched an offensive last year to seize the capital Tripoli.
    However, in recent weeks the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has with extensive Turkish backing pushed Haftar back from his foothold in southern Tripoli and from some other parts of the northwest.
    The United States has played a less prominent role in the Libyan war than it did at an earlier stage, when NATO helped rebels overthrow the country’s autocratic ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
    The statement said the aircraft had arrived from an airbase in Russia after transiting via Syria, where they were repainted to conceal their Russian origin.    There was no immediate response from the Russian Defence Ministry to a request for comment.
    On Saturday, Russian fighters in Libya were flown out of a town south of Tripoli by their Libyan allies after retreating from frontlines in Tripoli, the town’s mayor said.
    The LNA has denied any foreigners are fighting with it, but the United Nations said this month that Russian private military contractor Wagner Group had up to 1,200 people in Libya.
    “Russia has employed state-sponsored Wagner in Libya to conceal its direct role and to afford Moscow plausible deniability of its malign actions,” the U.S. statement said.
    It quoted U.S. Air Force General Jeff Harrigian as warning that if Russia seized bases on Libya’s coast, it would “create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank.”
    The statement said neither the LNA nor mercenaries would be able to “arm, operate and sustain these fighters” — meaning fighter aircraft — without the support they had from Russia.Last week the LNA announced it would be launching a major new air campaign against the GNA and said it had refurbished four war jets.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall; additional reporting by Andrew Osborne in Moscow; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean)

5/26/2020 Saudi Arabia allows mosques to open for Friday prayers
FILE PHOTO: People perform prayer as they perform social distancing near Kaaba in the Grand Mosque
during the holy month of Ramadan, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia April 28, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will allow mosques to open for Friday prayers, state TV reported on Tuesday, as the kingdom eases restrictions on movement to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
    Mosques will be authorised to open 20 minutes before Friday prayers and should close 20 minutes after they finish, state TV said on Twitter, citing the ministry of Islamic affairs.
    Saudi authorities said on Monday that restrictions would be lifted in three phases, culminating in a curfew ending – with the exception of the holy city of Mecca – from June 21.
    The haj and umrah pilgrimages, which attract millions of travellers from around the world, will remain suspended until further notice.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/27/2020 Saudi Arabian airlines to resume some domestic flights from May 31
FILE PHOTO: General view of Riyadh city, after the Saudi government eased a curfew, following the outbreak
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabian airlines are preparing to resume some domestic flights from Sunday as the Kingdom eases coronavirus containment measures, the state news agency said on Wednesday.
    Sixty flights will resume each day in the first phase. Bans on domestic travel, holding prayers in mosques, and workplace attendance in both the government and private sector will be lifted, starting on May 31, the news agency reported early on Tuesday.
(Reporting By Ahmed Tolba; Editing by Kim COghill)

5/27/2020 Total number of coronavirus cases in Gulf Arab states surpasses 200,000: Reuters tally
FILE PHOTO: General view of Riyadh city, after the Saudi government eased a curfew, following the outbreak
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in the six Gulf Arab states doubled in less than a month to surpass 200,000 on Wednesday, according to a Reuters’ tally, at a time the region’s two biggest economies move to resume activity.
    Coronavirus infections in the energy producing region, which crossed the 100,000 mark on May 11, had initially been linked to travel but then spread among low-income migrant workers in overcrowded quarters, prompting authorities to increase testing.
    Saudi Arabia, which has the most infections, said restrictions would be lifted in three phases, culminating in a curfew completely ending from June 21, with the exception of the holy city of Mecca.
    Saudi Arabian airlines will operate some domestic flights from Sunday.    Government sector workplace attendance, suspended since March 16, will resume gradually on May 31 and state media said on Wednesday private sector employees could go to offices.
    The Haj and Umrah pilgrimages, which attract millions from around the world, remain suspended.
    In United Arab Emirates, business and trade hub Dubai removed restrictions on movement and business operations between 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.    It allowed cinemas, gyms and some entertainment attractions to reopen after permitting malls and dine-in restaurants to do so last month.    Workplace attendance in Dubai is now permitted at 50%.
    The UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi has so far maintained a nationwide curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., but has also allowed malls and dine-in restaurants to operate with limited capacity.
    The UAE government would allow minimum 30% of workplace attendance in all federal ministries, authorities and institutions, starting from May 31, state news agency WAM reported late on Wednesday.
    It was not yet clear whether other Gulf states that tightened restrictions would follow suit.    Qatar, which has the second highest infection count, halted all commercial activities from May 19 to May 30.    Kuwait imposed a 24-hour curfew on May 10 but said it would return to a partial one at the end of May.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Additional reporting Omar Fahmy and Nayera Abdallah in Cairo, Editing by Franklin Paul and Grant McCool)

5/27/2020 Saudi-led coalition says it downs Houthi drones launched at Najran
FILE PHOTO: Missiles and drone aircrafts are put on display at an exhibition at an unidentified location in Yemen in this
undated handout photo released by the Houthi Media Office July 9, 2019. Houthi Media Office/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition engaged in Yemen said its forces intercepted and downed drones launched by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement towards the Saudi border city of Najran on Wednesday in the first such incident since late March.
    There was no immediate comment from the Houthi group about the attack, which comes after the expiry of a one-month ceasefire announced by the coalition on April 24, an extension of a two-week truce prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a statement carried on the Saudi state news agency that the drones had been directed at civilian targets.    He said the alliance would continue to take deterrent measures to “neutralise and destroy” Houthi capabilities.
    In late March, after the group fired drones and missiles towards the Saudi capital Riyadh and southern parts of the kingdom, which were intercepted, the coalition responded with several air strikes on the Houthi-held capital Sanaa.
    There had been a relative lull in violence since the ceasefire was first declared, with the exception of fighting in Yemen’s al-Jawf and Marib provinces.
    The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government to power in Sanaa after it was ousted from the capital by the Houthis in late 2014.    The war has been in military stalemate for years and U.N.-led peace efforts have stalled since late 2018.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean)

5/27/2020 Iran changes tack in Iraqi politics after mastermind’s assassination by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed
FILE PHOTO: Mourners attend the funeral procession of the Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the
elite Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, and the Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed
in an air strike at Baghdad airport, in Kerbala, Iraq, January 4, 2020. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa al-Deen
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Two diplomats are quietly leading Iran’s push to influence politics in Iraq, in a departure from the more blunt enforcement employed by Qassem Soleimani, a top commander slain in a U.S. air strike.
    The consensual tactics in a country where Iran has wrestled with Washington for influence for nearly two decades was designed to break a political deadlock in Baghdad and hasten the departure of nearly 5,000 U.S. troops from Iraq, according to three senior Iranian officials involved in the process.
    “Sometimes you need to step back, observe and plan based on realities on the ground,” said a senior Iranian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    “We want the Americans to leave the region.    If there is chaos in Iraq … Americans will use it as an excuse to extend their stay.”
    A U.S. State Department spokesman said Washington did not interfere in Iraqi politics.
    Washington and Tehran came close to war earlier this year after rocket attacks on Iraqi bases hosting U.S. forces and U.S. air strikes against militia groups, including the one that killed Soleimani in January in Baghdad.
    The powerful commander of the elite Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) had steered political allies in Iraq, fought proxy wars across the Middle East and sought to impose his will on politics in Baghdad.
    Since his death, Iranian officials have held substantive talks with Iraqi President Barham Salih for the first time in years aimed at building trust and pushed Iran’s Shi’ite allies to compromise to end an impasse that prevented the formation of a stable government.
    Some Iraqi sources cautioned, however, that the officials that come to Iraq still have links to the IRGC, years of experience of dealing with Iraqi matters and considerable sway over many political and paramilitary groups.
    Iran’s foreign ministry and its embassy in Baghdad were not available to comment on the contacts between its officials and Iraqi government and militia figures.    Salih’s office was not immediately available for comment on Iran’s role in Iraq.
    The most tangible outcome of Iran’s new approach was the appointment by parliament this month of new prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief viewed suspiciously by some groups allied to Iran for his friendly ties with the United States.
    Kadhimi’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this article.
    Iraq had suffered deep political turmoil after former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, whom Iran supported, resigned in November in the face of mass protests against economic hardship and an allegedly corrupt ruling elite.
    President Salih opposed the Iran-allied parties’ preferred candidates to replace Abdul Mahdi as too divisive for Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish groups, a senior Iraqi official said.
    In March, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s national security council, made an official visit, dining with Salih at the presidential palace.
    “After Shamkhani’s visit, things went more smoothly,” another official said.    “Iran showed it was willing to work with some respect for Iraqi sovereignty, and to let Iraq choose its cabinet.”
    Shamkhani’s office and the spokesman for Iran’s national security council were not available for comment.
    Kadhimi emerged as the frontrunner for premier, even though some Iran-backed militias continued to oppose him.
    One militia publicly suggested he was involved in Soleimani’s killing in Baghdad in his role as head of Iraq’s intelligence service, which was set up by the Americans after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.
    The service said in a statement that the charge was “baseless.”
    At the Baghdad home of a Shi’ite leader, hours before a parliamentary vote on Kadhimi’s cabinet, Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hassan Danaifar and current Iraq envoy Iraj Masjedi convinced party and paramilitary chiefs to support Kadhimi.
    “The message from the Iranian delegation was clear – Kadhimi is the only choice left to maintain some stability in Iraq and save face,” said a militia official close to Iraq’s influential Badr Organisation who was briefed on the meeting.
    Reuters was unable to reach Danaifar and Masjedi for comment.
    A lawmaker from the Dawa party that dominated Iraq’s government until 2018 said some of the groups in Iraq allied to Iran distrusted Kadhimi for his perceived closeness to Tehran’s arch-enemy, Washington.
    So even though Danaifar and Masjedi did enough to win the votes needed to install Kadhimi, some militia say they still feel suspicion and bitterness.
    The Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah group, which levelled the accusation over Soleimani, said there had been “great pressure” from Tehran to approve Kadhimi.
    An official in Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Jawad al-Tulaibawi, likened Kadhimi’s accession to “being forced to … eat a carcass
    Some Iraqi officials attribute Iran’s more flexible stance to pressure from U.S. sanctions, the devastating spread of the coronavirus at home and the death of Soleimani.
    When Kadhimi became prime minister, the United States granted Iraq a four-month extension to a sanctions waiver that allows Baghdad to import Iranian energy – an economic lifeline for Iran.
    Washington has said that the concession was aimed at supporting the new government.
    A Western diplomat said further that Tehran appeared to want to lower military tension with the United States “for now,” but its expansionism across the wider region, where it has allies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, did not indicate an overall cooling of tensions.
(Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Mike Collett-White)

5/28/2020 Turkey resumes intercity train services as coronavirus curbs ease
FILE PHOTO: People enjoy a park, as seniors over 65 years old have been exempted from curfew for six hours during the first day
of Eid, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, May 24, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey begun operating intercity trains on Thursday after a two-month gap, as it gradually eases coronavirus curbs in a bid to restore normal life and reopen an economy facing the threat of recession.
    To fight the virus, Turkey had imposed weekend stay-at-home orders, halted most travel between large cities, shut restaurants and schools, and mostly sealed its borders.
    But the government has begun rolling back some measures as the spread of the virus slows, saying it aims to normalise life until August.
    At 0400 GMT, an intercity train left the capital, Ankara, for Istanbul for the first time since the March 28 halt in services.    Trains will make 16 trips daily, although individuals aged 20 or less and 65 or older cannot travel.
    Trains would run at half capacity with no ticket price hikes, Transport Minister Adil Karaismailoglu said, adding that passengers would be monitored for virus symptoms.
    “Passengers showing COVID-19 symptoms during the trip will be taken to isolation compartments on the trains and handed over to health officials at the first appropriate station,” he told reporters at Ankara’s train station.
    The resumption comes after a four-day stay-home order nationwide for the Eid al-Fitr religious holiday was lifted at midnight on Tuesday.
    Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said citizens had not fully abided by social distancing steps after the lifting of the order, and urged them to follow precautions against a second wave of infections.
    “We are in a period in which the risk continues, it has not lifted,” Koca said in a statement late on Wednesday, adding that while the government was ready to tackle a possible second wave, such an outcome could be prevented.
    The virus has killed more than 4,300 people in Turkey, from nearly 160,000 infections.    The economy is expected to tip into recession over the containment measures.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

5/28/2020 U.N. seeks $2.4 billion for Yemen, warns aid operation nearly broke by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: U. N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA)
Mark Lowcock attends a news conference for the launch of the "Global Humanitarian Overview 2019"
at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Decemer 4, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.N. agencies trying to help the millions at risk from the conflict in Yemen are nearly broke, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said on Thursday, announcing a drive to raise some $2.4 billion next week to pay for the world biggest aid operation.
    Around 80% of Yemen’s population – 24 million people – need aid.    The country has been mired in conflict since the Iran-allied Houthi group ousted Yemen’s government from the capital Sanaa in 2014.    A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in 2015 in a bid to restore the government.
    The United Nations and Saudi Arabia are hosting a virtual pledging conference for Yemen on Tuesday.
    “There’s no way to describe this situation other than alarming,” Lowcock said. “    Is the world ready simply to watch Yemen fall off the cliff?
    “There are tens of millions of people whose lives are now at risk unless we get, not just pledges, but the money,” he said.
    Lowcock said the United Nations received $3.2 billion last year for Yemen, but so far in 2020 it has only received $474 million.
    Saudi Arabia pledged $525 million nearly two months ago and Lowcock said he hoped Riyadh would pay soon.
    “Most of the U.N. agencies are just a few weeks away from being broke.    We’ve never had so little money for the Yemen aid operation … this late in the year,” he said.    “Last year it was well-funded essentially because the countries of the region stepped up and we’re hoping that’s going to happen this time.”
    Lowcock said that of the $2.4 billion needed to fund the aid operation for the rest of the year, $180 million was to combat the outbreak of the coronavirus in Yemen, which the United Nations said was spreading rapidly.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

5/28/2020 Dubai hits the ski slope as coronavirus restrictions lift
A man wears a protective face mask as he skis at Ski Dubai during the reopening of malls, following the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Adnan Mayasi’s first move after Dubai lifted coronavirus restrictions on leisure activities was to hit the emirate’s indoor ski slope – with the added protection of surgical mask and plastic gloves.
    Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, on Wednesday allowed recreation spots such as cinemas, gyms, ice rinks and the ski slope to re-open after weeks of closure.
    Strict social distancing and cleaning measures must be implemented to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus.
    “The fear might be there,” said Mayasi, but added that the safety procedures made him feel “very comfortable.”
    Skiers said the face masks got wet as breath condensed in the cold air, but that it was great to be doing sport again.
    Dubai implemented a month-long 24-hour curfew in April and has gradually eased restrictions since then, including allowing malls and restaurants to open at limited capacities.
    As of Wednesday, there are no restrictions on movement or business operations between 6.00 am and 11.00 pm, when a nightly curfew comes into force.
    As a business and tourism hub with the world’s busiest international airport, the pandemic has hit its economy hard.    The UAE has recorded 32,532 coronavirus infections and 258 deaths.
    Nearby, in the malls’ cinema, there are no paper tickets.    Drinks and snacks are pre-ordered online and collected using bar codes.
    “We (went) through every stage of our customer journey and put procedures and sanitisation plans together so people would feel comfortable to come back to our cinemas,” said Michelle Walsh, chief marketing officer for leisure activities at mall operator Majid Al Futtaim.
    Jude Okafor, eating in a mall restaurant, thinks the economy has to re-open, while protecting lives.
    “The virus is not going away any time soon.    As long as we take precautions I think we should be fine,” said the 28-year-old who works in real estate.
    Dubai’s sun-drenched beaches remain closed unless part of a hotel complex and tourists cannot yet enter the country.
(Reporting by Tarek Fahmy; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

5/28/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan says many facilities to reopen on June 1
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference with German Chancellor
Angela Merkel in Istanbul, Turkey, January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday Turkey will lift restrictions on intercity travel and allow restaurants, cafes, parks and sports facilities to reopen from June 1 as it eases restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus outbreak.
    He said that restrictions would remain place on the movements of those aged over 65 and under 18.    The virus has killed more than 4,300 people in Turkey, from nearly 160,000 infections.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)

5/28/2020 Islamic State calls COVID-19 God’s punishment for foes: tape
A discarded mask is seen on the ground, as the global outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Islamic State (IS) said the coronavirus pandemic was divine punishment for its enemies, according to an audio broadcast on Thursday, where the jihadists also vowed more attacks.
    The person on the tape, which was posted on one of the militants’ websites but could not be verified by Reuters, identified himself as IS spokesman Abu Hamzah al-Quraishi.
    “God, by his will, sent a punishment to tyrants of this time and their followers … which can’t be seen by the naked eye,” he said, in an allusion to the COVID-19 disease.
    “Today we are pleased for this punishment of God for you.”
    It was the Sunni Muslim group’s third such tape since appointing Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi as new leader following the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by U.S. special forces in northwestern Syria late last year.
    Quraishi urged IS fighters “everywhere to prepare whatever strength they could and be as hard as they could on the enemies of God and to raid their places,” according to the tape.    “Don’t let a single day pass without making their lives awful.”
    He gave no specific targets but mentioned countries where the group is active such as Syria and Iraq as well as western Africa.
    IS has struggled to regroup and develop new strategy since the killing of Baghdadi.    It lost its last significant piece of territory in Syria last year after already being defeated in Iraq.
    The SITE Intelligence Group monitoring website said the tape looked authentic.    “IS spokesman echoes jihadi sentiment of COVID-19 being divine punishment,” it said.
(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek, Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)
[IS leader is an idiot since the coronavirus came out all wars and attacks stopped because everyone was concerned about saving themselves instead of killing others, besides if they really think it was a divine punishment it did not turn out to do your enemy in, who are still there and can chase you down and let you meet your death as your past leaders who are in shock that there were no 72 virgins only satan laughing at their stupidity.].

5/29/2020 Alcohol, tobacco ban in South Africa results in illicit trading by OAN Newsroom
Police conduct a roadblock on a Cape Town freeway South Africa Wednesday, May 27, 2020, during lockdown. With dramatically increased community
transmissions, Cape Town has become the center of the new coronavirus outbreak in South Africa. (AP Photo/Nardus Engelbrecht)
    A ban on alcohol and tobacco sales in South Africa has led to a rise in illicit trading.
    According to reports Friday, residents across South Africa are contributing to a “boot-legging culture” after the country placed the temporary ban in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
    The country’s lockdown measures are among the most restrictive in the world with more than 230,000 arrests over violations.
    Although prices are much higher, bootleggers have made the contraband available for those willing to pay.
    “They have banned the sale of cigarettes, but we are still able to buy them.    We buy them in the streets off the black market.    The officials know about it because they continue to smoke.” — Mluleki Mbhele, street vendor
    While the South African president announced the easing of restrictions, the ban on tobacco products is set to continue.    The sale of alcohol for home consumption will be permitted June 1, while pubs and bars will remain closed.

5/30/2020 U.S. warns of Russian bid for Libya stronghold after warplane delivery by Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: A man walks in a deserted street in the Old Souq, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
during the holy month of Ramadan in Tripoli, Libya April 29, 2020. Picture taken April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Ayman al-Sahili
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military believes a Russian introduction of warplanes into Libya may not tip the balance in its stalemated civil war but could further help Moscow eventually secure a geostrategic stronghold in North Africa, a U.S. general said on Friday.
    Russian military personnel have delivered 14 MiG 29 and Su-24 fighter jets to the Libyan National Army’s Jufra air base, the U.S. military says, despite denials from the LNA and a Russian member of parliament.
    U.S. Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of U.S. Africa Command’s Intelligence Directorate, told a small group of reporters the Russian aircrafts’ flight path originated in Russia and passed through Iran and Syria before reaching Libya.     Hadfield said the aircraft had not been used yet but could add new capability for Eastern commander Khalifa Haftar’s LNA, which has so far failed in its year-long effort to capture Tripoli, the seat of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).     The GNA, in turn, has been receiving critical support from Turkey, including drone strikes.
    But Hadfield cautioned that Moscow may not require an outright victory for Haftar to advance Russian interests.
    “Backing the LNA and backing Field Marshal Haftar, it really isn’t about winning the war, it’s about developing strongholds,” Hadfield said.
    A big U.S. concern would be if Moscow used such a location to stage missiles.
    “If Russia secures a permanent position in Libya and, worse, deploys long-range missile systems, it will be a game changer for Europe, NATO and many Western nations,” he said.
    Libya is once more on the brink after years of chaos that followed the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.    With more arms and fighters flowing in, Libyans fear an unending conflict fueled by outside powers.
    One Western diplomat warned of a “stagnating conflict in which escalation is met with escalation.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Angus McDowall in Tunis, Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Ulf Laessing in Cairo; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

5/30/2020 Israeli police fatally shoot Palestinian in Jerusalem – spokesman
FILE PHOTO: Israeli border police secure the area outside Jerusalem's Old City where officers
fatally shot a man they believed was armed May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Sinan Abu Mayzer
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police officers fatally shot a Palestinian they suspected was carrying a weapon in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday, a police spokesman said, but the man was later found to have been unarmed, Israeli media reported.
    “Police units on patrol there spotted a suspect with a suspicious object that looked like a pistol.    They called upon him to stop and began to chase after him on foot, during the chase officers also opened fire at the suspect,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
    Rosenfeld said the suspect, a Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem, was dead.
    Police did not confirm to reporters whether the man had been carrying a weapon, but Israel’s Channel 13 News said he was unarmed and may have been mentally challenged.
    There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials.
    Tension has risen in recent weeks with Israel saying it hopes to move ahead with a plan to extend sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank – a de-facto annexation of land the Palestinians seek for a state.
    The Palestinians, Arab states, the United Nations and European states have warned against the move and the Palestinians have declared an end to security cooperation with Israel and its ally, the United States, in protest.
    On Friday, the Israeli military said its troops in the West Bank shot and killed a Palestinian attacker who had tried to run them over with a car.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Ali Sawafta and Roleen Tafakji; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

5/31/2020 Report: Roadside bomb kills 8, injures several in Somalia by OAN Newsroom
Screengrab via TRT World Now report.
    According to reports, a roadside bomb recently killed several minibus passengers in Somalia. On Sunday, investigators confirmed the bomb killed at least eight people, who were being taken from Mogadishu to a funeral home.
    All the victims were said to be from the same family.    Several citizens came to the aid of those injured and many had to clear out the bodies in the aftermath.
    The road is frequently used by government officials, as well as security vehicles transporting and patrolling.
    “The driver is my brother, Mohamed Mahamud. He had been working this road so many years, he is a minibus driver and works between Mogadishu and Wanlaweyn town.    He drove from 6:30 in the morning from Ex-Control Afgoye and on the way to Wanlaweyn town.    A roadside bomb exploded and killed all the people in the minibus.” – Ali Mohammed, brother of minibus driver
    No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, but the region has notably been under terrorist threats for more than a decade.

6/1/2020 Turkey begins to ease lockdown restrictions as COVID-19 cases drop by OAN Newsroom
People wearing protective face masks against the spread of coronavirus, walk at the Eminonu market in Istanbul
as it reopens, Monday, June 1, 2020, following weeks of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
    Turkey is easing its lockdown restriction’s in an effort to restart their economy as coronavirus cases decrease. Businesses, museums and parks are reopening this week with restaurants and cafe’s allowing dine-in customers.
    Daycare facilities and some lower division schools are able to reopen their doors as parents begin returning to work.    Travel has also been permitted with limited domestic flights resuming.
    While coronavirus cases have seen a decrease, government officials are urging people to practice social distancing.
    “As of June 1, restrictions will be totally lifted for intercity travel…We see a benefit in continuing certain lockdown restrictions.    Those aged 65 and over will continue to be restricted from going out with the exception of Sundays between 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.,” announced Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.    “I repeat, these three concepts for the ‘new normal’ order: masks, distance, hygiene — let’s not neglect these three things.”
Signs, for customers to observe social distancing measures, are seen on the road as a restaurant worker wearing
a protective face mask and shield against the spread of coronavirus, waits for customers at a restaurant on
Istiklal street, the main shopping street in Istanbul, as shops reopen, Monday June 1, 2020. AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
    Turkey has about 163,000 active coronavirus cases, which is the highest total outside Western Europe.

6/4/2020 Eastern forces quit Libyan capital after year-long assault
Airplanes are seen at Tripoli airport after Libya's internationally recognised government regained
control over the city, in Tripoli, Libya, June 4, 2020. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
    TRIPOLI/ANKARA (Reuters) – Libya’s internationally recognised government regained control of Tripoli on Thursday, driving eastern forces out of the capital after a year-long battle in which foreign powers poured in arms and fighters.
    A military source with the eastern forces, whose base is in the eastern city of Benghazi, said they were pulling back from all of Tripoli’s suburbs.    Government forces said they now held everything within the city boundary.
    It represents a stinging reversal for eastern commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), which launched an offensive on Tripoli last year pledging to unite Libya after years of chaos.
    Continued Russian, Egyptian and United Arab Emirates support for the LNA means the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognised by the United Nations and backed by Turkey, has little hope of carrying the war into eastern Libya for now.     But, with eastern forces withdrawing towards their northwestern stronghold of Tarhouna, the lines are being drawn for battles to come although both sides have agreed to resume U.N.-brokered ceasefire talks.
    The arrival of heavier weapons, which the United States says include a fleet of Russian warplanes, means a new escalation could lead to deadlier fighting than at any time since the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    Last week France, which has been largely supportive of Haftar, said the conflict risked replicating the scenario of Syria, where Turkish and Russian rivalry bolstered both sides in an attritional war of bombardment and air strikes.
    The main outside powers engaged in the conflict have welcomed the decision to resume ceasefire talks and publicly say they support a political resolution, but it is unclear if they could agree on a settlement.
    It leaves Libya still partitioned between rival administrations in Tripoli and Benghazi in the east.
    GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj will meet Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in Ankara, where a senior Turkish official said the GNA advances were critical before any potential peace talks.
    “Everyone wants to sit at the table without losing territory, but the territory you hold strengthens your positions at the table,” the official said, adding Erdogan and Serraj would discuss both strategy and the situation on the ground.
    The United Nations is responsible for convening talks, but its Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, resigned in March and the Security Council has yet to agree on a permanent replacement.
    Both sides in Libya are made up of unstable coalitions of sometimes rival factions.    It is unclear how the failure of the Tripoli offensive could affect the position of Haftar, who went to Cairo on Wednesday for meetings with Egypt’s deputy defence minister.
    Analysts say there are few other candidates capable of holding together the different forces in the LNA.
    Its sudden reversals follow direct intervention by Turkey since late last year with drones that have targeted LNA supply lines and defences that neutralised much eastern air power.
    In the past month, the GNA has also retaken a string of towns near the border with Tunisia and the strategic al-Watiya airbase southwest of the capital.
    Fighting in the southern suburbs has for months involved intense bombardment of civilian areas held by the GNA, including rocket attacks on hospitals.
    A GNA military spokesman said the recent advances meant Tripoli would now be out of range of LNA shelling.
    But as the GNA moved southwards through the city over the past week, it said its fighters encountered many explosive booby traps hidden in houses.    Civilians in LNA-held Tarhouna now face the prospect of coming under more intense bombardment.
(Reporting by Libya newsroom and by Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; writing by Angus McDowall in Tunis; editing by Timothy Heritage)

6/4/2020 Emirates, Etihad to resume transit flights after UAE lifts suspension
FILE PHOTO: A visitor walks past the Etihad Aviation Group logo in Dubai, United
Arab Emirates November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Christopher Pike/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Emirates and Etihad Airways will resume some transit flights after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) lifted a suspension on services where passengers stop off in the country to change planes, or for refuelling.
    Dubai’s Emirates, one of the world’s biggest long-haul airlines, said on Thursday it would operate transit flights to 29 destinations in Asia, Europe and North America by June 15.
    Abu Dhabi’s Etihad, meanwhile, said it would carry transit passengers to 20 cities in Europe, Asia and Australia from June 10.
    The suspension was lifted late on Wednesday for UAE carriers, more than two months after the Gulf Arab state halted all passenger flights in March as it introduced drastic measures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
    It has since allowed a few, limited flights, while domestic restrictions such as the closure of shopping centres have been lifted.
    Foreign citizens remain banned from entering the Gulf Arab state except those holding UAE residency, who require UAE government approval before returning.
    The coronavirus pandemic, which has seen countries around the world shut their borders as they went into lockdown, has decimated the global airline industry as demand was crushed.
    Many countries continue to enforce tight entry restrictions, including some countries banning foreign visitors.    Airlines around the world have warned it will take years for travel demand to recover.
(Writing by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter)

6/4/2020 Tunisians emerge from lockdown into mosques and cafes
FILE PHOTO: People leave a train station, as Tunisia relaxes some of its lockdown rules while keeping
other restrictions in place, as preventive measures against the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in La Marsa near Tunis, Tunisia May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Angus McDowall/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisians returned to mosques and cafes on Thursday as the country ended most lockdown restrictions after largely containing the spread of the novel coronavirus for now.
    Sitting with friends at the Brazil coffeeshop in the Ibn Khaldoun district of Tunis, schoolteacher Nizar Jamal said he was glad to resume his daily chats with friends.
    “We are again breathing the air of life.    We missed the smell of coffee a lot,” he said.
    Tunisia in March closed its international borders, stopped all movement between towns and cities, shuttered mosques, shops, schools, cafes and restaurants, imposed a nightly curfew and stopped people leaving homes at day for most reasons.
    It has recorded 1,048 cases of the coronavirus and 48 deaths, compared with nearly 10,000 cases in neighbouring Algeria.    The only recent cases came from people arriving into quarantine from abroad.
    Schools will stay closed to most students until the start of the new academic year in September and the government still restricts social gatherings at homes and urges the wearing of masks.    International borders will reopen fully in late June.
    In another Tunis district, Menzah 9, a cafe owner who gave only his first name, Mahmoud, said he was relieved to have reopened.
    “This cafe provides work for 20 families.    We have suffered a lot from stopping work for three months and we hope to make up for it soon,” he said.
    Tunisia’s government has announced compensation measures to help businesses and needy families with the economic effects of the lockdown and has agreed a package of financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alex Richardson)

6/4/2020 Turkey plans to resume flights with 40 countries in June
FILE PHOTO: A passenger wearing a protective suit stands in a queue the Istanbul Airport during the first
day of resumed domestic flights which are halted since March 26 amid the spread of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey plans to resume flights with around 40 countries in June and has reached preliminary agreements for reciprocal air travel with 15 countries, Transport Minister Adil Karaismailoglu said on Thursday.
    Turkey largely sealed off its borders as part of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.    Domestic flights resumed on Monday to some provinces as Ankara eased restrictions after a significant drop in infection rates.
    Karaismailoglu said flights would resume in five stages in June, adding Turkey was in talks with 92 countries on resuming flights in a safe manner.
    “We believe that we have left behind an important point in the battle against the virus globally.    Now, we have to continue our global ties and trade,” he said in a written statement.
    Flights to Northern Cyprus, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Qatar and Greece will resume on June 10, he said.    Flights to 17 destinations, including Germany, Austria, Croatia, and Singapore will restart on June 15.    Flights to a further 16 countries will begin on June 20, 22 and 25, including to South Korea, Qatar, the Netherlands, Norway and Belgium, he added.
    The 15 countries with which Ankara has reached a preliminary agreement to resume reciprocal flights include Italy, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Albania, Belarus, Jordan and Morocco.
    Germany said on Wednesday it was talking to Ankara about reviewing travel restrictions but was awaiting a recommendation from the European Union.
    The virus has killed 4,609 people in Turkey, with more than 165,000 infections so far.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Mark Potter)

6/4/2020 Turkey looks to lock in Libya gains as Erdogan hosts PM by Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Libya's internationally recognised Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj at the Presidential
Palace in Ankara, Turkey, June 4, 2020. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan will meet Libya’s internationally recognised leader in Turkey on Thursday as the allies seek to lock in battlefield gains, including recapturing Tripoli, before potential ceasefire talks.
    Turkey started backing Fayez al Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) in November after signing a military cooperation pact alongside a maritime demarcation deal, which gives Ankara oil exploration rights in the Mediterranean that Greece and others reject.
    Turkish support in the conflict has pushed back Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) – backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt – which had been attacking the GNA in Tripoli since April 2019. On Thursday, the GNA said it had regained control of Tripoli.
    The latest advance could hasten steps toward a potential truce, underlining Turkey’s growing influence in the resource-rich region where Erdogan could seek lasting energy and military cooperation.
    On Monday, the United Nations said both sides had agreed to resume ceasefire talks, warning that weapons and fighters being flown into Libya in defiance of an embargo threatened a big new escalation.
    A senior Turkish official said the recent gains by the GNA were critical, and that Turkey would reject any proposal to divide Libya between warring factions.
    “The territory you hold strengthens your positions at the table,” the official said, adding Erdogan and Serraj would discuss strategy on the ground.
    Serraj’s deputy and foreign minister travelled to Moscow on Wednesday, and Haftar has gone to Egypt to meet defence officials.
    Ankara has sent equipment and military personnel to Tripoli and has urged Haftar’s backers to end their support. It says Serraj’s recent gains are an opportunity for political talks.
    Several peacemaking efforts in Libya have collapsed or been stalled since clashes began in 2014.
    Another Turkish official said the crisis reached a “critical period” and that Haftar recognised the need for talks.    “The other actors on the field also need to provide positive contributions, and we believe they will.”
    A lasting presence in Libya would give Turkey a strategic position near Egypt, with which ties are strained.
    It would also give Ankara another foothold in the eastern Mediterranean, where it has been at odds with neighbouring states over offshore resources.    Greece and Cyprus called last year’s maritime deal with Serraj illegal, an accusation Ankara has denied.
    The senior Turkish official said potential joint hydrocarbon exploration would be discussed with Serraj on Thursday, but that establishing a ceasefire was the priority.
    Greece says Ankara’s maritime deal infringes on Crete’s continental shelf.    Turkey, which has also been criticised by Israel and the European Union, says the deal abides by international law.
    Turkey has said it could begin exploration and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean under the GNA deal within three or four months.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; Editing by Giles Elgood and Timothy Heritage)

6/4/2020 Jordan to reopen hotels, cafes in further easing of COVID-19 lockdown by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows an empty Jordan street after the government announced a comprehensive three-day ban, amid
concerns over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Amman, Jordan May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed/File Photo
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan said on Thursday it would reopen hotels and cafes, allow sporting events without spectators and shorten a night curfew as of Saturday, further easing its coronavirus lockdown that has hit the aid-dependent economy.
    But Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz told reporters that while Jordan had now returned to near normality, it would now toughen enforcement of social distancing to ensure there was no risk of a resurgence of infections.
    Jordan has withstood the COVID-19 pandemic better than most regional neighbours after taking early steps in mid-March to restrict the mobility of its 10 million people, sealing its borders, imposing a state of emergency and a night curfew.
    The government in recent weeks relaxed some measures that had throttled the economy, reopening most businesses and factories to avert mass layoffs and bankruptcies.    The economy was already struggling with sluggish growth before the crisis.
    Officials said the latest loosening of lockdown measures was prompted by a sharp drop in new infections to less than 10 a day over the past week.    There have been 757 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 lung disease and just 9 deaths during the outbreak.
    Razzaz said the economy was still reeling from the impact, estimating a contraction of at least 3% compared to the International Monetary Fund’s 2.1% growth forecast before the health crisis.    It is Jordan’s first contraction since 1990.
    The closure of firms and disruption of tourism, a critical source of foreign currency, have choked the economy while layoffs by troubled companies are expected to erode middle-class living standards and deepen poverty among low income groups.
    The government, which had earlier announced it would reopen mosques on Friday, said the night curfew would be shortened from Saturday to begin at midnight rather than 7 p.m., and day-long curfews in place every Friday were being scrapped.
    But cinemas, public parks, universities, schools and nurseries will remain closed and any activity involving close social mingling, including weddings, banned, officials said.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/4/2020 Lebanon aims to unify financial loss figures next week
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's President Michel Aoun attends the cabinet meeting at the presidential
palace in Baabda, Lebanon January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon will agree next week on unified figures for losses in its financial system, the presidency said, seeking to reconcile different approaches taken by the government and central bank that have complicated IMF negotiations.
    The U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, said last week the discrepancy between the government and central bank figures, along with other factors, “only weaken” the country’s position in the IMF talks which began last month.
    Lebanon is grappling with a financial crisis seen as the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    After a meeting grouping the president, prime minister, finance minister and central bank governor, the presidency said an agreement was reached on the “necessity of unifying the numbers according to one approach.”
    “A meeting will be held on Monday to decide on the numbers in order to facilitate the negotiations” with the IMF.
    A parliamentary sub-committee which has been seeking to help resolve the issue will hold closed-door meetings with the central bank and government in the next few days to narrow the gap between the figures by Monday, according to Ibrahim Kanaan, a senior MP who chairs the panel.
    A majority of parliamentary blocs backed an approach that deals with the losses gradually rather than in one shot, added Kanaan, who heads parliament’s budget and finance committee.
    “It’s important to get parliament on board as constitutionally any deal with the IMF should be validated by parliament,” he told Reuters.
    A government economic recovery plan sets out holes in the financial system including $83 billion of projected losses in the banking system.    The banking association, which rejected the government plan, subsequently has developed its own proposals.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Heinrich)

6/6/2020 Egypt declares initiative to end civil war in Libya by OAN Newsroom
FILE – on this Nov. 19, 2019, file photo, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi speaks at the “G20 Investment Summit – German Business
and the CwA Countries 2019” on the sidelines of a Compact with Africa (CwA) in Berlin, Germany. (John MacDougall/Pool via AP, File)
    The commander of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces has accepted an offer from Egypt’s president to help end the civil war after facing several defeats.    On Saturday, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi proposed his plan, which included a ceasefire starting on Monday.
    El-Sissi called for all foreign troops to pull out of Libya and the dismantlement of militia armies.
    According to Egypt’s president, the goal is for war-torn Libya to hold elections and form a presidential council.
    “This initiative also aims to guarantee fair representation for all three Libyan regions in a presidential council, elected by the Libyan people under the supervision of the United Nations, to rule Libya for the first time in the country’s history,” stated Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
    The president has asked the United Nations to invite Libya’s rivaling groups for talks.
    It remains unclear if the Government of National Accord’s armies are planning to comply with the upcoming ceasefire.

6/6/2020 Tens of thousands in Mali protest, demanding President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta resign by OAN Newsroom
Demonstrators hold a placard in French reading “This regime is a coronavirus for Mali” as
they protest in the capital Bamako, Mali Friday, June 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)
    Demonstrators in Mali have been protesting government officials and calling for change, as many are fed up with the current regime.    Thousands of protesters gathered in the country’s capital on Friday to demand the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.
    Protesters have accused the president of poor leadership during the coronavirus pandemic and condemned his handling of the numerous security threats facing the north.
    The country has dealt with terrorism since 2012, when jihadist fighters took control of Mali’s northern desert.
Demonstrators hold a placard reading “The misfortune of the Malians. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)
    “The people of Mali, diverse and together, have come out to say to a regime that has broken down, …a regime that is behind at every level: the Malian is suffering,” stated one protester.    “It is true that the whole world is suffering, but the Malian is suffering more than anyone.”
    Aid from the French military has helped the country reclaim some of its northern section, but the region is still under threat from groups linked to Al-Qaeda.
    The president has vowed to tackle the security crisis if reelected.

6/6/2020 Israeli protesters denounce prime minister’s annexation plan by OAN Newsroom
A man holds Israeli flag during a rally against Israel plans to annex parts of the West Bank,
in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, June 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
    Citizens of Israel have criticized the prime minister’s annexation plan.    On Saturday, thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to denounce his plan to extend sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.
    The region is currently occupied by millions of Palestinians, who want the land to become an independent state.
    Protesters were seen gathering under a banner stating “No to Annexation,” while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
    “So, we are here to protest the idea of the annexation that does not serve Israelis.    (It) does not serve Palestinians, blocks the option for a two state solution, blocks any option for decent lives for Palestinians and is actually a fiction that serves Trump, serves Bibi (Netanyahu), does not serve people.    This is why we are here.” – Noga Daganbuzaglo, Director of an Israeli think tank
People chant during a rally against Israel plans to annex parts of the West Bank,
in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, June 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
    According to reports, nearly half of the country supports the prime minister’s decision.
[Netanyahu is attempting to annex the area that is in the map of the Trump/Kushner peace plan so the Palestinians time is running out to get with the program.].

6/8/2020 Iraq requesting rules on output cuts, agrees to OPEC+ deal by OAN Newsroom
The OPEC logo is pictured in Algiers, Algeria. (REUTERS Photo/Ramzi Boudina)
    The Iraqi government is requesting that OPEC and Russia establish clear rules on future cuts to oil output.    On Sunday, Iraqi Finance Minister Ali Allawi confirmed his country is committed to reducing oil production in line with the latest OPEC+ agreement.
    However, Baghdad is asking for burden sharing quotas on future cuts to make it clear how much output should be cut by each nation.
    In recent days, OPEC and Russia agreed to remove 10 percent of oil supply from the market to support oil prices at $50 per-barrel through July.    However, Iraq said it’s not clear if the sides will honor the deal.
    “Iraq has decided to abide by the OPEC+ oil production cut deal, it is a good and fast decision and we are abiding by it until the end of its period,” stated Minister Allawi.    “At the same time this doesn’t mean that we won’t submit proposals and ideas through which we will try to convince other OPEC members.”
    Iraq’s statement came after OPEC+ accused the country and Nigeria of exceeding previous output quotas and demanded deeper cuts in July as well as September.

6/9/2020 Sudan committee seizes Bashir’s bank account, closes FX bureaus
FILE PHOTO - Sudan's former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir sits inside a cage during the hearing of the verdict that
convicted him of corruption charges in a court in Khartoum, Sudan, December 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – A Sudanese anti-corruption committee said on Tuesday it had confiscated a bank account belonging to ousted President Omar al-Bashir and closed five foreign exchange bureaus used to fund his regime.
    The Empowerment Removal Committee has been charged by the attorney general with dismantling the system built by Bashir after his ouster in April last year.
    It oversees investigations into crimes involving public funds and corruption by the former president and members of his extended family and old regime.
    The committee seized a bank account of Bashir through which every month millions of U.S. dollars were channelled, it told a news conference. It also fired dozens of civil servants belonging to the old regime.
    Mohamed al-Hassan al-Amin, a lawyer for Bashir, said he was unaware of details of the alleged bank account and transactions.    He warned against a “political justice” against Bashir.
    A Sudanese court handed Bashir a first, two-year sentence in December on corruption charges.    He also faces trials and investigations over the killing of protesters and his role in the 1989 coup that brought him to power.
(Reporting by Khaled Abdelaziz and Nafisa Eltahir; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Tom Brown)

6/9/2020 Palestinian PM says not informed of new UAE aid flight via Israel by Ali Sawafta and Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: A cargo plane operated by Etihad Airways offloads aid related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for
Palestinians, at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel May 19, 2020. Israel Airports Authority office/Handout via REUTERS
    RAMALLAH, West Bank/DUBAI (Reuters) – Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday he was unaware that a plane from the United Arab Emirates was to fly to Israel carrying medical aid for the Palestinians.
    His remarks, after the flight was announced by Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, cast doubt over whether the Palestinians – at odds with Israel over occupied land they seek for a state – would accept the supplies.
    The Palestinian Authority is sensitive about attempts to direct aid or assistance to areas under its limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank without its knowledge and coordination.
    The Palestinians, who have no airports and typically receive aid via Jordan, Egypt or Israel, rejected a similar shipment of medical supplies to combat the coronavirus on May 19, saying it had not been coordinated with them.
    “If any country, whether Arab or European or international country wants to help us, we welcome that.    We don’t say no – as long as it is not conditional and as long as it is fully coordinated with us,” Shtayyeh told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
    The aid was coordinated through the United Nations, which was handling the logistics, the UAE foreign ministry said.
    “The UAE’s only concern is to support the Palestinian people through this challenging period, in line with its historic support,” it said.
    State-owned Etihad also operated the May 19 flight, the first known flight by a UAE airline to Israel.
    Etihad said on Tuesday it would operate a second flight to Israel carrying medical aid on a cargo-only service from Abu Dhabi.     Israel’s foreign ministry said the Etihad flight landed at Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening.     Aid would be transferred to Gaza and the West Bank by the UN and a unit of Israel’s defence ministry, it said.
    Israel has no diplomatic relations with the Gulf Arab countries and there are no commercial flights between them.    But shared concerns over Iran’s regional influence have led to a discreet thaw in ties.
    The Palestinians have warned against Arab normalisation with Israel, which has pledged to annex the West Bank’s Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley.    Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Writing by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Timothy Heritage)

6/9/2020 Tanzanian opposition leader attacked by unidentified people
FILE PHOTO: Freeman Mbowe (C), chairman of Chadema, Tanzanian main opposition party arrives at
Kisutu Magistrate Court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Emmanuel Herman
    DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – Tanzania’s main opposition leader Freeman Mbowe was attacked by unidentified people as he entered his home early on Tuesday, his party said, the latest misfortune to befall the opposition ahead of a general election in October.
    President John Magufuli, nicknamed “the Bulldozer,” swept to power in 2015 promising an end to corruption.    But he has been accused of curbing human rights including limiting freedom of expression and cracking down on leading opposition figures.
    Mbowe, the leader of the opposition in parliament and chairman of the CHADEMA party, was set upon by the assailants as he was returning home just after midnight on Monday, party officials said.
    “Unknown people surrounded him and assaulted him before he started taking the stairs.    Though these people had carried firearms, they didn’t use them,” said CHADEMA’s Secretary General, John Mnyika.
    There were signs the assault was politically motivated, he said, because the perpetrators had mockingly asked Mbowe whether he would be able to carry on his campaign after the assault.
    Police commander in the administrative capital Dodoma, Giles Muroto, told a news conference they were investigating the incident but warned against politicising it.
    “We are investigating this incident and we won’t leave anything to ensure we get the truth,” he added.
    “This incident is like others…it should not be misused, it should not be used for political gains or for anything else to get popularity.”
    Mbowe, who along with other opposition lawmakers was found guilty of sedition in March, was rushed to a hospital in Dodoma, where he was receiving treatment, Mnyika said, without giving more details.
    Tanzania’s ruling CCM party, and its predecessor TANU, have governed since independence from Britain in 1961.
    Mbowe, who unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in a 2005 election, has not declared whether he will be a candidate in the October polls.
    His deputy in CHADEMA, Tundu Lissu, has offered himself as a candidate in the presidential election.    Lissu has been living in exile in Europe after he narrowly escaped assassination by unknown gunmen in Dodoma, back in September 2017.
(This story was refiled with name of police commander in 6th paragraph.)
(Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Peter Graff, William Maclean)

6/9/2020 With healthcare in focus, Cyprus reopens for visitors by Michele Kambas
A visitor form Israel walks past a thermal camera at Larnaca International Airport, after Cyprus opened up its airports following a nationwide
lockdown amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Larnaca, Cyprus June 9, 2020. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
    LARNACA, Cyprus (Reuters) – Cyprus reopened its airports on Tuesday after almost three months of lockdown, hoping its record in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and a pledge of free medical treatment for any COVID-19 cases will lure tourists back to its beaches.
    Heavily reliant on tourism, Cyprus announced a lockdown soon after its first cases on March 9.    By Monday, it had recorded 970 cases and just 18 deaths, and its daily count of new infections was down to a handful.
    Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos welcomed 22 arrivals from Israel at Larnaka Airport, saying Cyprus was in effect free of the virus.
    “I miss Cyprus, Cyprus is a brother of Israel, it’s very nice, very quiet,” said Israeli visitor Joseph Amkri, 50.
    Savvas Perdios, the deputy tourism minister, said: “Our target is to reach 30% of where we were last year.”
    The white sands of Ayia Napa’s Nissi Beach are normally packed with sunseekers, but were empty on Tuesday.    “It’s the first time I’ve seen the beach this empty,” said lifeguard Xenios Charalambous.
    “We’re trying to pull through and hope more people come now that the airports are open.    We’ll be here waiting for them.”
    Perdios said health protocols had been tightened and authorities would cover the medical costs of any visitor who tested positive for COVID-19 while on the island:
    “This is really important to us.    To show people this is a safe destination, with a dependable health system.”
    Initially, arrivals will be restricted to people who have tested COVID-19 free from a few countries including Germany, Israel and Greece.    The requirement will be dropped for that group on June 20.
    Cyprus says decisions about who to let in are based on the epidemiological data.    Vistors from Russia and Britain, which are Cyprus’s main markets, are not yet included, though Perdios said he expected that to happen in mid-July.
(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

6/9/2020 Israel’s NSO showcases drone tech, pushes to counter rights abuse allegations by Dan Williams
A target drone is seen mid-flight during a demonstration for Reuters of Israel's NSO Group's product, Eclipse, a system that
commandeers and force-lands intruding drones, at Bloomfield Stadium, in Tel Aviv, Israel June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel’s NSO Group showcased a new anti-drone defence on Monday, giving the public a rare look at its technology as it seeks to counter allegations that another of its products has aided privacy breaches and political surveillance.
    The new system, Eclipse, commandeers intruding drones and, according to NSO, costs “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to provide stadium-sized protection.    More than 10 countries have bought it to safeguard sites like energy facilities, NSO said.
    The promotion follows controversy for the company around Pegasus, spyware that has drawn a lawsuit by WhatsApp alleging it helped government spies hack the phones of roughly 1,400 users including journalists and dissidents.     Pegasus has been linked to political surveillance in Mexico, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, according to the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which researches digital surveillance
    NSO denies wrongdoing and says it sells only to government agencies, subject to oversight by Israel’s Defence Ministry.
    On Monday, Chief Executive Shalev Hulio also sought to highlight a heightened transparency drive.
    NSO has declined deals worth around $500 million on ethical grounds and, as of next year, will issue annual compliance reports, Hulio told Reuters at an empty soccer stadium where Eclipse, in a test-run, intercepted a drone within seconds.
    Like other security exporters, NSO maintains secrecy around its client list and spyware, citing a reluctance to tip off those being tracked.    This makes independent verification of its business practices difficult.     “The beauty of this product, unlike other products that we developed, is this is something we can demonstrate,” Hulio said of Eclipse.
    In November, NSO set up a compliance department which it says brings the company into line with U.N. “guiding principles” on safeguarding against human-rights abuses.
    “We always want to be more transparent,” Hulio said.
    Hulio said NSO had about a dozen products that saved lives.    He is also promoting Fleming, an analytics system aimed at mapping the spread of the novel coronavirus.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Pravin Char)

6/9/2020 Explainer: Untangling the conflict in Libya
FILE PHOTO: Fighters loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government celebrate after
regaining control over the city, in Tripoli, Libya, June 4, 2020. REUTERS/STAFF
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Libya’s conflict has taken a new twist after an attempt by
eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar to seize the capital, Tripoli, crumbled rapidly in recent weeks.
    Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) has been battling forces aligned with the Tripoli-based, internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).    Both sides are built from local armed factions, whose shifting loyalties have at times helped determine the course of the conflict.
    Both have also depended heavily on foreign allies pursuing strategic and political agendas in Libya.    Turkey stepped up its military support for the GNA in January, while Haftar has long enjoyed backing from countries including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and Jordan.
    Libya’s fault lines began to surface nine years ago as local groups took different positions in the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.
    An attempted democratic transition following his overthrow slid out of control as armed groups established local power bases and coalesced around rival political factions.
    After a battle for Tripoli in 2014, one faction moved east where it set up a parallel government and branches of key institutions.    It recognised Haftar as military chief as he began a long campaign against Islamist groups and other opponents in Benghazi.
    The GNA emerged from a December 2015, U.N.-backed agreement that gave the international community a partner in a country where Islamic State was ascendant and migrant smuggling into Europe had surged.    But eastern factions spurned the deal.
    Instead, Haftar consolidated control of the east and swept through the south in early 2019 before launching his offensive on Tripoli in April last year.
    Current positions look very similar to those two years ago, with a dividing line on the northern shore at Sirte, roughly the midpoint of Libya’s Mediterranean coastline.
    The GNA and affiliated groups control Libya’s densely populated northwest and the LNA holds the east.
    Allegiances in the south are more tenuous.
    Nearly 400,000 Libyans have been displaced over the past nine years, around half of them since the Tripoli offensive began.    Thousands more have died.
    The conflict has cost the country tens of billions of dollars in lost oil revenue, caused extensive damage to infrastructure and homes, and led to rapid inflation and frequent power and water cuts.
    A weakened LNA may seek a deal.    As Haftar’s forces retreated last week the United Nations resumed indirect military talks to broker a ceasefire, and Egypt launched an initiative calling for a political solution.
    The U.N. talks are part of a broader process aimed at resolving issues including the distribution of oil revenue, the make-up of a unity government and the future status of armed groups.
    But previous efforts to end the conflict have stalled, with lulls used to regroup and rearm before fighting resumes.
    GNA hawks have talked of pushing eastwards now they have momentum, while some in the east, where Haftar’s future has been thrown into doubt by his military setbacks, have raised the prospect of partition.
    OPEC member Libya holds Africa’s largest oil reserves, and produced 1.6 million barrels per day before 2011.    Output has fluctuated sharply since, as factions blockaded facilities to press their demands and infrastructure was damaged.
    Production climbed to around one million barrels from late 2016, before plunging to less than 100,000 bpd as the LNA’s allies closed ports and pipelines in January.
    That blockade has been partially lifted as GNA forces have advanced, with the southwestern fields of Sharara and El Feel reopening.
. (Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Giles Elgood)

6/9/2020 Palestinian PM: Israel must face consequences over planned West Bank annexations by Rami Ayyub and Ali Sawafta
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh addresses journalists during a meeting with members of the Foreign
Press Association in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 9, 2020. Abbas Momani/Pool via REUTERS
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israel must face consequences if it annexes land in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday, pointing to possible European sanctions.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to extend sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, territory Israel took in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians seek for a state.
    Netanyahu’s new government is due to begin discussing the de facto annexation on July 1, but it is unclear whether Israel’s main ally, the United States, would greenlight the step.
    The Palestinians have rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace blueprint, announced in January, under which most of the settlements Israel built would be incorporated into “contiguous Israeli territory.”
    At a news conference, Shtayyeh said annexation would kill any possibility of peace with Israel and erode “the Palestinian, regional and international consensus” on a two-state solution.
    He said Israel must now “feel the heat of international pressure.”
    European states, Shtayyeh said, were debating “sanctions on Israel and freezing association agreements, as well as cancelling some research programmes” and “recognising Palestine” as a state in the West Bank and Gaza.
    Most countries view Israel’s settlements on occupied land as illegal.    Israel disputes this.    Palestinians now exercise limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank while Palestinian Islamist group Hamas rules tiny Gaza.
    But Shtayyeh said the 27-nation European Union’s consensus decision-making was “a bit complicated,” and one or two countries were not in line with others on the issue.
    An EU spokesman in Jerusalem declined comment on Shtayyeh’s remarks but pointed to an earlier statement from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell which said that annexation, “if implemented, could not pass unchallenged.”
    Shtayyeh said the Palestinians submitted a four-and-a-half page counter-proposal to Trump’s plan to the Quartet of Middle East mediators – the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations.
    The proposal included a demilitarised Palestinian state with “minor border modification wherever it is needed” and exchanges of land equal “in size and volume and in value – one to one,” Shtayyeh added
    The Palestinians have declared agreements with Israel void in protest against annexation.    Shtayyeh said his government’s rejection of taxes collected by Israel on its behalf meant salaries would not be paid to some 130,000 public workers.
(This story corrects to show that PM did provide some details of Palestinians’ counter-proposal to Trump plan.)
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

6/9/2020 Bahrain releases leading rights activist Nabeel Rajab: lawyer by Aziz El Yaakoubi
Bahraini prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab and his daughter pose for a photo, after he was
released, at his house in Budaiya in Manama, Bahrain June 9, 2020. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain has released leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab after a court agreed to pass an alternative sentence to the jail term he is currently serving, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
    Rajab, an outspoken critic of the government who played a prominent role in pro-democracy protests in 2011, is serving a five-year sentence over social media posts criticizing Saudi Arabia’s air strikes in Yemen.
    Bahrain introduced new legislation in 2018 allowing its courts to convert jail terms into non-custodial sentences.    Hundreds of prisoners have been released but Rajab is the only major opposition and activist figure that has been freed so far.
    “The court has finally agreed to grant Nabeel Rajab an alternative sentence,” his lawyer Mohamed Al Jishi told Reuters.
    It was not immediately clear what the alternative punishment would be for Rajab but authorities said non-custodial sentences include community service, electronic monitoring and repairing criminal damage.
    Rajab was sentenced in 2018 over posts criticizing Saudi raids in Yemen and accusing authorities of torture.    He was convicted of “spreading false news and rumours in time of war,” “insulting foreign countries” and “insulting publicly the interior ministry,” a court filing by his lawyers has showed.
    In his mid-50s, Rajab has been in jail since 2016 and served another two-year term for torture allegations he made in a news interview.    He also faces a number of other cases.
    Bahrain, led by a Sunni Muslim royal family, has been clamping down on dissent since 2011 when it quashed Arab Spring-like protests, led mainly by Shi’ites, with Saudi help.
    Home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, the Gulf island kingdom prosecuted and revoked the citizenship of hundreds of people in mass trials and banned leading opposition groups.    Most of the main Shi’ite opposition figures and human rights activists are imprisoned or have fled the country.
    Human rights groups have also criticized Bahrain over prison conditions including overcrowding and lack of medical care, especially since a coronavirus outbreak in Bahrain.
    “Rajab’s release must be extended to all political leaders and opposition activists … many of whom are elderly and suffer chronic preexisting health conditions putting them at great risk from COVID-19,” said Husain Abdulla, Director at Washington-based Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.
    The government denies repressing the opposition and says it is protecting national security from groups it calls terrorists backed by Iran.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Alex Richardson, William Maclean)

6/9/2020 Erdogan says will not let Syria’s Idlib become conflict zone again
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) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the Syrian government was increasing provocations in northwest Syria’s Idlib region and that Turkey would not allow it to become a conflict zone again.
    On Monday jets bombed several villages in the rebel-held region in the first such air strikes since a Turkish-Russian ceasefire deal over three months ago that halted major fighting.    Erdogan was speaking after a cabinet meeting.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Daren Butler)

6/9/2020 Turkey relaxes coronavirus restrictions further, vows to boost economy
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks walk at the spice market, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, as it reopens after weeks of the
close doors amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday Turkey was largely lifting stay-at-home orders for people aged over 65 and for children as part of a further easing of restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
    Turkey had already lifted restrictions on intercity travel and allowed restaurants, cafes, parks and sports facilities to reopen on June 1 after a sharp slowdown in the number of new cases and fatalities due to COVID-19, the lung disease caused by the virus.
    In a televised statement following a cabinet meeting, Erdogan also said his government would provide incentives to boost employment and would support industry to maintain export- and production-oriented growth to revive the economy.
    “We will support employment for young people under 25 and enable them to get (work) experience,” he said, adding that “normalisation support” would be provided to employers.
    The Turkish economy is expected to tip into recession as a result of the government’s containment measures, but Erdogan has said there will be a quick recovery.
    He said that a stay-at-home order for those aged under 18, in place for two months, was lifted on condition that young children were accompanied by parents, while over-65s were to be allowed out between the hours of 10 am and 8 pm.
    Cinemas, theatres and wedding halls will open from July 1, while restaurants and cafes will be able to remain open until midnight, two hours later than previously allowed, he added.
    Health Ministry data showed 993 new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed on Tuesday, bringing the total number to more than 172,000, with more than 4,700 deaths.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Daren Butler and Gareth Jones)

6/10/2020 Tel Aviv has spring in its step again, but businesses face new costs by Steven Scheer
Customers sit at a coffee shop as some businesses reopened at the end of last month under a host of new rules, following weeks of shutdown amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, in Tel Aviv, Israel June 7, 2020. Picture taken June 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel’s main coastal city has returned to work – and play – but the coronavirus pandemic has brought new challenges that will weigh heavily on Tel Aviv’s restaurants, bars and other businesses emerging from lockdown.
    Although Israel has escaped the pandemic relatively lightly so far, with 298 deaths and 18,000 cases, its tourist-reliant economy took a big hit after going into lockdown in mid-March, contracting an annual 7.1% in the first quarter.
    More than 300,000 people have returned to work since Israel began lifting restrictions last month, but airports are still closed to foreign visitors.
    And Tel Aviv – Israel’s commercial and entertainment capital – is experiencing the kind of problems that businesses the world over are having to deal with.
    Some sectors have not yet re-emerged from lockdown and others are adapting to new rules and red tape, including insisting face masks be worn, providing hand sanitizer and thermometers and spacing tables further apart in restaurants.
    “Regular business flow is still not back to normal because there are still people who are scared,” said Ben Rachmani, of the Four Sixteen vegan restaurant/bar.
    Evening trade was “very solid” but lunchtime “messed up” because many former customers are still working from home.
    Rachmani said he had to re-open because he would only have been able to survive a few months of delivering takeaways and not paying rent.
    “If it had gone on until September or October, I would have been done,” he said.
    Some said that the May 27 re-opening had come too soon.    On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country would stop easing restrictions after a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.
    He urged the public to keep social distancing and wear face masks – guidelines that some Israelis, including in Tel Aviv, had been ignoring as they sought to return to normality.
    Others have remained cautious.
    In the Dizengoff Street shopping area, Avi Amir said his hairdressing store lost 40% of its business because older clients were staying home, and fewer customers can be in the store at once.
    In the last week, Amir said, he received four fines totalling $1,100 from municipal inspectors who said staff were not wearing plastic face shields.
    However, for one woman entrepreneur, the coronavirus crisis has forced her to try something new.    After losing her hotel job, Victoria Janitsky took advantage of lower rents in a prime location to open a nail salon.
    “To open a new business is a hard thing, so it’s just another hard procedure,” she said.
(Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

6/11/2020 Turkish court jails U.S. consulate worker on terrorism charges by Daren Butler and Ali Kucukgocmen
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Consulate is pictured in Istanbul, Turkey, October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish court jailed a local employee of a U.S. consulate for nearly nine years on Thursday for aiding a terrorist organisation, a ruling the United States described as deeply disappointing and based on no credible evidence.
    Metin Topuz’s trial has been a major source of tension between the two NATO allies, which are also at odds over Ankara’s purchase of Russian missile defence systems and U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria.
    Topuz, a translator for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at the consulate in Istanbul, was sentenced to eight years and nine months for aiding a network Turkey blames for a 2016 coup attempt, state-owned Anadolu agency said.
    He has already been in jail for 2-1/2 years while on trial, accused initially of espionage and trying to overthrow the government.     A prosecutor said in March he should be acquitted on those charges and instead face up to 15 years in prison for membership of a terrorist organisation.
    Two lawyers for Topuz were not immediately available for comment.
    The U.S. embassy said it was “deeply disappointed” by the conviction.    U.S. officials saw no credible evidence to support the conviction and they hoped it would be swiftly overturned, it said.
    “The allegations made about Mr. Topuz’s official duties misrepresent both the scope and nature of the important work undertaken by our local staff on behalf of the U.S. government and in the promotion of our bilateral relationship,” it said.
    Turkey’s own embassy in Washington said the U.S. diplomatic mission should respect the court’s judgement.    The U.S. embassy’s statement on the case was “not in conformity with established rules and practices governing the roles and responsibilities of foreign diplomatic missions,” it said on Twitter.
    Following Topuz’s initial detention in 2017, the two countries mutually suspended visa services.
    In a 78-page indictment that included telephone calls, text messages and CCTV images, Topuz was accused of links to officials who led a 2013 corruption investigation and were later found to be members of the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for the abortive 2016 coup.
    Topuz said during the trial that he contacted the individuals, who at the time held high-ranking positions in the police and judiciary, as part of his job.
    Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.
    The lira declined to more than 6.85 against the dollar after Thursday’s ruling, from around 6.8.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans, Peter Graff and Gareth Jones)

6/11/2020 Lebanese protesters shut down roadways with fires as currency collapses
Demonstrators ride on motorbikes during a protest against fall in Lebanese pound currency and
mounting economic hardship, in Beirut, Lebanon June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese cut roadways with burning tyres and rubbish bins across Beirut and other cities on Thursday in renewed protests sparked by a rapid fall in the pound currency and mounting economic hardship.
    The pound slid to about 5,000 to the dollar on Thursday and has lost 70% of its value since October, when Lebanon descended into a financial crisis seen as the biggest threat to stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    From the northern city of Tripoli to the southern city of Sidon, Lebanese chanted against the political elite and set fire to major roadways across the country in the most widespread unrest since a coronavirus lockdown imposed in mid-March.
    “We can’t afford to eat or pay rent or anything like that, so we will stay here until the dollar rate goes down and we get all our demands,” said Manal, a protester in central Beirut.
    Protesters in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-biggest city, threw petrol bombs at a central bank building, setting it ablaze and prompting security forces to fire tear gas, according to witnesses.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for an emergency Cabinet meeting to be held on Friday to discuss the monetary situation, a statement from his office said.
    The crisis, rooted in decades of corruption and waste, has brought soaring food prices and unemployment and capital controls that have severed Lebanese from their hard currency savings.
    The unrest comes as Beirut holds talks with the International Monetary Fund for a reform programme it hopes will secure billions of dollars in financing and put its economy back on track.
(Reporting by Issam Abdallah and Imad Creidi in Beirut; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

6/11/2020 Turkey restarts international flights amid pandemic by OAN Newsroom
A Turkish Airlines official checks a passenger’s ticket before a London flight from Sabiha Gokcen Airport, in Istanbul, Thursday, June 11, 2020.
Turkey has re-started international flights for the first time since planes were grounded on March 28. (Can Erok/DHA via AP)
    Turkey is resuming international flights after nearly three months of being grounded due to the coronavirus pandemic.
    The first departure took place early Thursday from Istanbul to London on a subsidiary of Turkish Airlines.    Other initial itineraries include Amsterdam and Berlin, with only legal residents of the destination countries permitted on the flights.
    While airports are employing enhanced safety precautions such as temperature checks, some travelers remain wary of taking the journey.
    “It all feels very different.    I feel like I don’t know what to do and there are new rules for people who arrive in the U.K., which have been implemented a couple of days ago and I have to self isolate which isn’t a problem for me.    I already live on my own, but I just don’t know what to expect.    I am really anxious.” — Amal Hallak, resident of London
    Turkey is expected to gradually expand the number of international flights to 40 countries over the coming days.

6/11/2020 Egypt raids activist’s family after U.S. suit against former PM: lawyers
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi shout anti-army slogans
during a protest in Cairo July 9, 2013. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian security forces raided the homes of two uncles of a prominent activist who recently filed a torture lawsuit in the United States against a former prime minister, lawyers representing the activist said.
    Egypt’s state press centre, which handles relations with foreign media, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Mohamed Soltan, who was arrested in August 2013 and accused of crimes including spreading false information, filed a lawsuit against ex-Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia on June 1.
    The complaint alleges Beblawi conspired to target Soltan because of his high profile role assisting international media covering political demonstrations in Egypt, and that he “directed and monitored (Soltan’s) illegal mistreatment.”
    The lawsuit alleges that Soltan, who was released in 2015 and now works as a human rights advocate in Virginia, was tortured to the point of near death during 22 months of imprisonment.    It seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
    Beblawi, prime minister from 2013-14, resides in the United States where he sits on the board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
    Beblawi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    The court docket did not list any legal representation for Beblawi.
    U.S. law firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss said that about 20 officers from Egypt’s National Security Agency raided and ransacked Soltan’s uncles’ homes in Berket el Sabaa city on Monday night, holding them and their families at gunpoint.
    They demanded and obtained passwords and security codes to access their digital devices, emails and social media accounts, the firm said in a statement.
    “This is a clear attempt at interfering in a U.S. legal proceeding through retaliation, intimidation and harassment,” lawyer Eric Lewis said in the statement.
    Soltan, an Egyptian-American rights activist, was arrested in Egypt weeks after Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi was deposed.
    Soltan had worked as an interpreter and assistant to Western media in Cairo’s Rabaa Square, where a sit-in to protest Mursi’s ouster was violently dispersed, resulting in hundreds of deaths.    His father is a senior Brotherhood figure who remains in prison in Egypt.
    “The security raids at the homes of his relatives in Egypt follows a clear pattern of targeting relatives of dissidents abroad,” said Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch, which also documented the raids.
(Editing by Daniel Wallis)

6/11/2020 Burundi’s constitutional court to decide interim leader after president’s death
FILE PHOTO: The Burundian national flag flies at half mast outside the State House building following the death of
Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza, in Bujumbura, Burundi June 10, 2020. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana/File Photo
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Burundi’s constitutional court will decide who takes over as interim leader following the sudden death this week of President Pierre Nkurunziza, the government said in a statement on Thursday.
    According to the constitution the speaker of the House is supposed to take over, but there has been uncertainty as to who is in charge.    The government announced on Tuesday that Nkurunziza, 55, had died of a heart attack although it was not clear which day he died.
    Nkurunziza had been due to hand over power in August to President-elect Evariste Ndayishimiye, who successfully stood for the ruling party in elections last month.
    The cabinet decided at an extraordinary cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the constitutional court should guide the country and “show modalities of filling the post,” the government statement said.
    Burundi watchers have been keen to see whether the country’s powerful cabal of army generals and security chiefs who propped up Nkurunziza during his 15-year rule remain united over the succession.
    Nkurunziza was a former rebel leader whose rule was marked by widespread brutality and repression against his opponents.    The economy is also in tatters after donors, whose aid was a key source of government revenue, shunned it amid the human rights violations.
    Authorities have not yet announced a date for Nkurunziza’s burial.
(Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Frances Kerry)

6/11/2020 Special Report: Inside the proxy battle that keeps an Iraqi city on its knees by John Davison
A view shows the destroyed houses in the old city of Mosul, Iraq, June 3, 2020. Picture
taken June 3, 2020. REUTERS/Abdullah Rashid To match Special Report IRAQ-IRAN/MOSUL
    MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – Three years ago, the world rejoiced when Iraqi forces backed by the United States and Iran liberated this ancient city from the brutal rule of Islamic State.    The people of Mosul hoped to rebuild their shattered lives.
    Today, a different battle plays out.
    Taking place largely behind the scenes, from legislative halls that overlook the city’s bombed-out streets to hotel meeting rooms in Baghdad, it is a power struggle among parties, politicians and militiamen.    Some are backed by Iran.    Others favour the United States.
    At stake: political control of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is capital – a region rich in natural resources and a link in a supply route from Tehran to the Mediterranean.    The route serves Iran-backed militias, Washington’s fiercest enemy here since the defeat of Islamic State.
    Iran’s allies had been winning.    They installed a governor favoured by Tehran a year ago.    But then anti-government protests, U.S. sanctions and the assassination of Iran’s military mastermind Qassem Soleimani challenged Iranian influence.    The pro-Western camp replaced the Nineveh governor with a longtime U.S. ally.
    The contest mirrors a wider struggle over the future of Iraq itself.
    Speaking to Reuters over the span of a year, around 20 Iraqi officials involved in the political tussle over Nineveh described how Iran and its allies developed the networks to influence local government, how pro-Western officials tried to hit back, and how this tug of war has crippled Mosul’s recovery. If any side prevails, many of these insiders believe, it will ultimately be the side aligned with Iran.    Iran helps its allies with money, political backing and sticks with them, explained Nineveh councilor Ali Khdeir.    The United States, in contrast, “has left no real mark on Iraq.”
    Mosul, meanwhile, lies largely in ruins.    Traffic snarls across battered bridges and disabled war victims sell tissues, cigarettes and tea at junctions – the kind of misery that Iraqi officials fear is the perfect breeding ground for Islamic State to reemerge.
    Two changes of governor in 2019 meant contracts for projects worth at least $200 million were not awarded by the local government last year.    They included building a new emergency hospital, procuring vehicles to clear rubble from bombed-out homes and bolstering the fleet for Mosul’s under-equipped first-responder teams, according to officials and a local government document seen by Reuters.
    A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State accused Iran of working “overtime to dominate every aspect of Iraq’s political and economic life.”    The United States is committed to helping Iraq build its economic prospects and improve stability and security, said the spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus.
    A spokesperson for Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York, Alireza Miryousefi, insisted: “Iran does not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs.”
    The Iraqi government didn’t respond to detailed questions for this article.    Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told Reuters in response to a question about Mosul that corruption and political infighting hampered the city’s recovery, but denied it was part of a proxy contest.
    Rasha Saeed’s young family is one of thousands suffering from the failures of city hall.
    Still mourning the death of their nine-year-old son, killed in a U.S. coalition air strike in 2015, the family returned to their neighbourhood after its liberation from Islamic State.    They found their home had been destroyed by bombs and bulldozed over.    Rasha, her husband Luay Shaker and their three remaining children live in debt and in limbo in a partially-repaired rented flat nearby.     They watch grass grow on the earth where their old house stood.    Residents say Islamic State fighters’ bodies are buried beneath.
    Luay, a manual labourer who ferried supplies before the war to stores in Mosul’s historic Old City markets, cannot work while he recovers from an operation to remove a tumour from behind his ear.    Limited space at the West Mosul medical complex nearby – where a new hospital was meant to go up – means follow-up treatment is sporadic and slow.    “It can be a long wait between appointments because Luay’s doctor can take only three patients on site a week,” Rasha said.
    The medical complex is a cluster of portacabins on a vast bombed-out site that once boasted five fully-equipped hospitals with hundreds of beds.    It currently has around 80 emergency ward beds for a population of more than a million people living in the area, doctors say.    They describe a lack of equipment and medicine, including masks and gloves – a concern especially as cases of COVID-19 rise in Iraq.    A spokesperson for Iraq’s Health Ministry responded that protective equipment is available in all state health institutions.
    Rasha’s temporary home stands alone amid destruction on a hill above the Tigris River, overlooking Mosul.     “We had a modest life before Islamic State, simple dreams to live without violence, for our children to be educated and maybe one day to afford a bigger home.    That is now impossible,” Rasha said.
    The political contest for Nineveh is part of a wider picture across Iraq’s northern Sunni-majority provinces, former strongholds of dictator Saddam Hussein which hold strategic value for Tehran – and where Washington wants to curb Iranian influence.
    The fertile plains of Nineveh flank Syria to the west, where Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have fought alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.    Beyond is Lebanon, home to Shi’ite Iran’s Hezbollah allies.    The provinces of Anbar, bisected by the vast Euphrates River, Salahuddin, home to an important Shi’ite shrine, and Diyala, which borders Iran, form the rest of that mostly Sunni land corridor.    Many of the 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq – a number that is being reduced – have been deployed at bases dotted through three of these provinces and are regularly harassed by rocket attacks that U.S. officials have blamed on Iranian proxies who want U.S. troops to leave.
    Iran firmly established dominance over Baghdad and Iraq’s southern Shi’ite provinces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam.    But the country’s Sunni areas, home also to minority groups of Kurds, Christians, Shi’ite Turkmen and Yazidis, presented more of a challenge.    They became hubs for a Sunni insurgency against U.S. forces in the mid-2000s and strongholds for Islamic State, which made Mosul its capital in 2014.
    After Iran-backed militias helped drive Islamic State from Mosul in 2017, the militias stayed put.    Their flags fly throughout northern Iraq, next to banners and billboards that honour their leaders, including the late Soleimani.
    Twenty local government officials, Baghdad lawmakers and tribal leaders interviewed by Reuters described how Iran then deepened its political influence until it had allies in almost every provincial administration.
    Central to such efforts in Nineveh, these sources said, were two powerful Sunnis – Khamis al-Khanjar, an Anbar businessman turned politician, and Ahmed al-Jabouri, widely known as Abu Mazen, a former governor of Salahuddin province, now sitting in the Iraqi parliament.
    Khanjar was an outspoken opponent of Iran.    He supported Sunni protests against the Iran-backed Baghdad government in 2013 and later accused Iran-allied Shi’ite militias of human rights abuses.    Abu Mazen was once a U.S. ally. He described working closely with U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion.
    In 2018, Khanjar and Abu Mazen unexpectedly joined a bloc of Iran-backed parties and militia leaders in the Iraqi parliament.    Explaining this shift, Khanjar said: “The strongest on the ground can get things done … I go with the bloc that’s (strongest) on the ground.    If that coalition has Iranian links, that’s not on us.”    He denied being an ally of Iran.    Abu Mazen declined to comment for this article.
    Then, in May 2019, Khanjar and Abu Mazen intervened in the selection of Nineveh’s new governor, according to nine sources, including several members of the regional administrative council and relatives of the two men.    A majority of Nineveh’s 39 councilors, tasked with electing the new governor, initially favoured a candidate critical of Iran, these sources said.    But two days before the council was due to vote, Abu Mazen and Khanjar invited nearly two dozen council members to a meeting in a hotel in nearby Erbil, said several people, one of whom attended.
    The council members were promised local government posts or payments of up to $300,000 apiece from the men or their offices if they voted for a different candidate, Mansour al-Mareid, a Sunni favoured by Iran and its allies in Baghdad, these people said.    One council member told Reuters he accepted money and used it to buy a new home.
    Mareid was duly elected with the votes of 28 of the 39 council members.
    Khanjar confirmed he and Abu Mazen met with councilors in Erbil to agree on the governor and negotiate over provincial posts.    He also confirmed he supported Mareid, but denied that votes were bought. “I didn’t pay a single dinar,” he said.
    Mareid, the winning candidate, said he had no knowledge of bribes being given to councilors and he denied any loyalty to Iran, but he added: “Council members can be bought, so it wouldn’t surprise me, and nothing can happen in this country without Iran approving it.”
    The gathering in Erbil wasn’t the only meeting that took place around that time.    Three of the councilors interviewed by Reuters described further meetings and contacts with senior Iraqi paramilitary officials who were trying to win support for Mareid.
    Another Nineveh councilor recounted that he and a colleague were invited to a hotel in Baghdad shortly after the vote to meet a senior Iranian diplomat and an Iraqi militia leader loyal to Iran.    The councilor, who had loudly criticized Mareid’s appointment, said he was offered a post in the Nineveh government if he would drop his opposition to the new governor.    He said he declined the offer.    The Iranian embassy didn’t reply to questions about the meeting.    Reuters couldn’t reach the militia leader.    The Iraqi state paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) that oversees militias didn’t respond.
    Within a few months the pendulum had swung again.
    The United States imposed sanctions on Iran-aligned militia leaders and on their Iraqi Sunni allies – among them Abu Mazen in July and Khanjar in December.
    The U.S. Treasury said it was freezing Abu Mazen’s assets because he had protected “his personal interests by accommodating Iran-backed proxies that operate outside of state control.”    It targeted Khanjar in a round of sanctions against Iran-backed militia leaders, accusing him of bribery and saying he had spent “millions of dollars in payments to Iraqi political figures in order to secure their support.”
    Abu Mazen and Khanjar denied any wrongdoing at the time and condemned the U.S. sanctions as interference in Iraq’s internal affairs.     Abu Mazen felt under pressure as a result of the U.S. move, said a relative and five Nineveh councilors.    The measures helped persuade Abu Mazen, these sources said, to withdraw support for Mareid and back a former military commander and U.S. ally, Najm al-Jabouri [no relation], to replace him as governor.    In November, 23 of the council’s 39 members voted to dismiss Mareid and appoint Jabouri.
    Jabouri’s appointment and the pressure on Iran’s allies across the country from U.S. air strikes and sanctions have given militia groups pause in Mosul, local officials say.    Their military presence has reduced on inner city streets where Shi’ite and militia flags once flew atop mosques and junkyards they controlled.
    Pro-U.S. officials in Mosul hope that the government of Prime Minister Kadhimi, who is accepted by both the United States and Iran, together with fractures among Iran-backed militias following the death of Soleimani, will turn the tide against Tehran’s influence.     But they also complain that Governor Jabouri is mostly hamstrung against Iran’s militia and political allies in Mosul.
    “Jabouri is weak politically,” said Mosul council member Ali Khdeir.    “Because of their power on the ground, he’ll have to deal carefully with the militias at first.”
    Jabouri told Reuters that any governor would face criticism and he defended his record. He conceded that political rivalries were impeding progress in rebuilding the city.    “It makes my work harder,” he said.
    Four local officials said some administrative posts have changed hands and are no longer controlled by allies of Iran-backed militias, but others are still held by officials with links to militia groups.    The militias also have offices in Mosul, these local officials said, through which they win construction and other business contracts, even though such offices were banned by a central government decree last year.    The militia groups did not respond to Reuters questions about their activities.
    Amid this chaos, reconstruction stalls.
    The power vacuum between Mareid and Jabouri just weeks before the end of 2019 prevented contracts being awarded at a crucial time when the annual budget needed to be spent, a senior local administrator and a second official said.
    A document signed by the head of municipalities, Abdul Qadir al-Dakhil, and reviewed by Reuters showed that provincial authorities failed to award contracts worth more than $200 million in Nineveh province in 2019. They included the new emergency hospital, equipment for another nearby hospital, providing additional vehicles for the civil defence rescue services and rehabilitating 13 schools, Dakhil told Reuters.
    Dr Omar Hamudat, who helps run the West Mosul emergency medical complex, worked in Mosul hospitals under international sanctions in the 1990s and under Islamic State’s occupation.    Hamudat said healthcare infrastructure was the worst it had ever been.
    “Once we could carry out 200 emergency operations a day here.    Now, we manage about 15,” he said, speaking in his cramped portacabin office at the complex.
    Nineveh province had hospitals with a total of about 4,000 beds before the arrival of Islamic State.    It has a little over 1,000 now, including in what Hamudat called his “caravans,” a reference to the portacabins.
    Mosul’s civil defence chief, Hossam Khalil, said a provision of emergency vehicles such as fire engines and ambulances, expected in 2019, had not come through.    “Sometimes we have to use our own cars for work,” Khalil said, “but try not to do that for crucial life-saving work, or putting out fires.”
    Residents of Mosul have praised Jabouri’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, where a lockdown has so far avoided a mass outbreak, but some worry he is not up to the task of rebuilding the city.    Many just want a competent governor, regardless of political affiliation.
    “Mareid began getting things done,” said Safwan al-Madany, a 30-year-old activist who has been involved in voluntary aid projects for his city since 2011 and rebuilding work since the fall of Islamic State.
    During Mareid’s six-month tenure, some bridges in the city were fixed.    “He had the contacts, power and connections in Baghdad to make things happen, even if those were paramilitary-linked.    He’s an engineer by trade and understands construction.    Jabouri is a military man. We wish Mareid would come back,” said Madany.
    Across the rest of the Sunni provinces that lie between Nineveh and Baghdad, regional councilors, tribal chiefs and members of Iraq’s parliament say Iran’s efforts to entrench local political allies will likely outlast the U.S. tactics of air strikes and economic sanctions.
    Potential friends of America lament what they see as a lack of U.S. interest or ability to blunt Iran’s influence in the country allied troops invaded 17 years ago.    In February 2019, the head of Salahuddin provincial council, Ahmed al-Krayem, travelled to Washington to drum up U.S. support for his region and help counter Iran.
    “The visit wasn’t fruitful,” said a senior Iraqi lawmaker, a relative of Krayem.
    “Whoever he met didn’t seem interested in his proposals for a bolstered U.S. troop presence and U.S. investment.”
    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which hosted Krayem at a private event during that trip, declined to give details about the gathering. Krayem also declined to comment.
    A Salahuddin official said that by contrast, “the Iranians, including their diplomats at the embassy, reach out to people you’d never expect them to, at a local level.”
    Asked about U.S. engagement in Iraq, Department of State spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said: “We will continue to stand with the Iraqi people in support of their calls for reform and change, and to help them achieve an Iraq that is economically prosperous, a pivotal country in the region, and free of foreign meddling.”
    Other Salahuddin Sunni chieftains have met Shi’ite paramilitary officials to plead over the return of Sunni families displaced by the war with Islamic State and scattered in camps and temporary homes across northern Iraq.    They worry about the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, saying it opens up their regions to the danger of a resurgent Islamic State.
    “A few years ago I would never have dealt with Iran-backed officials,” said Sheikh Khalid al-Nasseri, a senior leader in Saddam Hussein’s clan.    “Now I’ll work with anyone to get services for our people and return families to their homes from miserable camps.”
(Reporting buy John Davison, additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, Ghazwan Hassan and Kamal Ayyash in Iraq and Michelle Nichols in New York, editing by Janet McBride)

6/11/2020 Pandemic accelerating in Africa, test kits needed, WHO says by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: A learner is screened as schools begin to reopen after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown
in Langa township in Cape Town, South Africa June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating in Africa, spreading to rural areas after international travellers brought it to capital cities, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.
    But the WHO said there was no indication that large numbers of severe cases and deaths were being missed, nor has the virus caused significant infections in refugee camps across the continent.
    Ten countries are driving Africa’s epidemic, accounting for 75% of the some 207,600 cases on the continent, said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa regional director.    About 5,000 deaths have been reported.
    South Africa, which last month began a phased easing of the lockdown, is the hardest-hit, accounting for a quarter of all cases, she said.
    “Even though these cases in Africa account for less than 3 percent of the global total, it’s clear that the pandemic is accelerating,” Moeti told a news briefing for Geneva-based U.N. correspondents.
    “We believe that large numbers of severe cases and deaths are not being missed in Africa.”
    Africa’s population is relatively young and many countries had already established “point of entry” screening measures against Ebola fever – two factors which may have so far limited the impact of COVID-19, she said.
    But lockdowns and market closures to contain coronavirus contagion have hit poor families hard, Moeti said.
    In South Africa, high numbers of daily cases and deaths are being reported in two provinces, the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, she said, adding: “Specifically in the Western Cape where we are seeing a majority of cases and deaths, the trend seem to be similar to what was happening in Europe and in the U.S.
    Shortages of test kits remain a challenge on the continent, Moeti said, and until there is an effective vaccine, Africa is likely to see a steady increase with hotspots requiring strong public health and social distancing measures.
    It is unclear why the disease spread more slowly in Africa at first, she said, but several factors could be at play – lower numbers of international travellers arriving to spread the virus, quick reactions by African leaders, demographics and the weather.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Angus MacSwan)

6/12/2020 In rare appeal to Israeli public, UAE warns against annexation by Rami Ayyub
A Palestinian holds a burning tire during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts
of the occupied West Bank, in Hebron June 12, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel cannot expect to normalise relations with the Arab world if it annexes land in the occupied West Bank, a United Arab Emirates envoy wrote in Israel’s top newspaper on Friday.
    Some Israeli officials have dismissed the notion that applying sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank would slow a discreet opening between Israel and Arab countries, particularly with Gulf states who share Israeli concerns over Iran.
    But, in a rare appeal to the Israeli public by an Arab official, the UAE’s ambassador to Washington, Youssef Al Otaiba, said the move would be what he called an “illegal takeover” of land Palestinians seek for a state.
    “Annexation would – certainly and immediately – upend all Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and the UAE,” he wrote in an op-ed in Israel’s best-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, published in Hebrew.
    Israel has no diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab countries, but common concerns over Iran’s regional influence have led to a limited thaw in ties.    In May, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad made the first known flight by a UAE carrier to Israel, carrying coronavirus aid for the Palestinians.
    “All the progress that you’ve seen and the attitudes that have been changing towards Israel, people becoming more accepting of Israel and less hostile to Israel, all of that could be undermined by a decision to annex,” Al Otaiba said in a separate interview with The National, an Abu Dhabi-based newspaper.
    Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab countries with which Israel has formal relations.
    The Israeli government intends to begin debating annexation on July 1.    While the move won support in U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, an Israeli minister on Thursday said there were gaps with Washington on the issue and that the two allies had yet to agree on a map of territorial lines.
    Responding to Al Otaiba’s op-ed, Israeli Foreign ministry Spokesman Lior Haiat said on Twitter: “Peace is an opportunity for the whole Middle East, and provides potential for us all.
    “The U.S. Peace Initiative (Trump plan) is a starting point to realize this vision,” he added.
    Palestinians say annexation would render impossible their goal of statehood in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    They have called for international sanctions against Israel.
    The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, condemned the UAE’s Al Otaiba for what it called an attempt to seek common ground with Israel.
    “All parties that seek normalisation with the occupation (Israel) must cease this track,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool)

6/12/2020 Congo’s gold being smuggled out by the tonne, U.N. report finds
FILE PHOTO - A miner washes gold at Makala gold mine camp near the town of Mongbwalu in Ituri province, eastern
Democratic Republic of Congo, April 7, 2018. Picture taken April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
    (Reuters) – Gold production in Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be systematically underreported while tonnes of the precious metal is smuggled into global supply chains through its eastern neighbours, a United Nations report has found.
    The countries along Congo’s eastern border have long been conduits for gold worth billions of dollars mined using rudimentary means by so-called “artisanal” miners.
    Difficult to trace, trade in the precious metal has fueled regional wars, funded rebel fighters and led to UN sanctions on traders involved in a bid to staunch the flow.
    North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces reported official production of just over 60kg of artisanal gold in 2019, yet exported a total of just over 73kg, the UN Group of Experts on the Congo found in its annual report.
    The group estimated that at least 1.1 tonnes of gold were smuggled out of Ituri province alone in 2019.    That would have earned the government up to $1.88 million in taxes had it been legally exported.
    Across all gold-producing provinces the loss is likely much greater.    Artisanal miners in Congo produce 15 to 22 tonnes of gold a year, Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources has estimated.
    “The country remained one of the Great Lakes region’s largest artisanal gold producers, and yet one of its smallest official exporters,” the Group of Experts wrote.
    Asked by Reuters about the report, Congo’s mines minister, Willy Kitobo Samsoni, said he could not immediately share his figures on mineral smuggling from the east of the country.
    The UN experts also found that Uganda and other neighbouring countries export far more gold than they produce, suggesting they might still be staging posts for smuggled Congolese gold.
    More than 95% of gold exports from Uganda in 2019, which totaled just over 25 tonnes, were not of Ugandan origin, the group estimated, based on 2018 production and 2019 export data.
    Uganda’s gold exports more than doubled in 2019 compared with the previous year, central bank data showed in March.
    Uganda’s energy minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
    Smugglers told the Group of Experts that Kampala was a main trading hub for gold from Ituri.    Smuggled gold from South Kivu went to Burundi, Rwanda, the United Arab Emirates, and Tanzania, the report added.
(Reporting by Helen Reid and Hereward Holland; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

6/12/2020 Lebanon to re-open Beirut international airport from July 1: statement
FILE PHOTO - A view of an empty hall at Beirut's international airport as Lebanon temporarily shuts down
the airport, after declaring a medical state of emergency as part of the preventive measures against the
spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Beirut, Lebanon March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon will re-open Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport for commercial flights beginning July 1, but will keep air traffic at 10% of capacity from a year ago, a statement from the prime minister’s office said on Friday.
    Private flights will resume from June 24, the statement said.
    Passengers will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and obliged to practice home quarantine if testing positive, it added.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht; Editing by Chris Reese)

6/12/2020 Lebanese protesters shut down roadways with fires as currency collapses
A view shows shattered glass of an abandoned bank branch that was set ablaze during overnight protests sparked by a rapid
fall in the pound currency and mounting economic hardship in Beirut, Lebanon June 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Perry
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese cut roadways with burning tyres and rubbish bins across Beirut and other cities on Thursday in renewed protests sparked by a rapid fall in the pound currency and mounting economic hardship.
    The pound slid to about 5,000 to the dollar on Thursday and has lost 70% of its value since October, when Lebanon descended into a financial crisis seen as the biggest threat to stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    From the northern city of Tripoli to the southern city of Sidon, Lebanese chanted against the political elite and set fire to major roadways across the country in the most widespread unrest since a coronavirus lockdown imposed in mid-March.
    “We can’t afford to eat or pay rent or anything like that, so we will stay here until the dollar rate goes down and we get all our demands,” said Manal, a protester in central Beirut.
    Protesters in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-biggest city, threw petrol bombs at a central bank building, setting it ablaze and prompting security forces to fire tear gas, according to witnesses.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for an emergency Cabinet meeting to be held on Friday to discuss the monetary situation, a statement from his office said.
    The crisis, rooted in decades of corruption and waste, has brought soaring food prices and unemployment and capital controls that have severed Lebanese from their hard currency savings.
    The unrest comes as Beirut holds talks with the International Monetary Fund for a reform programme it hopes will secure billions of dollars in financing and put its economy back on track.
(Reporting by Issam Abdallah and Imad Creidi in Beirut; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

6/12/2020 Iraq, U.S. affirm commitment to U.S. troop reduction: statement
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is pictured at the prime minister's office
in Baghdad, Iraq, June 4, 2020. Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Iraq and the United States affirmed their commitment to the reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, a statement from the two countries said, as officials discussed Washington’s future relationship with Baghdad.
    “Over the coming months the U.S. would continue reducing forces from Iraq and discuss with the Government of Iraq the status of remaining forces,” the statement, published on Thursday, said.
    Since 2014, the primary mission of U.S. troops deployed in Iraq has been defeating the Islamic State militant group.    Officials in the U.S.-led coalition say Iraqi forces are now mostly able to handle the insurgents on their own.
    Western military trainers are expected to remain in Iraq, but it is not clear how many. The United States has had around 5,000 troops stationed in the country, and coalition allies another 2,500.
    An earlier newsflash by Iraq’s state news agency cited Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi as saying there would be a total withdrawal of troops.    The article was later removed.
    Iraq’s parliament had voted earlier this year for the departure of foreign troops from Iraq, and United States and other coalition troops have been leaving as part of a drawdown.
    The two countries’ joint statement said Washington will discuss with the Iraqi government the status of the remaining forces, stressing it does not seek permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq.
    U.S. economic advisers might also be provided to help Iraq with economic reform efforts.    The financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and low global oil prices have hit Iraqis hard. Oil exports generate almost all of OPEC member Iraq’s state revenue.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan and John Davison; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Lincoln Feast and Steve Orlofsky)

6/12/2020 Turkey slams ‘propaganda machine’ Twitter over removal of accounts
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President
Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin//File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey fiercely criticised Twitter on Friday for suspending more than 7,000 accounts that supported President Tayyip Erdogan, saying the company was smearing the government and trying to redesign Turkish politics.
    Twitter said it was taking down 7,340 accounts from a network detected early in 2020 that it said was being used to amplify political narratives favourable to Erdogan’s AK Party.
    “(This) has demonstrated yet again that Twitter is no mere social media company, but a propaganda machine with certain political and ideological inclinations,” said presidency communications director Fahrettin Altun.
    In a written statement, he added that allegations these were “fake” profiles designed to support the president and were managed by a central authority were untrue.
    He also said documents cited to support Twitter’s decision were unscientific, biased and politically motivated, and that it was scandalous to cite a report by individuals “peddling their ideological views.”
    Those remarks appeared to refer to a report by the Stanford Internet Observatory, with which Twitter shared its information, that said the network posted some 37 million tweets, promoting the AKP and criticising Turkey’s main opposition parties.
    “We would like to remind the company (Twitter) of the eventual fate of a number of organisations which attempted to take similar steps in the past,” Altun said.
    In the past, Turkey has blocked access to online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, YouTube and Twitter.
    Yaman Akdeniz, cyber rights expert and professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, said the accounts removed by Twitter were only “the tip of the iceberg” of other questionable activity.
    “This looks like a bot network that I think is not very active,” he said, suggesting further investigation was needed.    “But it makes it official that bots are used in Turkey for political purposes.”
    On Thursday, Twitter also said it removed more than 170,000 accounts tied to a Beijing-backed influence operation.
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Ece Toksabay, William Maclean, Andrew Cawthorne)

6/12/2020 France launches Sahel coalition to fight rising jihadi violence by Boureima Balima and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron (C) and French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) visit the troops of France's
Barkhane operation in Africa's Sahel region in Gao, northern Mali, 19 May 2017. REUTERS/Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool/File Photo
    NIAMEY/PARIS (Reuters) – France launched a coalition of West African and European allies on Friday to fight jihadi militants in the Sahel region, hoping more political cooperation and special forces would boost a military effort that has so far failed to stifle violence.
    Former colonial power France has deployed thousands of soldiers in the arid region south of the Sahara desert since 2013, and now has 5,100 troops there.    But violence by groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State has been on the rise.
    The coalition, first announced at a January summit after a series of attacks killing over 200 soldiers, was ratified during virtual meetings of more than 40 defence and foreign ministers.
    “We can now hope that the setbacks suffered by our armies during the second half of 2019 and the difficulties implementing our development projects are behind us,” said Niger’s Foreign Minister Kalla Ankourao.
    The new structure brings the so-called G5 Sahel states of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania, plus French forces and any future troops under a single command, and also coordinates development, governance and humanitarian work.
    Paris has long sought more support from other European countries and cooperation between Sahel states.
    The coalition would provide more help from European special forces for regional armies, and financial aid from countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
    “This is a good example of the new multilateralism that the world needs today,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
    Although France and Sahel forces have made some recent gains including the killing of al Qaeda’s North Africa chief Abdelmalek Droukdel, militants have continued attacks, pushing further south towards coastal countries such as Ivory Coast.
    Meanwhile, suspected extrajudicial killings of civilians by national armies, including allegations that soldiers in Mali killed 43 people in two villages last week, have drawn condemnation.
    “If there are exactions against civilians, you cannot expect their collaboration,” Drissa Traore, a Malian human rights activist, told a news conference on Thursday.
    Le Drian urged accountability while Mali’s Foreign Minister Tiébilé Dramé said recent allegations would go to tribunals.
    Despite such promises in the past, no charges against security forces have been announced in recent years.
(Reporting by Boureima Balima in Niamey, Thiam Ndiaga in Ouagadougou, Aaron Ross in Dakar, Bate Felix and John Irish Paris; Writing by Bate Felix and Aaron Ross; Editing by Peter Graff and Andrew Cawthorne)

6/14/2020 Israel approves funding for new ‘Trump Heights’ settlement by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this June 16, 2019, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, his wife Sara,
United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, left, and his wife Tammy pose during the
inauguration of a new settlement named after President Donald Trump in the Golan Heights. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has confirmed plans to construct a new settlement in the Golan Heights named after President Trump.    The funding for “Trump Heights” was approved on Sunday, which will allocate $2.3 million towards the settlement.
    This big move expressed gratitude for President Trump’s decision to steer clear from prior foreign policies that actively worked against the state of Israel.
    “Today, we will begin practical steps to construct the settlement ‘Trump Heights’ in the Golan Heights, which Israel’s sovereignty over it was recognized by President Trump,” stated the prime minister.

    Netanyahu also praised both the president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for authorizing sanctions against anyone involved in an International Criminal Court investigation of Americans or U.S. allies.
[This ICC is another Globalist entity who is hassling the U.S. and Israel because they are not following their program for world government takeover and trying to stop any nationalism or sovereignty and the U.S. is the "Two Wings Of The Eagle" helping the "Woman with the 12 stars and have the protections of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Jesus Christ who will return soon as this as we are at beginning of the end of the time, and times, and half a time 1948-2020 and soon to start the second half of the time, and times, and half a time 2021 to unknown.
Revelation 12:1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
Revelation 12:14 And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
Revelation 12:17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.].

6/16/2020 Saudi-led coalition cut from U.N. blacklist of warring parties killing children by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a session of the Human Rights
Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday removed a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition from a United Nations blacklist, several years after it was first named and shamed for killing and injuring children in Yemen.
    The coalition killed or injured 222 children in Yemen last year, Guterres wrote in his annual report to the U.N. Security Council.    He said the Houthis were responsible for 313 such casualties and the Yemen government forces 96 casualties and both remain on the annual children and armed conflict blacklist.
    Guterres said the coalition would “be delisted for the violation of killing and maiming, following a sustained significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes” and the implementation of measures aimed at protecting children.
    But he added that the coalition would be subjected to one year of monitoring and “any failure” to further decrease child casualties would result in it being listed again next year.
    The Saudi mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.     “The Secretary-General is adding a new level of shame to his ‘list of shame’ by removing the Saudi-led coalition and ignoring the U.N.’s own evidence of continued grave violations against children,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
    Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Iran-allied Houthi group ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in 2014.    The Saudi-led military coalition in 2015 intervened in a bid to restore the government.
    The Saudi-led military coalition has officially been on the blacklist for the past three years.
    It had been briefly added to the blacklist in 2016 and then removed by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pending review.    At the time, Ban accused Saudi Arabia of exerting “unacceptable” undue pressure after sources told Reuters that Riyadh threatened to cut some U.N. funding.    Saudi Arabia denied threatening Ban.
    When asked if the U.N. had come under any pressure to remove the Saudi-led coalition from the list this year, the U.N. envoy for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, told reporters: “I can answer that very, very clearly – absolutely not.”
    The U.N. report does not subject those listed to action but rather shames parties to conflicts in the hope of pushing them to implement measures to protect children.    It has long been controversial with diplomats saying Saudi Arabia and Israel both exerted pressure in recent years in a bid to stay off the list.
    Countries or groups can be blacklisted for killing, injuring or abusing children, abducting or recruiting children, denying aid access for children or targeting schools and hospitals.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

6/16/2020 Exclusive: African nations seek U.N. inquiry into U.S. racism, ‘police brutality’: text by Stephanie Nebehay
Delegates attend the resuming of a United Nations Human Rights Council session before an urgent debate on allegations of
"systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests" in the United States following the death of George Floyd during
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, June 15, 2020. Fabrice Coffrini/Pool via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – African countries are lobbying to set up a U.N. inquiry into “systemic racism” and “police brutality” in the United States and elsewhere, aiming to defend the rights of people of African descent, a draft resolution seen by Reuters shows.
    The text, circulating among diplomats in Geneva, voices alarm at “recent incidents of police brutality against peaceful demonstrators defending the rights of Africans and of people of African descent.”    It is due to be considered at an urgent debate of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday.
    The 47-member Council agreed on Tuesday to convene at the request of Burkina Faso on behalf of African countries after the death last month of George Floyd, an African American, in police custody in Minneapolis.    His death has ignited protests worldwide.
    The United States, which quit the Council two years ago alleging bias against its ally Israel, has not commented on being put in the dock.
    The text, subject to change after negotiation at the Council, calls for setting up “an independent international commission of inquiry … to establish facts and circumstances related to the systemic racism, alleged violations of international human rights law and abuses against Africans and of people of African descent in the United States of America and other parts of the world.”
    The panel should examine federal, state and local government responses to peaceful protests “including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists.”
    The resolution calls on the United States and other countries to cooperate fully with the inquiry, which would report back in a year.
    The Council already has commissions of inquiry or fact-finding missions into human rights violations in hotspots including Syria, Burundi, Myanmar, South Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean)

6/16/2020 Exclusive: Israel builds new Jerusalem road that will link settlements as government weighs West Bank annexation by Stephen Farrell, Maayan Lubell and Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows a bridge under construction as part of The American Road, an Israeli
ring road that is being built through East Jerusalem. The construction is in Sur Baher, a Palestinian
neighbourhood of East Jerusalem May 10, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Ilan Rosenberg
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Construction is under way on a major new ring road for Jerusalem that Israeli officials say will benefit all of its residents, but critics of the project say is another obstacle to Palestinian hopes to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future state.
    The bypass, called The American Road, will connect Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that are north and south of Jerusalem.    The central and southern sections of the road are already being built, and tenders for the northernmost stretch – at a projected cost of $187 million – will be issued toward the end of the year, a Jerusalem municipality official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    In total, the project, which will run along or near the outer rim of East Jerusalem, is forecast to cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars.    Israel annexed East Jerusalem, in a move that has not won international recognition, after capturing the area, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in a 1967 war.
    The construction comes as the Israeli government is set to begin cabinet-level discussions from July 1 about implementing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election promise to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank – a planned step that is sparking growing international criticism.    Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014.
    Israeli officials say the road, which will include a 1.6 kilometre (one mile) tunnel east of the Mount of Olives, will ease traffic congestion for both Israelis and Palestinians living in the area.
    “It doesn’t unite the settlements.    It’s not about uniting borders or municipal lines,” said Arieh King, a Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and a leading figure in the city’s settler movement.    “But it does connect them more on the daily level – whether it’s studies, tourism or commerce.    And then in practice you create a huge Jerusalem metropolis.”
    Palestinians say the new road will primarily benefit settlers, and will further undermine the feasibility of East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza.
    “This project cuts off Palestinian neighborhoods within the city from one another,” Fadi Al-Hidmi, the Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, said via email.    Responding to questions from Reuters, Al-Hidmi said The American Road was part of Israel’s “illegal” ring road project, which “surrounds occupied East Jerusalem to further connect Israeli settlements and sever the occupied Palestinian capital from the rest of the West Bank.”
    Israel’s West Bank settlements were built by successive governments on land captured in the 1967 war.    More than 400,000 Israelis now live there, with another 200,000 in East Jerusalem.        Palestinians say the settlements make a future state unviable, and most of the world views them as illegal under international law.    Israel disputes this, citing its security needs and biblical and historical ties to the land on which they are built.
    King said the highway would be a “significant corridor” from the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the southern West Bank and settlements such as Har Homa south of the city centre, to settlements to the north and east of Jerusalem, including Maale Adumim, which is home to more than 40,000 people.
    Arab residents in East Jerusalem neighbourhoods such as Umm Tuba and Sur Baher would also benefit, he said, because it would reduce their travel times.
    Israel’s transport ministry directed questions to the Jerusalem municipality.
    Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney who represented some Palestinian families affected by the construction, told Reuters the bypass fitted into a long-time strategy by Israel of using infrastructure projects to secure “de facto annexation” of territory.
    “What we are seeing here is, again, the seamless integration of the northern West Bank, East Jerusalem under sole Israeli control, and the southern West Bank for the purposes of the settlers,” said Seidemann, who specialises in the geopolitics of Jerusalem.    “That is the motivation, and the fact that it will benefit a Palestinian East Jerusalemite somewhat is collateral spinoff, but not more than that.”
    Planning documents reviewed by Reuters and visits to the area to plot the route show the road will run for more than eight kilometres (five miles).    Dozens of Palestinians living along the route of The American Road pointed to such factors as the scope of the construction and the proximity of the highway’s northern and southern ends to major settlements as evidence that the bypass was designed primarily for settlers.
    The scale of The American Road project, named after a decades-old narrow road that winds through southeast Jerusalem, is evident some four kilometres from the city centre, where a huge bridge is rising in a remote valley.    The grey edifice, which can’t be seen from outside the valley, towers over the rural landscape.    At the site, cement-mixers rumble through the hill-hugging Palestinian neighbourhoods of Sur Baher and Jabal al-Mukabar toward the 230-metre-long structure.
    Billboards advertise an August 2021 completion date for a section of The American Road nearest Har Homa, the settlement built by Netanyahu in the 1990s that overlooks the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.
    “We lived in a paradise, and now we will live under a highway,” said Khader Attoun, whose house looks directly over the bridge.     “Israel wants to squeeze us out of our land and confine us to our tiny homes, to let settlers drive on highways through the valley of our ancestors.”
Graphic – The American Road:
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell, Maayan Lubell and Rami Ayyub; Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Nuha Sharaf in Jerusalem; edited by Peter Hirschberg, Janet McBride)

6/16/2020 Greek PM visits Israel, hoping to restore tourism and warning on Turkey
FILE PHOTO: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece,
April 28, 2020. Greek Prime Minister's Office/Dimitris Papamitsos/Handout via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited Israel on Tuesday in a show of confidence in the countries’ anti-coronavirus measures which Athens hopes can be translated into a resumption of tourism.
    With Greece, Israel and Cyprus partnered up on energy projects in the eastern Mediterranean, Mitsotakis also warned against exploration efforts by “neighbourhood bully” Turkey.
    Israel sees the visit as an opportunity to dilute European opposition to its planned annexation of occupied West Bank land which the Palestinians want for a state.
    Hoping to salvage its tourism sector this summer, Greece opened its main airports to mainly EU visitors on Monday.    Israel has provided about 1 million tourists annually in recent years.
    “I am certain that the flights from Israel will resume very soon,” Mitsotakis told Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth before he arrived in Israel.    “I aspire to make Greece the safe destination of Europe.”
    Mitsotakis said the Greek-Israeli-Cypriot energy explorations arrangement “is not directed against nor exclusive of anyone,” but accused Turkey of trying to exert political and military control over the region.
    “Turkey is welcome to give up on its imperialistic pipeline dreams and cooperate with us as an equal and law-abiding partners – not as the neighbourhood bully,” he said.
    Turkey says it is within its sovereign rights.
    Israel says its planned annexation of Jewish settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley in the West Bank is in line with a U.S. plan for peace with the Palestinians, but the European Union has said it “could not pass unchallenged.”
    “We expect Greece to be an anchor of support for us in the Union,” Yossi Amrani, the Israeli ambassador to Athens, told Israel’s Army Radio when asked about the annexation plan.
    Mitsotakis told Yedioth he would also speak to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after returning to Greece.
(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

6/17/2020 In rebel Syria, some welcome sanctions but fear for economy
FILE PHOTO: Children ride in carts past a damaged building on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, amid the global outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the opposition-held Idlib city in northwest Syria, May 24, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    IDLIB, Syria (Reuters) – In the last bastion of the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, Syrians who fled his rule see new U.S. sanctions as a step in the right direction but say they must be shielded from any fallout as the currency crumbles.
    The toughest U.S. sanctions yet against Damascus came into effect on Wednesday under the Caesar Act, named after a Syrian military photographer who smuggled thousands of photos out of Syria showing mass killings, torture and other crimes.
    “It’s a good decision.    But what’s important is that we don’t get affected by it,” said Baker al-Ali, 30, in the opposition-held Idlib region of the northwest.
    “Today all the prices are irrationally high.”
    Already battered by nearly a decade of war, the Syrian pound has collapsed in the last month, with dealers citing the impending sanctions as one of the factors driving demand for hard currency, along with a financial collapse in neighbouring Lebanon.
    While the northwest corner falls outside Assad’s rule, the Syrian pound is still used there.    This month the pound has sunk to 3,000 to the dollar from 47 in 2011, when the conflict began.
    The U.N. agency OCHA says the halving of its value since May has pushed the price of basic goods to record highs and further out of reach of the four million people in the northwest, where many Syrians fled as Assad recovered territory from rebels.
    Syria has already been under U.S. and European Union sanctions but the new sanctions are more sweeping.
    They exempt imports of essential food and humanitarian items but increase scrutiny of aid to ensure it does not benefit Assad’s government.
    “The economic situation here cannot bear yet another rise in prices.    The (sanctions) should keep civilians out of harm’s way,” said Yusef Ghraibi, 24.
    In government-held areas, too, the currency’s collapse is biting hard.
    “The prices of shoes increased 10,000 (pounds) from yesterday to today,” said Abdulrahman Jlelati in Aleppo.
    The U.N. special envoy to Syria warned this week of a “dramatic collapse in economic conditions throughout the country.”
    Western states want to see progress towards a political transition in Syria before they will help to rebuild the country.
    Damascus says the new sanctions breach all international norms and are part of an economic war.
    Assad, in a 2015 interview, dismissed the Caesar photos as “allegations without evidence,” and part of a Qatar-funded plot against his government.
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Azaz, Syria,; Additional reporting by Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva and Eric Knecht in Beirut; Editing by Ellen Francis, Tom Perry and Gareth Jones)

6/17/2020 Turkey says it discussed lasting ceasefire during Libya trip
Libya's internationally recognised Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj is seen with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and
Finance Minister Berat Albayrak during their meeting in Tripoli, Libya June 17, 2020. Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    TRIPOLI/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Senior Turkish officials discussed a lasting ceasefire and political solution in Libya, as well as energy cooperation, during a visit to Tripoli on Wednesday, Turkey’s foreign minister said.
    Mevlut Cavusoglu, along with Turkey’s finance minister, national security adviser and intelligence chief, met Libya’s internationally recognised government after Turkey helped it stave off an offensive by eastern-based forces.
    Turkish support has been critical to the Government of National Accord (GNA) in turning back a 14-month campaign by the Libyan National Army (LNA), backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, to capture Tripoli.
    “The aim of our visit was to stress our support for Libya in a powerful way.    We had an exchange of views on achieving a lasting ceasefire and a political solution,” Cavusoglu told reporters on their arrival back in Turkey.
    He said they also discussed cooperation in the area of energy in what he described as a very beneficial visit.     During their trip, not previously announced, the Turkish officials met the GNA’s prime minister, interior minister and oil company head, the GNA said in a statement.
    Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 revolution that toppled Muammar Gaddafi and has been split since 2014 between rival administrations in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi.
    Ankara’s intervention led to a sudden shift in front lines this month as pro-GNA forces pushed back the LNA and its allies from most of northwest Libya towards the central coastal city of Sirte.
    The GNA and LNA have returned to ceasefire talks, but the United Nations, which is brokering their discussions, has warned of a possible major escalation because of the flow of weapons and fighters into Libya despite an arms embargo.
    The LNA still controls eastern Libya and much of the south, where some of the main oil fields, the source of most external revenue, are located.
    But the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Central Bank, the only bodies allowed to sell Libyan oil under international agreements, are located in Tripoli under the GNA.
    Oil exports have been frozen for most of this year after eastern-based forces blockaded the ports, including the main ones near Sirte.
    Last week, NOC briefly restarted production at two of the main oil fields, but was forced to close them again after a few hours.
(Reporting by Tripoli newsroom; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alex Richardson, Giles Elgood and Peter Cooney)

6/17/2020 South Africa coronavirus restrictions further eased for casinos, salons
FILE PHOTO - A roadside hairdresser attends to a customer, openly flouting lockdown regulations amid the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Johannesburg, South Africa, June 6, 2020. Picture taken June 6, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday casinos, cinemas, personal care services and certain forms of accommodation will be allowed to operate as the country further eases coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
    South Africa had partly lifted a two-month-old lockdown at the beginning of June, letting people outside for work, worship, exercise or shopping, and allowing mines and factories to run at full capacity to try to revive the economy.
    The further easing of restrictions however comes amidst a sharp rise in infections of the highly contagious respiratory disease, with confirmed cases at 80,412 and deaths at 1,674, with the increase in the last couple of weeks accounting for a third of total cases, Ramaphosa said.
    Ramaphosa was widely praised when he ordered one of the world’s strictest lockdowns at the end of March, confining people to their homes, forcing miners and manufacturers to slash operations and banning the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.     Opposition locally however had started to grow louder with some sectors challenging the regulations in court.
    “This decision was taken with due care and seriousness, appreciating the risks associated with each activity and measures needed to manage those risks. Altogether, these industries employ well over half a million people,” said Ramaphosa.
    “We have to think about these people who are employed in these industries and those who depend upon them for their livelihoods.    Through the easing of the lockdown we are continuing to balance our overriding objective of saving lives and protecting livelihoods.”
    Ramaphosa said during his televised address to the nation restaurants will now be allowed to offer sit-down services, cinemas, casinos, theatres, hair salons and spas would operate under strict social distancing rules, while non-contact sports like tennis and golf would be permitted, as well as accommodation for business.
    A date of when these sectors will be re-opened will be announced in due course, he said.
(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana and Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

6/17/2020 Face masks outside now compulsory in major Turkish cities
FILE PHOTO: Mehmet Usta, a 74-year former marathon runner maintains social distance due to the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, while waiting in line to enter a park, as senior citizens are not allowed to go out
of their houses except six hours on Sundays, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 7, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey on Thursday made it compulsory for people to wear face masks when outside in the country’s largest cities of Istanbul and Ankara, as well as the northwestern city of Bursa, in a bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
    Turkish officials said this week they might have to adopt a harder line on social interactions after a jump in coronavirus infections, but said there were no plans to reverse an easing of lockdown restrictions aimed at reviving the economy.
    The governors’ offices in the three cities announced the order on face masks.
    This month restaurants and cafes reopened, intercity flights and car travel resumed, and weekend stay-home orders were lifted.    However, new COVID-19 cases subsequently doubled to around 1,500 a day, official data shows.
    As Turks have poured into streets, malls and parks or taken vacations – often without face masks – authorities have urged caution and said new cases are emerging in more rural central and southeastern provinces.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Leslie Adler)

6/17/2020 Egypt passes electoral changes that could bolster Sisi supporters
FILE PHOTO: A member of a medical team is seen beside a banner for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as he
sprays disinfectant as a precautionary move amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at the
underground Al Shohadaa "Martyrs" metro station in Cairo, Egypt March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s parliament approved amendments on Wednesday which critics say will help supporters of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi extend their dominance over the chamber in elections expected this year.
    The election law amendments mean that 50% of those elected to the 596-member House of Representatives will now be chosen through closed party lists, up from 20%, with the rest elected as individual candidates.
    All of those currently elected on the closed-list system belong to a pro-Sisi coalition.    The president’s right to appoint up to 28 members remains unchanged.
    Members of parliament who introduced the changes said they would help achieve constitutional commitments to allocate 25% of seats to women and assure representation for other groups including workers, farmers, young people, Coptic Christians, people with disabilities and Egyptians living abroad.
    But critics, including a small parliamentary opposition bloc, say the closed-list system works against fair representation.
    “We believe that doing elections with the absolute closed-list system is rigging the will of the people,” said Haitham al-Hariri, a member of the bloc.
    Parliament also approved a law for electing a second chamber, or Senate, established through constitutional amendments last year.
    The Senate will be an advisory body without legislative powers.    It will have 300 seats and a five-year mandate, with 100 members elected via closed lists and 100 as individuals. The president will appoint the rest.
    No dates have been set for elections to the two chambers though parliament’s five-year mandate expires in January.
    Last year constitutional amendments allowing Sisi to stay in office till 2030, expanding his power over the judiciary and bolstering the military’s role were approved by referendum.
    Supporters said Sisi had stabilized Egypt and needed more time to complete economic reforms.    Critics feared a further narrowing of the space for dissent and opposition after a wide-ranging crackdown.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Timothy Heritage)

6/18/2020 Iran rejects U.S. sanctions on Syria, vows to boost trade with ally
FILE PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addresses the government committee that oversees measures to curb the spread of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Damascus, Syria in this handout released by SANA on May 4, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Thursday condemned as inhumane a fresh round of U.S. sanctions against its regional ally Syria and said it would expand its trade ties with Damascus.
    The United States on Wednesday imposed its toughest sanctions targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to choke off revenue for his government and force it back to U.N.-led negotiations on ending his country’s war.
    “As the world is involved with the Corona pandemic, the imposition of such inhumane sanctions will only exacerbate the suffering of the Syrian people,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state media.
    “We will continue our economic cooperation with the resilient Syrian nation and Syria’s government, and despite these sanctions, we will strengthen our economic relations with Syria,” Mousavi said.
    Separately, Iran welcomed a two-day debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council this week about alleged U.S. police brutality and racial discrimination.
    “Systemic racism, police brutality & violence against peaceful protests represent just the tip of the iceberg.    It’s high time (the world) works for the US regime’s human rights accountability at home & abroad,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a Twitter post.
    Iran, which itself faces heavy U.S. sanctions, is a close ally of Assad.    Tehran has sent thousands of fighters to back the Syrian central government, including Iranian-trained Shi’ite militias whose members are from Afghanistan and other countries.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Editing by William Maclean)

6/18/2020 Saudi proposes framework to end standoff between allies in southern Yemen
FILE PHOTO: The emblem of the STC is seen between weapons held by Yemeni government soldiers at the headquarters of
the separatist Southern Transitional Council in Ataq, Yemen August 27, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Owidha/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has proposed a framework to end the latest standoff in southern Yemen between nominal allies under a Saudi-led coalition, three sources said, as violence escalates with the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in the north of the country.
    Previous clashes between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a separatist group, have complicated U.N. efforts to end Yemen’s ruinous conflict and protect its fractured health sector from COVID-19.
    The STC in April declared self-rule in Aden, interim seat of the Riyadh-backed government, and in other southern regions, risking reigniting violence between the two sides, both members of the anti-Houthi alliance.
    Three sources with knowledge said Riyadh submitted a proposal, seen by Reuters, to implement a power-sharing deal brokered by Saudi Arabia last November but which stalled.
    It calls for a ceasefire in Abyan province and for STC to rescind emergency rule.    Thereafter Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi would appoint a governor and security head for Aden, and name a premier to form a cabinet that includes the STC.
    The STC would then remove its forces from Aden and redeploy in Abyan, following which the new government would be formed.
    Mistrust remains an obstacle to Riyadh’s attempts to prevent another front in the multifaceted war it seeks to exit, goals that have gained urgency ahead of its hosting of a G20 summit in November and as Yemen struggles with a coronavirus outbreak.     Two of the sources told Reuters the STC, which is backed by coalition partner the United Arab Emirates, wants the cabinet formed before moving its forces.
    Hadi’s government was ousted by the Houthis from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the coalition to intervene.    The war, which has caused the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, has been in stalemate for years.
    Riyadh late last year launched indirect talks with the Houthis, who say they are fighting a corrupt system.    The conflict is seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by William Maclean)

6/18/2020 U.S. hits Syria with toughest sanctions yet to push Assad to end war by Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis
FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a poster depicting Syria's President Bashar
al-Assad in Damascus, Syria, March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Yamam Al Shaar
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday imposed its toughest sanctions ever targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to choke off revenue for his government in a bid to force it back to United Nations-led negotiations and broker an end to the country’s nearly decade-long war.
    The fresh round of sanctions on Syria which Washington dubbed as the first taste of a deeper and broader pressure campaign against     Assad come at a time when the Syrian leader is grappling with a deepening economic crisis after a decade of war and amid a rare outbreak of protests in government-held areas.
    The new travel restrictions and financial sanctions strike Assad’s inner circle, including his wife Asma, whom along with her family Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described as “one of Syria’s most notorious war profiteers.”    They also target Assad’s brother, sister, a few senior generals and Iranian militia.
    In a statement announcing the designations imposed under an executive order and the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act – the latter signed by President Donald Trump in December – Pompeo said the new steps were the start of a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure against Assad, and vowed more in the coming weeks.
    “We anticipate many more sanctions and we will not stop until Assad and his regime stop their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people and the Syrian government agrees to a political solution to the conflict,” Pompeo said.
    Syria has already been under U.S. and European Union sanctions that have frozen the assets of the state and hundreds of companies and individuals.    Washington already bans export and investment in Syria by Americans, as well as transactions involving oil and hydrocarbon products.
    But the new sanctions can freeze the assets of anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality, and cover many more sectors.    It also targets those dealing with entities from Russia and Iran, Assad’s main backers.
    In a call with reporters, a senior administration official said investment plans in areas, including in reconstruction, that were to aid Assad’s government had already fizzled out due to fear of the Caesar Act.    “It’s meant to keep the foreign investors out,” he said.
    Several analysts agreed.
    “If you are engaging in these sectors, you will be cut off from the U.S. financial system, which is the most powerful in the world.    For you as a company, you choose between that and investing in a broken country,” said Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
    Pompeo said those designated have all played a key role in obstructing a peaceful political solution to the conflict.    But he singled out Asma al-Assad.
    “I will make special note of the designation for the first time of Asma al-Assad, the wife of Bashar al-Assad, who with the support of her husband and members of her Akhras family has become one of Syria’s most notorious war profiteers,” he said.
    Syrian authorities blame Western sanctions for widespread hardship among ordinary residents, where the currency collapse has led to soaring prices and people struggling to afford food and basic supplies.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Alex Richardson, Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)

6/18/2020 Turkey says it hits 500 Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq
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 forces have hit more than 500 Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq as part of an operation in the region against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Defence Ministry said on Thursday.
    Turkish warplanes struck PKK targets in various regions of northern Iraq on Sunday and Tuesday in two separate raids, which Ankara said were in response to an increase in militant attacks on Turkish army bases.
    Ankara launched the “Claw-Tiger Operation” on Tuesday in northern Iraq’s Haftanin region.
    A Defence Ministry statement said Turkish F-16 jets, drones and howitzers had hit and destroyed more than 500 PKK targets in 36 hours.
    “The Claw-Tiger Operation is going very well. God willing, by continuing with the same seriousness and determination, we will conclude the operation with success,” the statement cited Defence Minister Hulusi Akar as saying.
    Turkey regularly attacks PKK militants, both in its mainly Kurdish southeast and in northern Iraq, where the group is based.    It has also warned in recent years of a potential ground offensive against PKK bases in Iraq’s Qandil mountains.
    The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday Turkish and Iranian military interventions in Iraq violated Iraqi sovereignty.    The UAE and Ankara have strained ties, including over the Libyan crisis where the two countries back opposing sides.
    The PKK, designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.    More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, focused in southeast Turkey.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler, William Maclean)

6/18/2020 Egypt surpasses 50,000 confirmed coronavirus cases
A worker wears protective gear as he sprays disinfectant, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), at Hurghada International Airport in Hurghada, Egypt, June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt said it registered 1,218 new cases of the new coronavirus on Thursday, edging the total number of cases up to more than 50,000 a fortnight before it is set to further ease restrictions.
    The Arab world’s most populous nation closed itself off in March to curb the spread of the disease, shutting schools, restaurants and halting almost all international flights.
    The pandemic shuttered Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which the government says accounts for 5% of economic output, but analysts say it may account for as much as 15% if jobs and investment indirectly related to the industry are included.
    The country hopes to be able to welcome tourists back for the summer season and has said it plans to reopen its airports to scheduled international flights from July 1.
    The health ministry on Thursday said it registered a total of 50,437 cases of the coronavirus and 1,938 deaths.    The country’s higher education minister cited a study on June 1 estimating that the actual number of cases could be up to five times higher than the figure reported.
    Health officials at the beginning of the pandemic had urged citizens to report even mildly symptomatic cases, which would then be taken to designated isolation hospitals across the country.
    As the infections continued to steadily rise, however, the health ministry began offering prescriptions that can be delivered to sick individuals’ homes.
(Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Aurora Ellis)

6/18/2020 At least 13 dead, several missing following landslide near Ivory Coast by OAN Newsroom
    More than a dozen people were killed in a landslide near the Ivory Coast this week.    At least 13 people are dead and several more went missing after heavy rains swept through the city of Anyama.
    At least 10 people have been hospitalized and nearly 20 homes were destroyed.
    Officials warned of flooding in recent days, as the region is known for its intense rainy season and poor drainage systems.
    “There were heavy downpours on the night of Wednesday to Thursday, and this downpour caused a landslide with a river of mud.    All the houses on the flank of this hill were washed away.    The death toll has been communicated by the minister of security: 13 dead, some survivors, but it is a provisional toll.    The search is ongoing.” – Robert Beugre Mambe, Governor of Abidjan
    Anyama reportedly saw three times more rain this month than usual.
    However, this is not the first time the region has experienced tragedy.    In June of 2018, nearly 20 people died from storm related causes.

6/19/2020 On World Refugee Day, Palestinians try to scrape by in Gaza by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Marwan Kuwaik, a 70-year-old Palestinian among the 1.4 million people listed by the U.N. as registered refugees in Gaza,
pushes a bicycle with a bag of lupin beans he sells, outside his house in Gaza City June 17, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – On the United Nations’ World Refugee Day on Saturday, Marwan Kuwaik, a 70-year-old Palestinian in Gaza, will be focused on trying to eke out a living by selling snack food on the street.
    The June 20 event this year is aimed at reminding the world that everyone, including refugees, can contribute to society, the U.N. said on its website.
    In Gaza, Kuwaik earns about 30 shekels ($8.50) a day selling lupin beans from his bicycle.    He is among 1.4 million Palestinians U.N.-registered refugees in the impoverished and crowded enclave, whose economy has suffered from years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades.
    “I support my family, 15 people.    I have never stopped my work for 40 years, even during wars, curfews and closures, except when I am sick,” Kuwaik said.
    Kuwaik’s parents were among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced to leave their homes in what is now Israel during the fighting that surrounded its founding in 1948.
    He was born two years later in Gaza and lives in the outskirts of its Beach refugee camp.    The U.N. registers as refugees the descendants of those Palestinians displaced more than 70 years ago.
    Kuwaik said his family once owned farmland in Lod, a city in Israel.    He visited Lod twice in early 1980s and found a new house of concrete had been built next to his father’s old shelter.
    The new Israeli owners continued to grow olive trees on the farmland as his family long had, he said.
    “We will return,” Kuwaik vowed in his house as he filled small plastic bags with lupin beans.    “If we die our sons will rise, and if they die then our grandchildren will do it.”
    Asked about World Refugee Day, he said: “We remain without a solution … the situation is miserable but we still have hopes.”
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/19/2020 Turkish court rules Kurdish leader’s jailing violated rights by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Turkey's main pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) hold masks of their jailed former
leader and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas during a rally in Ankara, Turkey, June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the lengthy jailing of a former head of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party violated his rights, a decision published on Friday showed, but he was not expected to be released due to a separate investigation.
    Selahattin Demirtas, one of Turkey’s best known politicians, has been in jail since November 2016 on terrorism-related charges.    He faces a sentence of up to 142 years in jail if found guilty in the main case against him.
    The court’s decision said his detention had exceeded a reasonable period and his right to freedom had been violated, ordering the payment of compensation.
    However, media reports said the ruling would not lead to his release due to a separate investigation and arrest order.
    A court ruled last September that Demirtas should be released while his main trial continues.    The Constitutional Court ruling concerns the detention for this period.
    Prosecutors then launched a new investigation into him and requested his arrest again after the lifting of the previous detention order. Demirtas denies the charges against him.
    One of Demirtas’ lawyers, Mahsuni Karaman, said that while the ruling concerned his detention up until last September, it should also be applicable to the second detention order.
    “Because the second arrest order was based on the same reason it is no longer valid,” Karaman wrote on Twitter.    “The second detention should be ended immediately.”
    The constitutional court has made similar rulings about rights violations due to long detention periods in the past and some people have been subsequently released.
    The party which Demirtas led before he was jailed is the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the second-largest opposition party in Turkey’s parliament.
    Ankara accuses the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state and which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.
    The HDP denies such links.
    Demirtas’ case is also closely watched internationally.    The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said in November 2018 Demirtas’ detention had gone on longer than could be justified.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Ece Toksabay and William Maclean)

6/19/2020 Thousands of protesters demand Mali president step down by Tiemoko Diallo
Imam Mahmoud Dicko greets his supporters during a protest demanding the resignation of Mali's President
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at Independence Square in Bamako, Mali June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Matthieu Rosier
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – Tens of thousands protested in Bamako on Friday demanding the Malian president resign or face civil disorder despite political concessions offered in response to mounting frustration over the many crises afflicting the west African nation.
    President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, re-elected in 2018 for a second five-year term, is struggling with a years-long security crisis in northern Mali, an outbreak of the new coronavirus, a strike by teachers, and political tensions arising from a disputed legislative election in March.
    For the second time this month, crowds of protesters – including representatives of various political groups and human rights activists – filled Bamako’s Independence Square, waiting for a response to a letter sent to the presidential palace demanding Keita, known as IBK, step down.
    “We decide to maintain the mobilisation of all forces of the nation until the president resigns,” opposition politician Cheick Oumar Sissoko said in a speech that called for civil disobedience and the occupation of strategic locations if there was no reply to the letter.
    Protesters chanted: “No to bad governance and corruption” and “It’s too much.    IBK, clear off!
    A delegation from regional bloc ECOWAS arrived in Bamako on the eve of the protest to encourage talks between the two sides – a sign of governments’ concern about the political standoff on their doorstep.
    After the first demonstration on June 5, Keita offered to make concessions including the creation of a unity government.    But protesters were not satisfied.
    “I’m here for the second time to tell IBK to step down.    He can’t govern this country as proved by his last seven years in power,” said 26-year-old street trader Aboubacar Sidiki.
    Mali, which produces gold and cotton, has struggled to find stability since 2012 when jihadist fighters hijacked an insurrection by Tuareg separatists, seizing the entire desert north of the country.
    French troops helped to recapture the north but violence persists, despite the presence of thousands of United Nations troops, with groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State stoking intercommunal tensions.
(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

6/19/2020 Gaza horse riders compete again as coronavirus curbs eased by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A worker cleans a horse as riders prepare to compete in a local show jumping that resumed after Palestinians
eased the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, in Gaza City June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Wearing riding pants, logo-decorated shirts and helmets, Gaza horse-riders resumed local show-jumping competitions on Thursday as coronavirus restrictions were eased.
    The Palestinian Equestrian Federation halted horse-riding classes and local contests in late February as a precaution against the spread of the pandemic – a blow to one of the few sports activities in the congested and impoverished enclave.
    Horse riding became popular in Gaza over the past three years.    The number of riders – including girls – has grown to 200, according to the federation. Around half of those were taking part on the two-day contest that began on Thursday.
    Sami Zeyara, the federation’s assistant secretary-general, said the hiatus would force them to extend the season into early 2021.
    “I am very happy to be back to competitions.    Together with my horse, Diesel, we hope to come first,” said 12-year-old Hala al-Batrawi.
    Contestants were divided in six categories.    The most junior group included children under the age of 10, known to many as the “Smurfs.”
    “I have worked hard to get back into shape, and I want to prove myself in this competition,” said Mohammad al-Sadi, 16, standing next to his horse Plutonium.
    Sitting around tables separated by flower boxes in deference to social-distancing, spectators cheered when riders crossed the finishing line and applauded those who faltered or fell.
    Gaza, which has been run by the Islamist Hamas group since 2007, has reported 72 coronavirus cases and one death.
    Local soccer games will resume on Friday, with no spectators, according to the Palestinian Football Federation.
(This story corrects date in paragraph 9)
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

6/19/2020 Morocco records biggest single-day rise in COVID cases
FILE PHOTO: Police officers patrol streets, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, on
the outskirts of Casablanca, Morocco March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal/File Photo
    RABAT (Reuters) – Morocco’s Health Ministry reported 539 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the biggest daily rise so far, most of them in a cluster north of Rabat.
    There are now 9,613 confirmed cases in Morocco, with a mortality rate of 2.2% and a recovery rate of 84.5%, according to official figures.
    The government this month eased some lockdown measures in regions with low infection rates, but kept in place a ban on people leaving their homes without permits in areas with more cases, including some big cities.
    The area around the cluster, some 150 km north of the capital, is covered by the permits but lockdowns are harder to enforce in rural and semi-rural areas.    Most businesses are working again, but restaurants, cafes, cinemas and other enterprises in the vital services sector remain shut along with airports.
    Businesses have been asked to test all their employees, as the country increased its daily testing capacity to over 17,500.
(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/20/2020 The African refugees and migrants trapped inside Yemen’s war by Abdulrahman al-Ansi
Somali refugee Bader Abdullah Hassan sits with his son, Muhammad, at their house in Sanaa, Yemen June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    ADEN/SANAA (Reuters) – Despite six years of war and hardship in Yemen, Somali refugee Bader Hassan had stuck it out hoping for a better life than in his homeland.
    But the coronavirus pandemic has pushed his precarious existence to the edge, and now he wants out.
    “Me, my wife and my son want to live in a good place, like other people,” the Somali-born 32-year-old said in the capital Sanaa.
    As a refugee he has lived his life in Yemen with no state or charity support, he said.    He dropped out of school early to earn a living and now washes cars in the street.
    “But how do we live now when corona is also shutting off car washing?” he said.
    Divided between Houthi authorities in the north and the Yemeni government in the south, Yemen today is a land of displacement with 80% of the population reliant on humanitarian aid.
    One in every eight Yemenis has been internally displaced by the six-year conflict and 280,000 foreign refugees also live there.    Yemen hosts the second-largest Somali refugee population.
    After Houthi authorities in May announced their first coronavirus case in a Somali national found dead in a Sanaa hotel, African migrants and refugees have been increasingly stigmatized, the United Nations and migrants said.
    “They ask ‘what’s your nationality: Yemen, Somalia?’    I say Somali and they say ‘sorry, goodbye’,” Hassan said of potential customers.
    Tensions between host and refugee and migrant communities over Yemen’s scarce resources have historically been low, but the relationship is coming under strain as Yemen’s woes deepen, the U.N. refugee agency’s (UNHCR) Jean-Nicolas Beuze said from Sanaa.
    Alongside refugees, around 100,000 migrants also arrive each year by sea from the Horn of Africa hoping to trek north into wealthy Saudi Arabia and beyond.
    Largely Ethiopian, they suffer the same traffickers, abuse, rape and theft as refugees, often living side-by-side in squatter camps in the main cities.
    “When [migrants and refugees] reach the UNHCR office or our partners they are often without anything, not even identity documents most of the time,” said Beuze.
    As coronavirus concerns mount, U.N. migration agency IOM says migrants are being forcibly transferred out of urban areas to hard-to-access locations, including more than 1,300 forcibly moved north to south since late April.
    Ethiopian migrant Abdelaziz came by sea, but said his journey to Saudi was blocked by northern authorities.
    “There were 250 of us on the sea journey we paid 1,500 Saudi riyals ($400) for.    Around five died,” he said from the bare roadside garden where he and dozens of other African migrants sleep on cardboard.
    He desperately wants to leave.
    “We have nothing to eat and drink,” he said.    “The people are tired of helping us.”
(Reporting by Reuters Yemen team; Additional reporting by Kumerra Gemechu in Addis Ababa; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Alex Richardson)

6/20/2020 West African bloc urges Mali to re-run disputed elections amid mass protests
Supporters of the Imam Mahmoud Dicko walk to the presidential palace during a protest demanding the resignation
of Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako, Mali June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Matthieu Rosier
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – West African regional bloc ECOWAS on Saturday called on Mali to re-run some of its contested local elections and convene a government of national unity after anti-government protests swept the capital Bamako.
    Tens of thousands of people took to the streets on Friday for the second time in a month to demand President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita step down.
    Keita, who was re-elected in 2018 for a second five-year term, has struggled with an ongoing security crisis, a strike by teachers and the coronavirus outbreak.
    Political tensions increased after disputed local elections in March in which turnout was low due in part to fears of attacks by jihadist groups who roam the desert north.
    The lead-up to the poll was marred by allegations of vote buying and intimidation and the kidnapping of opposition leader Soumaila Cisse.
    ECOWAS “invites the Government of the Republic of Mali to reconsider the results of all the districts which have been subject to review,” the group said in a statement after a two-day mission to the country.    “New elections for the constituencies concerned should be organized as soon as possible.”
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged for calm and dialogue after some opposition politicians called for civil disobedience during Friday’s protests.
    “The Secretary-General calls on all political leaders to send clear messages to their supporters to exercise utmost restraint and to refrain from any action likely to fuel tensions,” said Farhan Haq, a deputy spokesman for Guterres.
    Mali, which produces gold and cotton, has struggled to establish stability since 2012 when jihadist fighters hijacked an insurrection by Tuareg separatists, seizing the north.
    French troops helped to recapture the area but violence persists despite the presence of thousands of U.N. troops, with groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State stoking intercommunal tensions.
(Reporting By Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Christina Fincher and Mike Harrison)

6/20/2020 Egypt is committed to a diplomatic solution to Ethiopia’s dam crisis, Sisi says
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a meeting with Belarusian President
Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt is committed to using diplomacy to resolve a crisis with Ethiopia over its construction of a giant hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Saturday, addressing stalled talks on the issue.
    The talks were halted once again on Wednesday, this time only about a fortnight before the expected start-up of the $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is being built near Ethiopia’s border with Sudan and is the centrepiece in its bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter.
    Cairo said on Friday it had called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene to restart the talks.
    “When we moved to the Security Council… that was (because) we are always keen to take the diplomatic and political path until its end,” Sisi said in a speech at an air force base.
    “We need to move strongly towards concluding the negotiations and reach an agreement… and solutions that achieve the interest of all,” he said.
    Egypt, which is almost entirely dependent on the Nile for its fresh water supplies, is anxious to secure a legally binding deal that would guarantee minimum flows and a mechanism for resolving disputes before the dam starts operating.
    The latest talks, which had started on June 9 over video conference, followed a previous round of negotiations in Washington, which ended without agreement in February.
    On Saturday, Sisi recalled that in a speech he gave to the Ethiopian parliament five years ago he said that while Egypt respects Ethiopians’ need for development they also should respect its needs for “life.”
    Earlier on Saturday, Sisi ordered his army to be ready to carry out any mission inside or outside the country amid tensions over regional rival Turkey’s intervention in neighbouring Libya.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad and Ahmed Tolba; Editing by Frances Kerry)

6/20/2020 Nine years of war. Nine portraits of kids who dream of home
Jumana and Farhan al-Alyawi, 8-year-old displaced Syrian twins from east Idlib, pose for a picture in a tent at
Atmeh camp, near the Turkish border, Syria June 19, 2020. Picture taken June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    ATMEH CAMP, Syria (Reuters) – Four-month-old Abdul Rahman, propped up on pillows on a blue blanket in his family’s tent.    Two-year-old Walid, striking a boxer’s pose in the center of the mat.
    Nine-year-old Ranim, who has never known peace, her bare feet poking out from beneath an embroidered red dress.
    Nine photos of child refugee for nine years of war.
    Reuters assigned Syrian photographer Khalil Ashawi to illustrate World Refugee Day, which is on Saturday.
    He went to the Atmeh camp for displaced people on the Syrian-Turkish border, where families have been sheltering since 2011 from a conflict that has made half of Syrians homeless.
    He illustrated each of the war’s nine years with a simple picture: a refugee child born in that year. Each poses in a tent, each alone, apart from eight-year-old Jumana and her twin brother Farhan.
    “Every kid represents a year in the uprising.    Every kid narrates a story and they each have their unique story of the war,” Ashawi explained.    “These kids don’t know the meaning of a home, some don’t know or have forgotten that a house has a wall and a door.”
    For those children old enough to talk, Ashawi asked each the same question: what is home?
    Six-year-old Rawan, in a patterned dress, said she still remembers her house “built in the old fashioned way” in south Idlib.
    “A house for me is a place where my friends and family are.    I brought my toys with me but it’s not nice here at all,” she said.    “A tent is not a house, because it might catch fire and it might fly with the wind.”
(Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

6/20/2020 Saudi Arabia to lift nationwide curfew, resume economic activities from Sunday
A worker wears a protective suit, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), sterilizes the tables before
the customers sit down at a restaurant, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 13, 2020. Picture taken June 13, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will end a nationwide curfew and lift restrictions on businesses from Sunday morning after three months of lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, state news agency SPA quoted a source in the interior ministry as saying on Saturday.
    The curfew will be lifted as of 6 AM local time on Sunday.    Restrictions will remain, however, for religious pilgrimages, international travel and social gatherings of more than 50 people.
    The kingdom introduced stringent measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in March, including 24-hour curfews on most towns and cities.
    In May, it announced a three-phase plan to ease restrictions on movement and travel, culminating in the curfew completely ending on June 21.
    The number of coronavirus infections has risen in recent weeks following a relaxation of movement and travel restrictions on May 28.
    The kingdom has recorded 154,223 cases of COVID-19 and a total of 1,230 deaths, the highest in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.
    Saudi Arabia plans to limit numbers at the annual haj pilgrimage to prevent a further outbreak of coronavirus cases, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this month.
    Some 2.5 million pilgrims visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long haj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.    Saudi Arabia asked Muslims in March to put haj plans on hold and suspended the umrah pilgrimage until further notice.
(Reporting by Dahlia Nehme and Marwa Rashad; Editing by Toby Chopra and Christina Fincher)

6/20/2020 Congo court sentences president’s chief of staff to 20 years in prison by Stanis Bujakera
Vital Kamerhe, leader of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) party, attends a meeting in
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 28, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo
    KINSHASA (Reuters) – The Democratic Republic of Congo’s high court on Saturday found the president’s chief of staff guilty of embezzling $48 million in public funds and sentenced him to 20 years in jail, the lead judge said.
    Vital Kamerhe, once a future presidential hopeful, is the most senior politician convicted of graft in Congo, where high-level corruption is endemic.    He now faces 20 years of hard labour.
    “The court has established as fact the offence of embezzlement of public funds relating to the amount of $48,831,148,” said presiding judge Pierrot Bankenge Mvita wearing a mask and rubber gloves.
    Kamerhe denies stealing money earmarked for social housing under President Felix Tshisekedi’s flagship 100-day building programme, and has dismissed the accusations as political. His lawyer, Jean Marie Kabengela Ilunga, called the verdict a “violation of human rights” and said he would appeal.
    Kamerhe, a veteran power broker, appeared at the three-hour outdoor court hearing in a blue and yellow prison jacket and also wore a mask to protect against the new coronavirus.
    He backed Tshisekedi in his successful 2018 election campaign in return for Tshisekedi’s support the next time around in 2023.     Under the ruling, Kamerhe will not be able to run for president for ten years after his punishment.
    His arrest on April 8 sent shock waves through the nation.
    Last week the justice minister revealed that the former presiding judge, who was originally said to have died of a heart attack last month, was actually brutally murdered.
    Transparency groups and the international community had been pressurising Tshisekedi to fulfil his campaign promise of clamping down on corruption, political analysts say.
    “I sincerely think that this is a positive sign for the fight against corruption,” said Florimond Muteba from the Observatory of Public Expenditure, a Congolese transparency group.
(Writing by Edward McAllister and Hereward Holland; editing by Jason Neely and Giles Elgood)

6/20/2020 Erdogan says Turkey lost ground in coronavirus fight by Jonathan Spicer and Irem Koca
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian
President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin//File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Turkey had lost some ground in its battle with the coronavirus but a focus on hygiene, masks and social distancing will protect people and help the economy rebound in the second half of the year.
    This month, Ankara opened restaurants and cafes and lifted weekend stay-home orders and most intercity travel bans. But since June 1 new COVID-19 cases have doubled to nearly 1,600 per day, raising concerns of a re-emergence.
    “The numbers in recent days show that we have lost our position in the fight against the epidemic,” Erdogan said in a televised address.    “But we aim to remove the pandemic from our agenda by respecting the cleaning, mask and distance rules.”
    As Turks have poured out into streets, parks, malls and to vacation spots, face masks were made compulsory in major cities on     Thursday. On Friday new virus cases dipped to just over 1,200 with total cases at more than 185,000, the thirteenth highest in the world.
    A separate general lockdown of several hours was imposed Saturday so students could go out to attend high school exams.    Some Turks posted pictures on social media of tightly packed crowds near schools and criticised the decision to hold tests.
    “Take a good look at these photos … shame,” said one on Twitter.
    A week ago, Turkey’s top medical association criticised the decision to ease restrictions too soon.
    Health and government officials have told Reuters a harder line on social distancing may be adopted even while they said there is no plan to slow the economy, which emerged this month from a near standstill since mid-March.
    Most economists expect Turkey’s economy to contract this year.
    But Erdogan said economic recovery signals have been “quite strong” since May, adding “we expect great momentum from the second half of the year.”
(Editing by Jason Neely and Giles Elgood)

6/20/2020 Syrian refugees call for UN to create solutions in Syria, help return refugees home by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this March 28, 2020 file photo, clients wearing masks to help protect themselves from the
coronavirus wait to use ATM machines outside a closed bank in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
    On World Refugee Day, Syrian refugees called on the United Nations to find a solution to the ongoing crisis in Syria and help them return home.
    While speaking to reporters, one man said conditions at the camp were below the poverty line.
    Near the Syrian border in East Lebanon, a number refugees have been living in dire conditions, lacking basic supplies.    The region has suffered a lack of economic growth for several years, with the influx of refugees weakening the vulnerable state.
    “We are demanding that the United Nations sends us back to our country.    It’s been long enough, we have been here for 10 years and it’s becoming too long.    With the current expensive life conditions here in Lebanon, people now have nothing.” – Khaled Shehadeh, Syrian refugee
    Lebanon has absorbed more than 1.5 million Syrians since the start of the country’s crisis nine years ago.
FILE – This April 19, 2020 photo file photo, shows a large refugee camp on the Syrian side of the border
with Turkey, near the town of Atma, in Idlib province, Syria.(AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed, File)

6/21/2020 Yemen separatists seize remote Socotra island from Saudi-backed government by Mohammed Mukhashaf
FILE PHOTO: A view shows Hadibu city on the capital island of Socotra November 21, 2013. The Socotra islands lie in the
Arabian Sea 380 km south of mainland Yemen and 80 km west of the Horn of Africa. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – Southern separatists have seized control of Yemen’s island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea, deposing its governor and driving out forces of the Saudi-backed government which condemned the action as coup.
    The Southern Transitional Council (STC) declared self rule in the south in April, complicating U.N. efforts to forge a permanent ceasefire in a war that has separatists and the government fighting as nominal allies in a Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi group, who control the north.
    On Saturday, the STC announced it had seized government facilities and military bases on the main island of Socotra, a sparsely populated archipelago which sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
    The government which is led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi condemned the action as a “full-fledged” coup on the island and accused STC forces of attacking government buildings in “gang-style behaviour.”
    Socotra governor Ramzi Mahroos accused coalition leaders Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of turning a blind eye.    The UAE has previously backed STC forces with air strikes in fighting against the government in the south.
    The coalition’s Saudi spokesman and the UAE foreign ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.
    Sources told Reuters last week that Saudi Arabia, which has tried to broker a deal between the STC and Hadi’s government, had presented a proposal to end the separatist stand-off, but the STC subsequently denied receiving it.
    Riyadh wants to prevent another front developing in Yemen’s multifaceted war, which has been locked in military stalemate for years.
    The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Iran-aligned Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government for power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.    The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system.
    Socotra, a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its unique fauna and flora, is located in the shipping lane linking Asia to the Europe via the Red sea and Suez Canal.
(Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/21/2020 Cyprus starts reopening checkpoints closed because of COVID-19
Turkish Cypriots wearing face masks look for their documents as they cross Ayios Dhometios checkpoint, as the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Nicosia, Cyprus June 21, 2020. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
    NICOSIA (Reuters) – Cyprus started reopening crossings between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides on Sunday after being shut for more than three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    But for most Cypriots, movement between the two parts of the divided Mediterranean remained restricted, as the two sides applied different sets of rules.
    Cyprus’s internationally recognised government, which in effect controls only the south of the island, said it would permit crossings from Sunday for those who can produce a negative test for COVID-19 each time they cross.
    Turkish Cypriot authorities also made the tests a requirement, and said only certain groups of individuals could cross.
    Andreas Paralikis, a peace activist, said paying for the tests and different rules would put off many people, especially those who cross regularly.
    “Its killing all traffic,” he said.
    Few attempted to cross a checkpoint in the capital Nicosia.    One person who did cross, Turkish Cypriot Harun Denizkan, was heading with his family to northern Cyprus to see his father.
    Asked about the charge for the test, he said: “I guess scientists know what they are doing.”
    Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 following a brief Greek-inspired coup.    There are a number of crossings along a United Nations-controlled ceasefire line which bisects the island from east to west.    Those crossings started opening from 2003, after years of absolute segregation on the island.
    Northern Cyprus has been recognised only by Ankara.
    Before the closure, thousands would cross the island daily for work, tuition or medical reasons. [L8N2CN60O].
    “COVID didn’t bring us closer together and it saddens me,” said Denizkan.    “The two communities, the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, should sort their stuff out and not wait for others to solve it for them.”
(Reporting by Michele Kambas, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

6/21/2020 Egyptian high-school pupils, masked and gloved, head into exams
High school students wearing protective masks wait in line during the first day of final exams, amid concerns over
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Cairo, Egypt June 21, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Egyptian high-school pupils armed with masks, gloves and hand sanitizers started their final exams on Sunday, despite objections from some parents worried about spreading the coronavirus.
    The health ministry was laying on 2,500 ambulances and providing a doctor for each school.    Any student with a high temperature is meant to have their exam postponed or sit it in isolation.
    The students had their temperatures taken in the morning, before being seated at desks spaced apart from one another.
    Nearly 670,000 pupils from state and private schools, and 128,000 from religious schools, were due to sit the exams.    They come at a time when Egypt has seen an acceleration of coronavirus cases, with confirmed infections surging to 53,758, including 2,106 deaths.
    Authorities have been gradually easing restrictions on movement, though schools and universities have remained shut since March.
    The head of Egypt’s doctors’ syndicate had called for the exams to be postponed, private newspaper Al-Youm al-Sabaa reported, and some parents expressed concern about their children’s safety.
    “Honestly I was worried, and am still worried, because someone in the class might have something (be infected) without having informed the administration on the way in,” said Ayman Mahmoud, whose two sons were taking exams in Cairo.
    Authorities said they had taken all necessary precautions and the education ministry offered students an option to postpone to the next academic year without any penalty.
    End-of-year exams were cancelled for younger pupils, who submitted online research papers instead.
    As in other countries, many coronavirus cases in Egypt are believed to go unreported.    The higher education minister cited a study on June 1 estimating that the actual number of cases could be up to five times higher than the reported figure.
(Reporting by Amr Dalsh and Sherif Fahmy; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Nick Macfie)

6/21/2020 Palestinians fear Israeli annexation could further limit Dead Sea access
People smear themselves with mineral-rich mud on the shore of the Dead Sea in
the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    DEAD SEA, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinians are worried their restricted access to the salty waters of the Dead Sea and its mineral-rich beaches could be cut further if Israel annexes land in the occupied West Bank.
    Israel, citing support from U.S. President Donald Trump, has announced plans to extend sovereignty over parts of the West Bank – including the Jordan Valley, which partly borders the Dead Sea.    Palestinians have voiced outrage at the proposal.
    The Dead Sea is a popular destination where bathers float in hypersaline waters and use the nutrient-rich mud on their skin.    Its shores border Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.
    “This place is a blessing for all Palestinians, but if there will be annexation it will be hard for them to reach here.    They may need permits,” said Musa Farah, a lifeguard at one of the small, Israeli-run resorts that dot the Dead Sea’s West Bank coast.
    Even some owners of Israeli resorts – set up after Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war – are concerned they could lose customers under the annexation plan.
    “My business will be very much affected,” said Dina Dagan, owner of the Biankini Village Resort.    “The Israeli government should know that my business depends on the Palestinians who visit here.    This place is open for Jews and Arabs.”
    During peace talks – stalled since 2014 – the Palestinians have sought to gain some control over part of the Dead Sea coastline and set up resorts, which they see as a potential boon for their economy.
    The Palestinians have long sought a state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
    Most countries view Israeli settlements in occupied territory as illegal.    Israel rejects this.
(Reporting by Yosri Al-Jamal; Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

6/22/2020 Kurdish-led authorities in Syria in talks over U.S. sanctions exemption
FILE PHOTO: Badran Jia Kurd, top Kurdish official, talks during an interview
with Reuters in Qamishli, Syria March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Kurdish-led authorities in northeastern Syria are in talks with their military allies in a U.S.-led coalition over a promised exemption from U.S. sanctions targeting the Syrian government, a senior Kurdish official said.
    Washington says the sanctions, which took effect last week, mark the start of a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to stop the war and agree to a political solution.
    The U.S.-led coalition did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from Reuters.
    Northeastern Syria is controlled by Kurdish-led militia who have helped the U.S.-led coalition fight Islamic State, driving the jihadists out of swathes of Syrian territory.
    Badran Jia Kurd, a vice president of the regional administration, said the sanctions would have an impact on his area which trades with government-held Syria via local merchants and uses the Syrian pound, which has plunged in value.
    “They will lead to increase in prices to a very great degree and to weakness in trade activity with the Syrian interior, while on the other hand crossings to Iraq are closed, meaning the region was already living an economic siege,” Jia Kurd said.
    “They told us the self-administration regions will be exempt from the Caesar sanctions but the mechanisms and means to achieve this exemption are being discussed with the international coalition.”
    The sanctions are named after a Syrian military photographer who smuggled thousands of photos out of Syria showing mass killings, torture and other crimes.
    “We hope there will be international support for our regions given that they are fighting a continuing war against global terrorism,” Jia Kurd wrote.
    The coalition has said the sanctions do not impede humanitarian assistance or hinder “coalition stabilization activities in northeast Syria.”
    The new sanctions allow for the freezing of assets of anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry, editing by Ed Osmond)

6/22/2020 Turkey’s lonely tourist attractions face make-or-break week by Ceyda Caglayan, Jonathan Spicer and Kaan Soyturk
Women chat under umbrellas at the beach of Lara Barut Collection Hotel, amid the COVID-19 outbreak,
in the southern resort city of Antalya, Turkey June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kaan Soyturk
    ISTANBUL/ANTALYA (Reuters) – Turkey’s Mediterranean coasts and historic attractions face a critical week as the government presses to open borders and salvage at least part of a tourist season already battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
    With beaches largely empty and many hotels deciding whether to open, Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy told Reuters he hoped the world’s sixth-largest destination could attract up to half of last year’s 45 million arrivals.
    But much depends on talks to begin flights from Russia, Germany and Britain – also hard hit by the virus – which should reach some conclusions by early next week, he said.
    The stakes are high for Turkey, where a rebound this month in COVID-19 cases has raised concerns in a country where tourism accounts for up to 12% of the economy.    Foreign arrivals fell by two thirds in the first five months of the year.
    To convince foreigners and their governments that travel is safe, Ankara launched a “healthy tourism” programme including health and hygiene checks, and more than 600 hotels have applied for certification.    It is lobbying some 70 countries with a focus on the European Union.
    Yet flights are only beginning to trickle in, including from the United States.    In the Mediterranean hub of Antalya at the weekend the historic town centre was virtually empty and very few foreign tourists were seen at hotels.
    Such hotels “cannot survive with only Turkish tourists,” Ersoy said in a Friday interview.    “The next 10 days will be critical as decisions are made on borders … so far it’s not clear how international traffic will start.”
    Asked whether tourism would be halted if foreigners sparked new outbreaks, he said “we have to watch the numbers” and decisions would be taken with a separate scientific committee.
    Turkey hopes top tourist source Russia – which has the world’s third-highest coronavirus cases – will start flights in mid-July.    Second-place Germany has a coronavirus travel warning until the end of August but could lift it sooner.
    Since a lockdown was lifted this month, new official cases doubled before settling around 1,200 per day.    President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey lost some ground.
    Some $35 billion in tourism revenues helped briefly turn Turkey’s current account positive last year.    In April, the deficit was $5 billion as revenues disappeared and empty hotel rooms this summer would drive it higher.
    A growing external imbalance will put more pressure on Turkey’s lira, which hit a record low last month, and could raise more concerns over Turkey’s diminished foreign currency reserves.
    “Tourism is probably the sector which will go through the longest recession” and its seasonal workers face “a very bad period,” said Seyfettin Gursel, economist at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University.
    Ankara decided to halt state funding that partially covered lost wages of formal employees, including some in tourism.    Workers and a union said some hotels have begun training on hygiene and social distancing even while many have held off hiring.
    Okan Osman, from Frankfurt, was one of very few tourists to arrive in Antalya, which he said was “much better and cleaner” than years past.    “Of course it’s difficult for everyone and for the staff, but they seem to have been well trained and everyone is really well prepared.”
(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Giles Elgood)

6/22/2020 U.S. officials to meet this week on Israel annexation plan by Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk outside the
Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials will gather this week to discuss whether to give Israel a green light for its plan to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s target date of July 1 approaches.
    A senior administration official said on Monday that the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, will be in Washington to meet officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz.    President Donald Trump could also join in.
    Under Trump’s Middle East peace proposal, unveiled in January, it is envisaged that the United States would recognize the Jewish settlements – built on land that the Palestinians seek for a state – as part of Israel.
    The proposal would create a Palestinian state as part of a broader peace plan, but impose strict conditions on it.    Palestinian leaders have dismissed the initiative entirely.
    Encouraged by Trump’s push, Netanyahu has set July 1 as the date to launch his project of extending sovereignty over the settlements and the Jordan Valley, hoping for a green light from Washington.    Most countries view Israel’s settlements on occupied land as illegal, and Palestinian leaders have voiced outrage at the prospect of annexation.
    “Ultimately, as the team approaches this thought of annexation, the main thing going through our heads is, ‘Does this in fact help advance the cause of peace?’    And therefore, that is what will help drive a lot of the discussion,” the official said.
    Among the main options expected to be considered is a step-by-step process in which Israel would initially declare sovereignty over several settlements close to Jerusalem instead of the 30% of the West Bank envisaged in Netanyahu’s original plan, according to a person familiar with the matter.
    The source said the Trump administration has not closed the door to a larger annexation, but fears that allowing Israel to move too fast could kill any hopes of eventually drawing the Palestinians to sit down to discuss Trump’s peace plan.
    There are also concerns about opposition to annexation from Jordan, one of only two countries that have a peace treaty with Israel, as well from Gulf states that have quietly expanded engagement with Israel in recent years.
    Washington has also made clear it wants Israel’s unity government, which has been divided on the issue, to reach a consensus before going ahead with any actions, the source said.    Defense Minister Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White Party, has so far been reluctant to back Likud-leader Netanyahu’s plan.
    Berkowitz has been fielding calls about the Trump plan from European and Arab nations, but the U.S. side has privately expressed frustration that they are not offering constructive ideas on how to amend it, a source familiar with the issue said.
(Reporting By Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

6/22/2020 Egypt asks UN Security Council to intervene in dispute with Ethiopia over hydroelectric dam on Nile River by OAN Newsroom
FILE – This satellite image taken Thursday, May 28, 2020, shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz
starting to fill its massive, newly built hydroelectric dam on the Nile River next month. (Maxar Technologies via AP, File)
    Egyptian officials are asking the United Nations Security Council to take action amid an ongoing dispute with Ethiopia over the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Nile River.
    During an interview over the weekend, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry accused Ethiopian officials of warmongering.    This came after Ethiopian officials on Friday said they plan to begin operating the damn in July.
    For several years, Egypt has implored Ethiopia not to fill the dam by stressing the country relies on the Nile River for around 90 percent of its water supplies.
    Shukry argue that if the United Nations doesn’t step in, it would signal broad international implications.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry speaks during an interview with The Associated
Press at his office, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, June 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
    “We are depositing the issue with the Security Council with the desire that it undertakes its responsibilities,” he stated.    “If the Security Council does not undertake its responsibilities, this is even a greater threat to international peace and security.”
    Shukry also claimed Egypt will take a decisive and loud stance if they have to handle the situation themselves.

6/22/2020 France ‘will not tolerate’ Turkey’s role in Libya, Macron says by John Irish and Marine Pennetier
FILE PHOTO - French President Emmanuel Macron attends a virtual meeting with European leaders to discuss the
bloc's budget and recovery fund, in Paris, France June 19, 2020. Eliot Blondet/Pool via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – France will not tolerate Turkey’s military intervention in Libya, President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday, accusing Ankara of playing “a dangerous game.”
    Turkey has intervened decisively in recent weeks in Libya, providing air support, weapons and allied fighters from Syria to help the government based in Tripoli repel a year-long assault by eastern military leader Khalifa Haftar.
    “I have already had the opportunity to say very clearly to President (Tayyip) Erdogan, I consider that Turkey is playing a dangerous game in Libya today and going against all of its commitments made at the Berlin conference,” Macron said alongside his Tunisian counterpart Kais Saied, referring to a peace meeting earlier this year.
    “We won’t tolerate the role that Turkey is playing in Libya,” he said.
    Turkey’s help appears to have secured Libya’s capital and the west of the country for the Tripoli government against Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
    Paris has been accused of supporting Haftar politically, having previously given him military assistance to fight Islamist militants.    France denies backing Haftar but has stopped short of rebuking his allies, while repeatedly criticising Turkey.
    Macron, who spoke earlier on Monday by phone to U.S. President Donald Trump on the crisis in Libya, briefly condemned the role of Russian mercenaries in Libya, but focused mostly on Ankara’s role.
    When asked about Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi suggesting he had a right to intervene in Libya, Macron said the Egyptian leader had reason to be worried.
    “You noted the legitimate concern of President Sisi when he sees troops arriving at his border,” Macron said.    Turkish-backed forces are not known to be operating near Egypt’s border.
    “This is a Mediterranean subject that affects us because today from Libya each day men and women are fleeing misery to come to Europe.    Do you think we can let Turkey for a long time import Syrian fighters to Libya given everything we know?
(Reporting by John Irish and Marine Pennetier; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Graff)

6/22/2020 Palestinian painter channels her fears of Israeli annexation by Raneen Sawafta
Khadeeja Bisharat, a Palestinian artist, displays a conflict-inspired artwork she has painted,
in Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
    JORDAN VALLEY, West Bank (Reuters) – Amid the barren hills of the Jordan Valley, Palestinian artist Khadeeja Bisharat paints scenes of bulldozers and demolitions, a reflection of fears of what may happen to her isolated Bedouin community if Israel annexes land in the occupied West Bank.
    Some 15,000 Palestinians live in tiny pastoral encampments scattered across the Jordan Valley.    Israel has pledged to extend its sovereignty over the territory – some 30% of the West Bank – with cabinet-level discussion on the move set to begin July 1.
    “This affects our psychological wellbeing, and the children’s wellbeing … Will they allow residents to stay? Will they demolish their houses?” Bisharat, 37, said from her Bedouin encampment in the northern Jordan Valley.
    She says she has tried to express her fear and uncertainty through paintings, among them a watercolour depicting women gathered around a demolished home and a scene of a yellow bulldozer approaching a tin Bedouin shack.
    “I try to convey a message of how the occupation impacts us, the violations we are subjected to,” the mother-of-three said.
    Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war.    An Israeli military post, near the Jewish settlement of Hamra, looks down on Bisharat’s community from a nearby hilltop.
    She said she felt surrounded, far from areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority and exposed to Israeli demolition of farm shacks erected by her community.
    Israel has cited a lack of proper permits, required in parts of the West Bank under complete Israeli military control, in issuing demolition orders.
    Peace Now, an Israeli advocacy group that opposes Israel’s settlement policy, says most Palestinian applications for building permission are rejected.
    Bisharat’s husband, Mahmoud, said their community would be defiant in the face of Israeli annexation.
    “Even if it is imposed on us, we will resist with all the means we have.”
(Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

6/22/2020 Saudi Arabia to bar arrivals from abroad to attend the haj
FILE PHOTO - A small group of worshippers pray at Kaaba in the Grand Mosque while practicing social distancing,
following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during the holy month of Ramadan,
in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 4, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said on Monday it will bar arrivals from abroad to attend the haj this year due to the coronavirus, allowing only a limited number of Saudi citizens and residents to make the pilgrimage with social distancing measures enforced.
    The announcement means this will be the first year in modern times that Muslims from around the world have not been allowed to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which all Muslims aim to perform at least once in a lifetime.
    “This decision is taken to ensure Hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols to protect human beings from the risks associated with this pandemic and in accordance with the teachings of Islam in preserving the lives of human beings,” the ministry that oversees pilgrimages said in a statement.
    The number of coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia has exceeded 160,000, with 1,307 deaths, following a rise in new infections over the past two weeks.
    Some 2.5 million pilgrims typically visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long haj.    Official data show Saudi Arabia earns around $12 billion a year from the haj and the lesser, year-round pilgrimage known as umrah.
    The kingdom halted international passenger flights in March and asked Muslims in March to put haj plans on hold until further notice.    International arrivals for umrah pilgrimages have also been suspended until further notice.
    Earlier this month, Malaysia and Indonesia both barred their citizens from travelling to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage, citing fears of the coronavirus.
(Reporting By Samar Ahmed and Marwa Rashad; writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Graff)

6/22/2020 Liberia extends COVID-19 state of emergency as cases rise ‘exponentially’
FILE PHOTO: A police officer chases shoppers to clear the streets of the Red Light market on the first day of lockdown to stop
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Monrovia, Liberia April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Derick Snyder/File Photo
    MONROVIA (Reuters) – Liberian President George Weah extended a state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic by 30 days on Monday, citing an exponential increase in the number of cases despite compulsory mask-wearing and stay-at-home orders.
    The decision runs counter to moves by other governments in West Africa that have sought to ease restrictions, despite rising case numbers, to allow the resumption of day-to-day economic activities that millions of citizens depend on to survive.
    Liberia has so far confirmed 626 cases of COVID-19 and 34 deaths since registering its first case in mid-March.    A state of emergency was declared on April 8 that included the quarantining of 15 counties and a requirement to stay indoors after 3pm.
    But despite restrictions on movement, social distancing and wearing of masks, the number of people infected has “exponentially increased,” Weah said in a proclamation, explaining the decision to extend the state of emergency.
    Over the next 30 days, the government will re-examine its response to the pandemic and introduce measures to better protect Liberians, he said without giving further details.
    Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries, and most people live without reliable access to electricity and clean water.    The 2013-16 Ebola outbreak killed more than 4,800 people there, including more than 150 healthcare workers.
(Reporting by Alphonso Toweh; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Pravin Char)

6/23/2020 Palestinian driver shot dead after alleged car-ramming on Israeli police
Israeli forces check the scene of a Palestinian ramming attack at an Israeli military checkpoint near
the town of Abu Dis in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police on Tuesday shot dead a Palestinian man who they said had tried to ram his car into an officer at a military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank.
    Palestinian officials questioned the police’s account of Ahmad Erekat’s death.    They said he was rushing to nearby Bethlehem to pick up family members from a hair salon on his sister’s wedding day.
    Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the 27-year-old Erekat lightly injured an officer when he drove his vehicle into a barrier at a checkpoint near the town of Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem.
    “(He) got out of the car and approached officers who responded by shooting” him and “he died at the scene,” Rosenfeld added.
    Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the man killed was his relative, and that his wedding was set for next week.
    “This young man was killed in cold blood.    What the occupation army (Israeli military) claims, that he was trying to run someone over, is a lie,” he said.
    Video showed Israeli troops placing a plastic sheet over the man, who lay shirtless on the ground next to his vehicle.
    Tensions have risen in recent weeks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet due on July 1 to begin discussing annexation of the West Bank, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war and that Palestinians seek for a state.
    Palestinians vehemently oppose the annexation plan, as do most world powers.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/23/2020 Struggling Lisbon business owners unhappy with new coronavirus curfew by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira
A street musician plays next to restaurants, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak, in Lisbon, Portugal June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
    LISBON (Reuters) – Dozens of Lisbon business owners despaired on Tuesday as new restrictions forcing them to shut earlier each day were put in place across the city to tackle a fresh wave of coronavirus cases on the outskirts.
    Struggling to make ends meet and explaining she has no more money, 60-year-old coffee shop owner Fatima Reis said, “I have to work.    They have to let me work.”
    But, like all other commercial spaces in Lisbon, with the exception of restaurants, she must now close her tiny shop in Graca, an historic neighbourhood by 8 p.m., as authorities seek to reduce the number of cases in and around the city.
    The fact restaurants can remain open longer has particularly struck a nerve for small businesses.    Reis, who had to close her coffee shop completely for two months during lockdown, wishes she could stay open until 10 pm, to catch customers returning from work or the beach.
    Localised outbreaks in poorer neighbourhoods and industrial hubs on Lisbon’s outskirts, as well as parties and raves along the shoreline, are worrying authorities and have kept cases at a worrying plateau in their hundreds for the past month.
    “Young people can’t control themselves, they want to be at large, in groups,” said 64-year-old Jose Rocha Pereira, who will also have to shut his bakery at 8 p.m.    “I think while this is the case, the measures are well applied.”
    “(But) they have to be the same for everyone,” he said.
    Other measures in place in Lisbon from Tuesday include a limit on gatherings of no more than 10 people, half the nationwide limit.     Drinking in public spaces outside of licensed esplanades will also be prohibited.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Alexandra Hudson)

6/23/2020 Egypt lifts night curfew, eases coronavirus restrictions from Saturday
FILE PHOTO: A view of a closed cinema during Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim festival marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan,
amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Cairo, Egypt, May 24, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt will from Saturday lift a night-time curfew that had been in force since March 25 to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and reopen restaurants, cafes, and places of worship, albeit with limits on the numbers visiting, the government said.
    The new measures come despite Egypt seeing an acceleration of new cases in recent weeks, with infections confirmed by the Health Ministry surging to 56,809, including 2,278 deaths.
    While Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly acknowledged the numbers were rising as he announced the measures on Tuesday, he repeated the government’s message that citizens will have to learn to live with the pandemic as it seeks to limit the impact on the economy.
    “We still have the ability to absorb the current numbers and we also have an existing reserve of hospitals; the armed forces and the police hospitals,” he said.
    Restaurants and cafes will operate at 25% capacity and shut at 10 p.m. from Saturday, while mosques and churches will be open for daily praying but not for end-of-week prayers or services which sees larger crowds, Madbouly said.
    Cinemas and theatres will also reopen at 25% capacity.
    Public beaches and parks will remain shut and public transport will be suspended from midnight until 4 a.m.. Most tourist hotels have their own private beaches and pools.
    The decisions to ease the restrictions could be revoked if people do not follow the rules still in place, Madbouly said.
    The curfew will be fully lifted starting from Saturday, Hany Younes, the prime minister’s media adviser said.
    This month, Egypt said it would reopen all its airports for scheduled international traffic and open up its main resorts for foreign tourists on July 1.
    As in other countries, many coronavirus cases are believed to have gone unreported.    The higher education minister cited a study on June 1 estimating that the actual number of cases could be up to five times higher than the reported figure.
    Separately, a telephone survey conducted by Baseera, a private centre for public opinion research that is known for its support of the government, showed on Monday that nearly 616,000 Egyptians over 18 years in the country of 100 million people had been infected.
    Some 15% said they were diagnosed through a coronavirus test, while others were diagnosed after normal blood tests, chest X-rays or a visit to a doctor.    Nearly 16% self-diagnosed, given their symptoms.    The government has not commented on the survey results.
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla, Omar Fahmy and Moamen Said Atallah; Writing by Aidan Lewis and Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Jon Boyle and Alison Williams)

6/23/2020 Saudi leadership pressures former intelligence official’s family, seeks access to documents
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with U.S. Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – As Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman moved to tighten his grip on power over the past few years, detaining senior royals and opponents, one person has eluded him: a former top-ranking intelligence official who was close to a key rival to the throne.
    In recent months, the crown prince — known by the initials MbS — has increased pressure on relatives of Saad al-Jabri, including detaining his adult children, to try to force his return to the kingdom from exile in Canada, the former intelligence official’s family say.    In the crown prince’s sights are documents Jabri has access to that contain sensitive information, according to four people with knowledge of the situation.
    Jabri was a long-time aide to Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who the crown prince ousted as heir to the throne in a 2017 palace coup that left MbS the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and a key U.S. ally.
    Saudi authorities detained bin Nayef and two other senior royals on March 6, the latest in a series of extraordinary measures seen aimed at consolidating MbS’s strength within the ruling Al Saud family and removing perceived threats to his power ahead of an eventual succession upon the king’s death or abdication.
    Multiple top Interior Ministry officials were also detained in March, said two of the people with knowledge of the situation – both well-connected Saudis.
    Days after bin Nayef’s detention, according to Jabri’s family, Saudi authorities arrested two of his children, 21-year old Omar and 20-year old Sarah, in a dawn raid on the family home in the capital Riyadh.    That was followed by the detention of the former intelligence official’s brother in early May, the family said.    Three of the people with knowledge of the situation confirmed Jabri’s relatives had been detained.
    According to the four people with knowledge of the situation, the crown prince believes he could use the documents in Jabri’s possession against current rivals for the throne.    He also fears they contain additional information that could compromise him and his father, the king, the four people said.
    The documents include information on bin Nayef’s assets abroad, which also potentially could be useful to MbS in putting pressure on his predecessor, said the two well-connected Saudis and a former regional security official.    Jabri also has access to sensitive files relating to the financial dealings of senior royals, including King Salman and MbS, said one of the well-connected Saudi sources, the former regional security official and a diplomat.
    The diplomat said some of the information related to land deals and transactions, without elaborating beyond saying that they related to King Salman during his time as governor of Riyadh, a position he held for nearly four decades prior to his 2015 ascension to the throne.
    One of the well-connected Saudi sources said the crown prince wants to press charges against bin Nayef relating to allegations of corruption during bin Nayef’s time at the Ministry of Interior.    Reuters was unable to determine the details of those allegations.
    “They have long wanted Jabri as the right-hand man of MbN,” the person said, referring to bin Nayef.
    The Saudi government has not confirmed or publicly commented on the seizure of Jabri’s children or his brother, Abdulrahman al-Jabri.    The Saudi government media office did not respond to detailed questions from Reuters about the detentions or the reasons behind them.
    Jabri’s family and one of the well-connected Saudis said Saudi authorities had accused Jabri of corruption but did not elaborate on the nature of the allegations.    The family says the allegations are false.
    Saad al-Jabri declined to comment via his son.
    Reuters couldn’t determine where bin Nayef and the other two princes are being held and was unable to reach them for comment.
    A U.S. official said Washington had raised the issue of detention of the children with the Saudi leadership.    The official added that many U.S. government officials had worked directly with Jabri over a long period of time and that he had been “a very, very strong counterterrorism partner.”
    A second U.S. official in Washington said the United States was in contact with Jabri’s family in Canada and were “exploring ways to assist.”
    “We are deeply concerned by reports of the al Jabri children’s detention and would strongly condemn any unjust persecution of family members whatever the allegations against Saad Al-Jabri may be,” the official said.
    Canada was also concerned about the detention of Jabri’s children, said Syrine Khoury, a spokeswoman for Canada’s foreign ministry.     She didn’t elaborate on whether Canada was taking specific steps.
    For nearly two decades, Saad al-Jabri had worked closely with bin Nayef, helping to overhaul the kingdom’s intelligence and counterterrorism operations and building close ties with Western officials.
    “He had all the files on everything and everybody,” said the former regional security official.    Jabri coordinated relations between Saudi intelligence and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the former official said.    The CIA declined to comment.
    When King Salman ascended the throne in January 2015, he appointed Jabri to a cabinet-level position.    Bin Nayef became crown prince in April 2015.    Jabri’s son, Khalid al-Jabri, said that at that time the relationship between his father and MbS was “initially really good” but the relationship soon soured, spurred by opponents close to MbS who alleged that Jabri was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.    The family strongly denies it.
    Four months later, in August 2015, Jabri learned he had been fired from his post via a state television announcement, said Khalid Al-Jabri, who now lives in Canada along with his father.
    Saad al-Jabri became a personal advisor to MbN, a position he held until the royal was deposed as crown prince and removed as head of the interior ministry in June 2017.    The two well-connected Saudis and the diplomat described Jabri as fiercely loyal to MbN.
    Since 2017, when Jabri moved to Canada, Saudi authorities have made repeated attempts to lure the former intelligence official back to the kingdom, both directly and through interlocutors, Khalid Al-Jabri told Reuters.
    He added that his siblings had been barred from leaving Saudi Arabia for more than two years prior to their detention and were questioned by authorities on more than one occasion regarding their father.    The crown prince had made an offer in 2017 to Jabri senior to allow the children to travel in exchange for his return, he said.
    The family said they don’t know where Jabri’s children are being held and aren’t able to reach them.    “Every time we ask people inside (Saudi Arabia), we’ve been told MbS is handling their detention himself. Don’t bother asking for details,” Khalid Al-Jabri said.
    Jabri’s deep knowledge of some of the kingdom’s most sensitive information, coupled with his popularity in Western political circles and among some long-serving Saudi security officials, made him a target, according to his son, the diplomat, the former regional security official and a former Western intelligence source.
    The diplomat said Jabri could be perceived as a threat to MbS if U.S. President Donald Trump, who defended strategic defence and energy ties with the kingdom during the global uproar over Khashoggi’s death, failed to win re-election.    The White House declined to comment.
    The family said it is lobbying U.S. lawmakers for help. Senators Marco Rubio and Patrick Leahy have spoken with the family, according to their offices.    Members of Congress are concerned that “two young people have disappeared after being seized by Saudi state security forces,” said Tim Rieser, senior foreign policy aide to Democratic Senator Leahy.    “It seems that they’re being used as hostages to try and coerce their father to return to Saudi Arabia,” he said.    He added that the Senator’s office is seeking information about their whereabouts and calling for their release.
    The crown prince is officially next in line to the throne to his 85-year old father, King Salman.    His efforts to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from its heavy reliance on oil and lift social restrictions, including on women, were welcomed by many     Western officials and Saudis.    But the crown prince has also drawn criticism for attempts to silence dissidents and marginalize rivals. He came under international criticism over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, which the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has said the crown prince ordered.
    The crown prince has denied ordering Khashoggi’s killing but said he ultimately bears “full responsibility” as the kingdom’s de facto leader.
    Saudi watchers and diplomats said that MbS has grown increasingly concerned with his standing, both at home and abroad following the Khashoggi killing. Some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family and business elite expressed frustration with his leadership following the largest-ever attack on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure in September, as Reuters previously reported.
    There is also discontent at home, where the economy has been struck hard by the coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices, leading to austerity measures.    The crown prince nevertheless still has staunch supporters and is popular among young Saudis for opening up the conservative kingdom and pledging to diversify the economy.
(Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low and Jason Szep)

6/23/2020 Vexed by annexation: The battle inside the EU over Israel by Robin Emmott, Luke Baker, John Irish and Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian returns a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a protest against Israel's plan
to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Hebron June 12, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Two months before Donald Trump unveiled his Middle East peace plan on Jan. 28, Luxembourg’s foreign minister was certain the U.S. president would break with the European Union and recognise Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
    Jean Asselborn wrote to his EU colleagues on Dec. 1 to warn that a lasting, two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians was being “dismantled piece by piece, day after day,” according to the letter, reviewed by Reuters.
    In an assertive move for Luxembourg, a country of just 626,000 people but a founder member of the European Union, Asselborn urged the bloc to “speak with a strong and unified voice” and defend a world “where the rule of law prevails, not the rule of the strongest.”
    Trump’s highly contested plan duly offered U.S. recognition of Israel’s settlements dotted across the West Bank, and Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley — land captured in the 1967 Middle East war and claimed by Palestinians for their own future state.    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set July 1 as the date to begin moving forward on the annexation.
    The United Nations Security Council has said that settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which has been ratified by 192 nations and stipulates that a country cannot “deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”    Israel disputes this, citing biblical, historical and political connections to the land.
    Trump has reversed decades of U.S.-led diplomacy by backing Israeli annexation, with a White House statement arguing that his plan “creates a path to prosperity, security, and dignity for all involved.”    European Union officials fear an Israeli unilateral move will undermine years of peace-making efforts.
    “The prospect of a viable two-state solution is the only way forward to ensure peace,” Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, the EU representative to the West Bank and Gaza, told Reuters.
    However, a Reuters examination based on internal documents and interviews with more than two dozen diplomats and officials shows there is no clear EU strategy either on how to stop Israel’s plan or to respond in a meaningful way if annexation goes ahead.
    Where once the European Union spoke with unanimity on Middle East peace, with bigger nations like France and Britain able to dominate discussion, such unity has proved hard to maintain over the past decade as smaller countries became more assertive and Israel successfully forged strong ties with newer member states, EU diplomats said.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office declined requests for comment on efforts to secure backing within Europe for annexation.    An Israeli official familiar with the issue said Europe and Israel shared many partnerships in various fields and that it was important not to undermine them.    “In our view, partners should not threaten each other or speak above each other’s heads,” the official said.
    A senior EU diplomat, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, acknowledged that the bloc will almost certainly fail to reach the unanimity required for joint action should annexation take place.
    “It’s hell in the EU to try to get a common position on this,” the diplomat said.
    With possible annexation looming, a group of at least eight smaller EU states, led by Luxembourg, is attempting to take on Netanyahu, seeing itself as the conscience of Europe and emphasizing the need to stand up for international law in part because the bloc is itself bound together by laws.
    Standing with Luxembourg are Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Malta and Finland, EU diplomats say.
    While most are diplomatic minnows, they have equal say in the EU’s consensus-based, decision-making councils.    In Middle East policy, they feel the weight of history far less than Europe’s most powerful nation, Germany, which still carries the burden of guilt over the Nazi crimes of World War Two.
    Ranged against Luxembourg and its allies are countries including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Greece, Latvia, Cyprus and Poland, all of which, to one extent or another, have shown themselves ready to defend Israel’s interests, according to diplomats, cables and meeting minutes detailing the diplomatic discussions among the EU’s 27 governments in Brussels.
    Internal EU minutes from meetings on May 6 and May 13, when EU envoys discussed Asselborn’s call to action, highlight the split.
    “No unilateral steps,” the Czech envoy told the May 13 gathering, ruling out the prospect of the EU adopting punitive measures should Israel press ahead with annexation.    Hungary then blocked any attempt to draw up a joint statement for a meeting of EU foreign ministers on May 15.
    Of the bigger EU states, France, with the largest Jewish and Arab populations in Europe, and Spain have largely aligned with Luxembourg, but they maintain a lower profile in discussions, four EU diplomats said.    Both countries have spoken out publicly against annexation, but have not said how they might respond.
    Denmark and the Netherlands sit in the middle along with Germany and Italy, critical of Israel at times but not overtly pro-Palestinian. One senior EU diplomat said Berlin was against annexation and if Israel proceeded with its plan, it would come “at a price.”    However, the diplomat said EU economic sanctions were simply too sensitive for Berlin to consider.    “Germany will not push for that.”
    Asselborn, 71, who has served as Luxembourg’s foreign minister since mid-2004, said the issue of annexation went beyond the Middle East.
    “We cannot cut international law into pieces.    There are principles that need to be upheld,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
    “You’re speaking to a Luxembourger.    I can tell you, our country is a small country, but we were occupied twice in the 20th century.    Without respect for international law, we would no longer exist,” he said.
    The European Union is Israel’s largest trading partner, with nearly a third of Israel’s exports going to the bloc.    Belgium is among the countries that feels the EU could use this leverage, and has asked the European Commission, the EU’s executive, to draw up a list of possible punitive measures on Israel, including on trade, an EU diplomat said.
    Amongst possible countermeasures being discussed in private in Brussels are suspending Israel’s privileged EU trade agreement, banning imports from settlements, and cutting Israel out of scientific research and student exchange programmes, EU diplomats say.
    In his December letter to other EU ministers, Asselborn suggested nations should consider a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state – something only Sweden has done to date.
    EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in February that annexation “if implemented, could not pass unchallenged.”    However, the lack of consensus means he has been unable to flesh out what any such challenge might contain.
    By contrast, the EU agreed swiftly in 2014 to impose hefty economic sanctions targeting Russia’s financial, energy and defence sectors when Moscow seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine – land that Russia still holds.
    “Big countries never had a problem imposing counter measures against Russia over Crimea’s annexation, so why can they not do it on Israel? We need coherence,” Simon Moutquin, a Belgian Green lawmaker, told Reuters.
    EU diplomats, officials and experts point to a strong presence of pro-Israel advocates in Brussels, with at least 10 lobby groups opening offices in the city over the past 17 years as Israel looked to bolster its international image in the wake of the second Palestinian intifada and three wars in Gaza.    Israel’s own diplomats are also viewed as extremely efficient.
    “The Israelis are very active in Brussels,” said European parliamentarian Antonio Lopez-Isturiz White, a Spaniard who chairs the assembly’s delegation with Israel.
    Perhaps the most significant relationship Israel has forged over the past decade is that with Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, EU diplomats say.    Through Hungary, Israel’s ties have improved with the Visegrad Group, an alliance combining Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, which carries its own weight within the EU.
    In Orban, Netanyahu has found an ally prepared to block statements or actions critical of Israel, even in the face of heavy pressure from other European capitals, EU diplomats say.    Thanks in part to his blocking tactics, the EU has not been able to agree to a legally binding position on the Middle East peace process since 2016.
    “Hungary … will continue to oppose unilateral and unjust international political approaches against Israel,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto wrote on Facebook on June 10, as Germany’s foreign minister flew for talks to Jerusalem to warn against annexation.
(Robin Emmott reported for this story from Brussels, John Irish from Paris, Luke Baker from London and Maayan Lubell from Jerusalem; Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin and Gergely Szakacs in Budapest; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

6/23/2020 In West Bank, Israeli settler leaders complicate annexation plan by Dan Williams
Hananel Elkayam, mayor of Itamar, gestures during his interview with Reuters in Itamar a Jewish
settlement near Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    ITAMAR, West Bank (Reuters) – Jewish settler leaders who resist the creation of a Palestinian state are complicating Israel’s plans to annex scores of settlements in the occupied West Bank under U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace blueprint.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet is due next month to discuss the annexation plan, under which Israel would apply sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank – in areas where most of its about 130 settlements are located.
    The plan is opposed by the Palestinians, who seek a state in all of the West Bank, as well as in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as a capital.    Most world powers agree.
    The plan also faces resistance from settler leaders who oppose Trump’s calls for a future Palestinian state that would envelop at least 15 Jewish settlements – despite U.S. guarantees of protection for, and access to, the future “enclaves.”
    “We’re talking about strangling a community,” said Hananel Elkayam, mayor of Itamar settlement, one of the 15 named in the plan.
    In misgivings echoed in the other 14, Elkayam predicted residents would be unable to commute to jobs through territory that would be in a new Palestinian state, would by denied construction and would be at greater risk of attack than now.
    “I would tell (Trump): Thanks very much for the plan, thanks very much for the great affection for the Jewish people (but) we’ll set our own destiny,” Elkayam said.
    U.S. officials will this week discuss whether to give Israel the green light for annexation moves seen by the Palestinians and many other countries as illegal land-grabs.
    Israel’s West Bank settlements were built by successive governments on land captured in a 1967 war.    More than 400,000 Israelis now live there, with another 200,000 in East Jerusalem, which was also taken in 1967.
    A Direct Poll survey last week found 56.8% of settlers support the Trump plan, more than the Israeli average.
    Elkayam and other settler leaders say that backing is for annexation – on condition that plans for Palestinian statehood are scrapped.
    Israeli and U.S. officials want to be seen as keeping a door open to diplomacy.    Where that door might lead worries Yochai Damri, head of a regional council that includes four of the 15 listed settlements.
    Damri sees Palestinian statehood becoming more likely if the Republican president is defeated by Democrat Joe Biden in November’s U.S. election, and if, or when, Netanyahu is succeeded by centrist Benny Gantz, the Israeli premier’s partner in a fragile unity government.
    The Trump plan says residents of the future enclaves can stay put “unless they choose otherwise.”    Damri and other settlers hear in that a hint that they should quit to make way for Palestinian territorial contiguity.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Timothy Heritage)

6/24/2020 Israel, Palestinians tighten restrictions as coronavirus reemerges
FILE PHOTO: A member of Palestinian security forces gestures as he speaks with a truck occupant at a checkpoint
after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has extended to June 5 a state of emergency in response
to the coronavirus crisis, in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli and Palestinian authorities have brought back some coronavirus restrictions after the number of new cases jumped in what official’s fear could herald a “second wave” of infections.
    A partial lockdown went into effect on Wednesday in a town in central Israel and several neighborhoods in the city of Tiberias where infection rates were particularly high.    The Palestinian Authority put the West Bank city of Hebron on lockdown as well.
    Israel was one of the first countries to close its borders and impose restrictions when the global pandemic first emerged and the Palestinians quickly followed suit.
    The campaign took a major economic toll, but it worked. An initial spike of hundreds of daily cases dropped to single digits.     Israel has reported 308 fatalities, much less than many developed countries, and three people have died from the virus in the Palestinian territories.
    The restrictions have since been gradually eased in a bid to revive businesses that had closed, and with it infection numbers have slowly risen.    On Tuesday, Israel saw 428 new cases and the Palestinians reported 179, the highest number to date.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he expected more communities would be added to the lockdown list and urged Israelis to follow social distancing guidelines.    On Monday he gave police the authority to hand out 500 shekel ($146) fines to people not wearing masks in public.
    Despite the spike in cases, Israel is unlikely to reimpose a full lockdown, during which unemployment soared.    A 100-billion-shekel stimulus plan is already pushing the country’s budget deficit in 2020 to an estimated 11% of gross domestic product.
    “Economic reserves are low with a limited arsenal for policymakers.    This current state of affairs makes it very difficult to reimpose a closure,” Bank Hapoalim, the country’s biggest lender, said in a research report.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Rami Ayyub, Tova Cohen, Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/24/2020 Trump aides begin discussions on Israel’s West Bank annexation plan: sources by Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump puts his hands on Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's
shoulders as they deliver joint remarks on a Middle East peace plan proposal in the East Room
of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior aides to U.S. President Donald Trump began discussions on Tuesday on whether to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a green light for his plan to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, according to a U.S. official and a person familiar with the deliberations.
    With Netanyahu’s July 1 target date approaching, the White House meeting included Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and the U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, the U.S. official said.
    Trump, whose support Netanyahu is counting on for a move that has drawn condemnation from the Palestinians and U.S. Arab allies, did not participate, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.    But U.S. sources have said he could join in later as this week’s deliberations continue.
    Under Trump’s Middle East peace proposal unveiled in January, it is envisaged that the United States would recognize the Jewish settlements – built on land the Palestinians seek for a state – as part of Israel.
    Trump’s proposal would eventually create a Palestinian state under a broader peace plan but impose strict conditions on it.    Palestinian leaders have completely rejected the initiative.
    Encouraged by Trump’s push, Netanyahu intends to launch his project of extending sovereignty over the settlements and the Jordan Valley, hoping for U.S. approval.    Most countries view Israel’s settlements as illegal, and Palestinian leaders have voiced outrage at the prospect of annexation.
    Among the main options under U.S. consideration is a step-by-step process in which Israel would initially declare sovereignty over several settlements close to Jerusalem instead of the 30% of the West Bank envisaged in Netanyahu’s original plan, according to a person close to matter.
    Trump has not closed the door to a larger annexation, but fears that allowing Israel to move too fast could kill any hopes of drawing the Palestinians into talks on Trump’s plan, the source said.
    There are also concerns about opposition from Jordan, one of only two countries that have a peace treaty with Israel, and from Gulf states that have quietly expanded engagement with Israel.
    The officials on Tuesday held what one source called “informal internal discussions.”    No decisions were reached at the meeting, which Kushner attended before leaving with Trump on a trip to Arizona, the U.S. official said.
        Washington has also made clear it wants Israel’s unity government, divided on the issue, to reach a consensus.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

6/24/2020 U.N. chief calls on Israel to abandon West Bank annexation plan by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a session of the Human Rights Council
at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel on Wednesday to abandon plans to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, warning this threatened prospects for peace with the Palestinians.
    “If implemented, annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law, grievously harm the prospect of a two-state solution and undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations,” Guterres told the U.N. Security Council.
    “I call on the Israeli Government to abandon its annexation plans,” he said.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet is preparing to start discussions on July 1 on annexation of the West Bank, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war and that Palestinians seek for a state.
    Palestinians vehemently oppose the annexation plan, as do most world powers.    Palestinian leaders have also completely rejected a peace proposal unveiled in January by U.S. President Donald Trump, in which Washington would recognize Jewish settlements as part of Israel.
    Should Israel decide to extend its sovereignty, it will be doing so with respect to areas over which it has always maintained a legitimate, historical and legal claim,” Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon told the council.
    Senior aides to Trump began discussions on Tuesday on whether to give Netanyahu a green light for his annexation plan. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that extending Israeli sovereignty was a decision “for Israelis to make.”
    “I understand that many of you have concerns,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft told the council.    “At the same time, we ask that you also hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for acts they are responsible for.”
    Guterres called on the Middle East Quartet of mediators – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations –     “to take up our mandated mediation role and find a mutually agreeable framework for the parties to re-engage, without preconditions, with us and other key states.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)
[It will be all the parties mentioned above including Arab nations who will institute Trump's plan before it is all over since it would be an economical and a peace effort for all parties to intitute this item mainly because it is prophesied to occur and at that time we will know who the Antichrist mentioned as He (Whatever form) in Daniel 9:27 is.].

6/24/2020 Pompeo says up to Israel to decide on annexation as Trump aides meet by Humeyra Pamuk and Matt Spetalnick
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gives a news conference about dealings with China and Iran, and on the fight
against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Washington, U.S., June 24, 2020. Mangel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday it was up to Israel to decide whether to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to do despite international opposition.
    Senior aides to U.S. President Donald Trump met for a second day to discuss whether to give Netanyahu the green light for annexation, which has drawn condemnation from the Palestinians, U.S. Arab allies and other foreign governments.
    Despite that, Pompeo – speaking to reporters ahead of Netanyahu’s July 1 target date – said extending Israeli sovereignty was a decision “for Israelis to make.”
    United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel to abandon plans to annex parts of the West Bank, warning this threatened prospects for peace with the Palestinians. [nL1N2E10T5]
    Under Trump’s peace proposal unveiled in January and met with widespread skepticism, the United States would recognize the Jewish settlements – built on land the Palestinians seek for a state – as part of Israel.
    The proposal would create a Palestinian state but impose strict conditions.    Palestinian leaders have dismissed the initiative and it has gone nowhere.
    Netanyahu intends to launch his project of extending sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley, hoping for U.S. approval.     Most countries view Israel’s settlements as illegal, and the Palestinians have voiced outrage at annexation.
    While criticizing Palestinian leaders for rejecting Trump’s “vision for peace,” Pompeo did not provide any signs of where the administration stands on the specifics of Netanyahu’s plan.
    Pompeo was at the White House to join the discussions, and Trump could also take part, a U.S. official said.
    Among the main options under U.S. consideration is a gradual, step-by-step process in which Israel would initially declare sovereignty over several settlements close to Jerusalem instead of the 30% of the West Bank envisaged in Netanyahu’s original plan, according to a person close to matter.
    The Trump administration has not closed the door to a larger annexation.
    But Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser is concerned that allowing Israel to move too fast could kill hopes of drawing the Palestinians into talks on the peace plan he mostly authored, the source said.
    There are also concerns about opposition from Jordan, one of only two countries that have a peace treaty with Israel, and from Gulf states that have quietly expanded engagement with Israel.    Washington has also made clear it wants Israel’s unity government, divided on the issue, to reach a consensus.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Matt Spetalnick, Arshad Mohammed, David Brunnstrom; writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)

6/25/2020 As Israel threatens West Bank annexation, Gazans recall settler withdrawal by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Palestinian man Haidar al-Zahar picks up peaches in his vineyard that once neighbored a former Jewish settlement,
on the outskirts of Gaza City, June 22, 2020. Picture taken June 22, 2020. REUTERS/Nidal Almughrabi
    GAZA (Reuters) – Vineyard owner Haidar al-Zahar recalls with joy the day in 2005 when Israel removed its settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip, part of a withdrawal that few Palestinians thought they would ever see.
    “I felt like a prisoner who suddenly found himself a free man,” he said.
    A decade and a half later he is on the warpath as Israel considers whether to annex its settlements in the occupied West Bank, 40 km (25 miles) away, divided from Gaza by Israel and which Palestinians seek as the heartland of a future state.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set July 1 for the start of cabinet discussions on the move, proposed as part of a U.S. peace plan.
    Israel today has all the power.    No one can deny that – they can do whatever they want,” Zahar, 68, said.
    He urged Palestinians to wage “armed resistance” to prevent the annexation, saying Israel had evacuated its troops and 8,500 settlers from Gaza in part because of Palestinian attacks at the time.
    “Without willing martyrs, nothing will change,” he said.
    Israel, which blockades Gaza citing security concerns, said it withdrew to improve its security and international status in the absence of peace talks.
    Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank, along with East Jerusalem, in a 1967 war.
    The Palestinians and most countries consider that annexation of the West Bank, where more than 420,000 Jewish settlers live, would be an illegal act, a designation that Israel disputes.
    In Gaza, Zeyad Mhana, a public servant, said Israel has been emboldened by a rift between the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and Hamas Islamists who took over Gaza in internal fighting in 2007.
    “We regret what is happening in the West Bank, but unfortunately it is a result of our division,” the 46-year-old said.
    In the southern Gaza district of Rafah, Mohammad Seidam, 84, said West Bank Palestinians must not give up hope.    “In Gaza they had built gardens, farms and greenhouses and God removed them,” he said.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Rami Ayyub and Jeffrey Heller; editing by John Stonestreet)
[The annexation will happen and Palestinians are about to lose out if they do not get with the plan and most other countries you mention hate Israel but the Middle East countries will find this option will bring financial gain to them and will force you to become a Palestinan State.].

6/25/2020 Lebanon’s Aoun sees ‘civil war’ climate as critics boycott meeting
A demonstrator holds a Lebanese flag during a protest against the government performance and worsening economic
conditions near the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Michel Aoun warned on Thursday of an “atmosphere of civil war” during recent unrest in Lebanon and what he described as attempts to stir up sectarian tensions as a financial crisis sweeps the country.
    Aoun, a Maronite Christian, was speaking at a meeting that he said was called to protect civil peace but which was boycotted by opponents including Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri and other ex-prime ministers who said it a waste of time.
    The crisis is seen as the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-90 civil war.    A 75% decline in the Lebanese pound since October has been reflected in soaring prices and savers have been frozen out of their deposits.
    Aoun’s comments referred partly to confrontations in Beirut earlier this month that opened old sectarian faultlines between Shi’ite Muslims and Christians and between Shi’ites and Sunnis.
    “We touched the atmosphere of civil war in a worrying way.    Movements replete with sectarian tensions were launched in a suspicious manner,” Aoun said.
    Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system requires the president to be a Maronite, the prime minister to be a Sunni and the parliament speaker to be a Shi’ite.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab, appointed in January with backing from Aoun, the powerful Iranian-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, said the exchange rate was the only concern for Lebanese.
    “Lebanese want the central bank to control the dollar exchange rate vis-à-vis the Lebanese pound and to preserve the value of their salaries and savings,” he told the meeting.
    Former prime ministers Hariri, Najib Mikati and Tammam Salam said the real threat to stability may come from the deteriorating economic and financial situation and “this cannot be solved by large meetings that do not have a clear agenda.”
(Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/25/2020 Gulf coronavirus infections surpass 400,000, Reuters tally shows
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective face mask walks through the deserted Barajeel Souq, following the outbreak
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in old Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The number of novel coronavirus cases in the six Gulf Arab states has doubled in a month to over 400,000, as the region’s two biggest economies this week fully lifted curfews imposed to combat the infection.     As of Wednesday evening, the tally in the energy producing region stood at 403,163 infections, with 2,346 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.    It passed the 200,000 mark on May 27.
    Regional business hub the United Arab Emirates announced late on Wednesday the lifting of a nightly curfew in place since mid-March as the daily number of infections fell from a peak of some 900 in late May to average between 300-400 in recent weeks.
    Neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which has the highest regional count at more than 167,200 infections and over 1,380 deaths, fully removed its three-month curfew on Sunday.
    Kuwait is the only Gulf state that still has a partial curfew.    Qatar, Oman and Bahrain did not impose curfews as part of measures to combat the disease.
    The easing of restrictions has varied across the Gulf region with the UAE and Saudi Arabia taking the lead in reopening commercial businesses, including dine-in restaurants and malls.
    Dubai, whose economy is reliant on tourism and retail, said on Sunday it would allow foreign visitors to enter the emirate from July 7.    The UAE, which includes Dubai, has not yet announced a similar move on a federal level.
    Qatar, which has the second highest regional infection count, has said it would permit resumption of flights from low-risk countries on July 1 as well as the reopening of shopping malls and markets with limited capacity.
    Other Gulf states still have bans on foreign visitors.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean)

6/25/2020 No final decision at White House talks on Israeli annexation moves, U.S. officials say by Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick and Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: A general view picture shows a section of Itamar, a Jewish settlement, in the foreground as Nablus
is seen in the background, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Three days of White House meetings between aides to U.S. President Donald Trump on whether to give Israel a green light to annex parts of the occupied West Bank have ended without any final decision, senior U.S. officials said on Thursday.
    The high-level discussions centered on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to extend Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the territory, which has drawn condemnation from the Palestinians, U.S. Arab allies and other foreign governments.
    With Netanyahu’s cabinet due to begin formal annexation deliberations on Wednesday, the still-unclear U.S. position suggested the Trump administration wants to move cautiously.
    “There is as yet no final decision on the next steps for implementing the Trump plan,” one of the officials told Reuters, referring to the president’s Israeli-Palestinian peace blueprint that could provide a basis for Netanyahu’s annexation moves.
    Trump, who has hewed to a heavily pro-Israel policy, participated in the discussions, the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    Another U.S. official said further “fact-finding” would be needed before a U.S. determination.
    Under Trump’s peace proposal unveiled in January and met with widespread skepticism, the United States would recognize the settlements – built on land the Palestinians seek for a state – as part of Israel.
    The proposal would create a Palestinian state but impose strict conditions.    Palestinian leaders have dismissed the initiative and it has gone nowhere.
    Netanyahu hopes for U.S. approval for his project of extending sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley.    Most countries view Israel’s settlements as illegal.
    This week’s meetings included Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other aides.    On Wednesday, Pompeo said that any decision on annexation was “for Israelis to make.”
    Among the main options under U.S. consideration is a gradual process in which Israel would initially declare sovereignty over several settlements close to Jerusalem instead of the 30% of the West Bank envisaged in Netanyahu’s original plan, according to a person close to matter.
    The Trump administration has not closed the door to a larger annexation.    But Kushner is concerned that allowing Israel to move too fast could further alienate the Palestinians.
    There are also worries about opposition from Jordan, one of only two countries that have a peace treaty with Israel, and from Gulf states that have quietly expanded engagement with Israel.    Washington also wants Israel’s unity government, divided on the issue, to reach a consensus.
(Reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Edmund Blair and Alistair Bell)

6/25/2020 Israel, UAE to cooperate in fight against coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a protective face mask, attends the weekly cabinet
meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, June 14, 2020. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM/DUBAI (Reuters) – Israel and the United Arab Emirates will cooperate in the fight against the coronavirus, the two countries said on Thursday, a possible boost to Israeli efforts to normalise relations with Gulf Arab countries.
    Two private companies from the United Arab Emirates and two Israeli companies will work together on medical projects, including those to combat the new coronavirus, the UAE’s state-run news agency WAM said.
    The cooperation comes at a time of strong Arab opposition to Israel’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank – territory Palestinians seek for a state – under a U.S. peace plan.
    Israel has no diplomatic relations with Arab countries in the Gulf, but common concerns about Iran’s regional influence have led to a limited thaw in relations.
    “This scientific and medical partnership overcomes historical and political challenges in the region,” an Arabic statement from WAM said, adding that the priority was humanitarian action and constructive cooperation to safeguard people’s health.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said earlier on Thursday that a formal announcement about the partnership was imminent.
    Last week, the UAE’s minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said it could work with Israel on some areas, including the battle against the coronavirus and on technology, despite political differences.
    Netanyahu said at a military ceremony that Israel and the UAE would collaborate in research and development and technology “to improve the well-being of the entire region.”
    He said the agreement stemmed from intensive contacts with the UAE over recent months.
    In May, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad made the first known flight by a UAE carrier to Israel, carrying coronavirus-related aid for Palestinians.
    Speaking to a conference of the American Jewish Committee advocacy group on June 16, Gargash said Israel cannot expect to normalise relations with the Arab world if it annexes West Bank land. He also said cooperation with Israel on the pandemic would not affect the UAE’s opposition to annexation.
    Israel is due on July 1 to begin a cabinet debate on extending Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; additional reporting by Lisa Barrington and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool)

6/26/2020 More Yemeni children face malnourishment amid aid shortage, coronavirus: UNICEF by Lisa Barrington
FILE PHOTO - Children walk at a camp for people recently displaced by fighting in Yemen's northern province of al-Jawf
between government forces and Houthis, in Marib, Yemen March 8, 2020. Picture taken March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Owidhab
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The number of malnourished children in Yemen could rise to 2.4 million by the end of the year due to a big shortfall in humanitarian funding, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Friday.
    A UNICEF report warned of a rise of 20% in the number of malnourished chidren under the age of five – almost half of all of that age in the country.
    “If we do not receive urgent funding, children will be pushed to the brink of starvation and many will die,” said UNICEF Yemen representative Sara Beysolow Nyanti.    “We cannot overstate the scale of this emergency.”
    Yemen has been wracked for more than five years by a war pitting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement which controls much of the country and a Saudi-led coalition which supports the internationally-recognised government based in the south.
    Tens of thousands of people have died, many of them civilians, and the ensuing humanitarian crisis has been called the worst in the world.
    The United Nations has said it does not have enough funding to maintain the aid response, the world’s largest.    A pledging event this month raised half of what was needed and aid programmes impacting millions are set to close in coming weeks.[nL8N2DF3PA]
    UNICEF is appealing for $461 million for its humanitarian response, which is currently only 39% funded, and $53 million for its COVID-19 response which is only 10% funded.
    Sanitation, immunisation and malnutrition programmes risk reduction and closure.
    Yemen’s health system is already on the brink of collapse, kept going through aid.    Cholera, malaria and dengue were rife amid a malnourished population even before the coronavirus outbreak.
    About 7.8 million children are now out of school, putting them at risk of child labour, recruitment into armed groups and child marriage, UNICEF said.
    “UNICEF has previously said, and again repeats, that Yemen is the worst place in the world to be a child and it is not getting any better,” Nyanti said.
    Cases of coronavirus infection reported by Yemeni authorities surpassed 1,000 on Wednesday, but the United Nations says the virus is spreading unmitigated in a country with shattered health systems and infections are likely much higher.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/26/2020 U.S., Western, Arab countries pledge $1.8B in aid to Sudan by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Nov. 19, 2019 file photo, people gather as they celebrate first anniversary of mass protests that
led to the ouster of former president and longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir. in Khartoum, Sudan. (AP Photo, File)
    Western and Arab countries are pooling their resources to send $1.8 billion in aid to Sudan.    The pledge was made Thursday at a conference hosted by Germany.
    It comes amid an attempted transition to democracy in the African country, following the ousting of former dictator Omar al-Bashir last year.
    The current government is in a precarious position both due to lingering animosity left over from the uprising that following al-Bashir’s overthrow and a steep drop in oil revenues after the secession of South Sudan, which held most of the region’s oil reserves in 2011.
    The largest single donation came from the United States, which pledged $356.2 million.
    We, the broader international community, must continue to lend our support..the United States is committed to doing its part,” stated John Barsa, U.S. administrator for the United States Agency for International Development.    “Today, I am pleased to announced $356.2 million in assistance with the Sudanese people and the transitional government.”
    The large aid package was partly prompted by rebukes from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who has called for massive aid to the country.    He cited the importance for global stability of a democratic regime in Sudan.

6/26/2020 Morocco rejects Amnesty’s allegations on spying on journalist
FILE PHOTO: Journalist and activist Omar Radi waits outside court in Casablanca, Morocco March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal/File Photo
    RABAT (Reuters) – Moroccan authorities on Friday rejected an Amnesty report saying they have spied on journalist Omar Radi using Israeli-made technology.
    Amnesty said it checked Radi’s phone and alleged that authorities had snooped on him using spyware developed by cyber security company NSO Group.
    Moroccan authorities said in a statement carried by state media that Amnesty had not contacted them, and said the report served business competitors in the intelligence>     They asked Amnesty to give them hard evidence of wrongdoing “in order to take necessary measures to defend citizens’ rights.”
    Radi, a critic of Morocco’s human rights record, was questioned by police on Thursday for what the prosecutor said were suspicions he received funds linked to foreign intelligence services.
    Radi declined to comment on the questioning because of the confidential character of the probe but he described the accusation as “ridiculous.”
    In March, Radi was handed a suspended four-month prison term on the charge of insulting a judge on Twitter.
(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by David Gregorio)

6/27/2020 Far right takes to Lisbon streets to deny racism is a problem by Catarina Demony
Portugal's far-right party Chega leader Andre Ventura marches with supporters in a protest against those who say
racism exists in the country, in downtown Lisbon, Portugal, June 27, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
    LISBON (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters marched through one of Lisbon’s main avenues on Saturday shouting “Portugal is not racist,”    in a demonstration organised by the leader of a far-right party known for his derogatory remarks against ethnic minorities.
    Dozens of police officers were on standby as protesters wearing face masks marched and waved Portuguese flags in the demonstration organised by the leader of the Chega (Enough) party Andre Ventura, a former soccer commentator.    There were no immediate reports of violence or arrests.
    In October, Ventura won the far right’s first seat in parliament since Portugal’s dictatorship ended in 1974.
    “Today will be history because after 40 years the right decided to go out on the streets,” Ventura, who has been involved in several controversies since the election, told a crowd of supporters.
    In January, Ventura called for a Black fellow MP with dual Portuguese-Guinean citizenship to be “returned to her own country” after she proposed that items in Portuguese museums be sent back to their countries of origin.
    A month later, Ventura questioned if Porto striker Moussa Marega, who quit a soccer match in protest after being subjected to monkey chants and other insults, was a victim of racism.
    Saturday’s protests took place at a time when Portuguese authorities are worried about a wave of new coronavirus cases across Lisbon’s suburbs and have been forced to reintroduce certain lockdown measures.
    “We are outdoors, we know the virus dies under a certain temperature, we are social distancing, we have masks and I believe we are complying with all rules,” said Chega supporter Joao Rodrigues.
    The march came around three weeks after thousands gathered in Lisbon and other Portuguese cities in protest against racism and alleged police brutality.
    Among the crowd of right-wingers at the Saturday demonstration, a 27-year-old man stood alone and waved a rainbow LGBT+ pride flag in protest.
    “Someone has to show this ideology in 2020 is wrong,” Joao Pedro said.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira and Rafael Marchante; Editing by James Drummond and David Holmes)

6/27/2020 Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan hope for Nile dam deal in weeks
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction on the river Nile in
Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia, September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Leaders of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt said they were hopeful that the African Union (AU) could help them broker a deal to end a decade-long dispute over water supplies within two or three weeks.
    Ethiopia, whose Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is worrying its downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan, said it would fill the reservoir in a few weeks as planned, providing enough time for talks to be concluded.
    Tortuous negotiations over the years have left the two nations and their neighbour Sudan short of an agreement to regulate how Ethiopia will operate the dam and fill its reservoir, while protecting Egypt’s scarce water supplies from the Nile.
    Ethiopian water minister Seleshi Bekele said consensus had been reached to finalise a deal within two to three weeks, a day after leaders from the three countries, and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who chairs the AU, held an online summit.
    Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Ethiopia’s prime minister, said that in Friday’s agreement there was “no divergence from Ethiopia’s original position of filling the dam.”
    The Egyptian presidency said in a statement after the summit that Ethiopia would not fill the dam unilaterally.
    AU Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a separate statement that more than 90% of issues in the talks had been resolved, and that a committee of representatives of the three countries, South Africa, and technical personnel from the AU, would work to resolve outstanding legal and technical points.
    The committee would issue a report on progress of the negotiations in a week.
    The GERD is being built about 15 km (9 miles) from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, the source of most of the Nile’s waters.
    Ethiopia says the $4 billion hydropower project, which will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts, is essential to its economic development.    Its Prime Minister’s Office said the three countries had agreed that the Nile and the GERD “are African issues that must be given African solutions”
    Friday’s round of talks brokered by the AU is the latest attempt to progress negotiations which have repeatedly stalled due to technical and political disagreements.    They also signal an intention to solve the issue without foreign intervention.
    Ethiopia’s statement said the AU and not the U.N. Security Council will assist in the talks and provide technical support.
    Cairo had appealed to the Council in a last-ditch diplomatic move aimed at stopping Ethiopia from filling the dam.    The Council was expected to hold a public meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Additional reporting by Aidan Lewis in Cairo; Editing by Louise Heavens and David Holmes)

6/29/2020 Israel’s Gantz said date for West Bank annexation talks ‘not sacred’: party source
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top coalition partner Benny Gantz said on Monday that a July 1 target date to begin discussing proposed annexation of occupied West Bank land was “not sacred,” a source in Gantz’s party said.
    The remarks, which the source said Gantz made during a meeting with U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and White House adviser Avi Berkowitz, threw doubt on prospects for a unified Israeli approach to President Donald Trump’s peace plan.
    Washington wants Gantz on board for the plan, which envisages Israel annexing Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, and a Palestinian state established under strict conditions elsewhere in the West Bank.
    With the Palestinians boycotting the plan, however, Netanyahu and Gantz had agreed in a deal under which they formed a coalition government last month that a cabinet debate on annexation could begin as of July 1.
    “Gantz made clear in the meeting that July 1 is not a sacred date” and voiced preference for Israel dealing with the economic ravages of the coronavirus crisis, a source in his centrist Blue and White party said.
    Briefing reporters last week, Gantz — who serves as Israel’s defence minister, as well as alternate prime minister — predicted that the coronavirus crisis could last 18 months.
    Hailing the Trump plan as an “historic move,” Gantz told the U.S. envoys that it should be advanced “with strategic partners in the region and with the Palestinians, and to reach an arrangement that benefits all side,” the source said.
    The U.S. embassy spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Catherine Evans)

6/29/2020 Israeli campaigners want Jewish ruins included in West Bank annexations by Rinat Harash
Eitan Melet, a director at Israeli lobby "Safeguarding Eternity", stands next to a map near ruins of the ancient desert
fortress of Cypros, near the Palestinian city of Jericho, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Nir Elias
    NEAR JERICHO, West Bank (Reuters) – The Israeli government faces calls from campaigners to declare sovereignty over ancient Jewish ruins on land in the occupied West Bank that Israel does not plan to annex under U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace blueprint.
    The annexation plan, which the government is due to start discussing as of Wednesday, envisages Israel annexing Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley – some 30% of the West Bank.    Under Trump’s plan, a Palestinian state would be created in the rest of the West Bank, occupied by Israel since a 1967 war.
    An Israeli advocacy group called “Safeguarding Eternity” is worried about what will happen to Jewish archaeological sites on parts of the West Bank not included in Trump’s annexation map.
    It wants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to guarantee Israeli control over sites such as the remnants of hilltop Hasmonean and Herodian forts dating back two millennia, and hundreds of ruins from earlier Jewish rule.
    “This entire plan – its right, its essence – is the connection of the Jewish people to their land and our heritage,” Eitan Melet, a director of Safeguarding Eternity, said as he stood among a jumble of limestones that were the foundation of the desert fortress of Cypros, overlooking the Palestinian city of Jericho.
    “If we don’t take our heritage sites into account, this plan has no right to exist at all.”
    The Israeli government has not commented on the campaigners’ demands.    The Palestinians reject Trump’s blueprint and Israel’s plan to annex territory they seek for a future state.
    Assaf Avraham, an archaeologist at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said he too was worried about the fate of archaeological sites in the West Bank.
    “If these areas are not in the hands or under the sovereignty of (authorities) that know how to take care of and maintain archaeological sites, and which have the motivation to do so, we really fear for these places,” he said.
    The Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry dismissed such concerns.
    It said in a statement that it is “able to protect and preserve the cultural heritage sites under Palestinian control, as maintenance and restoration work is carried out continuously.”
    The Palestinians say Trump’s plan is biased, and most world powers view Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as illegal.
    Interim 1993 peace accords granted the Palestinians limited self-rule in West Bank areas, where they agreed to secure Jewish heritage sites for Israeli visits.
(Additional reporting by Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh; Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

6/30/2020 Israeli minister signals major West Bank annexation move not imminent by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with member of the Knesset for Likud Zeev Elkin as they attend the
swearing-in ceremony of the 22nd Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli minister played down on Tuesday the likelihood of major moves to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank on July 1, the planned starting point for cabinet debate on the issue.
    Zeev Elkin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said Israel still did not have the green light it seeks from Washington to begin extending its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, territory Palestinians seek for a state.
    Palestinian leaders, the United Nations, European powers and Arab countries have all denounced any annexation of land that Israeli forces captured in a 1967 war.
    “Whoever painted a picture of everything happening in one day on July 1, did so at their own risk,” Elkin, minister of higher education, told Army Radio when asked what would happen on Wednesday.    “From tomorrow, the clock will start ticking.”
    No cabinet session for Wednesday has been announced.
    U.S. officials are in Israel as part of the White House’s efforts to win consensus within its government for annexation as envisioned in an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan announced by President Donald Trump in January.
    The proposal calls for Israeli sovereignty over about 30% of the West Bank – land on which Israel has built settlements for decades – as well as the creation of a Palestinian state under strict conditions.
    Palestinians say the blueprint would make statehood, in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, unviable, and most world powers view Israel’s settlements on occupied land as illegal.    Netanyahu says the Jewish people have a legal, historic and moral claim to the West Bank, the biblical Judea and Samaria.
    Netanyahu and his main coalition government partner, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, are at odds over annexation, which the right-wing prime minister has promoted.
    In an interview with the YNet news site on Tuesday, Gantz repeated his call for Israel to try to enlist Palestinian and international support for the Trump plan before proceeding with a unilateral annexation move.
(Editing by Maayan Lubell and Timothy Heritage)

6/30/2020 U.N. seeks billions more aid for Syrians beset by war and COVID-19 by by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: An internally displaced Syrian girl wears a face mask as members of the Syrian Civil defence sanitize the Bab Al-Nour internally displaced
persons camp, to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Azaz, Syria March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The United Nations pushed governments at a virtual conference on Tuesday for nearly $10 billion in aid for     Syria, where nine years of war has displaced millions in a humanitarian crisis exacerbated by soaring food prices and the coronavirus crisis.
    The now annual fund-raising round for Syria brought together 60 governments and non-official agencies via video in an event hosted by the European Union (EU) and due to end at 1600 GMT.
    “Syrian men, women and children have experienced injury, displacement, destruction, terror … on a massive scale,” said U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen.
    “The danger of COVID-19 remains acute.”
    According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, there have only been 269 confirmed cases, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the real situation is probably far worse and the number of infections likely to accelerate.
    The U.N., which last year raised $7 billion, said this year it needs $3.8 billion for aid inside Syria where 11 million people require help and protection, with more than 9.3 million of them lacking adequate food.
    Another $6.04 billion is sought to help the 6.6 million Syrians who have fled in the world’s biggest refugee crisis.
    Adding to Syrians’ hardship, an economic slump and COVID-19 lockdown have pushed food prices more than 200% higher in less than a year, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
    However, rebuilding destroyed cities will take billions of dollars more and cannot start until powers involved back a peaceful transition away from the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, the EU says.
    “We must do more to end the suffering of the Syrian people.    First and foremost, we need a political solution to the crisis,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell told the conference.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Giles Elgood and Andrew Cawthorne)

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