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Qatar emir to meet with Biden in Washington Jan 31: White House

LONDON: An Iranian opposition group operating within and outside the Islamic republic has released figures claiming nearly half-a-million people have died from COVID-19 in the country. According to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, more than 499,800 virus-related deaths had occurred in Iran, almost four times the latest official toll of 132,274. In the worst-hit…

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LONDON: An Iranian opposition group operating within and outside the Islamic republic has released figures claiming nearly half-a-million people have died from COVID-19 in the country. According to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, more than 499,800 virus-related deaths had occurred in Iran, almost four times the latest official toll of 132,274. In the worst-hit province, Tehran, the PMOI said 116,735 people had lost their lives to COVID-19. Even by official figures, Iran is the worst-hit country in the Middle East, with deaths and hospitalizations far exceeding those of its neighbors. It was also the first country in the region where the virus was detected. Official sources have reported that Iran was currently experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19, with a rising number of cases being linked to the highly transmissible omicron variant. On Monday, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency, the secretary of Iran’s epidemiologist committee said: “If we reimpose all the restrictions today, and if people fully abide by these regulations, the number of our patients will still reach five figures. More than 50 percent of the coronavirus cases are of omicron.” And the spokesman for Isfahan University of Medical Sciences said: “Omicron has become the main variant in (Isfahan) province. During the past week the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases has reached more than 1,500 cases.” Also on Monday, ISNA reported that the dean of Kerman University of Medical Sciences said: “Expect omicron to flare up in the not-so-distant future. The number of positive coronavirus cases has increased from 30 to 50 percent. Therefore, the alarm bell has sounded.” Iran’s COVID-19 outbreak has been blamed in some quarters on regime incompetence and Tehran prioritizing ideology over effective response. Last year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned the import of British and American-made vaccines, significantly hindering the country’s vaccination drive and, critics have said, causing more deaths. In August, Dr. Mohammed-Reza Zafarghandi, chairman of Iran’s non-governmental licensing and regulatory Medical Council, criticized the vaccine ban, and said: “Mortality has significantly dropped in countries where they vaccinated the population without any limits and setting (political) borders. “Will those who said vaccine imports should be restricted be accountable today?”

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Lebanon cabinet passes financial recovery plan: Ministerial sources

LONDON: The widow of a UK-based photographer murdered by Col. Gaddafi’s forces in Libya in 2011 is urging the South African government to release information she believes is crucial to locating her husband’s body. Anton Hammerl was held captive for 44 days before being killed in the May 2011 incident that resulted in the kidnap…

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LONDON: The widow of a UK-based photographer murdered by Col. Gaddafi’s forces in Libya in 2011 is urging the South African government to release information she believes is crucial to locating her husband’s body. Anton Hammerl was held captive for 44 days before being killed in the May 2011 incident that resulted in the kidnap James Foley, who was later beheaded by Daesh, but despite a years-long campaign by widow Penny Sukhraj-Hammerl, his body has never been found. The Guardian reports that at issue is how Hammerl’s passport came to be in the hands of the South African government, who returned it to Sukhraj-Hammerl, who believes disclosing that information will help in the efforts to locate the photographer’s body. “(The passport) was posted to my office in mid-2016. I was quite overwhelmed as I didn’t expect it,” she told the Guardian, explaining that her husband would have been carrying his ID document at the time of his death in a photographer’s waist pouch he wore. Despite repeated efforts, including a freedom of information request, to find out how South Africa came into possession of the passport, the government has continuously stonewalled requests, with the Guardian claiming this led to Sukhraj-Hammerl going public. “It’s been nearly a year since I first wrote to you and your government to request a meeting regarding the case of my late husband … who was murdered by Gaddafi forces in Libya in April 2011,” she wrote to South Africa’s high commissioner in London, Nomatemba Tambo, copied to the country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, earlier this week. “During this time, we have signalled publicly and privately on several occasions that we would like to meet urgently to discuss a matter of serious concern in the handling of our case. More than a decade since Anton’s death, we still don’t know the location of his remains. “We still don’t have a grave to visit. We still don’t know the truth. Your administration’s response? Silence.” Sukhraj-Hammerl told the Guardian: “I’m baffled by their response. They’ve demonstrated no regard for accountability. We’ve requested meetings that have not been granted. “I feel that they had information that they should have shared with us. So many officials involved that I find it hard to believe that someone doesn’t know something as significant as how a passport came to be handed over.” South Africa’s former president, Jacob Zuma, led the family to believe he would raise the issue on a visit to Tripoli in the last days of Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, although no evidence exists that he did so.  Zuma has subsequently been caught in a series of financial scandals, including allegations that he received $30 million from Gaddafi, with whom he had a close relationship, to hide on his behalf. Sukhraj-Hammerl added: “I think we’re calling for justice and truth. We’ve not had the due — as family, we should have had (it). It’s been really distressing. It’s horrid (to) realise (the South African government) had an opportunity to do more and choose deliberately (to) ignore us. “We have a right to know. They owe us an explanation. It is least that they can do.”

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North Africa and Middle East hit 10-year low in refugees as conflicts deescalate 

LONDON: Jordan’s King Abdullah has placed his half-brother Prince Hamzah under house arrest, restricting his communications and movements. In a letter published on Thursday, the king said that he would not allow anyone “to put their interests above the nation’s interest, and I will not allow even my brother to disturb the peace of our…

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LONDON: Jordan’s King Abdullah has placed his half-brother Prince Hamzah under house arrest, restricting his communications and movements. In a letter published on Thursday, the king said that he would not allow anyone “to put their interests above the nation’s interest, and I will not allow even my brother to disturb the peace of our proud nation.” Authorities in Jordan announced in April last year that they had foiled a bid to destabilize the country. Two former officials were sentenced to 15 years in jail in July after they were found guilty of conspiring to topple the king in favour of Prince Hamzah. The former crown prince announced last month that he was “renouncing the title of prince,” a month after a royal court statement said he had apologized to the king for the attempted coup. “We do not have the luxury of time to deal with Hamzah’s erratic behavior and aspirations. We have many challenges and difficulties before us, and we must all work to overcome them and meet the aspirations of our people and their right to a dignified, stable life,” the king said. The king said his recent action, taken on the advice of a council formed in accordance with the Royal Family Law, aims to turn a page on the “dark chapter in the history” of Jordan and his family. He said that he has come to the conclusion that Prince Hamzah will not change after more than a year during which “he exhausted all opportunities to restore himself on the right path, in line with the legacy of our family.” The king said that “Hamzah continues to ignore all facts and undisputable evidence, manipulating events to bolster his false narrative.” He continued: “Unfortunately, my brother truly believes what he claims. The delusion he lives in is not new; other members of our Hashemite family and I have long realised that he reneges on his pledges and is persistent in his irresponsible actions that seek to sow unrest, unconcerned with the ramifications of his conduct on our country and our family.” The king accused Prince Hamzah of putting his interests before the nation and living “within the confines of his own reality rather than recognizing the great stature, respect, love, and care we have given him.” He continued: “He presented a false narrative of his role in the sedition case, disregarding facts that the public became aware of regarding his suspicious relationship and communications with the traitor Bassem Awadallah, and Hassan bin Zeid, whom my brother knew had approached two foreign embassies to ask about the possibility of their countries supporting what he had described as regime change.”

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Pope Francis sends condolences to UAE for Sheikh Khalifa

DUBAI: Journalists, whether they are men or women, have a duty to find out the truth and to tell the human story behind major world events, including the harsh realities of war. But, by virtue of their gender, are women better equipped to tell those stories?  The view of women as the more “emotional” sex…

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DUBAI: Journalists, whether they are men or women, have a duty to find out the truth and to tell the human story behind major world events, including the harsh realities of war. But, by virtue of their gender, are women better equipped to tell those stories?  The view of women as the more “emotional” sex can sound dated to modern ears. But when a female journalist enters a war zone, it is often acknowledged that her access to the private lives of her sources, particularly families caught up in conflict, is often markedly different to the reception experienced by a male correspondent.  Arizh Mukhammed is a Moscow-based war reporter for Sky News Arabia. Over the past few months, she had been deployed to the front lines in Ukraine to report on the Russian invasion, braving armed conflict and the human tragedies of war.  “It is not easy to cover war, because, like any human being, you feel fear. And I feel fear,” Mukhammed told a panel discussion a session entitled “Storytellers from the war front” at the Arab Women Forum in Dubai on Tuesday.  Mukhammed, who is half Russian and half Syrian, says wars bring journalists “closer to peoples’ suffering,” making it all the more difficult to remain objective about what they are witnessing.  But the ability to empathize with the men, women and children a reporter encounters while deployed in a war zone undoubtedly gives their coverage a powerful human dimension that allows viewers to experience the agonies of distant conflicts.  The question is, are women better equipped than men to document such accounts?  “Women war journalists give a deeper dimension to human suffering,” Mukhammed told Arab News at the forum.  “While men might surround themselves with the impression that they are strong and fearless, women have actually shown they are much more patient.”  Christiane Baissary, a senior news anchor for the Al-Hadath news channel, said there is a common misconception that women are not suited for war coverage.  “A soldier once told me that women should not be in a war zone. He was trying to convince me that I should not stay to cover the war,” she said.  “This mentality is not just in the Middle East but everywhere,” Baissary said, adding that things have since changed and women are gaining more opportunities to cover conflict zones.  The image many harbour of the intrepid war correspondent is patently masculine — a gung-ho adventurer who risks kidnap, injury, or even death to get as close as possible to the blood and gun smoke of war.  Indeed, the role of a war correspondent can be extremely dangerous. On May 11, Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead in the West Bank city of Jenin while reporting on an Israeli arrest operation, despite wearing protective gear clearly identifying her as a member of the press.  “The killing of Abu Akleh is another serious attack on media freedom and freedom of expression, amid the escalation of violence in the occupied West Bank,” UN experts Morris Tidball-Binz, Reem Alsalem, and Irene Khan said in a statement on May 13.  They called for a prompt and impartial investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh, in full compliance with UN regulations.  “The role of journalists, especially in a context of heightened tension and marked by continuous abuses, like the occupied Palestinian territory, is critical,” the statement read.  “Lack of accountability gives carte blanche to continue the litany of extrajudicial executions. The safety of journalists is essential in guaranteeing freedom of expression and media freedom.”  Of course, Abu Akleh was only the latest reporter to be killed while on duty. According to the press advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders, scores of journalists are killed every year worldwide in connection with their work. Nearly a thousand have died over the past decade alone.  “I think it was really important for us to highlight female war correspondents and women correspondents because what they are doing is out of the ordinary,” said Noor Nugali, assistant editor-in-chief at Arab News, who presided over Tuesday’s panel.  “Usually when people think of correspondents, the first thing that comes to their minds (is that) women are too soft, women are incapable of handling such situations.  “But, in reality, it shows the resilience of women, strength of women, and their capability of getting all angles and facts straight.”  This evolving image of women, particularly those in the Arab world, was a key feature of the Arab Women Forum, and a special session, entitled “Saudi women pioneers: Change from within,” explored the issue in depth.  “I think the creation of Vision 2030 is life-changing, honestly, for a lot of women and young people,” Lama Alshethri, editor-in-chief of Sayedati, one of the best-known magazines in the Arab region, told the panel.  “I think we, our generation, have been able to reap some of the fruits of Saudi Vision 2030. And we were prepared for the change.”  Vision 2030, the social and economic reform agenda announced in 2016 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, emphasizes the need to inspire and empower all members of the society to realize the Kingdom’s full potential.  Subsequently, women’s empowerment in the Kingdom has expanded rapidly. Saudi women are now more active in different spheres of the public and private sector.  “I have not seen the change. I lived it,” Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, said in a special address opening Tuesday’s forum.  “I know how important it is to open the workplace for women,” she said.  “(However,) I realized that opening the doors wasn’t enough. Women had to be prepared to take advantage of those open doors and we have to equip them with skills.”

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