Many Palestinians have commended the UAE's move to provide the coronavirus vaccine to the Gaza Strip, in light of the long-imposed blockade that hinder the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines into the Strip.
In a statement to the Emirates News Agency (WAM), Palestinian human rights activist Khalil Abu Shamala said that Gaza Strip is witnessing a deterioration in the health sector, and over the past months, "the sector has faced great difficulties in facing the spread of the coronavirus."
He stressed that the vaccine delivered from the UAE at this critical time strengthens the work of medical teams and the Ministry of Health and enabled them to deal with emergency cases.
"As far as we know, this is the first batch of vaccines, and the UAE will send other batches to Gaza Strip," he added.
Abu Shamala praised the UAE's initiative and efforts to support the Palestinian health sector, specifically in light of the siege and severe deprivation in the Strip.
For his part, Salah Abdel Aty, Head of the International Commission to Support Palestinian Rights, expressed his thanks to the UAE for the medical supplies it has provided at this crucial time.
Speaking to WAM, he called on the international community to provide all necessary assistance to the residents of Gaza Strip to confront the coronavirus pandemic and "reinforce the dilapidated health sector," and to follow the UAE's model in supporting the health sector and protect the Palestinian people from this pandemic.
Political analyst Nidal Khadra said that providing vaccinations is an important initiative that was preceded by various medical aid from the UAE. He explained that the UAE has always been and still proactive in supporting the Palestinian people.
Dr. Nabil Al Katri, leader in the Democratic Reform Party in Fatah movement, said that the delivery of vaccines to Gaza comes as part of the national responsibility to rescue the besieged people in the Strip.
He also stated that the vaccines’ delivery is part of a series of achievements made by the reform party in the Fatah movement represented in the aid delivered from the UAE to enhance the health sector in Gaza.
Police in Myanmar’s biggest city on Monday fired tear gas at defiant crowds who returned to the streets to protest the military’s seizure of power a month ago, despite reports that security forces had killed at least 18 people around the country a day earlier.
The protesters in Yangon were chased as they tried to gather at their usual meeting spot at the Hledan Center intersection. Demonstrators scattered and sought to rinse their faces with water in vain attempts to ease the irritating effects of the gas.
In the capital, Naypyitaw, the country’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi made a court appearance Monday via videoconference, the independent Myanmar Now online news agency reported. It said she received a charge under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code for allegedly inciting unrest. Further details of the court appearance were not immediately available.
Suu Kyi had already been charged with two other offenses — possession of walkie-talkies that had been imported without being registered, and violating an order issued under the Natural Disaster Management Law limiting public gatherings in order to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
The 75-year-old Suu Kyi was initially detained by the military at her Naypyitaw residence, but fellow members of her National League for Democracy party are uncertain of her present whereabouts. If she is convicted, the charges against her could provide a legal way of barring her from running in the election the junta has promised in a year’s time.
At least five people were believed to have been killed Sunday in Yangon when police shot at the protesters, who are demanding that Suu Kyi's elected government be restored to power after being ousted in a Feb. 1 coup. The protesters' civil disobedience movement has adhered so far to the the tenets of nonviolence despite provocation from the security forces and pro-military counter-demonstrators.
People erected makeshift sidewalk shrines at the spots where several of the victims were shot and also paid their respects by standing outside the hospitals from which the bodies of the victims were being released to their families.
In Dawei, a small city in southeastern Myanmar where an estimated five people were killed Sunday, the number of protesters on the streets Monday was lower than usual. Marchers there split into smaller groups, parading through the city to the applause of bystanders who also made the three-finger salutes adopted by the resistance movement to show their support.
The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar after five decades of military rule. Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term in office, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her and President Win Myint, as well as other top members of Suu Kyi’s government.
The U.N. said it had “credible information” that at least 18 people were killed and 30 were wounded around Myanmar on Sunday. Counts made by other sources, such the Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent television and online news outlet, put the death toll in the 20s.
Any of those reports would make it the highest single-day death toll since the military takeover.
“Deaths reportedly occurred as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku,” the U.N. Human Rights Office said in a statement, referring to several cities, adding that the forces also used tear gas, flash-bang grenades and stun grenades.
Confirming the deaths of protesters has been difficult amid the chaos and general lack of news from official sources, especially in areas outside Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw, the capital. But in many cases, photos and video circulated showed circumstances of the killings and gruesome photos of bodies.
In a long statement published Monday in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry restated the military’s rationale for its takeover and declared that the junta “is exercising utmost restraint to avoid the use of force in managing the violent protests systematically, in accordance with domestic and international laws in order to keep minimum casualties.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the crackdown, calling the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters and arbitrary arrests “unacceptable,” and expressed serious concern at the increase in deaths and serious injuries, said U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.
The U.N.’s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, issued a statement saying the reports of Sunday’s deaths were “horrible but not surprising news.” He said Myanmar’s ruling junta was sending a clear message: “They are going to continue their assault on the people of Myanmar.”
“What the world is watching in Myanmar is outrageous and unacceptable," Andrews said. "Words of condemnation are necessary and welcome but insufficient. The world must act. We must all act.”
Social media posts from Myanmar have increasingly urged the global community to invoke the doctrine of “responsibility to protect” to intervene directly to restrain the junta.
In Washington, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan issued a statement saying the U.S. is “alarmed” by the violence and stands in solidarity with Myanmar's people, “who continue to bravely voice their aspirations for democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights.”
Washington has imposed sanctions on Myanmar because of the coup, and Sullivan said it would “impose further costs on those responsible,” promising details “in the coming days.”
Security forces began employing rougher tactics on Saturday, taking preemptive action to break up protests and make mass arrests. Many of those detained were taken to Insein Prison in Yangon’s northern outskirts, historically notorious for holding political prisoners.
The independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners reported that it was aware that about 1,000 people were detained Sunday, of whom they were able to identify 270. That brought to 1,132 the total number of people the group has confirmed being arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup.
Also read: 1 month in Myanmar under military control
An Associated Press journalist was taken into police custody on Saturday morning while providing news coverage of the protests. The journalist, Thein Zaw, remains in police custody.
The AP called for his immediate release.
“Independent journalists must be allowed to freely and safely report the news without fear of retribution. AP decries in the strongest terms the arbitrary detention of Thein Zaw,” said Ian Phillips, the AP's vice president for international news. The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Myanmar also condemned the arrest.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of attacking an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week.
Netanyahu spoke to Israeli public broadcaster Kan and said that “it was indeed an act by Iran, that’s clear.”
“Iran is the greatest enemy of Israel, I am determined to halt it. We are hitting it in the entire region,” Netanyahu said.
The mysterious explosion struck the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo ship, as it was sailing out of the Middle East on its way to Singapore on Friday. The crew was unharmed in the blast, but the vessel sustained two holes on its port side and two on its starboard side just above the waterline, according to American defense officials.
The ship came to Dubai’s port for repairs on Sunday, days after the blast that revived security concerns in Mideast waterways amid heightened tensions with Iran.
It remains unclear what caused the blast. The Helios Ray had discharged cars at various ports in the Persian Gulf before the explosion forced it to reverse course. It docked in Dubai on Sunday for repairs and inspection.
In recent days, Israel’s defense minister and army chief had both indicated they held Iran responsible for the attack.
Overnight, Syrian state media reported a series of alleged Israeli airstrikes near Damascus, saying air defense systems had intercepted most of the missiles.
Israeli media reports said the alleged airstrikes were on Iranian targets in response to the ship attack.
Israel has struck hundreds of Iranian targets in neighboring Syria in recent years, and Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel will not accept a permanent Syrian military presence there.
The Israeli military declined comment. There was no immediate response from Iran to the Israeli allegations.
Iran also has blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago. Iran has repeatedly vowed to avenge Fakhrizadeh’s killing.
Iranian threats of retaliation have raised alarms in Israel following the country’s normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The hopes of building a robust democracy in Myanmar were shattered when the powerful military toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party in a coup Feb. 1.
In the month since, the mass protests occurring each day are a sharp reminder of the long and bloody struggle for democracy in a country where the military ruled directly for more than five decades.
In clinging to power, the army used lethal force to quash a massive 1988 uprising and a 2007 revolt led by Buddhist monks. Even as it eased the reins — allowing civilian rule after Suu Kyi’s party won elections in 2015 — the military retained power through a constitution it drafted.
When the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained Suu Kyi and others in her government the day of its takeover, it alleged the most recent election was tainted by fraud. The election commission that refuted those allegations and affirmed Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide was purged by the ruling junta.
The public at large also rejected the military’s assertion — and took to the streets. Medical workers spearheaded a Civil Disobedience Movement, whose calls for mass non-violent protests were met across the country. Even in smaller cities, crowds often in the tens of thousands defied the junta’s orders against large gatherings.
Those united in opposing the coup and wanting Suu Kyi released and restored to power came from varied walks of life. Civil servants and workers at enterprises such as the state railway. Enthusiastic youngsters in Generation Z. Members of Myanmar’s myriad ethnic groups.
As the protests have intensified so too has the response from security forces, with hundreds of arrests and several deaths of protesters reported this past weekend.
India is expanding its COVID-19 vaccination drive beyond health care and front-line workers, offering the shots to older people and those with medical conditions that put them at risk. Among the first to be inoculated on Monday was Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Those now eligible to be vaccinated include people older than 60, as well as those over 45 who have ailments such as heart disease or diabetes that make them vulnerable to serious COVID-19 illness. The shots will be given for free at government hospitals and will also be sold at over 10,000 private hospitals at a fixed price of 250 rupees, or $3.40, per shot.
Modi, who is 70, got the shot at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Science. He appealed for all to get vaccinated, tweeting afterward, “together, let us make India COVID-19 free!”
The country of nearly 1.4 billion people started one of the world's largest vaccination drives in January, but the rollout has been sluggish.
New coronavirus infections are increasing again after months of consistent decline, and scientists have detected worrisome variants of the virus that they fear could hasten infections or render vaccines or treatments less useful. Vaccinating more people is a priority, with India's Health Ministry on Sunday urging states “not to lower their guard” and “squander away the gains of the collective hard work of the last year.”
India has recorded more than 11 million cases, second in the world behind the United States, with over 157,000 deaths in the country from COVID-19.
Even though India is home to the world’s largest vaccine makers and has one of the biggest immunization programs, things haven't gone according to plan. Of the 10 million health care workers that the government had initially wanted to immunize, only 6.6 million have gotten the first shot and 2.4 million have gotten both. Of its estimated 20 million front-line workers like police or sanitation workers, only 5.1 million have been vaccinated so far.
Dr. Gagangdeep Kang, an infectious diseases expert at Christian Medical College Vellore in southern India, said the hesitancy by health workers to be vaccinated highlights the paucity of information available about the vaccines. If health workers are reticent, “you seriously think that the common public is going to walk up for the vaccine?” she said.
India had set a target of immunizing 300 million people, nearly the total U.S. population, by August.
The spike in infections in India is most pronounced in the western state of Maharashtra, where the number of active cases has nearly doubled to over 68,000 in the past two weeks. Lockdowns and other restrictions have been reimposed in some areas, and the state's chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, has warned that another wave of cases is “knocking on our door.”
Similar surges have been reported from states in all corners of the massive country: Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir in the north, Gujarat in the west, West Bengal in the east, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in central India, and Telangana in the south.
Top federal officials have asked authorities in those states to increase the speed of vaccinations in districts where cases are surging, and to track clusters of infections and monitor variants.
“There is a sense of urgency because of the mutants and because cases are going up,” said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India.
He said that the consistent dip in cases over months resulted in a “reduced threat perception,” leading to vaccine hesitancy. Experts point out that the reticence to get vaccinated was amplified, at least in part, by the government's opaque decision making while green-lighting vaccines. “The (vaccination) drive began when perception was that the worst was over, so people were more hesitant,” Reddy said.
India's health care system is patchy, and in many small cities people depend on private hospitals for their medical needs. Allowing these hospitals to vaccinate will open up access to the shots, experts said. India had rolled out online software to keep track of the shots and recipients, but the system was prone to glitches and delays.
What is still not clear, though, is whether people will get a choice between the AstraZeneca vaccine or one from Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech. The latter got the go-ahead by Indian regulators in January without any evidence from late trials that showed that the shots were effective in preventing illness from a coronavirus infection.
The priority for now is to increase the number of vaccines every day, said Jishnu Das, a health economist at Georgetown University who advises West Bengal state on the pandemic. But he added that with COVID-19, there are always troughs and peaks, and the key lesson is that it won't end until enough people have been vaccinated for the spread of the virus to slow.
“Don’t use a trough to declare success and say it's over,” he said.