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Saudi Arabia returns to ”normality” amid new COVID-19 cases

The spokespersons for the Health and Labour Ministries, however, warned that “the return to normal life does not mean the disappearance of the virus”.

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Saudi Arabia Lockdown

Riyadh, June 22 : Saudi Arabia returned to “normality”, lifting its coronavirus-related curfew and reopening mosques in the Muslim holy city of Mecca despite a steady surge in number of new COVID-19 cases.

The night-time curfew, imposed at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, was lifted on Sunday as the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country stood at 157,612, reports Efe news.

This is the last phase of a three-stage reopening plan the Kingdom began implementing on 28 May.

All economic and commercial activities have officially been resumed as of Sunday, while Saudis are once again free to move between the provinces.

In the meantime, 75 per cent of the public employees have returned to their work places.

The spokespersons for the Health and Labour Ministries, however, warned that “the return to normal life does not mean the disappearance of the virus”.

Therefore, “continuous evaluation and special measures will be applied against those who do not comply with the preventive protocols against the virus”.

Over the past few weeks, the Kingdom has witnessed a significant spike in coronavirus cases, with the infection rate reaching as high as 4,000 per day, although recently around 3,000 cases a day has been the norm.

With the third phase, the authorities are aiming at re-establishing the “normal situation” that reigned before the curfew.

The holy city of Mecca, the second worst-hit region, was initially been left out of the reopening plan.

However, around 1,500 mosques in Mecca reopened on Sunday, after being closed for nearly three months amid preventive measures including mandatory use of facemasks.

With the help of volunteers, the authorities have sterilized the mosques and have set up electronic boards giving tips and instructions in more than 10 languages “to prevent the (spread of the) virus and guarantee the safety of the attendees”, according to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.

Besides imposing social distancing, worshippers must perform the pre-prayer ablution at home and bring their own prayer mat, according to the new instructions.

Printed copies of the Quran have been removed, while doors and windows of the mosques must remain open and they are to be closed after prayers.

The Friday prayer sermons must now be no longer than 15 minutes.

The authorities have repeatedly confirmed that “the minor pilgrimage and visits remain suspended” in the holy city, while gatherings of more than 50 people will be banned.

Although another 90,000 mosques around the country have reopened since May 31, Mecca’s were allowed only to receive worshippers as of Sunday.

However, it is not clear whether Muslims will be allowed to perform the annual Haj.

The Saudi government has called on Muslims around the world to delay reserves and preparations for the pilgrimage amid the uncertainty, while some countries called on Saudi Arabia to determine whether there will be a Haj this year.

Middle East

Palestinians protest against normalisation agreement between Israel, UAE

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Palestinians protest UAE-Israel deal

GAZA/RAMALLAH, Aug. 14 : Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the West Bank and Gaza on Friday against the United States’ sponsored normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Islamic Jihad Movement and other Palestinian factions organized the demonstration in Gaza city. Leaders of the factions, including the Hamas movement, joined the protest.

The crowds went out from al-Omari main mosque in Gaza city, waving flags and chanting slogans against the UAE. They marched the main street and gathered at Palestine square in the city’s downtown.

They carried banners writing “Palestine is not for sale” “No for normalization and no for those who lead normalization with the occupation” and “normalization is a knife in the back of the Palestinian people.”

Member of the Islamic Jihad Movement’s political bureau Khaled Al-Batsh renewed the Palestinian people’s condemnation and rejection of the agreement, calling on the UAE to withdraw its recognition of Israel immediately.

Hamas movement leader Mushir al-Masri addressed during the demonstration on behalf of the other factions’ leaders that the Palestinian people described the declaration of the agreement as “a black day for our people and cause.”

“The agreement is a total betrayal of the Palestinian cause and an unpardonable diplomatic action that no one forgives. It is a stab in the back of the Palestinians and gives free services to the occupation,” al-Masri said.

Protests also took place in some West Bank cities.

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Middle East

Turkey may suspend ties with UAE over Israel deal, Erdogan says

The deal makes UAE the third Arab country to establish full relations with Israel, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

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erdogan

ISTANBUL : Turkey is considering suspending diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and withdrawing its ambassador over the Gulf state’s accord to normalise ties with Israel, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

The Turkish foreign ministry said history would never forgive the UAE’s “hypocritical behaviour” in agreeing such a deal, which recasts the order of Middle East politics.

Under the U.S.-brokered, the first between Israel and a Gulf Arab, the Jewish state agreed to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank. Palestinian leaders have denounced it as a “stab in the back” to their cause.

“The move against Palestine is not a step that can be stomached. Now, Palestine is either closing or withdrawing its embassy. The same thing is valid for us now,” Erdogan said, adding he gave orders to his foreign minister.

“I told him we may also take a step in the direction of suspending diplomatic ties with the Abu Dhabi leadership or pulling back our ambassador,” he told reporters after Friday prayers.

The Foreign Ministry had earlier said Palestinians were right to reject the deal in which the UAE betrayed their cause.

“History and the conscience of the region’s peoples will not forget and never forgive this hypocritical behaviour,” it said. “It is extremely worrying that the UAE should, with a unilateral action, try and do away with the (2002) Arab Peace Plan developed by the Arab League.”

Turkey has diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, but relations have been strained for years. In 2010 Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists trying to breach a blockade on the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

The deal makes UAE the third Arab country to establish full relations with Israel, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

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Middle East

United Nations Chief Antonio Guterres welcomes Israel-UAE agreement

The UAE on August 13 became the first Gulf country and the third in the Arab world to establish diplomatic relations with Israel as part of a deal to halt the controversial annexation of parts of the West Bank that Palestinians see as a part of their future state.

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Antonio Guterres

United Nations, Aug 14 : UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has welcomed the US-brokered historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), under which Israel will suspend its plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Thursday’s agreement is something the Secretary-General has consistently called for, Stephane Dujarric, UN chief’s spokesman, in a statement.

“The Secretary-General welcomes this agreement, hoping it will create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations that will realize a two-state solution in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements,” Xinhua news agency quoted Dujarric as saying.

Annexation would effectively close the door for a renewal of negotiations and destroy the prospect of a viable Palestinian state and the two-state solution, it noted.

Peace in the Middle East is more important than ever as the region confronts the grave threats of COVID-19 and radicalization.

The Secretary-General will continue to work with all sides to open further possibilities for dialogue, peace and stability, said the statement.

The agreement on Thursday took place via a phone call between Trump, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE.

As part of the agreement, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in Trump’s vision of peace and focus its efforts now on expanding its ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world.

The UAE and Israel will also immediately expand and accelerate cooperation regarding the treatment of and the development of a vaccine for coronavirus.

According to reports, this is the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country in 25 years.

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