Israel starts vaccinating young children as coronavirus cases rise – Arab News

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JERUSALEM: Israel began rolling out Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds on Monday hoping to beat down a recent rise in coronavirus infections.
A fourth wave of infections that hit Israel in June began subsiding in September. But over the past two weeks the “R”, or reproduction rate of the virus, that had remained below one for two months began climbing and has now crossed that threshold, indicating the virus could again be spreading exponentially.
Daily cases have also crept up over the past few days, with half the confirmed infections presently among children age 11 and younger.
The children’s vaccine drive kicked off on Monday in a Tel Aviv square, where a small number of parents quietly lined up with their children to get shots. The campaign will go nationwide on Tuesday.
“The kids go to school, they (mix) with (other) kids, and they are doing a lot of social activities. We are very excited (to) vaccinate them and get (back) to normal life,” said Katy Bai Shalom, whose son and daughter were vaccinated Monday.
Receiving their shots in front of television cameras, some of the children smiled and laughed, while others teared up and held on to their parents.
Israel’s 9.4 million population is relatively young, with around 1.2 million children in the 5-to-11 age group. By November, that group comprised more than a third of new cases, according to health ministry data. Scientists and officials have been doubtful the country can reach “herd immunity” unless children are vaccinated.
Policy makers also say that the vaccination of younger children is meant first and foremost to protect their individual health and not just to stop the transmission of the virus.
In the past week they have stressed that although COVID-19 is rarely severe among young children and many show no symptoms at all, it can carry risks in the longer term.
Israel’s health ministry estimates that one in 3,500 children infected with the coronavirus will later develop Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) in which parts of the body become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin and gastrointestinal organs. Most children who suffer from the condition require intensive care treatment and 1-2% die.
Officials have also noted the risk of lingering symptoms, such as sleep disruption, muscle pain, loss of smell and taste, headaches and a cough, commonly known as “long Covid”.
A survey by the health ministry of more than 13,000 children showed that around 11% had suffered lingering symptoms, with about 1.8% to 4.6%, depending on their age, continuing to experience symptoms six months after becoming ill.
A poll by Israeli healthcare provider Maccabi found that 41% of parents to children age 5 to 11 were positive they will vaccinate their children, while 21% were still undecided and 38% will not vaccinate their children.
Israel has recorded 1.3 million total confirmed cases and more than 8,000 dead since the start of the pandemic.
Around 57% of Israel’s population is fully vaccinated, according to the health ministry, which means they have either received a third shot or it has not yet been five months since they received their second.
RAMALLAH, West Bank: A Palestinian man was critically wounded after Jewish settlers pelted his car with stones as he drove through the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, causing him to veer off the road and crash, Palestinian officials said.
Raid Kharaz lost control of his vehicle when rocks hurled by settlers smashed through the windshield near the West Bank village of Al-Mughayir, according to Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian Authority official who monitors settler violence.
Kharaz was flown to a nearby hospital, while his son, who was also in the vehicle, sustained lighter injuries, the official Palestinian Wafa news agency reported.
The Israeli army referred questions to the police, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The autumn has seen a sharp uptick in settler violence. In mid-November, dozens of settlers attacked a group of Palestinians and Israeli activists with stones and clubs, hospitalizing a woman and wounding several others. In the same week, Jewish settlers attacked a group of Palestinian farmers with pepper spray and clubs near an evacuated settlement outpost, wounding four people.
Recent months have also seen a steep rise in settler vandalism of Palestinian property known as “price tag” attacks, a term coined by far-right settlers in response to perceived efforts by Israel to restrict settlement expansion.
Israeli officials have spoken out against the violence, especially after dozens of settlers attacked a Palestinian village in September, wounding a toddler. But the Palestinians and rights groups say Israeli soldiers rarely intervene and often side with the settlers.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Palestinians seek for a future state. Most of the international community views settlements as illegal and a barrier to peace. Israel views the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people, and says its status should be decided in negotiations.
Nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers live in over 130 settlements across the West Bank. Many are highly built up and resemble urban suburbs, while more radical settlers have established dozens of rural outposts without Israeli authorization.
OTTAWA: Britain, Sweden and Ukraine on Wednesday accused Iran of stalling redress for the families of victims of a downed Ukraine flight, saying Tehran has yet to agree to talks.
The Islamic republic shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 shortly after take-off from its capital Tehran on January 8, 2020, killing all 176 people aboard, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents.
Three days later, it admitted that its forces had mistakenly targeted the Kiev-bound Boeing 737-800 plane.
“We, ministers representing Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, express our deep disappointment that the Islamic Republic of Iran has not accepted our multiple requests to meet on November 22, 2021 to negotiate on the matter of reparations for the downing of Flight PS752,” the four nations said in a joint statement.
On Friday, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly spoke with her British counterpart Elizabeth Truss, and committed jointly “to seeking justice by holding Iran accountable.”
The four nations seeking redress said Wednesday that if Iran continues “to avoid negotiating with the group, (they) will have no choice but to seriously consider other actions and measures to resolve this matter within the framework of international law.”
On Sunday, the trial of 10 soldiers in connection to the jetliner’s downing opened in Tehran.
In a final report in March, the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization (CAO) pointed to the missile strikes and the “alertness” of its troops on the ground amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States at the time.
The Islamic republic had just attacked a US base in Iraq in response to the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, and were expecting a response from Washington.
Ukraine, which lost 11 citizens in the disaster, said the report was “a cynical attempt to hide (the) true causes” of the tragedy, while Canada said it contained “no hard facts or evidence” and pledged to soon release the results of its own investigation.
KHARTOUM: Sudan’s newly reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on Wednesday ordered a halt to sackings and a review of all appointments made after his detention in last month’s military coup.
Top General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan had grabbed power and detained Hamdok on Oct. 25 but, following international condemnation and mass protests, reinstated the premier last Sunday.
After the coup Al-Burhan had dissolved major institutions and dismissed the heads of state media, public companies and banks as well as many provincial officials.
Ambassadors who had announced their defections were also relieved of their duties.
Hamdok himself was placed under house arrest after the putsch, which sparked a wave of mass street protests that triggered a deadly crackdown by the security forces.
On Wednesday, Hamdok said in a statement that he had ordered “an immediate halt to dismissals and hirings in national and local public institutions until further notice.”
The prime minister, who is still without a Cabinet after returning to his post in a controversial deal with Al-Burhan, said “recent hirings and dismissals will be studied and reviewed.”
Twelve out of 17 ministers from Sudan’s bloc calling for a purely civilian government resigned on Monday, rejecting Hamdok’s strategy of engaging with the military.
Despite the agreement that led to the release of a handful of politicians, dozens of others remain in detention.
Protest organizers have accused Hamdok of “treason” and have vowed to maintain pressure on the military-civilian authority overseeing Sudan’s transition.
Activists have taken to social media to call for “Martyrs’ Day” demonstrations on Thursday in honor of the 41 protesters killed in the post-coup crackdown.
On November 11, Al-Burhan formed a new Sovereign Council in which he and other military figures stayed on but members of the main civilian bloc were replaced.
Prior to the coup, the council had been charged with overseeing Sudan’s transition to civilian rule after the ouster of long-time President Omar Bashir in 2019.
BEIRUT: Hezbollah is experiencing political confusion, writer and political analyst Sana Aljak said on Wednesday, amid reports of a disagreement between the party and the Amal Movement headed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on their earlier call to remove Judge Tarek Bitar from his investigation into last year’s Beirut port blast.
The government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati has been stuck over how to respond to calls for Bitar’s removal, and the positive atmosphere that prevailed in a meeting on Monday between Berri, Mikati and President Michel Aoun had not materialized into concrete steps by the middle of the week.
There were also claims of a dispute between Berri and Hezbollah on the solutions proposed for resuming Cabinet meetings.
The two allies have boycotted the meetings since Oct. 12, against the backdrop of the port blast investigation, and the government turmoil has been aggravated by a provocative statement from Information Minister George Kordahi about the war in Yemen.
The meeting on Lebanon’s Independence Day produced, according to the information that followed, “flexibility, positivity, and openness to resolving outstanding problems.”
There has been an increasing level of conversation about solutions related to Kordahi.
There are also reports that Aoun promised to facilitate understanding on solutions provided that the prime minister, after his Vatican visit to meet Pope Francis, invited a Cabinet session that conveyed to the international community the government’s seriousness about implementing commitments to save Lebanon from collapse.
The information circulated said the way out regarding Hezbollah’s demand to suspend Bitar was to limit his powers.
Accordingly, out of respect for the provisions of the constitution, Bitar should not be allowed to investigate accused officials, including ministers, MPs and a former prime minister, and try these officials before the Supreme Council for the trial of presidents and ministers.
This solution requires that Bitar be removed from the trial of political officials, rather than suspending him entirely.
Respecting the constitution was a requirement for Berri as well as other political parties, especially since the prime minister reiterated his refusal to interfere in the work of the judiciary and was committed to the separation of powers.
But this solution, according to the information circulated, means withdrawing the demand for Bitar’s dismissal, a condition that Hezbollah is sticking to in order to let its ministers attend Cabinet sessions.
This development has led to claims of disagreement between Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
MP Mohammed Khawaja, a member of the Parliamentary Development and Liberation Bloc headed by Berri, confirmed that the speaker “has been making, since the beginning of the crisis, every effort for the return of the government to business and address the thorny files, including the judicial file, whose course is required to be corrected as a starting point to the rest of the issues, foremost of which is the living conditions that affect all citizens and pressurize most of the Lebanese who have become poor.”
Khawaja said: “It is natural that there is a difference in attitudes between the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, especially in their view of internal political affairs and how to deal with them since they are not one party. The two parties meet on strategic matters and complement each other. There is no need to exaggerate the dispute.”
Aljak said the dispute was “a division of roles” between Hezbollah and Berri.
She told Arab News: “Hezbollah was not able to completely remove Bitar from the file, so the party tried to overthrow the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, who protects Bitar. But it could not (do) either. Hezbollah, which is very powerful in Lebanon, has found that it is incapable of controlling everything and that it is even helpless. The party is now entering into reconciliation with the tribes of Khaldeh, that is, with the murderer of one of its leaders. Hezbollah can no longer use the excess power it possesses. When he boasts that he has 100,000 fighters, this is a sign of weakness, not strength.”
Aljak referred to the attack by a Hezbollah leader, Ghaleb Abu Zainab, against political leaders last Monday, and how the party was forced to say that he did not represent the party’s positions.
“This is evidence that Hezbollah has reached a stage where it thought it could control everything, but suddenly it discovered that its excess power did not benefit it. Hezbollah intervened in many places in the region, but what did it gain? Everyone is talking about an Iranian occupation. Hezbollah’s prestige has declined. Hezbollah has become like a dictator who no longer bothers to convince people to like him, but suddenly discovers that people hate him.
“The party no longer knows how to get out of all the places it has been involved in,” Aljak added.
DUBAI: Sudan’s military reinstated Abdalla Hamdok as prime minister of the country’s civilian transitional government on Nov. 21 and pledged to release political prisoners following weeks of deadly unrest in the wake of the October coup.
However, the new power-sharing arrangement appears far from secure amid continued protests by Sudanese pro-democracy groups against the military’s involvement in the government.
After being held under house arrest since Oct. 25, Hamdok was reinstated upon signing a 14-point agreement with coup leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan during a ceremony broadcast on state television on Sunday.
“The signing of this deal opens the door wide enough to address all the challenges of the transitional period,” Hamdok said during the ceremony.
“Sudanese blood is precious. Let us stop the bloodshed, and direct the youth’s energy into building and development,” he added, according to Reuters news agency.

Now that he has returned to office, Hamdok will lead an independent technocratic Cabinet until new elections are held before July 2023. However, it remains unclear how much real power the civilian government will wield under the military’s oversight.
Amani Al-Taweel, a researcher and expert on Sudanese affairs at Cairo’s Al-Ahram Strategic and Political Studies Center, believes the agreement’s effectiveness will depend largely on public acceptance of its legitimacy.
“This is a matter that depends on the extent to which the street and the people accept the agreement that was signed,” she told Arab News.
“If it is accepted, we will reach a safe end to the transitional period, and if not, the situation will become more complex and open to security threats.”
Many political groups have no confidence in Hamdok’s professions of faith in the deal and accuse him of selling out the revolution.
The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, one of the key players in the uprising against former leader Omar Al-Bashir, strongly opposes the agreement and says Hamdok has committed “political suicide.”
“This agreement only concerns its signatories, and is an unjust attempt to bestow legitimacy on the latest coup and the military council,” the group tweeted after the signing ceremony.
The Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a group made up of several political parties and pro-democracy groups, has also objected to any new political partnership with the military and insists the perpetrators should face justice.
“We totally reject the treacherous agreement signed between Hamdok and Al-Burhan, which concerns only its signatories,” it said in a Facebook statement. “The points of the subservience agreement are far from the aspirations of our people and are nothing more than ink on paper.”
The Umma Party, Sudan’s biggest political bloc, has also issued a statement implying it does not support the deal, AP reports.

Meanwhile, protesters have rallied in the capital Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri, chanting “No to military power,” and demanding a full withdrawal of the armed forces from the government.
According to Zouhir Al-Shimale, head of research at Valent Projects, there are two likely scenarios, both of which depend on what Hamdok chooses to do next.
“In one, Hamdok will play a positive role by supporting the demands for democracy, justice and peace of the Sudanese revolution,” he told Arab News.
“In the other scenario, he will ostensibly back the street’s demands but, in actual fact, legitimize and support the October coup leaders, and act as their international political front.”
Hamdok, 65, has been the face of the country’s fragile transition to civilian rule since the 2019 overthrow of Sudan’s long-time leader Al-Bashir.
The British-educated economist, who was previously deputy executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, had developed a reputation as a champion of good governance and transparency.
Although he did not take part in the 2019 revolution, he was widely seen as the ideal candidate to help steer Sudan’s democratic transition.
His government inherited a country long squeezed by US sanctions, wracked by economic crisis, suffering shortages of basic commodities, and with a banking sector on the brink of collapse.
Since its independence was recognized in 1956, Sudan has been plagued by internal strife and political instability. The secession of South Sudan in 2011 delivered multiple shocks to the economy following the loss of valuable oil revenues.
The consequent slowdown in growth and double-digit consumer price inflation triggered protests among a population increasing at a rate of 2.42 percent per year.
Sanctions were lifted soon after Hamdok joined a transitional government in August 2019 and Sudan was subsequently removed from the US Treasury’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Since then, however, the country has been beset by daunting socioeconomic problems, made worse by the global pandemic.
In the face of these overlapping crises, army chief Al-Burhan announced a state of emergency on Oct. 25, deposing Hamdok and arresting several members of the transitional government.
The international community condemned the move and suspended much-needed economic assistance to Sudan. The World Bank froze aid and the African Union suspended the country’s membership.
Under the circumstances, the Nov. 21 deal has been largely welcomed by the international community, which views it as a first step toward getting Sudan’s fragile transition process back on track.
The US, Britain, Norway, the EU, Canada and Switzerland all welcomed Hamdok’s reinstatement and, in a joint statement, urged the release of other political detainees. The Saudi foreign ministry has said the Kingdom supports everything that will achieve peace and maintain security, stability and development in Sudan.
Some political observers believe the coup was simply a crude attempt by the Bashir-era old guard to retake power.
“Sudan reached this point due to a post-revolution political dilemma and stalling by members of the Sudanese army, who are the remnants of the pro-Bashir regime and Muslim Brotherhood figures, the Rapid Response Forces, as well as some regional actors,” Al-Shimale told Arab News.
“They have been collectively undermining the post-revolution progress, namely the civilian-led transitional government.”
The October coup triggered weeks of demonstrations across Sudan, in which at least 41 people were killed, according to medical sources. The Nov. 21 agreement sets out plans for a thorough investigation into the killings.
Al-Shimale believes the Sudanese people are divided over the agreement because many of its clauses have not been made public. “The deal has already affected Hamdok’s image among Sudanese both inside and outside the country,” he told Arab News.
“They are arguing that the PM’s deal with the coup leaders is like a stab in the back for those who believed that he supported the civil right movement. However, others are considering his stance as a political maneuver and not a submission to Al-Burhan’s demands nor legitimizing his coup.”
Hamdok faces considerable challenges, in addition to the risk of reputational damage.
Before the coup, in order to secure international funding, his government implemented a number of austerity measures, including the removal of subsidies on petrol and diesel, and the floating of the Sudanese pound.
Many Sudanese believe the steps were too harsh and overly hasty. In mid-September, anti-government protesters responded by blockading the country’s main sea port, triggering nationwide shortages of wheat and fuel.
Hamdok’s government was also accused of failing to deliver timely justice to the families of those killed under Al-Bashir, including those who died during the 2018-19 protests, leaving him vulnerable to criticism.
“The situation facing Sudan after the latest deal is too complicated to predict,” Al-Shimale said. “On the political front, Sudan has entered another era of uncertainty and it will take a long time for the new government to come to grips with the business in hand.”
He added: “Local resistance coordination groups will continue protesting Hamdok’s partnership with the military, and political order won’t be restored unless Hamdok succeeds in crafting a new political dynamic under which a civilian-led — not military-headed — Sudan will be able to address the revolution’s demands.”

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