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Coronavirus cases surge in occupied West Bank | Palestine News



Hebron, Occupied West Bank – The number of COVID-19 cases in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza reached 13,457 on Friday as a surge in infections in the second half of July saw the total number of reported cases double.

According to the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, the rate at which the disease is transmitted in the occupied West Bank has reached 1.58, meaning that every two infected individuals are likely to spread the virus to three more.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited control over some areas of the occupied West Bank, has struggled to contain the spread of the virus.

When the PA eased a lockdown following street protests in late May, there were less than 130 confirmed coronavirus infections. It has since reimposed a partial lockdown in response to the increase in reported cases.

However, spotty adherence to social distancing guidelines remained widespread across the West Bank, while a lack of control over borders and the movement of people have elevated the problems faced by the Ramallah-based administration.

Hebron is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the occupied West Bank [Ibrahim Husseini/Al Jazeera]

New epicentre

Of the 8,796 active cases, more than half of have been reported in Hebron governorate in the southern West Bank.

On a recent weekend in Hebron city, with a population of more than 750,000, the local authorities appeared ineffective or unwilling to enforce a routine lockdown. Vehicle traffic in and out of the city flowed unhindered, and many businesses were open.

“I decided to open my shop when I saw that by noon everybody was open,” Ahmad al-Qaisi, an upholstery retailer from Hebron told Al Jazeera.

In late June, as it became clear that Hebron was the epicentre of the outbreak, the health ministry directed more staff and supplies to the area. A new hospital in Dura, near Hebron city, was repurposed upon opening to exclusively treat COVID-19 patients.

“From the start, they brought the hardest cases here that need intensive care,” Dr Muhammad Ribie, the administrator of the hospital, told Al Jazeera. “Of course, it was a big challenge for us,” he said.

The hospital at Dura was first supplied with six ventilators, 10 intensive care unit beds, and 100 beds for minor cases, Ribie said. After a visit by the Palestinian health minister, Dr Mai Keleh, six more ventilators were sent along with 10 more ICU beds as cases in the region surged.

The Dura hospital was also equipped with an oxygen generator, but Ribie said an additional generator is still needed to meet the demand.

“The treatment of the majority of the corona patients is by oxygen,” Ribie said. “If the generator cannot produce enough, we switch to oxygen tubes and those run out fast and then we have to send them to Hebron to be refilled. This is not practical,” he added.

In early July, as the number of cases in the Hebron region was surging, the demand for test kits resulted in a shortage that led authorities to temporarily use serological testing instead. The health ministry replenished test kit supplies the next day, but public anger mounted.

A group of nurses prepare to leave the Dura Hospital after the end of their shift.

A group of nurses prepare to leave the Dura Hospital after the end of their shift [Ibrahim Husseini/Al Jazeera]

‘Community transmission’

A local health official who is privy to the COVID-19 situation in the West Bank told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity that the number of daily detected cases is worrying. During the last two weeks of July, newly detected cases averaged around 500 a day.

“This is a high figure when we think about the low number of tests performed,” he said. “We’ve been performing around 35,000 tests for every one million people, and this is not enough.”

“Israel ran far more tests … The UAE ran 490,000 for every one million people,” he said. “We are short of money.”

At the beginning of the health crisis, the PA struggled to limit the spread of the disease in the West Bank via workers who travel to and from Israel. There are 10 official crossings between the West Bank and Israel, and 300 more unofficial crossings, Mai Keleh said in a recent TV interview.

The PA does not have the resources to control labour traffic for all those points of entries. Also, many of the unofficial crossings are located in Area C of the West Bank where the PA has no control.

However, the situation has far worsened now. The majority of the recent transmissions in the West Bank are “community transmissions,” the Palestinian health minister said recently.

The health official told Al Jazeera that these account for “more than 61 percent of the cases”.

Economic impact

The economic fallout from coronavirus has been severe, with the ministry of economy estimating losses from the standstill at more than three billion dollars.

Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayeh this week announced agreements with the Palestinian Monetary Authority on several measures to ease the economic strain.

Banks were ordered not to slap fees on returned checks. In addition, they were also instructed to not deduct loan payments owed by their clients when the PA transfers salaries to its employees.

According to data from the Palestinian Monetary Authority, the value of returned checks in the West Bank has soared in recent months to $389m.

Ahmad Quaisi, the young upholstery merchant from Hebron, believed the policy has a downside because it has encouraged some to abuse it.

But for now, he said, “We’ve transitioned from accepting checks to cash; we sell on a cash basis, only.”

Before the pandemic, he imported as many as 10 containers a month of merchandise from China, Turkey and Europe. That has changed, he said, as fewer customers are buying from his shop.

“Importing has been scaled back. The purchasing power is gone. Now, I import two containers a month.”

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Attorney General William Byaruhanga Beats Up Journalists Over Protests



There was drama in Kololo Sunday 4th August afternoon when Attorney General William Byaruhanga abruptly stopped his Land cruiser along KololoTerrace descended and rained blows on two photo journalists from unidentified media houses.
The jouralists took off in awe. The Attorney was neither expected in the area nor were his furious actions.

Byaruhanga proceeded in rage to pluck off posters in every spot they had been pinned along Kololo Terrace.

The journalists had been taking pictures of posters of Byaruhanga , Masembe and Karim Hirji which had been pinned in many spots in Kololo, lugogo bypass and Naguru.
The posters portray the trio as evil and heartless greedy men suppressing orphans of the late Hirji wife Ziba Charm.
The brawl in Karim family seems to have taken on a new twist with the public starting to sympathise with the late Charm orphans.
Civil society groups and individuals have joined the campaign to seek justice for Karim’s step children.

Social media has been dominated in the past weeks with stories to the effect that city tycoon Hirji was helped by William Byaruhanga and Timothy Masembe to forge his late wife’s will and subsequently converted all her properties and Bank accounts in Uganda and London

Some have called for a peaceful demonstration while others have printed posters denouncing Karim and his lawyers Masembe Timothy of MMAKS and William Byaruhanga.
The public awaits direction from President Museveni and the Speaker of Parliament following a petition to both high offices by Karims srep children led by a one Linda Birungi.

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Appeals court delays release of Ghislaine Maxwell deposition | News




An appeals court in the United States on Friday temporarily delayed the release of a 2016 deposition about Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex life, after she argued it could destroy her ability to get a fair trial against criminal charges she aided the late financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of girls.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals issued the order after last-ditch scrambles by Maxwell to keep potentially embarrassing information, which her lawyer said could make it “difficult if not impossible” to find an impartial jury, out of the public eye.

Maxwell’s appeal will be heard on an expedited basis, with oral argument scheduled for September 22.

Her deposition had been taken in April 2016 for a now-settled civil defamation lawsuit against the British socialite by Virginia Giuffre, who had accused Epstein of having kept her as a “sex slave” with Maxwell’s assistance.

Dozens of other documents from that case were released late on Thursday, after the presiding judge concluded that the public had a right to see them.

The release of Maxwell’s deposition had been scheduled for Monday, pending the outcome of the appeal.

Maxwell, 58, has pleaded not guilty to helping Epstein recruit and eventually abuse three girls from 1994 to 1997, and committing perjury by denying her involvement under oath.

She was arrested on July 2 and has been held in a Brooklyn jail after a judge denied bail, calling her a flight risk. Maxwell’s trial is scheduled for next July.

Epstein was found hanged at age 66 last August in a Manhattan jail, while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges for abusing women and girls in Manhattan and Florida from 2002 to 2005. He had also pleaded not guilty.

In seeking to keep Maxwell’s deposition sealed, her lawyers said in court papers on Thursday she had been promised confidentiality by Giuffre’s lawyers and the presiding judge at the time, through an agreed-upon protective order, before answering many personal, sensitive and “allegedly incriminatory” questions about her dealings with Epstein.

They said further that Maxwell was blindsided when prosecutors quoted from the deposition in her indictment, and accusing Giuffre of leaking the deposition to the government.

In a court filing on Friday, Giuffre’s lawyers called Maxwell’s appeal “frivolous, and a transparent attempt to further delay the release of documents to which the public has a clear and unequivocal right to access”.

The lawyers also called the allegation Giuffre leaked the deposition “completely and utterly false”.

Friday’s order also covers a second deposition by an unnamed Epstein accuser that Maxwell also wanted to be kept under seal. Other documents from Giuffre’s lawsuit that quote or disclose information from the depositions also remain sealed.

Among the documents released on Thursday were a few emails between Epstein and Maxwell dated January 2015, including one where Epstein told Maxwell that she had done “nothing wrong”.

Lawyers for Maxwell said on July 10 in a court filing requesting bail in her criminal case that she had not been in contact with Epstein for “more than a decade”.

Maxwell is now battling prosecutors in her criminal case about the scope of a protective order intended to protect her right to a fair trial while ensuring the privacy of her accusers.

Reuters news agency

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US: House Democrats subpoena Pompeo for documents on Hunter Biden | News




The Democratic chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee has issued a subpoena to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding documents he provided to Senate Republicans investigating the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. 

A Republican-led Senate committee has been gathering information related to Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president who is set to be Republican President Donald Trump’s opponent in the November election.

Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said Friday he had issued the subpoena as part an investigation into Pompeo’s “apparent use of Department of State resources to advance a political smear of former Vice President Joe Biden”.

The subpoena also asks for internal department emails about responding to Congress.

The committee says Pompeo had delivered more than 16,000 pages of records to the Senate but refused to send the same materials to the Democrat-led House.

“I want to see the full record of what the department has sent to the Senate and I want the American people to see it too,” the House committee’s chairman, Representative Eliot Engel, said in a statement. 

The younger Biden is a former board member of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, which was thrust into the global spotlight last year in a House impeachment inquiry into whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine’s leader into opening an investigation into the Bidens.

Trump made the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on a July 2019 phone call that was later revealed by a whistle-blower’s complaint. 

The House impeached Trump in December for pressuring the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation while withholding military aid to the country. The Senate acquitted him in February.

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens, and Hunter Biden has denied using his influence with his father to aid Burisma.

Democrats have criticised Senate Republicans for continuing to probe the allegations against Biden, saying it amplifies Russian propaganda. 

Foreign interference

House and Senate Democratic leaders sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray last month saying they are concerned that Congress appears to be the target of a “concerted foreign interference campaign to influence the 2020 presidential election, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November”. 

The letter, which did not specifically mention the probe into Hunter Biden, but included a classified addendum that reportedly did, asked Wray for an all-members, classified briefing on the possible targeting of Congress before the August recess. 

Wray has not yet offered the requested briefing, but legislators did receive a classified briefing early Friday on general election security. Leaving that meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is concerned “the American people should be better informed”.

The new efforts by Democrats come as the nation’s intelligence agencies, congressional intelligence committees and Joe Biden have all warned of renewed election interference by Russia this year. Trump himself has been loath to discuss the subject or acknowledge that Russia tried to sow discord in the 2016 contest by hacking Democratic accounts and pushing out inflammatory content on social media.

Still, his administration has warned that Russia and other countries will likely try again.

In a statement last week, William Evanina, the government’s chief counterintelligence official, said adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran are seeking to compromise US private communications and infrastructure in campaigns. It also warned of disinformation campaigns on social media.

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