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Israel to scrap COVID passport system as omicron wanes – Arab News

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JERUSALEM: Israel’s prime minister says the country’s coronavirus vaccination “green pass” system will be suspended as new daily cases of COVID-19 continue to decline.
Naftali Bennett said Thursday after meeting with health officials that Israel’s omicron wave “has been broken” and that additional reductions in coronavirus restrictions were forthcoming.
The Green Pass, Israel’s digital vaccination passport, limited entry to indoor venues and large gatherings to people who had recovered from coronavirus or received at least three doses of the vaccine.
Although new infections remain high, Israel’s health ministry has reported a steady decline in serious cases of COVID-19 since the peak of the country’s omicron wave earlier in February.
Israel raced out of the gate last year to vaccinate most of its adult population after striking a deal with Pfizer to trade medical data in exchange for a steady supply of doses. Around 48 percent of Israel’s 9.4 million people have received three doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine since the country began rolling out immunizations in late 2020. Over 72 percent of the country has received at least one dose.
At least 9,710 people in Israel have died from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic two years ago.
LONDON: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman held in Iran, could soon be freed alongside other prisoners as hopes rise that Tehran may soon reach a new agreement with major powers over its nuclear program, The Times reported on Saturday.
Officials have suggested that a draft deal has been drawn up following months of talks in Vienna after the US withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018.
Iran’s economy has been devastated by sanctions imposed after the US withdrawal, and has increased its nuclear activity.
The new deal will see the lifting of sanctions, with Tehran reducing its program to levels agreed under the terms of the JCPOA, and downsizing its uranium-enrichment capabilities.
The election of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s president in June 2021 had led to fears that the new talks could collapse, but there is new confidence that a deal might be struck in the coming months.
US Special Representative for Iran Robert Malley has said it is “hard to imagine” a nuclear deal being struck with Washington while its citizens, such as Morad Tahbaz, remain incarcerated in Tehran.
Those citizens could well be freed under the terms of the proposed deal in return for a lifting of US sanctions. That has prompted hope that other Westerners could also be freed if the deal is reached.
The daughter of imprisoned British Iranian Anousheh Ashoori told The Times that Western prisoners held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison are “cautiously optimistic” that they might be freed soon.
“Everyone knows that many times we’ve reached a crucial stage like this and nothing has come of it, so they are, as well as us, just waiting to see how the events unfold,” she said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe said: “Nazanin is quite hopeful, in a way that she wasn’t at Christmas. Who knows what will happen, but it feels that we will either get good news or we won’t. Before, it was ‘we will either get bad news or no news’.”
Iran, though, will not receive a guarantee under the terms of a fresh deal that the US will not withdraw, as it did in 2018.
A source told The Times: “There is a sense that this text is it, that it’s time for a political decision to be made in Tehran. The Americans have made a very fair offer and I don’t think the Iranians will get a better one.”
CAIRO: President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has expressed his appreciation for the World Health Organization’s decision to choose Egypt among six African countries to obtain vaccine-manufacturing technology.
In his speech at the European Union — African Union Summit, he stressed Egypt’s ability to use this technology to ensure the continued availability of vaccines to his country and Africa.
The WHO on Friday announced that Egypt, Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa will be the first countries on the continent to obtain technology required to produce RNA vaccines. The technology-transfer project aims to help low- and middle-income countries.
“The (coronavirus) pandemic surprised the whole world, and therefore the move was to find a quick solution,” said El-Sisi. “Although it took some time, as we say in Africa, arriving late is better than not arriving at all.”
He praised the WHO’s efforts to enable Africa to overcome the negative health, economic and social effects of the pandemic. El-Sisi said Egypt is working on producing COVID-19 vaccines for local and continental use.
He urged international organizations and financial institutions to strengthen efforts to support African countries’ health sectors and international mechanisms related to distributing vaccines equitably.
CAIRO: Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi affirmed his country’s keenness to “continue to activate cooperation frameworks and intensify consultations on issues of common interest with Cyprus, whether at the bilateral level or through the tripartite cooperation mechanism that brings together Egypt, Cyprus and Greece.”
During his meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, El-Sisi praised the continuous development in bilateral relations and cooperation, as well as Cypriot support for Egypt in regional and international forums and organizations.
According to a statement by the Egyptian presidency, Anastasiades “stressed Cyprus’s aspiration to achieve more steps in order to consolidate the frameworks of bilateral cooperation and friendship existing between the two countries, as well as to continue strengthening the tripartite cooperation mechanism with Greece, especially in light of the role Egypt plays as a pillar of stability in the Middle East, as well as its efforts to combat terrorism and illegal immigration.”
The spokesman for the Egyptian presidency said the meeting discussed ways to enhance bilateral relations and cooperation at various levels.
The two presidents stressed the need to move forward with implementing joint projects agreed upon within the framework of the tripartite cooperation mechanism.
TUNIS: Tunisia’s powerful UGTT labor union on Saturday re-elected Noureddine Taboubi as its leader as it approaches a critical national turning point in which it may play a pivotal role.
Taboubi, who has been UGTT leader for five years, has taken a cautious stance during the turbulent months since President Kais Saied seized executive powers in a move his foes call a coup.
The union’s blessing is seen as vital for any effort by Tunisia’s authorities to implement economic reforms demanded by foreign donors in return for a financial rescue package to avert a looming crisis that threatens to bankrupt Tunisia.
Its stance will also be crucial for Saied’s plans to remake Tunisian politics after he suspended the elected parliament, brushed aside the democratic constitution to say he could rule by decree and brought the judiciary under his own control.
With more than a million members and the ability to shut down Tunisia’s economy with strikes, the UGTT is widely seen as the most powerful political player in the country and a rare organization that might withstand presidential authority.
Saied has so far largely ignored the UGTT’s repeated requests to take part in a broad-based political and economic dialogue over the crisis and his plans to rewrite the constitution and after meeting Taboubi in July, he did not see him again until January.
Taboubi’s re-election took place at the union’s congress, a meeting held every five years and the final statement emphasised its demand for an inclusive process for major changes that Saied is pushing in the political and justice systems.
The president has in effect suspended the constitution to say he can rule by decree and has seized control of judicial appointments, moves his critics say undermine rule of law.
UGTT’s request recalls the role it played after the 2011 revolution that brought democracy and triggered the Arab spring, when it won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 after joining other civil society groups to avert dangerous street polarization.
RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said it had launched 18 operations targeting the Iran-backed Houthi militia in the Yemeni provinces of Marib and Hajjah in the past 24 hours.
The coalition said casualties were inflicted on several Houthi militants and 13 military vehicles had been destroyed, Saudi state TV reported on Friday.
Meanwhile, the coalition said it destroyed an explosive-laden boat belonging to the Houthi militia in the southern Red Sea from the port of Hodeidah.
“The Houthis’ use of the port for military purposes threatens freedom of navigation and global trade,” the coalition said.

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