Archive for February 24, 2020

Iran announces 50 dead in Qom coronavirus outbreak

February 24, 2020

Source: Iran announces 50 dead in Qom coronavirus outbreak | The Times of Israel

Tehran says deaths date back to February 13, though first cases were only announced days later; Kuwait, Bahrain announce first cases in people entering from Iran

People wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus on a street in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

People wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus on a street in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A staggering 50 people have died in the Iranian city of Qom from the new coronavirus this month, Iran’s semiofficial ILNA news agency reported on Monday.

The new death toll is significantly higher than the latest number of confirmed cases of infections that Iranian officials had reported just a few hours earlier and which stood at just 12 deaths out of 47 cases, according to state TV.

A lawmaker from Qom, Ahmad Amiriabadi Farahani, was quoted in ILNA saying that more than 250 people are in quarantined in the city, which is a popular place of religious study for Shiites from across Iran and other countries.

He said the 50 deaths date as far back as February 13. Iran, however, first officially reported cases of the virus and its first deaths on February 19.

Speaking to ILNA, Farahani said the situation in Qom is “not good.”

“I think performance of the administration in controlling the virus has not been successful,” he said, referring to the government of President Hassan Rouhani.

“None of the nurses have access to proper protective gears,” Farahani said, adding that some health care specialists had left the city. “So far, I have seen any particular action to confront corona by the administration.”

The new coronavirus originated in China sometime around December. There are concerns that clusters in Iran, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread.

Authorities in Iran have closed schools across much of the country for a second day and as neighboring countries reported infections from travelers from Iran, prompting several to shut their borders to Iranian citizens.

The number of deaths compared to the number of confirmed infections from the virus is higher in Iran than in any other country as compared to the ratios in China and South Korea, where the outbreak is far more widespread.

Iranian health officials have not whether health workers in Qom who first came in contact with infected people had taken precautionary measures in treating those who died of the virus. Iran also has not said how many people are in quarantine across the country overall.

Kuwait announced on Monday its first cases of the virus, saying that three travelers returning from the northeastern city of Mashhad, Iran were confirmed infected with the coronavirus.

Kuwaiti health minister Sheikh Basel al-Sabah (R) speaks to the press at Sheikh Saad Airport in Kuwait City, on February 22, 2020, as Kuwaitis returning from Iran wait before being taken to a hospital to be tested for coronavirus (YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP)

Iran, however, has not yet reported any confirmed cases of the virus in Mashhad, raising questions about how the government is carrying out tests and quarantines.

Iran has confirmed cases so far in five cities, including the capital, Tehran. A local mayor in Tehran is among those infected and in quarantine.

Kuwait has been evacuating some 750 citizens from Iran and testing them as they enter the country after saying that Iran had barred its medical workers from testing travelers at an exit terminal in Iran, despite an agreement to do so.

The three people returning from Iran to Kuwait who were infected with the virus are being treated in Kuwait and were identified as a Kuwaiti male, 53, a Saudi male, 61, and the third was not identified except as a 21-year-old. The news was reported by the Kuwait News Agency quoting the Kuwait Health Ministry.

Bahrain’s healthy ministry also reported the country’s first COVID-19 case on Monday after a “citizen arriving from Iran was suspected of having contracted the virus based on emerging symptoms.”

This photo taken on February 22, 2020 shows people who have recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus infection leaving a hospital by bus in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. (Photo by STR / AFP)

The patient was transferred to a medical center for “immediate testing,” which proved positive for the infection, the ministry added.

Iranian travelers with the virus have also been confirmed in Canada, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

The outbreak in Iran has centered mostly on the city of Qom, but spread rapidly over the past few days as Iranians went to the polls on Friday for nationwide parliamentary elections, with many voters wearing masks and stocking up on hand sanitizer.

Iran is already facing diplomatic and economic isolation under US pressure. The virus threatens to isolate Iran even further as countries shut their borders to Iranians.

Soccer fans across the country will not be allowed to attend matches, and shows in movie theaters and other venues were suspended until Friday. Authorities have begun daily sanitization of Tehran’s metro, which is used by some 3 million people, and public transportation cars in the city.


IDF pounds Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza after rockets fired at south 

February 24, 2020

Source: IDF pounds Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza after rockets fired at south | The Times of Israel

Military says fighter jets, attack helicopters bombed terror group’s facility in Khan Younis, elsewhere in the Strip, following afternoon barrages that struck southern Israel

The Israel Defense Forces launched a series of airstrikes against Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday, after the terror group fired at least 14 rockets at southern Israel earlier in the day, the military said.

The IDF said it struck an Islamic Jihad military base in the Gazan city of Khan Younis, along with other facilities controlled by the terror group in the Strip.

Shortly after the military completed its airstrikes in Gaza, terrorists in the Strip fired one rocket toward the city of Ashkelon, just north of the Palestinian enclave, sending thousands of people rushing to bomb shelters, the military said.

It appeared as though the rocket landed in the sea off the coast of the city, according to video footage and photographs of the attack. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian@manniefabian

One of the rockets fired from Gaza a short while ago landed in the sea

Embedded video

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian@manniefabian

Palestinians report firing a Badr-3 rocket towards Ashkelon.

It landed in the sea.

View image on Twitter

The military said the Khan Younis base, which featured underground infrastructure, was used by the Islamic Jihad as both a training center and a storage depot for weaponry.

The retaliatory strikes were conducted by fighter jets and attack helicopters in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip aimed at southern Israel earlier in the day, the IDF said.

Photographs and video footage of the IDF’s rare daytime strikes showed massive fireballs going into the air following the strikes, likely indicating secondary blasts from explosives being stored on the base.

“The IDF will respond aggressively to the terrorist activities of the Islamic Jihad, which threaten the citizens of Israel and harms its sovereignty,” the military said in a statement.

A police sapper removes pieces of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip that struck a playground in the town of Sderot on February 24, 2020. (Israel Police)

In announcing the fresh airstrikes in Gaza on Monday, the IDF notably mentioned only Islamic Jihad, not the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, with which Israel hopes to negotiate a ceasefire agreement. In the past, Israel held Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from the Strip, regardless of which terror group was behind it.

However, the IDF has lately begun to distinguish between Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which Israel believes is responsible for the majority of the violence along the Gaza border in recent months.

Beginning at noon Monday, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired at least 14 rockets at southern Israel, 12 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the IDF said.

Smoke trails are left in the sky after Palestinian terrorists fire a rocket at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on February 24, 2020. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the attacks.

One rocket struck an empty playground in the town of Sderot on Monday, causing damage but no injuries, police said. Another rocket appeared to strike an open field outside the community of Nir Am in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, according to local government.

Shrapnel from one of the Iron Dome interceptions also shattered a car windshield in the community of Nir Am, a Sha’ar Hanegev spokesperson said.

The IDF’s high interception rate indicated an impressive performance by the Iron Dome missile defense system and its operators, as well as a high degree of accuracy by terror groups in the Strip. In general, the Iron Dome is only activated when an incoming projectile is heading toward a populated area, rather than an open field where it is unlikely to cause injury or damage.


There were no physical injuries caused by the rockets. Medics treated one woman who suffered an anxiety attack during the barrage on Monday.

The attacks triggered sirens in the town of Sderot, in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, and in the community of Netiv Ha’asara, sending thousands of residents rushing to bomb shelters.

Videos shared on social media appeared to show multiple launches of the Iron Dome missile defense system over Sderot.

The attack came after Palestinian and Israeli officials exchanged threats of renewed violence throughout Monday morning.

On Sunday evening, the Islamic Jihad and other terror groups fired some 30 rockets at Israel on Sunday evening, approximately half of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. The rest landed in open fields. Some shrapnel caused light property damage, but no injuries were reported.

The IDF retaliated with airstrikes on Islamic Jihad facilities in both Syria and Gaza. Two members of the terror group were killed in the airstrikes outside Damascus along with four other pro-Iranian fighters, according to a Britain-based Syrian war monitor. A number of Islamic Jihad operatives were also injured by an IDF airstrike in Gaza as they prepared to launch rockets at Israel, the military said.

Abu Hamza, a spokesperson for the Al-Quds Brigade, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad military wing, said Monday that Israel’s strikes on Damascus “will not pass fleetingly,” adding: “The fight is not over.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and senior officials from Israel’s security services meet to discuss growing tensions with terror groups in the Gaza Strip at the military’s Tel Aviv headquarters on February 23, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Both Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened Monday that Israel could begin a major operation to stem rocket fire and other attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border, despite elections a week away.

“We are preparing a plan to fundamentally change the situation in the Gaza Strip,” Bennett told a conference in Jerusalem. “I really understand the situation of the people of the south. They deserve peace and security.”

Netanyahu told Radio Jerusalem that he “will not compromise Israel’s security for political reasons.”

“War is a last resort, but there may be no escape from it. We’ve prepared a radically different campaign,” Netanyahu said.

“If Israel is in the position of entering a large-scale military operation, we will have to deal a bigger blow than [operations] Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge. It could very well be that we may have to carry out — I don’t really want to say it, but — ‘the mother of all operations.’”

Israeli military surveillance footage of two alleged Palestinian Islamic Jihad members planting what appears to be a bomb along the Gaza border on February 23, 2020. (Screen capture: Israel Defense Forces)

Early Monday, the IDF Home Front Command issued a series of precautionary directives for southern Israel in case of renewed fighting throughout the day, closing schools, banning large outdoor gatherings, blocking roads and halting train service.

Sunday’s rocket fire came after an irregular clash along the Gaza border earlier Sunday in which Israeli troops shot dead a member Palestinian Islamic Jihad as he planted an improvised explosive device along the border. The Israeli military then retrieved his body, using a bulldozer.

The retrieval of the corpse was apparently part of Bennett’s announced plan to “hoard” the corpses of Palestinian terrorists in order to use them as “bargaining chips” in negotiations for the release of two Israeli men, and the remains of two fallen Israeli soldiers, who are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The smoke trail of a rocket, fired by Palestinian terrorists, flying over the Gaza Strip, on February 23, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The border clashes come amid reports of ongoing efforts by Israel to broker a ceasefire agreement with Gaza terror groups, following weeks of intermittent rocket fire and the regular launching of balloon-borne explosive devices into Israel.

The IDF said the strikes in Syria and Gaza were in response to both Sunday morning’s attempted IED attack and the rocket fire throughout the evening.

In November, Israel fought a punishing two-day battle with the Islamic Jihad, sparked by the IDF killing one of the terror group’s leaders — Baha Abu al-Ata — whom Israel believed was responsible for most of the group’s aggressive actions.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.


After heavy rocket barrage from Gaza, Palestinian Jihad swears to retaliate for any Israeli reprisal – DEBKAfile

February 24, 2020

Source: After heavy rocket barrage from Gaza, Palestinian Jihad swears to retaliate for any Israeli reprisal – DEBKAfile

That the latest Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket offensive on Feb. 23 against Israel from Gaza occurred just eight days before Israel’s third election will determine how it plays out. The 21 rockets fired in three quick salvos Sunday night mostly targeted two Israeli towns, Ashkelon and Sderot, injuring two people. The Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted 13 before they hit anything.

The rockets came as a sequel to an incident that morning, in which two Islamic Jihad terrorists were caught planting a roadside bomb for an Israeli border patrol and shot dead. The firefight began when the IDF unit and Jihad raced each other to collect the bodies. The soldiers withdrew with one of them. The Palestinian terrorists vowed to punish Israel for this incident. Iron Dome batteries were accordingly posted during the day at strategic points around the Gaza Strip.

As is their wotn, Israel’s top defense and military officials thereupon met at national defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and Chief of Staff t. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Their options were complicated. With a general election just days away and a caretaker government due to bow out for a new administration at a future date, launching a full-dress war offensive Gaza was not on the table. At the same time, letting the Islamic Jihad get away with its provocation was not an option.

However, most of those present generally favor avoiding a full military confrontation in Gaza and prefer to address the recurrent Palestinian aggression by non-military means. This near-consensus came to the fore earlier, when it was revealed that Mossad Director Yossie Cohen and the head of the IDF’s Southern Command Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevi,  had just paid a secret visit to Qatar to ask the emir to continue shelling out a monthly $25m cash allocation to the Hamas rulers of Gaza as a powerful incentive for them to maintain calm rather than constant terror.

Secret foreign trips in the region are nothing new for Israel’s Mosad chiefs, however never before has a serving Israel general been known to visit an Arab state. That alone was a measure of how far the Netanyahu administration was ready to go  to bring to fruition the long-term truce with the Palestinian Hamas which is in advanced negotiation with Egypt’s mediators.

For Jihad and its Iranian backers, any deal for suspending anti-Israel violence is anathema. And they lost no time in using the current precarious situation both to undermine Hamas and hit Israel.