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The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 21 April

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Date of publication: 18 April, 2020

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In today's roundup: As Lebanon reports no new coronaviruses cases for 24 hours, one bizarre study has claimed that Middle Eastern genes make Arabs' lungs more immune to the virus.
Here are five stories you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting the Middle East on 21 April:

1. Jordan blocks UN aid to Syria's Rukban refugee camp over coronavirus concerns

Jordan on Tuesday announced it would not allow the United Nations to pass through its territory to deliver aid to Syria's besieged Rukban refugee camp, citing novel coronavirus concerns.

The remote camp, home to around 12,000 displaced people, is located in southeast Syria, near Jordan's northeast border. The Rukban camp has been under siege by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia for over a year, rendering the import of food and medicine near impossible.

Activists have previously urged the UN to provide medical aid to Rukban's inhabitants as they brace for a Covid-19 outbreak. Among Syria's officially reported 39 novel coronavirus cases, none have yet been confirmed in the camp.

Read more here

2. No new coronavirus cases in Lebanon in past 24 hours as country slows spread

Lebanon recorded no new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours for the first time during the country’s outbreak, the health ministry said in its daily report on Tuesday.

It said that after 487 tests conducted in the last 24 hours the number of infections stood at 677, with 21 deaths.

The Lebanese government has enacted a lockdown which has been in place since the middle March. 

Under quarantine conditions, people can only leave their homes to buy food or medicine, and post businesses are closed.

An overnight curfew also bans going outside between 8pm and 5am, with security forces enforcing curbs.

This comes as Lebanon's parliament plans to
vote on legislation this week that would see the release of thousands of prisoners arrested for non-violent crimes.

Click to enlarge

Read more here. 

3.  'Special' Arab genes make Middle Easterners' lungs more immune to coronavirus, Jordanian study claims

Jordanian research centre released a study which claims that Arabs are less likely to contract the novel coronavirus because their lungs are genetically 'superior'.

The Society of Genetic Engineers in Jordan published a report saying those of a Middle Eastern heritage are less likely to contract the deadly illness because they have a genetic variation that makes them more likely to fight off the disease.

In a statement written by the centre’s director Rami Fouda, he explained that the reason behind less Arab fatalities comes from the genetic makeup of Arabs, which he claims explains why there are significantly more coronavirus cases within Israel than the occupied West Bank.

“The theory can be proven based on the fact that the flu virus has been more fatal in East Asia and Europe than it has been in the Middle East,” he said.

Read more here.

4. Saudi Arabia suspends congregational Ramadan prayers in Mecca, Medina

Saudi Arabia has extended the suspension of prayers in the Two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina for the month of Ramadan, to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The president of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques Abdul Rahman As-Sudais made the announcement on Monday in a tweet. 

The nightly prayers performed during the holy month of Ramadan, Tarawih, held at the Grand Mosque and Prophet’s Mosque will not be open to the public, Sudais said.

The prayers will still be held at the two holy sites without public attendance, according to Sudais. A schedule has not yet been released.

 Read more here.

5. Turkey 'mobilising major Libya offensive' to secure Tripoli as warlord Haftar loyalists target coronavirus hospital

Forces loyal to Libya's renegade commander Khalifa Haftar targeted hospitals being used as coronavirus centres in Tripoli, injuring at least five medics.

Haftar – who has been recruiting thousands of African mercenaries, mainly from Chad and Sudan, to fight in his ranks – also accused Turkey of "exploiting" the coronavirus pandemic to mobilise against LNA's rival, the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

GNA loyalists said on Monday that Haftar's forces targetted two field hospitals in their shelling of Tripoli's Wadi al Rabie, injuring at least five health workers.

Earlier this month, Libyan rights groups and activists said Haftar's LNA targeted the Al-Khadra General Hospital, which houses 400 beds and was designated as a potential coronavirus treatment centre.

Read more here.

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