LOD, Israel - The Arabs and Jews of Lod, one of the most closely mixed cities in Israel, have been through many upheavals.
But they had never before seen the kind of intercommunity violence that unfolded here over the past three days.
Angry Arab youths rioted this week after police violence in Jerusalem spilled over into conflict with the Gaza Strip. They began burning synagogues and cars, throwing stones and letting off sporadic rounds of gunfire.
Gangs of Jewish extremist vigilantes, some called in from out of town, started a counterattack, setting their own fires. Other groups sought out Arab targets in other cities.
Not even during the intifadas, the mass Palestinian uprisings of the past, did Israelis experience this kind of mob violence. And though unrest started in Lod, it spread quickly to the mixed Israeli cities of Acre and Haifa, long proud of their intercommunal relations, and to the Arab towns of the Galilee.
Jews beat a driver who was presumed to be Arab almost to death in a Tel Aviv suburb Wednesday. Bedouin torched and ambushed Jewish cars with stones in the southern Negev desert.
"We ran out of the house without clothes on. It was burning," said Shirin al-Hinawi, a 33-year-old Arab resident of Lod whose house was charred by a Molotov cocktail Wednesday (May 12) night. Her family called for police help, but no one came, she said.
"We are not living in Gaza," she said, distraught. "I'm an Israeli citizen, and we didn't do anything."
The detritus of burned-out cars, shattered glass and charred buildings on both sides bore witness to a national nightmare.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded for calm and an end of "lynchings" and went to Lod on Thursday, saying he might send troops in. Some Israelis began worrying about the possibility of a civil war breaking out.
Authorities have declared a special state of emergency in the city, which has a population of about 80,000 people, and imposed a night curfew. Hundreds of paramilitary border police were brought in from the occupied West Bank and deployed across the city.
But many feared the violence would only intensify.
On Thursday morning, a local Jewish man was stabbed and wounded on his way to synagogue.
After dark, another person was shot and seriously injured, the police said. Orthodox Jewish youths came in from out of town. At least one, presumably an off-duty soldier, carried an assault rifle, another a baseball bat.
A post making the rounds on social media had called for a "civilian army" to provide backup in Lod, creating a spiraling sense of anarchy.
The neighbourhood al-Hinawi's house was burned in, Ramat Eshkol, is one of the most mixed areas in the country. On Thursday morning, people there seemed shocked.
Tahael Harris, a 27-year-old Jewish woman who lives in an old building with a mix of Arab and Jewish residents opposite a Jewish religious school that was burned, said she, her husband and two children had been holed up at home behind locked doors for nights while Arab mobs were setting cars alight in the street below and throwing stones.
As the violence ramped up, the family heard gunfire.
"Before, it was quiet, not perfect, but we were good neighbours," she said of the Arab and Jewish residents of the apartment bloc. "I don't know where they were last night. I don't want to ask because I'm scared to hear the answer."
The new fear and distrust in Lod has old roots in duelling nationalism. The neighbourhood of Ramat Eshkol lies at the center of Palestinian trauma surrounding what Arabs call the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of 1948, referring to the hostilities surrounding the establishment of Israel and the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis.
Most of the original Palestinian residents of Lod, known as Lydda in Arabic, were expelled and moved east, never to return. Bedouins from the Negev arrived in the following decades, as did families of Palestinians from the West Bank who had collaborated with Israel, seeking safe refuge.
The rage of the Arab youths now is steeped in a smarting sense of inequality born of decades of discrimination and a lingering fear of displacement. Many Palestinian residents of Lod expressed frustration Thursday over government neglect.
Weeks ago, a couple of homes that lacked building permits were demolished by authorities.
The anger has been stoked in recent years by a process of internal Jewish settlement in Israel. Instead of settling in the already well-populated Jewish communities of the West Bank, organised groups of young, ideological Orthodox families are now moving into economically weak and mixed cities like Lod, perceiving a religious calling to strengthen the Jewish presence there.
Many of those newer Jewish families are scattered around Ramat Eshkol, living in shared apartment buildings with Arab neighbours, Israeli flags flying outside their windows. Others live in a newly built, specially designated neighbourhood for them nearby.
"We feel it is important," said Yehezkel Cohen, 43, the principal of the community's elementary school, showing religious books that were burned. "It's our mission. Our presence has only improved the neighbourhood."
The trouble in the city began when Arab youths protested outside a mosque in the old quarter Monday night and raised a Palestinian flag. They were roughly dispersed by police firing stun grenades and tear gas, residents said, igniting the charged atmosphere.
Later that night, an Arab man was fatally shot during a riot, and three Jewish men were arrested. Their neighbors claimed they acted in self-defense, but the death may have set off a blood feud.
At least five synagogues have been burned in the city, along with the religious school and an adjacent premilitary training academy.
Yousef Ezz, a 33-year-old Arab truck driver from Lod, said a gang of Jewish extremists from out of town burned his truck Wednesday night.
"People have lost all their faith. This is their last stop," he said. "I will live and die here, and my children will live or die here."
As dusk drew in Thursday, crowds of Arab youths in black T-shirts gathered on the rooftops of the mosque and buildings around the old square and set up barricades of burning tires in the streets around. Border police officers closed off streets in Ramat Eshkol and sealed the entrances to the city.
Dror Rubin, 45 a conflict resolution mediator working at Ramat Eshkol's Jewish-Arab community center, said he has been trying for years to build relations between the Palestinian Arab residents and the ideologically motivated Jewish newcomers.
"Until a few weeks ago, I really felt that our vision was happening, that we were building a microcosm of a different future," he said. Now, he said, "something has changed. I felt for the first time that it may not be safe to walk the streets here." Isabel Kershner.
SAN VICENTE PACAYA, GUATEMALA - Guatemala's Pacaya volcano has been erupting since February, keeping local communities and authorities on high alert.
But for David Garcia, the streams of molten lava oozing down the mountainside have become his kitchen.
Garcia, a 34-year-old accountant, serves up "Pacaya Pizza" cooked on the smouldering volcanic rock to awed tourists and locals.
"Many people today come to enjoy the experience of eating pizza made on volcanic heat," Garcia told reporters from a rocky area that leads to the Pacaya crater, and which he's converted into his workplace.
In his makeshift kitchen, Garcia spreads the dough on a metal platter that can resist temperatures up to 1,000 deg C, slathers it with tomato sauce, a generous helping of cheese and pieces of meat.
Wearing protective clothing from head to his military style boots, Garcia places the pizza on the lava.
"It's done, just let the cheese melt some more," he announces 10 minutes later.
"That pizza looks so good!" exclaims one of the tourists as the cheese bubbles.
Garcia's kitchen has become a magnet for tourists that work up a appetite climbing the massive volcano - one of three active ones in Guatemala - located just 25km south of the capital.
'Only' in Guatemala
He first started baking pizzas on the mountain side in 2013 in small caverns he found amongst the rocks.
"I didn't sell much the first few days," said Garcia, whose fame has now spread throughout social media.
In recent weeks, with Pacaya regularly spitting out molten rock, he started cooking the pizzas directly on the moving lava, some of which has come close to population centres.
It's a potentially risky undertaking given the plumes of volcanic ash blasted into the sky by the angry beast, to which some local villagers pray, pleading with it to desist.
"Having a pizza cooked in the embers of a volcano is mind-blowing and unique in the whole world," said Felipe Aldana, a tourist trying out one of Garcia's specialities.
He found about about the pizza joint on Facebook and thought: "I have to have this experience."
"It's ridiculous just thinking that you're going to eat something cooked on lava, but it's something that you can see only here" in Guatemala, said Kelt Van Meurs, a Dutch visitor.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced Thursday (May 14) that Taiwan's domestically developed vaccines are anticipated to be available in July.
At a press conference held after a national security meeting on Thursday, Tsai announced that the research and development of Taiwan's domestic vaccines have entered the final stages of their phase II trials. She stated that the "first wave" of domestic vaccines is expected to be available to the public by late July.
Tsai said the CECC has already begun devising plans for the rollout of the vaccines. She encouraged people to register in advance so that vaccinations can be carried out smoothly.
She stressed that "The more people who are vaccinated, the greater the resistance of the people will be as a whole and the safer Taiwan will be."
The domestic vaccines of three companies have reached advanced clinical trials: Taichung City-based Adimmune Corp., Hsinchu County-based United Biomedical, and Hsinchu County-based Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp. Clinical trials for the three vaccines began last August, with Medigen and United Biomedical in now phase II and Adimmune in Phase I, with plans to focus on variants of the virus.
United Biomedical's vaccine is called "UB-612," Adimmune's has been named "AdimrSC-2f Vaccine," and Medigen's has been dubbed "MVC-COV1901 Vaccine." All three are categorized as protein subunit vaccines, as they inject proteins from the virus into the body to induce an immune response.
According to Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration, other Taiwanese candidates in the works include a DNA vaccine by the National Health Research Institutes and Enimmune Corporation, a protein subunit vaccine with nano-vector by National Taiwan Univerity and Tanvex BioPharma Inc., a self-amplifying mRNA vaccine by Abnova, and a protein subunit vaccine by PharmaEssentia.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Two patients at a Taipei City Hospital branch on Thursday (May 13) were confirmed to be positive for COVID-19.
On Thursday, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) announced on Facebook that two patients at Taipei City Hospital's Heping Branch have tested positive for the coronavirus. He said the city has reached a consensus on epidemic prevention measures with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and does not currently plan to shut down the hospital.
That evening, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced that the patients are a man and woman in their 60s. They had entered the hospital's emergency room on May 6.
While asking the patients about high-risk areas they may have visited, doctors became concerned, placed them in a negative pressure isolation ward, and tested them for the virus. They were later diagnosed with COVID-19.
Based on a preliminary investigation, 50 hospital staff members have been listed as contacts of the cases. Fearing a nosocomial outbreak, operations in the emergency room were temporarily suspended, and the area was fully disinfected.
Ko said that he had visited the hospital that night and assessed the situation to be under control. Due to the swift response by hospital staff, he determined that "There is no danger of the hospital being closed."
He said that all contacts have been placed in hospital isolation wards or sent to the Jiantan Activity Center. On Friday morning (May 14), many were transferred to epidemic prevention hotels.
Inpatients are no longer being allowed to re-enter the hospital once they leave. Before they check out, they are being tested for the virus, and their health condition will continue to be monitored.
Ko tried to reassure the public by saying that the medical capacity of the hospital is sound and that the source of the infection has been clearly identified. "Please don't panic," said Ko, adding that he will meet with Health Minister and CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) Friday and provide a full update.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A junior high school student in New Taipei's Banqiao District is displaying suspected symptoms of COVID-19, and his classmates and instructors have been asked to stay home as a precaution.
The parents of the student, who began experiencing a cough and fever Wednesday evening (May 12), told the school that the hospital where their son is receiving treatment "highly suspects" his symptoms are related to COVID-19. They said he had been tested for the disease and is waiting for the result.
Although the school has yet to receive a notification from the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), 54 students and 28 instructors who were close contacts of the patient have been asked to stay home until further notice. The school said the student in question is graduating this summer and that he had been planning to take his high school entrance exam on Saturday (May 15).
Meanwhile, the New Taipei City Health Department said it will initiate epidemic prevention protocols if the student is confirmed with COVID-19. The CECC will provide more information about the case at its daily press conference Friday afternoon (May 14), it said.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A citywide sanitization was carried out in Keelung early Wednesday morning (May 12) following rumors of new local COVID-19 cases in the northern port city.
After the country recorded seven new local infections on Tuesday, local media suggested that a woman in Keelung had also tested positive for coronavirus later that day. The case (case No. 1,217) was confirmed by the Central Epidemic Command Center during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
A group of sanitization workers was sent to disinfect public areas around the city, including the Keelung Railway Station, schools, government buildings, and traditional markets. The city government also announced that it has raised its epidemic prevention alert to the highest level and that all unnecessary large gatherings will be canceled.
Speaking at a press conference, Keelung Mayor Lin Yu-chang (林右昌) emphasized that all citizens must stay vigilant and comply with public health measures to prevent the pandemic situation from worsening. Without addressing the city's new case, he said he has ordered all government agencies to prepare for possible working-from-home arrangements.
Taiwan may raise its COVID-19 alert level in the “coming days,” Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said on Wednesday (May 12), warning of an extremely serious situation that sent the island’s stock market tanking.
On Tuesday, Taiwan announced plans to restrict public gatherings as a result of a cluster of six new cases with no clear infection source, an unusual outbreak for the island that had kept a tight lid on community outbreaks.
Describing the situation as “very serious,” Chen told parliament the level could be lifted a notch to three, limiting gatherings to five people indoors and 10 outdoors, as well as closing of non-essential businesses.
“If there is the slightest failure in containment, then we will soon enter level three,” Chen said.
President Tsai Ing-wen called on people not to panic, and said there were plenty of medical supplies.
“At this moment the challenge is still severe. Please be alert and follow the guidelines. I believe we will be able to overcome this challenge together,” she said at the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
Taiwan has done a great job in curbing the virus and people should guard the country so its booming economy can continue, Tsai added.
‘PANIC SELLING P
The benchmark stock index, which at one point fell more than 8%, closed down 4.1%, its biggest percentage fall since March 2020.
“If (the COVID-19 alert status) is raised to level three, a lot of businesses won’t be able to operate, and at level four classes and offices will be closed,” said Yeason Jung, an analyst at Capital Futures in Taiwan. “There are short-term panic selling pressures emerging.”
Investors should have confidence that economic fundamentals and the stock market are sound, Taiwan Deputy Finance Minister Frank Juan told Reuters.
But if the situation worsens, Juan said he did not rule out calling a meeting of the National Stabilisation Fund, which the government can use to intervene in the stock market in case of large fluctuations.
The specter of restrictions affecting semiconductor production was enough to spook investors already nervous about selling pressure on tech shares, said Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at ANZ Bank.
“Cases are pretty low, but you can see we’re in an environment now where investors are cautious,” he said.
“Even though I doubt very much the restrictions will have an impact on export-orientated sectors, investors are playing it safe and that’s contributed to the selloff.”
Taiwan largely closed its borders early in the pandemic and has a robust contact tracing and quarantine system, keeping infections to 1,210, including 12 deaths, and allowing life to stay close to normal.
The government this week asked hospitals across Taiwan to allocate enough wards for potential new infections, Chen said, adding they are capable of providing 3,000 beds to treat patients.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In light of the recent domestic COVID-19 clusters, all schools in Taipei and New Taipei will be closed to the public to protect the health of their students, faculty, and staff.
After effectively containing the spread of coronavirus for more than a year, Taiwan on Tuesday reported seven local cases, including six with unknown sources of infection. Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) also declared that the country has entered the stage of “community transmission.”
Speaking at a press interview on Wednesday, New Taipei Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) announced that no outside visitors will be permitted to enter school campuses for four weeks until June 8. He added that all graduation ceremonies will be moved online instead to prevent large gatherings.
In addition, all theatre performances in the city will be canceled or postponed, according to Hou. Enhanced sanitation work is also being carried out Wednesday morning in Wugu, Sanchong, Zhonghe, and Yonghe Districts.
Similarly, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) announced that all indoor activities involving 100 or more persons and outdoor events exceeding 500 people will be canceled. Openings of campuses will be suspended until June 8, while all graduation ceremonies will be held online.
Ko emphasized that the new restrictive measures are necessary to prevent the pandemic situation in Taiwan from worsening. He asked citizens to remain alert and continue to follow public health guidelines, warning that more local cases could be reported over the next few days.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Amid a declaration of community transmission by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), Taipei City announced on Tuesday (May 11) that it will be canceling all events that involve large public gatherings with immediate effect.
During a press conference on Tuesday, the Minister of Health and Welfare and CECC Head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announced that with the outbreak of five local cases in Yilan and one case of unknown origin in New Taipei City, Taiwan has "entered community transmission." Chen cited the fact that five new local cases in Yilan, and one case of unknown origin in New Taipei, are unrelated to the previous China Airlines/Novotel cluster infection as evidence that the country has entered the community transmission stage.
In response, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) held a press conference that same afternoon to announce that the city's epidemic prevention level will be raised. Effective immediately and until June 8, Ko said that all activities involving 100 or more persons indoors and in excess of 500 outdoors will be canceled.
This means that all major Eid al-Fitr events scheduled for May 12 will be canceled. School graduation trips, off-campus teaching, and openings of campuses will be suspended, while graduation ceremonies will be moved online.
Meals and group activities for the elderly will be halted. Large-scale performances at Taipei Arena and Taipei Pop Music Center will be canceled or postponed.
Dance halls, hostess bars, bars, tea houses, saunas, and massage parlors will be required to implement a real-name ID registration system.
Taipei Deputy Mayor Huang Shan-shan (黃珊珊) added that the city advises cinema operators to not allow more than 100 people at a time in a theater and to implement checkerboard seating. Limits on visits to hospitals and elderly care institutions will be extended to June 8.
When asked whether Taipei's night markets have any supporting facilities to maintain social distancing and whether case No. 1,203 has been to Taipei, Ko said that people who buy food at the night market can "simply take it home." Huang said that if the case had been to Taipei, the city government would know, but there is no information yet.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Two doctors in New Taipei City and Yilan County were awarded by the government on Tuesday (May 11) for successfully identifying local coronavirus patients who are believed to be linked to two new separate community clusters.
After winning global accolades for its effective handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Taiwan on Tuesday reported seven local cases, including six with unknown sources of infection. While one case was linked to a cluster involving pilots from China Airlines, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said the other six were likely a part of two new community clusters.
Among the six cases, five (case No. 1,202 and cases 1,208–1,211) were employees of the Galaxy Baccarat (銀河百家樂) amusement arcade on Zhongzheng North Road in Yilan County's Luodong Township. Meanwhile, case No. 1,203 is a Taiwanese man who formerly served as a regional chairman for Lions Clubs International in New Taipei's Luzhou District.
Central Epidemic Command Center official Lo Yi-chun (羅一鈞) pointed out that three of the new cases were reported by two emergency doctors prior to their diagnosis. He said the keen observation and alertness of the doctors had helped bring awareness to the new clusters quickly.
As a result, the two doctors will receive NT$10,000 (US$359) for each of the three patients they helped identify, Lo said, citing Article 5 of the Regulations Governing Awards for the Control of Communicable Diseases. Health Minister Chen also praised them for making a "great contribution" to the country's effort in containing the pandemic.
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