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Syria

Syria US Consular Information Sheet
August 13, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Since March 1963, the Syrian Arab Republic has been ruled by an authoritarian regime dominated by the Socialist Ba'ath Party.
While the ruling Ba'ath party
spouses a largely secular ideology, Islamic traditions and beliefs provide a conservative foundation for the country's customs and practices.
Syria has a developing, centrally-planned economy with large public (30%), agricultural (25%), and industrial (20%) sectors.
Tourist facilities are available, but vary in quality depending on price and location.
Read the Department of State Background Note http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm on Syria for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and a visa are required.
Visas must be obtained prior to arrival in Syria from a Syrian diplomatic mission located in the traveler’s country of residence, although the Syrian visa policy with respect to American diplomats and citizens is currently under review.
Foreigners who wish to stay 15 days or more in Syria must register with Syrian immigration authorities by their 15th day.
Syrian-American men or American men of Syrian origin, even those born in the United States, may be subject to compulsory military service unless they receive a temporary or permanent exemption from a Syrian diplomatic mission abroad prior to their entry into Syria.
(Please see the section on Special Circumstances below.)
Syria charges a departure tax for all visitors except those on diplomatic passports.
As of July 1, 2008, the tax is 1,500 Syrian Pounds if departing from the airport; 500 Syrian Pounds if departing via one of the land borders.

The Syrian government rigidly enforces restrictions on prior travel to Israel, and does not allow persons with passports bearing Israeli visa or entry/exit stamps to enter the country.
Syrian immigration authorities will not admit travelers with Israeli stamps in their passports, Jordanian entry cachets or cachets from other countries that suggest prior travel to Israel.
Likewise, the absence of entry stamps from a country adjacent to Israel, which the traveler has just visited, will cause Syrian immigration officials to refuse admittance.
Entry into Syria via the land border with Israel is not possible.
American-citizen travelers suspected of having traveled to Israel have been detained for questioning.

Syrian security officials are also sensitive about travel to Iraq.
There have been instances in which Americans, especially those of Arab descent, believed to have traveled to Iraq were detained for questioning at ports of entry/exit.
Americans seeking to travel to Iraq through Syria have also on occasion been turned around and/or detained.
On a number of occasions the border between Iraq and Syria has been closed without notice, stranding Americans on either side of the border.
Children under the age of eighteen whose fathers are Syrian or of Syrian descent must have their fathers' permission to leave Syria, even if the parents are separated or divorced and the mother has been granted full custody by a Syrian court.
Women in Syria are often subject to strict family controls.
On occasion, families of Syrian-American women visiting Syria have attempted to prevent them from leaving the country.
This can be a particular problem for young single women of marriageable age.
Although a woman does not need her husband's explicit consent every time she wishes to leave Syria, a Syrian husband may take legal action to prevent his wife from leaving the country, regardless of her nationality.
Once such legal orders are in place, the U.S. Embassy cannot help American citizens leave Syria.
Visit the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, 2215 Wyoming Ave. NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 232-6313 or check the Syrian Embassy's home page at http://www.syrianembassy.us for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Syria is included on the Department of State's List of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
A number of the terrorist groups that have offices in Syria oppose U.S. policies in the Middle East.
On September 12, 2006, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus was attacked by assailants using improvised explosives, gunfire, and two vehicles laden with explosives.
On February 4, 2006, mobs protesting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed destroyed the Norwegian and Chilean embassies and severely damaged the Danish and Swedish diplomatic missions.
On April 27, 2004 there was a violent clash in which three people died in an area of Damascus where many foreign citizens reside.
It has never been clear whether the shootout with Syrian security forces involved common criminals or terrorists.
In 1998 and 2000, mobs attacked the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence and the U.S. Embassy, respectively.
In 1997, twenty-two people were killed when a public bus was bombed in downtown Damascus.
All of these attacks serve as reminders that Syria is not immune from political or purely criminal violence.
Americans traveling through the area should remain aware that U.S. interests and citizens might be targeted.
Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.
Additionally, Americans should be aware that conversations on the topics of political, religious and other freedoms are not seen as merely healthy debate in Syria and could lead to arrest.
Note that possession of specific-use electronic devices including GPS, short-wave or handheld radio equipment, or similar devices in Syria is illegal.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings, including the Travel Warning for Syria, Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
While a few cases of theft, burglary and assault have been reported to the Embassy, crime is generally not a serious problem for travelers in Syria.
It is important to note, however, that Syria is not crime free. Specifically, incidents of credit card and ATM fraud, and physical harassment of women, are on the rise.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to the local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance.
The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalents for the “911” emergency line in Syria are:
110 for ambulance, 113 for fire and 112 for the police.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Basic medical care and medicines are available in Syria's principal cities, but not necessarily in outlying areas.
Serious illnesses and emergencies may require evacuation to a Western medical facility.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to or foreign residents of Syria.
There are no special immunizations required for entry to Syria.
AIDS tests are mandatory for foreigners’ ages 15 to 60 who wish to reside in Syria.
The AIDS test must be conducted in Syria at a facility approved by the Syrian Ministry of Health.
A residence permit will not be issued until the absence of the HIV virus has been determined.
Foreigners wishing to marry Syrian nationals in Syria must also be tested for HIV.
Syria usually will not give visas or residency permits to students wishing to study religion or Arabic in private religious institutions.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Syria at http://www.syrianembassy.us/ before you travel.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Syria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Syria is hazardous and requires great caution.
Although drivers generally follow traffic signs and signals, they often maneuver aggressively and show little regard for vehicles traveling behind or to the sides of them.
Lane markings are usually ignored.
Vehicles within Syrian traffic circles must give way to entering traffic, unlike in the United States.
At night, it is very hard to see pedestrians, who often walk into traffic with little warning.
Outside major cities it is common to find pedestrians, animals and vehicles without lights on the roads at night.
Pedestrians must also exercise caution.
Parked cars, deteriorating pavement, and guard posts obstruct sidewalks, often forcing pedestrians to walk in the street.
Vehicles often do not stop for pedestrians, and regularly run red lights or “jump” the green light well before it changes.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Syrian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. at 2215 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008, tel. 202-232-6313.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
Sanctions resulting from the passage of the Syria Accountability Act prohibit aircraft of any air carrier owned or controlled by the Syrian government to take off from or land in the United States.
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Syria, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Syria's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
The U.S. Embassy in Damascus has advised its employees to avoid travel on Syrian Arab Airlines (Syrian Air or SAA) whenever possible due to concerns regarding the airline's ability to maintain its airplanes.
SAA has, on its own initiative, grounded individual aircraft with significant maintenance or service issues; however, concerns persist that some planes still being flown may lack certain safety equipment or may have undergone repairs that have not been reviewed by the manufacturer.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Syrian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Syria of items such as weapons, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco, cheese, fruits, pharmaceuticals, modems, cosmetics, and some electrical appliances.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Syria in Washington, D.C. for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, they will have proof of identity and U.S. citizenship readily available.
Although Syria is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Syrian officials generally do not notify the American Embassy when American citizens are arrested. When the American Embassy learns of arrests of Americans and requests consular access, individual police officials have, on their own initiative, responded promptly and allowed consular officers to visit the prisoners.
However, security officials have also in the past denied Embassy requests for consular access, especially in the case of dual citizens.
Foreign currencies can be exchanged for Syrian pounds only at government-approved exchange centers and licensed private banks.
Syrian pounds cannot be changed back into foreign currency.
Very few places in Syria accept credit cards.
Foreigners visiting Syria are required to pay hotel bills in US dollars or Euros.
Travelers’ checks are not accepted for payment in Syria, and banks will not cash them unless the traveler has an account at the bank in question.
There are no US-based banks operating in Syria.
There are six private banks operating in Syria, with branches and ATMs in most major cities.
These ATMs usually honor major debit/credit systems.
Funds may be transferred into Syria through Western Union.
Wiring of funds through private banks is possible only if the traveler already holds an account with the bank in Syria;, transferring funds through the Commercial Bank of Syria is not possible due to U.S. sanctions.
Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who have never served in the Syrian military and who are planning to visit Syria are strongly urged to check with the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. prior to traveling concerning compulsory military service. American men over the age of 18, even those who have never resided in or visited Syria, whose fathers are of Syrian descent, are required to complete military service or pay to be exempted.
Possession of a U.S. passport does not absolve the bearer of this obligation.
The fee for exemption from military service ranges from $5,000 to $15,000 USD, depending upon circumstances, for Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who live abroad.
In January 2005 the Syrian government reduced mandatory military service from 30 months to 24 months.
It also announced that Syrians born outside of Syria and residing abroad until the age of 18 have the option of being exempted from their service by paying $2,000 USD.
Those born in Syria who left the country before reaching the age of 11, and have resided abroad for more than 15 years can be exempted by paying $5,000 USD.
Contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC, for more information (See Entry/Exit Requirements section above).
President Bush signed an executive order on May 11, 2004, implementing sanctions in accordance with the Syria Accountability Act.
These sanctions prohibit the export to Syria of products of the United States other than food or medicine, and prohibit any commercial aircraft owned or controlled by the Syrian government from taking off from or landing in the United States.
Under the authority provided in Section 5(b) of the Act, the President has determined that it is in the national security interest of the United States to waive the application of these sanctions in certain cases and for certain products, as specified in the Department of Commerce's General Order No. 2.
For additional information about implementation of the Syria Accountability Act, consult the Department of Commerce web site at (http://www.bis.doc.gov/).
Since 1979, the United States has designated Syria a State Sponsor of Terrorism due to its support for groups such as Hizbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups.
The Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations prohibit U.S. persons from receiving unlicensed donations from the Syrian government.
Additionally, U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in financial transactions which a U.S. person knows or has reasonable cause to believe pose a risk of furthering terrorists' acts in the United States.
For additional information about the Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations, consult the terrorism brochure on the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/ or via OFAC's info-by-fax service at (202) 622-0077.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Syrian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Syria are strict and convicted offenders can expect prison sentences and heavy fines.
Penalties for possession of even small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are severe in Syria.
Persons convicted in Syria for growing, processing, or smuggling drugs face the death penalty, which may be reduced to a minimum of 20 years’ imprisonment.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Syria are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Syria.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 2 Al-Mansour St., Abu Roumaneh, Damascus.
The international mailing address is PO Box 29, Damascus.
Mail may also be sent via the U.S. Postal Service to: American Embassy Damascus, Department of State, Washington, DC
20521-6110.
Telephone numbers are (963) (11) 3391-4444, fax number is (963)(11) 3391-3999, e-mail: acsdamascus@state.gov.
The government workweek in Syria is Sunday through Thursday; the private sector generally works Saturday through Thursday.
The U.S. Embassy is open Sunday through Thursday.
Additional information may be found on the Embassy web site at http://damascus.usembassy.gov
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This replaces the Country Specific Information dated November 20, 2007 to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2020 16:20:39 +0100 (MET)

Damascus, Feb 20, 2020 (AFP) - A bomb explosion wounded two people in Damascus Thursday, the state news agency reported, the latest of several such attacks in the Syrian capital.   "An explosive device planted on a pickup truck went off in the Marjeh area" in central Damascus, SANA said, adding that two civilians were wounded by the blast.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the device was a "sticky bomb" planted on a military vehicle, although it was not immediately clear what the target was.   There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, nor for a similar explosion that wounded five people in another neighbourhood of Damascus on Tuesday. The Syrian capital was routinely targeted by major car bomb attacks in the course of the nine-year-old conflict but blasts have been less frequent since regime forces reclaimed full control of the Damascus region in 2018.
Date: Thu 5 Dec 2019 6:11 PM EET
Source: Enab Baladi [edited]

[Leishmaniasis] is spreading widely among residents of Deir ez-Zor, and especially children. Some of the areas affected are controlled by the Kurdish self-administration while others are under the control of the Syrian regime. Medical sources counted hundreds of infected civilians and confirmed the disease's rapid spread.

According to Atef al-Tawil, a manager of the Leishmania & Environmental Health Programme at the Syrian regime's Ministry of Health, most infections in eastern Deir ez-Zor are spread among school children.

In a Facebook comment on a post by Twasol agency, al-Tawil claimed that cases of leishmaniasis were detected, at the end of November [2019], in primary schools in eastern Deir ez-Zor and its surrounding villages (al-Jalaa, al-Salihiyah, al-Tawtha, al-Abbas, al-Mujawdeh, al-Hasarat, al-Saial, al-Ghabrah).

According to al-Tawil, 455 infections of children were detected. A treatment team of 10 members was formed in the affected locations, to help control the disease to aid in early detection.

The Syrian Ministry of Health acted after several appeals by civilians residing in the area as they noticed the disease spreading among their children. Al-Tawil said that this rapid spread was due to the fact that all the infected people have lately returned to their original areas which lack medical centers.

Autonomous administration areas
-------------------------------
According to Euphrates Post network, leishmaniasis is also widely spread in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In its post on [Sun 1 Dec 2019], the network claimed that the spread of leishmaniasis is mostly concentrated in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor.

According to the network, unofficial statistics by the SDF-affiliated local council shows more than 7000 leishmaniasis infections among children in al-Baghouz, Hajin, Diban, al-Sha'afa, al-Kishkiye, Abu Hamam, and Gharanij. The local councils' attempts of controlling the disease are still substandard, according to the Euphrates Post.

The network also quoted doctors and nurses calling for international organizations to interfere and provide hospitals and clinics with the required vaccine [there is no vaccine for leishmaniasis; ed.], and to train specialized medical staff in each clinic to deal with the disease.

The autonomous-administration-affiliated media center in Deir ez-Zor also confirmed the spread of leishmaniasis and pointed out that the authorities took actions, by the end of November [2019], to provide treatments.

According to the media center, special medical teams and cadres were distributed among the clinics to provide 12,000 ampoules of the required [medicine] to treat leishmaniasis with the support of the World Health Organization.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of infected female phlebotomine sandflies -- a very small yellow fly that is active at night and makes no sound when it bites -- and the main cause for its spread is dirt and lack of hygiene.  [Byline: Enab Baladi]
========================
[Deir ez-Zor is east and south of the locations in the previous ProMED reports (see below), indicating further increase in cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis beyond its historical concentration in western Syria (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4861536/>) and beyond the area of the MENTOR initiative in northern Syria (<https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/24/11/17-2146_article>).

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is endemic in Syria with its reservoir in rodents. It has been a problem throughout the Syrian civil war and in ISIS controlled areas during the war due to a breakdown in rodent and vector control. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[Maps of Syria:
Date: Mon, 2 Dec 2019 11:19:53 +0100 (MET)

Beirut, Dec 2, 2019 (AFP) - Regime air strikes Monday killed 10 civilians in Syria's last major opposition bastion, where deadly clashes between regime forces and armed groups have escalated in the past two days, a monitor said.   The raids also wounded 15 civilians in a market in the town of Maaret al-Numan in the jihadist-run province of Idlib, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said.
Date: Fri 21 Jun 2019
Source: WHO/EMRO (Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean) [edited]

Situation reports on Al-Hol camp, Al-Hasakah
--------------------------------------------
- Over the past 2 weeks, a total of 633 people have left the camp. This number includes 107 people who returned to their homes in north-east Syria. There were no new arrivals during the reporting period.
- 9 medical points are reporting regularly to the disease Early Warning And Response System (EWARS). Leishmaniasis, acute diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea, and severe acute malnutrition (SAM) remain the most commonly reported diseases.
- 38 new cases of leishmaniasis were detected. All patients are being treated by a WHO-supported mobile team in coordination with the Al-Hasakeh Directorate of Health.
- 7 suspected cases of measles were reported. No new cases of tuberculosis were detected during the reporting period.
- 30 children with severe acute malnutrition with medical complications were admitted to Al-Hikmah hospital during the reporting period, of whom 22 were discharged, one died, and the remainder are still under treatment. Mortality rates related to severe acute malnutrition remain below the emergency threshold.
- 2 new static health care points have been established, bringing the total number to 12. There is still an acute shortage of health care points in the Foreign Annex.
- 35 water sources were tested for microbial contamination in Al-Hasakeh water national laboratory during the reporting period. All 35 samples tested negative for contamination. WHO continues to test the quality of water from different sources in the camp.
- Stool samples from patients with diarrhoea were tested for
_Salmonella_, _E. coli_, and cholera, with all samples testing negative. Blood samples from patients with suspected measles were also sent for testing, and all samples tested negative.
- Following intensive negotiations by WHO, the local authorities have given their approval in principle to evacuate a patient requiring advanced mental health treatment
===================
[Leishmaniasis has surged throughout Syria during the civil war on all sides and continues to be a health problem in the refugee population. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Syria:
Date: Wed, 22 May 2019 16:52:39 +0200
By Nazeer al-Khatib with Hashem Osseiran in Beirut

Maaret al-Numan, Syria, May 22, 2019 (AFP) - Syrian government air strikes killed 18 civilians, including a dozen people at a busy market, as fierce fighting raged for the jihadist-held northwest, a war monitor said on Wednesday.   Regime forces battled to repel a jihadist counteroffensive around the town of Kafr Nabuda that has left 70 combatants dead in 24 hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.   The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.   The jihadist-dominated region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the government and its ally Russia have escalated their bombardment in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank.   At least 12 people were killed and another 18 wounded when regime warplanes hit the jihadist-held Idlib province town of Maarat al-Numan around midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday, the Observatory said.

The market was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.   The bombardment blew in the facades of surrounding buildings, and ripped through the flimsy frames and canvas of stalls in the market square, an AFP photographer reported.    The bodies of market-goers were torn apart.   "Residents are still scared," stallholder Khaled Ahmad told AFP.   Three more civilians were killed on Wednesday by air strikes in the nearby town of Saraqib, the Observatory said.    Two others were killed in strikes on the town of Maaret Hermeh, it added.    Another civilian was killed in air raids on the town of Jisr al-Shughur, the monitor said.   The Britain-based Observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carried out strikes according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions.

- 'Worst fears'-
The strikes came as heavy clashes raged in neighbouring Hama province after the jihadists launched a counterattack on Tuesday.   Fresh fighting on Wednesday took the death toll to 70 -- 36 regime forces and militia and 34 jihadists, the Observatory said.   It said the jihadists had recaptured most of Kafr Nabuda from government forces, who had taken control of the town on May 8.   State news agency SANA on Wednesday however said the army repelled a jihadist attack in the area, killing dozens of insurgents.

Russia and rebel ally Turkey inked the buffer zone deal in September to avert a government offensive on the region and protect its three million residents.   But President Bashar al-Assad's government upped its bombardment of the region after HTS took control in January.   Russia too has stepped up its air strikes in recent weeks.   The Observatory says nearly 200 civilians have been killed in the flare-up since April 30.   The United Nations said Wednesday that Idlib's civilian population once again faced the threat of an all-out offensive.   "A full military incursion threatens to trigger a humanitarian catastrophe for over 3 million civilians caught in the crossfire, as well as overwhelm our ability to respond," said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office.   Swanson said more than 200,000 people have been displaced by the upsurge of violence since April 28.   A total of 20 health facilities have been hit by the escalation -- 19 of which remain out of service, Swanson said.   Collectively they served at least 200,000 people, he added.

- 'Break the status quo' -
The September deal was never fully implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from a planned buffer zone around the Idlib region.   But it ushered in a relative drop in violence until earlier this year, with Turkish troops deploying to observation points around the region.   The Syrian government has accused Turkey of failing to secure implementation of the truce deal by the jihadists.   But Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar accused the Syrian regime late Tuesday of threatening the ceasefire deal.   "The regime is doing all that it can to break the status quo including using barrel bombs, land and air offensives," Akar told reporters.   "Turkish armed forces will not take a step back from wherever they may be", he however added.   Earlier, the US State Department said it was assessing indications that the government had used chemical weapons on Sunday during its offensive in Idlib.   HTS accused government forces of launching a chlorine gas attack on its fighters in the northern mountains of Latakia.   But the Observatory said Wednesday it had "no proof at all of the attack".
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 09:15:57 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Mecca, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs.   Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency.   The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday.   From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added.   The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.   "Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.   Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.

In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam's holiest cities.   That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.   Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.   Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 05:52:24 +0200 (METDST)

Santiago, May 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chile registered a new high for coronavirus cases on Monday, with nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours, including two ministers in President Sebastian Pinera's government.   Health authorities announced 4,895 new infections in the South American country and 43 deaths.

Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno and Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet said they were among those with the disease.   "I have been informed that the COVID-19 test I had a few days ago was positive," Moreno said on Twitter, adding that he had no symptoms so far.   The 63-year-old minister had placed himself in quarantine after one of his staff tested positive.  Jobet also tested positive after starting to quarantine preventatively on Saturday, "when he experienced mild symptoms, which could be associated with the disease," a statement from the Energy Ministry said.

The 44-year-old minister "has had no direct contact with President Sebastian Pinera or other cabinet members in recent days," the statement said, without specifying how he became infected.   Three other ministers, who had self-quarantined after being in contact with infected people, all tested negative and resumed work.

Chile suffered a surge in infections last week, prompting the government to order the lockdown of Santiago.   The capital is the main focus of the pandemic in Chile, with 90 percent of the country's 74,000 cases.   Last week, the Senate was closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference.
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 01:15:01 +0200 (METDST)

Quito, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions to march in cities across Ecuador on Monday in protest against President Lenin Moreno's drastic economic measures to tackle the crisis.   Moreno last week announced public spending cuts including the closure of state companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador's elite.   "This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay," Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county's largest union, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito.

Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans.   The protesters wore masks and respected distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America's worst hit nation per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.

Demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Guayaquil, the epicentre of Ecuador's health crisis, where union leaders said hundreds marched through the city.   Moreno ordered the closure of Ecuadoran embassies, a reduction in diplomatic staff and scrapped seven state companies as part of measures designed to save some $4 billion.    He also announced the liquidation of the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years.

The government says the pandemic has so far cost the economy at least $8 billion.   Public sector working hours have been cut by 25 percent, with an accompanying 16 percent pay cut.   Moreno said on Sunday that 150,000 people had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.   Ecuador was struggling economically before the pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil.   The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by 6.3 percent this year, the sharpest drop of any country in South America.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 22:20:46 +0200 (METDST)

Dublin, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 21.   Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a "significant milestone", adding on Twitter: "This is a day of hope. We will prevail."

The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months.   Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20.   "In the last 24 hours we didn't have any deaths notified to us," chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing.   He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: "It's part of the continued trend that we've seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths."

Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday -- allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of  activities such as golf and tennis.   While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a "second wave" as the lockdown is loosened.   "The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country," Holohan added in a statement.   "It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures."
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 21:59:40 +0200 (METDST)

Luxembourg, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Luxembourg will ease its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, reopening cafes and restaurants and allowing civil and religious ceremonies under strict conditions, the government announced.   The tiny country has so far registered only 3,993 COVID-19 cases, of which 110 have been fatal. Four people are in intensive care and shops were closed on March 18 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told a news conference on Monday that eateries could reopen terraces with a maximum of four people at a single table.   Indoor dining in cafes and restaurants will resume on Friday, he said, with social distancing of 1.5 metres (five feet) between groups.   Marriages and funerals will also be allowed if the attendees wore face masks and kept two metres distance from each other.   Bettel however said cafes and restaurants would have to close at midnight.

Francois Koepp, the general secretary of the Horeca federation grouping hotels, restaurants and cafes, welcomed the announcement, saying the sector had "greatly suffered from the confinement".   He said it provided employment to some 21,000 people in this nation of 620,000 inhabitants.   Cinema theatres and gyms will open at the end of the week but children's parks will remain closed.   The government has pledged to give every citizen over 16 a voucher worth 50 euros ( $54) to spend in hotels to provide a boost to the sector.   The vouchers will also be given to some 200,000 cross border workers from Belgium, France and Germany.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 20:36:16 +0200 (METDST)

Prague, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia will reopen their border this week for those travelling to the other country for up to 48 hours, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Monday.   "This will be possible without tests or quarantine" starting Wednesday, he added in a message posted on Twitter.   The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country until 1993. Babis himself was born in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

Both countries have fared well in the current pandemic, with Slovakia posting the lowest death toll per capita in the EU and the Czech Republic keeping its COVID-19 figures down as well.   The Czech government will also open border crossings with Austria and Germany on Tuesday but will still require negative COVID-19 tests from those entering the country.   "We have negotiated similar conditions on the other side of the border with our German and Austrian colleagues," Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said.   The interior ministry said blanket border checks would be replaced by random ones and added it would still not allow tourists into the country.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was working on other measures to ease the travel restrictions adopted in mid-March.   "We would like to introduce them next week," he added.   Vojtech said EU citizens could now come to the Czech Republic "on business or to visit their family for a maximum of 72 hours if they submit a negative coronavirus test."

The country is also accessible to non-EU citizens who do seasonal jobs there, on condition they have tested negative.   Czech restaurants, bars, hotels, castles, zoos and swimming pools have been open since Monday, when the government lifted many anti-virus measures.   Czechs also no longer have to wear face masks outside their homes, except in shops and on public transport.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 17:45:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shafiqul ALAM

Dhaka, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Some 15,000 Rohingya refugees are now under coronavirus quarantine in Bangladesh's vast camps, officials said Monday, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 29.   Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement to the area in April.

Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May.   "None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families," Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox's Bazar area told AFP.   He said narrow roads to three districts of the camps -- where the majority of the infections were detected -- have been blocked off by authorities.

The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said.   It comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection.   Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya.   "We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts," Bhuiyan said.

Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said.   Officials hope to have just under 2,000 ready by the end of May, he added.   Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official of Cox's Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily from 188.   He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14 day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka.   "We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun," Rahman told AFP.

- 'Very little awareness' -
Bangladesh on Monday notched up a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths.   In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox's Bazar district -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of infections.

But a charity worker with one of the many aid organisations active in the camps said Monday he and many others were "very worried".   "Fear and panic has gripped aid workers because many of us were forced to work without much protection," he told AFP without wishing to be named.   "Social distancing is almost impossible in the camps. There is very little awareness about COVID-19 disease among the refugees, despite efforts by aid agencies."

The lack of information is exacerbated by local authorities having cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals.   More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox's Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 15:25:38 +0200 (METDST)

Antananarivo, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Madagascar's government has announced it will dispatch troops and doctors to an eastern town after several bodies were found in the streets and where two people died from the novel coronavirus.   Madagascar's cabinet held a special meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Toamasina, the country's second largest city.   The Indian Ocean island nation has registered 527 infections and two deaths, both in Toamasina.

Since Thursday, more than 120 new cases were confirmed, and several bodies were found in the city's streets though the cause of death was not clear.   "Doctors must carry out thorough examinations to see if these deaths are caused by another illness (...) or if they are really due to severe acute respiratory problems which is the critical form of COVID-19," Professor Hanta Marie Danielle Vololontiana, spokesperson for the government's virus taskforce, said in a national broadcast on Sunday.   The government will send 150 soldiers to reinforce Toamasina, maintain order and enforce measures against the coronavirus such as mask wearing and social distancing.

The cabinet also fired Toamasina's prefect without providing any explanation.    A team was also ordered to distribute a drink based on artemisia, a plant recognised as a treatment against malaria, which the Malagasy authorities claim cures COVID-19.    The potential benefits of this herbal tea, called Covid-Organics, have not been validated by any scientific study.    The cabinet has also announced an investigation into the death of a doctor in Toamasina. According to local press, the victim was hospitalised after contracting COVID-19 and was found dead hanged in his room on Sunday morning.
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 09:20:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Bhuvan Bagga with Indranil Mukherjee in Mumbai

New Delhi, May 25, 2020 (AFP) - Domestic flights resumed in India on Monday even as coronavirus cases surge, while confusion about quarantine rules prompted jitters among passengers and the cancellation of dozens of planes.   India had halted all flights within the country, and departing and leaving for abroad, in late March as it sought to stop the spread of coronavirus with the world's largest lockdown.   But desperate to get Asia's third-largest economy moving again, the government announced last week that around 1,050 daily flights -- a third of the usual capacity -- would resume on Monday.

Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said strict rules would include mandatory mask-wearing and thermal screenings, although middle seats on the aircraft would not be kept empty.   The announcement reportedly caught airlines and state authorities off-guard, with several local governments announcing that passengers would have to go into quarantine for two weeks on arrival.   Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of coronavirus cases, capped at 50 the number of departures and arrivals in and out of its capital Mumbai.

Airlines scrapped dozens of flights on Monday while hundreds of passengers cancelled their bookings, reports said.   The NDTV news channel said 82 flights to and from New Delhi had been cancelled and nine at Bangalore airport.   Other flights from cities including infection hotspots Mumbai and Chennai were struck off, many at short notice, reports said.   At Mumbai airport social distancing was forgotten as irate passengers harangued staff after their flights were cancelled at the last minute.

- 'Really scary' -
At New Delhi airport, hundreds of people anxious to get home but apprehensive about the risks queued from before dawn -- all wearing masks and standing at least one metre (three feet) apart.   Security personnel behind plastic screens verified check-in documents and that passengers had the government contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, on their phones.

"While I'm looking forward (to flying home), the idea of flying is really scary," student Gladia Laipubam told AFP as she stood in line.   "Anything can happen. It's very risky. I don't really know when I'll be able to come back to Delhi now. There is no clarity from the university too at this time."   One female airline employee wearing gloves, a mask and a protective face shield said she and many other colleagues felt "very nervous" about starting work again.   "Dealing with so many people at this time is so risky. I must have interacted with at least 200 people since this morning," she told AFP, not wishing to be named.

Cabin crew on the planes had to wear full protective suits with masks, plastic visors and blue rubber gloves, and many were also confused about the rules, the Press Trust of India reported.   "There is no clarity on whether I need to go into home quarantine for 14 days after returning to my base or show up for duty on Monday," one pilot told PTI.   New coronavirus cases in India crossed 6,000 for the third consecutive day on Sunday, surging to a record single-day spike of 6,767 infections.   The country has recorded almost 140,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.   Singh has said that international flights could resume in June, although dozens of special flights have in recent weeks brought back some of the hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad.
Date: Fri, 22 May 2020 11:02:28 +0200 (METDST)

Suva, Fiji, May 22, 2020 (AFP) - A huge fire at one of Suva's largest markets blanketed the Fijian capital in thick smoke before it was brought under control Friday, firefighters said.   The blaze engulfed the Suva Flea Market, a major tourist attraction near the waterfront, sending plumes of acrid black smoke into the air.   The National Fire Authority said an adjoining shop was also badly damaged but there were no reports of injuries.   "It's been stopped now and no one was injured but that's all we can say at the moment," a spokesman told AFP.   The said the cause of the fire was being investigated.