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Trump: Saudi to pay ‘necessary money’ to help rebuild Syria | News

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US President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia will spend the “necessary money” to help reconstruct war-torn Syria, without offering any details.

Trump’s comments on Monday came days after he took to Twitter to announce the withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria while also abruptly declaring victory over ISIL in the country. The surprising decision on Wednesday contradicted his own experts’ assessments and sparked surprise and anger among some of Washington’s allies.

On Monday, in his latest unexpected foreign policy statement made on Twitter, Trump said Riyadh would step in to support Syria following the US military withdrawal.

“Saudi Arabia has now agreed to spend the necessary money needed to help rebuild Syria, instead of the United States. See?” Trump wrote.

“Isn’t it nice when immensely wealthy countries help rebuild their neighbours rather than a Great Country, the US, that is 5,000 miles away. Thanks to Saudi A!”

There was no immediate comment from the Saudi government, which in October delivered $100m to the US, two months after pledging the sum to help stabilise parts of Syria and just as international outcry over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Riyadh’s shifting narratives about his fate grew.

‘Who will get the money?’

Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from Washington, DC, said the initial reaction to Trump’s announcement was “one of bafflement” as no other US officials had commented on his statement which also came on a day that the president was not scheduled to have a telephone conversation with the Saudi leadership.

“It came out of nowhere and there are more questions than answers, including how much money is he talking about. We know that the Saudis in October delivered $100m intended for Syria reconstruction but the president’s tweet seemed to imply that there was more money that is going to be forthcoming,” said Reynolds.

“Also, how will this money be spent? When will it be disbursed? And most importantly, in a country that is divided in many different spheres of influence, who will get the money?”

The US president has repeatedly expressed his support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, despite CIA assessment that the royal ordered Khashoggi’s killing inside the kingdom’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul in October.

Trump has also defied pressure from US legislators to impose tougher sanctions on Saudi Arabia over the journalist’s murder by indicating that he had no intention of cancelling military contracts with the kingdom.  

“The Trump administration sees Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner in the region, and Trump has certainly gone out on the fence to defend that strategic partnership,” Ellen Wald, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the author of Saudi Inc: The Arabian Kingdom’s Pursuit of Profit and Power, told Al Jazeera.

“And now he is saying, ‘look we are still committed to you, now you’ve got to step up and do what needs to be done’ – and it’s definitely been clear from Trump’s policy that they would like Saudi Arabia to really serve as an effective counterpoint in the region to Iran,” she added.

Turkey-US talks

Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria was followed by resignations from Pentagon chief James Mattis and Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

The announcement of the withdrawal – which is reportedly going to be completed within 60 to 100 days, comes on the eve of a possible Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria against Kurdish fighters who Ankara considers to be “terrorists”.

A US delegation is expected to head to Turkey this week to discuss cooperation on Syria. US forces have for years backed the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG)-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against ISIL.

Ankara claims the YPG is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged attacks on Turkish soil since the 1980s as they sought autonomy.


SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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