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Afghan Government to Expedite Taliban Prisoners Release

The Afghan government has announced Sunday that it will speed up the release of the Taliban prisoners. The announcement came a day after the Taliban declared a 3-day cease-fire during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr. VOA’s Hikmat Sorosh reports from Kabul.

Gaza Factory Exports Face Masks to Israel During COVID-19 

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to slow businesses in the blockaded Gaza Strip, a small factory in the enclave is firing up its production to help supply for a face mask shortage in Israel.  Shehada Factory was devoted to making clothes for Palestinians and for Israeli markets before March when Hamas militant group imposed strict restrictions due to the pandemic. Using raw material provided by Israeli merchants, the garment factory has now pivoted its business to produce 50,000 face masks per day— all of which are exported to Israel.   “The Israelis are in need of surgical face masks, and in the Gaza Strip we need to employ as many workers as possible to ease the harsh economic conditions,” the 55-year-old factory owner, Hasan Shehada, told VOA.  Before the spread of coronavirus, Shehada said his factory used to work at a rather slow pace producing clothes for local and Israeli markets. But it is now thriving as more than sixty of its workers strive each day to meet Israel’s high demand for face masks.  As of Wednesday, Israel has reported over 16,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 2884 active cases and 279 deaths. The Israeli government this week eased its social distancing measures in a move that officials said was to help the country’s education system.  West Bank and Gaza have registered only 391 cases of coronavirus, with 20 confirmed cases in Gaza. However, the economic fallout of the virus has cast a shadow on the coastal enclave which has been suffering for years as a result of  the conflict with Israel.  Human Framework Shehada said economic relations between Israel and Gaza were about “mutual interests” on both sides, adding that the spread of the coronavirus has prompted “everybody to deal with others within a human framework.” He said the spike in the factory’s production has resulted in other unusual buyers, including Palestinian businesspeople based in the United States. The U.S. buyers have asked him to supply them with a million face masks.   “Despite limited resources and capabilities, the Gaza Strip is producing surgical face masks at the international level and has become a competitor in the market,” charged Shehada. Muhammad, a 40-year-old worker at the factory and father of seven, told VOA that the spread of coronavirus has unexpectedly improved the economic situation of his family.  “Over the past years, we have been working intermittently when there were orders, but now there is a boom,”’ he said.  Expressing hope that Shehada factory could continue exporting to Israel even after the pandemic, he said his daily wage has improved and he is now allowed ...

IS Wives Defy Coronavirus Protective Measures in Syria’s al-Hol Camp

U.S.-backed local authorities in eastern Syria’s al-Hasakah area say they are bracing for a possible coronavirus outbreak in the al-Hol refugee camp, where thousands of Islamic State families are being detained. The authorities say IS wives are rejecting protective measures for religious reasons. VOA’s Zana Omer has this report narrated by Nisan Ahmado.Producer: Nawid Orokzai. Videographer: Nawid Orokzai

Hospital Attack, Funeral Blast Kill at Least 38 in Afghanistan

At least 38 people were killed, and scores wounded Tuesday in two separate attacks in Afghanistan. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on a funeral in eastern Nangarhar province. No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack on a hospital in west Kabul. VOA’s Hikmat Sorosh reports from Kabul.  

Palestinian Family Plays Music to Beat Quarantine Boredom

In an effort to beat the boredom during the coronavirus quarantine in the besieged Gaza Strip, two boys (Hamza and Basheer) and their father (Ahmed al-Ayoubi) sit in a small room of their house every day to play music during the lockdown. The three play the zither, flute, and electric organ. Safi Mahmoud has the story.

UN Concerned About Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan

The United Nations reported Monday that 533 civilians were killed and 760 injured in violence in Afghanistan during the first quarter of 2020. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is concerned about the increase in violence and civilian casualties after the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement, and it is calling for a cease-fire among warring sides. VOA’s Hikmat Sorosh reports from Kabul.

Palestinian Garment Factory Makes Protective Gear Amid Coronavirus

As Palestinian authorities step up their efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the West Bank, a garment factory in Hebron city has shifted its production from clothing items to masks and protective suits against the pandemic. Al-Mahariq factory is operating seven days a week to meet local demand for protective equipment in the Palestinian territories. Its workers say they hope their products can help their community feel safer while authorities report a lack of supplies to fight the contagious virus.  “The virus is spreading all over the world, and it is closer to our country,” Amir Zaloum, the sales manager of al-Mahariq, told VOA, adding that as a father he felt responsible for helping “the sons and daughters” in his country.  “We have to be careful and protect our people and employees. So, we have started to produce the protective jumpsuits to meet the needs of the market and the employees in the ministries, security and police officers.”  The factory works 24 hours a day to produce between 200 and 300 suits and over 3,000 masks daily. One of its workers, Amir Al Shiehk Durra, said the staff run different shifts to meet local demand in Hebron.  “I came here 20 days ago to work in this factory as they needed more people to help in making masks. The demand for masks is increasing and the number of staff joining the work is also increasing daily,” said Durra.  Continued operation during the pandemic means the workers are more vulnerable to contract the virus. The factory is taking precautionary measures to ensure workplace safety. Still, many workers remain concerned but say they see no other option.  “Of course I am concerned every day I leave home to work,” one of the workers, Badr Khalil Durra, told VOA. “But this is an emergency and we don’t have an alternative in Palestine but to make these masks, otherwise people won’t have any protective masks.” The U.S. government Thursday said it was giving $5 million in assistance to help Palestinian hospitals and households cope with the coronavirus. Announcing the aid in a tweet, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said “the USA, as the world’s top humanitarian aid donor, is committed to assisting the Palestinian people, & others worldwide, in this crisis.” The humanitarian assistance came as Palestinian health authorities earlier Thursday said that the number of registered COVID-19 cases had risen to ...

Anti-Terrorism Court Overturns Conviction for Pakistani Journalist

A Pakistani court in early April acquitted journalist Nasrullah Chaudhry who was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly possessing banned literature and expressing religious hatred. Pakistani journalists considered it a trumped-up charge to silence reporters and squash press freedom. VOA’s Muhammad Saqib reports from Karachi.

Afghanistan Releases 100 More Taliban Prisoners Despite Major Concerns

The Afghan government released another 100 Taliban prisoners Thursday, a day after freeing 100 the day prior, and just days after talks on a prisoner swap with the Taliban collapsed. The Taliban says the release is not in line with the U.S.-Taliban agreement, and local Afghans are concerned the released Taliban prisoners might return to fighting. VOA's Rahim Gul Sarwan reports from Kabul.

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