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We really don’t know where the US is on Syria

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ABU DHABI — The foreign policy of the United States in places like Syria has been “contradictory” for several years, according to the former chief of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services.

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Abu Dhabi Saturday, Saudi Arabian Prince Turki Al-Faisal said: “The situation in Syria, we really don’t know where the United States is, for example, is it in or is it out?”

Trump recently announced that U.S. forces in northeastern Syria would move aside, clearing the way for a Turkish offensive that is now in its fourth day. The Turkish operation is aimed at moving the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), away from its southern border with Syria.

Ankara views the group as terrorists and stresses the YPG’s ties to a separatist Kurdish group in Turkey, the PKK, which has carried out a decades-long violent insurgency against the Turkish state. Nonetheless, Kurdish forces were a strategic partner to the U.S. and played a crucial role in defeating the so-called Islamic State.

Trump’s controversial move has received widespread criticism in the international community. The U.S. administration has also been accused of sending mixed messages by, at times, distancing itself from the Kurdish militia but also preparing sanctions on Turkey if it steps over the line.

Al-Faisal noted his concern at the American troop withdrawal, telling CNBC that for U.S. forces “to all of a sudden, fold up their tents and silently fade away is, I think, not the right thing to do.” But he added that these contradictory statements from the White House didn’t start under the Trump regime.

“That’s been the case not just since Trump but since Obama. You remember the ‘red lines’ of Obama, nothing coming through on that. Subsequently, Mr. Trump’s contradictory statements about the removal of American forces,” he said.

In 2012, former President Barack Obama warned the Syrian government not to cross a red line by using or moving chemical or biological weapons. In 2013, Syrian President Bashar Assad killed over an estimated 1,000 citizens in Eastern Ghouta with Sarin gas.

Trump originally announced the full withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria in December 2018. He directed the U.S. military to remove all remaining 2,200 American ground troops from Syria within 30 days. Trump, at the time, went on to tweet that IS had been defeated.

US troops to Saudi Arabia

Also this week, the U.S. administration said it will send more forces into Saudi Arabia after attacks on its oil production facilities, which was blamed on Iran. This came despite Trump stating that he wants to reduce military involvement in the region.

Al-Faisal told CNBC that he wasn’t surprised that the U.S. would be engaging with the Saudi kingdom by sending troops, while also withdrawing forces away from its allies in Syria.

“Well, It’s always been about energy since hasn’t it. Since 1945.”

He went on to add: “The oil market binds the world together and what happens in Saudi Arabia does not stay in Saudi Arabia.”

“It has somehow an ability to affect other countries. So I am not surprised the U.S. would be interested in engaging with the kingdom on defending the oil industry. It is surprising that America would abandon her allies in Syria. That is something for Mr. Trump to decide.”

The U.S. president recently stated that the country had become such a large producer that it no longer needed oil from the Middle East, but added that it was still willing to back its allies.

A spokesperson for the White House wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

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Cyprus to pay for the vacation of tourists who catch the coronavirus

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Kyrenia Harbor, Cyprus.

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The Cypriot government has said it will cover the vacation costs of any tourists who contract the coronavirus while holidaying in the country. 

Officials pledged to pay for travelers’ accommodation, food, drink and medication if they test positive for Covid-19 after entering the country. It said travelers will only need to foot the bill for their airport transfer and return flight. 

A “Covid-19 hospital” with 100 beds will be provided exclusively for foreign visitors who contract the virus and additional beds can be made available if needed, the government said. 

For travelers who show critical symptoms, it plans to offer an additional 112 intensive care units for treatment, with 200 respirators. 

And 500 rooms in dedicated “quarantine hotels” will be offered to close contacts of the person infected with the coronavirus, with more to be made available if necessary. 

“This will not only ensure that they are properly taken care of, but it will also provide peace of mind to other travelers, that their accommodation is free of Covid-19,” the Cypriot government said in a letter to its tourism partners dated Tuesday. 

It also said that the room in a hotel where the tourist who contracted the virus has stayed in will undergo a deep clean and disinfection before being used again. 

Cyprus has confirmed 939 cases of Covid-19 and 17 deaths from the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

Cyrpus started to ease its lockdown on May 4, with the government saying it expects the “full containment of the virus” by May 31. Its hospitality businesses are due to open on June 1 and international air travel will resume on June 9. 

Initially, all visitors will be required to take a coronavirus test in their own country within 72 hours before traveling to Cyprus. 

The government then plans to lift travel restrictions for a number of countries by June 20, with a list provided on its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Ministry of Tourism websites, updated weekly from this point forward. 

Countries it has so far assessed as “low risk” include Germany, Greece, Norway, Finland and Denmark among others. 

Though it said people from places on its second list of higher risk countries, which currently includes Switzerland and Poland, would still need to take the coronavirus test in advance of traveling to Cyprus from June 20. 

Nearly 4 million tourists visited Cyprus last year, bringing in revenues of 2.7 billion euros, according to government data. Tourism reportedly accounts for 13% of the country’s economy. 

In the letter, the government said that its ratio of intensive care unit beds per 100,000 people was higher than the EU average. It claimed to have had one of the lowest ratios of coronavirus cases per capita in Europe and to have tested more than 10% of the country’s inhabitants. 

Social distancing and hygiene rules for tourists and Cypriot businesses were also outlined in the government letter, including a limit of 10 people in a group in restaurants, bars, cafes, pubs and nightclubs.

Check out: Will your travel rewards expire if you ‘wait it out’ during the coronavirus pandemic?

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English Premier League to restart on June 17, BBC reports

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Fans wear disposable face masks prior to the Premier League match between Burnley FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Turf Moor on March 07, 2020 in Burnley, United Kingdom.

Michael Regan | Getty Images

The Premier League season will restart on June 17, the BBC reported on Thursday.

A spokesman for the Premier League, which stopped play in March, declined to comment as the meeting of 20 club officials was ongoing.

The season will get under way on the Wednesday date with Aston Villa v Sheffield United and Manchester City v Arsenal, which are both games in hand.

A full fixture list would then be played on the weekend of June 19-21, the report said. All games will be behind closed-doors.

The Premier League was suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic but teams returned to small group training last week.

On Wednesday clubs agreed to move to Phase Two of the comeback with players working in larger groups and closer to each other.

The next step would be full contact training and preparation for the return to action.

Liverpool, searching for their first league title in 30 years, lead the standings by 25 points.

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Weekly jobless claims reach 2.1 million, but total unemployed shrinks

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First-time claims for unemployment benefits totaled 2.1 million last week, the lowest total since the coronavirus crisis began though indicative that a historically high number of Americans remain separated from their jobs.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for 2.05 million. The total represented a decrease of 323,000 from the previous week’s upwardly revised 2.438 million.

Continuing claims, or those who have been collecting for at least two weeks, numbered 21.05 million, a clearer picture of how many workers are still sidelined. That number dropped sharply, falling 3.86 million from the previous week.

That decline in continuing claims “suggests that the reopening of states is pushing businesses to rehire some of the people let go when the virus hit,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. However, Shepherdson noted that some of the data, particularly from California, remains noisy and may not be an accurate representation of some states’ situations.

The insured unemployment rate, which is a basic calculation of those collecting benefits vs. the total labor force, came down sharply to 14.5% from 17.1% the previous week.

“Layoffs continue at a massive scale, according to the latest unemployment insurance report, but it may be that the job market is nearing a turning point,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC.

The four-week moving average, which helps smooth out weekly volatility, rose to 22.72 million, an increase of 760,250 from the previous week. 

Since the pandemic was declared in mid-March, 40.8 million have filed claims as social distancing measures aimed at containing the coronavirus outbreak resulted in much of the $21.5 trillion U.S. economy being in lockdown for 2½ months.

A separate report Thursday showed that first-quarter GDP contracted by 5%, while the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow tracker is indicating a 41.9% plunge in Q2 that will be the worst in U.S. history. That would put the U.S. firmly in recession territory, though most economists are expecting a rebound in the second half of the year after restrictions are lifted.

A total 1.19 million filed claims through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program last week.

The high jobless numbers persist even as all states have reopened their economies to various extents. Las Vegas casinos will be resuming activities late next week, Disney resorts also have targeted July reopening dates and Los Angeles is allowing retail stores to resume business. Restrictions are likely to be loosened soon in New York as well.

Still, businesses are wrestling with multiple dynamics stemming from the biggest surge in in layoffs since the Great Depression. The Federal Reserve reported Wednesday that business owners are seeing workers reluctant to return to their jobs because of safety concerns, child-care issues and “generous” unemployment benefits from the government.

At the state level, Pennsylvania saw the biggest rise in claims last week with 6,892, according to numbers not adjusted seasonally. Many large states, though, saw declines from a week earlier Washington fell by 86,839, while California declined by 32,088 and New York decreased by 31,769.

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