Gaza health ministry says war deaths exceed 30,000 as famine looms

Displaced Palestinian children wait to receive free food at a tent camp, amid food shortages, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip (REUTERS)
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Updated 29 February 2024
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Gaza health ministry says war deaths exceed 30,000 as famine looms

  • Mediators say a truce deal between Israel and Hamas could be just days away
  • Children died “due to malnutrition, dehydration and widespread famine” at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital

Gaza Strip: The Hamas-run health ministry said Thursday more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the war between the militant group and Israel began nearly five months ago.
While mediators say a truce deal between Israel and Hamas could be just days away, aid agencies have sounded the alarm of a looming famine in Gaza’s north.
Children have died “due to malnutrition, dehydration and widespread famine” at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, said the health ministry, whose spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra has called for “immediate action” from international organizations to prevent more of these deaths.
Citing the deteriorating conditions in Gaza, USAID head Samantha Power said Israel needed to open more crossings so that “vitally needed humanitarian assistance can be dramatically surged.”
“This is a matter of life and death,” Power said in a video posted on social media platform X.
The latest overall toll for Palestinians killed in the war came after at least 79 people died overnight across the war-torn Gaza Strip, the health ministry said Thursday.
Mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been seeking a six-week pause in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which in response vowed to eliminate the Palestinian Islamist group that rules in Gaza.
Negotiators are hoping a truce can begin by the start of Ramadan, the holy Muslim month that kicks off March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
The proposals reportedly include the release of some Israeli hostages held in Gaza in exchange for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.
Short of the complete withdrawal Hamas has called for, a source from the group said the deal might see Israeli forces leave “cities and populated areas,” allowing the return of some displaced Palestinians and humanitarian relief.
US President Joe Biden is “pushing all of us to try to get this agreement over the finish line,” said his secretary of state, Antony Blinken.
The crucial southern Gaza city of Rafah is the main entry point for aid crossing the border from neighboring Egypt.
But the World Food Programme said no humanitarian group had been able to deliver aid to the north for more than a month, accusing Israel of blocking access.
Neighbouring Jordan has coordinated efforts to air-drop supplies over southern Gaza.
“If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza,” the World Food Programme’s deputy executive director Carl Skau said.
Israeli officials have denied blocking supplies, and the army on Wednesday said “50 trucks carrying humanitarian aid” had made it to northern Gaza in recent days.
The war was triggered by an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory military campaign in Gaza has left hundreds of thousands displaced, with nearly 1.5 million people now packed in Rafah.
In a sign of growing desperation among Gazans over living conditions, a rare protest was held Wednesday by residents over the soaring prices of commodities.
“Everyone is suffering inside these tents,” said Amal Zaghbar, who was displaced and sheltering in a makeshift camp.
“We’re dying slowly.”
Israel has repeatedly threatened a ground offensive on Rafah, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying a truce would only delay it, as such an operation was needed for “total victory” over Hamas.
Egypt — which borders Rafah — says an assault on the overcrowded city would have “catastrophic repercussions.”
While Israel’s plans for post-war Gaza exclude any mention of the Palestinian Authority, its top ally the United States and other powers have called for a revitalized PA, which governs the occupied West Bank, to take charge of the territory.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki said a “technocratic” government without Gaza’s rulers Hamas was needed to “stop this insane war” and facilitate relief operations and reconstruction.
His government, based in the West Bank, resigned this week, with prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh citing the need for change after the war ends.
A government that includes Hamas — longtime rivals of president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party, which controls the PA — would “be boycotted by a number of countries,” Al-Maliki told a news conference in Geneva.
On Thursday, Palestinian factions — including Hamas and Fatah — were expected to arrive in Moscow for a meeting at Russia’s invitation.
“The central goal is how to unite the Palestinian ranks,” Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative — a civilian political party — told Qatar state TV from Moscow.
In Israel, Netanyahu has come under increasing pressure to bring the hostages home.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant insisted the government was “making every effort.”
A group of 150 Israelis started a four-day march from Reim, near the Gaza border, to Jerusalem, calling for the government to reach a deal.
“No one should be left behind,” said Ronen Neutra, father of captive Omer Neutra, an Israeli soldier who is also a US citizen.


Pakistan holds by-polls in 21 constituencies amid partial suspension of cellular services

Updated 2 min 36 sec ago
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Pakistan holds by-polls in 21 constituencies amid partial suspension of cellular services

  • Polling is being held on seats vacated by candidates or in constituencies where election had been postponed in Feb.
  • Jailed ex-PM Khan’s party terms the mobile service shutdown ‘illegal, unconstitutional and a plan to rig the results’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is holding by-elections on 21 national and provincial seats today, Sunday, amid suspension of mobile phone networks in parts of Punjab and Balochistan provinces.

The by-polls are the first major electoral exercise since the Feb. 8 national election in Pakistan, which were marred by a nationwide mobile network outage and result delays, leading to accusations that the vote was rigged and drawing concern from rights groups and foreign governments.

Polling began at 8am and will continue till 5pm for five National Assembly seats, 12 Punjab Assembly seats, and two seats each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan assemblies. They were left vacant due to postponement of polls in Feb. or were vacated by lawmakers, who won multiple seats.

On Saturday, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), which regulates Internet in the country, said the decision to keep cellular services suspended in specific districts of Punjab and Balochistan on April 21-22 was taken on the directions of the interior ministry.

“This decision has been taken to safeguard the integrity and security of the electoral process,” the regulator said in a statement on Saturday.

The by-polls are likely to witness a fierce competition between candidates backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) opposition party and rival political groups.

Reacting to the PTA’s announcement on Saturday, the PTI said the suspension of mobile phone services in districts where by-polls were being held was “unconstitutional and illegal.”

“The Internet shutdown is unconstitutional, illegal and shameful, and a plan to rig the results,” it said, urging supporters to come out in large numbers to cast their votes to thwart these plans.

The federal government has authorized the deployment of civil armed forces and Pakistan Army to assist the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in peaceful conduct of by-polls.

In its code of conduct, the ECP said troops should not respond on their own to “an apparent irregularity” outside a polling station and bring the matter to the knowledge of the presiding officer for any necessary legal action.

The security forces were also directed not to “interfere in the counting process in any manner” and perform their duty outside the polling stations diligently, so that the counting process could be completed in a peaceful manner.


Pakistan revives ‘Safari Tourist Train’ to explore Potohar region’s scenic landscapes

Updated 9 min 41 sec ago
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Pakistan revives ‘Safari Tourist Train’ to explore Potohar region’s scenic landscapes

  • Potohar plateau is located north of Pakistan’s Punjab province and west of the Azad Kashmir territory
  • Train’s purpose is to revive tourism and acquaint travelers with railways ancient heritage, says state media

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Railways kicked off the operations of the “Safari Tourist Train” on Sunday, which aims to explore the Potohar region’s scenic landscapes and explore the rich heritage of the country’s railway, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. 

The Potohar plateau is located in the north of Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province and west of the Azad Kashmir area. The districts of Attock, Jhelum, Chakwal and Rawalpindi constitute the Potohar plateau. 

The train was first launched in February 2021 by then railways minister Azam Khan Swati but due to unexplained reasons, its operations were halted in 2022. 

“The Pakistan Railway is set to breathe new life into tourism with the revival of its iconic ‘Safari Tourist Train,’ in collaboration with private company PK-Unicorn,” APP said. 

The train’s operations commenced from Islamabad’s historic Golra Railway station at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday. The train will traverse through Hasan Abdal, Attock, and Attock Khurd Railway stations, the APP said. 

The Pakistan Railways earlier said the tourist train’s purpose is to bolster tourism and acquaint travelers with the railway’s ancient heritage to promote tourism.

The train will pass through the imposing Margallah Hills and the Sangjani tunnel as well as the Chablal Bridge, Haro Bridge, Ghazi Borotha and Attock Khurd bridges, offering tourists a view of the beautiful Potohar landscape. 

Fares for the journey range from Rs 2,000 ($7.20) for the Economy class to Rs 4,500 ($16.20) for a Deluxe package inclusive of meals, the APP said. 


After emphatic win, Pakistan face New Zealand in third T20I today

Updated 53 min 5 sec ago
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After emphatic win, Pakistan face New Zealand in third T20I today

  • Pakistan beat New Zealand by seven wickets on Saturday to go 1-0 up in five-match series
  • Fast bowlers Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Amir shared five wickets to restrict Kiwis to 90 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will lock horns with New Zealand in the third T20 match between the two sides today, Sunday, at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium as both prepare for the upcoming World Cup in June. 

Pakistan will head into the match confident after beating New Zealand convincingly on Saturday night by seven wickets. Pakistan’s fiery pace attack in the form of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Amir and Naseem Shah shared six wickets between themselves to bowl New Zealand out for a weak 90 within 19 overs. 

“The third T20 of five-match series between Pakistan and New Zealand will be played in Rawalpindi today,” the state-run Radio Pakistan said in a report. “The match will start at 7:30 in the evening.”

Pakistan’s Mohammad Rizwan became the fastest T20 batter to reach 3,000 T20I runs on Saturday after his match-winning knock of 45 against New Zealand. Rizwan achieved the milestone in just 79 innings, beating his skipper Babar Azam and former Indian captain Virat Kohli who achieved the feat in 81 innings. 

Pakistan were off to a shaky start in their run chase, losing the wickets of openers Saim Ayub and Azam cheaply. Ayub scored only four runs from two balls while Azam made 14 from 13 balls before he was stumped off a Michael Bracewell delivery. 

Rizwan and Irfan Khan held their nerves to ensure Pakistan chased the 91-run target in 12.1 overs. 

Afridi was the pick of the Pakistani bowlers, returning figures of 3/13 while Amir, making his comeback to the national squad after nearly four years, bowled impressively to finish at 2/13. Spinners Abrar Ahmed and Shadab Khan returned figures of 2/15 each while pacer Shah ended up with 1/27. 

Both teams are preparing for the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in June in the United States and the West Indies.

New Zealand are missing a host of their top players due to playing in the ongoing Indian Premier League, unavailability and injuries.

The remaining matches are in Rawalpindi on Sunday followed by the last two in Lahore on April 25 and 27.

Squads:

Pakistan — Babar Azam (captain), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohmmad Amir, Muhammad Irfan Khan, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usama Mir, Usman Khan and Zaman Khan

New Zealand — Michael Bracewell (captian), Tom Blundell, Mark Chapman, Josh Clarkson, Jacob Duffy, Dean Foxcroft, Ben Lister, Cole McConchie, Jimmy Neesham, Will O’Rourke, Tim Robinson, Ben Sears, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi and Zak Foulkes.


Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?

Updated 21 April 2024
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Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?

  • Israel’s retaliatory strikes against Iran and Syria this week caused little damage
  • Middle East remains a delicate situation for Biden as he gears up for re-election 

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden can breathe a bit easier, at least for the moment, now that Israel and Iran appear to have stepped back from the brink of tipping the Middle East into all-out war.

Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Iran and Syria caused limited damage. The restrained action came after Biden urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to temper its response to Iran’s unprecedented direct attack on Israel last week and avoid an escalation of violence in the region. Iran’s barrage of drones and missiles inflicted little damage and followed a suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus this month that killed two generals.
Iran’s public response to the Israeli strikes Friday also was muted, raising hopes that Israel-Iran tensions — long carried out in the shadows with cyberattacks, assassinations and sabotage — will stay at a simmer.
The situation remains a delicate one for Biden as he gears up his reelection effort in the face of headwinds in the Middle East, Russia and the Indo-Pacific. All are testing the proposition he made to voters during his 2020 campaign that a Biden White House would bring a measure of calm and renewed respect for the United States on the world stage.
Foreign policy matters are not typically the top issue for American voters. This November is expected to be no different, with the economy and border security carrying greater resonance.
But public polling suggests that overseas concerns could have more relevance with voters than in any US election since 2006, when voter dissatisfaction over the Iraq War was a major factor in the Republican Party losing 30 House and six Senate seats.
“We see this issue rising in saliency, and at the same time we’re seeing voter appraisals of President Biden’s handling of foreign affairs being quite negative,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “That combination is not a great one for Biden.”
Biden has staked enormous political capital on his response to the Israel-Hamas war as well as his administration’s backing of Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion.
The apparent de-escalation of tensions between Israel and Iran also comes as the House on Saturday approved $95 billion in wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, a measure that Biden has pushed for as Ukrainian forces run desperately short on arms.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, pushed the package forward after months of delay as he faced the threat of ouster by his party’s right flank. The legislation now awaits a vote in the Senate. The new money would provide a surge of weaponry to the front lines, giving the White House renewed hope that Ukraine can right the ship after months of setbacks in the war.
Biden also has made bolstering relations in the Indo-Pacific a central focus of his foreign policy agenda, looking to win allies and build ties as China becomes a more formidable economic and military competitor.
But Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have an argument to make that Biden’s policies have contributed to the US dealing with myriad global quandaries, said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Washington think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Republicans have criticized Biden’s unsuccessful efforts earlier in his term to revive a nuclear deal with Iran brokered by the Obama administration and abandoned by Trump, saying that would embolden Tehran. The agreement had provided Iran with billions in sanctions relief in exchange for the country agreeing to roll back its nuclear program.
GOP critics have sought to connect Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and they blame the Obama administration for not offering a strong enough response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 seizure of Crimea.
“You can make an intellectual case, a policy case of how we got from Point A to B to C to D and ended up in a world on fire,” said Goldberg, a national security official in the Trump administration. “People may not care about how we got here, but they do care that we are here.”
Polling suggests Americans’ concerns about foreign policy issues are growing, and there are mixed signs of whether Biden’s pitch as a steady foreign policy hand is resonating with voters.
About 4 in 10 US adults named foreign policy topics in an open-ended question that asked people to share up to five issues for the government to work on in 2024, according to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published in January. That’s about twice as many as mentioned the topic in an AP- NORC poll conducted in the previous year.
Further, about 47 percent of Americans said they believe Biden has hurt relations with other countries, according to an AP-NORC poll published this month. Similarly, 47 percent said the same about Trump.
Biden was flying high in the first six months of his presidency, with the American electorate largely approving of his performance and giving him high marks for his handling of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic. But the president saw his approval ratings tank in the aftermath of the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 and they never fully recovered.
Now, Biden finds himself dealing with the uncertainty of two wars. Both could shadow him right up to Election Day.
With the Israel-Hamas war, Republicans pillory him as not being adequately supportive of Israel, and the left wing of his party harshly criticizes the president, who has shown displeasure with Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war, for not doing more to force the Israelis to safeguard Palestinian lives.
After Israel’s carefully calibrated strikes on Iran, Middle East tensions have entered a “gray area” that all parties must navigate carefully, said Aaron David Miller, an adviser on Middle East issues in Republican and Democratic administrations.
“Does what has occurred over the last 10 days strengthen each sides’ risk-readiness or has it made them drop back from the brink and revert into risk aversion?” Miller said. “Israel and Iran got away with striking each other’s territory without a major escalation. What conclusions do they draw from that? Is the conclusion that we might be able to do this again? Or is it we really dodged a bullet here and we have to be exceedingly careful.”
Israel and Hamas appear far away from an agreement on a temporary ceasefire that would facilitate the release of remaining hostages in Hamas-controlled Gaza and help get aid into the territory. It’s an agreement that Biden sees as essential to finding an endgame to the war.
CIA Director William Burns expressed disappointment this past week that Hamas has not yet accepted a proposal that Egyptian and Qatari negotiators had presented this month. He blamed the group for “standing in the way of innocent civilians in Gaza getting humanitarian relief that they so desperately need.”
At the same time, the Biden administration has tried to demonstrate it is holding Israel accountable, imposing new penalties Friday on two entities accused of fundraising for extremist Israel settlers that were already under sanctions, as well as the founder of an organization whose members regularly assault Palestinians.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan and other administration officials met on Thursday with Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Ron Dermer, and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. US officials, according to the White House, reiterated Biden’s concerns about Israel’s plans to carry out an operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where some 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter.
Ross Baker, professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University, said Biden may have temporarily benefited from Israeli-Iranian tensions driving attention away from the deprivation in Gaza.
“Sometimes salvation can come in unexpected ways,” Baker said. “But the way ahead has no shortage of complications.”


Pakistan beats India 2-1 in Karate Combat 45 competition in Dubai 

Updated 21 April 2024
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Pakistan beats India 2-1 in Karate Combat 45 competition in Dubai 

  • Pakistan’s Shahzaib Rind beats India’s Rana Singh to seal the win 2-1 
  • Karate Combat hosts bouts between skilled fighters from various countriesHANK

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan edged India out 2-1 in the Karate Combat 45 competition in Dubai on Saturday night, with an “unstoppable” Shahzaib Rind convincingly beating India’s Rana Singh to seal the win. 

Karate Combat is a professional martial arts league featuring full-contact karate bouts. Karate Combat hosts events around the world, showcasing bouts between skilled fighters from different weight classes and countries. 

The match between the two countries was decided in the final round after Pakistan’s Rizwan Ali and India’s Himanshu Kaushik won the first and second competition of the match, respectively. 

“Shahzaib Rind is just unstoppable inside the pit!” Karate Combat wrote on social media platform X. “Pakistan beats India 2-1 with this victory.”

The competition began with Ali facing India’s Pawan Gupta. The bout was a one-sided one, with Ali knocking out Gupta soon earlier on and ending the match in Pakistan’s favor. 

India then leveled the match when its fighter Himanshu Kaushik overcame Pakistan’s Faizan Khan in the second fixture, making it 1-1 before Rind delivered decisive blows to Singh to seal the victory for Pakistan 2-1. 

The fixture between India and Pakistan was a much-awaited one, especially due to the pre-match hype between fighters of the two countries. 

At a pre-match news conference on Friday, Rind slapped Singh before both were separated by their team members. The video of the altercation went viral on social media.