State Department official reaffirms US commitment to humanitarian aid for Gazans

People walk through rubble past damaged buildings with humanitarian aid packages collected from a drop over the northern Gaza Strip on April 23, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 25 April 2024
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State Department official reaffirms US commitment to humanitarian aid for Gazans

  • Efforts also continue in Washington to prevent regional expansion of conflict by Iran and its proxies, says Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Barbara A. Leaf
  • The Biden administration is also looking into the circumstances surrounding the discovery this week of mass graves in Gaza, she adds

CHICAGO: The US is working to speed up the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, all of whom are at risk of malnutrition or famine, a leading official from State Department said on Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Barbara A. Leaf also said that efforts continue in Washington to deter Iran and its proxies from attempting to provoke any regional expansion of the conflict, amid concerns about escalations in violence in Iraq, Lebanon, Europe and Yemen.

President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken remain committed to securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians through direct negotiations, Leaf said, and to using all available means to provide the population of Gaza with aid, including the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

The Biden administration is also examining the circumstances surrounding the discovery this week of mass graves in Gaza, she added. Officials are “making inquiries and trying to learn, ourselves” but she had no additional information to share at this time.

Regarding the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, Leaf said: “One hundred percent of the population in Gaza is at risk of famine and malnutrition. Deconfliction (a military term for efforts to reduce the risk of friendly fire or the targeting of noncombatants) coordination remains a major issue for humanitarian workers and exports.

“We are pushing to accelerate the delivery of assistance on all fronts by air, land and sea. We urge Israel, and continue to urge Israel, to improve deconfliction and take tangible steps to allow the entry of more aid, and distribution of that aid, throughout Gaza. We also believe the UN, including UNRWA, is indispensable for that effort.

“We are committed to advancing enduring peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, including through practical time-bound and irreversible steps to work toward establishing a Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel.”

Leaf declined to comment on how funding would be directed to help address the “extreme” humanitarian needs in Gaza but acknowledged that the US Congress and several other major donor countries had suspended funding for UNRWA following allegations in January by the Israeli government that 12 of the agency’s workers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel.

A report published this week following an independent inquiry into UNRWA’s mechanisms for ensuring the neutrality of its workers stated that Israeli authorities have not provided any evidence to back up their claims. Some countries have resumed their funding of the agency but the US has not.

“The Congress has ruled out the US providing assistance directly to UNRWA,” said Leaf. “There are many other avenues, channels and organizations by which we can assist the Palestinian people.

“We do recognize that the functions that UNRWA carries out are indispensable and that there is no ready replacement for UNRWA in carrying out those responsibilities, or for the staff that puts their lives at risk every day to carry out those functions. We are certainly encouraging all of our donor partners to look to these needs in a coordinated way.”

Leaf defended the decision of the Biden administration last week to veto a Security Council resolution calling for recognition of Palestine as full member state of the UN, on the grounds that the resolution “makes no sense” because Palestine does not have identifiable borders. She added that Biden “stands firmly behind the very legitimate quest of the Palestinians for a state of their own” but “peace must come through direct negotiations with Israel.”

The goal of the Biden administration is to “reunify” the West Bank and Gaza Strip under the leadership of a reformed Palestinian Authority, Leaf said, paving the way for a two-state solution through negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

“The West Bank and Gaza must be reunified under the Palestinian Authority,” she added. “A revitalized PA is essential to delivering results for the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and Gaza, and establishing the conditions for stability.”

Commenting of the wider regional situation, Leaf condemned the escalation of violent attacks by Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.

She described Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea over the past few months as “outrageous” and said they represent “recklessness and inhumanity on the part of the Houthis in targeting commercial vessels, some military vessels, but commercial vessels that have absolutely nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza. It really moots the notion that these attacks are in some way going to support the Palestinian cause. They do not. What they do is put innocent civilians in harm’s way.”

Leaf also condemned the Iranian missile strikes that targeted Israel last week but did not mention the Israeli missile strikes that killed 12 people at an Iranian consulate building beside the nation’s main embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus, the week before.


UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

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UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

LONDON: The chief data officer of Britain’s Conservative Party has taken a leave of absence, British media reported Sunday, following growing allegations that the governing party’s members used inside information to bet on the date of Britain’s July 4 national election before it was announced.
The Sunday Times and others reported that Nick Mason is the fourth Conservative official to be investigated by the UK’s Gambling Commission for allegedly betting on the timing of the election.
The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds.
The reports came after revelations in recent days that two Conservative election candidates, Laura Saunders and Craig Williams, are under investigation by the gambling watchdog. Saunders’ husband Tony Lee, the Conservative director of campaigning, has also taken a leave of absence following allegations he was also investigated over alleged betting.
Police said one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ‘s police bodyguards was arrested Monday on suspicion of misconduct in public office. The arrest came after the gambling regulator confirmed it was investigating “the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election.”
The growing scandal, just two weeks ahead of the national election, has dealt a fresh blow to Sunak’s Conservative Party, which is widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.
Sunak said this week that he was “incredibly angry” to learn of the allegations and said that anyone found to have broken the law should be expelled from his party.
Sunak announced on May 22 that parliamentary elections would be held on July 4. The date had been a closely guarded secret and many were taken by surprise because a vote had been expected in the fall.
Saunders, a candidate standing in Bristol, southwest England, has said she will cooperate fully with the investigation.
Williams was Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary as well as a member of Parliament running for reelection on July 4. He has acknowledged that he was being investigated by the Gambling Commission for placing a 100-pound ($128) bet on a July election before the date had been announced.
Senior Conservative minister Michael Gove condemned the alleged betting and likened it to ” Partygate,” the ethics scandal that contributed to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ouster in 2022.
That controversy saw public trust in the Conservatives plummet after revelations that politicians and officials held lockdown-flouting parties and gatherings in government buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us,” Gove told the Sunday Times. “That’s the most potentially damaging thing.”
Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “people are sick and tired of this sleaze” and that Sunak must intervene and order an official inquiry.
The Conservative Party said it cannot comment because investigations are ongoing.

Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

Updated 2 min 19 sec ago
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Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

  • Chetan Singh Solanki wants to inspire energy independence across the world
  • He takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement

NEW DELHI: Four years ago, at the height of his restlessness over the growing threat of climate change on the planet, Chetan Singh Solanki decided to embark on a journey to spark a change for the environment.

Solanki launched the energy swaraj journey in 2020 to inspire energy independence across the world, campaigning with the motto “Energy by Locals for Locals.”

He told Arab News: “I want to restore the environmental balance that we are already losing, and I want to do it at a global level because it is not a problem of one state or one country — it is a problem of the entire world.”

A professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay’s department of energy science and engineering, Solanki takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement who used nonviolent resistance as a tool for mass action.

Solanki believes in replicating a similar strategy to boost energy literacy among the people and inspire them to use cleaner energy as an alternative power source.

“It is the wrong energy that has created the problem (and) it is the right energy that will solve the problem. Clean energy and solar energy and to bring everybody on board is why I started this journey,” Solanki said. “My vision is aligned with Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of gram swaraj (village self-rule). I emphasize responsible energy consumption and localized production.”

The campaign was designed to be impactful and adopted by the masses.

“This is designed to trigger the mind that we all can be part of the climate solution. It is not rocket science — rich and poor, young and old, everybody can be part of it,” he added.

Chetan Singh Solanki talks to students as part of his nationwide journey to spur climate movement in this photo shared on June 8, 2024. (Energy Swaraj)

Through his journey, Solanki has earned the nickname “Solar Gandhi,” having covered 56,000 km on his solar-powered bus, which is equipped with essential amenities including an air-conditioned bedroom, office space, refrigerator and a working kitchen.

The vehicle is an “innovative mobile abode” that symbolizes his aspiration “for a forthcoming world driven by sustainable energy sources,” he said, adding that he plans to continue the nationwide journey until December 2030.

To him, it was clear that world governments “have not done enough,” despite annual climate conferences that are purported to address critical environmental issues.

“The business-as-usual approaches are not working nationally and internationally, and therefore the solution lies in becoming sensitive to planet Earth and its capacity to generate or regenerate,” he said.

Since his journey started in late 2020, Solanki said the campaign has been well received.

“I think there are good things happening and response has been good,” he said. “Energy literacy is the first step towards climate correction.”


Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

Updated 23 June 2024
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Aide to UK minister calls Rwanda migrant plan ‘crap’ in leaked audio

LONDON: The UK interior minister has defended a parliamentary aide who called the government plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda “crap,” in a leaked audio revealed by the BBC Sunday.
A controversial law by the Conservative government allowing irregular migrants arriving in the UK to be deported to Rwanda was finally passed in April, after months of parliamentary wrangling.
But in the recording James Sunderland, a parliamentary aide and Conservative party candidate, was heard saying: “the policy is crap, ok? It’s crap.”
“But it’s not about the policy. It’s about the effect of the policy,” he went on to say, speaking at a Youth Conservatives conference in April.
“There is no doubt at all that when those first flights take off it will send such a shockwave across the Channel,” Sunderland clarified.
Home Secretary James Cleverly said he was “surprised,” when asked about the audio, before saying Sunderland was making a “counterintuitive statement to grab the attention.”
Cleverly told Sky News on Sunday that his aide Sunderland “is completely supportive of the deterrent effect.”
Sunderland told the BBC he was “disappointed” to have been recorded at a private event, and said although the policy is “not the be all and end all,” it is “part of a wider response.”
No flights deporting asylum seekers have actually taken off yet for the African country, due to lengthy legal challenges and with parliament dissolved ahead of a looming general election on July 4.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the policy would only come into effect after the election, if he was re-elected.
The opposition Labour party — which looks poised to replace the Conservatives — has promised to scrap the Rwanda plan.
The government cleared a law allowing some asylum seekers to be deported in April, circumventing a Supreme Court ruling that said sending migrants to Rwanda in this way would be illegal because it “would expose them to a real risk of ill-treatment.”
Supporters of the Rwanda policy say it will deter tens of thousands of annual cross-Channel arrivals by small boats, and insist the policy is already having an impact.
More than 12,000 irregular migrants have crossed the Channel to Britain on small boats this year, according to government data.


Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

Updated 23 June 2024
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Ukraine missile attack on Crimea kills 2, wounds 22: Moscow-appointed governor

  • Sevastopol regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high

MOSCOW: A Ukrainian missile attack Sunday on Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula killed two people including a two-year-old child and wounded 22, the city’s Moscow-appointed governor said.
Sevastopol, a Black Sea port city and naval base on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, regularly comes under fire from Ukraine but the toll from Sunday’s attack was unusually high.
“According to provisional information, today’s attack by Ukraine’s armed forces on Sevastopol killed 2 peaceful residents, one of them a 2-year-old child,” Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on Telegram.
The governor said Ukraine had launched five missiles which Russian air defenses intercepted over the sea but fragments fell onto the shore area and pieces of shrapnel wounded people.
Razvozhayev said the missile fragments hit shore areas in the north of the city and set fire to a house and woodland.
Earlier Sunday, a drone launched by Ukraine on Russia’s southern Belgorod region killed a man, the governor said.
Three Ukrainian attack drones struck the town of Graivoron a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine, said Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, with one hitting a car park near a multi-story block of flats.
“A peaceful civilian was killed. The man died from his wounds at the spot,” Gladkov wrote on Telegram, while three were wounded.


Bangladesh moves to raise awareness of snake bites as cases surge

Updated 23 June 2024
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Bangladesh moves to raise awareness of snake bites as cases surge

  • Around 7,000 Bangladeshis died from snake bites in 2022, government survey shows 
  • Snake infestations are on the rise globally due to impacts of climate change

DHAKA: Bangladesh is working to raise nationwide awareness about snake bites amid rising cases of such incidents across the country, an official said on Sunday.

The World Health Organization estimates that 5.4 million people worldwide are bitten by snakes each year, with over half by venomous snakes and causing around 100,000 deaths. Snake bites in South Asia contribute to nearly 70 percent of the death toll.

Bangladesh recorded around 7,000 deaths out of 400,000 snake bite incidents that occurred in 2022, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health.

“The incidents of snake bites are a concerning issue for us, as people are getting frightened over it. And it’s true that snake biting incidents have increased in the country,” Dr. Mohammad Nurul Islam, a program manager at the ministry’s directorate general of health services, told Arab News.

Though officials have yet to compile current data on snake bites, hospitals across Bangladesh have reported an increase in people being bitten by snakes.

The rising number of snakes can be attributed to an ongoing breeding season, which began in April and is expected to end in September, Islam said, adding that the snakes are also moving with water hyacinth floating plants amid the rainy season.

“Besides, as an impact of climate change different types of snakes’ infestations will increase and it’s part of a global trend,” he added.

Many incidents of snake bites, some of which involved the Russel’s viper — a species commonly found in South Asia — have become a major topic on Bangladeshi social media in recent weeks.

With their drab coloring, Russell’s vipers can be hard to spot in the dense undergrowth of agricultural fields, but it does not bite unless attacked and is “very lazy in nature,” Islam said. People working outdoors must therefore remain alert and take precautions to remain safe from the species’ bite.

But as Bangladeshis are “receiving a lot of misleading information” through social media, authorities are hoping to tackle the growing misinformation through official awareness campaigns.

“We are working on providing treatment as well as removing fear from people’s minds by delivering the right information,” he said.

As most victims survive if treated quickly with anti-venom, health officials are instructing people to go to the hospital immediately after a snake bite.

“It should be done without any delay. Here, people shouldn’t waste time with the local quack doctors,” Islam said. “All our government hospitals and medical colleges across the country are equipped with enough antivenom to deal with the snake-bitten patients. It’s being provided to patients at free of cost also.”