Attacks on health care in war zones surge 25 percent last year, NGOs say

Attacks on medics and health facilities in war zones jumped in 2023 to the highest level since records began 11 years ago, a group of non-governmental organizations said on Wednesday, with nearly half attributed to state forces. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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Attacks on health care in war zones surge 25 percent last year, NGOs say

  • The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, composed of 40 groups including medical charities, reported 2,562 incidents
  • The group apportions responsibility and said governments were to blame for nearly half of the attacks

GENEVA: Attacks on medics and health facilities in war zones jumped in 2023 to the highest level since records began 11 years ago, a group of non-governmental organizations said on Wednesday, with nearly half attributed to state forces.
The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, composed of 40 groups including medical charities, reported 2,562 incidents of violence or obstructions including arrests, killings and kidnappings of doctors and strikes across hospitals in 30 conflicts including Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan.
That is up by about a quarter compared with 2022.
Unlike the World Health Organization which also documents attacks on health care, the group apportions responsibility and said governments were to blame for nearly half of the attacks.
Len Rubenstein, chair of the coalition and a Johns Hopkins University professor, called for “far more assertive action to end the scourge of violence against health care,” asking governments to cease arms transfers to perpetrators and press prosecutors to hold them accountable.
The group uses open source data and partner contributions and cross checks to ensure no double counting.
The coalition attributed 489 incidents in Gaza last year to Israeli forces, including medic deaths or injuries and strikes or raids on hospitals. No responsibility had been established in seven other cases, including the deaths of six Israeli military medics killed in fighting in separate incidents between October and December, and the bombing of the Al-Ahli Hospital on Oct. 17, 2023, it said.
Israel, whose military offensive in Gaza began after the deadly Hamas cross-border attacks of Oct. 7, says hospitals in the Palestinian enclave are used by Hamas militants as bases.


South Korea summons Russian ambassador as tensions rise with North Korea

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South Korea summons Russian ambassador as tensions rise with North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea summoned the Russian ambassador to protest the country’s new defense pact with North Korea on Friday, as border tensions continued to rise with vague threats and brief, seemingly accidental incursions by North Korean troops.
Earlier Friday, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a vague threat of retaliation after South Korean activists flew balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border, and South Korea’s military said it had fired warning shots the previous day to repel North Korean soldiers who briefly crossed the rivals’ land border for the third time this month.
That came two days after Moscow and Pyongyang reached a pact vowing mutual defense assistance if either is attacked, and a day after Seoul responded by saying it would consider providing arms to Ukraine to fight Russia’s invasion.
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hong Kyun summoned Russian Ambassador Georgy Zinoviev to protest the deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un and called for Moscow to immediately halt its alleged military cooperation with Pyongyang.
Kim, the South Korean diplomat, stressed that any cooperation that directly or indirectly helps the North build up its military capabilities would violate UN Security Council resolutions and pose a threat to the South’s security, and warned of consequences for Seoul’s relations with Moscow.
Zinoviev replied that he would convey Seoul’s concerns to his superiors in Moscow, the ministry said.
Leafletting campaigns by South Korean civilian activists in recent weeks have prompted a resumption of Cold War-style psychological warfare along the inter-Korean border.
The South Korean civilian activists, led by North Korean defector Park Sang-hak, said it sent 20 balloons carrying 300,000 propaganda leaflets, 5,000 USB sticks with South Korean pop songs and TV dramas, and 3,000 US dollar bills from the South Korean border town of Paju on Thursday night.
Pyongyang resents such material and fears it could demoralize front-line troops and residents and eventually weaken Kim Jong Un’s grip on power, analysts say.
In a statement carried by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, Kim Yo Jong, one of her brother’s top foreign policy officials, called the activists “defector scum” and issued what appeared to be a threat of retaliation.
“When you do something you were clearly warned not to do, it’s only natural that you will find yourself dealing with something you didn’t have to,” she said, without specifying what the North would do.
After previous leafletting by South Korean activists, North Korea launched more than 1,000 balloons that dropped tons of trash in South Korea, smashing roof tiles and windows and causing other property damage. Kim Yo Jong previously hinted that balloons could become the North’s standard response to leafletting, saying that the North would respond by “scattering dozens of times more rubbish than is being scattered on us.”
In response, South Korea resumed anti-North Korea propaganda broadcasts with military loudspeakers installed at the border for the first time in years, to which Kim Yo Jong, in another state media statement, warned that Seoul was “creating a prelude to a very dangerous situation.”
Tensions between the Koreas are at their highest in years as Kim Jong Un accelerates his nuclear weapons and missile development and attempts to strengthen his regional footing by aligning with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a standoff against the US-led West.
South Korea, a growing arms exporter with a well-equipped military backed by the United States, says it is considering upping support for Ukraine in response. Seoul has already provided humanitarian aid and other support while joining US-led economic sanctions against Moscow. But it has not directly provided arms, citing a long-standing policy of not supplying weapons to countries actively engaged in conflict.
Putin told reporters in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday that supplying weapons to Ukraine would be “a very big mistake,” and said South Korea “shouldn’t worry” about the agreement if it isn’t planning aggression against Pyongyang.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Minister Cho Tae-yul on Friday held separate phone calls with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa to discuss the new pact. The diplomats agreed that the agreement poses a serious threat to peace and stability in the region and vowed to strengthen trilateral coordination to deal with the challenges posed by the alignment between Moscow and Pyongyang, Cho’s ministry said in a statement.
North Korea is extremely sensitive to criticism of Kim’s authoritarian rule and efforts to reach its people with foreign news and other media.
In 2015, when South Korea restarted loudspeaker broadcasts for the first time in 11 years, North Korea fired artillery rounds across the border, prompting South Korea to return fire, according to South Korean officials. No casualties were reported.
South Korea’s military said there are signs that North Korea was installing its own speakers at the border, although they weren’t yet working.
In the latest border incident, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said several North Korean soldiers engaged in unspecified construction work briefly crossed the military demarcation line that divides the two countries at around 11 a.m. Thursday.
The South Korean military broadcast a warning and fired warning shots, after which the North Korean soldiers retreated. The joint chiefs didn’t immediately release more details, including why it was releasing the information a day late.
South Korea’s military says believes recent border intrusions were not intentional, as the North Korean soldiers have not returned fire and retreated after the warning shots.
The South’s military has observed the North deploying large numbers of soldiers in frontline areas to build suspected anti-tank barriers, reinforce roads and plant mines in an apparent attempt to fortify their side of the border. Seoul believes the efforts are likely aimed at preventing North Korean civilians and soldiers from escaping to the South.

Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

Updated 26 min 40 sec ago
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Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

Armenia has officially recognized a Palestinian state, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday, defying Israel which is opposed to such moves.
Armenia supports a UN resolution on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and is in favor of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the same statement said.


India’s Modi leads yoga day celebration in Muslim-majority Kashmir

Updated 27 min 43 sec ago
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India’s Modi leads yoga day celebration in Muslim-majority Kashmir

  • Thousands of government employees, schoolteachers and students were brought in for the event from all over Kashmir
  • A local resident describes the event as cultural intrusion, calling it an imposition to change the upcoming generations

SRINAGAR: Stretching, arching his back and kneeling on a mat, India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi led hundreds of people performing yoga in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir on Friday.

The exercises in Srinagar, capital of the Indian-administered part of the disputed territory, marked the 10th International Yoga Day, Modi’s own brainchild.

But while yoga is not itself a religious practice, it has its origins in Hindu philosophy – the god Shiva is said to have been the first yogi – and many residents of Kashmir are indifferent to the discipline.

Thousands of government employees, schoolteachers and students from all over Kashmir were brought in for the event, although rain forced Modi’s performance indoors.

Afterwards, he urged hundreds of people including many police and armed forces personnel on the shores of Dal Lake to make yoga “a part of their daily lives.”

“Yoga fosters strength, good health and wellness,” he said.

In this handout photograph taken and released on June 21, 2024 by the Indian Press Information Bureau (PIB), India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs asana on International Day of Yoga in Srinagar. (AFP/Indian Press Information Bureau)

But one Srinagar resident saw the event as a cultural intrusion.

“This yoga is being imposed on our children to culturally change the next generations and control their minds,” they told AFP, declining to be identified for fear of reprisal.

“It’s an imposition on us.”

Rebel groups in Kashmir have waged an insurgency since 1989, demanding independence or a merger with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, and violence has been largely suppressed since Modi removed the region’s limited autonomy in 2019 and imposed a security crackdown.

But his visit came after a series of attacks by suspected rebels opposed to Indian rule, including one that left 10 Hindu pilgrims dead.

Islamabad controls a part of the divided territory and, like India, claims all of Kashmir.

June 21 was declared International Yoga Day a decade ago and Modi has since led events at emblematic locations across India, and last year at the UN headquarters in New York.


Ukraine reinforces embattled hilltop town in east

Updated 21 June 2024
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Ukraine reinforces embattled hilltop town in east

  • Chasiv Yar, which had a pre-war population of around 12,000 people, sits above nearby civilian hubs of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka
  • Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold the line there against better-resourced Russian forces

Kyiv, Ukraine: Ukraine has said is dispatching reinforcements to an embattled strategic hilltop town in the eastern Donetsk region, a vital flashpoint whose capture could accelerate Russian advances deeper in the industrial territory.
Donetsk has borne the brunt of fighting since Russian forces invaded in February 2022, and Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold the line there against better-resourced Russian forces.
“Units of the 24th Mechanized Brigade have been redeployed to strengthen the defense of the Chasiv Yar sector,” the grouping said in a statement late Thursday.
“The situation in and around the town is extremely difficult. The enemy is constantly organizing massive frontal assaults, and also trying to bypass the settlement from the north and south,” it added.
The unit had been deployed near the town of Toretsk, another frontline region where Russian forces have gained ground after a lull in fighting there, according to military bloggers.
Chasiv Yar, which had a pre-war population of around 12,000 people, sits above nearby civilian hubs of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka.
The Ukrainian military says it has been persistently targeted by Russian air strikes, and recently released drone footage from the town shows rows of bombed-out and smoldering Soviet-era housing blocs.
The Kremlin said in late 2022 that it had annexed Donetsk, which has been partially controlled by Russian forces and Kremlin-backed separatists for around a decade.


S. Korea, US condemn treaty between Russia and North Korea

Updated 21 June 2024
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S. Korea, US condemn treaty between Russia and North Korea

  • South Korea fired warning shots after North Korean soldiers crossed border on Thursday

SEOUL: South Korea’s Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the new treaty between Russia and North Korea as a serious threat to regional peace and stability, Seoul’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday.
The two in a phone call on Thursday also discussed ways to respond to the pact, and agreed to closely monitor the situation, the foreign ministry said.
Blinken said the United States supports South Korea’s responses to the agreement, in which Moscow and Pyongyang said each country would provide immediate military assistance if either faces armed aggression.
Cho said any cooperation to help strengthen North Korea’s military capabilities is a clear violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, according to the statement.
The United States will consider various ways to respond to the threat to international peace and stability from Russia and North Korea, Blinken was quoted as saying by the ministry.
South Korean National Security Adviser Chang Ho-jin said on Thursday that Seoul will review the possibility of supplying weapons to Ukraine in response to the landmark pact.

Relations between the Korean neighbors had been tense again lately, with the North repeatedly dumping trash into South Korean territory via cheap balloons.

On Thursday morning, South Korea’s military fired warning shots after several North Korean soldiers crossed the border, the Yonhap news agency reported on Friday citing the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The soldiers retreated immediately after the warning shots were fired, the report said.
They had breached the Military Demarcation Line running through the middle of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), where they were working around 11 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Thursday, South Korea said.
It is at least the third such incident this month. South Korea’s military fired warning shots on Tuesday after dozens of North Korean soldiers breached the demarcation line.
The incident came after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang for the first time in 24 years earlier this week.