Egyptians vote amid economic crisis, impending war

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 10th December 2023

Polling stations for the presidential elections in Egypt have opened and will remain so for three days, involving 65 million eligible voters, while the country finds itself facing growing economic difficulties and dealing with the increasingly close war between Israel and Hamas at the border. The National Electoral Authority yesterday made a final appeal for participation in the vote, already carried out by residents abroad between December 1 and 3, at the end of an essentially non-existent electoral campaign. Many take for granted a re-election of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in power since 2014, for a third term while the government highlights the presence of three other candidates in an effort for a democratic transition. Judge Hazem Badawi, head of the National Electoral Authority, said Saturday: “The authority renews its commitment that the election results express the will of the voters, so participate in drawing the map of the future and answer the call of the nation.”

Gaza deaths highest percentage of civilians ever killed

The Israeli aerial bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip caused, in percentage terms, “the highest number of civilian casualties of all wars of the 20th century”, according to a study by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The data shows that “in the three previous campaigns in Gaza, between 2012 and last year, the ratio between civilian deaths and the total number of those killed in air strikes was around 40 per cent which then fell to 33 per cent earlier this year.” But in the first three weeks of the current operation, “the percentage of civilians compared to the total deaths rose to 61 per cent”, says Haaretz which speaks of “unprecedented” data. The New York Times had already underlined that the percentage of civilians killed is higher than that of the conflicts fought by US military forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. “The bottom line is that the widespread killings of civilians not only contribute nothing to Israel’s security, but also contain the basis for further weakening it,” writes Haaretz. “The people of Gaza who emerge from the ruins of their homes and the loss of their families will seek revenge that no security system will be able to withstand.” The Hamas-run Ministry of Health said Saturday the death toll in Gaza since the start of the war had reached 17,700.

Palestinian President condemns US veto

“Aggressive, immoral and a blatant violation of all humanitarian values and principles.” This is how Palestinian President Abu Mazen, quoted by Wafa, defined the US veto at the UN Security Council on the resolution that “forces Israel to stop its aggression against the Gaza Strip”. He added: “The US is responsible for the bloodshed of Palestinian children, women and elderly people in Gaza at the hands of the occupation.” Israel’s military pushed ahead with its punishing air and ground offensive in Gaza on Saturday, bolstered by the US veto derailing UN.Security Council efforts to end the war and word that an emergency sale of $106 million worth of tank ammunition had been approved by Washington without going through Congress.

Tunnel plan would amount to ‘war crime’ if pursued – Russia

Russia has warned Israel’s plan to flood Hamas tunnels in order to flush out the terrorists might constitute a war crime. The Wall Street Journal earlier this week reported that the Israel Defense Forces have constructed five large seawater pumps about one mile north of the Al-Shati refugee camp, with each pump capable of moving thousands of cubic metres of water per hour from the Mediterranean Sea into the Hamas tunnels. Russian First Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky said, “Such a step, if made, will constitute a blatant war crime.”

Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Weapons inside soft toys and UNRWA bags at school

An Israeli military spokesperson has provided media with videos of weapons found in classrooms of the school of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. He aid the army found a large teddy bear in the school containing “sniper rifles and ammunition” and “weapons hidden in school classrooms, some in UNRWA bags”. Hamas – he added – “uses children’s games to hide weapons, deliberately putting the children of Gaza at risk”.

Image: IDF

British Palestinian surgeon gave testimony to a UK war crimes unit

A British Palestinian surgeon who spent weeks in the Gaza Strip during the current Israel-Hamas war as part of a Doctors Without Borders medical team said he has given testimony to a British war crimes investigation unit. Ghassan Abu Sitta, a plastic surgeon specialising in conflict medicine, has volunteered with medical teams in multiple conflicts in Gaza, beginning as a medical student in the late 1980s during the the first Palestinian uprising. He has also worked in other conflict zones, including in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Abu Sitta crossed from Egypt into Gaza on October 9, two days after the war began and remained in the besieged enclave for 43 days, working mainly in the al-Ahli and Shifa hospitals in northern Gaza. He told The Associated Press in an interview during a visit to the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut on Saturday that the intensity of other conflicts he experienced and the war in Gaza is like “the difference between a flood and a tsunami.” Apart from the staggering numbers of killed and injured, he said, the health system itself has been targeted and destroyed in Gaza. “The worst thing was initially the running out of morphine and proper strong analgesics and then later on running out of anesthetic medication, which meant that you would have to do painful procedures with no anesthetic,” Abu Sitta said. He said that when he returned to the UK, he was asked by the war crimes unit at the Metropolitan Police to give evidence in a possible war crimes investigation, and did so.

Photo: AP

Mohammadi on hunger strike

Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi, currently detained in her country, begins a new hunger strike today – the day she will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo where she will be represented by her children, according to her family. Mohammadi, who fights in particular against the mandatory hijab and the death penalty in Iran, will begin a hunger strike “in solidarity with the Bahai religious minority”, her brother and her husband announced during a mews conference in the Norwegian capital on the eve of the Nobel Prize ceremony.

Photo: AFP PHOTO / NARGES MOHAMMADI FOUNDATION

“Let Mahsa’s family come to EP” – Metsola tells Iran

Meanwhile, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola has appealed to ther Iranian government to reverse its decision to ban Mahsa Amini’s family from travelling to Strasbourg next Tuesday to receive the Sakharov Prize awarded posthumously on behalf of their late daughter. The family’s lawyer said Saturday they were stopped from boarding a plane to France. Amini died aged 22 on September 16, 2022, while being held by Iran’s religious police for allegedly breaching the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women. Her family and supporters say she was killed. Iranian authorities claim she died in custody from a previously undisclosed medical condition. In October, the European Union awarded its top human rights honour, the Sakharov Prize, to her and the global movement her death triggered.

Photo: AFP

Olena Zelenska: “If the world stops helping us, we will die

“If the world gets tired of helping us, it will simply let us die. For us it is a vital issue”, Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska said in an interview with the BBC which will be broadcast today. She expressed strong concern about the delay in aid after Republican senators in the United States blocked a Bill that provided for an additional $60 billion to Ukraine. “We really need help. We cannot get tired, because if we do, we die. It hurts us greatly to see signs that passionate availability may be weakening. For us it is vital. It hurts to see what is happening.”

Photo: Getty Images

Trump’s greatest threat is to US democracy, says Biden

“Donald Trump represents many threats to this country – from the right to choose to civil rights, to the right to vote, to America’s place in the world. But the greatest threat of all is the one Trump poses to our democracy. If we lose this, we lose everything,” Joe Biden told an election event in California. In is direct attack on his likely rival in the race for the White House, the US President said the United States cannot afford to risk having Trump in office on the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, in 2026.

Venezuela, Guyana agree to high-level meeting

Venezuela and Guyana have agreed to a high-level meeting on December 14 in St Vincent and Grenadines over the status of the disputed and oil-rich Essequibo region, following a flurry of diplomacy involving leaders of both countries as well as Brazilian President Lula da Silva, St Vincent and Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, and UN Secretary General António Guterres. Following a nationwide referendum last week, the Venezuelan government has threatened to move forward with plans to annex the densely-forested Essequibo region. Venezuela has long insisted that it has a historical claim to the region, which Guyana rejects. Current borders were set in a 1899 ruling by international arbitrators.

6 people dead, dozens injured as tornadoes strike Tennessee

Severe storms and tornadoes in Tennessee left at least six people dead on Saturday and caused what local emergency services described as extensive damage with tens of thousands of residents without power. Three people were confirmed dead in Madison, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, emergency management officials told CNN. Officials in Montgomery County also confirmed three deaths, including a child, after a tornado struck the Clarksville area. Officials said they are still in a “search and rescue phase” to see if there are more dead or injured.

Photo: CNN

S. Korean cooperation on semiconductors with various nations

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol told AFP that Seoul plans to step up semiconductor cooperation with Western countries as the sector is hit by geopolitical turmoil from US-China competition. South Korea plans to “significantly increase cooperation in the semiconductor industry with major countries such as the Netherlands, the United States and Japan in the future,” Yoon said ahead of his state visit to the Netherlands on Monday.

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