EU Ombudsman calls for public inquiry into migrant deaths

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 2nd March 2024

EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has called for a public inquiry into the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean and for the EU to change its search and rescue rules following an investigation into the drowning of 600 people in June 2023. The investigation found that the European Union’s coast guard agency Frontex had made four separate offers to assist the Greek authorities while the overloaded fishing vessel, the Adriana, was in distress, but received no response. “We must ask ourselves why a boat so obviously in need of help never received that help despite an EU agency, two member states’ authorities, civil society, and private ships knowing of its existence. Why did reports of overcrowding, an apparent lack of life vests, children on board, and possible fatalities fail to trigger timely rescue efforts that could have saved hundreds of lives,” she said.

The Adriana was a fishing trawler which departed from Tobruk, Libya, on 14 June 2023, overcrowded with migrants who were being smuggled to Italy. The boat sank in international waters in the Ionian Sea off the coast of Pylos, Greece, with an estimated 400-750 migrants on board, mostly from Pakistan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Afghanistan. Some 104 men were rescued and 82 bodies recovered.

European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly

‘Gunfire accounted for 80% of wounds from aid convoy bloodshed’

The head of a Gaza City hospital that treated some of the Palestinians wounded in the bloodshed surrounding an aid convoy said Friday that more than 80 per cent had been struck by gunfire, suggesting there was heavy shooting by Israeli troops. At least 125 Palestinians were killed and more than 760 others injured Thursday, according to health officials, when witnesses said nearby Israeli troops opened fire as huge crowds raced to pull goods off an aid convoy.

Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a crowd surge that started when desperate Palestinians in Gaza rushed the aid trucks. Israel said its troops fired warning shots after the crowd moved toward them in a threatening way. The convoy of 30 lorries carrying Egyptian aid was making its way north along what the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) described as a “humanitarian corridor”. IDF chief spokesman, Rear Adm Daniel Hagari, said Israeli tanks “cautiously tried to disperse the mob with a few warning shots” but pulled back “when the hundreds became thousands and things got out of hand. The unfortunate incident resulted in dozens of Gazans killed and injured.”

However, Dr Mohammed Salha, the acting director of Al-Awda Hospital, told The Associated Press that of the 176 wounded brought to the facility, 142 had gunshot wounds and the other 34 showed injuries from a stampede. He couldn’t address the cause of death of those killed, because the bodies were taken to government-run hospitals to be counted.

Increased calls for independent investigation into Gaza tragedy

Several countries – foremost of which have been France, Italy and Germany – have joined the UN in calling for an independent investigation into the deaths of Palestinians during an aid delivery in Gaza on Thursday as they crowded around aid lorries. It’s one of the single deadliest tragedies in Gaza since Israel’s war against Hamas began on October 7.

There have been global calls for investigation: On Friday, the White House said that the US had asked Israel to look into the tragedy. Germany also called on Israel to “fully investigate” the deaths. France said it would support the United Nations’ call for an independent inquiry, with the French foreign affairs minister calling the events on the ground “indefensible” and President Macrom declaring that civilians had been “targeted by Israeli soldiers”. UK foreign secretary David Cameron called the situation “horrific” and repeated calls for a sustained pause in fighting, adding the tragedy could not be separated from inadequate aid supplies to Gaza, which he described as “unacceptable”.

However, the White House said Friday that it believed Israel should investigate the deaths, defending the country’s ability to look into its own potential wrongdoing. US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby pointed to previous examples of Israel investigating incidents and said they had been “very honest and upfront” about mistakes. He added that they have not given Israel a timeline to complete their investigation.

The UN Security Council held a closed-door emergency meeting to discuss the incident, during which Algeria – Hamas’ representative – put forward a non-binding statement blaming Israeli forces for “opening fire”. The US blocked it, according to AP news agency, citing the Palestinian UN ambassador Riyad Mansour who spoke to reporters afterwards. US envoy Robert Wood said the facts of the incident remained unclear.

UN Secretary General António Guterres wrote on social media: “I condemn Thursday’s incident in Gaza in which more than 100 people were reportedly killed or injured while seeking life-saving aid. The desperate civilians in Gaza need urgent help, including those in the north where the UN has not been able to deliver aid in more than a week.” At least 10 children have starved to death during the war in Gaza, according to the UN, as a top official warns of “man-made famine”. President Joe Biden announced Friday the US will airdrop humanitarian aid and supplies into Gaza. He also called for an Israel-Hamas hostage deal that would include a ceasefire and aid deliveries for at least six weeks.

Hamas, Fatah agree on continued meetings after talks in Moscow

The main Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas, met in Moscow and agreed to continue meetings going forward, according to statements by both groups on Friday. Hamas released a statement, signed by “Factions that met in Moscow” saying the intra-Palestinian talks had been constructive. Fatah, through spokesperson Hussein Hamayel, also welcomed the outcome of the Moscow meeting, emphasising the need for unity beyond partisan agendas, especially in response to challenges following the war in Gaza and the enclave’s reconstruction. The objective of the two-day talks in Moscow was to unite the groups under the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a coalition of parties that signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1993.

Qatar, Egypt failed to secure list of hostages still alive

Israeli negotiators reportedly told Egyptian and Qatari brokers that they will not agree to participate in another round of truce talks unless Hamas presents a list of the hostages who are alive along with a more reasonable demand regarding the number of Palestinian prisoners it wants released. The Axios news site reports that Egypt and Qatar promised Israel this week that if it agreed to send a negotiating team to Doha, they would secure a list of living hostages and pressure Hamas to come down from its demands. But after three days of talks in Doha, the Israeli delegation returned home without any answers on either issue. “The mediators promised that Hamas would give numbers and that didn’t happen,” an unnamed Israeli official tells Axios.

7 hostages killed ‘in an Israeli raid’ – Hamas

Hamas has announced on Telegram the death of seven Israeli hostages “following a Zionist bombing”, making known the names of only three of the seven, adding thar it would release the names of the other four “after having confirmed their identities”. The Islamic faction said that “the number of enemy prisoners who were killed as a result of the enemy army’s military operations in the Strip may exceed 70”.

Meanwhile, Israel last night surprisingly freed around 50 Palestinian detainees who were arrested after October 7. The media quote a statement from Israel’s Shin Bet (internal security) and the army according to which the decision was reached following overcrowding in prisons. But the Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir wrote on X that in reality those releases were decided by the Shin Bet as a gesture of détente in view of Ramadan – a move which in his opinion was wrong, he added, having taken place ‘‘on the day in which two Jews were killed in an attack’’ in the West Bank.

In the last 10 days, Israeli forces engaged in Gaza have killed ‘‘450 Hamas terrorists’’, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari has said. ‘‘Since the beginning of the war we have eliminated over 13,000 terrorists’’. The spokesperson added that the army has ‘‘dismantled the military structures’’ of Hamas’s ‘Khan Yunis Brigade’ (in the south of the Strip) and is completing the work in the nearby districts of Amal and Abassan. In the north of the Strip, he added, Israeli forces are operating in the Shati refugee camp and in the Zeitun neighbourhood of Gaza City ‘‘on the basis of new intelligence information’’.

128 arrested at Navalny’s funeral demonstrations

The human rights NGO Ovd-Info states that at least 128 people were arrested in 19 different cities in Russia during the funeral of Aleksei Navalny or other demonstrations in memory of the opponent who died in prison. This was reported by the Russian-language edition of the Moscow Times. Those arrested would be 31 in Novosibirsk, 19 in Yekaterinburg, 17 in Moscow. According to the newspaper, “in Moscow the arrests took place right near the church where Navalny’s funeral took place and the Borisovsky cemetery, where he was buried.” It adds that “in other cities, people gathered to honour the memory of the politician near spontaneous memorials”.

The New York Times reports Russians traveled from far and wide to bear witness as Aleksei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died in an Arctic prison at 47, was buried in Moscow on Friday amid a heavy police presence. Some mourners chanted his name; others said, “Thank you for your son!” to Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, who had fought for days to reclaim his body. Eventually, the authorities relented, but Navalny’s team described having to overcome a gantlet to persuade a church, a cemetery and a hearse to take part in the burial. Thousands turned out for the service, Navalny’s supporters estimated. Foreign diplomats – notably  including the French ambassador to Russia, Pierre Levy, and the US ambassador, Lynne M. Tracy – were among the crowd. Some Russians shouted “No to war!” risking arrest. In the end, Navalny’s coffin was lowered into the cemetery grounds to the strains of the Sinatra song “My Way” and one from the movie “Terminator 2” video.

Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, who has promised to continue his activism, paid tribute on social media. “I don’t know how to live without you, but I will try my best to make you up there happy for me and proud of me,” she wrote. She thanked him for “love, for always supporting me, for making me laugh even from prison, for always thinking about me”.

Eurozone inflation continues to ease

Inflation rates across most economies in Europe continued their descent last month. Consumer prices in the 20 Eurozone countries rose at an annual rate of 2.6 per cent in February, down from 2.8 per cent in January, the statistical office of the European Commission reported on Friday. Central bankers are scheduled to meet next week, but most analysts don’t expect interest rates to drop until the middle of the year. Europe’s two largest economies, Germany and France, both reported drops in consumer prices. Germany’s annual rate fell to 2.7 per cent in February from 3.1 per cent the previous month. France registered a decline to 3.1 per cent, its lowest level in two and a half years, from 3.4 per cent. In Spain, the annual rate dropped to 2.9 per cent from 3.5 per cent in January. Italy and Latvia had the lowest inflation rates, below one percent. Austria, Croatia and Estonia were at the top end, with rates above 4 per cent.

‘The ugliest danger today is gender ideology’ – Pope

Pope Francis on Friday gave an address on the importance of building a culture that protects human and Christians vocations – things he suggested were at risk due to contemporary cultural challenges including gender ideology. “It is very important that there is this meeting, this meeting between men and women, because today the ugliest danger is gender ideology, which cancels out differences,” the pope said during an audience with members of the French-based academic organisation Research and Anthropology of Vocations Institute (CRAV). Gender ideology, which seeks to blur differences between men and women through movements such as transgenderism, “makes everything the same,” Francis said. “Erasing differences is erasing humanity. Man and woman, however, are in a fruitful ‘tension,’” Francis told the assembly, which is gathered in Rome for a two-day international conference titled “Man, Woman, Image of God: For an Anthropology of Vocations.”

US pharmacy giants to start selling abortion pill

American drugstore chains CVS Health and Walgreens have said they would soon begin dispensing the abortion pill, mifepristone, in states were abortion is allowed. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in January 2023 finalised a rule to allow greater access to mifepristone, including by extending its availability across major pharmacy stores. The FDA labelling had previously limited availability owing to safety concerns. CVS Health and Walgreens have now completed the procedure in keeping with the FDA rule change that will allow them to sell mifepristone. The drug, along with a second pill, misopristol, is used for medical abortions – a term used to describe a method where a pregnancy is terminated with the help of the two pills instead of surgery. More than half of pregnancies are terminated by way of medical abortions in the US, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Access to medication abortion, especially by mail, which was also one of FDA’s 2023 rule change, has become a topic of heated debate.

Paramedic in Elijah McClain’s death sentenced to 5 years in prison

One of the paramedics who injected Elijah McClain with a lethal dose of ketamine was sentenced to five years in prison on Friday. Peter Cichuniec and fellow paramedic Jeremy Cooper were found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in December for their role in McClain’s 2019 death. During his trial, Cichuniec was also found guilty of second-degree assault through the unlawful administration of drugs. McClain, a 23-year-old Afro-American, was walking home in Aurora, Colorado, in August 2019 when officers responded to a call of a “suspicious person” in a ski mask. When officers arrived on the scene they tackled and forcibly restrained McClain. Paramedics injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative. But when he was in the ambulance, McClain had no pulse. He went into cardiac arrest and died six days later.

State of emergency declared in Sicily due to drought

A state of emergency has been declared in Sicily, as the region experiences the worst drought in nearly 20 years. Experts say this instance could be the third most serious water crisis ever recorded. “Between 10 and 15 per cent of water is already rationed in 55 municipalities. However, as of next Monday, water rationing will be implemented in more than 93 municipalities, affecting 850,000 residents. In some cases, rationing could reach 45 per cent,” Massimo Burruano, Operations Director at water management company Siciliacque, told Euronews.

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