Global Review – 15th August

Egyptians mourn 41 killed in Cairo Coptic church fire

Funerals were held in two Cairo churches yesterday evening for 41 victims of a fire that ripped through a Coptic Christian church during mass, forcing worshippers to jump out of windows. The blaze, blamed on an electrical fault, hit the Abu Sifin church in densely-populated Imbaba, a working class district west of the Nile River, part of Giza governorate in greater Cairo. The Egyptian Coptic Church and the health ministry reported 41 dead, including many children, and 14 injured in the blaze before emergency services brought it under control. Witnesses to the fire described people rushing into the multi-storey house of worship to save those trapped, but the rescuers were soon overwhelmed by heat and deadly smoke. Hundreds gathered to pay their respects Sunday in and around the two Giza churches where clergymen prayed for the victims. Pallbearers pushed through crowds of weeping mourners who reached for the coffins, including that of a priest at the church. Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, making up at least 10 million of Egypt’s 103 million Muslim-majority population.

Rushdie: Blinken accuses Iran

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has explicitly accused Iran of having at least inspired the attack on Salman Rushdie. “Iranian institutions have been inciting violence against the writer for years and the state media in recent days have cheered on the attack on him. All of this is despicable,” Blinken said in a statement released by the State Department.

Rushdie begins road to recovery

Meanwhile, Rushdie showed signs of improvement in hospital on Sunday. “The road to recovery has begun,” his agent Andrew Wylie wrote in an email to Reuters. “It will be long; the injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction.” Wylie told the New York Times that Rushdie had started to speak again on Sunday.

‘Rushdie satanic author, kick the bucket’

The Iranian news agency Fars published an editorial Sunday on Rushdie’s wounding, hoping that he will die. “Although so far there is no news of his death – reads the comment – we hope he will die. May the wounded heart of Muslims heal after all these years.” In support of Hadi Matar, the 24-year-old from New Jersey, accused of the stabbing, the Iranian ultra-conservative newspaper ‘Kayhan’ called him “brave”. We kiss the hands of the one who tore the neck of God’s enemy with a knife, reads an article in the newspaper, whose director is considered close to the Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei. Almost all the media in the Islamic Republic, especially the conservative ones, have described Rushdie as an “apostate” while the country’s authorities have not yet released official comments on the incident.

Shooting sparks chaos at Canberra airport

A man has been arrested after shots were fired at Australia’s Canberra airport, sending passengers running in fear. Police say shots were fired in the terminal’s check-in area on Sunday afternoon. No one was reported injured. The man was quickly detained, and a firearm recovered. His motives remain unclear. The capital’s airport was evacuated as a precaution. Australian media report that the gunman fired approximately five shots. Bullet holes were later seen in the glass windows of the terminal. Witnesses described chaos and confusion at the airport’s check-in area as security guards urged people to evacuate.

Man dies after crashing car, firing gunshots near US Capitol

A man died in an apparent suicide early Sunday after crashing his car into a barricade near the US Capitol and firing shots into the air, Reuters quote police as saying. While the man was getting out of the crashed car, it became engulfed in flames. “At this time, it does not appear the man was targeting any members of Congress, who are on recess, and it does not appear officers fired their weapons,” Capitol Police said, adding that the man then fired several gunshots into the air along East Capitol Street. As police responded and approached, the man shot himself. No one was else injured. The death is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington.

US Congress members meet Taiwan leader amid China anger

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen met Monday with a delegation of US Congress members in a further sign of support among American lawmakers for the self-governing island that China claims as its own territory. Taiwanese media showed the delegation arriving for the talks, but details of the meeting were not immediately released. It comes less than two weeks after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which prompted days of threatening military exercises by China, including the firing of missiles over the island and into the Taiwan Strait. China has also sent warplanes and navy ships across the waterway’s median, which has long been a buffer between the sides that separated amid civil war in 1949. The Chinese government also cut off talks with the US on military issues and climate change – a decision that foreign policy experts feared could imperil progress at a global climate summit next November. China regards formal contacts between US politicians and the island’s government as support for its independence from Beijing.

Russia asked to hand over Zaporizhzhia to Ukraine

Artillery shells again struck the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar on Sunday near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, as dozens of countries demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from the area. “The stationing of Russian military personnel and weapons at the nuclear facility is unacceptable,” a statement on behalf of 42 countries said. “We urge the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw its military forces and all other unauthorized personnel from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, its immediate surroundings, and all of Ukraine so that the operator and the Ukrainian authorities can resume their sovereign responsibilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.” The demand was made on behalf of the EU as well as the US, Britain, Norway, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and many other countries.

Europe set for record wildfire destruction in 2022

Europe is on course for record land destruction from wildfires in 2022, AFP reported Sunday, citing EU data. The warning came as the continent experiences a severe summer heat wave and drought, which scientists say is a result of climate change caused by human activity. Nearly 660,000 hectares of land have been ravaged by the blazes between January 1 and August 13, figures from the European Forest Fire Information System showed. That’s 56% higher than the previous record set over the same period in 2017, when 420,913 hectares burned. If 2022 follows a similar trajectory as 2017, Europe is on course to see more than a million hectares of land destroyed. In 2017, it reached 988,087. The scale of the destruction would be the worst since records began in 2006.

Israeli raid in Tartus against Iranian militias

Two Israeli missiles hit the Syrian city of Tartus, targeting an air radar base where Iranian militias were present.   Tartus is the seat of a Russian naval base. The facility is of strategic importance to Moscow as it represents a repair and refuelling point for the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean. For the past few years, the base has been used during the Russian military intervention in Syria to transport armaments and other supplies.

Walrus Freya put down

A walrus that had become a popular attraction in the Oslo Fjord has been put down out of concern for the safety of the public, Norwegian officials say. The walrus, nicknamed Freya, rose to fame after clambering on to boats to sunbathe – sometimes sinking them. People refused warnings not to get too close to the 600kg-animal, putting her and themselves at risk. On one occasion, police blocked off a bathing area after the walrus chased a woman into the water, local media said.

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