Israel to double Jewish population of the Golan
The Israeli government has approved plans to consodicate its control over the Golan Heights – a region captured from Syria more than 50 years ago and regarded by the international community as “occupied territory”. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told an extraordinary session of the council of ministers held in the kibbutz Mevo Hama (Golan), the plan aims to double the Jewish population of the Golan within the next few years. A budget of one billion shekels (about €285 million) has been allocated.
South Africa mourns Desmond Tutu
South Africa is holding a week of events to mark the passing of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner and anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died on Saturday aged 90. The plans include two days of lying in state before an official state funeral on January 1 in Cape Town.
World tributes to anti-apartheid hero
Tributes have been pouring in from leaders around the world. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement that Tutu had helped bring about “a liberated South Africa”. Pope Francis offered “heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones” while the Dalai Lama, said, “He was a true humanitarian and a committed advocate of human rights.” President Biden said Tutu’s “legacy transcends borders and will echo through the ages”. Former US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, described Tutu as “a mentor, friend and moral compass”. Queen Elizabeth said she remembered with fondness her meetings with him, and his great warmth and humour.
Italy’s plunging birthrate is a ‘tragedy’, says Pope
Pope Francis has bemoaned Italy’s plunging birthrate on Sunday, warning that the decline represented’ a threat to the future of the country’. Births in Italy last year hit their lowest level since 1861. “The demographic winter is a real worry, at least here in Italy,” the pope said in his weekly address in front of St Peter’s Basilica. “It seems that a lot of people have lost the wish to have children. Lots of couples prefer to remain childless or to have one child only. It’s a tragedy which runs counter to our families, our country and our future,” he said.
8,000 flights cancelled, cruise ships denied port
Tens of thousands of airline passengers have been hit by the grounding of thousands of flights as a surge in COVID cases caused staff shortages. Some 8,000 flights have been cancelled since Friday and over the Christmas weekend. More than 1,300 flights have been scrapped on Monday, with Chinese and US destinations being the worst hit, the FlightAware data tracking website says. US airlines say the disruption is due to crews testing positive or isolating. Hong Kong is banning all South Korea’s Korean Air flights for two weeks, after positive cases among some arrivals. Recorded COVID cases are rising sharply around the world, largely driven by the Omicron variant. Europe is currently the region with the highest number of cases in the world. As Australia reported its first confirmed death from Omicron, New York health officials have reported an increase in hospitalised children. US authorities on Sunday were monitoring over 60 cruise ships hit by COVID-19 cases, with several reportedly denied port in the Caribbean.
UK: NYE parties ‘on a knife-edge’
New COVID restrictions have come into force in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the three nations introduced curbs on the hospitality and leisure industry, resumed social distancing rules and put limits on the size of gatherings. As one in 10 in London, and one in 35 across England, have been infected with COVID-19, The Daily Mirror says New Year’s Eve parties are “on a knife-edge” as the British government considers whether further restrictions need to be introduced in England to slow the growth of the Omicron variant. The paper says Prime Minister Boris Johnson will receive crucial data later today that may derail party plans.
Brazil flooding death toll mounts
The death toll from heavy rains that have battered the Brazilian state of Bahia since November rose to 18 on Sunday, amid incessant torrents that have displaced 35,000 people. Another 286 people have been injured since the start of the downpours, the Bahia civil protection agency Sudec said. By Sunday afternoon, the number of municipalities in a state of emergency had risen to 72, of which 58 are in crisis due to flooding.
Taliban says ‘no road trips for women without male escort’
Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities said Sunday that women seeking to travel long distances should not be offered road transport unless they are accompanied by a close male relative and called on vehicle owners to refuse rides to women not wearing headscarves. The move follows the Taliban barring many women in public-sector roles from returning to work in the wake of their August 15 seizure of power, and as girls remain largely cut off from state secondary schooling. The new guidance also asked people to stop playing music in their vehicles. The guidance drew condemnation from rights activists.