Israel, militants trade fire as Gaza death toll climbs
Israeli airstrikes have flattened homes in Gaza and Palestinian rocket barrages into southern Israel persisted for a second day, raising fears of another major escalation in the Middle East conflict. Gaza”s health ministry said 24 people had been killed so far in the coastal strip, including six children. The Israeli army has reported that the military leaders of Islamic Jihad have been “neutralized” – a term used for “eliminated”. The fighting began in a wave of strikes on Friday that Israel said were meant to prevent an imminent attack. So far, Hamas, the larger militant group that rules Gaza, appeared to stay on the sidelines of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained. The Israeli military said an errant rocket fired by Palestinian militants killed civilians late on Saturday, including children, in the town of Jabaliya, in northern Gaza. The military said it investigated the incident and concluded “without a doubt” that it was caused by a misfire on the part of Islamic Jihad. There was no official Palestinian comment on the incident, which killed at least six people, including three children. Sunday could be a critical day in the flare-up, as Jews mark Tisha B”av, a sombre day of fasting that commemorates the destruction of the biblical temples. Thousands are expected at Jerusalem”s Western Wall, and Israeli media reported that the Israeli leadership was expected to allow lawmakers to visit a key hilltop holy site in the city that is a flashpoint for violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Egypt on Saturday intensified efforts to prevent escalation, communicating with Israel, the Palestinians and the United States to keep Hamas from joining the fighting, an Egyptian intelligence official said.
Europe tackles unprecedented water shortages
European governments ae battling what has been described as a “historic drought” which has left citizens short of drinking water following a heatwave that has prompted trees to shed their leaves early, creating scenes that look autumnal and French vineyards are suffering in some regions. The French government has set up a crisis team to tackle the drought that has left more than 100 municipalities short of drinking water. Trucks are taking water to those areas, as “there is nothing left in the pipes”, Minister for Ecological Transition Christophe Béchu said. Temperatures well above 30OC and rising to as high as 37°C in parts of the south are forecast over the next few days. Popular tourist destinations in Italy such as Florence and Palermo are among 16 Italian cities on the “red alert” list, with temperatures topping 40°C. Rice production in the river Po Valley is under severe threat as drought and hot weather continue to cause paddy fields to completely dry up and become salty from use of aquifers. Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Mark Harbers has called on people to shower quicker and not to wash their cars or water the garden. Water levels on the Rhine in Germany have also continued to fall in the hot weather. Shipping costs have risen because vessels cannot sail on the river fully loaded. Low Rhine water will also hit output from two German coal-fired power stations in the coming months. In Romania, water levels on the Danube have dropped so much that sand islands surfaced in the Calafat region. The Danube levels are now close to their all-time low. On Wednesday the European Commission called on member states to re-use treated urban waste water for agricultural irrigation. Other parts of Europe, including Spain and Portugal and the UK have also witnessed torrid conditions in the early summer.
Letta collects three yeses “to brake the Italian right”
The Italian Green leftist federation Saturday agreed to join an electoral alliance led by the Democratic Party in a move seen as strengthening the centre-left ahead of an election next month. The ballot is set for September 25 and polls show a conservative alliance is on course for victory, with the far-right Fratelli d”Italia set to be the largest single party. Italy”s election law favours parties that form broad alliances. “I”m happy to be able to present this deal which is necessary … because the electoral law punishes isolation,” PD Secretary Enrico Letta told a press conference. The PD, the largest party on the centre-left with around 24 per cent of the votes, had already agreed to team up with the centrist Azione party. Later on Saturday, Letta also announced a deal with Impegno Civico, a small centrist party only just founded by Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio who last month quit the populist Movimento Cinque Stelle. Azione and its existing +Europa ally poll only around 5/7% in surveys, while the Green/Left list stands at around 4%. The conservative alliance led by Giorgia Meloni”s Fratelli d”Italia includes the rightist La Lega and the more moderate Forza Italia party of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. It is currently polling at around 45%.
121 injured, 17 missing in Cuban oil tank farm
A fire set off by a lightning strike at an oil storage facility has raged uncontrolled in the Cuban city of Matanzas, where four explosions and flames injured 121 people and left 17 firefighters missing. Firefighters and other specialists were still trying to quell the blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base on Saturday, where the fire began during a thunderstorm on Friday night, the Ministry of Energy and Mines tweeted. The government said later that it had asked for help from international experts in “friendly countries” with experience in the oil sector. The official Cuban News Agency said lightning hit one tank, starting a fire, and the blaze later spread to a second tank. As military helicopters flew overhead dropping water on the blaze, dense column of black smoke billowed from the facility and spread westward more than 100 kilometres toward Havana.
“Nuclear disaster” warning from shelling of Zaporizhzhia plant
The UN nuclear chief warned of a potential “nuclear disaster” after shelling of Europe”s largest atomic power plant, once again urging Russia and Ukraine to allow a mission of experts access to the facility to help secure it. The shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine highlights the potential for “catastrophic consequences” from attacks on and near the facility, Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Saturday. “Military action jeopardising the safety and security of the Zaporizhzya nuclear power plant is completely unacceptable and must be avoided at all costs,” Grossi said. In an address, Ukrainian President Zelensky
argued for sanctions against Russia”s nuclear industry. “This is purely a matter of safety,” he said. After the shelling, Russia and Ukraine placed blame on one another for the attack. The facility near the front lines of fighting, has been under Russian control since March, but is still staffed by Ukrainians.
Russia begins new assault in Donetsk region
Russian forces began an assault on two key cities in the eastern Donetsk region and kept up rocket and shelling attacks on other Ukrainian cities, including one close to Europe”s largest nuclear power plant, Ukraine”s military and local officials said. Both cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka have been considered key targets of Russia”s ongoing offensive across Ukraine”s east, with analysts saying Moscow needs to take Bakhmut if it is to advance on the regional hubs of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. “In the Donetsk direction, the enemy is conducting an offensive operation, concentrating its main efforts on the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions. It uses ground attack and army aviation,” the Ukrainian General Staff said on Facebook. Russian shelling killed five civilians and injured 14 others in the Donetsk region in the last day.
“Time against” Mexico in bid to rescue trapped miners
Large pumps have sucked water from a flooded coal mine in Mexico as authorities weighed whether to send divers to try to save 10 miners who have been trapped underground for more than three days. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Sunday would be “decisive” in determining whether divers could safely enter the mine. Coahuila Governor Miguel Riquelme said water levels were still too high. “Time is against us,” he told families keeping vigil outside who were pinning their hopes on the possibility the miners had found a pocket of air.