Hamas, Israel exchange first hostages, prisoners

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 25th November 2023

Hamas on Friday released 24 hostages it had held captive in Gaza for weeks, and Israel freed 39 Palestinians from prison in the first stage of a swap under a four-day cease-fire that offered a small glimmer of relief to both sides. The Associated Press reports Israel cheered as 13 Israeli women and children emerged free from Gaza. Most were in their 70s or 80s, and the youngest was a two-year-old. Also released were 10 people from Thailand and one from the Philippines. According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, an advocacy group, Israel is currently holding 7,200 Palestinians, including about 2,000 arrested since the start of the war. Israel says the ceasefire could be extended if more hostages are released, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it had received a new list of hostages to be released by Hamas on Saturday.

In Gaza, the truce’s start Friday morning brought the first relief for 2.3 million Palestinians reeling and desperate from relentless Israeli bombardment that has killed thousands, driven three-quarters of the population from their homes, and levelled residential areas. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel went silent as well. Increased supplies of food, water, medicine, and fuel promised under the deal, began to roll into Gaza, where UN officials had warned that Israel’s seal on the territory threatened to push it to starvation. Two-hundred trucks of humanitarian aid entered Gaza Friday, Israel’s military announced. This is by far the largest number of trucks to enter Gaza since the outbreak of the war and is a fulfillment of Israel’s commitments to allow in 200 trucks of aid for every day of the temporary truce. Israel has barred all imports into Gaza throughout the war, except for a trickle of supplies from Egypt.

Sanchez calls for EU to recognise Palestinian state

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says Madrid could recognise an independent Palestinian state even if the European Union does not. “The time has come for the international community, and especially European countries, to take a decision on the recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said while speaking at the Rafah crossing that links Egypt to the Gaza Strip. “Of course, if this doesn’t happen, Spain will make its own decisions,” he added. Sanchez also said a humanitarian ceasefire, a peace conference, and the implementation of the two-state solution were the best way to end the decades-long conflict in the Middle East. Later, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said that he summoned the ambassadors of Spain and Belgium over statements by Sanchez and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who also attended the news conference. “We condemn the false claims by the prime ministers of Spain and Belgium that give support to terrorism,” Cohen said in a post on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

(Malta has had full diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine since 16 November 1988. Malta’s Foreign Policy has consistently supported international efforts aimed at a peaceful and negotiated resolution to the conflict aimed at establishing a State of Palestine living side by side by the State of Israel in peace and security – Editor)

Photo credit: EPA

Prevent Violence Against Women & Girls! #NoExcuse

As the world commemorates the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Malta has joined other major countries in the launch of the UNiTE campaign – a UN initiative of 16 days of activism concluding on the day that commemorates the International Human Rights Day, 10th December. The Maltese prime minister’s wife, Lydia Abela, is spearheading the activism drive to highlight domestic violence which has been officially named ‘Beat the Silence’ –  a campaign  which seeks to encourage people to identify and speak up about such violence whenever it occurs. Dr Abela emphasised the importance of educating people about the issue. The UN says this 2023 campaign, ‘Invest to Prevent Violence against Women & Girls’, calls on citizens to show how much they care about ending violence against women and girls and call on governments worldwide to share how they are investing in gender-based violence prevention and join the global movement with the #NoExcuse slogan to eliminate violence against women and girls.

Levels of air pollution in Europe “still too high” – EEA

Pollution levels are still too high despite an improvement in air quality, according to a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA). The latest air quality health assessment, published Friday, points out that all 27 EU Member States are failing to meet their own standards, let alone those set by the World Health Organisation, and that this was threatening the health of Europeans. Of the many different air pollutants, the one that is most severe or most harmful is “fine particles” – 253,000 deaths can be attributed to this pollutant (in 2021), and these indeed “could have been prevented by right measures”, Leena Ylä-Mononen, Director of the EEA told Euronews. In cities, transport is the main source of pollution. In some regions, domestic heating using solid fuels, such as coal or wood, also affects air quality. All of these cumulative phenomena can cause or exacerbate illnesses that quickly lead to death. Lung cancer is one example, according to the EEA director.

Geert Wilders faces early setback in Dutch coalition talks

Far-right leader Geert Wilders’ attempt to form a government in the Netherlands suffered a setback on Friday, as the business community warned against political instability scaring off investors. The Financial Times quotes Ingrid Thijssen, president of the VNO-NCW employers’ organisation, saying, “There are more and more companies thinking about changing their headquarters to another jurisdiction. The main reason that is damaging the business and investment climate is this instability around how our country is ruled.” Dilan Yeşilgöz, leader of the right-leaning liberal VVD party, said Friday she would not form a coalition with Wilders. Wilders said the news was “very disappointing”. His Freedom party came first in the parliamentary elections with 37 seats, doubling its total, followed by a left-wing alliance of Labour and Greens led by the EU’s former climate chief Frans Timmermans with 25, and the Liberal VVD party with 23. Wilders needs the support of at least two other parties to form a majority in the lower house. Business groups warned that prolonged political instability had eroded the country’s appeal among investors.

Photo credit: Peter Boer/Bloomberg

George Floyd’s killer stabbed in prison

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, was stabbed by another inmate and seriously injured Friday at a federal prison in Arizona, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. The attack happened at the Federal Correctional Institution, Tucson, a medium-security prison that has been plagued by security lapses and staffing shortages. The facility has about 380 inmates. Last week, the US Supreme Court turned down Chauvin’s appeal of his murder conviction.

Photo credit: AFP

World’s largest iceberg “on the move”

The world’s biggest iceberg – which is roughly three times the size of New York City – is “on the move” after being stuck to the ocean floor for 37 years, scientists confirmed Friday. Recent satellite images show the iceberg, called A23a, is now moving past the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and headed toward the Southern Ocean, according to the British Antarctic Survey. The iceberg, which spans almost 4,000 square kilometers in area, split from the Antarctic coastline in 1986, but then became grounded in the Weddell Sea.

Pistorius granted parole 10 years after girlfriend’s murder

Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius was granted parole Friday, 10 years after shooting his girlfriend through a toilet door at his home in South Africa in a killing that jolted the world. Department of Corrections spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said double-amputee Pistorius would be released from prison on Janusry 5. Pistorius, who turned 37 this week, has been in jail since late 2014 for the Valentine’s Day 2013 killing of model Reeva Steenkamp, although he was released for a period of house arrest in 2015 while one of the numerous appeals in his case was heard. He was ultimately convicted of murder and sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison. Serious offenders in South Africa must serve at least half of their sentence to be eligible for parole, which Pistorius has done.

Photo credit: AFP/ Kim Ludbrook

Dogs destroy cars, cause up to $350K in damages

Two canines have been ripping up vehicles at a Texas auto dealership, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, according to employees. The dogs terrorised the G Motors dealership on three separate nights, tearing off bumpers and fenders, shocking surveillance footage provided to ABC13 shows. They ravaged five cars, with damages estimated to cost between $100,000 and $350,000, sales manager Gaby Fakhoury told the outlet. Footage of the first incident shows a cat, which employees believe the dogs may have been after. Employees believe that the dogs are getting into the fenced-in dealership through a small gap.

Main photo credit: Sky News

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