Jurists warn UK government against arms sales to Israel

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Friday, 5th April 2024

Over 600 British jurists, including three former Supreme Court judges, lawyers, academics, and retired senior judges, warned that the UK’s arming of Israel violates international law, Irish media reports. “While we welcome the increasingly robust calls by your government for a cessation of fighting and the unobstructed entry to Gaza of humanitarian assistance, simultaneously, to continue the sale of weapons and weapons systems to Israel and to maintain threats of suspending UK aid to UNRWA falls significantly short of your government’s obligations under international law,” they stated in an open letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, according to Irish Times. Drawing attention to the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) finding that there is a plausible risk of genocide being committed by Israel in Gaza, the letter said, “The UK must take immediate measures to bring to an end through lawful means acts giving rise to a serious risk of genocide. Failure to comply with its own obligations under the Genocide Convention to take ‘all measures to prevent genocide which were within its power’ would incur UK state responsibility for the commission of an international wrong, for which full reparation must be made.”

The Irish Times underlined that the letter has been signed by senior retired judges who normally avoid publicly commenting on politically-sensitive issues. The Israeli war, which is now in its 182nd day, has forced 85 per cent of Gaza’s population into internal displacement amid acute shortages of food, clean water, and medicine, while 60 per cent of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN. Israel stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which last week asked it to do more to prevent famine in Gaza.

US applauds Israel’s steps on aid

US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson has said that the US applauds the “steps announced by the Israeli government, at the request of President Biden after the phone call with Prime Minister Netanyahu”, including “the commitment to open the port of Ashdod for the direct delivery of assistance to Gaza, to open the Erez crossing for a new assistance route to reach northern Gaza and to significantly increase deliveries from Jordan directly to Gaza”. The US now called for them to be “fully and rapidly implemented”. Watson pointed out, “As the President said during the phone call, US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these and other measures, including those to protect innocent civilians and the safety of humanitarian workers. We stand ready to work in full coordination with the Government of Israel, the Governments of Jordan and Egypt, the United Nations and humanitarian organisations, to ensure that these important steps are implemented and result in a significant increase in humanitarian assistance in a manner that it can reach civilians in desperate need across Gaza in the coming days and weeks,” she adds.

In his phone call to Netanyahu, President Biden “stressed that an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilise and improve the humanitarian situation and protect innocent civilians, and urged the Prime Minister to empower his negotiators to conclude an agreement without delay to bring the hostages home”. According to the White House. Biden “made clear the need for Israel to announce and implement a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers” and that “US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined from our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these steps.” In their phone call, Biden and Netanyahu “also discussed Iranian threats against Israel and the Israeli people”. The US president “made it clear that the United States strongly supports Israel in the face of such threats”.

Watson’s statement followed the Israeli security cabinet’s approval of the reopening of the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip for the first time since the Hamas attacks on October 7. An Israeli official told CNN that the reopening serves to allow more humanitarian aid to Gaza. The Tel Aviv government also approved the use of Israel’s Ashdod port to help move more aid to the enclave.

Meanwhile, the US Army Central Command conducted a humanitarian assistance airdrop in northern Gaza “to provide critical aid to civilians affected by the conflict”. Overall, over 50,680 meals were delivered. In a post on X, the US Central Command  said the operation was conducted by four US Air Force C-130 aircraft and soldiers specialised in the aerial delivery of humanitarian assistance supplies. About 20 packages ended up in the sea near the shore.

‘Shocking increase’ of children denied aid in conflicts – UN

A growing number of children caught up in armed conflicts around the globe are being denied access to critical humanitarian aid, a United Nations official warned yesterday, as relief operations come under attack or are blocked by governments. The last report by the UN secretary-general on the rights of children in conflicts, published last June, recorded nearly 4,000 confirmed cases of aid being denied to children, from Gaza to Yemen, Afghanistan and Mali. “Data gathered for our forthcoming 2024 report shows we are on target to witness a shocking increase of the incidents of the denial of humanitarian access globally,” Virginia Gamba, the secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict, told the Security Council. She said last year’s figure already represented an “exponential” increase since 2019. She did not specify which countries would be singled out in the 2024 report, set to be released this summer. Nearly half of the cases in last year’s report – 1,861 – were of Israeli forces denying aid to children in Gaza. That report came before the October 7 attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel and the ensuing all-out war in Gaza. The UN has since repeatedly denounced restrictions Israel has put on aid entering the war-torn territory. Apart from Gaza, Gamba also highlighted the threats to children’s access to humanitarian aid in Sudan and Burma. Last year’s report listed Russia’s military over its attacks on Ukraine, but excluded Israel, angering several NGOs which have called for its inclusion for years.

Majority of EU voters in favour of Ukraine joining the EU

Forty-five per cent of voters across the EU are in favour of Ukraine joining the bloc, while 35 per cent are openly against it, and another 20 per cent are in two minds about it, the Euronews/Ipsos poll carried out among 26,000 respondents across 18 member states has found. The war-torn country and neighbouring Moldova put in their bid to become EU members within weeks of Russia launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February 2024 and acquired candidate status in record time. EU leaders have since also agreed to open negotiations talks.

Ukraine will become NATO member, says Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has disclosed that Ukraine will join the NATO. During a summit to mark NATO’s 75th anniversary, Blinken disclosed told journalists on Thursday, “Ukraine will become a member of NATO. Our purpose at the summit is to help build a bridge to that membership.” Blinken assured that the support for Ukraine remains “rock solid” among member states. European leaders have been anxious about US support for Ukraine as a $60 billion aid package is held up in Congress by Republicans.

Finland to keep its border with Russia closed

Finland will extend the closure of its border crossing points with Russia beyond the current April 14 deadline “until further notice”. The Finnish Interior Ministry posted on X that the decision was made over concerns undocumented migrants were entering the country from Russia. “Russia is using instrumentalised migration against Finland. Based on information provided by public authorities, the risk that instrumentalised migration will resume and expand as seen previously remains likely,” said the Interior Ministry. Finland closed the 1,340-km land border late last year after more than 1,300 migrants without proper documentation or visas entered the country. The surge came in the three months after September, not long after Finland joined the NATO alliance. Most migrants hail from the Middle East and Africa, especially Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The vast majority have sought asylum in Finland, a European Union member state with a population of 5.6 million. Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo, who has extended the closure of checkpoints several times, accused Russia of deliberately ushering migrants to the normally-heavily guarded Russia-Finland border zone that serves also as the EU’s external border in the north.

EMA chief urges less blame game to address shortages

The Executive Director of the European Medicines Agency, Irish pharmacist Emer Cooke has called for greater transparency into the issue of medicinal shortages – particularly in public health emergencies or during so-called major events. Cooke said the only way to help mitigate [shortages] is if “we understand. And we can only understand if we know.” National and EU regulators still heavily rely on information they receive from private companies, however, when assessing supply vulnerabilities. The need to keep information flowing is undermined by the fact that manufacturers remain careful with the information they are willing to communicate to authorities. Cooperation with pharmaceutical companies helped the EMA to understand better what is really under the control of private entities during a shortage, Cooke said. “It’s not a blame game. Some of it is the companies’ responsibility. Sometimes it is we’re part of the problem and we have to understand that too,” she added. If manufacturers were more open to communicating the challenges they face, that would benefit the entire health ecosystem, according to Cooke. “Nobody wants a shortage – and it’s not even in the interest of the companies. They want to sell their products.” EMA has recently published a list of critical medicines, identifying different vulnerabilities facing each product and actor, from patent holders to small suppliers.

Shortages are here to stay: The issue of drug shortages is expected to be high on the next EU executive’s agenda, with some preparatory steps already put forward during this mandate – such as the launch of a critical medicines alliance open to all stakeholders. Over the past two years, EU countries have started reporting disruptions in the supply of some medicinal products, facing an actual shortage of antibiotics for pediatric care in late 2022. Supply issues will keep affecting the EU market for drugs due to a mix of factors such as a rise in demand, low production capacity, and shortages of raw materials, according to a communication published by the Commission last October. According to Cooke, the Commission’s vaccine strategy was a game changer in uniting stakeholders with a common vision. “The problem of shortages is not going to go away tomorrow. And it is not just a regulatory issue: it needs input from all stakeholders and concerted actions from all stakeholders,” she said.

Explicit images sent to British MPs in sexting scam

British police are investigating reports that explicit images and flirtatious messages have been sent to MPs as part of an alleged sexting scam. Earlier this week online news outlet Politico reported that a number of sitting and former MPs had been contacted by an unknown number detailing prior meetings with politicians in efforts to acquire personal or sensitive information. William Wragg, MP for Hazel Grove in Greater Manchester, told The Times that he gave the personal phone numbers of colleagues to a man he met on a gay dating app after he had sent intimate pictures of himself.

First living patient with transplanted pig kidney is discharged

The first patient to ever receive an organ transplant from a genetically-modified pig has been discharged from the hospital, as doctors say he is ‘recovering well’. Richard Slayman, 62, of Boston, was living with end-stage kidney disease when he received a kidney from the pig in what experts have said will herald a new epoch in organ transplantation. Two previous heart transplants from pigs failed, yet Mr Slayman is returning home just two weeks after his groundbreaking procedure with, ‘one of the cleanest bills of health I’ve had in a long time’. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital said the new kidney is performing all of its crucial functions: producing urine, removing waste products from the blood, and balancing the body’s fluids.

French Christmas market attack plotter jailed for 30 years

A French court on Thursday sentenced Audrey Mondjehi to a 30-year jail term for helping an Islamist militant who killed five people in a 2018 attack on a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg. The 42-year-old was the main defendant among four accused of helping Cherif Chekatt, who shot and stabbed shoppers at the market and was killed by police after a 48-hour manhunt. Prosecutors said Mondjehi, who is of Ivory Coast origin, helped Chekatt obtain a gun for the attack in a square in front of Strasbourg cathedral on December 11, 2018. Chekatt killed five people, including a Thai tourist and an Italian journalist, and wounded 11 people before he was wounded and escaped in a taxi. He was killed in a shootout two days later after hundreds of police and security forces launched a manhunt. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, and a video of Chekatt pledging allegiance to the group was found at his home.

Women rights activists hail DRC’s first female PM

Women rights activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo have congratulated President Felix Tshisekedi for appointing Judith Suminwa as the first female prime minister in their country. They’ve hailed the move as a big step towards gender equality and are looking forward to an improvement in the country’s security and social conditions. President Tshisekedi’s appointment of Judith Suminwa as the country’s Prime Minister, took many Congolese by surprise. The Central African nation has never had a female prime minister since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. Judith Suminwa is an economist who worked in the banking sector and the UN before being appointed a minister of planning in 2023. She has taken over her new role amid an escalation of violence in the east of the DRC. But she promised to work towards peace and development. The new premier is tasked with forming a new government and executing the president’s priorities of ending insecurity, uniting the country and fighting poverty.

Cycling Declaration hailed as ‘historic’ moment for Europe

Cycling is “one of the most sustainable, healthy and efficient” ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions, EU governments have agreed as they committed to build more cycle lanes and secure parking places, improve safety for riders, and promote schemes to encourage a switch from four wheels to two. The undertaking is part of a European Declaration on Cycling signed in Brussels during a gathering of transport ministers organised by Belgium, which currently chairs inter-governmental talks as holder of the rotating EU Council presidency. Governments have committed to “significantly increasing safe and coherent cycling infrastructure across Europe” and increasing safely for cyclists, “in particular by physical separation of cycle paths from motorised traffic where relevant, or by ensuring safe speeds in mixed traffic”. The European Cyclists’ Federation welcomed the declaration. “Today, we celebrate…a truly historic achievement,” the advocacy group’s director Jill Warren said. “This declaration holds the potential to unlock the benefits of cycling for millions of European citizens.” The declaration was also endorsed by the European Parliament, which had called early last year for the EU executive to develop a dedicated cycling strategy with the aim of doubling the number of kilometres cycled across the union by 2030.

Photo: AP/Abdel Kareem Hana

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