Malta refers Palestinian UN application to committee

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Tuesday, 9th April 2024.

As Malta presides over the UN Security Council President for April, Malta’s UN Ambassador Vanessa Frazier yesterday referred the Palestinian Authority’s application to become a full member of the world body to the committee on the admission of new member.

Frazier proposed that the committee meet yesterday afternoon to consider the application, adding that deliberation has to take place this month. The 15-member committee first assesses an application to see if it satisfies requirements for UN membership. The application can then either be shelved or put forward for a formal vote in the Security Council. Approval requires at least nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the US, Russia, China, France, or Britain. The Security Council had earlier met behind closed doors to discuss the letter from the observer state requesting renewed consideration of their application.

“We sincerely hope, after 12 years since we changed our status to an observer state, that the Security Council will elevate itself to implementing the global consensus on the two-state solution by admitting the state of Palestine for full membership,” Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour told reporters after the meeting, adding that “this is a historic day for us!”.

Holding a World War II-era photo of Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, speaking with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan spoke out forcefully against the notion of Palestinian statehood, going so far as to suggest that the UN had backtracked on its original goal of preventing the spread of Nazi ideology by supporting Palestinian statehood. The Grand Mufti had pleaded with Hitler for assistance in getting rid of the British Mandate and the Jewish immigrants going to the Holy Land – requests that were ultimately turned down.

Photo: Profimedia Images

‘Gender-affirming surgery, surrogacy violate human dignity’ – Vatican

The Vatican on Monday declared gender-affirming surgery and surrogacy as grave violations of human dignity, putting them on par with abortion and euthanasia as practices that reject God’s plan for human life. The Vatican’s doctrine office issued “Infinite Dignity” – a 20-page declaration that has been in the works for five years. After substantial revision in recent months, it was approved March 25 by Pope Francis, who ordered its publication. In its most eagerly-anticipated section, the Vatican repeated its rejection of “gender theory,” or the idea that one’s gender can be changed. It said God created man and woman as biologically different, separate beings, and said people must not tinker with that plan or try to “make oneself God”. “It follows that any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception,” the document said. It distinguished between gender-affirming surgeries, which it rejected, and “genital abnormalities” that are present at birth or that develop later. Those abnormalities can be “resolved” with the help of health care professionals, it said.

Catholic advocates for LGBTQ+ immediately criticised the document as outdated, harmful and contrary to the stated goal of recognising the “infinite dignity” of all of God’s children. They warned it could have real-world effects on trans people, fuelling anti-trans violence and discrimination.

Trump ‘scrambling’ on abortion – Biden’s campaign

US President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign has accused the presumptive Republican nominee and former president Donald Trump of “scrambling” on the issue of abortion after Trump announced that he supports states making their own abortion laws. “Trump is scrambling,” Biden said, according to the campaign statement. “He’s worried that since he’s the one responsible for overturning Roe, the voters will hold him accountable in 2024. Well, I have news for Donald: They will!” the statement continued. “America was built on personal freedom and liberty. So, there is nothing more un-American than having our personal freedoms taken away. And that is what Donald Trump has done.”  Biden’s statement reaffirmed his administration’s support for codifying into law the abortion rules that were in place under the now-defunct Roe v. Wade ruling. Such a law would prohibit states from enacting most pro-life policies and mandate legal abortion nationwide.

Panama Papers trial gets underway as 27 are charged

The trial of 27 people connected with the Panama Papers tax evasion scandal began in a Panamanian criminal court on Monday – some eight years after the revelations first emerged. Among the defendants are German-born Jürgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca, the co-founders of a Panama-based law firm that was at the centre of the document leak in 2016. Mossack, Fonseca, and other former employees of the law firm are facing money laundering charges based on allegations the law firm set up shell companies in tax havens. Fonseca has previously said the firm, which closed in 2018, had no control over how its clients might use offshore vehicles created for them.

In 2016, a trove of 11.5 million secret financial documents were leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ). The documents revealed how many of the world’s wealthy stashed their assets into offshore companies. The resulting scandal had far-reaching repercussions and resulted in the leaders of countries leaving office following the revelations. The former Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were forced to step down from their posts. Others implicated included former British Prime Minister David Cameron, football star Lionel Messi, Argentina’s then-president Mauricio Macri and Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, among others. Many of those caught up in the scandal, including Maltese former Minister Konrad Mizzi, denied acting illegally and put forward reasons to explain their offshore presence.

4.5 magnitude earthquake hits Greece

An earthquake of magnitude 4.5 was recorded at 00:59 local time (23:59 yesterday in Malta) in western Greece. According to data from the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), quoted by the Italian news agency Ansa, the earthquake had its hypocentre at a depth of 29 kilometers and its epicenter in the Aetolia-Acarnania region. No damage to people or things has been. The shock was also felt in Italym primarily in Calabria and Puglia.

Netanyahu says ‘date’ set for Rafah military operation

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that there was a date set for an Israeli military offensive into the southern city of Rafah. “Today I received a detailed report on the talks in Cairo. We are constantly working to achieve our goals, first and foremost the release of all our hostages and achieving a complete victory over Hamas,” Netanyahu said in a video message in Hebrew posted on social media platform X. Netanyahu reiterated that victory over Hamas militants “requires entry into Rafah and the elimination of the terrorist battallions there. It will happen – there is a date.” He did not mention any timeline. The latest announcement comes just a day after the Israeli military said it had withdrawn most of its ground troops from the southern Gaza strip, leaving just one brigade in the city of Khan Younis.

Israel’s plans for a Rafah invasion have been met with strong opposition from international allies, including the US, due to the spiraling humanitarian crisis in Gaza. US President Joe Biden has said invading Rafah would be crossing a “red line.” More than a million Palestinians are currently sheltering in Rafah from fighting elsewhere in the sealed-off Gaza Strip.

Germany ‘pathetic’ to supply aid to Gaza and arms to Israel – Nicaragua

Nicaragua hit out at Germany at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday over its support to Israel, saying it was “pathetic” to give weapons to the Israeli government while simultaneously providing aid in Gaza. “It is indeed a pathetic excuse to the Palestinian children, women and men to provide humanitarian aid, including through airdrops, on the one hand and to furnish the military equipment that is used to kill and annihilate them… on the other hand,” Daniel Mueller, a lawyer for Nicaragua, told the court. Nicaragua brought the case against Germany before the ICJ to demand that judges impose emergency measures to stop Berlin from providing Israel with weapons and other assistance. In a 43-page submission to the court, Nicaragua argued that Germany is in breach of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, set up in the wake of the Holocaust. “By sending military equipment and now defunding UNRWA (UN agency for Palestinian refugees), Germany is facilitating the commission of genocide,” the submission says. Germany will respond in court today but has already hit back at the allegations. Sebastian Fischer, spokesman for the German foreign ministry, told reporters ahead of the hearings, “We reject the allegations from Nicaragua. Germany has violated neither the Genocide Convention nor international humanitarian law and we will demonstrate this in full before the International Court of Justice,” he said.

‘Hamas rejects latest Israeli truce proposal’

Hamas has rejected the latest Israeli ceasefire proposal, according to Ali Baraka, a senior official of the Palestinian group in Lebanon, quoted by Reuters, Sky News, Al Jazeera and Israeli media including the Times of Israel. A Hamas official had previously said no progress had been made in negotiations over the weekend in Cairo, while a Hamas representative quoted by the AFP news agency said the group was “studying” the proposed two-week truce. Around 1,200 people were killed during the Hamas-led October 7 terror attacks, during which around 250 people were taken hostage. The death toll in the Gaza Strip since October 7 is at least 33,207 dead and 75,933 injured, the local Hamas-run Ministry of Health says.

Houthi rocket launched towards cargo operated by Italy

An anti-ship ballistic missile was launched yesterday from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen towards the Gulf of Aden, where a coalition ship was escorting an Italian-operated merchant vessel, the United States Central Command (Centcom) reported, specifying that no damage or injuries were reported. In a statement published on its X account, Centcom states that the cargo ship in question is the M/V Hope Island, flying the flag of the Marshall Islands and owned by the United Kingdom. This is the fifth missile launch detected against it by Centcom, the US note underlines. US Central Command also says it destroyed a defence system yesterday consisting of two ready-to-launch missiles and a ground control station in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and a drone launched over the Red Sea by Iranian-backed rebels .

EU agrees to tougher restrictions on Ukraine farm imports

The European Union has tentatively agreed to tighter restrictions on some Ukrainian food imports, according to Belgium, which holds the bloc’s presidency. The deal extends the duty-free access the EU has given to Ukrainian agricultural products since Russia’s invasion in 2022 for another year, but sets caps on poultry, eggs, sugar, corn, goats and honey at average volumes between mid-2021 and the end of 2023. No cap was placed on wheat, which countries such as France and Poland had initially argued for. European farmers protested against cheap imports, with some in Poland blocking the border with Ukraine and spilling Ukrainian grain across railway tracks.

‘Kiev sets fire to Russian naval vessel in Kaliningrad’

Ukrainian military intelligence (GUR) has claimed responsibility for an operation in which the Russian missile ship ‘Serpukhov’ was set on fire in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, according to Kyiv Post. The newspaper qoutes a source from Gur saying the vessel suffered significant damage following the fire in the operation carried out yesterday. “It was a special operation by Gur. The ship is not safe now,” the source told Kyiv Post. According to military intelligence, in the fire “the means of communication and automation” of the ship “were completely destroyed.”

Russian foreign minister in China for talks

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in China for high-level talks on Monday morning, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. He will discuss a series of “hot topics” with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that includes the war in Ukraine. The Russian Foreign Ministry added that the two men would also “discuss a wide range of questions linked to bilateral cooperation, as well as cooperation on the international scene.” China has become Moscow’s most important economic ally since Russia launched its military offensive on Ukraine in February 2022, with trade surging between the two countries. Bilateral trade reached €221.5 billion in 2023 – an annual increase of 26 per cent, according to Chinese customs data.

Former vice president of Ecuador attempts suicide in prison

The former vice president of Ecuador, Jorge Glas, has been admitted to  hospital after attempting to commit suicide in prison, according to local media reports. Initially, the Primicias portal reported police sources saying the former vice president, arrested on Friday after a sensational raid on the Mexican embassy in Quito, was in a coma after taking a large quantity of drugs.

Warming at +1.68°C in the last 12 months – Copernicus,

The average temperature of the last 12 months, from April 2023 to March 2024, is the highest ever recorded, 0.70°C above the 1991-2020 average and 1.68°C above the pre-industrial average, according to the EU weather service, Copernicus. This means that the last 12 months, therefore, average global temperatures have exceeded the limit of 1.5°C from pre-industrial levels (the 1850-1900 average) set by the Paris Agreement of 2015 and the Glasgow COP26 of 2021. It adds that last month, March 2024, was the warmest March on record, when the average global temperature was 14.4°C – 0.73°C higher than the average for the 30-year period 1991-2020 and 0.10°C compared to the previous record in March, that of 2016. Furthermore, the month was 1.68°C warmer than the March average for the 50 years 1850-1900, the reference period of the pre-industrial era. According to Copernicus, March 2024 is the tenth month in a row that has ranked as the warmest on record.

98 dead as ferry capsizes off Mozambique’s coast

A makeshift ferry, overcrowded with residents reportedly fleeing a feared cholera outbreak, sank off Mozambique’s northern coast, resulting in the loss of at least 98 lives, including children. The boat was carrying 130 people. Rescue efforts are ongoing, as some people are still missing. Some of the passengers were trying to escape the cholera-affected region. Mozambique, along with neighbouring countries Zimbabwe and Malawi, has been grappling with a deadly cholera outbreak in recent months.

146kg of gold seized in largest-ever gold smuggling bust

Hong Kong customs has made the biggest gold smuggling bust in its history, at the city’s international airport, seizing 146 kilogrammes of the precious metal disguised as air compressor parts. Melted and moulded into parts like motor cores, screws, and gears, the smuggled gold was intercepted in two air compressors that were sent by air from Hong Kong to Japan and estimated to be worth €9.8 million, the customs department said.

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