Northern Gaza now in ‘full-blown famine’ – UN official

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 5th May 2024.

A top UN official has said that hard-hit northern Gaza was now in “full-blown famine” after more than six months of war between Israel and Hamas and severe Israeli restrictions on food deliveries to the Palestinian territory. Cindy McCain, the American director of the UN World Food Programme, became the most prominent international official so far to declare that trapped civilians in the most cut-off part of Gaza had gone over the brink into famine. “It’s horror,” McCain told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview to air today, Sunday. “There is famine – full-blown famine – in the north, and it’s moving its way south.” She said a cease-fire and a greatly increased flow of aid through land and sea routes was essential to confronting the growing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, home to 2.3 million people.

There was no immediate comment from Israel, which controls entrance into Gaza and says it is beginning to allow in more food and other humanitarian aid through land crossings. The panel that serves as the internationally-recognised monitor for food crises said in March that northern Gaza was on the brink of famine and likely to experience it in May. Since March, northern Gaza had not received anything like the aid needed to stave off famine, a US Agency for International Development humanitarian official for Gaza told The Associated Press. The USAID official said on-the-ground preparations for a new US-led sea route were on track to bring in more food – including treatment for hundreds of thousands of starving children – by early or mid-May. That’s when the American military expects to finish building a floating pier to receive the shipments. Ramping up the delivery of aid on the planned US-backed sea route will be gradual as aid groups test the distribution and security arrangements for relief workers, the USAID official said.

Under international pressure, Israeli officials in recent weeks have begun slowly reopening some border crossings for relief shipments. Children under five are among the first to die when wars, droughts or other disasters curtail food. Hospital officials in northern Gaza reported the first deaths from hunger in early March and said most of the dead were children.

Gaza truce talks resume in Egypt… without Israel

Talks resumed in Egypt on Saturday aimed at halting months of war in Gaza between Hamas militants and Israel that have triggered protests around the world. Mediators from Qatar, Egypt and the United States sat down with a Hamas delegation to hear the militant group’s response to a proposal that would halt fighting for 40 days and exchange hostages for Palestinian prisoners, according to details released by Britain. After the talks began, a top Israeli official accused Hamas of “thwarting the possibility of reaching an agreement” by refusing to give up its demand for an end to the war. Shortly before 9.00 pm local time a senior Hamas source close to the negotiations told AFP the talks had ended for the day and would resume today, Sunday. Previous negotiations stalled in part on Hamas’ demand for a lasting ceasefire and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated vows to crush the group’s remaining fighters in the southern city of Rafah, which is flooded with displaced civilians. The prospect of an assault on Rafah has sparked deepening international concern. Israel has yet to send a delegation to Cairo. The Israeli official told AFP that it would do so only if there was “positive movement” on the proposed framework. “Tough and long negotiations are expected for an actual deal,” the official added. Sources quoted by Al Jazeera say that some progress has been made. However, sticking points remain, including Israel’s insistence on launching a ground invasion into Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah.

Despite the talk of “progress” in the negotiations on Saturday, Israeli cabinet minister Benny Gantz urged caution over such reports. “An answer to the outline of the deal has not yet been received. When it is received, the war cabinet will convene and discuss it,” Gantz said in a statement.

‘Israel could free Marwan Barghouti’

As part of the agreement with Hamas, Israel would be willing to release Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian leader of Fatah sentenced to various life sentences for terrorism crimes, the Saudi newspaper Asharq reports, quoted by Haaretz. According to the newspaper, Israel would not object to the release as long as Barghouti goes to Gaza and not the West Bank. However, there has been no official confirmation of the news from the Saudi media.

More university students in Europe join Gaza protest wave

Students at Trinity College Dublin and Lausanne University in Switzerland have staged occupations to protest against Israel’s war in Gaza, joining a wave of demonstrations sweeping US campuses. In Dublin, students built an encampment that forced the university to restrict campus access on Saturday and close the Book of Kells exhibition, one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions. The camp was set up after the students’ union said it had been fined €214,000 by the university for losses caused by protests in recent months, not exclusively over Gaza. The protesters were demanding that Trinity cut academic ties with Israel and divest from companies with ties to Israel. Last week, the head of Trinity College, Linda Doyle, said it was reviewing  its investments but that it was for individual academics to decide whether to work with Israeli institutions

In Lausanne, around 100 students occupied a building to back demands including an end to scientific cooperation with Israel. The university said the occupation could continue until Monday provided it did not disrupt work on campus. “We universities are not called upon to take political stands,” the university’s rector, Frederic Herman, told RTS radio.

Pro-Palestinian protests have also been held at universities in France, Australia and Canada. Protests that have rocked US campuses for weeks became more muted after a series of clashes with police, mass arrests and a stern White House directive to restore order. However, police fired tear gas at pro-Gaza protesters in Virginia as hundreds were cleared from the Virginia University campus. The university reports 25 people were arrested.

Russia puts Zelensky, Poroshenko on ‘wanted list’

Russia has opened a criminal case against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and put him on a wanted list, the state news agency Tass reported – an announcement Ukraine dismissed as evidence of Moscow’s “desperation”. Tass reported that the Russian Interior Ministry database showed Zelensky was on a wanted list but gave no further details. Ukraine’s foreign ministry noted Russian President Vladimir Putin was himself subject to arrest under an International Criminal Court warrant. Ria Novosti agency reports the Russian Interior Ministry has also issued an arrest order for former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Russia has issued arrest warrants for a number of Ukrainian and other European politicians since the start of the conflict with Ukraine in February 2022. Russian police in February put Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Lithuania’s culture minister and members of the previous Latvian parliament on a wanted list for destroying Soviet-era monuments. Russia also issued an arrest warrant for the International Criminal Court prosecutor who last year prepared Putin’s war crimes warrant.

Ukrainians flee as Russians decimate village

Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces has decimated the village of Ocheretyne in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region. Drone footage obtained by AP showed most houses and apartment buildings in Ocheretyne damaged beyond repair. Not a single person is seen in the clip.  Moscow’s army has launched a costly advance in the area, pounding Kyiv’s depleted forces with artillery, drones and bombs. Kyiv has admitted that Russia has gained a “foothold” in Ocheretyne, which had a population of about 3,000 before the war. Fighting continues, however. Residents have scrambled to flee the village. One was a 98-year-old woman who walked almost 10 kilometres alone last week, wearing a pair of slippers and supported by a cane, until she reached the Ukrainian front lines. Meanwhile, Russia has ramped up attacks on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in an attempt to hammer the region’s energy infrastructure and terrorise its 1.3 million inhabitants.

Germany, EU denounce attacks on politicians

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Union leaders denounced Saturday a recent spate of attacks on politicians in Germany, including one that sent a member of the European Parliament to hospital with serious injuries. Matthias Ecke, 41, a member of Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), was hit and kicked Friday by a group of four people while putting up posters in Dresden, capital of the eastern state of Saxony, police said. An SPD source said his injuries would require an operation. Shortly before, what appeared to be the same group attacked a 28-year-old campaigner for the Greens, who was also putting up posters, police said, although his injuries were not as severe.

“Democracy is threatened by this kind of thing,” Scholz told a convention of European Socialists in Berlin. The attacks exemplify increased violence in Germany in recent years, often from the far-right, targeting especially leftist politicians. The BfV domestic intelligence agency says far-right extremism is the biggest threat to German democracy. Saxony premier Michael Kretschmer, a conservative, said such aggression and attempts at intimidation recalled the darkest era of German history, a reference to Nazi rule.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, a former German conservative minister, and European Parliament president Roberta Metsola, both condemned the attack on Ecke. “The culprits must be brought to account,” von der Leyen said on X. German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser vowed “tough action and further protective measures” in response to the attacks. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has been blamed for the rise in violence. Nationwide, the number of attacks on politicians of parties represented in parliament has doubled since 2019, according to government figures published in January. Greens party politicians face the most aggression, according to the data, with attacks on them rising sevenfold since 2019 to 1,219 last year. AfD politicians suffered 478 attacks and the SPD was third with 420.

UK Tories lose ground as Sadiq Khan wins again in London

UK Labour Party’s mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, won a third straight term on Saturday, dealing yet another blow to the UK’s ruling Conservative Party. Khan won a little over a million votes, or nearly 44 per cent of the vote, putting him over 11 percentage points ahead of his main challenger, the Conservative Party’s Susan Hall. He did particularly well in inner London but struggled in several outer boroughs. The local election held in the UK on Thursday is shaping up to be a heavy defeat for the ruling Tories. The Conservatives lost more than 450 councilors and 10 councils. This means by late afternoon Saturday, with most of the 2,661 seats up for grabs in the local elections counted, the Tories had lost around half of the 1,000 seats they were defending. There was a lot of speculation that the London mayor race result would be closer than previously thought, but Khan won more than 276,000 votes – representing a swing of 3.2 per cent to Labour. He first became the first Muslim mayor of the UK capital in 2016. Following his victory, Khan said it was the “honour of my life to serve the city that I love”, adding: “Today’s not about making history, it’s about shaping our future.”

In a further blow to Sunak, Labour’s Richard Parker was elected as the new mayor of the West Midlands, beating Conservative Andy Street. The Tory candidate had hoped to cling on for a third term in the West Midlands, but Labour’s challenger beat him with a majority of just 1,508 votes. It is a huge blow for the Conservatives who have suffered losses across the Midlands and the country.

In contrast, Labour won councils that the party hasn’t held for decades, regional mayorships, and a special election for the Blackpool South seat in parliament. “Here in Blackpool, a message has been sent directly to the prime minister,” Labour leader Keir Starmer said. “This was directly to Rishi Sunak to say we are fed up with your decline, your chaos and your division and we want change,” Starmer added. “It’s time for change, it’s time for a general election.” The results put Prime Minister Sunak under pressure to outline his plan for when he will hold the next vote.

‘Brazil, with 88% renewables, is a global green leader’

Brazil, which obtains 88 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources, is among the top producers of biofuels and is a candidate for global leadership in the ‘green transition’ – from the chair of its current presidency of the G20, which will meet at the end of May in Belo Horizonte and, next year, by that of Cop30 which they will preside in Belem. “But Brazil could not do this without first consulting Pope Francis,” declared in an interview with Ansa the Brazilian Minister for Mines and Energy, Alexandre Silveira, who met the pontiff in the Vatican in Rome on Friday. “The Pope had given an interesting interview in which he said that the ecological transition must be ‘just, inclusive and obligatory’. Now, for this to be possible – said Silveira – the rich countries of the world must keep the commitments made at the climate conferences in Copenhagen and Paris, because we all live in a single ecosystem and emissions have no borders. Everyone must do their part and this is the objective of the Lula presidency.” The Brazilian federal parliament is preparing to approve a law that will regulate the CO2 credit market, one of the most advanced among the countries of the south of the world. “But we must have global governance – explained Silveira – because individual countries cannot solve the problem without a more active attitude on the part of rich and poor”. The G7, currently chaired by Italy, “must have a leading role in promoting this mentality. We need collaboration between the G7 and the G20, that is, between the North and the South of the world. However, the rich must take a step further , not only with its own credit market, but including the countries of the Global South.”

‘Anything to declare?’ – ‘Yes, just snakes inside my pants!’

US Transportation Security Administration officials at Miami International Airport were shocked to find a bag of snakes hidden in a man’s pants. They discovered the reptiles hidden in what appeared to be a sunglasses’ bag, in the trousers of the brazen flyer at an airport checkpoint, according to a post on X by the TSA. The officers summoned the aid of the US Customs and Border Protection as well as the Miami-Dade Police. The reptiles were given to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Photo: AFP

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