Pro-Palestinian rallies across Europe

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 19th November 2023

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations were held in major European cities including London, Paris, and Berlin on Saturday. DW reports that, amid torrential rain in Paris, some 60,000 people marched through the city centre holding a banner that read: “Halt the massacre in Gaza and West Bank, immediate cease-fire”. In Berlin, around 4,000 protesters attended a rally, police said. The protesters chanted “Freedom for Gaza” and “Germany finances, Israel bombs” as they waved Palestinian flags. Previous pro-Palestinian protests in Germany were banned due to the threat of antisemitism. Demonstrations were also held in London, Geneva, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Marseilles, and Istanbul.

Thouands march on Jerusalem urging action for hostages

Tens of thousands of people marched from Tel Aviv on Jerusalem as part of a five-day march for the release of hostages. The demonstrators set out from Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Among the estimated 20,000 demonstrators were family members of some of the hostages, as well as their supporters. On Saturday, they converged on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem. Netanyahu has not yet agreed to meet them. Participants in the march are calling on the government to strike a deal for the release of the hostages.

Photo credit: AFP via Getty Images

‘US, Israel, Hamas in near deal to pause conflict and free hostages’

The United States, Israel, and Hamas have reached a tentative agreement to free dozens of women and children held hostage in Gaza in exchange for a five-day pause in fighting, the Washington Post reported. As part of the detailed, six-page agreement, all parties would freeze combat operations for at least five days while “an initial 50 or more hostages are released in smaller groups every 24 hours”, the Post reported. Hamas took about 240 hostages during its 7th October rampage inside Israel that killed 1,200 people. The newspaper said overhead surveillance would monitor ground movement to help police the pause, which also is intended to allow in a significant amount of humanitarian aid.

Photo credit: Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images

Biden threatens visa bans for ‘extremists’

US President Joe Biden called for a stop to violence against Palestinians in the West Bank in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, signaling that the US is prepared to issue visa bans, and again committed to pursuing a State for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. “This much is clear: A two-State solution is the only way to ensure the long-term security of both the Israeli and Palestinian people,” he wrote. CNN says the president’s warning comes amid concerns over Israel violating the Visa Waiver Programme, which allows eligible travellers to apply to enter the US without a visa. Israel joined the programme in late October. “I have been emphatic with Israel’s leaders that extremist violence against Palestinians in the West Bank must stop and that those committing the violence must be held accountable,” Biden wrote. “The United States is prepared to take our own steps, including issuing visa bans against extremists attacking civilians in the West Bank.”

WHO declares al-Shifa hospital a ‘death zone’

The World Health Organisation said today it had led an assessment mission to Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City and determined it was a “death zone”, urging a full evacuation. “WHO and partners are urgently developing plans for the immediate evacuation of the remaining patients, staff and their families,” the United Nations health agency said in a statement, adding that 291 patients and 25 health workers remained inside the hospital. WHO said it had headed a joint UN team, including public health experts, logistics officers and security staff from a range of agencies on a short and “very high-risk” mission into the hospital on Saturday. The assessment team had gone into Al-Shifa after the Israeli military had earlier ordered the evacuation of some 2,500 displaced people sheltering on the hospital grounds, WHO said.

Photo credit: Reuters

Panic as Gaza’s al-Shifa evacuates

Israeli forces ordered doctors, patients and displaced people at Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital to evacuate the medical compound, forcing some to leave by gunpoint, doctors and Palestinian officials told Al Jazeera. The situation caused “a great state of panic and fear” in the hospital, Al Jazeera’s Youmna El Sayed said, reporting from Khan Younis in southern Gaza. Doctors said the facility, which has been under siege by Israeli troops for several days, was now largely deserted hours after soldiers ordered people to leave on Saturday. But in a post on X, the Israeli army spokesperson denied giving any order, saying the Israeli military “responded to the request of the director of Shifa Hospital to allow Gazan citizens who were sheltering in the hospital and who wish to evacuate from Shifa Hospital towards the humanitarian crossing in the Gaza Strip via a secure axis”. Mohammed Zaqout, director general of hospitals in Gaza, told Al Jazeera that they were forced “to leave by gunpoint”. Ismail al-Thawabta, director general of the government media office in Gaza, said, “Al-Shifa Hospital has turned into a detention camp, an interrogation centre, a military barracks and mass grave altogether.” More than 7,000 people, including patients in critical condition and newborn babies fighting for their lives, were sheltered inside al-Shifa.

Photo credit: Dawood Nemer

UNRWA condemns ‘horrifying’ school strikes

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has denounced the “horrifying” strikes on schools housing displaced people in Gaza. An official from the Hamas Health Ministry had previously said at least 50 dead were killed in one of these attacks. “These attacks cannot become commonplace, they must stop. A humanitarian ceasefire cannot wait any longer,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini wrote in a post on X – formerly Twitter.

Photo credit: Said Khatib, AFP

‘Two Hamas leaders hide in the south of the Strip’

The two main Hamas figures in Gaza – Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Def – are hiding in the Khan Yunes area in the south of the Strip, according to the Israeli public television, Kan, citing assessments from military sources. Sinwar is the head of the political executive, while Def is the commander of the military wing.

Photo credit: MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES / AP

Mass rally against Catalan separatist amnesty

Tens of thousands of Spaniards took to the streets of Madrid on Saturday to denounce a proposed amnesty law for Catalan separatists and activists, which was key for the left-wing government to retain power. AFP quotes Spanish police say some 70,000 people gathered in Plaza de Cibeles in the heart of the Spanish capital in response to a call by right-wing leaders opposed to the amnesty plan. Cries of “Sanchez, traitor”, “Sanchez in jail” and “Catalonia is Spain” were shouted by protesters of all ages who carried Spanish and other European flags distributed by the European People’s Party.

Photo credit: Javier Soriano

Bottle of Scotch whisky sells for a record US$2.7 million

A bottle of Scotch whisky billed as “the most sought-after” in the world sold Saturday for almost £2.2 million (€2.5 million), an auction record for a bottle of wine or spirits. The Macallan Adami 1926 sold at Sotheby’s in London, after a bidding war between would-be buyers on the phone and in the room. Just 40 bottles of The Macallan 1926 were bottled in 1986 after being aged in sherry casks for 60 years. Twelve of the bottles, including the one sold Saturday, had labels designed by Italian painter Valerio Adami. “The Macallan 1926 is the one whisky that every auctioneer wants to sell and every collector wants to own,” said Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s global head of spirits. The bottle sold Saturday is the first to have undergone reconditioning by the distillery ahead of the auction. This included replacing the cork and applying new glue to the corners of the bottle labels.

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