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US, Israel to hold virtual meet on Rafah operations today

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Tel Aviv, April 1 (IANS) The US and Israel will hold a virtual meeting of senior officials regarding the Rafah operations.

The meeting will be held later on Monday.

The US side is likely to be led by Brett McGurk, the Special envoy of the US President in charge of Middle East, while the Mossad Chief David Barnea, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar and other senior officials.

According to Israel Defence Ministry sources, the US side had informed Israel for such a meeting as the latter has publicly said that it was prepared for an all-out attack on Rafah.

The US, it may be recalled has been totally opposed to such a ground invasion in Rafah region, which is the southernmost tip of Gaza Strip and densely populated.

An estimated 1.3 million people are in the Rafah area that include a large number of people displaced from north and central Gaza since the war commenced on October 7, 2023.

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The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had recently met the Middle eastern leaders during his visit to Cairo and Riyadh .

In the meeting, the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has clearly told Blinken to prevent any ground invasion by Israel in Rafah area sharing its borders with Egypt.

Egypt has also informed Blinken that once the incursion begins there would be an unprecedented flow of people from Rafah into the Egyptian area and that would lead to major issues.

However, the Israeli side led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Defence Minister Yoav Gallant are pushing for a ground invasion into Rafah to defeat Hamas and release the hostages.

The Israeli intelligence, including Mossad, Shin Bet and military intelligence have provided inputs to the Israel war cabinet that the Hamas is almost defeated militarily and that it has only four battalions remaining in the Rafah region.

The Intelligence agencies have also reported that a final push was imminent to give a crushing defeat to Hamas militarily and that this would pave the way for a proper negotiation in the release of the hostages.

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With the US and the Israel diametrically opposite on the issue of military invasion into Rafah, it has to be seen how smooth the virtual meeting would be.

–IANS

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Missiles strike oil facilty in Russian-held Ukrainian town

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Moscow, May 21 (IANS/DPA) Rocket attacks on a town in the Russian-occupied Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine have caused a fuel depot to catch fire, according to the occupation authorities.

“As a result of a missile strike with cluster munitions on Sverdlovsk, a fuel and lubricants storage facility was damaged,” wrote Leonid Pasechnik, the head of pro-Russian separatists forces in the Luhansk region, on Monday on his Telegram channel.

Ukraine renamed the small town of Sverdlovsk, which has been occupied by Russian forces since 2014, and Dovzhansk in 2016.

According to Ukrainian media, a Russian military base was also hit in the missile attack.

Videos on social networks show heavy clouds of smoke, but also a burning multi-storey barracks-style building.

The Russian authorities on the ground have not officially released any information on casualties or injuries.

Ukraine has been fending off a full-scale Russian military invasion for more than two years.

Kiev has recently fired missiles at oil processing plants and fuel depots in addition to purely military targets to hamper the Russian military’s logistics.

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–IANS/DPA

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UN Middle East envoy calls for resumption of Israel-Hamas talks

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United Nations, May 21 (IANS) UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, has called for the resumption of negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

“I urge the parties to redouble all efforts and return to the negotiating table immediately and in good faith,” Wennesland told the UN Security Council on Monday.

“If talks do not resume, I fear for the worst for the beleaguered and terrified civilians in Rafah, for the hostages held in unimaginable conditions for more than 225 days, and for an overstretched humanitarian operation that remains on the brink inside the (Gaza) Strip,” he said as quoted by Xinhua news agency report.

Just two weeks ago negotiations were taking place in Cairo with the support of Egypt, Qatar, and the US. However, those talks ended on May 9 without agreement, he noted.

“Regrettably we face yet another precipice of further catastrophe in Gaza amid stalled talks between the parties to secure the release of all hostages held in Gaza and a cease-fire to provide much-needed relief to the civilian population,” he said.

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Wennesland reiterated the United Nations’ full support to the mediators and its willingness to support the implementation of a deal between Israel and Hamas.

Since the first week of May, the security situation in Rafah has been rapidly worsening as the Israeli military operations and maneuvers in and around Rafah intensified, he said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, alongside numerous international partners and concerned neighbours, has voiced serious objection to a military operation in Rafah amid clear indications of its devastating consequences for the civilian population, he added.

“Saving lives and addressing the critical needs in Rafah and Gaza more broadly must remain our immediate priority. I reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for a humanitarian cease-fire,” Wennesland said.

“At the same time, we must not lose sight of the risks that these immediate threats pose to prospects for a resolution to this conflict and for longer-term peace and stability in the region.”

He voiced concern that the failure to reach a cease-fire in Gaza and a large-scale military operation in Rafah exacerbates the risk of escalating regional tensions. He reiterated that there can be no long-term solution in Gaza that is not fundamentally political.

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The devastation and misery of the past seven months have reinforced a simple truth.

Palestinians and Israelis can no longer wait to establish a viable political horizon to end the conflict and establish a two-state solution, he said.

“Day after day we are witnessing the deadly consequences of inaction. Now is the time to lay the foundations for a better future for Palestinians, Israelis, and the broader region.”

–IANS

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UK PM apologises for infected blood scandal cover-up

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London, May 21 (IANS) The UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologised for the infected blood scandal on behalf of successive governments and declared it was a “day of national shame”.

Addressing the House of Commons following the publication of the inquiry, Sunak said on Monday: “I want to make a whole-hearted and unequivocal apology for this terrible injustice.”

He also promised to pay “comprehensive compensation” to those infected and those affected by the scandal, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Whatever it costs to deliver this scheme, we will pay it,” he said, adding that details will be set out on Tuesday.

Earlier on Monday, a damning 2,527-page inquiry concluded that the contaminated blood scandal in the UK which has caused more than 3,000 deaths, “could largely, though not entirely, have been avoided.”

The report said that “a catalogue of failures” by successive governments and doctors caused the “calamity,” in which tens of thousands of patients with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were infected with HIV and hepatitis viruses after receiving infected blood and blood products between the 1970s and early 1990s.

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“It may also be surprising that the questions why so many deaths and infections occurred have not had answers before now,” the report added.

The scandal has been called “the worst treatment disaster” in the history of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

The report also revealed that there has been “a hiding of much of the truth” by the government and the NHS “to save face and to save expense”.

Such a cover-up was “not in the sense of a handful of people plotting in an orchestrated conspiracy to mislead, but in a way that was more subtle, more pervasive and more chilling in its implications,” it said.

The scandal was linked to supplies of a clotting factor imported from the US, which used blood from high-risk paid donors.

The government announced the establishment of a UK-wide public inquiry in 2017 to examine the circumstances that led to individuals being given contaminated blood and blood products.

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In 2022, the government made interim compensation payments of 100,000 British pounds (about $127,000) to about 4,000 infected individuals and bereaved partners who were registered with the country’s infected blood support schemes.

–IANS

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Schools in Pakistan's Punjab to remain closed for 7 days from May 25 amid heatwave

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Islamabad, May 21 (IANS) In the wake of a surge in temperature and heatwave in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, all public and private schools will remain closed for seven days on May 25-31, local authorities said.

“However, schools will be allowed to conduct examinations as scheduled, with necessary precautions to ensure the safety of students,” the School Education Department of the Punjab government said on Monday in a notification.

Last week, the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) said that due to the presence of high pressure in the upper atmosphere, heatwave conditions are likely to develop over most parts of the country, especially over Punjab and the southern Sindh province from May 21, Xinhua news agency reported.

This will likely convert to severe heatwave conditions on May 23-27, it added.

The PMD advised the public to avoid unnecessary exposure to direct sunlight, requesting judicious use of water in all aspects of life.

Extreme dry and heatwave conditions may trigger bushfires and forest fires in vulnerable areas of Punjab and other parts of the South Asian country, according to the PMD.

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–IANS

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Spain to send Leopard 2 tanks & Patriot missiles to Ukraine in June

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Madrid, May 21 (IANS/DPA) Spain will deliver a further batch of German-made Leopard 2A4 battle tanks, along with Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and other ammunition to Ukraine, by the end of June, said the Defence Ministry in Madrid .

Defence Minister Margarita Robles had confirmed the delivery during a video conference with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the Ministry said on Monday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government sent 10 Leopard 2A4s last year, and in March announced that a further 19 would be delivered this year, with the first 10 promised by the end of June and the remaining nine following in September.

Spain had around 100 Leopard 2A4s in stock along with considerably more than 200 Leopard 2A6s. The latter are being retained for the Spanish army.

On Monday, Robles stressed the “significant efforts” that Spain was making to support Ukraine in fighting off the Russian invasion. She mentioned in particular the training given to Ukrainian troops.

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Spain would support Ukraine for as long as necessary, she said.

–IANS/DPA

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