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World Health Assembly meets in Geneva after pandemic treaty failure

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Geneva, May 27 (IANS/DPA) The annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO), began in the Swiss city of Geneva on Monday.

The 194 member countries plan to establish guidelines for WHO priorities over the next four years, including a plan to eliminate malaria in numerous countries by 2030 and steps to combat the alarming rise in antimicrobial resistance.

The planned highlight of the meeting — the ceremonial signing of a WHO pandemic treaty — was cancelled after two years of global negotiations ended last Friday without an agreement.

Negotiators failed to reach a consensus on sensitive subjects such as the distribution of medicines, protective materials and vaccines in future pandemics.

The Assembly now hopes to decide on the next steps towards achieving a global treaty.

Lessons from the coronavirus pandemic are expected to be reflected in the Assembly’s work.

Amendments to the WHO’s International Health Regulations are due to be adopted, with new rules to prevent the spread of diseases across national borders and obligations to report outbreaks to the WHO immediately.

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The theme of this year’s Assembly is “All for Health, Health for All”.

–IANS/DPA

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Covid-19 infection adds to Biden's re-election woes (Lead)

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Covid-19 infection adds to Biden's re-election woes (Lead)

Covid-19 infection adds to Biden's re-election woes (Lead)

Washington, July 18 (IANS) US President Joe Biden has tested positive for Covid-19 as his bid for re-election faced fresh opposition from within his own Democratic party.

“Earlier today following his first event in Las Vegas, President Biden tested positive for Covid-19,” Karine Jean Pierre, the White House Press Secretary said in a statement on Wednesday.

“He is vaccinated and boosted and he is experiencing mild symptoms,” she added.

The campaign event in the crucial swing state of Nevada was cancelled and the President headed for his home state Delaware where he will self-isolate and recover.

Biden’s re-election bid faced its severest challenge Wednesday when Adam Schiff, a senior Democratic member in the House of Representatives who is running for the US Senate, became the newest Democrat to call for the President to step aside. Schiff is very close to the former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who together with other leaders of the party, is trying to steer the President towards the exit.

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“Joe Biden has been one of the most consequential presidents in our nation’s history, and his lifetime of service as a Senator, a Vice President, and now as President has made our country better,” Schiff wrote in a statement. “But our nation is at a crossroads. A second Trump presidency will undermine the very foundation of our democracy, and I have serious concerns about whether the President can defeat Donald Trump in November,” he added.

Biden has rejected all calls for him to step aside and has vowed to stay in the race, but his Covid-19 infection could seriously challenge his resolve given his age.

The White House doctor said in the same statement as released by Jean-Pierre, “The President presented this afternoon with upper respiratory symptoms, to include rhinorhea (runny nose) and non-productive cough, with general mailaise. He felt okay for his first event of the day, but given that he was not feeling better, point of care testing for COVID-19 was conducted, and the results were positive for the COVID-19 virus. Given this, the President will be self-isolating in accordance with CDC guidance for symptomatic individuals. PCR confirmation testing will be pending.”

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“His symptoms remain mild, his respiratory rate is normal at 16, his temperature is normal at 97.8 and his pulse oximetry is normal at 97 per cent. The President has received his first dose of Paxlovid. He will be self-isolating at his home in Rehoboth,” the doctor said.

–IANS

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UN chief urges renewed focus on political resolution to Gaza crisis

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UN chief urges renewed focus on political resolution to Gaza crisis

UN chief urges renewed focus on political resolution to Gaza crisis

United Nations, July 18 (IANS) UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged a renewed emphasis on a political resolution to the persistent crisis in Gaza.

“We must refocus on finding a political solution that will end the occupation and resolve the conflict in line with international law, and relevant United Nations resolutions,” Courtenay Rattray, chef de cabinet of the UN secretary-general, told the Security Council debate on Gaza, on behalf of the UN chief.

Rattray highlighted the severe circumstances in Gaza, characterised by ongoing conflict and lawlessness, and raised concerns about the escalating regional instability and the significant crisis in Gaza, Xinhua news agency reported.

Rattray provided a sombre update on the situation, stating, “In recent weeks, Israeli military operations and fighting intensified across Gaza. Rockets continue to be launched by Palestinian armed groups from Gaza towards Israeli population centres.”

“Rafah is in ruins — and the Rafah crossing remains closed, further hampering humanitarian operations,” he added.

ALSO READ:  Evacuees from Gaza lack essential services, endure hostilities: ICRC

He noted the massive displacement within Gaza, where “almost 2 million people have been displaced — nearly the entire population of Gaza — and many of them multiple times.”

Highlighting the breakdown in public order and the increasing threat of a regional spillover, Rattray reiterated the UN’s call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.”

He stressed the critical need for consistent access to humanitarian aid across all crossing points to ensure the survival and well-being of the civilian population.

Rattray stressed the importance of immediate action to address these crises, stating, “We must change course. All settlement activity must cease immediately.”

He called for the restoration of governance in Gaza under a legitimate Palestinian government and the strengthening of the Palestinian Authority to lead recovery efforts.

The United Nations remains committed to supporting all efforts towards reaching a sustainable peace agreement that adheres to international law and UN resolutions.

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Rattray concluded with a call to all parties involved to intensify efforts to end the violence and to work towards a lasting resolution that respects the rights and dignities of all people involved.

–IANS

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Belarus to introduce visa-free policy for 35 European countries

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Belarus to introduce visa-free policy for 35 European countries

Belarus to introduce visa-free policy for 35 European countries

Minsk, July 18 (IANS) Belarus will introduce a visa-free policy for 35 European countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on its official website.

The policy will take effect on Friday, July 19, and will last until December 31, 2024, according to the statement.

Citizens of the 35 countries, including members of the European Union and the UK, can stay in Belarus for 30 days at a time without a visa.

The statement said that in order to further demonstrate Belarus’s commitment to openness, peace and good neighbourliness, and to simplify personnel exchanges, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko supports citizens of 35 European countries to temporarily enter and stay in Belarus through road and rail checkpoints without a visa.

According to the State Border Committee of Belarus, the visa-free policy for citizens of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia entering Belarus which has taken effect since 2022, will be now extended to citizens of 35 other European countries. The visa-free policy can be used multiple times, and shall not exceed 90 days within a year.

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This policy does not apply to holders of special passports such as diplomatic and official passports.

–IANS

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UK 'deeply concerned' about risk of escalation along Israel-Lebanon border

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UK 'deeply concerned' about risk of escalation along Israel-Lebanon border

UK 'deeply concerned' about risk of escalation along Israel-Lebanon border

United Nations, July 18 (IANS) The UK at a UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East has expressed its deep concern about the “risk of regional escalation, in particular along the blue line between Israel and Lebanon”.

UK Permanent Representative to the UN Barbara Woodward, during the meeting on Wednesday, said, “Nine months since the 7 October attacks, at least 120 hostages, alive and dead, remain held in horrific conditions. Innocent Palestinians continue to suffer and die in Gaza. A devastating humanitarian crisis is worsening by the day. There is an imminent risk of famine. And we are deeply concerned about the risk of regional escalation, in particular along the blue line between Israel and Lebanon.”

“In one of his first acts as UK Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer set out the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire, immediate release of all hostages, and an immediate surge of humanitarian aid into Gaza. We strongly support the ongoing efforts of Egypt, Qatar and the United States to this end – the deal on the table… is the best chance to support this,” she said.

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Woodward also urged both sides (Hamas and Israel) to show flexibility in negotiations and demonstrate a “clear and firm” commitment to ensure the implementation of the deal.

“We are calling on Israel to protect civilians, to allow unfettered aid into Gaza and to ensure the UN and humanitarian actors have the access and equipment necessary to safely get aid to those who need it most…,” she said.

“… We condemn recent Israeli expansion of settlements. We reject decisions by the Government of Israel to declare 2,357 hectares of land in the West Bank as ‘state lands’ so far this year — the largest of such declarations of state land since the Oslo Accords. Such acts are not only illegal under international law, but also undermine prospects for a two-state solution. We demand a halt to these illegal activities,” Woodward added.

She further said that reports of civilian casualties following Israeli strikes near schools and designated humanitarian zones in Gaza in recent weeks were appalling – as the Foreign Secretary said, urgent measures are needed to protect civilians.

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“Peace will be sustainable only if both Israelis and Palestinians recommit to a renewed peace process resulting in a two-state solution, with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian State – the undeniable right of the Palestinian people,” she said.

–IANS

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Lebanon's war with Israel not to stop as long as offensive against Gaza continues: Hezbollah leader

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Lebanon's war with Israel not to stop as long as offensive against Gaza continues: Hezbollah leader

Lebanon's war with Israel not to stop as long as offensive against Gaza continues: Hezbollah leader

Beirut, July 17 (IANS) Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Wednesday that Lebanon’s war with Israel will not stop as long as the offensive against Gaza continues.

In a televised speech marking the Islamic holy day of Ashura, Nasrallah warned Israel against “going too far” in targeting civilians in southern Lebanon, saying it will push its group “to launch missiles and target new settlements that were not previously targeted.”

He denied rumours about an agreement to be reached regarding the Lebanese front, stressing that “the future of the situation in the south will be decided in light of the results of the battle” in Gaza, reported Xinhua news agency.

“If the war stops, the party responsible for negotiating is the Lebanese state,” said Nasrallah.

In addition, Nasrallah accused America of “bearing full responsibility” for the killing of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli army because it supplied weapons.

The leader also vowed to rebuild villages and towns destroyed in the confrontations.

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Tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border escalated on Oct. 8, 2023, following a barrage of rockets launched by the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah toward Israel in solidarity with Hamas’ attack on Israel the day before. Israel then retaliated by firing heavy artillery toward southeastern Lebanon.

–IANS

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