Philippines verifying photos of China military aircraft on disputed reef

Philippines verifying photos of China military aircraft on disputed reef
Construction is shown on Mischief Reef, in the Spratly Islands, in this June 19, 2017 satellite image released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). (Reuters file photo)
Updated 19 April 2018

Philippines verifying photos of China military aircraft on disputed reef

Philippines verifying photos of China military aircraft on disputed reef
  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea, host to islands claimed separately by Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam
  • China and Southeast Asian countries started negotiations in Vietnam last month on a code of conduct in the South China Sea

MANILA: The Philippines may lodge a protest with China against the reported presence of two military aircraft on a Chinese-built island in the South China Sea, the top Philippine diplomat said, amid concern that China is militarizing the waterway.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer published pictures on Wednesday that it said showed two military transport aircraft on the tarmac of Mischief Reef, which the Philippines claims.
The reef is the closest of the artificial islands that China has developed to the Philippines, and within its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The newspaper said the photos were taken in January this year. Reuters could not verify the authenticity or date of the pictures.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters the defense and military establishments had been asked to confirm the presence of the aircraft, after which the Philippines could ask China to explain it.
“Filing a protest is one of the diplomatic actions being considered, pending a confirmation from the defense department,” Cayetano said, adding the Philippines has proposed claimants reverse defense enhancements in the Spratly islands.
“Many claimants are putting embankments, radar, and other defensive mechanisms, the challenge now is how to stop it and roll it back,” he added.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic waterway where about $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the sea.
The Inquirer showed what it said were surveillance photos obtained from an unnamed source, showing what appeared to be two Xian Y-7 transport planes.
The military declined to comment and China’s embassy in Manila did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
China’s Defense Ministry also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cayetano said claimants were talking to each other as well as “non-regional players” to resolve disputes and avoid a regional arms race.
China and Southeast Asian countries started negotiations in Vietnam last month on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, starting with “less sensitive and less controversial” issues, he said.
Cayetano said they had identified common issues before discussing contentious provisions, such as whether the code would be legally binding and include sanctions against offenders.
He said there was no time frame for conclusion and adoption of the code.
The drafting of the code has been met with widespread skepticism, with some experts convinced China’s uncharacteristic support for it is aimed at placating Southeast Asian states while buying time to completes its military installations in the sea. 


Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition

Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition
Updated 18 May 2021

Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition

Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition
  • Group insists final negotiations to end Afghanistan war are held in Doha

KABUL: Afghan Taliban delegates were on Monday reportedly ready to take part in US-sponsored talks with the Kabul government in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

A Taliban spokesman confirmed the negotiators’ position, making a U-turn on the group’s recent decision to boycott the long-awaited discussions.

Zabihullah Mujahid told Arab News: “The talks should not pave the ground for interference from any side.

“This matter is under deliberation ... we, without doubt, say that the Istanbul meeting should be conducted in conformity with the wishes of the Afghan people and should have no imposition aspect.”

However, he said that the final negotiations should be held in Doha, Qatar where both sides resumed stalled discussions on the peace process several days ago.

“This is an opportunity for peace, and we will participate in it on the basis of our conditions ... continuation of the talks in Doha is a good point for ending the war,” he added.

The development follows the group’s decision to snub the Turkey talks after American President Joe Biden said he would be extending the US-led foreign troops’ presence in Afghanistan until Sept. 11.

Initially, all troops were to have left the country by May 1 based on a key condition for a landmark accord signed between the Taliban and US delegates in Doha more than a year ago.

Mujahid did not elaborate on the conditions for the talks to resume and said that the Taliban leadership was “pondering over them.”

He pointed out that the two conditions demanded by the group for participation in future discussions included the “release of the remaining 7,000 Taliban inmates held by Kabul and delisting of their leaders from the UN blacklist.”

Mujahid added that the Taliban had discussed the conditions with Washington which had “pledged to facilitate” the group on both issues, although no date had yet been set for the talks. Fatima Morchal, a spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, welcomed the news.

HIGHLIGHT

A Taliban spokesman confirmed the negotiators’ position, making a U-turn on the group’s recent decision to boycott the long-awaited discussions.

“It is a good thing; we have always said we will participate. The agenda and timing of the meeting have yet to be finalized, and we will attend it,” she told Arab News.

The Istanbul talks were rescheduled for April 24, before the Taliban announced that they would not participate in any meetings on Afghan peace until all foreign forces withdrew from Afghanistan.

Under Biden’s announcement, US-led troops will leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, ending the most protracted conflict in America’s history, which began nearly 20 years ago with the Taliban’s ousting in 2001.

The group has accused Washington of breaching the deal by delaying the troops’ exit, resulting in an escalation of violence across Afghanistan – with hundreds of lives lost, including civilians – which both the Taliban and the Kabul government have blamed each other for.

Fighting resumed on Monday in a number of major Afghan provinces at the end of a three-day ceasefire announced by the Taliban during the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday.

Two weeks ago, US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, the architect of the Doha deal with the Taliban, warned that Washington would abandon its push to form an interim government to replace Ghani if the Taliban insisted on boycotting the Istanbul talks.

The Istanbul meeting, under the auspices of the UN, seeks to draw a roadmap to end more than four decades of conflict in Afghanistan, ahead of the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

Wahidullah Ghazikhail, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Arab News that recently Washington had “secretly shown flexibility to the Taliban” on the date of departure for the remaining troops and could “complete the pullout process either in June or July.”

The Taliban, in return, had to “express leniency for attending the Istanbul meeting,” he said.

“The Taliban would have been blamed by ordinary Afghans for refusing to participate in the Istanbul talks. They now have a condition, want to begin the initial talks in Istanbul, but that the serious decisions and last decisive decisions be taken in Doha,” Ghazikhail added.

Torek Farhadi, an adviser for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told Arab News: “The Taliban are making sure they have a diplomatic presence in the (Istanbul) talks because the process of delisting them from the UN sanctions list requires to continue talks and for freeing their 7,000 prisoners.”

He said that Kabul also wanted to attend the Istanbul meeting to “give people hope that peace talks are continuing,” but added that in reality “the positions are so far apart that peace talks might continue for years. Both sides are preparing for more war. But it is clear that both sides have actors in the peace theaters as well … the sad part is civilians will suffer.”


Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests

Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests
Updated 18 May 2021

Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests

Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests
  • Precautionary measure follows the death of a 22-year-old man one day after receiving jab

JAKARTA: Indonesia has temporarily suspended the use and distribution of an Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine batch pending sterility and toxicity tests by the Drug and Food Monitoring Agency (BPOM), the Health Ministry said on Sunday.

The ministry announced the move following advice from the BPOM’s National Commission on Post-Immunization Accidents, which will carry out the tests.

It follows the death of a 22-year-old man in East Jakarta, who suffered from a high fever and eventually died after receiving his first jab earlier this month.

Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a Health Ministry spokesman for the national COVID-19 vaccination program, said that the suspension of the batch would not deter the use of other AstraZeneca batches in the jabs program, which began four months ago.

“We continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine because it provides a much greater benefit. The suspension is the government’s precautionary measure to ensure the safety of the vaccine,” Tarmizi said, adding that the test results are expected to be released no later than two weeks.

The commission recommended the drug monitoring agency conduct the tests. Its chairman, Hindra Irawan Satari, said that the agency “did not have enough data to determine” whether the man’s death was related to the vaccine from the suspended batch, which he received a day before his demise.

The batch consisted of 448,480 doses and is part of the 3,852,000 doses Indonesia received from the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility’s vaccine distribution scheme on April 26.

The ministry said that the vaccine batch in question had been distributed in the capital city, Jakarta, among the military, and in the North Sulawesi province.

Tonang Dwi Ardyanto, an epidemiologist of the clinical pathologist association PDS PatKlin said while the suspension was necessary, it would slow down the national vaccination progress.

“We hope the test results will come out soon so that the matter is clear,” he told Arab News on Monday.

“We are well aware that there is no vaccine or medicine that is 100 percent safe, but we just have to look for the ones with the least possible risks,” he added.

Indonesia received 6.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which were distributed to seven provinces, with Bali and East Java getting a majority of the share.

The Oxford jab is a small fraction compared to the nearly 68 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine used in the government’s vaccination program.

A study conducted by the Health Ministry from January to March on health workers who received the Sinovac vaccine showed that it is “almost 100 percent effective in protecting them from infections, hospitalization, and death.”

Pandji Dhewantara, the ministry’s lead researcher, said last week that two shots of the Sinovac vaccine “provided 98 percent protection against death” in the 128,290 health workers who were monitored for the study.

Dhewantara added that the vaccine was 94 percent effective in protecting health workers from being infected with COVID-19 and 96 percent effective in preventing them from being hospitalized.

“We can conclude from this study that vaccination is important to reduce the risks of someone being infected by COVID-19,” he added.

A private vaccination scheme, coordinated by the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, through which private entities can pay to inoculate their employees and families, will be using China’s Sinopharm and CanSino vaccines, with Russia’s Sputnik expected to be added.

The scheme is expected to commence on Tuesday, with almost 18,000 private entities registered to inoculate about 8.6 million people from labor-intensive manufacturing companies to micro-enterprises with as few as three employees.

Indonesia aims to inoculate 181.5 million people out of its 270 million population, which it expects to complete by the end of the year. But four months into the program, only 8.8 million people have received vaccines, just five percent of the targeted population.


Save the Children decries rising death toll from Israeli strikes

Palestinan children eat as families took shelter at a United Nations (UN) school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 17, 2021. (AFP)
Palestinan children eat as families took shelter at a United Nations (UN) school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 17, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 17 May 2021

Save the Children decries rising death toll from Israeli strikes

Palestinan children eat as families took shelter at a United Nations (UN) school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 17, 2021. (AFP)
  • Charity: On average, 3 Palestinian children have been wounded every hour since fighting broke out
  • ‘Dropping bombs where you know you’ll cause high levels of civilian casualties is a war crime,’ Palestine Solidarity Campaign tells Arab News

LONDON: The number of children killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza has reached 58, Save the Children said on Sunday night, adding that on average three have been wounded every hour since fighting broke out.

The charity called for an immediate ceasefire, and warned that for survivors, the “physical and mental wounds will last a lifetime.”

More than 1,000 people, including 366 children, have been injured. This amounts to roughly three children hurt every hour in Gaza since airstrikes began, Save the Children said. Two children in Israel have also died.

“My family and I have had to evict our home in the last few days because of the endless bombardments,” Mazen Naim, a Gaza-based communications officer at Save the Children, told Arab News.

“Everyone around me is breaking down. The children have been crying for days on end and are in a state of constant terror,” he added.

“There’s nowhere safe, and thousands of families have been displaced. How can we even begin to recover from this kind of loss?”

Ben Jamal, director of the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign, told Arab News: “There’s no excuse for dropping bombs on areas where you know you’ll cause high levels of civilian casualties. This is a war crime.”

He said: “Israel also knows the fact that 50 percent of Gaza’s population are children means bombing will cause high levels of child deaths. That knowing this, it continues its bombing is abhorrent.”

He added: “It violates international law and is unethical and inhumane in every way, shape and form. We call on all governments to stop arming Israel’s massacres by immediately ceasing all arms sales.”

Save the Children warned that Gaza’s roughly 2 million residents are experiencing a “triple shock” of catastrophe: “Bombardments are continuing, and health facilities and civilian infrastructure could soon be left without the power needed to deliver crucial supplies and emergency treatment. In addition, critically ill and injured children are unable to leave Gaza for treatment.”

The latest damage to infrastructure, Save the Children said, has left 480,000 people — roughly a quarter of Gaza’s inhabitants — with limited or no access to clean and safe drinking water.

To alleviate the humanitarian crisis, it called for an end to Israel’s 14-year blockade that prevents goods and people from moving freely in and out of the small, densely populated territory.

“The government of Israel and all parties must allow aid workers to reach children with life-saving support, as well as the unimpeded entry of essential supplies and fuel,” Save the Children said.

“It is critical to seek a just solution that addresses the underlying causes of this violence, that upholds equal rights for both Palestinian and Israeli children, and that will end the decades-long occupation as the only sustainable resolution to the conflict. This will ensure that all children in the region can live in peace.”


More members of US Congress speak out against the war on Gaza

More members of US Congress speak out against the war on Gaza
The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC. (AFP file photo)
Updated 17 May 2021

More members of US Congress speak out against the war on Gaza

More members of US Congress speak out against the war on Gaza
  • While careful not to assign blame for the conflict, 28 senators issued a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire
  • Ex-congressman said he is ‘proud’ of those who spoke up but most others are under the influence of pro-Israel lobby groups and afraid to do so

WASHINGTON: Twenty-eight US senators, led by newly elected Democrat Jon Ossoff of Georgia, issued a joint statement on Sunday night calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Israeli war against Gaza.

Treading the political boundaries very carefully, in their short statement they did not assign blame for the ongoing conflict. It was signed by an all-Democratic group of mostly liberal or progressive senators, including Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is the number two Democratic leader in the Senate, and former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are known for their outspoken support for Palestinian rights.

“To prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we urge an immediate ceasefire,” the senators said.

In less than a week of war more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes — mostly civilians, including 47 children — and more than 500 people have been wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did not sign the statement. Instead he echoed the stance of President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi in reiterating unequivocal support for Israel by stating that it “has the right to defend itself.”

The statement by the 28 senators came days after 25 Democratic members of House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, before the war started, denouncing the demolition by Israel of homes in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, especially the Sheikh Jarrah area, and ongoing plans to evict Palestinians to make room for Jewish settlers.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who signed Ossoff’s letter, previously issued his own statement, at the start of the war, in which he said that while he endorses Israel’s “right to self defense,” he supports the rights of Palestinians to live in peace and security alongside Israelis.

“Both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to live in security, a right to self-determination and a right to have their human rights protected,” he said.

The response in the House was led by progressive congresswoman Marie Newman of Illinois, who was joined by representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Cori Bush of Missouri, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana, as well as traditional pro-Palestinian Democrats such as Bobby Rush of Illinois and Betty McCollum of Minnesota, a senior member of the party who chairs the Defense Appropriations Committee.

Tlaib made a passionate plea from the floor of the House, during which she described her experience as a Palestinian who still has family in the occupied territories.

“I am the only Palestinian American member of Congress now, and my mere existence has disrupted the status quo,” she said. “(It is) so personal for me.

“I am a reminder to colleagues that Palestinians do indeed exist, that we are human, that we are allowed to dream. We are mothers, daughters, granddaughters. We are justice seekers and are unapologetically about our fight against oppressions of all forms.”

However, these “well meaning” individuals still represent a tiny minority of elected officials, according to former Democratic congressman Jim Moran.

He told Arab News that he is “proud of these members of Congress for speaking out” but added that “the vast majority of members … are under the influence of pro-Israeli lobby groups and are afraid to speak out.”

Moran said many member of Congress are “scared” to voice an opinion about the injustices the Palestinian people are subjected to by US ally Israel. He said the right wing of the Republican Party often targets progressive party members, and those who support Palestinians, financially and through disinformation campaigns.

Khaled Saffuri, a Washington-based political analyst and expert on US politics, said the latest efforts by some senators and representatives might not signal a major shift in the culture of Congress, which has historically supported Israel “no matter what its actions may be.”

But he told the Arab News that “despite being outnumbered and outgunned, these members of Congress deserve our respect and our support.”

 


UK launches first study into COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women

UK launches first study into COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women
Updated 17 May 2021

UK launches first study into COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women

UK launches first study into COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women
  • Scientists hope the assessment will provide more information on the immune response in pregnant women

LONDON: The first COVID-19 vaccine study for pregnant women has been launched in Britain.

It will assess the safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab in healthy pregnant women. Some 235 participants will be recruited for the study, which will take place at 11 sites across Britain.

Scientists hope the assessment will provide more information on the immune response in pregnant women, and to confirm if maternal antibodies are transferred to infants.

The participants will initially receive two doses of the vaccine or a placebo with a gap of 21 days between each jab. The placebo will be a saltwater solution, as is standard practice for vaccine trials.

The participants will answer questionnaires about their health and provide blood samples, complete an e-diary and receive extra monitoring throughout the assessment.

Volunteers will need to attend their site four times before their baby is born, and twice after the birth.

Dr. Chrissie Jones, the study’s chief investigator, said: “While we have a large amount of real-world data which tells us that it’s safe for pregnant women to receive approved COVID-19 vaccines, the data gathered from a controlled research study like this is important because it will give us more information about the vaccine immune response in pregnant women.”