Australian waterbomber helicopter dwarfed by huge wildfire

Australian waterbomber helicopter dwarfed by huge wildfire
Rural Fire Service (RFS) crews engage in property protection of a number of homes along areas of Sydney, Australia, December 19, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 December 2019

Australian waterbomber helicopter dwarfed by huge wildfire

Australian waterbomber helicopter dwarfed by huge wildfire
  • Three major blazes were burning around Sydney, blanketing the harbor city in ash and smoke
  • Temperatures soared above 45 degrees Celsius (113°F) in some areas of Sydney

SYDNEY: Firefighters battling huge bushfires in Australia used a waterbombing helicopter to try and douse a blaze on the outskirts of Sydney on Thursday, with aerial footage showing the aircraft dwarfed by thick black and grey billowing smoke.

Officials in New South Wales (NSW) state declared the second state-wide emergency in as many months on Thursday as more than 100 fires burned across the state, more than half of them uncontrolled.

Three major blazes were burning around Sydney, blanketing the harbor city in ash and smoke, as temperatures soared above 45 degrees Celsius (113°F) in some areas.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) posted footage on its official Twitter account of one of those fires, at Green Wattle Creek, around 80 km (50 miles) southeast of Sydney, as it jumped a railway line.

The short clip showed the waterbomber aircraft flying through the thick cloud to dump water on flames burning in bushland just meters from homes.

The RFS has warned people in high-danger areas to evacuate early as “there are simply not enough fire trucks for every house.”

“If you call for help, you may not get it,” the RFS said in an alert issued on Thursday. “Do not expect a fire truck. Do not expect a knock on the door. Do not expect a phone call.”

The state of emergency declared in NSW gives firefighters broad powers to control government resources, force evacuations, close roads and shut down utilities in a state that is home to more than 7 million people.


Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
Updated 19 January 2021

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
  • Taliban spokesman says first vice president wants to sabotage the peace talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s First Vice President Amrullah Saleh on Monday demanded the execution of Taliban prisoners as violence surges in the country in spite of US-sponsored talks between the government and the militants.

Under mounting US pressure and following months of delay, Kabul released last summer thousands of Taliban prisoners from its custody as part of the landmark accord between the group and Washington.

But now there has been a spike in arrests of suspected Taliban fighters linked with recent attacks.

“These arrests should be executed so that it becomes a lesson for others,” Saleh told a routine security meeting in Kabul.

“The arrested like nightingales admit (to conducting attacks), but their all hope is that they will be freed one day without real punishment … any terrorist detainee should be executed.”

Known as the staunchest anti-Taliban leader in government and consistently opposed to talks with the Taliban, Saleh said he would raise his demand for the executions in the High Council of the Judiciary. His spokesman, Rezwan Murad, said the first vice president has also shared his demand with President Ashraf Ghani.

“Currently, around 1,000 Taliban prisoners have been sentenced to capital punishment,” Prison Administration spokesman in Kabul, Farhad Bayani, told Arab News.

“Such news is provoking, he wants to sabotage the process of talks,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, when reached by Arab News for reaction to Saleh’s push.

“We will severely take the revenge of any type of inhuman and cruel treatment of our prisoners.”

The Afghan government was excluded from the US and Taliban deal signed last February in Doha, which as per the agreement is also hosting the current peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

In spite of the ongoing talks, violence has surged in Afghanistan and both the government and the Taliban accuse each other for its escalation.

Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives in the violence, which has displaced tens of thousands of people since the February deal, while Kabul has endured a resurgence in assassination attacks and magnet bombs.

Prior to Saleh, some residents and lawmakers also demanded the executions of Taliban members suspected of being behind major attacks. Heather Barr, interim co-director for Human Rights Watch, told Arab News: “Human Rights Watch opposes the use of the death penalty under all circumstances. It is a uniquely cruel and irreversible punishment and we are glad to see that there has been some global progress towards abolition of the death penalty.”

She added: “Afghanistan has already seen so much violence and death and continues to experience this violence every day. There is an urgent need for accountability for the many human rights violations that have been inflicted during Afghanistan’s many years of war, but executions will not bring the justice Afghans so badly need.”