NATO warns Russia over troop buildup close to Ukraine

NATO warns Russia over troop buildup close to Ukraine
A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard at a position on the frontline with Russia backed separatists near small city of Marinka, Donetsk region on April 12, 2021. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 April 2021

NATO warns Russia over troop buildup close to Ukraine

NATO warns Russia over troop buildup close to Ukraine
  • Stoltenberg said that “NATO stands with Ukraine”
  • Stoltenberg called the latest military buildup the biggest since 2014

BRUSSELS: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Moscow on Tuesday not to push its troop buildup along the frontier with Ukraine, and expressed the alliance’s “unwavering” support for Russia’s neighbor.
In a news conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Stoltenberg said that “NATO stands with Ukraine,” and added that the Russian movements were “unjustified, unexplained and deeply concerning.”
The comments come amid a surge of cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a conflict since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Stoltenberg called it the biggest military buildup since then. “Russia has moved thousands of combat troops to Ukraine’s borders, the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Over the last days, several Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in eastern Ukraine,” he said.
Kuleba sounded defiant toward Moscow and said Ukraine and its Western partners were better prepared than 7 years ago. “Should Moscow take any reckless move or start a new spiral of violence, it will be costly in all senses,” Kuleba said.
Stoltenberg will be joined by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday to assess the Russian troop buildup, among other issues.
“Russia must end this military buildup in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and de-escalate immediately,” Stoltenberg said.
“Russia has moved thousands of combat troops to Ukraine’s borders, the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Over the last days, several Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in eastern Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.


US has ‘wrong’ expectation for dialogue with North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s sister

US has ‘wrong’ expectation for dialogue with North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s sister
Updated 5 min 56 sec ago

US has ‘wrong’ expectation for dialogue with North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s sister

US has ‘wrong’ expectation for dialogue with North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s sister
  • The Biden administration has promised a practical, calibrated approach to North Korea
  • Kim Yo Jong – a key adviser to her brother – appeared to dismiss the prospects for an early resumption of negotiations
SEOUL: The influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Tuesday that Washington had “wrong” expectations for dialogue with Pyongyang and was facing “greater disappointment,” state media reported.
Kim Yo Jong’s comments came after US national security adviser Jake Sullivan described her brother’s first reaction to Washington’s recent review of its approach to the North as an “interesting signal.”
The Biden administration has promised a practical, calibrated approach, including diplomatic efforts, to persuade the impoverished North to give up its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
In response, the North’s leader Kim last week said Pyongyang must prepare for both dialogue and confrontation.
Washington considered his comments as interesting, Sullivan told ABC News, adding the administration “will wait to see whether they are followed up with any kind of more direct communication to us about a potential path forward.”
But Kim Yo Jong — a key adviser to her brother — appeared to dismiss the prospects for an early resumption of negotiations.
The US seemed to be seeking “comfort for itself,” she said in a statement reported by Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency.
It harbored expectations “the wrong way,” she added, which would “plunge them into a greater disappointment.”
Kim’s comments came with the top US diplomat in charge of North Korea negotiations on a five-day visit to Seoul, where he said Monday that Washington was ready to meet with Pyongyang “anywhere, anytime, without preconditions.”
Just hours before Pyongyang released Kim’s statement, US envoy Sung Kim met with the South’s unification minister, reiterating Washington’s willingness to talk with the North.
The North at the weekend admitted it was tackling a food crisis, sounding the alarm in a country with a moribund agricultural sector that has long struggled to feed itself.
It is now under self-imposed isolation to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic, and as a result trade with Beijing — its economic lifeline — has slowed to a trickle while all international aid work faces tight restrictions.

Philippines community raffles off bags of rice to boost vaccine drive

Philippines community raffles off bags of rice to boost vaccine drive
Updated 41 min 5 sec ago

Philippines community raffles off bags of rice to boost vaccine drive

Philippines community raffles off bags of rice to boost vaccine drive
  • The country has had difficulties securing vaccine supplies

MANILA: A community in the Philippines has been raffling off huge sacks of rice in exchange for getting vaccinated against COVID-19, after finding it hard to persuade people to get their shots.
Twenty weekly winners who get their shots in Sucat on the outskirts of the capital Manila have been taking home a 25 kg (55 pound) sack of rice each.
Local official Jeramel Mendoza said the initiative was targeting mainly poorer residents, who were not so keen on vaccinations.
“Initially, when we conducted our vaccination drive, there were very few people signing up. So we asked ourselves why?” he said.
“Why are those rich people or those who live in exclusive villages able to lead the vaccinations, but our poorer sectors do not to join in or participate?“
Sucat village officials said since starting the initiative at end-May, they have been administering their daily quota of vaccines of up to 2,000 doses, whereas before they were giving only about 400 doses a day.
“It’s a nice initiative and I feel safer after being vaccinated. I’m happy I got vaccinated while winning some rice,” said Almond Gregorio, a firefighter and holder of a winning raffle ticket.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this month appealed to the public to get vaccinated, after data showed the government was far behind on its immunization targets as it battles one of Asia’s longest-running outbreaks.
This week, Duterte showed less patience, threatening in a televised address on Monday to jail people who refuse to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
About 2 million of the Philippines’ population of nearly 110 million are fully inoculated against COVID-19 so far, although the country has had difficulties securing vaccine supplies.
A survey of 1,200 Filipinos in May by independent pollster Social Weather Stations showed only a third were willing to be vaccinated, while a third were hesitant over concerns about side effects or the overall efficacy of vaccines.
The Philippines has ordered 113 million vaccination doses from five manufacturers, but so far it has mostly been giving shots of China’s Sinovac vaccine.
In Sucat, housewife and another prize winner, Louilyn Tubice, said of the local initiative: “It’s delightful because you get to be vaccinated and also receive a bag of rice.”


UK’s newest carrier joins fight against Daesh, stirs Russian interest

An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Updated 22 June 2021

UK’s newest carrier joins fight against Daesh, stirs Russian interest

An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth, a 65,000-ton carrier, has a squadron of the cutting-edge F-35 jet and its support ships include the US destroyer The Sullivans
  • The carrier group is supporting the UK's missions to wipe out the remnants of Daesh in Iraq as the US focuses on its withdrawal from Afghanistan

EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA: Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is helping to take on the “lion’s share” of operations against the Daesh (Islamic State) group in Iraq, UK naval commanders said. It has also piqued the interest of Russian warplanes, who try to keep tabs on its cutting-edge F-35 jet in a “cat-and-mouse” game with British and US pilots.
Speaking aboard the 65,000-ton carrier on its first-ever deployment, Commodore Steve Moorhouse said the UK is carrying out most of the missions to wipe out the remnants of Daesh in Iraq as the US focuses on its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“At the moment, we’re taking on the lion’s share of that operation over Iraq, which is a fantastic, say, feather in our cap. But an achievement that ‘A’, we’re trusted and ‘B’, that we’re able to do that,” Moorhouse told reporters Sunday.
It’s the first time that a UK aircraft carrier is supporting live military operations on the ground in over two decades, projecting British military power on a global scale. Moorhouse said the carrier offers the UK flexibility in how to conduct military operations abroad and “keeps those that wish to cause us harm ... on their toes.”
He said the eastern Mediterranean has become more “congested and contested” over the last decade in light of the heavier Russian military presence in Syria, which is resulting in regular encounters with Russian ships and warplanes.

An F-35 aircraft takes off from the UK's aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

“We’re rubbing up against Russian activity, not in a you know, in a dangerous or aggressive manner, but you’ve just got other people out here playing in what is a fixed piece of water and airspace,” said Moorhouse, adding that a Russian warship has come within 10 kilometers (16 miles) of the carrier.
The commodore insisted that Russian, British and US pilots have a “healthy respect for one another” and their conduct has been “absolutely professional” since the aircraft carrier started anti-IS operations on June 18.
“But there is a reality when you buy yourself a fifth-generation aircraft carrier and you take it around the world ... people are interested in it,” he added.
Captain James Blackmore, who commands the eight British F-35 jets and the 10 helicopters aboard the carrier, said UK and Russian pilots have come within “visual distance” of each other.
“It’s that cat-and-mouse posturing, it’s what we expect in this region of world. And as you can imagine, it’s the first time for F-35s into the eastern Mediterranean,” said Blackmore. “So, of course Russia wants to look at what they’re like, they want to look at what our carriers are like.”
The state-of-the art F-35, armed with air-to-air missiles and laser-guided bombs, is being used over Iraq to look for other aircraft or unmanned drones, support troops on the ground as well as to carry out surveillance with its sophisticated sensor and radar systems.
“It’s a fifth-generation aircraft with a hugely, hugely capable radar and sensor suite, and that’s what it brings. So it’s the eyes and ears that it’s offering out there,” said Moorhouse.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth and its support ships, which include the US destroyer The Sullivans, will remain in the eastern Mediterranean for two to three weeks before moving through the Suez Canal to continue with a 7 1/2 -month deployment to India, South Korea and Japan.
The carrier also has 10 US F-35 jets from the Marine Corps’ Fighter Attack Squadron 211 aboard that carry out operations under British command.


Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century
Zsolt Balla, State Rabbi of Saxony, stands in the synagogue in Leipzig, Germany, Monday June 21, 2021, after his induction into the office of Military Rabbi of the Armed Forces. (AP)
Updated 22 June 2021

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century

Germany gets 1st military rabbi in over a century
  • The German army already had only Catholic and Lutheran chaplains, and there are plans to introduce Muslim religious counseling in future

BERLIN: The German military got its first rabbi in over a century Monday, with the inauguration to the post of Hungarian-born Zsolt Balla at a synagogue in Leipzig.
The German government in 2019 approved a proposal by the Central Council of Jews to restore religious counseling for Jews serving in the armed forces.
“This was unthinkable for decades and still can’t be taken for granted,” the head of the Central Council, Josef Schuster, said. “That’s why we have all reason to be happy and grateful today.”
During World War I, many Jews fought for Germany and dozens of rabbis are known to have performed pastoral work in the military. After Adolf Hitler’ came to power in 1933, the Nazis excluded Jews from all spheres of public life, later murdering millions in the Holocaust.
Schuster said Balla would ensure Jewish soldiers can serve in the military in line with their religious rules, and also teach non-Jewish soldiers about Judaism’s traditions and holy days, thereby helping reduce prejudice.
The 42-year-old rabbi, who was ordained in 2009, said he felt “incredibly gratitude to be allowed to live in a country that faces its past but has also resolved to go forward and actively make the world better.”
According to German news agency dpa, there are about 300 Jews in Germany’s 180,000-strong Bundeswehr. About half of the country’s military belong to a Christian denomination, while 3,000 are Muslim.
The German army already had only Catholic and Lutheran chaplains, and there are plans to introduce Muslim religious counseling in future.


Pro-Palestine activists from Palestine Action arrested after protest at Israeli defense factory in UK

Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
Updated 22 June 2021

Pro-Palestine activists from Palestine Action arrested after protest at Israeli defense factory in UK

Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls. (Twitter/@Pal_action)
  • Palestine Action said in a statement that it had staged protests at seven sites in the UK in the past month
  • The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, which produces specialist electrical equipment for military use

LONDON: Three pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on Monday after forcing their way into a factory they claim makes components for the Israeli military.
Activists from UK-based Palestine Action occupied the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Manchester, after scaling the roof, chaining the gates shut and smearing red paint over the factory’s walls.
The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, which produces specialist electrical equipment for military use.
Greater Manchester Police said in a statement that officers were called to Greenacres Road, Oldham, at about 6:40 a.m. following reports of a protest.

Three men were arrested and remain in custody, police said.
Huda Ammori, co-founder of Palestine Action, told Arab News that it was hoped the men would be released within 24 hours.
She said that the activists wanted to cause further disruption to Elbit Systems.
“Activists have gone inside before, but not caused significant damage to the machinery. This is the first time it has been done on this scale, so it is definitely an escalation in terms of our activism and our campaign against Elbit Systems’ operations here in the UK,” she said.
Ammori claimed that people were growing frustrated with the UK government’s response to Israel’s actions, especially following the 11-day conflict that rocked Gaza in May.
The UK Parliament held a debate to discuss a petition signed by over 385,000 people calling for sanctions on Israel. Politicians from both sides of the aisle urged the government to push forward the two-state solution by recognizing the state of Palestine, but most MPs who took part in the debate rejected the idea of sanctions against Israel.

Palestine Action said in a statement that it had staged protests at seven sites in the UK in the past month.
“The government has failed to take action, our parliamentarians have failed and protests have been ignored, and when everything else fails, the only tool we have left is to take the power back into our own hands, and expose exactly what Israel’s arms companies are doing and building in UK towns and cities,” Ammori said.
A North West Ambulance Service spokesman said that four people were treated for minor injuries.