India downplays criticism over abstention from UNHRC Israel probe vote

India downplays criticism over abstention from UNHRC Israel probe vote
Relatives of Palestinian student Fadi Wahha, who was reportedly shot by Israeli security forces during a protest, mourn during his burial on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 04 June 2021

India downplays criticism over abstention from UNHRC Israel probe vote

India downplays criticism over abstention from UNHRC Israel probe vote
  • We have departed from our time-tested commitment to Palestine, says Congress Party

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Thursday downplayed criticism over its recent abstention from a vote on a United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution calling for a probe into possible Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.
The UN agreed last week to launch an investigation into Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip at a special session of the UNHRC after airstrikes between May 10 and May 21 killed 270 people.
By a vote of 24 states in favor and nine against, with 14 abstentions — including India — the 47-member council adopted the resolution, presented by Pakistan at the behest of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). 
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki sent an open letter to his Indian counterpart saying the abstention had stifled the UNHRC’s work, but the New Delhi stood by its position.
“Regarding the letter from the Palestinian foreign minister, I understand that Palestine has written similar letters to all the countries that abstained during the UNHRC vote,” India’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, told reporters during a press conference.
“The position that we took was not a new position and we have abstained on previous occasions, and that explains our position quite clearly,” he told Arab News.
But members of India’s civil society and political opposition say the change in India’s Palestine stand is diametric.
“We have departed from our time-tested commitment to Palestine and thrown our support entirely to Israel,” the main opposition Congress party, which ruled the nation from independence in 1947 until 2014, said in a statement.
“India has always been on the side of Palestinians and voted against the creation of Israel at the UN General Assembly in 1947,” India-Palestine Friendship Forum founder Nadeem Khan told Arab News.
“We strongly condemn India’s abstention and ask the government of India to review its policy of supporting Israel,” he said.
For Prof. Apoorvanand Jha, renowned public intellectual and lecturer at the University of Delhi, the Palestinian foreign minister’s letter was both an “indictment” and indication of India’s moral fall.
“India has sadly drifted from its earlier moral position which was to not only support the Palestinian cause, but to oppose racial and apartheid policy,” he said. “This letter from the Palestinian foreign minister is a serious indictment of India’s position, and also an indication of the fall of India in the eyes of all people who love justice, who fight for justice and who fight for equality.
“Palestine is the litmus test for every country now; earlier, it was South Africa. The international solidarity against the apartheid policy of South Africa helped South Africa turn into a democratic country,” Jha told Arab News.
Tensions in Israel escalated when Israeli forces tried to expel Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
“Israel is doing everything to turn non-Jews, especially the Arab Muslim community, (in)to second class citizens,” He added. “This is the same tool the present regime in India is also using.”
Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of the Central University of Kashmir said India’s support for Israel was an “extension” of the anti-Muslim ideological position of India’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). 
“The BJP’s ideological position is anti-Muslim,” he said. “India under the BJP is scared that if it supports (the) UNHCR resolution against Israel, it might have to face (a) similar resolution tomorrow related to Kashmir.”


Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed
Updated 36 sec ago

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed
ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani army helicopter crashed on Monday in bad weather in the Pakistan-administered section of disputed Kashmir, killing the two pilots on board, the military said.
A statement from the military said the helicopter went down on the Siachen glacier, one of the world’s longest mountain glaciers, located in the Karakoram Range, and often referred to as the “highest battleground on earth” because of the wars that Pakistan and India have fought over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Rescue helicopters and troops have been dispatched to Siachen, the military said. No further details on the crash were immediately available. The two pilots were identified as Maj. Irfan Bercha and Maj. Raja Zeeshan Jahanzeb.
Siachen is known for tragedies, a desolate place where more troops have died from avalanches or bitter cold than in combat. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.

Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines

Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines
Updated 31 min 48 sec ago

Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines

Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines
  • Investigators were trying to identify the two gunmen and two companions who escaped on motorcycles and determine their motive
  • The two mayors were reportedly running in May 9 elections

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines: Motorcycle-riding gunmen killed a town mayor and wounded another in a brazen attack Monday that also killed their driver and caused villagers to flee to safety in a coastal village in the southern Philippines, police said.
Mayor Darussalam Lajid of Al-Barka town was killed and Mayor Alih Sali of Akbar town was wounded by at least two men armed with pistols while walking in Zamboanga city shortly after arriving on a speedboat from their island province of Basilan, police said.
A bodyguard of the two mayors was wounded and a driver who came to pick them up was killed, police said.
Investigators were trying to identify the two gunmen and two companions who escaped on motorcycles and determine their motive, including the possibility that it involved a political rivalry.
The two mayors were reportedly running in May 9 elections. Philippine elections have been marred in the past by bloody feuds and accusations of cheating, especially in rural regions with weak law enforcement and a proliferation of unlicensed firearms and private armies.


Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated
Updated 39 min 40 sec ago

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated
  • Only those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from the rules

ROME: People in Italy unvaccinated against COVID-19 can no longer go to the theater, cinemas, live music venues or major sporting events under new rules that came into force Monday.
Only those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from the rules, which represent a significant tightening of restrictions in the face of rising infections.
New measures are also being enforced on public transport, with a so-called Green Pass showing proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative COVID-19 test now required even on local services.
A man in his 50s was fined $452 (€400) for not having his pass on Monday morning as he got off a bus near Piazza del Popolo in Rome, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“I don’t have it because I wanted to get vaccinated in the next few days,” he was reported as saying.
A record 1.3 million Green Passes were downloaded on Sunday ahead of the change.
Meanwhile in Rome at the weekend, new rules requiring face masks to be worn outdoors in the busiest shopping streets came into effect.
Italy was the first European country to be hit by coronavirus in early 2020 and has one of the highest death tolls, at more than 134,000.
However, it is currently faring better than many of its neighbors, with 15,000 cases out of a population of 60 million reported on Sunday.
Almost 85 percent of over 12s have been vaccinated, a booster campaign is in full swing and jabs will soon be available for younger children.
The Green Pass was introduced in August for access to theaters and cinemas, museums and indoor dining, and extended to workplaces in October — a move that sparked widespread protests.
From now until January 15, a new “Super Green Pass,” which can only be obtained through vaccination or recent recovery, will be required for cultural activities — although not museums — and inside restaurants.
However, having a coffee at the bar of a cafe and eating outside is allowed without a Green Pass.
The restrictions will be further tightened in regions at higher risk of coronavirus.
Currently most of Italy is classed as the lowest of four levels, which range from white to yellow, orange and red.
Two regions are yellow — Friuli Venezia Giulia and Bolzano, which both border Austria, a country in partial lockdown over the number of cases there.


Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus
Updated 06 December 2021

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus
  • India has fully vaccinated 51 percent of its 944 million adults and given at least one dose to 85 percent
  • Most other cases have been in people who have recently come from abroad

NEW DELHI: Cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have risen to 21 in India over the weekend and people must step up for vaccination, officials said on Monday.
The western state of Rajasthan reported the most number of omicron cases with nine, followed by eight in Maharashtra, two in Karnataka and one each in Gujarat and the capital New Delhi.
“The people of Delhi must get fully vaccinated, wear a mask and maintain social distancing,” its health minister Satyendar Jain said on Twitter.
He said the city’s first omicron patient was being treated at a state-run hospital. Some 94 percent of its adults had received at lease one dose, he added.
The country has fully vaccinated 51 percent of its 944 million adults and given at least one dose to 85 percent. Tens of millions of people, however, are overdue for their second dose despite ample vaccine supplies, government data shows.
India reported its first two omicron cases in the southern state of Karnataka on Thursday, in one person with no recent travel history.
Most other cases have been in people who have recently come from abroad, but doctors said the mutated virus was already spreading in the local population as well.
“omicron is here, community spread is underway,” surgeon Arvinder Singh Soin, who has been treating COVID-19 patients, said on Twitter. “Mask up. Get FULLY vaccinated.”
India reported 8,895 new COVID-19 cases for the past 24 hours, taking the total to 34.64 million. Deaths rose by 211 to 473,537.
Since a record surge in infections and deaths in April and May due to the Delta variant, new cases have hovered around 10,000 in the past few weeks.


27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15
Updated 06 December 2021

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15
  • Mount Semeru spewed thick columns of ash as high as 12,000 meters into the sky in a sudden eruption triggered by heavy rain

SUMBERWULUH, Indonesia: Rescuers dug out the body of 13-year-old boy with their bare hands on Monday, as improved weather conditions allowed them to resume their search after the highest volcano on Indonesia’s Java island erupted with fury, killing at least 15 people with searing gas and ash and leaving 27 others missing.
Mount Semeru in Lumajang district in East Java province spewed thick columns of ash as high as 12,000 meters into the sky in a sudden eruption Saturday triggered by heavy rain. Villages and nearby towns were blanketed by tons of volcanic debris.
Searing gas raced down the sides of the mountain, smothering entire villages and killing or seriously burning those caught in its path.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said 56 people had been hospitalized, mostly with burns. He said rescuers were still searching for 27 villagers reported missing. Nearly 3,000 houses and 38 schools were damaged, Muhari said.
The body of the 13-year-old boy was recovered in the worst-hit village of Sumberwuluh, where houses were buried to their rooftops and cars were submerged. Crumpled roofs, charred carcasses of cattle and broken chairs covered in gray ash and soot dotted the smoldering landscape.
Search and rescue efforts were temporarily suspended Sunday afternoon because of fears that heavy rain would cause more hot ash and debris to fall from the crater.
The eruption of the 3,676-meter-high mountain eased pressure that had been building under a lava dome in the crater. But experts warned that the dome could further collapse, causing an avalanche of blistering gas and debris trapped beneath it.
More than 1,700 villagers escaped to makeshift emergency shelters after Saturday’s powerful eruption, but many others defied official warnings and chose to remain in their homes to tend their livestock and protect their property.
Semeru, also known as Mahameru, has erupted many times in the last 200 years. Still, as on many of the 129 volcanoes monitored in Indonesia, tens of thousands of people live on its fertile slopes. It last erupted in January, with no casualties.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.