Russia seeks to put stranglehold on twin Ukrainian cities

Russia seeks to put stranglehold on twin Ukrainian cities
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Residents collect drinking water from a supply truck in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on May 24, 2022, amid the Russian invasion. (AFP)
Russia seeks to put stranglehold on twin Ukrainian cities
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A resident enters her home building ruined by Russian shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine, on May 24, 2022. (AP)
Russia seeks to put stranglehold on twin Ukrainian cities
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Displaced Ukrainians are seen a refugee camp in the Iztapalapa borough of Mexico City on May 24, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 25 May 2022

Russia seeks to put stranglehold on twin Ukrainian cities

Russia seeks to put stranglehold on twin Ukrainian cities
  • More than 6.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its war of aggression
  • EU’s von der Leyen says Moscow weaponizing food

More than 6.5 million people have fled abroad, uncounted thousands have been killed and cities have been reduced to rubble.

 

KYIV/SLOVYANSK, Ukraine: Russian forces sought to encircle Ukrainian troops in twin eastern cities straddling a river as President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Moscow was seeking to destroy the industrial Donbas region where it has focused its attacks.
Russia is attempting to seize the separatist-claimed Donbas’ two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.
Russian forces took control of three towns in the Donetsk region including Svitlodarsk, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told an affiliate of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“The situation in Donbas is extremely difficult. All the remaining strength of the Russian army is now concentrated on this region,” Zelensky said in a late Tuesday address. “The occupiers want to destroy everything there.”
Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment out-of-hours.
The easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk, on the west bank, have become a pivotal battlefield. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.
“The enemy has focused its efforts on carrying out an offensive in order to encircle Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk,” said Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk province, where the two cities are among the last territory held by Ukraine.
Ukraine’s military said it had repelled nine Russian attacks on Tuesday in the Donbas where Moscow’s troops had killed at least 14 civilians, using aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles.
Reuters could not immediately verify the information.
In a sign of Ukrainian success elsewhere, authorities in its second-largest city, Kharkiv, re-opened the underground metro, where thousands of civilians had sheltered for months under relentless bombardment.
The re-opening came after Ukraine pushed Russian forces largely out of artillery range of the northern city, as they did from the capital, Kyiv, in March.

WORLD WAR THREE?
Three months into the invasion, Russia still has only limited gains to show for its worst military losses in decades, while much of Ukraine has suffered devastation in the biggest attack on a European state since 1945.
More than 6.5 million people have fled abroad, uncounted thousands have been killed and cities have been reduced to rubble.
The war has also caused growing food shortages and soaring prices due to sanctions and disruption of supply chains. Both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and other commodities.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen accused Russia of using food as a weapon.
Billionaire financier George Soros, also speaking in Davos, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have marked the start of World War III.
“The best and perhaps only way to preserve our civilization is to defeat Putin as soon as possible,” he said.
Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Tuesday lambasted President Vladimir Putin, casting the Kremlin chief as a doomed madman who was butchering the people of both Ukraine and Russia.
“This is a stupid war which your Putin started,” Navalny told an appeals court in Moscow via video link from a corrective penal colony. “This war was built on lies.”
Underlining the global tensions unleashed by the war, major US ally Japan scrambled jets on Tuesday after Russian and Chinese warplanes neared its airspace as US President Joe Biden visited Tokyo.
Meanwhile, in a decision that could push Russia closer to the brink of default, the Biden administration announced it would not extend a waiver set to expire on Wednesday that enabled Russia to pay US bondholders.
Russia had been allowed to keep paying interest and principal and avert default on its government debt.
Russian lawmakers gave the first stamp of approval to a bill that would allow Russian entities to take over foreign companies that have left the country in opposition to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, a government online portal showed. 
On Monday, Starbucks Corp. became the latest Western brand to announce it was pulling out of Russia, following a similar decision by McDonald’s. The hamburger chain’s trademark “Golden Arches” were lowered near Moscow on Monday.

DRAWN OUT CONFLICT
Senior Russian officials suggested in comments on Tuesday the war, which Russia calls a “special operation,” may be drawn-out.
Nikolai Patrushev, head of Putin’s security council, said Russia would fight as long as necessary to eradicate “Nazism” in Ukraine, a justification for the war that the West calls baseless.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was deliberately advancing slowly to avoid civilian casualties.
Zelensky dismissed such statements as “absolutely unreal.”
In Kharkiv, hundreds of people were living underground in trains and stations when the authorities asked them to make way on Tuesday.
“Everyone is crazily scared, because there is still shelling,” said Nataliia Lopanska, who had lived in a metro train for most of the war.
Russian shelling continued in the city and wider area, regional governor Oleh Sinehubov said.
The Donbas fighting follows Russia’s biggest victory in months: the surrender last week of Ukraine’s garrison in the port of Mariupol after a siege in which Kyiv believes tens of thousands of civilians were killed.
Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor now operating outside the city, said the dead were being found in the rubble.
About 200 decomposing bodies were buried in debris in a basement of one high-rise building, he said. Residents had refused to collect them and Russian authorities had abandoned the site.
 


Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy
Updated 58 min 23 sec ago

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy

Paris court rejects 10 ex-militants’ extradition to Italy
  • The Italian nationals had been living in freedom in France for decades after fleeing Italy
  • All 10, only some of whom were linked with the deadly Red Brigades group, spent the last 14 months under French judicial supervision

PARIS: A Paris court on Wednesday ruled against extraditing to Italy 10 former left-wing militants, including some former Red Brigades members, convicted of domestic terrorist crimes in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Italian nationals had been living in freedom in France for decades after fleeing Italy before they could be imprisoned to serve their sentences.
The crimes in connection with which they were convicted include the 1980 killing of a Carabinieri paramilitary general and the kidnapping of a judge in the same year.
All 10, only some of whom were linked with the deadly Red Brigades group, spent the last 14 months under French judicial supervision as judges deliberated on Italy’s extradition request following the activists’ arrests and police questioning a year ago.
The Paris Court of Appeal said in a statement it rejected Italy’s extradition request for each member of the group of 10 men and women, but didn’t explain its reasoning.
Wednesday’s ruling can still be appealed at France’s highest court.
Italy’s justice ministry said in a statement it respected the French judicial process as they await to hear the assessments of the ruling by the Paris attorney general, who is the only one authorized to appeal the court’s decision to deny the extradition of each of the 10 convicted militants.
“I am waiting to know the reasons behind the ruling that denies all extraditions without distinction,” said Italian Justice Minister Marta Cartabia.
“This is a long-awaited ruling for the victims and the entire country, which concerns a dramatic and still painful page in our history,” Cartabia said.
The French presidency said it will not comment on the court’s ruling.
The unwillingness of French authorities to detain convicted Italian former left-wing militants living in France has long been a thorny issue between Paris and Rome.
Italy has sought the extradition of around 200 convicted former militants believed to be in France over the years.
Italy’s far-left Red Brigades group killed about 50 people in a terror campaign in the 1970s and ‘80s.


Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan
Updated 29 June 2022

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan

Otokita: Diplomatic relations with the Middle East are important for Japan
  • The party’s policies include calls for free education, free childbirth and bold tax cuts
  • Otokita was elected to the House of Councilors in 2019 in Tokyo

TOKYO: Shun Otokita, member of the House of Councilors, believes that relations with the Middle East is important for Japan.
Otokita is the chairman of the Policy Research Council of the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).
The ritzy Ginza district in Tokyo was part of his campaign trail where he gave his support to candidates, Kiyoshi Nakajo and Yuki Ebisawa, and appealed to passers-by saying, “We will stamp down the liar LDP.”
The party’s policies include calls for free education, free childbirth, bold tax cuts and economic stimulus measures, as well as the elimination of the 1 percent GDP limit for Japan’s defense budget. The party sees a need for greater defense spending and military capabilities.
Otokita, 38, was elected to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in 2013 and to the House of Councilors in 2019 in Tokyo. He serves on the Committee of Foreign Affairs and Defense and sees the Middle East as an important ally.
“Our relationship with Middle Eastern countries will become increasingly important due to soaring energy prices,” Otokita said. “I will do my best to continue building Japan’s diplomatic relations with them as well as with Asia and Europe.”
 


Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air
Updated 29 June 2022

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air
  • Noor Mohammad, 48, departed from his home in Ghazni province in early May
  • He was stranded in Iran after failing to obtain Iraqi visa to continue journey by land

KABUL: A pilgrim from southeastern Afghanistan, who became a social media sensation when he embarked on a bicycle journey to Makkah last month, has reached Saudi Arabia, Afghan authorities said on Wednesday, after his expedition took a series of unexpected turns, including a sponsored flight.

Noor Mohammad departed from his home in Layeq village, in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province in early May, planning to cover more than 6,000 kilometers to reach the holy city of Islam by July and perform Hajj.

As he cycled through Afghanistan, a Taliban scholar offered him assistance in getting a plane ticket, but the 48-year-old refused, wanting to go the extra mile in fulfilling the sacred obligation.

Little did he know that soon the help would be needed when after three weeks he got stranded in Iran, trying to obtain an Iraqi visa in the border city of Khorramshahr.

“My Afghan friends promised to get me Iraq’s visa there,” Mohammad told Arab News, as he described his further attempts to get a Kuwaiti visa instead. Again, to no avail.

That was when he decided to reach out to the scholar.

“I had no other way. I contacted Shaikh Hammasi through WhatsApp,” he said. “He introduced me to an Afghan businessman who helped with the stay in Iran and return back to Kabul.”

In Kabul, he was immediately accepted for a Hajj preparation course, where officials took care of his departure. His flight was reportedly covered by acting Interior Minister Serajuddin Haqqani, a close aide of Anas Haqqani — the minister’s brother and senior Taliban leader — told Arab News.

“The ministry of Hajj processed my passport on an urgent basis,” Mohammad said, just days before leaving for Saudi Arabia.

He flew from Kabul on Tuesday, after all his travel documents were processed.

“His name was put on the first flight after that,” Mawlawi Israrulhaq, an official at the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, said. “He traveled to Jeddah from where he will join other Afghan Hajjis in Makkah.”

Mohammad was preparing for his flight days after a deadly earthquake wreaked havoc in eastern Afghanistan, killing an estimated 1,150 people last week.

He has been praying for the victims and said he would remember them too when he reached Makkah.

“As soon as I get to Makkah, I will pray to Allah to make it easy for the families who lost loved ones and their houses,” he added. “I am going to ask him to solve all problems of Afghans.”


British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
Updated 29 June 2022

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
  • One million people will perform Hajj this year
  • Sarah Rana said she feels “special and honored” to be performing Hajj next month

LONDON: A British pilgrim has said she feels “very blessed” to be among the 1 million people performing Hajj this year.

Sarah Rana, a management consultant and chartered surveyor, is performing Hajj for the first time and said she feels “special and honored” to be part of the annual gathering.

This year’s Hajj will be the first post-pandemic pilgrimage open to foreign pilgrims, and 1 million people will perform it this year as people across the globe start traveling again. 

Around 2.5 million people performed Hajj in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and approximately 1,000 and 60,000 people from within the Kingdom performed it in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

The chartered surveyor said that she started thinking about going to Hajj during the pandemic when she began reading the Qur’an more and learning about the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

A man reads the Qur'an at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana told Arab News that she has done “a lot of the emotional processing” and is now concentrating on preparing herself physically for the journey ahead which starts with her flight to the Kingdom on Friday.

“45 degrees is not going to be easy. That's going to be massive. If it goes over 30 degrees, my hands and feet start swelling,” Rana said. 

An employee hands out umbrellas at the Grand Mosque in Makkah to help beat the heat. (@ReasahAlharmain)

She said that although she walked the London Marathon last year, walking in the heat “is going to be a very different experience. So I’m not not taking it lightly. I’m thinking it through.”

Rana added that her friends and family have been giving her Hajj tips and that she is “quite well prepared.”

The Kaaba can be seen at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

“I’ve been buying clothes. I found that the stuff that was more expensive was more uncomfortable. So I’m just going to take my practical stuff,” Rana said.

Muslims believe that supplications that pilgrims make during Hajj, especially on the ninth day of Dhu Al-Hijjah, are definitely accepted.

A woman supplicates at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana said she believes that God knows her needs and will give her what is best for her. She will be praying for her kids, that the remainder of her life is a good one and for financial independence.

She said performing Hajj represents a new start for her and will give her closure from any painful experiences in the past. 

“As I turn 50 this year, I think it’s closure to a lot of stuff and genuinely about a new start, whatever that new start is. It’s very meaningful.”


Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London
Updated 29 June 2022

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London

Man charged with new woman’s killing on streets of London
  • Jordan McSweeney, 29, is charged with the murder of 35-year-old Zara Aleena
  • He spoke only to confirm his name and details during a brief hearing at the Thames Magistrates' Court

LONDON: A man was remanded in custody Wednesday after appearing in a London court charged with the murder and attempted rape of a woman who had been walking home alone in east London.
It was the latest in a string of similar incidents that have heightened concern over the safety of women and girls on the British capital’s streets.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, is charged with the murder of 35-year-old Zara Aleena, who was attacked after a night out in Ilford in the early hours of Sunday.
McSweeney, who is also charged with attempted rape and robbery, spoke only to confirm his name and details during a brief hearing at the Thames Magistrates’ Court.
In a statement, Aleena’s family mourned her death and called for an end to violence against women. They highlighted the killings of other women who were targeted by strangers in London and elsewhere.
The family expressed sympathy to the families of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and others who were killed in recent months and whose deaths prompted widespread protests calling for more protection for women and girls.
The family said Aleena, a law graduate who was training to become a lawyer, “walked everywhere” and “believed that a woman should be able to walk home.”
“Sadly, Zara is not the only one who has had her life taken at the hands of a stranger. We all know women should be safe on our streets. She was in the heart of her community, 10 minutes from home,” their statement said.
Police said Aleena suffered serious head injuries, confirmed in a post-mortem examination.
McSweeney was denied bail and remanded in custody until he is due to appear at London’s Central Criminal Court on Jul. 27.
A march remembering Aleena is planned in Ilford on Saturday.