Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
Punta Rocca summit is seen after parts of the Marmolada glacier collapsed. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 July 2022

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
  • Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades

CANAZEI, Italy: Search and rescue operations resumed on Monday in the Italian Alps with 17 people missing, authorities said, after part of a mountain glacier collapsed, killing at least six people and injuring eight.

The avalanche took place on the Marmolada, which at more than 3,300 meters is the highest peak in the Dolomites, a range in the eastern Italian Alps straddling the regions of Trento and Veneto.

Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades.

It was not clear what caused the ice to break way but an early summer heatwave across Italy saw temperature rise abruptly, including on the Marmolada.

“For weeks the temperatures at high altitudes in the Alps have been well above normal values, while this past winter there has been little snow, which hardly protects the glacial basins anymore,” Renato Colucci from the polar sciences institute of the National Research Council (CNR) said in a statement.

Four victims were identified on Monday, three of them Italian, including two alpine guides, and another from the Czech Republic, news agency AGI reported, citing rescuers.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the head of the National Civil Protection agency were due to visit the area later on Monday.


FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound
Updated 9 sec ago

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound
DUBAI: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered Pfizer Inc. to test the effects of an additional course of its antiviral Paxlovid among people who experience a rebound in COVID-19 after treatment, the regulator said on Friday.
The drugmaker must produce initial results of a randomized controlled trial of a second course of the antiviral by Sept. 30 next year, the FDA told Pfizer in a letter dated Aug. 5.
The regulator said a formal plan for the clinical trial is expected to be finalized this month.
Pfizer is “working with the FDA to finalize a protocol to study patients who may be in need of retreatment,” and will provide details when available, a company spokesperson said.

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported
Updated 2 min 58 sec ago

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported

MOGADISHU: Al-Shabab fighters attacked a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu in a hail of gunfire and explosions on Friday, with casualties reported, security sources and witnesses said.

The assault on the Hayat Hotel triggered a fierce gunfight between security forces and gunmen from the jihadist group who are still holed up inside the building, security official Abdukadir Hassan told AFP.

The Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group, which has been waging a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s fragile central government for about 15 years, claimed responsibility.

Ambulance officials gave an injury toll of three, while witnesses at the scene at an intersection known as KM4 reported another two had been wounded.

“A huge blast went off a few minutes before the gunmen forced their way into the hotel,” Hassan said.

“We don’t have the details so far but there are casualties, and the security forces are now engaging with the enemy who are holed up inside the building,” he added.

Somali police spokesman Abdifatah Adan Hassan later told reporters that the initial blast was caused by a suicide bomber who attacked the hotel with several other gunmen.

The assailants “are now being engaged by the police forces, they will be neutralized very soon,” he said.

It was not immediately clear if security forces had taken back control of the hotel and if the attack was over.

Witnesses said a second blast occurred outside the hotel just a few minutes after the first, inflicting casualties on rescuers and members of the security forces and civilians who rushed to the scene after the first explosion.

“The area is cordoned off now and there is exchange of gunfire between the security forces and the gunmen,” said one witness, Mohamed Salad.

The militants claimed the attack in a brief statement on a pro-Shabab website.

“A group of Al-Shabab attackers forcibly entered Hotel Hayat in Mogadishu, the fighters are carrying out random shooting inside the hotel,” the group said in a brief statement on a pro-Shabab website.

The Hayat is a popular spot in Mogadishu in an area where several other hotels are located, and it is frequented by government officials and civilians.

Earlier this week, the United States announced that its forces had killed 13 Al-Shabab fighters in an air strike in the central-southern part of the country as the Islamist militants were attacking Somali forces.

The US has carried out several air raids on the militants in strikes in recent weeks.

In May, President Joe Biden ordered the reestablishment of a US troop presence in Somalia to help local authorities combat Al-Shabab, reversing a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw most US forces.

In recent weeks, Al-Shabab fighters have also waged attacks on the Somalia-Ethiopia border, raising concerns about a possible new strategy by the Islamist militants.

Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said last month that ending Al-Shabab’s insurgency required more than a military approach, but that his government would negotiate with the group only when the time is right.

Al-Shabab fighters were driven out of the capital in 2011 by an African Union force, but the group still controls swathes of countryside.

It continues to wage deadly strikes on civilian and military targets, with hotels a quite frequent target.

Earlier this month, Somalia’s new Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre announced the appointment of the group’s former deputy leader and spokesman, Muktar Robow, as religion minister.

Robow, 53, publicly defected from Al-Shabab in August 2017, with the US government at one point offering a $5-million bounty for his capture.

The Horn of Africa nation has been mired in chaos since the fall of the military regime of President Siad Barre in 1991.

His ouster was followed by a civil war and the ascendancy of Al-Shabab.

The deadliest attack in Somalia occurred in October 2017 when a truck packed with explosives blew up in a bustling commercial district of Mogadishu, killing 512 people.


Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages

Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages
Updated 19 August 2022

Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages

Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages
  • The victims' relatives and friends sat in the front rows of the courtroom and were visibly shaken during the course of the hearing
  • Elsheikh was accused of conspiring to kill four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller

VIRGINIA, US: A US federal judge on Friday sentenced a member of a Deash cell known as “The Beatles” to life in prison for involvement in a hostage-taking plot that led to the killings of American journalists and aid workers in Syria.
Families and friends of the four Americans killed and of other hostages previously detained by the militant group looked on as District Court Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, to life without parole, calling his behavior “horrific, barbaric, brutal and of course criminal.”
A jury in April concluded the former British citizen was part of an Daesh cell, nicknamed “The Beatles” for their English accents, that beheaded American hostages in areas of the Middle East controlled by the militant group. He was found guilty on four counts of hostage-taking and four counts of conspiracy after a two-week trial.
The victims’ relatives and friends sat in the front rows of the courtroom and were visibly shaken during the course of the hearing as tears rolled down their eyes and they consoled each other. Elsheikh was sentenced to eight concurrent life sentences.
At the peak of its power from 2014-2017, Daesh ruled over millions of people and claimed responsibility for or inspired attacks in dozens of cities around the world.
Its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, declared a caliphate over a quarter of Iraq and Syria in 2014, before he was killed in a raid by US special forces in Syria in 2019 as the group’s rule collapsed.
Elsheikh, who was born in Sudan and raised in London, was accused of conspiring to kill four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
Foley and Sotloff, both journalists, and Kassig, an aid worker, were killed in videotaped beheadings. Mueller was raped repeatedly by Al-Baghdadi before her death in Syria, US officials have said.
The deaths of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig were confirmed in 2014; Mueller’s death was confirmed in early 2015.
Elsheikh appeared in the federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, on Friday wearing a gray jumpsuit, a facemask and glasses. Family and friends of his victims were asked to make statements in front of the judge.
“Hatred completely overtook your humanity,” Foley’s mother, Diane said, later breaking down in tears. “I pity you. I pray your time in prison will give you a time to reflect.” Friday marked the eighth anniversary of Foley’s beheading.
The head of the London police’s Counter Terrorism Command, Richard Smith, said in a statement the victims’ families “have shown remarkable fortitude and bravery in giving their accounts of what happened to investigators, and in court.”
The charges against Elsheikh, whose British citizenship was withdrawn in 2018, carried a potential death sentence, but US prosecutors had previously advised British officials that they would not seek the death penalty.
Prosecutors argued that a life sentence was needed to prevent Elsheikh from causing future harm and to set a precedent that such crimes will get strict punishment.
“The Beatles were genuine psychopaths,” First Assistant US Attorney Raj Parekh argued in court on Friday during the hearing, adding that Elsheikh was the highest-ranking member of the Daesh to ever be convicted in a US Court.
Another cell member, Alexanda Kotey, was sentenced to life in prison by a US judge earlier this year. Kotey was held in Iraq by the US military before being flown to the United States to face trial. He pleaded guilty last September to the murders of Foley, Sotloff, Kassig and Mueller.
A third member of the group, Mohammed Emwazi, died in a US-British missile strike in Syria in 2015.
Some former hostages, released by the cell after protracted negotiations, testified during trials about the torture they endured. Family members of those killed also testified.


In Philippines’ Muslim south, women unite to escape destitution

In Philippines’ Muslim south, women unite to escape destitution
Updated 19 August 2022

In Philippines’ Muslim south, women unite to escape destitution

In Philippines’ Muslim south, women unite to escape destitution
  • Bangsamoro poverty rate at 63% caused by decades of conflict
  • 500 cooperatives raise scarce funds from farming, weaving, crafts

MANILA: Equipped with sewing machines, simple agricultural tools, and a will to contribute to the community, women in Bangsamoro have been joining together to lift from poverty one of the poorest regions of the southern Philippines, where armed conflict has for decades hampered development.

Bangsamoro is the only Muslim-majority territory in the predominantly Christian Philippines. After four decades of separatist struggle, which took the lives of over 150,000 Filipino citizens, the region since 2014 has been the centerpiece of a peace process, under which fighters agreed to turn over their firearms in exchange for self-administration.

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was formed in 2019 and its transition to autonomy will culminate in 2025, when it will elect its legislature and executive.

Part of the process is development — long overdue in the region that is home to some 4.7 million people, where the poverty incidence rate is 63 percent, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

The empowerment of women is recognized as key in uplifting the community and one of the initiatives undertaken for economic empowerment is through cooperatives.

They allow women to organize for joint activities such as agriculture, weaving, and other crafts. Some of their products are sold on the market to keep their organizations running, while they retain a portion.

For Raga Tarotawan, 64, who heads the Women Sector Agricultural Cooperative in South Barira municipality in the BARMM province of Maguindanao, participation supports her family, but also allows her to give back to her community.

“We want to be productive to show that we can also contribute something to the community,” she said. “We don’t have a job but still we want to show we can still be productive.”

Tarotawan’s cooperative was established in 2019, and has since gained over 1,000 members, who grow fruits, vegetables and chilies.

There are about 500 women’s organizations like this in BARMM, according to Bangsamoro Transition Authority data, and there used to be many more but authorities say there are challenges in making them sustainable as many fail when external funding runs out.

“Because of the conflict, they developed a culture of dependency,” Dr. Susana Salvador Anayatin, member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, told Arab News. “They are not really sustainable.”

The matter of keeping women’s business initiatives afloat is what has come to the attention of foreign donors.

Among them is a new program by the French government to help streamline their operations.

“It’s a project with a level of financing of EUR530,000 ($533,325),” Michele Boccoz, the French ambassador to the Philippines, said. “We’re looking at these areas where we can bring some experience and some expertise.”

She recognized the potential of women’s cooperatives for post-conflict community development.

“If women are empowered and they have economic power they can create resources, then they would immediately focus on their families,” Boccoz told Arab News.

“You have all these decommissioned combatants and if you really want to make the peace process a success, you have to anchor them, give them the capacity to build their lives, to have good jobs, to be able to raise their kids, to be able to develop their businesses, and to be active citizens participating in society.”

 


UAE team explores setting up plasma farming facilities in Pakistan

A Pakistani paramedic stores plasma after donations by volunteers in Karachi. (AFP file photo)
A Pakistani paramedic stores plasma after donations by volunteers in Karachi. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 August 2022

UAE team explores setting up plasma farming facilities in Pakistan

A Pakistani paramedic stores plasma after donations by volunteers in Karachi. (AFP file photo)
  • Proteins from human plasma are used in treatment of life-threatening conditions
  • Pakistan and UAE have been working on the ground-breaking project for several months

ISLAMABAD: A delegation from the UAE has arrived in Pakistan to carry out a feasibility study for a project to set up the first plasma farming facilities in the South Asian country.

Plasma farming technology is a growing field in patient care and clinical medicine. It involves plasma fractionation, the processing of plasma harvested by donors to break it into individual proteins, or plasma fractions.

Protein products derived from human plasma are used — often as the only available option — in the prevention and treatment of life-threatening conditions resulting from trauma, congenital deficiencies, immunologic disorders or infections.

The UAE delegation, which arrived in Pakistan earlier this week, was led by Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al-Maktoum, and included representatives of Hayat Biotech Limited, Emirati artificial intelligence company Group 42, and China’s Sinopharm.

After meeting the delegation, Pakistani Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel told Arab News on Thursday that he hoped the establishment of plasma farming facilities would happen “as early as possible.”

“We have discussed establishing state-of-the-art PFFs in Pakistan which will be the first of its kind as we have fresh frozen plasma extraction, but not farming ability,” Patel said.

Fresh frozen plasma is a blood product made from the liquid portion of whole blood. It is used to treat conditions in which there are low blood clotting factors or low levels of other blood proteins. It may also be used as the replacement fluid in plasma exchange.

Pakistan and the UAE have been working on the PFF project for several months, and a Pakistani delegation had visited the UAE in June, the minister said.

“It is a follow-up visit by the UAE delegation to assess potential, and to conduct a feasibility study for the establishment of PFFs based on World Health Organization’s standards,” he said, adding that blood services in the country were mostly provided by hospital blood banks, with no separation of the plasma processes into production and utilization.

“Very soon,” Patel replied when asked when the PFFs would become operational.

“After the submission of a report by the UAE delegation, we will try to expedite the whole process and would like to start this facility as early as possible,” he said.

“We are thankful to the UAE government as due to their efforts and the personal interest of Sheikh Al-Maktoum, who engaged a consortium of G-42, Sinopharm, Hayat Biotech Limited, and led a delegation for assessment and feasibility study of the project.”

Patel said that the team will visit regional blood centers in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to evaluate the readiness of the sites for PFFs.

The UAE delegation will submit its report in about two weeks, “and then we will sign an agreement to cover its legal framework.”

Patel said that the facilities would save Pakistan precious foreign exchange by reducing the need to import several expensive medicines.

“No country can sustain without working on plasma farming, as we have to import all the plasma-based medicines, which cost us millions of dollars in foreign exchange,” he said, adding that plasma would also be easily available, especially for thalassemia, hepatitis and cancer patients.

The minister said that Pakistan was also in talks with the UAE to establish a genetic database profiling system to digitalize the Pakistani health system, revamp major hospitals across the country, and help in the modernization of health equipment and staff training.

“The visit was successful,” Rashed Abdulrehman Al-Zamar, deputy head of mission at the UAE Embassy in Islamabad, told Arab News. “The UAE is keen to invest in different sectors of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, especially in the health field.”