YEREVAN: The death toll from an explosion at a bustling shopping market in the Armenian capital Yerevan rose to six on Monday.
Four women and one man died, over 60 were injured and 19 were missing after Sunday’s blast at the Surmalu wholesale market, the Ministry of Emergency Situations said.
Search and rescue operations were carried out overnight, it said, with 10 survivors and one body pulled from the rubble.
The explosion caused a fire and led to the collapse of a building.
The cause has not yet been established, but local news reports, citing witnesses, said the explosion went off at a place that stored fireworks.
Photos and videos posted on social media showed a thick column of black smoke over the market and what appeared to be a series of detonations can be heard.
Prosecutors meanwhile launched a probe into violations “on stocking inflammable goods,” breaches in fire safety standards and the death of people “due to negligence.”
In all, 200 firefighters and medical workers were sent to the scene, as well as fire engines and construction site equipment.
Rescue workers used a digger to clear away rubble, an AFP journalist at the scene reported earlier.
The disaster comes as the country of three million people is still recovering from a 2020 war with Azerbaijan, which ended in a heavy defeat and sparked a political crisis.
At least 6 people wounded in shooting at school in Oakland
Updated 29 September 2022
OAKLAND, California: At least six people were wounded in a shooting at a school in Oakland on Wednesday, officials said.
The scene of the shooting was “no longer active,” according to Alameda County Sheriff spokesperson Lt. Ray Kelly. Paramedics had transported six patients to hospitals, all with gunshot wounds, according to Oakland Fire Department spokesperson Michael Hunt.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tweeted that all of the wounded were adults and the shooting happened at Sojourner Truth Independent Study, an alternative K-12 school.
Officials didn’t say if any of the victims might be students age 18 or older.
Three of the wounded were in critical condition at Highland Hospital in Oakland, the other three were taken to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and their conditions were not known, officials said.
John Sasaki, a spokesperson for Oakland Unified School District, said in a statement that district officials “do not have any information beyond what Oakland Police are reporting.” He said the Sojourner Truth Independent Study headquarters has no students and is located on the same block as three other schools.
Television footage showed dozens of police cars and yellow tape on the street outside the school and students leaving nearby campuses.
City Council Member Treva Reid said investigators told her the shooting may be tied to rising “group and gang violence.”
Oakland Police Capt. Casey Johnson confirmed in a brief news conference that six people were shot, and didn’t answer any questions.
City Council Member Loren Taylor, who was outside the school, declined to confirm any details about the incident, telling KTVU-TV, “Guns were on our school campuses where our babies were supposed to be protected.”
Hurricane Ian swamps southwest Florida, trapping people in homes
Updated 29 September 2022
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida: Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the US, swamped southwest Florida on Wednesday, flooding streets and buildings, knocking out power to over 1 million people and threatening catastrophic damage further inland.
A coastal sheriff’s office reported that it was getting many calls from people trapped in homes. The hurricane’s center struck near Cayo Costa, a protected barrier island just west of heavily populated Fort Myers.
Mark Pritchett stepped outside his home in Venice around the time the hurricane churned ashore from the Gulf of Mexico, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) to the south. He called it “terrifying.”
“I literally couldn’t stand against the wind,” Pritchett wrote in a text message. “Rain shooting like needles. My street is a river. Limbs and trees down. And the worst is yet to come.”
The Category 4 storm slammed the coast with 150 mph (241 kph) winds and pushed a wall of storm surge accumulated during its slow march over the Gulf. More than 1.1 million Florida homes and businesses were without electricity. The storm previously tore into Cuba, killing two people and bringing down the country’s electrical grid.
About 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate southwest Florida before Ian hit, but by law no one could be forced to flee.
News anchors at Fort Myers television station WINK had to abandon their usual desk and continue storm coverage from another location in their newsroom because water was pushing into their building near the Caloosahatchee River.
Though expected to weaken to a tropical storm as it marched inland at about 9 mph (14 kph), Ian’s hurricane force winds were likely to be felt well into central Florida. Hours after landfall, top sustained winds had dropped to 130 mph (210 kph). Still, storm surges as high as 6 feet (2 meters) were expected on the opposite side of the state, in northeast Florida.
“This is going to be a nasty nasty day, two days,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, urging people in Ian’s path along the Atlantic coast to rush to the safest possible shelter and stay there.
Jackson Boone left his home near the Gulf coast and hunkered down at his law office in Venice with employees and their pets. Boone at one point opened a door to howling wind and rain flying sideways.
“We’re seeing tree damage, horizontal rain, very high wind,” Boone said by phone. “We have a 50-plus-year-old oak tree that has toppled over.”
In Naples, the first floor of a fire station was inundated with about 3 feet (1 meter) of water and firefighters worked to salvage gear from a firetruck stuck outside the garage in even deeper water, a video posted by the Naples Fire Department showed. Naples is in Collier County, where the sheriff’s department reported on Facebook that it was getting “a significant number of calls of people trapped by water in their homes” and that it would prioritize reaching people “reporting life threatening medical emergencies in deep water.”
Ian’s strength at landfall tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane when measured by wind speed to strike the US Among the other storms was Hurricane Charley, which hit nearly the same spot on Florida’s coast in August 2004, killing 10 people and inflicting $14 billion in damage.
Ian had strengthened rapidly overnight, prompting Fort Myers handyman Tom Hawver to abandon his plan to weather the hurricane at home. He headed across the state to Fort Lauderdale.
“We were going to stay and then just decided when we got up, and they said 155 mph winds,” Hawver said. “We don’t have a generator. I just don’t see the advantage of sitting there in the dark, in a hot house, watching water come in.”
Florida residents rushed ahead of landfall to board up homes, stash precious belongings on upper floors and join long lines of cars leaving the shore.
Some decided to try and ride out the storm. Jared Lewis, a Tampa delivery driver, said his home has withstood hurricanes in the past, though not as powerful as Ian.
“It is kind of scary, makes you a bit anxious,” Lewis said. “After the last year of not having any, now you go to a Category 4 or 5. We are more used to the 2s and 3s.”
Ian made landfall more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Tampa and St. Petersburg, sparing the densely populated Tampa Bay area from its first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
Flash floods were possible all across Florida. Hazards include the polluted leftovers of Florida’s phosphate fertilizer mining industry, more than 1 billion tons of slightly radioactive waste contained in enormous ponds that could overflow in heavy rains.
The federal government sent 300 ambulances with medical teams and was ready to truck in 3.7 million meals and 3.5 million liters of water once the storm passes.
“We’ll be there to help you clean up and rebuild, to help Florida get moving again,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday. “And we’ll be there every step of the way. That’s my absolute commitment to the people of the state of Florida.”
DeSantis has requested Biden grant a Major Disaster Declaration for all 67 of the state’s counties, which would open a range of federal assistance for residents and funding for public infrastructure repairs. DeSantis has also requested Biden allow FEMA to provide a 100 percent federal cost share for debris removal and emergency protective measures for 60 days.
The governors of Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina all preemptively declared states of emergency. Forecasters predicted Ian will turn toward those states as a tropical storm, likely dumping more flooding rains into the weekend, after crossing Florida.
Detention of consul by Russia for alleged spying comes hard on the heels of defense deals with Israel
Twin developments have called into question Japan’s neutrality, exposed its diplomatic vulnerabilities
Updated 29 September 2022
DUBAI: As the security environment surrounding Japan becomes more severe, maintaining a favorable balance of power has become an increasingly delicate task for Tokyo, which faces challenges on three major strategic fronts: China, North Korea and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Yet, two developments in the space of just two months have called Japan’s neutrality into question and exposed its diplomatic vulnerabilities.
In the latest incident, the principal security agency of Russia on Monday detained a Japanese consul in Vladivostok, in the country’s far east, on suspicion that he was obtaining information illegally in exchange for money.
The diplomat, Tatsunori Motoki, was subsequently ordered by the Russian Foreign Ministry to leave the country within 48 hours and an announcement made to the effect that a senior Japanese Embassy official in Moscow had been summoned to protest against his alleged improper acquisition of information.
“A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region,” the FSB security service said in a statement quoted by Russian news media.
On Tuesday, a Japanese government official said the consul had been released.
Nevertheless, on the same day, Takeo Mori, Japan’s vice foreign minister, summoned Mikhail Galuzin, the Russian ambassador, to the foreign ministry’s office in Tokyo to lodge a formal a protest over the Japanese consul’s detention.
Separately, Hayashi Yoshimasa, the foreign minister, said that detaining and interrogating a consul is a “clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” as well as of a consular treaty between Japan and Russia.
$40 billion - Amount sought by Japan’s defense ministry for budget as country faces its ‘toughest challenges’ since the Second World War.
Hayashi said Russia’s action was “totally unacceptable,” and claimed that Motoki was taken away blindfolded and restrained before being subjected to high-handed questioning.
He denied the Russian allegation that Motoki had engaged in illegal activities.
Russia’s Federal Security Service said the Japanese consul obtained nonpublic information on Russia’s cooperative ties with an unnamed Asia-Pacific country and also on the effects of Western sanctions on the economic situation in Russia’s Far East by offering money.
The Russian agency also released secretly shot images of a person who appears to be the consul receiving documents at a restaurant.
Russia recently designated Japan as an unfriendly country in response to Tokyo’s cooperation with US and European countries on imposing sanctions on Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine.
The first diplomatic development that cast doubt on Japan’s neutrality was its decision sign a defense agreement with Israel in August.
The deal was part of an effort to boost defense cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the area of military hardware and technology. But it potentially diminishes Tokyo’s ability to remain even-handed when it come to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Japan has long been hailed as an impartial broker of a future deal between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2019, a joint Arab News Japan-YouGov survey found that 56 percent of Arabs view Japan as the most credible potential candidate to act as a Middle East peace mediator.
On his trip to Tokyo, Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, met with Hayashi, who took pains to reiterate his government’s support for a two-state solution to solve the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Japanese analyst Koichiro Tanaka, a professor at Tokyo’s Keio University, believes the expansion of the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements signed between Israel and several Arab states in 2020, has relieved Japan of this mediator role.
“Japan feels relieved from the pressure that existed in trying to balance its Middle East policy with its energy security,” Tanaka told Arab News Japan.
Mindful of the need to maintain allies in its own standoff with China, Japan’s primary foreign-policy goal has been to “appease Washington,” he said. With that comes the expectation of “making friends” with Israel.
“Japan’s role to mediate has never materialized because of US reluctance and rejection by Israel of such a role,” Tanaka said.
The Abraham Accords were the first public expressions of normalization between Arab states and Israel since 1994. When the agreements were announced, Tomoyuki Yoshida, Japan’s former foreign press secretary, called it a “positive development” that could “ease tensions and stabilize the region.”
He reiterated that Japan supported a “two-state solution” whereby Israel and a future independent Palestinian state “live side by side in peace and security.”
However, with Japan’s increasingly tense relationship with China and North Korea, the country has been expanding its military cooperation beyond its traditional ally, the US, to other nations in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.
It is particularly concerned about Beijing’s military actions in the East and South China Seas. Israel has previously traded weapons with China and is the second-largest foreign supplier of arms after Russia.
China has accumulated a large arsenal of advanced military equipment and technology. The US has strongly opposed Israel’s arms trade with China. However, Israel has largely ignored Washington’s objections.
Some observers suspect Israel and China’s close trade relationship is the reason Japan has chosen to boost defense cooperation with Israel.
Japanese military strategists have been looking for ways to ease their defensive reliance on the US, potentially viewing Israel as a source of weapons and technology to strengthen Tokyo’s military power in the region.
But with the signing of the new defense deal with Israel, is Tokyo still in a position to mediate between Israel and Palestine?
Waleed Siam, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Tokyo, told Arab News Japan that the Japanese government is “mostly supportive” of the two sides.
“Japan has a long history with Israel, but I believe Japan could still be part of the neutrality in helping both sides achieve settlements,” he said.
Siam said Palestinians, and the Arab world in general, have great respect for Japan, noting that Tokyo “always has supported the Palestinians to the highest degree, through many UN organizations.
“Japan is committed to helping the state of Palestine and has also always stuck to the UN resolution, refusing to recognize East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and never recognized Israel’s illegal settlements.”
Asked whether Japan should have first reassured the Palestinian side of its continued neutrality before striking its security deal with Israel, Siam said Tokyo has the “right to do what it wants.”
He added: “Japan does not have to guarantee anything, because it stands very firm on its conviction with the international community and the UN resolution. It supports a two-state solution and the Palestinians’ right to independence.
“Even during the Trump period, when the former US president was pressuring everyone to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Japan stood strong in the UN and voted against it.”
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However, Siam believes any country that signs an agreement with Israel should also place an emphasis on compliance with international law and human rights.
“I call on Japan to use this kind of deep friendship with Israel to put pressure on the Israelis to comply with international law,” said Siam. “If the international community does not stand together and pressure Israel into a two-state solution, there will never be peace.”
Israel has been the “largest obstacle” to finalizing a large agro-industrial park and logistics initiative in Jericho, proposed by Japan, called the “Corridor for Peace,” said Siam.
Japan, he argues, could utilize its deepening relations with Israel to help finalize the project.
During the 11-day war in Gaza in May 2021, Japan was adamant that all UN resolutions and international laws should be followed, reiterating its “clear, respecting and supporting” position in the conflict, said Siam.
Japan has long framed itself as the country most capable of negotiating a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
In the final analysis, few can argue that strengthening its military capabilities and investing in defense technology is a step in the right direction by Japan. But it clearly needs to be more diplomatic in pulling them off.
Three Armenians killed in fresh clashes with Azerbaijan
At least 286 people were killed from both sides during the two-day fighting earlier this month
Armenia's defence ministry said "Azerbaijani forces opened fire from mortars and large-calibre firearms at the eastern direction of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border"
Updated 28 September 2022
YEREVAN: Three Armenians died Wednesday in fresh border clashes with Azerbaijan, officials said, two weeks after the arch foes’ worst fighting since their 2020 war jeopardized nascent peace talks.
At least 286 people were killed from both sides during the two-day fighting earlier this month, before the United States brokered a truce.
The ex-Soviet Caucasus neighbors fought two wars — in 2020 and in the 1990s — over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated enclave of Azerbaijan.
On Wednesday, Armenia’s defense ministry said “Azerbaijani forces opened fire from mortars and large-calibre firearms at the eastern direction of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.”
“As a result, there are three dead from the Armenian side,” the ministry said in a statement.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan tweeted that three of his troops had been killed “an attack against Armenian independence, sovereignty and democracy.”
“Withdrawal of Azerbaijani troops and deployment of an international observer mission on the Armenian territories affected by Azerbaijani occupation and bordering areas is an absolute necessity,” he wrote.
A six-week war in 2020 claimed the lives of more than 6,500 troops from both sides and ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire.
Under the deal, Armenia ceded swathes of territory it had controlled for decades, and Moscow deployed about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to oversee the fragile truce.
With Moscow increasingly isolated on the world stage following its February invasion of Ukraine, the United States and the European Union had taken a leading role in mediating the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process.
Last week, the two countries’ foreign ministers met in New York for talks mediated by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
During EU-led negotiations in Brussels in April and May, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Pashinyan agreed to “advance discussions” on a future peace treaty.
They last met in Brussels on August 31, for talks mediated by European Council President Charles Michel.
The talks also focus on border delimitation and the reopening of transport links.
The issue of ensuring a land transport link between Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan and its ally Ankara via Armenian territory has emerged as the primary sticking point.
Azerbaijan insists on Yerevan renouncing its jurisdiction over the land corridor that should pass along Armenia’s border with Iran — a demand the Armenian government rejects as an affront to the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.
Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom
Domestic shortfall predicted as surging LNG prices push Pakistan out of short-term market
South Asian nation relies on imports through long-term contracts with Qatar and ENI
Updated 29 September 2022
KARACHI: Pakistan is bracing for a harsh winter this year amid skyrocketing prices of liquefied natural gas on the global market and record currency depreciation at home.
Analysts are warning of increasing gas outages during peak winter hours as the south Asian country struggles to meet domestic demand.
Pakistan needs 4.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas, with winter demand peaking to around 4.5 bcfd against local production of 3.22 bcfd. The shortfall is bridged through LNG imports.
Pakistan began importing LNG seven years ago. However, the price of the commodity on the international spot, or short-term, market has risen from lows of $2 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) in 2020 to highs of $57 in August this year after demand in Europe surged, pushing Islamabad out of the market.
At present, the country relies on imported LNG cargoes through long-term contracts with Qatar and Italian multinational ENI. The agreements allow the country to import about eight cargoes per month, four short of the required 12 to meet the shortfall.
An official from Pakistan LNG Limited, a state-owned entity mandated to import LNG, told Arab News on Tuesday that the country is currently importing long-term cargoes from Qatar and ENI.
With the spot LNG market out of reach, many Pakistani analysts predict shortages will make the coming winter tough for domestic gas consumers.
Pakistan imported its last LNG cargo from Qatar at $17 per mmBtu under a long-term supply agreement.
“Normally the demand in winter increases by around 1 bcfd,” Farhan Mahmood, head of research at Sherman Securities, told Arab News. “As this year Pakistan is unlikely to secure cargoes from the spot market, it is expected that shortfall and load shedding of gas will be higher than last year.”
He added: “With LNG prices currently hovering around $38 per mmBtu and the Pakistani rupee trading at historic lows amid depleting forex reserves, the government may not venture to import costly gas, rather it would prefer to save dollars.”
PLL did not receive any bid in response to a tender floated in July 2022 to import 10 cargoes of LNG.
Pakistan’s woes were compounded after Russia invaded Ukraine early this year, and European countries rushed to secure gas supplies from LNG-producing countries as Moscow slowed gas flows westwards.
The Kremlin has accused the West of triggering the energy crisis by imposing the most severe sanctions in modern history, a step Russian President Vladimir Putin said is akin to a declaration of economic war.
“The Russia-Ukraine war has also disrupted the international market and European countries have rushed to secure cargoes for winter as demand has increased substantially there,” Mahmood added.
However, some experts believe gas outages will be comparatively low this winter, with additional electricity generation compensating for the high demand.
“By December this year, some 1320MW of electricity will be added to the national grid with the commissioning of three coal-fired power plants in Thar, Sindh, that will compensate the gas demand,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, a Karachi-based brokerage firm, told Arab News.
“There will definitely be a shortfall of gas, but it will not be as severe as last year, keeping in view the additional electricity generation.”
Pakistan’s winter policy of diverting gas supplies from the power sector to domestic consumers also affects industrial production.
This year, the government is expected to encourage consumers to switch to electricity by offering incentives to save gas for industrial and heating purposes.
In another bid to secure long-term supplies of gas, PLL has invited bids for 72 LNG cargoes from international suppliers across a six-year period. The results of the tender will be decided on Oct. 3 when the bids are opened.
Pakistan’s LNG imports fell by 3.37 percent to $629.4 million during July and August compared with the same period last year.
Energy imports increased by 105.3 percent to $23.3 billion during the last fiscal year, including LNG imports, which rose by 90.6 percent to $4.98 billion, according to official data.