KABUL: At least 16 people were killed and 24 others wounded Wednesday by a blast at a madrassa in Afghanistan's northern city of Aybak, a doctor at a local hospital said.
There have been dozens of blasts and attacks targeting civilians since the Taliban returned to power in August last year, most claimed by the local chapter of the Daesh group.
A doctor in Aybak, about 200 kilometres (130 miles) north of the capital Kabul, said the casualties were mostly youngsters.
“All of them are children and ordinary people,” he told AFP, asking not to be named.
The Taliban, which frequently plays down casualty figures, said 10 students had died and “many others” were injured.
“Our detective and security forces are working quickly to identify the perpetrators of this unforgivable crime and punish them for their actions,” tweeted Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafay Takor.
Images and video circulating on social media -- which could not immediately be verified -- showed Taliban fighters picking their way through bodies strewn across the floor of a building.
Prayer mats, shattered glass and other debris littered the scene.
Trump kicks off White House campaign with events in New Hampshire, South Carolina
Rob Godfrey, a Columbia-based political strategist, said many Republicans are holding off on a Trump endorsement because of the wide range of possible candidates who could run for the party's nomination
Updated 29 January 2023
COLUMBIA, South Carolina: Former U.S. President Donald Trump hit the campaign trail on Saturday for the first time since announcing his bid to reclaim the White House in 2024, visiting two early-voting states and brushing aside criticism that his run was off to a slow start.
"I'm more angry now, and I'm more committed now, than I ever was," Trump, a Republican, told a small crowd at the New Hampshire Republican Party's annual meeting in Salem, before heading to Columbia, South Carolina, for an appearance alongside his leadership team in the state.
New Hampshire and South Carolina are among the first four states to hold presidential nominating contests, giving them outsized influence as candidates jockey for position.
In contrast to the raucous rallies in front of thousands of devotees that Trump often holds, Saturday's events were comparatively muted. In Columbia, Trump spoke to about 200 attendees, with Governor Henry McMaster and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina flanking him.
Once the undisputed center of gravity in the Republican Party, an increasing number of elected officials have expressed concerns about Trump's ability to beat Democratic President Joe Biden, if he decides to run again as is widely expected.
Numerous Republicans are considering whether to launch their own White House bids, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, widely seen as the biggest threat to Trump.
Several top Republicans in both states that Trump visited on Saturday - including New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley - are weighing presidential campaigns. Many high-ranking Republicans in New Hampshire, where Trump's 2016 victory confirmed his status as a top contender, say they are looking for an alternative.
There were several conspicuous absences in South Carolina, including the state party chairman, several Republican U.S. representatives from the state and South Carolina U.S. Senator Tim Scott, who has himself been floated as a potential Republican presidential candidate. Scott and others have cited scheduling conflicts.
Several Republican state lawmakers decided against attending after failing to gain assurances from Trump's team that doing so would not be considered an endorsement, according to a person with knowledge of the planning.
Rob Godfrey, a Columbia-based political strategist, said many Republicans are holding off on a Trump endorsement because of the wide range of possible candidates who could run for the party's nomination.
"I think there are a fair number of people that are keeping their powder dry because there's such a deep bench for Republicans this year," he said.
At both stops on Saturday, Trump echoed some of the themes that animated his first campaign, including railing against illegal immigration and China.
But he also emphasized social issues such as transgender rights and school curricula on race, perhaps in response to DeSantis, whose relentless focus on culture wars has helped build his national profile.
To be sure, Trump retains a significant base of support, particularly among the grassroots. While he loses in some head-to-head polls against DeSantis, he wins by significant margins when poll respondents are presented with a broader field of options.
Trump did not spent much time echoing his familiar grievances over the 2020 election, though he made allusions to his false claim that the election was stolen from him.
Since launching his campaign in November, Trump has maintained a relatively low profile. He called multiple conservative Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives in early January to persuade them to vote for Kevin McCarthy, an ally, for the new Speaker.
Most brushed off his entreaties, though McCarthy was elected to the position after a bruising battle.
Unified global effort to repair Earth’s ozone layer infuses new life into climate change fight
Scientists say the hole in the planet’s shield, first detected in the 1980s, will return to normal by around 2066
Same cooperation seen under the 1987 Montreal Protocol needed to slow global warming, say experts
Updated 29 January 2023
LONDON: You cannot see it with the naked eye but high over your head, just above the altitude at which the highest-flying passenger jets cruise, there is a fragile layer of naturally occurring gas that shields all life on Earth from the deadly effects of the ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun.
This is the ozone shield, a belt of gas — specifically ozone, or O3, which is made of three oxygen atoms — formed by the natural interaction of solar ultraviolet radiation with O2, the oxygen we breathe.
Without it, we’d all be cooked. In the words of the UN Environment Program’s Ozone Secretariat, “long-term exposure to high levels of UV-B threatens human health and damages most animals, plants and microbes, so the ozone layer protects all life on Earth.”
But now, after decades of battling to save it — and us — scientists have announced that the hole in the ozone layer, which was detected in the 1980s, is healing.
The announcement this month is a victory for one of the greatest international scientific collaborations the world has ever seen. And, as the world struggles to tackle climate change, it is a timely and hugely encouraging demonstration of what the international community can achieve when it really puts its mind to something.
As the nations of the world prepare to gather at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, in the UAE, where in November they will be expected to account for the progress they have made toward the climate-change goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, the brilliant success of the ozone-saving 1987 Montreal Protocol can only be an inspiration.
The ozone layer, and its role in absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, was first identified by two French physicists, Charles Fabry and Henri Buisson, in 1913, but it was not until 1974 that an article in the journal Nature warned that we were in danger of destroying it.
Chemists F. Sherwood Rowland, of the University of California Irvine, and Mario Molina, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discovered that human-created gases, such as the chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, used in appliances and products such as fridges and aerosols, were destroying ozone.
In 1995, Rowland and Molina, together with Dutch scientist Paul Crutzen, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for their work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone.”
But, the Nobel citation continued, “the real shock came” in 1985, when scientists with the British Antarctic Survey, which had been monitoring the Antarctic ozone layer since 1957, detected “a drastic depletion of the ozone layer over the Antarctic.”
The size of the hole identified over the survey’s Halley and Faraday Antarctic research stations seemed to vary, which at first was a puzzle.
It is now understood, the BAS explains, “that during the polar winter, clouds form in the Antarctic ozone layer and chemical reactions in the clouds activate ozone-destroying substances.
“When sunlight returns in the spring, these substances — mostly chlorine and bromine from compounds such as CFCs and halons — take part in efficient catalytic reactions that destroy ozone at around 1 percent per day.”
The discovery “changed the world.” NASA satellites were used to confirm that “not only was the hole over British research stations, but it covered the entire Antarctic continent.”
This was the so-called “ozone hole” and, as Crutzen noted in his 1995 Nobel lecture, “it was a close call.”
He said: “Had Joe Farman and his colleagues from the British Antarctic Survey not persevered in making their measurements in the harsh Antarctic environment … the discovery of the ozone hole may have been substantially delayed and there may have been far less urgency to reach international agreement on the phasing out of CFC production.”
It was the work of the survey that led to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, an agreement, adopted in 1987, that regulated the production and consumption of nearly 100 man-made chemicals identified as “ozone depleting substances.”
“There had been suggestions in the 1960s and 1970s that you could put gases into the atmosphere which would destroy ozone,” atmospheric scientist Professor John Pyle, former head of chemistry at the University of Cambridge and one of the four international co-chairs on the Scientific Assessment Panel for the Montreal Protocol, told Arab News.
“At the time there was also concern about the oxides of nitrogen from high-flying supersonic aircraft, such as Concorde, which could destroy ozone.
“But after Rowland and Molina published their paper, suggesting that CFC gases could get high enough up into the atmosphere to destroy ozone, there was about a decade during which this was just a theoretical idea before, thanks to the British Antarctic Survey, the ozone hole was discovered.”
The global reaction, choreographed by the UN and the World Meteorological Organization, was almost startlingly rapid.
The British Antarctic Survey paper was published in 1985, and by 1987 the Montreal Protocol had been agreed. In the words of the UN Environment Program: “The protocol is considered to be one of the most successful environmental agreements of all time.
“What the parties to the protocol have managed to accomplish since 1987 is unprecedented, and it continues to provide an inspiring example of what international cooperation at its best can achieve.”
Without doubt, millions of people have lived longer, healthier lives thanks to the Montreal Protocol. In 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that in the US alone the protocol had prevented 280 million cases of skin cancer, 1.6 million deaths, and 45 million cases of cataracts.
The battle is not over, however. It will take another four decades for the ozone layer to fully recover, according to the latest four-yearly report from the UN-backed Scientific Assessment Panel to the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances, which was published this month.
But according the “Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2022” report: “The phase out of nearly 99 percent of banned ozone-depleting substances has succeeded in safeguarding the ozone layer, leading to notable recovery of the ozone layer in the upper stratosphere and decreased human exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.”
If current policies remain in place, it adds, “the ozone layer is expected to recover to 1980 values” — that is, before the appearance of the ozone hole — “by around 2066 over the Antarctic, by 2045 over the Arctic, and by 2040 for the rest of the world.”
This is “fantastic news,” Meg Seki, executive secretary of the UN Environment Program’s Ozone Secretariat, told Arab News. And it has had an additional benefit in the fight against global warming.
In 2016, an additional agreement, known as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, resulted in the scaling down of production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, the compounds that were introduced to replace banned CFCs but which were found to be powerful climate change gases. It is estimated that by 2100, the Kigali Amendment will have helped to prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming.
“The impact the Montreal Protocol has had on climate-change mitigation cannot be overstressed,” said Seki. “Over the past 35 years, the protocol has become a true champion for the environment.”
It is also a shining example of what could be achieved in the battle against climate change.
Sept. 16 each year is the UN’s International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. As Antonio Guterres, the UN’s secretary-general, said as he marked the occasion in 2021: “The Montreal Protocol … has done its job well over the past three decades. The ozone layer is on the road to recovery.”
He added: “The cooperation we have seen under the Montreal Protocol is exactly what is needed now to take on climate change, an equally existential threat to our societies.”
EU chief highlights support for Ukraine ahead of summit
North Korea slammed Washington’s decision to supply Ukraine with tanks, claiming the US is “further expanding the proxy war” to destroy Russia
Updated 29 January 2023
FRANKFURT: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said ahead of an EU-Ukraine summit next week that Ukraine had unconditional support from the bloc and that the country needed to prevail against Russian attacks to defend European values.
“We stand by Ukraine’s side without any ifs and buts,” von der Leyen said in a speech at an event of her party, the Christian Democrat CDU, in Duesseldorf, Germany.
Ukraine “is fighting for our shared values, it is fighting for the respect of international law and for the principles of democracy and that is why Ukraine has to win this war,” she said.
Von der Leyen and her fellow EU commissioners plan an EU-Ukraine summit on Feb. 3.
US President Joe Biden recently promised 31 Abrams tanks, one of the most powerful and sophisticated weapons in the US army, to help Kyiv fight off Moscow’s invasion.
North Korea slammed Washington’s decision to supply Ukraine with tanks, claiming the US is “further expanding the proxy war” to destroy Russia.
Along with China, Russia is one of the North’s few international friends and has previously come to the regime’s aid.
In a statement, Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, blamed Washington for the crisis in Ukraine, accusing it of “further crossing the red line” by sending the tanks.
“Lurking behind this is the US sinister intention to realize its hegemonic aim by further expanding the proxy war for destroying Russia,” she said in the statement.
Washington is “the arch criminal”, she added, and Pyongyang will “always stand in the same trench with the service personnel and people of Russia.”
“The world would be brighter, safer and calmer now if it were not for the US,” she said.
Other than Syria and Russia, North Korea is the only country to recognize the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk, two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
Russia, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, has long held the line against increasing pressure on North Korea, even asking for relief from international sanctions for humanitarian reasons.
Kim Jong Un declared North Korea an “irreversible” nuclear state in September, and the country conducted sanctions-busting weapons tests nearly every month last year — including firing its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile.
Retired Gen. Petr Pavel wins Czech presidential election
Turnout in the EU and NATO member country of 10.5 million people was unusually high at 70 percent following an acrimonious campaign marked by controversy
Updated 29 January 2023
PRAGUE: Retired NATO general Petr Pavel beat a billionaire former prime minister in an election runoff to become the fourth president of the Czech Republic, official results showed.
Pavel, a former paratrooper, won 58 percent of votes while Andrej Babis scored 42 percent, with 99 percent of the vote counted, according to the Czech Statistical Office.
“I would like to thank those who voted for me and also those who did not but came to the polls, because they made it clear they honored democracy and cared about this country,” Pavel said after the results showed his victory.
“I can see that values such as truth, dignity, respect and humility have won in this election,” he added.
The 61-year-old Pavel will in March replace President Milos Zeman, an outspoken and divisive politician who fostered close ties with Moscow before making a U-turn when Russia invaded Ukraine last year.
I can see that values such as truth, dignity, respect and humility have won in this election.
Gen. Petr Pavel
Turnout in the EU and NATO member country of 10.5 million people was unusually high at 70 percent following an acrimonious campaign marked by controversy.
Babis and his family have been targeted by death threats, while Pavel was the victim of a hoax claiming he was dead as disinformation plagued the final campaign.
“Our community is somewhat hurt by the presidential campaign, by the multiple crises we have faced and are facing, but also by the political style that has recently prevailed here,” said Pavel.
“This has to change, and you have helped me to take the first step on the path towards this change.”
While the role is largely ceremonial, the Czech president names the government, picks the central bank governor and constitutional judges, and serves as commander of the armed forces.
Voting for Pavel in the small town of Dobrichovice southwest of Prague, Irena Cihelkova said that the new president should “be forthcoming and friendly, an asset for the country, and not make problems abroad like some other Czech statesmen.”
Pavel will be the fourth Czech president since the country’s independence following its peaceful split with Slovakia in 1993, four years after former Czechoslovakia shed four decades of totalitarian communist rule.
His predecessors were Vaclav Havel, an anti-communist dissident playwright who led the country from 1993-2003, economist Vaclav Klaus and Zeman.
A graduate of a military university, Pavel was decorated as a hero in the Serbo-Croatian war when he helped free French troops from a war zone.
He rose to chief of the Czech general staff and chair of NATO’s military committee.
Like Babis, Pavel was a member of the Communist Party in the 1980s.
But the man with a carefully trimmed beard and white hair, who has a passion for powerful motorbikes, has since become a strong advocate of EU and NATO membership.
“We have no better alternative. We should use all opportunities offered by membership and try to change that which we don’t like,” he said on his campaign website.
“Czechia is a sovereign state and a full member, therefore we can’t just sit quietly, nod and then slam the result. We have to be more active and, at the same time, constructive.”
Pavel has vowed to be an independent president unaffected by party politics and to continue to support aid to war-torn Ukraine as well as its bid to become an EU member.
“Naturally, Ukraine first has to meet all conditions to become a member, such as progress in battling corruption. But I believe it is entitled to get the same chance we got in the past,” he said.
In absence of deterrents, Iran terror plots on Western soil will continue: analysts
US Justice Department on Friday announced arrests in Tehran-backed plot to kill Iranian-American activist
‘If we continue to handle these cases as just law enforcement matters with a very minimal or nonexistent policy response, we can only expect the Iranian system to continue this vicious cycle,’ analyst tells Arab News
Updated 13 sec ago
NEW YORK: The US Justice Department’s announcement on Friday of the arrest of three East European men with ties to Tehran in the plot to kill Iranian-American journalist and human rights activist Masih Alinejad has hardly surprised experts and analysts.
The news has recalled many deja-vus of such Iranian activities on American soil, including the 2011 plot to kill then-Saudi Ambassador to the US Adel Al-Jubeir.
Analysts lament the absence of deterrents for Iran, and warn that if stronger actions are not taken, such plots will continue to unfold on US territory.
The three men are now facing murder-for-hire and money-laundering charges for plotting to kill Alinejad.
One of the men was arrested last summer in the Brooklyn neighborhood where Alinejad lives. At the time, he was charged with possessing a firearm after police found an AK-47-style rifle in the back seat of his car along with ammunition.
The incident raised many suspicions then, until the backstory of how it transpired was revealed on Friday.
The Justice Department said in a statement that since at least July, the three men have been “tasked with carrying out” the murder of Alinejad, “who previously has been the target of plots by the government of Iran to intimidate, harass and kidnap” her.
“As recently as 2020 and 2021, Iranian intelligence officials and assets plotted to kidnap (Alinejad) from within the United States for rendition to Iran in an effort to silence (her) criticism of the regime.”
All three of the defendants, Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Friday, are currently in custody.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a news conference unveiling the charges: “Today’s indictment exposes a dangerous menace to national security — a double threat posed by a vicious transnational crime group operating from what it thought was the safe haven of a rogue nation. That rogue nation is the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, told Arab News that Friday’s arrests demonstrate that “there’s an absence of deterrents with respect to the Islamic Republic operating on US soil, and we have to change that calculus otherwise we can only expect more of these plots in the future.”
On Oct. 11, 2011, two Iranian nationals were charged in a federal court in New York with plotting to assassinate Al-Jubeir.
What became known as the Iran assassination plot or the Iran terror plot involved planning to plant a bomb outside the restaurant where Al-Jubeir was dining, and subsequently to bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, DC.
“These cases are handled as law enforcement matters. They’re handled usually with an indictment, a strongly worded warning and a statement from a senior US official,” Brodsky said.
“And then likely there will be some sanctions levied in the future. And that is, in the long run, not going to change the calculus because the costs are usually, in (Iranian officials’) minds, absorbable. You’re dealing with piecemeal sanctions on individuals who have no assets in the US,” he added.
“You’re dealing with a statement that there’s been so many warnings about, it doesn’t seem to deter them.
“And the indictments usually also don’t necessarily deter. In this case, it’s interesting because they were able to take into custody these three individuals.
“But this will be absorbable for Tehran because these aren’t Iranian officials. These are members of an Eastern European criminal syndicate.”
Stemming Iranian criminal activities on Western territories requires, in the long run, a “multilateral perspective,” Brodsky said. “This is an issue that’s affecting not just the US (but) our European allies as well.”
Last November, two British-Iranian journalists working in the UK for TV channel Iran International were warned by police of a “credible” plot by Tehran to kill them.
The outlet accused Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of being part of a “significant and dangerous escalation” of Tehran’s “campaign to intimidate Iranian journalists working abroad.”
Earlier this month, French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was hit by a cyberattack after publishing a caricature of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
“A digital attack doesn’t leave anyone dead, but it sets the tone. The mullahs’ regime feels in such danger that it considers it vital to its existence to hack the website of a French newspaper,” Charlie Hebdo said.
Hossein Salami, commander in chief of the IRGC, on Tuesday threatened the staff of the French magazine with revenge.
Brodsky said it is important “to start considering a potential kinetic retaliation for these kinds of plots, to deter Iran’s system from going any further.”
He cited yet another indictment that was unsealed last summer, and which charged an IRGC member with a murder-for-hire scheme of a former US national security adviser.
“So if we continue to handle these cases as just really law enforcement matters with a very minimal or nonexistent policy response, we can only expect the Iranian system to continue this vicious cycle,” Brodsky said.
Although the IRGC is designated as a terrorist organization in the US, it is still not listed as such in European jurisdictions. Brodsky said it is of paramount urgency for the EU and UK to do so “and quickly.”
It is “overdue for the IRGC to be sanctioned as a terrorist organization in (European) jurisdictions. It would have a substantive impact in the fact that it would increase market deterrence with respect to the Islamic Republic,” and would ban former IRGC businessmen and their families from profiting off illicit wealth in Western jurisdictions, he added.
Most crucially, designating the IRGC as terrorist would also have a “symbolic” impact, and would be “the signal from the leading democracies of the world that they stand with the Iranian people who were bravely protesting and chanting, ‘Death to the IRGC,’ and it would show that (Europe is) standing with the people and not their oppressors,” he said. “Not to mention the many Arab countries (that) are also victims of the IRGC.”