US defense chief says Israel must shield civilians to win in Gaza

US defense chief says Israel must shield civilians to win in Gaza
Pro-Palestinian activists hold a Palestinian flag in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, on Dec. 1, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 03 December 2023
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US defense chief says Israel must shield civilians to win in Gaza

US defense chief says Israel must shield civilians to win in Gaza
  • Austin told the Reagan National Defense Forum in California that he had “learned a thing or two about urban warfare” while fighting in Iraq and leading the campaign against Daesh
  • “The lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians,” he said

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday urged Israel to protect civilians as it battles Hamas in Gaza, saying that shielding noncombatants is necessary for victory in the urban fight against the Palestinian militant group.
Fighting between Israel and Hamas resumed the day before after a week-long truce between the two sides collapsed, with both sides blaming the other for the breakdown of the deal and the resumption of violence.
Austin told the Reagan National Defense Forum in California that he had “learned a thing or two about urban warfare” while fighting in Iraq and leading the campaign against Daesh.
“Like Hamas, Daesh was deeply embedded in urban areas. And the international coalition against Daesh worked hard to protect civilians and create humanitarian corridors, even during the toughest battles,” Austin said.
“The lesson is not that you can win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. The lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians,” he said.
“In this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”
The latest round of fighting in the long-running conflict between Israel and Hamas began when the Palestinian militant group carried out a shock cross-border attack from Gaza on October 7 that Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people.
Israel responded with a relentless land and air campaign on Hamas-controlled Gaza that the group’s officials say has killed more than 15,000 people.
Those deaths have provoked widespread anger in the Middle East and provided an impetus for armed groups to carry out attacks against American troops in the region as well as on Israel.
Israel has faced drone and missiles launched from Lebanon and Yemen, while American forces in Iraq and Syria have been targeted in a series of attacks that have injured dozens of US personnel.
Washington has blamed the attacks on its personnel on Iran-backed forces and responded with air strikes on multiple occasions in recent weeks.
“We will not tolerate attacks on American personnel. And so these attacks must stop,” Austin said. “Until they do, we will do what we need to do to protect our troops — and to impose costs on those who attack them.”


UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers

UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers
Updated 6 sec ago
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UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers

UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers
  • Report exposes official's inappropriate guessing game to reveal foster care placements to children
  • Report that found basic checks to ensure unaccompanied children were safe in these hotels were not carried out

LONDON: Charities and campaigners have called for a public inquiry into the treatment of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK, the BBC reported on Monday.

At one point, the Home Office contracted seven hotels to provide temporary accommodation for children while foster care placements were being arranged with local authorities. According to a recently published official report, however, basic checks to ensure unaccompanied children were being kept safe in these hotels were not carried out.

The report, by the former chief inspector of borders, David Neal, and published by the Home Office last week, also revealed a particularly disturbing practice in which a team leader would have children take part in a guessing game to find out who had received a place in foster care.

Inspectors described the practice as “insensitive in the extreme and undoubtedly upsetting to the children.” They noted that it was not widely adopted but nor was it internally questioned when it was.

Eighteen organizations, including the Refugee Council and the British Association of Social Workers, have now signed an open letter in which they highlight this “appalling revelation” that some children were forced to play a game to guess which of them had been allocated a foster home. They described the wider findings of the report as “disturbing, distressing and dystopian.”

The letter also said that hundreds of unaccompanied children who have gone missing from hotels have yet to be found, and that children incorrectly assessed as being of adult age were forced to share bedrooms with grown-up strangers.

The signatories called for an extensive independent investigation into the treatment of asylum seekers aged 17 and younger.

“In our work with refugee children, we repeatedly see how they are being failed... There is a culture of callous disregard for children’s basic right to dignity,” they said in their letter.

“We urgently need to see a fundamental change towards an asylum system that is fair, humane and protects those who are some of the most vulnerable children in the country.”

The Home Office said the welfare of the children was of “utmost priority.” A full investigation into the “inappropriate behavior” of the worker responsible for the guessing game has been launched, it added, and he was removed from his position as soon as his actions were revealed. It also said hotels are no longer used to house child refugees, the BBC reported.

The report was based on inspections of two hotels in Kent that took place in September 2023.

It stated: “Inspectors found that two years on from when the Home Office first moved children into hotels, it was still grappling with the challenges of managing an operation that was only ever envisaged to provide a short-term solution.”


EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire

EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire
Updated 26 min 29 sec ago
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EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire

EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire
  • Lahbib added that she makes international contacts on an almost daily basis to seek a 40-day ceasefire

LONDON: The EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers “is doing everything in its power to reach an immediate ceasefire and secure the delivery of aid to the Palestinian people,” Belgium’s foreign minister said on Monday.

Hadja Lahbib announced her country’s intention to host an international peace conference in April to discuss Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, Kuwait News Agency reported.

Lahbib added that she makes international contacts on an almost daily basis to seek a 40-day ceasefire so that Palestinians can receive humanitarian aid.

Israel has sealed off the strip, stormed its towns and pounded it from the sky since its action began in October. More than 30,000 people have been confirmed killed, with thousands more missing.

The majority of the population in the Gaza Strip has been made homeless, and the UN says hundreds of thousands of its people are facing famine.

Lahbib said that Belgium sent direct aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in December, adding that the aid “continues and will not be interrupted.”
 


Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead

Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead
Updated 04 March 2024
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Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead

Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead
  • Gilgit-Baltistan major roads remained blocked for a third consecutive day, leaving thousands stranded

PESHAWAR: Thirty-five people have been killed and dozens more injured in the last five days as rains continue to batter Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority said on Monday.

Heavy rains and snowfall last week have damaged hundreds of houses and bridges and shut off road and rail routes in several areas of Pakistan. In the country’s mountainous northern Gilgit-Baltistan, the main Karakoram Highway, Baltistan Road and other major roads remained blocked for a third consecutive day, leaving thousands of tourists, travelers, and traders stranded at various points.

In the southwest of the country, heavy snowfall brought daily life to a standstill in Quetta and other northern parts of Balochistan, with main highways and inter-provincial roads blocked since Saturday, cutting the remote province from other parts of the country.

“During the last five days, 35 people have died and 43 people have been injured as a result of accidents due to ongoing rains across the province,” the PDMA said in a statement, providing figures for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, adding that “346 houses were partially damaged while 46 houses were completely damaged.”

The PDMA said food and other relief items were being sent to the areas of Charsadda, Lower Dir, Upper Dir, Malakand, Mohmand, Bannu, Khyber, Bajaur, Nowshera and Peshawar on the orders of the province’s new Chief Minister Ali Amin Khan Gandapur.

“Distribution of relief items underway including blankets, tents, jerry cans, gas cylinders, water coolers, mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets, hygiene kits, toilet kits, plastic mats, sandbags, tarpaulins,” the PDMA said, adding that the chief minister had ordered that “immediate steps” be taken to open closed roads.

Large swathes of Pakistan were submerged in 2022 due to extremely heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers, a phenomenon linked to climate change that damaged crops and infrastructure and killed at least 1,700 people and affected over 30 million.

Pakistan received commitments of more than $9 billion from international donors to help recover from the 2022 floods with rebuilding efforts estimated to cost about $16.3 billion, but little aid has come in so far.


UK plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda suffers first parliamentary defeats

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London. (AFP)
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2024
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UK plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda suffers first parliamentary defeats

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London. (AFP)
  • Under the Rwanda plan, asylum seekers who arrive on England’s southern coast in boats would be sent to live in Rwanda, but so far no one has been deported

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suffered his first defeats over his legislation to send asylum seekers to Rwanda after the upper house of parliament demanded greater protections to be introduced before deportation flights can take off.
Under the Rwanda plan, which has yet to be carried out, asylum seekers who arrive on England’s southern coast in small, inflatable boats would be sent to live in Rwanda, but so far no one has been deported because of ongoing legal challenges.
In an effort to overcome resistance from the courts, Sunak’s government is passing legislation through parliament that would block further legal challenges by declaring Rwanda a so-called safe country for asylum seekers.
Unelected members of the House of Lords, largely made of former politicians and government officials, voted in favor of one amendment that would mean flights could only take off when a treaty — that would implement legal safeguards in the Rwandan asylum system — had been fully implemented.
The Lords also voted for an amendment that said the legislation must be fully compliant with international and domestic law, and another that requires proof that Rwanda is safe for refugees before flights can leave.
However, the more powerful elected House of Commons can overturn the changes at later stages in a process known as “parliamentary ping-pong” and the legislation could still enter the statute book unamended.
Some Lords complained that the legislation as currently drafted would require Rwanda to be treated as a safe country regardless of the evidence.
Christopher Tugendhat, a Lord for the governing Conservatives, accused the government of behaving like the ruling party in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
“If this bill goes onto the statute book in its present form, Rwanda will be a safe country regardless of reality,” he said.
Sunak has said he wants the first deportation flights to leave in the next few months — ahead of a general election expected in the second half of this year — so he can meet a pledge to “stop the boats.”
More than 2,500 asylum seekers have arrived in Britain on small boats so far this year. A seven-year-old girl died over the weekend trying to reach Britain after a small boat carrying her capsized off the coast of France.
In the most detailed financial assessment of the Rwanda policy, the British government’s spending watchdog on Friday said it would cost more 600 million pounds ($762 million) to deport the first 300 refugees.


British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth

British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth
Updated 04 March 2024
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British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth

British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth
  • Project designed to prepare 90 young Jordanians for leadership roles within their communities

AMMAN: The British Council has announced a collaboration with the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development, Jordan News Agency reported on Monday.

The JOHUD is a nonprofit organization focusing on promoting sustainable social, economic, and cultural development in Jordan’s local communities.

The agreement was signed as part of the British Council’s Youth Connect project, which is designed to prepare 90 young Jordanians for leadership roles within their communities.

The agreement will help empower younger Jordanians in the Princess Basma Development Centers in Tafilah and Ma’an in southern Jordan, through specialized training sessions in communication skills.

Alexander Lambert, who is Jordan director at the British Council, spoke of the importance of the project as a milestone in the deep-rooted partnership between the council and the JOHUD.

The partnership with the British Council “added to the purposeful and fruitful partnerships that combine efforts with various local institutions to contribute to achieving national goals to enhance the role of youth and women in society,” JOHUD’s Executive Director Farah Daghistani said.