US vetoes resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza and backed by majority of Security Council

US vetoes resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza and backed by majority of Security Council
US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood raises his hand during a United Nations Security Council after the vote about a ceasefire in Gaza at UN headquarters in New York. (AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2023
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US vetoes resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza and backed by majority of Security Council

US vetoes resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza and backed by majority of Security Council
  • Washington’s decision to block the resolution comes amid unprecedented international calls to end the violence and ease the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza
  • The US uses its veto power despite last-gasp talks between Arab ministers and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and a heartfelt plea from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

NEW YORK CITY: The US on Friday blocked international calls for the UN Security Council to take action on the situation in Gaza by demanding a ceasefire. It vetoed a resolution for which 13 of the other 14 council members voted in favor, while the UK abstained.
Washington’s veto came amid unprecedented international calls to end the violence in Gaza, including a dramatic appeal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who this week urged the council to demand a humanitarian ceasefire. Invoking the rarely used Article 99, one of the few powers granted to a secretary-general under the UN charter, he said a ceasefire is needed to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe that could have “potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole, and for peace and security in the region.”
Article 99 gives the secretary-general the power to bring to the attention of the Security Council “any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Friday’s vote on the draft resolution, submitted by the UAE on behalf of the Arab Group of nations at the UN, also came as Arab ministers, led by Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, met Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington in what appeared to be a last-ditch effort to convince Washington not to use its veto — a power it has as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council alongside the UK, Russia, France and China — to block adoption of the resolution.
The US veto came as no surprise, as the alternate permanent representative of the US to the UN, Robert Wood, told an earlier meeting of the council on Friday morning that his country did not support the calls for an immediate ceasefire, on the grounds that “this would only plant the seeds for the next war, because Hamas has no desire to see a durable peace, to see a two-state solution.”
It was the refusal of Hamas to release the young women it continues to hold hostage that resulted in the breakdown of the previous truce, he added, as he repeated the US position that “this council’s failure to condemn Hamas for its Oct. 7. terrorist attacks, including its acts of sexual violence and other unthinkable evils, is a serious moral failure.”
The resolution blocked on Friday called for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza and “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access.”
It expressed “grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population” and emphasized that “the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law.”
Also on Friday morning, Guterres repeated his call for council members “to spare no effort to push for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, for the protection of civilians, and for the urgent delivery of lifesaving aid.” He added that the “eyes of the world — and the eyes of history — are watching. Time to act.”
The UN chief has warned there is a high risk of a total collapse of the humanitarian support system in Gaza, which could potentially result in “a complete breakdown of public order and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt.” He spoke of his fears that this could have devastating repercussions for the security of the entire region.
Guterres described apocalyptic scenes in Gaza. He said attacks by air, land and sea are so intense and widespread that “they have reportedly hit 339 education facilities, 26 hospitals, 56 healthcare facilities, 88 mosques and three churches.
“Over 60 percent of Gaza’s housing has reportedly been destroyed or damaged — some 300,000 houses and apartments. Some 85 percent of the population have been forced from their homes.”
Under such circumstances, the delivery of humanitarian aid “has become impossible,” he added, and the “people of Gaza are being told to move like human pinballs, ricocheting between ever- smaller slivers of the south without any of the basics for survival.”
Nowhere in Gaza is safe now, Guterres said.
“At least 88 UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) shelters have been hit, killing over 270 people and injuring over 900. Conditions in shelters are overcrowded and unsanitary. People nurse open wounds. Hundreds of people stand in line for hours to use one shower or toilet.”
He also warned of the “serious risk” of starvation and famine. According to the World Food Programme, 97 percent of households in Gaza do not have enough to eat and the agency’s own food supplies are running out.
Guterres also highlighted the collapse of the healthcare system in Gaza at a time when needs continue to rise, and the deaths of at least 286 health workers since the war began.
“Hospitals have suffered heavy bombardment,” he said. “Just 14 out of 36 are still functioning. Of these, three are providing basic first aid, while the others are delivering partial services.
“The unsanitary conditions in shelters and severe shortages of food and water are leading to increases in respiratory infections, scabies, jaundice and diarrhea.
“Everything I have just described represents an unprecedented situation that led to my unprecedented decision to invoke Article 99, urging the members of the Security Council to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, and appealing for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared.”
Ahead of the vote, Riyad Mansour, the permanent observer of Palestine to the UN, asked council members: “Are we supposed to pretend we don’t know (Israel’s) objective is the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip?
“If you are against the destruction and displacement of the Palestinian people, you have to be in favor of an immediate ceasefire.
“Regardless of how good your intentions are, how genuine your efforts are, this is the moment of truth. This war is part of the assault to end the Palestinian people as a nation and to destroy the question of Palestine. If you do not share this objective, you must stand against the war.”
Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, Gilad Erdan, told council members: “Calling for a ceasefire sends a clear message that Hamas is forgiven for their deliberate atrocities.
“Hamas exploits Gazans as human shields in hopes that civilian casualties will rise and the UN will call for a ceasefire. Do we want to be the actors in this show that Hamas has carefully crafted?”
Blaming Hamas for the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Erdan said: “If this council wants to see a ceasefire, start by demanding it from Hamas, the party that broke the past two.”
The UAE’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Mohammed Abushahab, told the council that the scale of the destruction in Gaza surpasses even the bombing of Dresden in 1945, during the Second World War.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the deliberate targeting of medical facilities, equipment and personnel,” he said.
China’s permanent representative to UN, Zhang Jun, whose country co-sponsored the Emirati resolution, said that it “reflects the universal core of the international community and represents the right direction for the restoration of peace.”
He added: “This human catastrophe is too great for words to describe … any waiting or delay means more death. At this juncture, only a ceasefire can avoid the headache of regional conflagration.”

 


Drone crashes into building in Russia's St Petersburg, no casualties - national guard

Drone crashes into building in Russia's St Petersburg, no casualties - national guard
Updated 12 sec ago
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Drone crashes into building in Russia's St Petersburg, no casualties - national guard

Drone crashes into building in Russia's St Petersburg, no casualties - national guard
ST PETERSBURG, Russia: A drone crashed into a five-storey residential building in St Petersburg on Saturday and 100 people were evacuated with no casualties, Russia's Rosgvardiya national guard said.
St Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov said earlier that two buildings were damaged and residents had been evacuated after what he called an "incident" with no casualties.
Beglov did not explain the cause or nature of the incident, but local residents told Reuters that they had heard a strange sound followed by a blast and a fire on Saturday morning.
"I first heard a whistle, because I had just opened the window, then a pop, a blaze and a full apartment of smoke, the window flew out," local resident Elena told Reuters. She said this happened after 0700 local time (0400 GMT).
Reuters video taken at the scene showed a damaged facade of a building with blown-out windows, damaged balconies and shattered glass and debris on the ground.
Russian media outlets reported that the incident could have been caused by a downed Ukrainian drone, which was heading towards a nearby fuel depot.
Ukraine's defence ministry said it "did not possess information about the indicated situation".

Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands

Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands
Updated 02 March 2024
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Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands

Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands
  • After five months of boycott, Starbucks Malaysia says that it does not support Israel’s army
  • McDonald’s sues the Malaysian chapter of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement

Kuala Lumpur: Leading brands in Malaysia accused of Israeli links have been reeling from falling revenues amid a local boycott of their goods, with the movement behind it vowing to continue over Israel’s war on Gaza.

Israeli airstrikes have since October killed more than 30,000 in the densely populated Palestinian enclave — a large majority women and children. More than 70,000 have been injured, while thousands of others remain missing under the rubble.

Since the outbreak of the attacks, many Malaysian citizens have backed a growing refusal to buy products from Western companies that they say are aiding Israel or facilitating its invasion of Gaza.

The latest of the brands to publicly admit the pinch in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country was the US-origin coffee chain Starbucks, with its Malaysian parent company Berjaya Foods blaming a near 40 percent drop in revenue on the boycott.

In a mid-February filing on the Malaysian stock exchange, it reported a revenue of 182.55 million ringgit ($38.47 million) for its second quarter ending Dec. 31, down from 295.32 million ringgit ($62.23 million) for the same period the year before.

In an Instagram post a week later, Starbucks Malaysia said that the boycott had led to “acts of violence and vandalism” in some of its 400 stores with some of its staff assaulted. It did not, however, give any examples or evidence.

This week, the chain issued a statement saying it has no stores in Israel and it does not provide financial support to the Israeli government or army.

“Despite false statements spreading through social media, we have no political agenda. We do not use our profits to fund any government or military operations anywhere — and never have,” the company said.

But the denial of links with Israel did not seem to satisfy Malaysian anger on social media, with users demanding that the company show a more unequivocal stand.

The coffee chain was not listed as one of the official targets by the Malaysian chapter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls for economic and trade pressure in opposition to Israel.

But a few of BDS Malaysia’s Facebook posts have shared content related to the boycott of the company.

Starbucks’ developments in Malaysia followed a claimed loss of profits and job cuts by the McDonald’s franchise, with the fast-food chain seeking $1.26 million in damages from BDS Malaysia.

Some of the other popular brands BDS Malaysia has listed are Burger King, Puma, Airbnb, and McDonald’s.

While the movement’s representatives will meet McDonald’s in a Malaysian court on March 18, BDS chairman Mohd Nazari Ismail told Arab News they were not going to back down from the challenge by the business.

He said that the group was only going to end its campaign in line with the worldwide movement’s demands, which are to stop Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land, end discrimination against Palestinian citizens, and give Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes.

“We don’t plan to stop our boycott campaign of McDonald’s because it has provided food to Israeli soldiers,” Nazari said.

“We will continue to call for the boycott of Israel and companies that are complicit with the atrocities and injustice committed by Israel.”

Malaysia has no formal relations with Israel, has long been supportive of the rights of Palestinians and their struggle for a sovereign statehood, and bars Israelis from entering its territory.

In December, the Southeast Asian nation barred Israeli and Israel-bound ships from docking at its ports.


Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night

Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night
Updated 02 March 2024
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Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night

Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night
  • The unmanned lander touched down in January at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong way
  • As the sun’s angle shifted, it came back to life and carried out observations of a crater with a high-spec camera

TOKYO: Japan’s Moon lander has been put back to sleep after it surprisingly survived the freezing, two-week lunar night, the country’s space agency said, with another operation attempt scheduled for later this month.

The unmanned Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) touched down in January at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong way.

As the sun’s angle shifted, it came back to life for two days and carried out scientific observations of a crater with a high-spec camera.

This week, the SLIM probe, which was “not designed for the harsh lunar nights,” when the temperature plunges to minus 133 degrees, produced another surprise by waking up after two weeks.

“SLIM has gone to sleep again as the sun set after 3 am (Japan Time) on March 1,” the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said on X, formerly Twitter, on Friday, alongside an image of the rocky lunar surface captured by the probe.

“Although the likelihood of failure will increase due to the severe temperature cycles, we will attempt SLIM operation again when the sunlight comes back in late March,” JAXA said.

The announcement comes after the uncrewed American lander Odysseus became the first private spaceship on the Moon.

The lander sent its final image on Thursday before its power banks depleted.

SLIM, dubbed the “Moon Sniper” for its precision landing technology, touched down within its target landing zone on January 20.

The feat was a win for Japan’s space program after a string of recent failures, making the nation only the fifth to achieve a “soft landing” on the Moon, after the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India.

The aim of the mission is to examine a part of the Moon’s mantle — the usually deep inner layer beneath its crust — that is believed to be accessible.

NASA is planning to return astronauts to the Moon later this decade.

The US, along with international partners, wants to eventually develop long-term habitats in the region, harvesting polar ice for drinking water — and for rocket fuel for eventual onward voyages to Mars.


Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze

Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze
Updated 02 March 2024
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Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze

Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze
  • Among the dead was young university student MinHajj Khan, whose failure to escape the fire was witnessed by a friend with him at the restaurant and confirmed to AFP by his older cousin at the hospital

DHAKA: Anguished families kept vigil outside the morgue of Bangladesh’s largest hospital on Friday, waiting for the bodies of loved ones to be identified after a fire they say should never have happened.
At least 46 people were killed in Thursday night’s blaze in an upscale neighborhood of Dhaka, which broke out in a popular biryani restaurant and quickly engulfed a seven-floor commercial building.
Most of those who perished suffocated in the smoke, while the bodies of others were burned beyond recognition in the resulting inferno.
Among the dead was young university student MinHajj Khan, whose failure to escape the fire was witnessed by a friend with him at the restaurant and confirmed to AFP by his older cousin at the hospital.

BACKGROUND

Firefighters said the blaze was accidentally sparked from an improperly stored cooking gas cylinder and made much worse by the quick chain-reaction explosions of other canisters stored haphazardly around the building.

Khan’s mother had traveled to the hospital insisting his companion was mistaken, angrily sending away doctors requesting a DNA swab to check against bodies brought to the morgue.
“I won’t listen to anyone. I don’t believe any of you. I only want my son. Nothing else,” she said, declining to give her name.
“He promised to take me to Makkah for the pilgrimage. How can I go to Mak without him?“
It took fire crews two hours to control the blaze, with members of the public stepping in to carry hoses and help guide those escaping from the building to safety.
Before they arrived, many inside had rushed upstairs to the rooftop to escape the quickly spreading inferno.
Kazi Taslim Uddin said his 20-year-old son was among the dozens being treated in hospital for injuries after being forced to clamber down the side of the building.
“He tried to go to the ground floor but failed as people were rushing up the opposite way,” he told AFP.
“He grabbed some cables and tried to climb down, but they weren’t long enough,” he added.
“He jumped and got injured. The smoke also scorched his lungs.”
Firefighters said the blaze was accidentally sparked from an improperly stored cooking gas cylinder and made much worse by the quick chain-reaction explosions of other canisters stored haphazardly around the building.
Bereaved family members at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital were furious that nothing had been done to alert the public to the fire risk at the restaurant beforehand.
“It could have saved many lives,” said one man waiting to retrieve the body of a cousin who perished in the blaze who declined to identify himself.
“All these buildings are ticking time bombs. The regulators wake up only after the disaster occurs.”

 


UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech
Updated 01 March 2024
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UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech
  • PM: ‘In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality’

LONDON: Following weeks of simmering tension in the UK over the Gaza conflict, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Friday said that the “time has come” to battle extremist forces as he warned “democracy itself is a target.”
In an unusual address from outside his Downing Street home, Sunak said that “in recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.”
Regular marches protesting Israel’s military response to Hamas’ October 7th attacks have seen dozens arrested for anti-Semitic chanting and banners, inviting support for a proscribed organization and assaulting emergency workers.
Right wing conter-protesters were also arrested when they descended on London for Remembrance Day events in November.
“Islamist extremists and far-right groups are spreading a poison. That poison is extremism,” said Sunak.
Matters came to a head last week when the Speaker of the House of Commons said he bucked procedure during a debate due to concerns about the safety of MPs.
Sunak said that the protests, a regular occurence on Saturdays in the capital, “had descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.”
“Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed.
“MPs do not feel safe in their home. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns,” he added.
The prime minister said that “police have a tough job in policing the protests” but that “we must draw a line.”
“I say this to the police, we will back up when you take action,” he added.
Sunak’s speech came as left-wing firebrand George Galloway was elected to the UK parliament after tapping into anger over the Israel-Hamas war in a chaotic by-election marred by allegations of anti-Semitism.
Sunak said it was “beyond alarming” that voters had elected a candidate “who dismisses the horror of what happened on October 7th, and who glorifies Hezbollah.”
The government will soon unveil a “new, robust framework” to tackle extremism, which will include backing for the counter-radicalization Prevent program and a demand for universities to stop extremist activity on campus, he explained.
“It is not enough to live side-by-side, we must live together, united by shared values and a shared commitment to this country,” said Sunak.
“The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division,” he added.