Why the Arab region must plan for ‘Disease X’ or the next pandemic

Analysis Why the Arab region must plan for ‘Disease X’ or the next pandemic
WHO researchers anticipate the next “Disease X” will be caused by a new virus derived from one of approximately 25 viral families which have already demonstrated the ability to infect humans. (AFP/ File)
Short Url
Updated 18 February 2024
Follow

Why the Arab region must plan for ‘Disease X’ or the next pandemic

Why the Arab region must plan for ‘Disease X’ or the next pandemic
  • WHO and health chiefs have called for a pandemic treaty so the world can better prepare for future outbreaks
  • Gulf states fared better than most during COVID-19 pandemic, but experts believe lessons must still be learned

DUBAI: When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, governments worldwide were caught off guard. Having faced no health emergency of this magnitude in generations, states were left scrambling to protect their populations and shield their economies.

Now that life has largely returned to normal following years of social distancing, travel controls and trade disruption, global health experts are calling on governments to prepare for the next pandemic — ominously dubbed “Disease X.”

Such is the sense of foreboding that the mere mention of “Disease X” — x being the algebraic symbol for the unknown — at this year’s World Economic Forum sparked panic on social media as people took the hypothetical warning literally.




Experts voiced concerns about the likelihood of another pandemic in the future. (AFP/File)

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health was forced to issue a statement to allay fears of a new outbreak, clarifying that “Disease X” was merely a placeholder name issued by the World Health Organization to refer to the possibility of a future pandemic.

The ministry also emphasized that cautionary statements from the WHO and scientists were only intended to promote greater global preparedness in the face of new and emerging threats to public health.

“The recurring message year after year is that humans are vulnerable to epidemics due to our coexistence with numerous viruses and germs,” the ministry said.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Indeed, although health experts were not announcing the emergence of a sinister new disease, they were voicing concerns about the likelihood of another pandemic in the future — one that could be even more deadly than COVID-19 and that the world is still ill-prepared for.

“If and when it occurs, it would have the potential to cause death and devastation,” Dr. Fabrizio Facchini, a consultant pulmonologist at Medcare Hospital Al-Safa in Dubai, told Arab News.

According to Dr. Facchini, microbiologists and epidemiologists are concerned that a new virus could emerge in the future which would have a similar impact to the deadly Spanish flu of 1918-20.




COVID-19 killed around 7 million people and infected 700 million. (AFP/File)

To put that in perspective, the Spanish flu, or “Great Influenza,” killed an estimated 50 million people and infected approximately one-third of the global population.

By comparison, COVID-19 killed around 7 million people and infected 700 million as of January 2023, according to WHO figures. The pandemic was officially declared over in May that year, although the virus continues to travel.

“Defining this potential threat as ‘Disease X’ is intended to prioritize preparations for dealing with a disease that would not have vaccinations or medications in place and could cause a significant epidemic or pandemic in the future,” Dr. Facchini said.

INNUMBERS

50m — Deaths from Spanish flu, which infected 33% of the global population (1918-20).

7m — Deaths linked to COVID-19, which infected 700m people worldwide (as of Jan. 2023).

Source: WHO, CDC

Two years into the pandemic, the WHO attributed approximately 1.4 million deaths in the Middle East and Asia to COVID-19. While some nations in the region fared better than others, experts believe there are still lessons to be learned for future outbreaks.

“Although the UAE did well in COVID-19 pandemic preparedness compared with most other countries, there are still steps they should take to prepare for a ‘Disease X’ or other possible epidemics,” Chandulal Khakhar, a Sharjah-based pharmacist, told Arab News.

Khakhar believes hospital capacity is something authorities must examine, considering the “significant strain” experienced by healthcare facilities during the pandemic. Additionally, critical care should be prioritized in health centers and hospitals.

“To do this, healthcare should begin in communities, and preventive care should be done at home,” he said.




Health experts want to see a more joined-up approach to pandemic preparation and response. (AFP/ File)

As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, technology increasingly played a larger role in everyday lives and healthcare systems.

“Wearable devices to track health progress and community health programs should be launched,” said Khakhar. “And remote checkups such as telehealth should be improved and enforced.”

The number of COVID-19 deaths associated with countries in the Middle East and North Africa relative to other regions remained low during the pandemic, both in total and per capita terms, according to data from the Brookings Doha Center.

This trend may be influenced these countries’ relatively young populations, as well as the robustness of healthcare systems, particularly in Gulf states.

Initially, research showed the highest number of deaths per million population were in Lebanon and Iraq. However, the Gulf states experienced an uptick by June 2020, coinciding with some of the highest infection rates in the region.

By autumn, the Gulf countries reported some of the lowest fatality figures in the region, while numbers rose notably in Iraq, Jordan, Oman and Tunisia amid a second wave of deaths in the late summer.

Still, cumulative deaths have remained low in the Gulf despite many parts of the region having grappled with a surge in fatalities when subsequent waves of the virus strained healthcare systems.





Governments and stakeholders can leverage the potential of mRNA vaccine technology to expedite the development of new vaccines if and when needed. (AFP/File)

This was especially evident for Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia, where the overall number of deaths increased significantly from 2021 onward.

Health experts want to see a more joined-up approach to pandemic preparation and response, in part to make public health outcomes more equitable between wealthy and developing nations.

In a joint statement issued at the WEF, two dozen heads of state called for a comprehensive shift involving all sectors of government and society, forming the basis of a “pandemic treaty.”

Such an approach aims to enhance national, regional and global capacities and resilience in preparation for future pandemics.

FASTFACT

‘Disease X’ is the name given by scientists and the WHO to an unknown pathogen that could emerge in future and cause a serious international epidemic or pandemic.

Because public health and national defense experts are concerned the next pandemic could be even more damaging than COVID-19, Dr. Facchini said it was incumbent on countries to prepare for “whatever biology brings, whether it is from nature, engineering, or a laboratory accident.”

The WHO first introduced the term “Disease X” in 2017 when discussing priority diseases alongside conditions like Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, Ebola, Lassa fever, Zika, and then COVID-19, which is considered the first “Disease X” — of more to come.

These viruses were flagged as international priorities, emphasizing the need for states to increase their research and development into their symptoms, spread, treatment and inoculation.




Millions of people have been vaccinated since the emergence of COVID-19, greatly reducing the severity of symptoms. (AFP/File)

WHO researchers anticipate the next “Disease X” will be caused by a new virus derived from one of approximately 25 viral families which have already demonstrated the ability to infect humans.

“The next pandemic pathogen may not be a coronavirus at all. Experts are looking into a range of bird flu strains due to increased transmission to and among mammals, as well as several recent human cases in various parts of the world,” Dr. Facchini said.

Millions of people have been vaccinated since the emergence of COVID-19, greatly reducing the severity of symptoms and improving survivability. However, immunization against this particular coronavirus does not guarantee protection against new ones.

“Coronaviruses have caused some of the most deadly outbreaks in recent decades,” said Dr. Facchini.

These viruses — commonly transmitted from animal hosts to humans and causing fatal respiratory infections — have been observed at least three times this century.

While populations may not be protected against the next “Disease X,” governments and stakeholders can leverage the potential of mRNA vaccine technology to expedite the development of new vaccines if and when needed.

The WHO has already initiated measures in preparation for future outbreaks, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus revealed at this year’s WEF.




Experts suggest regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and refraining from smoking as helpful to reducing susceptibility to diseases. (AFP/File)

Proactive steps include the establishment of a pandemic fund and creation of a “technology transfer hub” in South Africa, in part to address vaccine inequity between high and low income countries.

Moreover, Ghebreyesus called on countries to sign the WHO’s pandemic treaty, so the world can better prepare for inevitable future outbreaks.

“The pandemic agreement can bring all the experience, all the challenges that we have faced, and all the solutions into one,” he said.

Regarding the ability to address potential outbreaks effectively, Dr. Facchini stressed the importance of early detection, surveillance and monitoring of possible diseases in both animal and human populations.

“Investing in research and development of new vaccines, global cooperation, public awareness, and education can all help to halt the next pandemic,” he said.




Global health experts are calling on governments to prepare for the next pandemic — ominously dubbed “Disease X.” (AFP/ File)

And, while individuals cannot control every aspect of their health, Dr. Facchini said basic steps can be taken to maximize personal well-being.

These include engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and refraining from smoking and other vices which heighten susceptibility to diseases.

“One of the lessons we learnt from the pandemic was that people in less favorable conditions fared worse,” said Dr. Facchini. “Those in worse health bore the burden of hospitalizations.”


Houthis say Iran’s attack on Israel ‘legal’

Houthis say Iran’s attack on Israel ‘legal’
Updated 14 April 2024
Follow

Houthis say Iran’s attack on Israel ‘legal’

Houthis say Iran’s attack on Israel ‘legal’
  • Iran launched a volley of drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday night in revenge for Israel’s airstrike on its Damascus consulate
  • Houthis claim that their attacks are intended to push Israel to break its stranglehold on the Palestinian Gaza Strip

AL-MUKALLA: Houthi militia said on Sunday that Iran’s large-scale missile and drone launch on Israel was “lawful” and “in accordance with international law” and pledged to continue their attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

Iran launched a volley of drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday night in revenge for Israel’s airstrike on its Damascus consulate, which killed several Revolutionary Guards leaders.

In a statement broadcast by their official news agency, the Houthi Foreign Ministry hailed Iran’s strikes, which they claimed fell within Iran’s “rights of defense,” and called on foreign powers to halt their “unlimited” political, military, financial and logistical support for Israel. 

Despite media reports that Iran-backed militias in the region, including the Houthis in Yemen, launched drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday, the Houthis have not officially claimed credit for participating in Iran’s campaign against Israel or other attacks in the Red Sea since April 10.

Since November, the Houthis have shot hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones toward Israel, as well as international commercial and navy ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden, preventing Israel-linked and Israel-bound vessels from passing through crucial maritime channels.

The Houthis claim that their attacks are intended to push Israel to break its stranglehold on the Palestinian Gaza Strip. 

Unlike in the early days of their Red Sea ship campaign, when the Houthis swiftly announced strikes, they have recently published notices of more attacks some days later.

At the same time, Sultan Al-Sami’i, a member of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, reiterated on Sunday the militia’s warning to target ships in the Red Sea until Israel lifts its siege on Gaza.

Speaking on the seized Galaxy Leader ship off Yemen’s western Hodediah city, the Houthi leader said that the Red Sea was “safe” for international trade and that they were only targeting Israel-linked ships and those bound for Israel.

“Except for vessels owned by the Zionist entity or those affiliated with it, we assure all nations that the Red Sea remains a secure zone for international trade, navigation and ship passage,” Al-Sami’i said.

The US and the UK, supported by allies, have responded to the Houthi attacks on ships by striking Houthi targets in Sanaa, Saada, Hodeida and other Yemeni areas under the militia’s control.

The Houthis say that the strikes have not achieved their goal of reducing their military capabilities and that they will continue to target ships. 


US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says

US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says
Updated 14 April 2024
Follow

US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says

US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says
  • The US will continue to help Israel defend itself, but does not want war, John Kirby, the White House’s top national security spokesperson, said

JERUSALEM/DUBAI/WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the US will not take part in a counter-offensive against Iran if Israel decides to retaliate for a mass drone and missile attack on Israeli territory overnight, a White House official said.
The threat of open warfare erupting between the arch Middle East foes and dragging in the United States has put the region on edge, triggering calls for restraint from global powers and Arab nations to avoid further escalation.
US media reported earlier on Sunday that Biden had informed Netanyahu he would not participate in retaliatory action in a phone call overnight. The remarks were confirmed to Reuters by a White House official.
The US will continue to help Israel defend itself, but does not want war, John Kirby, the White House’s top national security spokesperson, told ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday.
Iran launched the attack over a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Syria on April 1 that killed top Revolutionary Guards commanders and followed months of clashes between Israel and Iran’s regional allies, triggered by the war in Gaza.
However, the attack from more than 300 missiles and drones, mostly launched from inside Iran, caused only modest damage in Israel as most were shot down with the help of the US, Britain and Jordan.
An Air Force base in southern Israel was hit, but continued to operate as normal and a 7-year old child was seriously hurt by shrapnel. There were no other reports of serious damage.
Two senior Israeli ministers signalled on Sunday that retaliation by Israel is not imminent and it would not act alone.
“We will build a regional coalition and exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us,” centrist minister Benny Gantz said ahead of a war cabinet meeting.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also said Israel had an opportunity to form a strategic alliance against “against this grave threat by Iran which is threatening to mount nuclear explosives on these missiles, which could be an extremely grave threat,” he said. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
Iranian army chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri warned on television that “our response will be much larger than tonight’s military action if Israel retaliates against Iran” and told Washington its bases could also be attacked if it helped Israel retaliate.
Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian said Tehran had informed the United States its attack on Israel would be “limited” and for self defense and that regional neighbors had also been informed of its planned strikes 72-hours in advance.
A Turkish diplomatic source said Iran had informed Turkiye in advance of what would happen.
Iran said the attack was aimed at punishing “Israeli crimes” but it now “deemed the matter concluded.”
Russia, China, France and Germany as well as Arab states Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates urged restraint and the UN Security Council was set to meet at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) on Sunday.
“We will do everything to stop a further escalation,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on a visit to China. “We can only warn everyone, especially Iran, against continuing this way.”
Turkiye also warned Iran it did not want further tension in the region.
Escalation
Analysts debated how far Iran’s attack was calibrated to cause genuine devastation in Israel, or to save face at home after vows of revenge while avoiding a major new war.
“I think the Iranians took into consideration the fact that Israel has a very, very strong multi-layer anti-missile system and they probably took into consideration that there will not be too many casualties,” said Sima Shine, a former senior Mossad official at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
But if Iran was hoping for a muted response, like with its missile attacks on US forces in Iraq after the killing of Guards commander Qassem Soleimani in 2020, she warned “I don’t think Israel sees it this way.”
On Saturday Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized an Israel-linked cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important energy shipping routes, underscoring the risks to the world economy of a wider conflict.
Some flights were suspended in countries across the region.
The war in Gaza, which Israel invaded after an attack by Iran-backed Hamas on Oct. 7, has spread to fronts with Iran-aligned groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
Iran’s most powerful ally in the region, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah fired rockets at an Israeli base overnight. Israel said it struck a Hezbollah site deep inside Lebanon on Sunday morning.
Yemen’s Houthis, who have been firing missiles at ships in the Red Sea in what they say is support for the Palestinians, called Iran’s attack legitimate.
The Oct. 7 attack in which Israel says 1,200 were killed and 253 taken hostage, along with internal discontent with the government and international pressure over the war in Gaza, form the backdrop to Netanyahu’s decisions over a response. At least 33,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its military offensive, according to authorities in the enclave.
The Israeli prime minister has for years advocated a tough military line against Iran, pushing the United States for harder action over Tehran’s nuclear program and its backing for Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups in the region.
In Israel, although there was alarm at the first direct attack from another country in more than three decades, the mood was in contrast to the trauma after the Hamas-led attack on Oct.7.
“I think we’ve been given license to respond now. I mean it was a major attack from Iran... I imagine Israel will respond and may be over quickly and get back to normal life,” said Jeremy Smith, 60.
In Iran, state television showed small gatherings in several cities celebrating the attack, but in private some Iranians were worried about Israel’s response.
“Iran gave Netanyahu a golden opportunity to attack our country. But we, the people of Iran, will bear the brunt of this conflict,” said Shima, a 29-year-old nurse, from Tehran.


Iran warns Israel against retaliation, global powers urge restraint

Iran warns Israel against retaliation, global powers urge restraint
Updated 14 April 2024
Follow

Iran warns Israel against retaliation, global powers urge restraint

Iran warns Israel against retaliation, global powers urge restraint
  • Tehran had informed the US its attack on Israel would be ‘limited’ and for self defense

JERUSALEM/DUBAI/WASHINGTON: Iran warned Israel and the United States on Sunday of a much larger response if there is any retaliation for its mass drone and missile attack on Israeli territory overnight, as Israel said “the campaign is not over yet.”

The threat of open warfare erupting between the arch Middle East foes and dragging in the United States has put the region on edge as Washington said America did not seek conflict with Iran but would not hesitate to protect its forces and Israel.

Iran launched the attack over a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Syria on April 1 that killed top Revolutionary Guards commanders and followed months of clashes between Israel and Iran’s regional allies, triggered by the war in Gaza.

However, the attack from hundreds of missiles and drones, mostly launched from inside Iran, caused only modest damage in Israel as most were shot down with the help of the US, Britain and Jordan.

An Air Force base in southern Israel was hit, but continued to operate as normal and a 7-year old child was seriously hurt by shrapnel. There were no other reports of serious damage.

“We intercepted, we repelled, together we shall win,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on social media ahead of a planned 1230 GMT meeting of the war cabinet to discuss a response to the attack.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said despite thwarting the attack, the military campaign was not over and “we must be prepared for every scenario.”

Israel’s Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official overnight as saying there would be a “significant response” to the attack.

Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian said Tehran had informed the United States its attack on Israel would be “limited” and for self defense.

He said Israel’s neighbors had also been informed of its planned strikes 72-hours in advance.

Global powers Russia, China, France and Germany as well as Arab states Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates urged restraint.

“We will do everything to stop a further escalation,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters during a visit to China. “We can only warn everyone, especially Iran, against continuing this way.”

Turkiye also warned Iran it did not want further tension in the region.

The Islamic Republic’s mission to the United Nations said its actions were aimed at punishing “Israeli crimes,” but that it now “deemed the matter concluded.”

Iranian army chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri warned on television that “our response will be much larger than tonight’s military action if Israel retaliates against Iran” and told Washington its bases could also be attacked if it helped Israel retaliate.

US President Joe Biden has pledged “ironclad” support for Israel against Iran, but did not announce any military response on Saturday night, saying instead he would coordinate a diplomatic response with other Western leaders.

The UN Security Council was set to meet at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) on Sunday.

ESCALATION

Analysts debated how far Iran’s attack was calibrated to cause genuine devastation in Israel, or to save face at home after vows of revenge while avoiding a major new war.

“I think the Iranians took into consideration the fact that Israel has a very, very strong multi-layer anti-missile system and they probably took into consideration that there will not be too many casualties,” said Sima Shine, a former senior Mossad official at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

But if Iran was hoping for a muted response, like with its missile attacks on US forces in Iraq after the killing of Guards commander Qassem Soleimani in 2020, she warned “I don’t think Israel sees it this way.”

On Saturday Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized an Israel-linked cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important energy shipping routes, underscoring the risks to the world economy of a wider conflict.

Some flights were suspended in countries across the region and share prices fell in stock markets in Israel and Gulf states.

The war in Gaza, which Israel invaded after an attack by Iran-backed Hamas on Oct. 7, has spread to fronts with Iran-aligned groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

Iran’s most powerful ally in the region, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah fired rockets at an Israeli base overnight. Israel said it struck a Hezbollah site deep inside Lebanon on Sunday morning.

Yemen’s Houthis, who have been firing missiles at ships in the Red Sea in what they say is support for the Palestinians, called Iran’s attack legitimate.

The Oct. 7 attack in which 1,200 Israelis were killed and 253 taken hostage, along with internal discontent with the government and international pressure over the war in Gaza, form the backdrop to Netanyahu’s decisions over a response.

The Israeli prime minister has for years advocated a tough military line against Iran, pushing the United States for harder action over Tehran’s nuclear program and its backing for Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups in the region.

In Jerusalem on Sunday, Israelis described their fear during the attack, when sirens wailed and the night sky was shaken by blasts, but differed on how the country should respond.

“I think we’ve been given license to respond now. I mean it was a major attack from Iran... I imagine Israel will respond and may be over quickly and get back to normal life,” said Jeremy Smith, 60.

In Iran, state television showed small gatherings in several cities celebrating the attack, but in private some Iranians were worried about Israel’s response.

“Iran gave Netanyahu a golden opportunity to attack our country. But we, the people of Iran, will bear the brunt of this conflict,” said Shima, a 29-year-old nurse, from Tehran.


Hamas and Israel exchange recriminations over stalled Gaza talks

Hamas and Israel exchange recriminations over stalled Gaza talks
Updated 14 April 2024
Follow

Hamas and Israel exchange recriminations over stalled Gaza talks

Hamas and Israel exchange recriminations over stalled Gaza talks
  • Without explicitly rejecting the draft deal, Hamas reiterated its long-standing demands for a permanent ceasefire

JERUSALEM: Israel and Hamas have accused each other of undermining negotiations for a truce in Gaza and a hostage release deal, although the talks have not collapsed.

On Saturday, while Hamas-backer Iran was preparing to launch hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel in retaliation for a deadly Damascus strike, the Palestinian militant group announced that it had delivered its response to the latest ceasefire proposal.

Without explicitly rejecting the draft deal, Hamas reiterated its long-standing demands for a permanent ceasefire and the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip, which Israeli officials have repeatedly opposed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instead reiterated his determination to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, the last city in Gaza yet to face such a fate and which Israel insists is Hamas’s last major holdout.

On Saturday, Netanyahu accused Hamas of being the “only obstacle” to a deal that would free the hostages still held by Gaza militants.

“The cabinet and the security forces are united in their opposition to these unfounded demands,” he said, adding that Hamas “has refused any deal and any compromise proposal.”

On Sunday, Israel’s Mossad spy agency said in a statement released by Netanyahu’s office that Hamas had rejected the proposal, and said it “proves” that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar “does not want a humanitarian deal and the return of the hostages.”

Sinwar was “continuing to exploit the tension with Iran,” Mossad said, and was aiming for “a general escalation in the region.”

The comments came just hours before Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel, the vast majority of which intercepted according to Israel.

Mossad said Israel would “continue to work to achieve the objectives of the war against Hamas with all its might, and will turn every stone to bring back the hostages from Gaza.”

Despite the apparent gulf between the two sides, the talks, mediated by Egypt, the United States and Qatar, are ongoing in the Egyptian capital.

“The negotiations are not at a standstill” but the mediators will have to go back to the drawing board, said Hasni Abidi of CERMAM, a Geneva-based think tank specializing in the Mediterranean and the Arab world.

A framework being circulated in Cairo would halt fighting for six weeks and see the exchange of about 40 hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, as well as more aid deliveries into the besieged Gaza Strip.

A Hamas source told AFP that, ultimately, later stages of the ceasefire would see all hostages released, Israel withdrawing all its forces from Gaza, the lifting of the siege and the reconstruction of the territory.

However, so far every attempt to negotiate a durable ceasefire in the six-month-long war has failed.

In November, a seven-day truce enabled the exchange of 80 hostages for 240 Palestinian prisoners, as well as 25 captives freed outside of the truce mechanism.

The war broke out with Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory attack, aimed at destroying Hamas, has killed at least 33,729 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Palestinian militants also took about 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel withdrew most of its troops from the Gaza Strip on the six-month anniversary of the war, leaving only a single brigade in central Gaza, while continuing to launch air strikes and bombardments.

Netanyahu has repeated his determination to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, where around 1.5 million Gazans are sheltering from the war, despite opposition from Israel’s top ally the United States.

He also faces increasing pressure from the Israeli public and the families of the hostages, with mass weekly demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem demanding an end to his government and the return of the captives.


Iraq PM arrives in Washington

Iraq PM arrives in Washington
Updated 14 April 2024
Follow

Iraq PM arrives in Washington

Iraq PM arrives in Washington

Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shiaa Al-Sudani arrived in Washington, DC, on Sunday embarking on an official visit at the invitation of US President Joe Biden.

Discussions during Al-Sudani's visit will encompass various aspects of the bilateral relationship between the US and Iraq, including security and defense partnership and economic ties.

This emphasis on economic cooperation comes amidst ongoing negotiations between Washington and Baghdad concerning the future of the US-led military coalition in Iraq. As both parties engage in dialogue, the visit presents a significant opportunity to bolster economic collaboration and deepen the longstanding ties between the United States and Iraq.