Gaza, Ukraine loom large as G20 foreign ministers meet

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
Gaza, Ukraine loom large as G20 foreign ministers meet
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a meeting with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (out of frame) at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, on February 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2024
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Gaza, Ukraine loom large as G20 foreign ministers meet

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
  • A new UN Security Council resolution on a ceasefire was vetoed Tuesday by the United States, which said the text would endanger ongoing negotiations, including on the release of Hamas-held hostages
  • After Lula on Sunday compared Israel's war on Gaza to Hitler's treatment of Jews, Israel said on Monday that Lula is not welcome

RIO DE JANEIRO: G20 foreign ministers open a two-day meeting Wednesday in Brazil, with the outlook bleak for progress on a thorny agenda of conflicts and crises, from the Gaza and Ukraine wars to growing polarization.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are both expected in Rio de Janeiro for the first high-level G20 meeting of the year — though not China’s Wang Yi.
In a world torn by conflicts and divisions, Brazil, which took over the rotating G20 presidency from India in December, has voiced hopes for what President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva calls “the forum with the greatest capacity to positively influence the international agenda.”
But Lula’s bid to make the G20 a space for finding common ground suffered Sunday when the veteran leftist ignited a diplomatic firestorm by accusing Israel of “genocide,” comparing its military campaign in the Gaza Strip to the Holocaust.
The comments drew outrage in Israel, which declared him “persona non grata,” and could overshadow any bid to de-escalate the conflict via the G20.
“If Lula imagined he was going to propose peace resolutions on Israel or Ukraine, that just got swept off the table,” international relations specialist Igor Lucena told AFP.
More than four months after the Gaza war started with Hamas fighters’ unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which has vowed to wipe out the Islamist group in retaliation, there is little sign of progress toward peace.
A new UN Security Council resolution on a ceasefire was vetoed Tuesday by the United States, which said the text would endanger ongoing negotiations, including on the release of Hamas-held hostages.
The outlook is similarly downbeat on Russia’s war in Ukraine, which also has G20 members divided.
Despite a push from Western countries for the group to condemn President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, the G20’s last summit, held in New Delhi in September, ended with a watered-down statement that denounced the use of force but did not explicitly name Russia, which maintains friendly ties with fellow members like India and Brazil.
Underlining the G20 stalemate, the G7 group of top economies — Ukrainian allies Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — will hold its own virtual meeting on the war Saturday, the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

Held at a marina on the Rio waterfront, the G20 meeting will open with a session on “addressing international tensions.”
The ministers will discuss global governance reform Thursday — a favorite issue for Brazil, which wants a greater voice for the global south at institutions like the UN, IMF and World Bank.
“The number and gravity of conflicts has returned to the level of the Cold War. That brings new urgency to the issue,” said Brazil’s top diplomat for G20 political negotiations, Mauricio Lyrio.
“We need to adapt the international system to prevent new conflicts,” he told journalists Tuesday. “Now, we’re just putting out fires.”
Brazil also wants to use its G20 presidency to push the fights against poverty and climate change.
There will also be space for bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the gathering — though a Blinken-Lavrov encounter looks unlikely, given the exploding tension over Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death in prison Friday.
Blinken and Lavrov last met in person at a G20 gathering in India in March 2023.

Founded in 1999, the Group of 20 brings together most of the world’s biggest economies.
Originally an economic forum, it has grown increasingly involved in international politics.
But the prospects for major advances via the group are dim in a year when elections will be held in some 50 countries, including key G20 members such as the United States and Russia, said Lucena.
“Reaching big agreements will be difficult,” he said.
“It’s not a favorable environment for resolving conflicts. On the contrary.”
A Brazilian government source said that after recent G20 struggles for consensus, the hosts axed the requirement that every meeting produce a joint statement — with the exception of the annual leaders’ summit, scheduled for November in Rio.
 

 


France accuses allies of ‘political positioning’ in recognizing Palestinian state

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France accuses allies of ‘political positioning’ in recognizing Palestinian state

France accuses allies of ‘political positioning’ in recognizing Palestinian state
French President Emmanuel Macron said the same day he would be prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, but such a move should “come at a useful moment“
“France is not involved in any political positioning, it is looking for diplomatic solutions to this crisis,” Sejourne added

PARIS: France’s foreign minister Wednesday accused fellow EU members Spain and Ireland of having recognized Palestinian statehood as part of “political positioning,” instead of seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Spain, Ireland and Norway on Tuesday officially recognized the State of Palestine, sparking a furious response from Israel.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the same day he would be prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, but such a move should “come at a useful moment” and not be based on “emotion.”
Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne told senators that France was “in favor of a two-state solution,” under which the states of Israel and Palestine would coexist in peace.
“By definition, the issue of recognition will of course come into that. But the concern now — which I have clearly shared with my Spanish and Irish counterparts — is what happens the day after recognition: How diplomatically useful is it?” he said.
“France is not involved in any political positioning, it is looking for diplomatic solutions to this crisis,” Sejourne added.
“It is unfortunate that a certain number of European states put political positioning first in the context of campaigning for the European elections, which does not solve anything.”
European Parliament elections are due to be held next week.
“Tell me, what exactly has the Spanish recognition changed a day later in Gaza? Nothing!” the foreign minister said.
The latest Gaza war was sparked by Palestinian militant group Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
The Israeli military says 292 soldiers have been killed in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.

Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 

Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 
Updated 29 May 2024
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Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 

Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 
  • Estimated 2.9 million Afghan children under five years of age to suffer acute malnutrition in 2024, says Save The Children 
  • Afghanistan reels from immediate impacts of flood, long-term effects of drought and return of refugees from Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: About 6.5 million children in Afghanistan were forecast to experience crisis levels of hunger in 2024, a nongovernmental organization said.

Nearly three out of 10 Afghan children will face crisis or emergency levels of hunger this year as the country feels the immediate impacts of floods, the long-term effects of drought, and the return of Afghans from neighboring Pakistan and Iran, according to a report released late Tuesday by Save The Children.

New figures from global hunger monitoring body Integrated Food Security Phase Classification forecast that 28 percent of Afghanistan’s population, about 12.4 million people, will face acute food insecurity before October. Of those, nearly 2.4 million are predicted to experience emergency levels of hunger, which is one level above famine, according to Save the Children.

The figures show a slight improvement from the last report, released in October 2023, but underline the continuing need for assistance, with poverty affecting half of the population.

Torrential rain and flash floods hit northern Afghanistan in May, killing more than 400 people. Thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged and farmland was turned into mud.

Save the Children is operating a “clinic on wheels” in Baghlan province, which was hit the worst by floods, as part of its emergency response program. The organization added that an estimated 2.9 million children under the age of 5 are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2024.

Arshad Malik, country director for Save the Children in Afghanistan, said that the NGO has treated more than 7,000 children for severe or acute malnutrition so far this year.

“Those numbers are a sign of the massive need for continuing support for families as they experience shock after shock,” Malik said. 

Children are feeling the devastating impacts of three years of drought, high levels of unemployment, and the return of more than 1.4 million Afghans from Pakistan and Iran, he added.

“We need long-term, community-based solutions to help families rebuild their lives,” Malik said.

More than 557,000 Afghans have returned from Pakistan since September 2023, after Pakistan began cracking down on foreigners it alleges are in the country illegally, including 1.7 million Afghans. It insists the campaign isn’t directed against Afghans specifically, but they make up most of the foreigners in the South Asian country.

In April, Save the Children said that a quarter-million Afghan children need education, food and homes after being forcibly returned from Pakistan.

Malik added that only 16 percent of funding for the 2024 humanitarian response plan has been met so far, but nearly half the population needs assistance.

“This is not the time for the world to look away,” he said.

Meanwhile, the European Union is allocating an additional 10 million euros (nearly $10.9 million) to the UN food agency for school feeding activities in Afghanistan. These latest funds from the EU follow an earlier contribution of 20.9 million euros ($22.7 million) toward the World Food Program’s school meal program in Afghanistan for 2022 and 2023.

The funding comes at a timely moment and averts WFP having to downsize its school meal program this year because of a lack of funding, the WFP said in a statement.

“Hunger can be a barrier to education. The additional EU funding to our long-standing partner WFP ensures that more children in Afghanistan receive nutritious food,” said Raffaella Iodice, chargé d’affaires of the EU’s delegation to Afghanistan.

The WFP’s statement said that the agency will be able to use the funding to distribute fortified biscuits or locally produced nutritious school snacks to pupils in more than 10,000 schools in the eight provinces of Farah, Ghor, Jawzjan, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktika, Uruzgan and Zabul.

Last year, WFP supported 1.5 million school-age children through this program.


Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’

Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’
Updated 29 May 2024
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Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’

Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’
  • The Ukrainian citizen, identified as Oleksandr D., was arrested in early March
  • He is suspected of having “encouraged a Polish citizen to participate in foreign intelligence activity against Poland“

WARSAW: Poland’s security services on Wednesday said a 26-year-old Ukrainian man had been charged with provocation and incitement to espionage against the NATO member.
In recent months Poland, a staunch Ukraine supporter, has seen several sabotage plots on its territory that it has blamed on neighboring Russia.
The Ukrainian citizen, identified as Oleksandr D., was arrested in early March and is suspected of having “encouraged a Polish citizen to participate in foreign intelligence activity against Poland,” security services spokesman Jacek Dobrzynski said in a statement.
“This activity was to consist of sharing photos of military vehicles that were intended for aiding Ukraine and which were crossing the border between Poland and Ukraine,” he added.
In exchange for information, the Polish man was to receive a payment of 15,000 euros ($16,000), Dobrzynski said, without specifying if he had accepted the offer.
Oleksandr D. was charged on Tuesday and faces at least eight years in prison if found guilty.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has said previously that several attempts at diversion, sabotage and arson had been undertaken in Poland on behalf of Russia over the past few months.
These acts “were fortunately averted thanks to the vigilance of our services and allies,” Tusk said in mid-May.
He also said that Poland would reinforce its intelligence services amid the sabotage attempts and concerns over Russia.
A loyal ally of Kyiv’s, Poland is a main country through which Western nations are transferring weapons and munitions to Ukraine to help in the fight against Russia.


Volcano in Iceland erupts again

Volcano in Iceland erupts again
Updated 29 May 2024
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Volcano in Iceland erupts again

Volcano in Iceland erupts again
  • Authorities had warned of the risk of renewed volcanic activity in the area just south of the capital Reykjavik

COPENHAGEN: A volcano in southwestern Iceland erupted on Wednesday, live video from the area showed, making it the fifth outbreak since December.
The new outburst happened as another eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula recently ended after spewing fountains of molten rock for almost eight weeks.
Authorities had warned of the risk of renewed volcanic activity in the area just south of the capital Reykjavik as studies showed magma accumulated underground.
The fiery spectacle underlines the challenges the island nation of almost 400,000 people face as scientists have warned eruptions could happen over and over in Reykjanes for decades or even centuries.
The eruption was the eighth on the peninsula, home to some 30,000 people, since 2021 when geological systems that were dormant for some 800 years again became active.
Previous incidents had disrupted district heating, closed key roads and even razed several houses in the Grindavik fishing town, where only a few residents have since returned.
In an attempt to prevent further damage man-made barriers have been built to steer lava away from infrastructure including the Svartsengi geothermal power plant, the Blue Lagoon outdoor spa and Grindavik.
Icelanders often refer to their country as the “Land of Fire and Ice” as a tribute to its otherworldly landscape forged by glaciers and volcanoes which is positioned between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, making it a seismic hotbed.
While a 2010 eruption in a different part of Iceland grounded some 100,000 flights internationally due to huge ash clouds, Reykjanes is typically home to fissure outbreaks which do not reach into the stratosphere.


Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island

Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island
Updated 29 May 2024
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Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island

Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island
  • Known for its beaches and coral reefs, Boracay is one of the world’s most famous islands
  • Philippines wants to grow its Muslim-friendly and halal tourism portfolio, tourism secretary says

MANILA: The Philippines is developing halal-friendly options in its top resort island of Boracay to attract more Muslim visitors, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said on Wednesday.

Located in the province of Aklan, in the center of the Philippine archipelago, Boracay is known for its white sand beaches and coral reefs that make it one of the world’s most famous islands.

Tourism is a key sector for the Philippines, and its Department of Tourism has lately been trying to attract more Muslim visitors, particularly by ensuring that they have access to halal products and services.

“Muslim-friendly and halal tourism is a portfolio that we wish to grow,” Frasco told reporters.

“We are now in talks with a Boracay local government unit, as well as the Department of Tourism, to … offer halal-friendly tourism in Boracay.”

 

 

The predominantly Catholic Philippines — where Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the nearly 120 million population — welcomed more than 2 million international travelers since the beginning of the year and marked a 10 percent increase in visitors arriving from Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have been among the Philippine government’s key emerging-market targets.

The Philippines was recognized with the Emerging Muslim-friendly Destination of the Year award in 2023 at the Halal in Travel Global Summit in Singapore. Since then, the Muslim market has been its priority.

Earlier this month, the Department of Tourism led a delegation to the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, where it promoted the country’s best destinations.

“When we attended the Arabian Travel Market … we signed a memorandum of understanding with Megaworld such that all their properties will be converted into Muslim-friendly and halal-friendly tourism establishments,” Frasco said, referring to one of the largest Philippine hospitality chains.

“What we expect is really to be able to tap into this billion-dollar industry that is halal and Muslim-friendly tourism.”