US should end weapon supplies to Israel over Gaza war, says top Democrat senator

Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen is part of a group of seven senators who this week sent to a letter to Biden urging an end to US weapon deliveries to Tel Aviv. (Reuters/File Photo)
Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen is part of a group of seven senators who this week sent to a letter to Biden urging an end to US weapon deliveries to Tel Aviv. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 16 March 2024
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US should end weapon supplies to Israel over Gaza war, says top Democrat senator

US should end weapon supplies to Israel over Gaza war, says top Democrat senator
  • Chris Van Hollen and 6 other senators pen letter urging Biden to ‘use all levers’ to pressure Netanyahu
  • Restricting military aid could force Tel Aviv to change course and avoid Rafah attack, letter says

LONDON: A top Democrat senator in the US has called on President Joe Biden to “use all levers” at his disposal in pressuring Israel to change its war strategy, The Guardian reported.

Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen is part of a group of seven senators who this week sent to a letter to Biden urging an end to US weapon deliveries to Tel Aviv.

The US must stop providing military aid to Israel until it ends any restrictions on the flow of aid into Gaza, Van Hollen said.

In an interview on Friday, the senator urged Biden to “push harder and use all the levers of US policy to ensure people don’t die of starvation.”

Van Hollen’s co-signed letter to the president accused Israel of violating the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits the transfer of weapons to any power that restricts the supply of US humanitarian aid.

Israel had reportedly sent a written commitment, via Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, that it would operate in line with the US act in prosecuting its war on Hamas.

The senators’ letter follows mounting controversy over Washington’s “contradictory” role in the conflict, with the US arming Israel, while also attempting to address the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Anger over the US response to the Israel-Hamas war has opened rifts in the Democratic party, but also between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli leader is “openly defying” Biden’s repeated appeals to limit civilian casualties in Gaza and work toward the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, Van Hollen said.

He added: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has been an obstacle to the president’s efforts to at least create some light at the end of this very dark tunnel.”

Biden, over recent weeks, has escalated his rhetoric toward Netanyahu’s government, accusing the Israeli leader of damaging his country’s standing in the world.

However, he has also rebuffed appeals from within his own party to use essential military aid to Israel as a bargaining chip to control the consequences of the war.

The US administration has turned to air and sea deliveries of aid to address what the UN has called “catastrophic levels of deprivation and starvation” in Gaza.

But critics warn that truck deliveries by road into the enclave remain the only viable method of easing the humanitarian crisis.

Van Hollen said: “The very fact that the US is airlifting humanitarian supplies and is now going to be opening a temporary port is a symptom of the larger problem, which is (that) the Netanyahu government has restricted the amount of aid coming into Gaza and the safe distribution of aid.”

Israel has denied impeding the flow of aid by road into the enclave.

However, UN statistics show that about 500 trucks per day arrived into Gaza daily before the outbreak of the war, compared with an average of about 200 now.

The US senator said he had inspected the border situation himself during a visit to Rafah in January, describing the Israeli-led security checks as “cumbersome.”

Van Hollen added: “You witnessed these very, very long lines of trucks trying to get in through Rafah and through the Kerem Shalom crossing, and quite an inspection review, including arbitrary denials of humanitarian aid being delivered into Gaza.

“For example, we visited a warehouse in Rafah that was filled with goods that had been rejected at the inspection sites. The rejected goods included things like maternity kits, water purification systems.”

The senator also highlighted the killing of aid workers responsible for distributing aid.

Widespread famine in Gaza will be “almost inevitable” without action, the UN has warned.

In the senators’ letter to Biden, Van Hollen and his colleagues urged the president to “make it clear to the Netanyahu government that failure to immediately and dramatically expand humanitarian access, and facilitate safe aid deliveries throughout Gaza will lead to serious consequences, as specified under existing US law.”

The US leader has warned Israel would breach a “red line” if it moves ahead with plans to attack Rafah, where almost half Gaza’s population are gathered.

Biden’s comments have set up a potential face-off with Netanyahu, in what would present “one of those moments where the Biden administration is going to have to decide whether it’s going to back up the president’s strong words with the leverage that it has,” Van Hollen said.


China to continue to strengthen ties with Iran, state media says

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (AFP file photo)
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (AFP file photo)
Updated 22 May 2024
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China to continue to strengthen ties with Iran, state media says

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (AFP file photo)
  • “Iran has lost outstanding leaders and China has lost good friends and partners, said Wang, according to Xinhua news

BEIJING: China will continue to strengthen strategic cooperation with Iran, safeguard common interests, and make endeavors for regional and world peace, Chinese state media reported on Tuesday, citing comments from Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang made the remarks in talks on Tuesday with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari, while attending a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
“Iran has lost outstanding leaders and China has lost good friends and partners, said Wang, according to Xinhua news. “In this difficult time, China firmly stands by Iranian friends,” he said, referring to the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday.

 


Norway is formally recognizing Palestine as a state – prime minister

Norway is formally recognizing Palestine as a state – prime minister
Updated 14 min 38 sec ago
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Norway is formally recognizing Palestine as a state – prime minister

Norway is formally recognizing Palestine as a state – prime minister
  • Israel recalls envoys to Ireland and Norway over their moves to recognize a Palestinian state

COPENHAGEN: Norway’s prime minister says Norway is formally recognizing Palestine as a state.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said on Wednesday: “There cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition.”

Gahr Store said the Scandinavian country will officially recognize a Palestinian state as of May 28.

Several European Union countries have in the past weeks indicated that they plan to make the recognition, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was expected to announce the date for Madrid’s formal recognition of a Palestinian state and the Irish government has called a press conference for 0700 GMT to announce its decision, according to local media.

Israel recalled envoys to Ireland and Norway over their moves to recognize a Palestinian state.

“Today, I am sending a sharp message to Ireland and Norway: Israel will not go over this in silence. I have just ordered the return of the Israeli ambassadors from Dublin and Oslo to Israel for further consultations in Jerusalem,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a statement.

Sanchez said in March that Spain and Ireland, along with Slovenia and Malta, had agreed to take their first steps toward Palestinian recognition, seeing a two-state solution as essential for lasting peace.

The efforts come as a mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel’s offensive to rout Hamas prompts calls globally for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace in the region.

Norway, which is not a member of the European Union but mirror its moves, has been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The terror has been committed by Hamas and militant groups who are not supporters of a two-state solution and the state of Israel,” the Norwegian government leader said.

“Palestine has a fundamental right to an independent state,” Gahr Store told a press conference.

The move comes as Israeli forces have led assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip in May, causing a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.

The Scandinavian country “will therefore regard Palestine as an independent state with all the rights and obligations that entails,” Gahr Store said.

Norway’s recognition of a Palestine state comes more than 30 years after the first Oslo agreement was signed in 1993.

Since then, “the Palestinians have taken important steps toward a two-state solution,” the Norwegian government said.

It said that the World Bank determined that Palestine had met key criteria to function as a state in 2011, that national institutions have been built up to provide the population with important services.

“The war in Gaza and the constant expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank still mean that the situation in Palestine is more difficult than it has been in decades,” the Norwegian government said.


Shaken passengers arrive in Singapore after turbulence-hit flight

Shaken passengers arrive in Singapore after turbulence-hit flight
Updated 22 May 2024
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Shaken passengers arrive in Singapore after turbulence-hit flight

Shaken passengers arrive in Singapore after turbulence-hit flight
  • The airline said the aircraft was a Boeing 777-300ER with a total of 211 passengers and 18 crew on board
  • A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack and at least 30 people were injured

SINGAPORE: More than 140 passengers and crew from a Singapore Airlines flight hit by heavy turbulence that left dozens injured and one dead finally reached Singapore on a relief flight Wednesday morning after an emergency landing in Bangkok.
The scheduled London-Singapore flight on a Boeing 777-300ER plane diverted to Bangkok after the plane was buffeted by turbulence that flung passengers and crew around the cabin, slamming some into the ceiling.
A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack and at least 30 people were injured.
“I saw people from across the aisle going completely horizontal, hitting the ceiling and landing back down in like really awkward positions. People, like, getting massive gashes in the head, concussions,” Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old student on board the flight told Reuters after arriving in Singapore.
Photographs from the interior of the plane showed gashes in the overhead cabin panels, oxygen masks and panels hanging from the ceiling and luggage strewn around. A passenger said some people’s heads had slammed into the lights above the seats and punctured the panels.
Singapore Airlines took 131 passengers and 12 crew on the relief flight from Bangkok that reached Singapore just before 5 a.m. (2100 GMT). There were 211 passengers including many Australians, British and Singaporeans, and 18 crew on board the original flight; injured fliers and their families remained in Bangkok.
“On behalf of Singapore Airlines, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased,” Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said in a video message.
Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) is looking into the incident, and the US National Transportation Safety Board is also sending representatives for support.
The plane encountered sudden extreme turbulence, Goh said, and the pilot then declared a medical emergency and diverted to Bangkok.
Aircraft tracking provider FlightRadar 24 said at around 0749 GMT the flight encountered “a rapid change in vertical rate, consistent with a sudden turbulence event,” based on flight tracking data.
“There were thunderstorms, some severe, in the area at the time,” it said.
The sudden turbulence occurred over the Irrawaddy Basin in Myanmar about 10 hours into the flight, the airline said. Turbulence has many causes, most obviously the unstable weather patterns that trigger storms, but this flight could have been affected by clear air turbulence, which is very difficult to detect.
Turbulence-related airline accidents are the most common type of accident, according to a 2021 NTSB study.
While the airline said 30 people were injured, Samitivej Hospital in Thailand said it was treating 71 passengers.
From 2009 through 2018, the US agency found that turbulence accounted for more than a third of reported airline accidents and most resulted in one or more serious injuries, but no aircraft damage.
Singapore Airlines, which is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading airlines and is a benchmark for much of the industry, has not had any major incidents in recent years.
Its last accident resulting in casualties was a flight from Singapore to Los Angeles via Taipei, where it crashed on Oct. 31, 2000 at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, killing 83 of the 179 people on board.
 

 


Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces

Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces
Updated 22 May 2024
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Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces

Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces
  • In raw numbers, more than 1 million claims have been granted to veterans since Biden signed the so-called PACT Act into law in August 2022, the administration said Tuesday

NASHUA, N.H.: President Joe Biden, aiming to highlight his legislative accomplishments this election year, traveled to New Hampshire on Tuesday to discuss how he’s helped military veterans get benefits as a result of burn pit or other toxic exposure during their service.
“We can never fully thank you for all the sacrifices you’ve made,” Biden said to the veterans and their families gathered at a YMCA. “In America, we leave no veteran behind. That’s our motto.”
In raw numbers, more than 1 million claims have been granted to veterans since Biden signed the so-called PACT Act into law in August 2022, the administration said Tuesday. That amounts to about 888,000 veterans and survivors in all 50 states who have been able to receive disability benefits under the law.
That totals about $5.7 billion in benefits given to veterans and their survivors, according to the administration.
“The president, I think, has believed now for too long, too many veterans who got sick serving and fighting for our country had to fight the VA for their care, too,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough told reporters on Monday. PACT stands for “Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics.”
The PACT Act is relatively lower profile compared to the president’s other legislative accomplishments — such as a bipartisan infrastructure law and a sweeping tax, climate and health care package — but it is one that is deeply personal for Biden.
He has blamed burn pits for the brain cancer that killed his son, Beau, who served in Iraq, and has vowed repeatedly that he would get the PACT Act into law. Burn pits are where chemicals, tires, plastics, medical equipment and human waste were disposed of on military bases and were used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Before the law, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied 70 percent of disability claims that involved burn pit exposure. Now, the law requires the VA to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to burn pit or other toxic exposure without veterans having to prove the link.
Before Biden’s planned remarks, he went to a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Merrimack, New Hampshire. The president met there with Lisa Clark, an Air Force veteran who is receiving benefits through the PACT Act because her late husband, Senior Master Sergeant Carl Clark, was exposed to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, marked the milestone by praising the veterans who advocated for the law.
“For far too long, our nation failed to honor its promises to our veterans exposed to toxins in military conflicts across the globe— until we fought like hell alongside veterans to finally get the PACT Act signed into law,” Tester, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said.


Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza

Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza
Updated 22 May 2024
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Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza

Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza
  • The United States is not a member of the court, but has supported past prosecutions, including the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is willing to work with Congress to respond to the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders over the Gaza war, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday, amid Republican calls for US sanctions against court officials.
Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Blinken called the move “profoundly wrong-headed” and said it would complicate the prospects of reaching a hostage deal and a ceasefire in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday he had reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s defense chief and three Hamas leaders “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Both President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and his political opponents have sharply criticized Khan’s announcement, arguing the court does not have jurisdiction over the Gaza conflict and raising concerns over process.
The United States is not a member of the court, but has supported past prosecutions, including the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine.
“We’ll be happy to work with Congress, with this committee, on an appropriate response” to the ICC move, Blinken said on Tuesday.
He did not say what a response to the ICC move might include.
In a later hearing, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Blinken he hoped to work together with the administration to express the United States’ opposition to the ICC prosecutor.
“What I hope to happen is that we level sanctions against the ICC for this outrage, to not only help our friends in Israel but protect ourself over time,” said Graham.
Republican members of Congress have previously threatened legislation to impose sanctions on the ICC, but a measure cannot become law without support from President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats, who control the Senate.
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration accused the ICC of infringing on US national sovereignty when it authorized an investigation into war crimes committed in Afghanistan. The US targeted court staff, including then-prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, with asset freezes and travel bans.