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Afghanistan Earthquake kills 1,000 people, deadliest in decades Afghan earthquake survivors lack food, shelter as aid trickles in

GAYAN, Afghanistan (AP)  A powerful earthquake struck a rugged, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday 22 June, flattening stone and mud-brick homes and killing at least 1,000 people.  The quake was Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades, and officials said the toll could rise. An estimated 1,500 others were reported injured, the state-run news agency said. The disaster inflicted by the 6.1-magnitude quake heaps more misery on a country where millions face increasing hunger and poverty and the health system has been crumbling since the Taliban retook power nearly 10 months ago amid the U.S. and NATO withdrawal. The takeover led to a cutoff of vital international financing, and most of the world has shunned the Taliban government. In a rare move, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, who almost never appears in public, pleaded with the international community and humanitarian organizations “to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort.” At least 2,000 homes were destroyed in the region, where on average every household has seven or eight people living in it, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the U.N. deputy special representative to Afghanistan. Rescuers rushed in by helicopter, but the relief effort could be hindered by the exodus of many international aid agencies from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last August. Moreover, most governments are wary of dealing directly with the Taliban. The quake was centered in Paktika province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, according to neighboring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department. Experts put its depth at just 10 kilometers (6 miles). Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage. The European seismological agency said the quake was felt over 500 kilometers (310 miles) by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. In 2015, a major earthquake that struck the country’s northeast killed over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighboring northern Pakistan. A similar 6.1 earthquake in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Jon Gambrell and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report. (Source: AP News)


‘It’s hell’: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh rally to ‘go home’

(19 Jun 2022) Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh staged demonstrations to demand repatriation back to Myanmar, where they fled a brutal military crackdown five years ago. The “Bari Cholo” (Let’s Go Home) campaign involved 23 Rohingya camps, 21 in Ukhiam and two in Teknaf Upazila, a government official told Bangladesh’s newspaper The Daily Star. Almost a million Rohingya are confined to bamboo and tarpaulin shacks in 34 squalid camps in the southeastern part of the country, with no work, poor sanitation and little access to education. “We don’t want to stay in the camps. Being refugees is not easy. It’s hell. Enough is enough. Let’s go home,” Rohingya community leader Sayed Ullah said in a speech at one rally. A widow who lives in a Rohingya camp in Ukhia, who identified herself as Rabeya, said her community was grateful to Bangladesh for its hospitality. “But we want to go back to our homeland. We want to return to our birthplace as soon as possible,” she said. Previous repatriation attempts have failed with Rohingya refusing to go home until Myanmar gives the largely Muslim minority guarantees of rights and security. Investigators from a United Nations fact-finding mission into the killings and forced mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar concluded in 2018 that a criminal investigation and prosecution was warranted of top Myanmar generals for crimes against humanity and genocide. Under the banner of a “clearance operation”, Rohingya communities were attacked. Human Rights Watch reported at least 200 Rohingya villages were destroyed and burned by the military, and an estimated 13,000 Rohingya were killed. More than 890,000 Rohingya refugees are sheltering in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar region, the biggest cluster of refugee camps in the world. About 92,000 Rohingya refugees reside in Thailand, 21,000 in India, and 102,000 in Malaysia. The Rohingya also make up a portion of Myanmar’s 576,000 internally displaced people. ‘In safety and dignity’ Additional Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Shamsud Douza told Al Jazeera that Rohingya refugees wanted to remind the world about their conditions on the occasion of World Refugee Day on. “They have held peaceful demonstrations. Those were over before 12pm. From our side, we didn’t create any obstruction but our law enforcers closely monitored the situation,” he said. UNHCR spokesperson Regina De La Portilla said most Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh say they want nothing more than to return to Myanmar. “But they also say that they do not feel it would be safe to do so yet. Today they demonstrated to show their desire to return and call attention to their needs,” she said. De La Portilla, however, said the solution to the displacement lies in Myanmar. “Rohingya refugees want to return, when they can do so voluntarily, in safety and dignity. This means when their rights are ensured. Currently, the situation in Myanmar is still fluid and conditions for a safe and sustainable return are not ensured,” she said. (Reporting by Faisal Mahmud | AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES)


UN: Israelis fired shots that killed journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

Veteran Al Jazeera journalist was killed on May 11 while covering Israeli army raids in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. The United Nations has said that information it had gathered showed that the bullets that killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11 were fired by Israeli forces. “All information we have gathered … is consistent with the finding that the shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague Ali Sammoudi came from Israeli security forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians,” UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva on Friday. Shamdasani added that the information the OHCHR had gathered had revealed no “activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists”. Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces while she was covering an army raid on Jenin, in the northern occupied West Bank. Her killing led to outrage from Palestinians and around the world, with thousands attending her funeral in occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli police attacked the pallbearers at the funeral, almost causing Abu Akleh’s coffin to fall to the ground. Multiple witnesses said that Israeli forces killed the veteran reporter. Investigations conducted by several media organisations have also come to the same conclusion. Shamdasani said that the OHCHR’s investigation had shown that Abu Akleh and her fellow journalists had made a concerted effort to be visible as members of the press to Israeli soldiers positioned further down the street. “The journalists said they chose a side street for their approach to avoid the location of armed Palestinians inside the camp and that they proceeded slowly in order to make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street,” Shamdasani said. “Our findings indicate that no warnings were issued and no shooting was taking place at that time and at that location.” Shamdasani added that bullets continued to be fired at an unarmed man who tried to come to Abu Akleh’s aid, as well as a journalist who was sheltering behind a tree. The OHCHR head Michelle Bachelet continued to urge Israeli authorities to open a criminal investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing, according to Shamdasani. (SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES)


80% of Gaza children suffer depression after 15 years of blockade

By Maram Humaid | 15 Jun 2022

Gaza City  Four out of five children in the Gaza Strip suffer from depression, sadness and fear caused by fifteen years of the Israeli blockade on the territory, a report published by Save the Children has found. The report, entitled “Trapped”, interviewed 488 children and 168 parents and caregivers in the Gaza Strip, following up on similar research that was conducted by the organisation in 2018. The blockade of the Gaza Strip began in June 2007, severely affecting the territory’s economy, and heavily restricting travel. It has particularly affected children, who make up 47 percent of Gaza’s two million people. About 800,000 Gazan children have never known life without the blockade, and have had to face what the report terms six life-threatening situations  five escalations in violence and the COVID-19 pandemic. Save the Children’s latest research showed that the mental wellbeing of children, young people and caregivers has dramatically deteriorated since their last report four years ago, with the number of children reporting emotional distress increasing from 55 to 80 percent. The report showed that there was a significant increase in the number of children who reported feeling fearful (84 percent compared with 50 percent in 2018), nervous (80 percent compared with 55 percent), sadness or depression (77 percent compared with 62 percent), and grief (78 percent compared with 55 percent). Save the Children also reported that more than half of Gaza’s children thought about suicide, and three out of five self-harm. The blockade includes strict restrictions on travel movement for Palestinians living in Gaza. Crossings between Gaza and Israel are regularly closed, and there are many restrictions on the entry of fuel, electricity and other goods. Fishermen are limited to using a few nautical miles. (SOURCE: AL JAZEERA News Agency)


A new era’: Saudi Arabia’s MBS in Turkey as nations mend ties

(22 Jun 2022) Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) travelled to Turkey for the first time in years for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, aiming to fully normalise ties that were ruptured after the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Erdogan welcomed Prince Mohammed at the presidential palace in Ankara with a ceremony and the two shook hands and embraced, before being met by members of the Turkish cabinet. In a statement following the talks, the two countries emphasised determination on ushering in a new period of cooperation in bilateral relations. MBS’ visit comes as part of a tour that included stops in Egypt and Jordan earlier  in June. Prince Mohammed has been leveraging Saudi Arabia’s vast wealth and oil production capacity to soften criticism of the country’s human rights record. In turn, Erdogan is seeking financial support that could help relieve Turkey’s beleaguered economy ahead of tight elections for the presidency, expected in 2023. The trip is expected to bring “a full normalisation and a restoration of the pre-crisis period”, a senior Turkish official told Reuters news agency. “A new era will begin.” The Turkish official said the two countries had lifted restrictions on trade, flights and the screening of TV series, with mutual negative media coverage also halted. The two countries also discussed improving cooperation in trade and sectors such as defence, energy and tourism among others, the joint statement said. It added that Ankara invited Saudi investment funds to invest in Turkish startups.(SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES)


Iran appoints new IRGC spy chief as Israel tensions rise

No reasons were provided on why Hossein Taeb, now an adviser to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ commander-in-chief, was replaced.

By Maziar Motamedi  | 23 Jun 2022

Tehran, Iran  Iran appointed a new commander to head the powerful intelligence service of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) with no reason given as to why the previous chief left the job. Ramezan Sharif, spokesman of the elite force, announced in a statement  that Hossein Taeb was replaced by Mohammad Kazemi, who previously headed the Intelligence Protection Organisation, the counterintelligence arm of the IRGC. The 59-year-old Taeb, who was previously a senior figure in the Iranian intelligence ministry, switched to the IRGC in the late 2000s, and was appointed as the head of the paramilitary Basij organisation in 2008. One year later, the intelligence unit of the IRGC was formed and Taeb took its helm, a position he held until his replacement was announced.  No reason was provided  for Taeb’s departure by the IRGC spokesman, who only said Taeb was appointed as an adviser to the force’s commander-in-chief, Hossein Salami. The news came after two days of rumours online that Taeb had been dismissed from his position. No Iranian official commented on the speculation. Taeb’s replacement comes days after Israeli media reported he was behind an alleged Iranian plot to kill or abduct Israeli tourists in Turkey. Israel raised its Istanbul travel advisory to the highest alert level earlier this month and said citizens could be targeted by Iranian attempts to kill or abduct Israelis vacationing in Turkey.(SOURCE: AL JAZEERA)


China vows to ‘fight to the end’ to prevent Taiwan’s independence

(12 Jun 2022) China has vowed to “fight to the very end” to stop Taiwanese independence and warned that foreign interference in Taiwan is “doomed to fail”, stoking already soaring tensions with the United States over the self-ruled island. “If anyone dares to secede Taiwan from China, we will … fight at all costs and we will fight to the very end. This is the only choice for China,” Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe said at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit. In a fiery response to US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, who spoke, Wei said: “No one should ever underestimate the resolve and ability of the Chinese armed forces to safeguard its territorial integrity”. The superpowers are locked in a growing war of words over the self-ruled, democratic island, which Beijing views as part of its territory awaiting reunification. In a veiled swipe at Washington, Wei said “some country keeps playing the Taiwan card against China” to “interfere in internal affairs”.“No one can stop China’s path to reunification,” he added. US defense secretary chides China Tensions over Taiwan have escalated in particular due to increasing Chinese military aircraft incursions into the island’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ).(SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES)


Moscow openly scoffs at Article 5 of NATO Charter,

Moscow openly scoffs at Article 5 of NATO Charter, which states an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on all of its members! Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council & former president Dmitry Medvedev on Lithuania’s ban of transit to Kaliningrad: “Let’s face it, the restriction of transit is part of the proxy war that the West has unleashed against Russia. Naturally, Russia will take retaliatory measures, and they will be very tough. There are many possibilities, and a significant part of them are economic that can cut off the oxygen to our Baltic neighbours who have taken hostile actions. “The EU didn’t even insist on such radical steps as a transit ban, realising the possible problems. But Lithuania obsequiously bowed before its American benefactors, once again showing its moronic Russophobic attitudes. “There is also the option of employing disproportionate measures, which would, of course, result in a major escalation of the conflict. Such an escalation is a bad choice. It would affect ordinary Lithuanians, whose standard of living is already low, and simply meagre by European standards. If you ask people in Vilnius or Kaunas what they think about such measures, you will get honest, if not particularly diplomatic responses. “Lithuanian politicians are currying favours, while residents are trying to survive and get by in this ‘theatre of the absurd’. And it’s getting worse and worse for both of them.”


Ukraine’s stark choice:

Military leaders are confronting the question of  whether to  withdraw from frontline cities

By Yana Dlugy

The battle for Sievierodonetsk has raged for weeks. Some streets in the eastern city have changed hands several times between Russian and Ukrainian troops. As Russia pounds the city with its superior artillery, Ukrainians are fiercely fighting to hold defensive positions. Ukrainian military planners are confronting a stark choice: withdraw from Sievierodonetsk and its sister city of Lysychansk across the river to save soldiers’ lives, or hang on, knowing the fight to regain the cities will be even more brutal, my colleague Andrew Kramer reports. By staying, the Ukrainian troops risk being encircled and besieged, as fighters were in Mariupol, where more than 2,000 eventually had to surrender to Russia. If the two cities fell, Russia would gain de facto control of the Luhansk region. President Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday described them as “dead cities,” ravaged by Russian attacks and nearly empty of civilians. Most of the prewar population of 100,000 in Sievierodonetsk has left. Any future attempts to regain the cities could cost more Ukrainian lives than those being lost now. Some 60 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers are dying daily on the eastern front, Zelensky has said. “It will be very costly for  you to return, in terms of the number of people killed, the number of losses,” Zelensky said.  The troops fighting on the ground realize the stakes, according to my colleague Carlotta Gall, who spent weeks on the front lines in the Donbas. “They recognize that to take back a city like Mariupol, they would have to destroy it all over again because you’ll have to fight in an urban environment,” Carlotta told me. “Some of the Ukrainian soldiers are saying they need to hold on until mid-July when the Western heavy artillery will come into play,” she said.  “They need to hold on for another month and then they might be kind of equal to the Russians.” The U.S. is sending advanced long-range artillery systems to Ukraine, which can precisely target an enemy from almost 50 miles away. Britain is also shipping its most sophisticated multiple-launch rocket system to Ukraine. “I think they believe they need to hold on,” Carlotta added. “I think they’re going to make the Russians fight for every inch. Even the guys who’ve been on the front lines, they say they have to keep doing it. A lot of them are still convinced and they’re not tired yet.”


US to send Ukraine advanced surface-to-air missile systems

(2 Jul 2022)  The United States says it will send Ukraine two NASAMS surface-to-air missile systems, four counter-artillery radars, and about 150,000 rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition to assist Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion. The Pentagon on Friday 1st July, said the additional material will come as part of the latest US assistance package for Ukraine, announced by US President Joe Biden at a gathering of NATO leaders and expected to total about $820m. The package announced will also reportedly include more ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). The US hopes its latest assistance will bolster the Ukrainian resistance as Russia pushes forward with a campaign of long-range missile attacks that have rocked Ukrainian cities and a series of Russian successes on the ground in eastern Ukraine. Russia has made the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk a focus of its assault, hoping to force Kyiv to give up on its hopes of wresting control of them back from Russia. The US military support brings its total contribution to the Ukrainian war effort to nearly $7bn since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, causing large-scale death and displacement in Ukraine and instability in global markets and supply chains. The US is giving Ukrainians “the capacity” so that “they can continue to resist the Russian aggression,” Biden said. “And so I don’t know how it’s going to end, but it will not end with a Russian defeat of Ukraine in Ukraine.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude. “I am especially grateful today to the United States and to Biden personally for the package of support for Ukraine announced today, which includes very powerful NASAMS – an anti-aircraft missile system that will significantly strengthen our air defence. We have worked hard for these supplies,” Zelenskyy said late on Friday in his nightly video address. (SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES)


Number of civilian casualties during the war in Ukraine 2022

Verified by OHCHR as of June 26, 2022 &  Statista Research Department, Jul 1, 2022

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified a total of 4,731 civilian deaths during Russia’s military attack on Ukraine as of June 26, 2022. Of them, 330 were children. Furthermore, 5,900 people were reported to have been injured. However, OHCHR specified that the real numbers could be higher.

How many Ukrainian refugees are there and where have they gone?

Updated: 23 June | BBC NEWS

At least 12 million people have fled their homes since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United Nations (UN) says.

More than five million have left for neighbouring countries, while seven million people are still thought to be displaced inside Ukraine itself.

However, hundreds of thousands of refugees have returned to their home country – especially to cities like Kyiv.

Where are refugees going?

In updated figures, the UN says that, as of 21 June, more than 5.2 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe. More than 3.5 million have applied for temporary residence in another country:

  • Russia: 1,305,018 Ukrainian refugees recorded
  • Poland: 1,180,677
  • Moldova: 85,797
  • Romania: 82,733
  • Slovakia: 78,972
  • Hungary: 25,042
  • Belarus: 9,006

Others have moved on to other destinations, especially those who crossed into Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. These nations have open borders with other EU countries. The UN says there are more than 780,000 Ukrainians in Germany, almost 380,000 in the Czech Republic and 137,000 in Italy. Some Ukrainians travelled to Russia from the pro-Russian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. President Vladimir Putin said his forces evacuated 140,000 civilians from Mariupol and insisted no one was forced to go to Russia. However, volunteer groups say they have helped thousands of Ukrainians leave Russia.  (Source: BBC News)


Israel shoots down three unarmed Hezbollah drones

“Three hostile drones approaching the airspace in Israel’s economic waters have been intercepted,” the army said in a statement on Saturday, adding that the drones were headed towards the Karish gasfield, which is partly claimed by Lebanon.

The drones were not armed and did not pose a risk, Israeli military sources said.

One drone was intercepted by a fighter jet and the other two by a warship, the sources said.

Hezbollah said it had launched three unarmed drones and they had accomplished the mission and “the message was delivered”. There was no immediate response from the Lebanese authorities to the incident.

Lebanon condemned Israel last month when a vessel operated by London-listed Greek energy firm Energean entered the Karish field.

Israel claims that the field lies in its waters and is not part of the disputed area subject to continuing negotiations on the maritime border.

Hezbollah warned Energean against proceeding with its activities.

Lebanon and Israel resumed negotiations on their maritime border in 2020, but the process was stalled by Beirut’s claim that the map used by the United Nations in the talks needed modifying.

Beirut initially demanded 860sq km (330sq miles) of waters it said were in dispute but then asked for an additional 1,430sq km (552sq miles), including part of the Karish field. Lebanon has hoped to expand offshore oil and gas production as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history. Saturday’s interceptions were the first time an air defence system mounted on an Israeli naval ship had downed an incoming target, the Israeli military said. Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war and have no diplomatic relations. UN peacekeepers patrol the border. Israel fought a devastating war with Hezbollah in 2006 and regards the Iran-backed group as one of its principal enemies.(SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES)


At least 50 killed in massacre at Catholic church in southwest Nigeria

By Fikayo Owoeye

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) —The attackers targeted the St. Francis Catholic Church in Ondo state just as the worshippers gathered on Pentecost Sunday, legislator Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole said. Among the dead were many children, he said. Videos appearing to be from the scene of the attack showed church worshippers lying in pools of blood while people around them wailed. Owo is 345km (215 miles) east of Nigeria’s largest city of Lagos. “In the history of Owo, we have never experienced such an ugly incident,” said lawmaker Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole. “This is too much.” The presiding priest was abducted as well, said Adelegbe Timileyin, who represents the Owo area in Nigeria’s lower legislative chamber. “Our hearts are heavy,” Ondo Governor Rotimi Akeredolu tweeted Sunday. “Our peace and tranquility have been attacked by the enemies of the people.” he Catholic authority in the state denied the bishop and priests had been kidnapped as reports suggested on social media. Ikwu said the bishop and priests from the parish survived the attack unharmed (Source: Ap News/Al Jazeera News Agency)

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