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5 killed in explosion in Gaza

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Hamas' military wing has held Israel responsible for the explosion [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

Gaza, May 6 (IANS) At least five Palestinians were killed and six wounded on Saturday evening in an explosion in a house Gaza Strip, security officials and eyewitnesses said.

Doctors at the emergency room of al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza Strip said they received the bodies of five Palestinians who were killed in an explosion in a house in the town and six others were wounded.

Ashraf al-Qedra, the Gaza health ministry spokesman, told Xinhua that five were killed and six wounded, adding that doctors are trying to know the identity of the dead people.

Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, and eyewitnesses said that a huge blast occurred in a house of a Hamas militant in the town, which was a result of bomb that had suddenly exploded.

Hamas security forces closed the area and only allowed for ambulances and paramedics to enter to evacuate the casualties in the house which were badly damaged and caused damages to neighbouring houses.

However, the security said that a group of militants were trying to defuse an old Israeli missile that haven’t exploded, adding that the missile was fired on central Gaza Strip during the large-scale Israeli war waged on the Gaza Strip in 2014.

IANS

Health

UN must hold China accountable for unleashing Covid-19 plague onto world: Trump

Addressing the UN’s first virtual meeting of world leaders, Trump accused the Chinese government and the World Health Organization (WHO) of making a false declaration that there was no evidence of human to human transmission of Sars-Cov-2.

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Donald Trump

US president Donald Trump on Tuesday renewed his attack on China accusing it of spreading the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the world. He urged the United Nations to hold it accountable for “unleashing this plague onto the world.”

Addressing the UN’s first virtual meeting of world leaders, Trump accused the Chinese government and the World Health Organization (WHO) of making a false declaration that there was no evidence of human to human transmission of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes the deadly infection. He also said that the WHO is virtually controlled by China.

“As we pursue a bright future, we must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world – China,” Trump said at the 75th UNGA debate.

The US president said that in the earliest days of the outbreak, China locked down travel domestically while it continued to allow flights to leave the country and infect the rest of the world.

“China condemned my travel ban on their country, even as they cancelled domestic flights and locked citizens in their homes,” he added.

Trump again used the term “China virus” that has so far infected 31,365,633 people across the world and claimed over 965,000 lives so far.

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Disaster

Covid-19 presages crises to come, warns UN Secretary General

In his centerpiece address to the historic and unprecedented 75th session of the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday appealed for global solidarity to overcome the COVID-19, and again call for a global ceasefire during the pandemic, by the end of the year.

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Antonio Guterres

United Nations, Sep 22 : Addressing the largely empty General Assembly Hall in New York, Mr. Guterres characterized the pandemic from the podium as “not only a wake-up call” but “a dress rehearsal” for challenges to come. 

“In an interconnected world, it is high time to recognize a simple truth: solidarity is self-interest.  If we fail to grasp that fact, everyone loses”, he said, delivering his annual report on the work of the Organization.   

The Secretary-General underscored the need for solidarity at this moment, particularly as countries least capable to address COVID-19 have received far too little assistance. He urged the UN’s 193 Member States to move forward in humility and unity in the face of the disease. 

“And we must be guided by science and tethered to reality”, he added. “Populism and nationalism have failed. Those approaches to contain the virus have often made things manifestly worse.”   

A world turned upside-down 

Due to COVID-19, most world leaders will not attend the annual gathering at UN Headquarters, known as the General Debate.  Instead, many have pre-recorded their speeches on video, although they have the right to deliver them in person – from their seat in the Hall, not from the podium.  

“In a world turned upside down, this General Assembly Hall is among the strangest sights of all”, Mr. Guterres remarked at the outset. “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our annual meeting beyond recognition.  But it has made it more important than ever.”   

He said the pandemic has exposed fragilities and inequalities across the globe.  It has generated “an epochal health crisis”, the biggest economic and job losses since the Great Depression, and dangerous new threats to human rights, among other challenges.   As of Tuesday, there were more than 31 million cases of the coronavirus disease worldwide, with over 962,000 deaths. 

Clock ticking on global ceasefire 

Mr. Guterres also used the occasion to repeat his call for a global ceasefire during the pandemic. The Secretary-General had initially issued the appeal back in March, when he urged warring parties to “end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world”.  

Some 180 Member States have endorsed the appeal, as have religious leaders, regional partners and civil society networks. Several armed movements also responded, some of whom announced ceasefires, though they were not sustained.  

Mr. Guterres saw several reasons to be hopeful now, with the peace agreement in Sudan, and peace talks in Afghanistan, as just two examples. However, he feared terrorist and violent extremist groups will exploit the pandemic. 

“Now is the time for a collective new push for peace and reconciliation”, he charged. “I appeal for a stepped-up international effort – led by the Security Council – to achieve a global ceasefire by the end of this year. We have 100 days.  The clock is ticking.” 

Threats to peace, gender equality 

The ceasefire is not only critical to stop “hot” conflicts, he stressed, pointing to the need to avert a new Cold War. 

 “We are moving in a very dangerous direction.  Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a Great Fracture — each with its own trade and financial rules and internet and artificial intelligence capacities”, the Secretary-General warned. 

“A technological and economic divide risks inevitably turning into a geo-strategic and military divide.  We must avoid this at all costs.” 

COVID-19 could also see progress on gender equality pushed back by decades, he continued, as women and girls are overwhelmingly affected by the social and economic fallout, including in areas such as employment and education. 

“We must also stamp out the horrifying increase in violence against women and girls during the pandemic, from domestic violence to sexual abuse, online harassment and femicide”, said Mr. Guterres. 

“This is a hidden war on women. Preventing and ending it requires the same commitment and resources that we devote to other forms of warfare.” 

UN Photo/Eskinder DebebeSecretary-General António Guterres presents his annual report on the UN’s work ahead of the opening of the General Assembly’s 75th General Debate.

New Social Contract  

For the Secretary-General, recovering from COVID-19 must lead to a better future for all, anchored by inclusive, sustainable and resilient societies.    

He emphasized the need for what he labelled a New Social Contract, at the national level, and a New Global Deal, applicable internationally. 

Mr. Guterres explained that the New Social Contract has several components, such as ending exclusion, discrimination and racism, and establishing Universal Health Coverage and even a possible Universal Basic Income.  

It also entails having fairer tax systems, providing education for all, harnessing digital technology, and ensuring human rights as well as opportunities for women and girls. 

Take climate action, address historical injustice 

Speaking in French, Mr. Guterres said a sustainable New Social Contract means transitioning towards renewable energy to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, highlighting a longstanding message of his tenure. 

As part of their COVID-19 recovery, the Secretary-General encouraged countries to consider six climate-positive actions, ranging from green jobs and ending fossil fuel subsidies, to aligning any industry bailouts with international goals to limit global warming. 

The New Global Deal seeks to make sure power, wealth and opportunities are fairly shared. He said it must be rooted in fair globalization, while sustainable development principles should be integrated into all decision-making. 

The pact also must address historical injustices in global power structures. 

21st century multilateralism 

The Secretary-General believes that after more than seven decades, multilateral institutions need an upgrade to more equitably represent all the world’s people, rather than giving disproportionate power to some, and limiting the voice of others. 

He laid out a blueprint for this “21st century multilateralism”, saying it must be “networked” — that is, linking global institutions, such as development banks, regional organizations and trade alliances, across sector and geographies. 

Additionally, it, too, must be inclusive, and should draw on the capacities of civil society, academia, businesses and others. 

No going back 

Mr. Guterres made the case for more international cooperation in the face of COVID-19, stressing that there is no “going back to what was or withdrawing into national shells.” 

While the crisis has upended the world, it has also created the space for something new, he said.   

For this anniversary year, the General Assembly has asked the Secretary-General to report on a common agenda for the future, which he will do next year.  

“The pandemic has taught us our choices matter”, said Mr. Guterres.  “As we look to the future, let us make sure we choose wisely.”  

UN response to COVID-19 

Earlier in his speech, the Secretary-General spoke of the UN’s comprehensive response throughout the pandemic.   

The UN system, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), has assisted governments, particularly in the developing world, including through providing personal protective equipment and other medical supplies to more than 130 countries.  

The Organization also launched the ‘Verified’ campaign to fight the “toxic virus” of misinformation surrounding COVID-19. It is also supporting efforts to develop a fair and equitable vaccine against the actual coronavirus, as well as treatments and therapies. 

‘Vaccinationalism’  

However, Mr. Guterres warned against what he called “vaccinationalism”, as countries are reportedly making “side deals” for their own populations.  He underlined that “None of us is safe, until all of us are safe.” 

The UN has also pushed for a “massive” rescue package, equivalent to roughly 10 per cent of global economic output, to get economies back up and running.  Developed countries can afford it, he said. 

“But we need to ensure that the developing world does not fall into financial ruin, escalating poverty and debt crises,” he stated. “We need a collective commitment to avoid a downward spiral.” 

To this end, the Secretary-General will convene world leaders for a meeting next Tuesday to find solutions to finance development in the COVID-19 era and beyond. 

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India

China doubled its air bases, air defences and heliports near LAC in three years: Report

Amid the current standoff in Ladakh that became public in early May, there have been numerous reports of China deploying additional troops, special forces, armoured units and air defence units on the Tibetan plateau

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New Delhi: China began building at least 13 new military positions, including airbases and air defence units, near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India after the 2017 standoff at Doklam, with work on four heliports beginning after the current tensions in Ladakh.

Details of these military positions are outlined in a report released on Tuesday by Stratfor, a leading security and intelligence consultancy. The new positions include three airbases, five permanent air defence positions and five heliports.

“Construction on four of those new heliports started only after the onset of the current Ladakh crisis in May,” said the report authored by Sim Tack, a Belgium-based security and a military analyst with Stratfor.

“The 2017 Doklam crisis appears to have shifted China’s strategic objectives, with China more than doubling its total number of airbases, air defence positions, and heliports near the Indian border over the past three years,” it added.

The Chinese military is building four air defence positions within existing airbases, and other facilities such as additional runways and shelters that will help obscure combat aircraft from observation. It has also been deploying more air defence systems and fighter aircraft to existing facilities, the report said.

Expansion of Chinese Military Facilities and Construction in the Tibetan Plateau

Amid the current standoff in Ladakh that became public in early May, there have been numerous reports of China deploying additional troops, special forces, armoured units and air defence units on the Tibetan plateau.

Analysis of open source satellite imagery has shown that China has created a surface-to-air missile site on the banks of Mansarovar Lake in Tibet, and is developing similar facilities to cover sensitive stretches of the disputed border in the Doklam and Sikkim sectors.

A graphic included in the Stratfor report showed that China had only one heliport and one air defence site on the Tibetan plateau in 2016, and there was a substantial expansion and upgrade of its military infrastructure in the area since 2019.

Last year, China developed four airbases, four air defence sites, one heliport and one electronic warfare station.

China has developed four airbases, four heliports and one air defence site on the Tibetan plateau this year. Work on heliports and one airbase began after the tensions in Ladakh.

“The rapid expansion of permanent Chinese military infrastructure points to intentions that span a wider timeframe than current and recent border standoffs,” the report said.

A significant portion of China’s recent infrastructure developments is aimed at “strengthening its ability to project air power along the entire Indian border” and exploiting potential “gaps in India’s capabilities”.

The report surmised that such “long-term developments rise above the more immediate deployments that China conducted in its previous border standoffs with India, and indicates future intent to ramp up Chinese assertive military posturing in border disputes with India”.

“China’s strategy aims to confront India with an insurmountable challenge in territorial disputes by leaning on broad support capabilities that provide Beijing with a tremendous ability to mobilise forces into disputed border areas,” it said, adding that such an approach is similar to Beijing’s strategy in the South China Sea, where a build-up of permanent defence facilities supports Chinese “localised military superiority and significantly raises the potential cost of military opposition to Beijing’s maritime claims in the region”.

By applying the same strategy on the LAC, China aims to “discourage Indian resistance or military action during future border disputes by ostentatiously demonstrating its ability and intent to engage in military confrontations”.

Following a string of smaller skirmishes that culminated in the June 15 clash, which killed 20 Indian soldiers and also caused unspecified Chinese casualties, the two sides have deployed around 50,000 additional troops each along the LAC. After several rounds of military and diplomatic talks failed to take forward the disengagement process, China resorted to “provocative” military manoeuvres on August 29 and 30 that were thwarted by the Indian side.

This was followed by a string of incidents in which guns were fired for the first time along the LAC since 1975, though there were no casualties.

“China’s intensified development of military infrastructure on the Indian border suggests a shift in Beijing’s approach to territorial disputes, forcing New Delhi to rethink its national security posture,” the Stratfor report said.

While China’s new developments are geographically focused on Ladakh, its activity “across India’s entire border will likely drive future expansions of Indian military infrastructure near disputed borders at Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh”, it said.

The report warned: “By forcing India to respond in kind, China’s aggressive strategy is leading to a greater concentration of military assets in heavily disputed areas along the border that could raise the risk of potential escalations and sustained conflict.”

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