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Almost 100 dead as Iraq ferry sinks on spring holiday trip

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Mosul: Almost 100 people, mostly women and children, died as a ferry packed with families celebrating Kurdish New Year sank in a swollen river in the former jihadist stronghold of Mosul, in Iraq’s worst accident in years.
There was an outpouring of grief among residents who only this year resumed the annual festivities on the banks of the Tigris after the northern city’s recapture from the Islamic State group.
Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi decreed three days of national mourning as he visited the site of the tragedy. He ordered a swift investigation “to determine responsibilities”.
The vessel was crammed with men, women and children crossing the Tigris on Thursday to go to a popular picnic area to celebrate Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year and a holiday across Iraq marking the start of spring.
The accident, which struck as the overloaded vessel turned back, also coincided with Mother’s Day in Iraq.
The interior ministry, issuing a fresh toll, said 94 people had died and 55 were rescued, after its spokesman Saad Maan said at least 19 children were among the dead.
The premier said 61 women had died in the accident.
While war and jihadist attacks have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq in recent years, such accidents are relatively rare.
“It’s a disaster; no one expected that,” said a young man who had just managed to reach the shore.
“There were a lot of people on the boat, especially women and children,” he told AFP.
A Mosul security source said the high water levels and overcrowding on the boat, with well over 100 people on board, had been to blame for the disaster.
“The boat sank because there were too many passengers on board,” another security official based in Mosul told AFP.
Iraq’s justice ministry said it had ordered the arrest of nine ferry company officials and banned the owners of the vessel and the tourist site from leaving the country.


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International

Sri Lanka bombings death toll rises to 359, 18 more suspects held overnight

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Colombo: Police say the death toll in the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka has risen to 359 and more suspects have been arrested.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara also said Wednesday morning that 18 suspects were arrested overnight, raising the total detained to 58.
The prime minister warned that several suspects armed with explosives were still at large.
Another top government official said the suicide bombings at the churches, hotels and other sites were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists in apparent retaliation for the New Zealand mosque massacre last month.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka attacks and released images that purported to show the attackers. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that investigators were still determining the extent of the bombers’ foreign links.

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UN says over 250 killed, over 1,200 injured in Libya battle

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TRIPOLI: At least 264 people have been killed and over 1,200 wounded in weeks of fighting on the outskirts of Libya’s capital, the World Health Organisation said , as African leaders gathered in Cairo to discuss the crisis.
The agency called on Twitter for “a temporary cessation of hostilities, and for all parties to respect humanitarian law”.
Eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on the capital on April 4, as his self-styled Libyan National Army pledged “to purge the west of terrorists and mercenaries”.
Forces loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, launched a counter-attack at the weekend.
The fighting has since eased somewhat as both sides appeared to be preparing for the next phase of the battle.
Fighting in Tripoli’s southern suburbs has so far displaced at least 35,000 people, UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya Maria do Valle Ribeiro said on Monday.
“Displacement is continuing at an increasing rate every day,” she said, warning that the figures were a conservative estimate.
The two sides have reached a near stalemate since armed groups backing the GNA launched their counter-attack on Saturday.
An AFP team on the ground at the weekend confirmed that GNA-aligned fighters had pushed the frontline back several kilometres in the southern district of Ain-Zara, around a dozen kilometres south of the city centre.
Another frontline is a little further southwest, around the districts of al-Swani and Qasr ben-Ghachir, around 30 kilometres from Tripoli, on a key road between the capital and the old international airport.
Occasional bursts of gunfire — and heavier projectiles — have been audible, sometimes resonating in the city centre.
“It is calm on most fronts,” Mustafa al-Mejii, a spokesman for GNA forces, said.
“Orders were given to forces on the perimeter of Tripoli airport to consolidate their positions,” he said.
Haftar’s force said on its official Facebook page it had received “significant” reinforcements, particularly in the west.
Valle Ribeiro said civilians were being displaced every day, while some had been trapped by fire including “heavy artillery and… shelling in some densely populated parts of the city”.
“Any country that has leverage should be using that leverage to ensure that civilians can be protected,” she said.
African leaders were due to meet in Cairo at the behest of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to discuss the violence.

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Israel to name Golan settlement after Trump

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JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he plans to name a new settlement in the occupied Golan after US President Donald Trump in appreciation of his recognition of Israel’s claim of sovereignty there.
Netanyahu, who has been on a trip to the region with his family for the week-long Passover holiday, said in a video message that he would present a resolution to the government calling for a new settlement named after the US president.
“All Israelis were deeply moved when President Trump made his historic decision to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” he said.
Trump again broke with longstanding international consensus on March 25 when he recognised Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the part of the strategic plateau it seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The decision came only two weeks ahead of a tightly contested Israeli election, which saw Netanyahu win a fifth term in office.
Trump has shifted US policy sharply in Israel’s favour since taking office, most notably by recognising the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Israel annexed 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan it seized in 1981, a move never recognised by the international community.
Around 18,000 Syrians from the Druze sect — most of whom refuse to take Israeli citizenship — remain in the occupied Golan.
Some 20,000 Israeli settlers have moved there, spread over 33 settlements.

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