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UN rights chief sharply criticises Israel over Gaza killings

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United Nations:The UN human rights chief has sharply criticised Israel, calling recent killings by its soldiers during Palestinian demonstrations along the Gaza border fence “shocking” and saying living conditions inflicted by Israel’s 11-year blockade of the territory are “grossly inadequate”.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a video address to the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People that the situation in Gaza has escalated dramatically in recent months with “the potential to generate threats to peace across a far broader region.”
Zeid, who heads the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it is essential for all parties to cooperate with the independent, international commission of inquiry into the recent deadly events in Gaza that his office is helping to establish.
It was authorised by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council on May 18 “to advance accountability” for the killings and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, he said.
Zeid said there are “serious concerns” that Israeli accountability mechanisms don’t comply with international standards of “independence, impartiality, and effectiveness.”
“Very few investigations ever occur,” he said. “In the rare cases where an investigation has led to an indictment, the sentence has been extremely lenient in light of the gravity of the crime committed.”
Zeid said it is vital to address the root causes of the Gaza demonstrations, which have resulted in the deaths of over 100 Palestinians, including 17 children, and the wounding of more than 4,100 others with live ammunition since March 30.
In addition to “grossly inadequate living conditions” caused by Israel’s blockade for the residents of Gaza, most of whom are refugees, restrictive measures have also been imposed by Egypt that have “exacerbated these conditions,” Zeid said.
He added that the situation in Gaza may be “severely aggravated” in the coming months by the financial crisis facing the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, as a result of dramatic cuts to its budget by the Trump administration.
Zeid criticised last week’s approval by Israel’s parliament of a bill defining that country as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
He said that it “anchors inherent discrimination against non-Jewish communities,” most notably the Arab citizens of Israel and residents of occupied East Jerusalem. He warned that it “could also further inflame tensions.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the bill’s passage a “historic moment in the history of Zionism and the history of the state of Israel,” saying: “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, which honors the individual rights of all its citizens.”
Zeid also criticised Israel’s approval, planning and construction of settlements across with West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.
He called Israel’s detention of hundreds of Palestinian children, some without charge, under a system of “administrative detention,” a “fundamental human rights violation.” “It should be absolutely clear that international law requires detention only be used for children as a last resort,” he said.
And whether for children or adults, Zeid said, detention without trial “contravenes Israel’s obligations under international law.” “An estimated 440 Palestinians are being held in ‘administrative detention,’ according to the latest figures,” he said. “Israel should immediately charge, or release, all of them.


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International

Trump to meet Kim Jong-un again in late February: White House

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WASHINGTON: The White House announced that US President Donald Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late February.

During the meeting, the two leaders will hold talks over the steps taken by Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear and missile programmes. It may be recalled that the first meeting between the two leaders was held on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. The White House, however, did not reveal where the two leaders will meet in February.

The White House made the announcement shortly after Trump held a meeting with North Korean envoy, Kim Yong Chol, on Friday for a discussion that included talk about Kim Jong-un’s unfulfilled pledge to dismantle nuclear weapons programmes of North Korea.

 

“President Donald J Trump met with Kim Yong Chol for an hour and half, to discuss denuclearization and a second summit, which will take place near the end of February. The president looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at a place to be announced at a later date,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The press secretary told reporters: “We continue to make progress, we continue to have conversations. The US is going to continue to keep “pressure and sanctions” on North Korea until “we see fully and verifiable denuclearization”. We had very good steps and very good faith from the North Koreans with the release of hostages and other moves and so we’ll continue this conversation.And the President looks forward to it next February.”

Kim yong Chol arrived at the White House after meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun at a hotel in Washington.

“The Secretary, Special Representative Biegun, and Vice Chairman Kim discussed efforts to make progress on the commitments President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un made at their summit in Singapore. At the conclusion of the Secretary’s meeting with Vice Chairman Kim, the two sides held a productive first meeting at the working level,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said.

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Blast targets Al Qaeda ally in Syria, kills 11

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BEIRUT: An explosion outside an office belonging to an Al Qaeda-linked group in Syria’s northwest killed at least 11 people and wounded several others, opposition activists said.

The blast comes a week after members of the Al Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, or HTS, took over control of wide parts of Idlib province and the surrounding countryside after forcing rival insurgents to accept a deal for a civil administration run by HTS in their areas.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Smart news agency, an activist collective, said the blast occurred on the southern edge of the rebel-held city of Idlib.

 

The observatory said 11 people were killed in the blast, including seven HTS members. Smart said 12 people were killed, many of them militants.

In the country’s east, an air strike in the last area held by the militant Islamic State group killed at least 20 people.

State news agency SANA said 20 people were killed in the air strike on the IS-held village of Baghouz, while the observatory said 23 people were killed including 10 IS members.

They both blamed the US-led coalition that has been providing air cover to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in their monthslong offensive to capture the area from extremists near the Iraqi border.

The SDF has intensified its offensive over the past weeks on the IS-held area.

Meanwhile in Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan met with US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to discuss the situation in Syria as the United States prepares to withdraw troops.

Graham, a prominent voice on foreign affairs in the US, met with Erdogan and other Turkish officials on Friday for talks that were also expected to include a proposal for the creation of a “safe zone” in northeast Syria.

The visit comes days after a suicide bombing, claimed by IS, killed two US service members and two American civilians in the northeastern town of Manbij.

Graham has said he is concerned that US President Donald Trump’s troop withdrawal announcement had emboldened IS militants and created dangerous uncertainty for American allies.

The Pentagon identified three of the four Americans killed in the suicide bomb attack in Manbij Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, from upstate New York and based at Fort Meade, Maryland; and a civilian, Scott A. Wirtz, from St. Louis.

The Pentagon hasn’t identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.

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Pakistan rules out India’s role in Afghan peace process

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Islamabad: Pakistan has ruled out any role for India in the Afghan peace process, the media reported on Friday.

“India has no role in Afghanistan,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said at the weekly media briefing on Thursday while responding to a query about Islamabad’s position on New Delhi’s part in the reconciliation process.

Faisal acknowledged that Pakistan has a difficult relationship with India, saying that despite Pakistan’s efforts for normalisation, no concrete progress could be achieved in ties with India, Dawn news reported.

 

“You all know that India is not willing to engage with Pakistan,” he reminded.

Faisal’s remarks were in sharp contrast to what Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had told the National Assembly last month.

“Since India is present in Afghanistan, its cooperation in this regard (facilitating a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict) will also be required,” he had told legislators.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan on Thursday to discuss with the senior civil and military leadership the latest efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Khalilzad, who met Taliban representatives last month in Abu Dhabi, is leading an inter-agency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan from January 8-21 to “facilitate a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan”.

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