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World News: Fragile truce takes hold; Bus bombing in Tel Aviv

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World News: Fragile truce takes hold; Bus bombing in Tel Aviv | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Hamas-Israel ceasefire takes hold but mistrust runs deep
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: A ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers finally took hold today after eight days of conflict, although deep mistrust on both sides cast doubt on how long the Egyptian-sponsored deal can last.

Even after the ceasefire came into force late yesterday evening, a dozen rockets from the Gaza Strip landed in Israel, all in open areas, a police spokesman said. In Gaza, witnesses reported an explosion shortly after the truce took effect at 9pm local time (3:00 Phuket), but there were no casualties and the cause was unclear.

The deal prevented, at least for the moment, an Israeli ground invasion of the Palestinian enclave following bombing and rocket fire which killed five Israelis and 162 Gazans, including 37 children.

But trust was in short supply. The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said his Islamist movement would respect the truce if Israel did, but would respond to any violations. “If Israel complies, we are compliant. If it does not comply, our hands are on the trigger,” he told a news conference in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had agreed to “exhaust this opportunity for an extended truce”, but told his people a tougher approach might be required in the future.

Both sides quickly began offering differing interpretations of the ceasefire, brokered by Egypt’s new Islamist government and backed by the United States, highlighting the many actual or potential areas of discord.

If it holds, the truce will give 1.7 million Gazans respite from days of ferocious air strikes and halt rocket salvos from militants that have unnerved a million people in southern Israel and reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time.

At the United Nations, the Security Council called on both Israel and Hamas to uphold the ceasefire and commended Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi and others for brokering the truce.

The council said in a statement it “deplored the loss of civilian lives resulting from this situation and reiterated the need to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians and their protection in accordance with international humanitarian law.”

“Allahu akbar, (God is greatest), dear people of Gaza you won,” blared mosque loudspeakers in Gaza as the truce took effect. “You have broken the arrogance of the Jews.”

Fifteen minutes later, wild celebratory gunfire echoed across the darkened streets, which gradually filled with crowds waving Palestinian flags. Ululating women leaned out of windows and fireworks lit up the sky.

Meshaal thanked Egypt for mediating and praised Iran for providing Gazans with financing and arms. “We have come out of this battle with our heads up high,” he said, adding that Israel had been defeated and failed in its “adventure”.

Some Israelis staged protests against the deal, notably in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi, where three people were killed by a Gaza rocket during the conflict, army radio said.

Netanyahu said he was willing to give the truce a chance but held open the possibility of reopening the conflict. “I know there are citizens expecting a more severe military action, and perhaps we shall need to do so,” he said.

The Israeli leader, who faces a parliamentary election in January, delivered a similar message earlier in a telephone call with U.S. President Barack Obama, his office said.

“An open prison”
According to a text of the agreement seen by Reuters, both sides should halt all hostilities, with Israel desisting from incursions and targeting of individuals, while all Palestinian factions should cease rocket fire and cross-border attacks.

The deal also provides for easing Israeli restrictions on Gaza’s residents, who live in what British Prime Minister David Cameron has called an “open prison”.

The text said procedures for implementing this would be “dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire”.

Israeli sources said Israel would not lift a blockade of the enclave it enforced after Hamas, which rejects the Jewish state’s right to exist, won a Palestinian election in 2006.

However, Meshaal said the deal covered the opening of all of the territory’s border crossings. “The document stipulates the opening of the crossings, all the crossings, and not just Rafah,” he said. Israel controls all of Gaza’s crossings apart from the Rafah post with Egypt.

Hamas lost its top military commander to an Israeli strike in the conflict and suffered serious hits to its infrastructure and weaponry, but has emerged with its reputation both in the Arab world and at home stronger.

Israel can take comfort from the fact it dealt painful blows to its enemy, which will take many months to recover, and showed that it can defend itself from a barrage of missiles.

“No one is under the illusion that this is going to be an everlasting ceasefire. It is clear to everyone it will only be temporary,” said Michael Herzog, a former chief of staff at the Israeli ministry of defence.

“But there is a chance that it could hold for a significant period of time, if all goes well,” he told Reuters.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, praised the performance of a U.S.-backed Israeli anti-rocket system known as “Iron Dome,” which the Pentagon said intercepted over 85 percent of rockets fired at Israeli civilians.

Iron Dome “provided decision space for Israel to achieve its strategic goals without forcing further military actions,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Egypt, an important U.S. ally now under Islamist leadership, took centre stage in diplomacy to halt the bloodshed. Cairo has walked a fine line between its sympathies for Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood to which Mursi belongs, and its need to preserve its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and its ties with Washington, its main aid donor.

Announcing the agreement in Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said mediation had “resulted in understandings to cease fire, restore calm and halt the bloodshed”.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, standing beside Amr, thanked Mursi for peace efforts that she said showed “responsibility, leadership” in the region.

The Gaza conflict erupted in a Middle East already shaken by last year’s Arab uprisings that toppled several veteran U.S.-backed leaders, including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and by a civil war in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is fighting for survival.

Bus bombing
The ceasefire was forged despite a bus bomb explosion that wounded 15 Israelis in Tel Aviv earlier in the day and despite more Israeli air strikes that killed 10 Gazans. It was the first serious bombing in Israel’s commercial capital since 2006.

Israel, the United States and the European Union all classify Hamas as a terrorist organisation. It seized the Gaza Strip from the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007 in a brief but bloody war with his Fatah movement.

“This is a critical moment for the region,” Clinton said. “Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace.”

In Amman, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged both sides to stick to their ceasefire pledges. “There may be challenges implement

— Reuters

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs

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Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs | Thaiger
Stock photo of Pfizer vaccine via Flickr

The CEO for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines says it is likely that people will need a 3rd dose of the vaccine and to receive it annually. Albert Bourla, told CNBC, that the booster, or 3rd dose, will be needed less than a year after being fully vaccinated.

“A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a 3rd dose, somewhere between 6 and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role. It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus.”

Bourla’s comment echoes that of Johnson & Johnson’s CEO when he stated in February, that people may need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 annually, just like seasonal flu shots. Both statements reflect the fact that since the vaccine is new, and testing periods are shorter than most vaccines in the past, researchers are still unclear about how long the vaccine will protect against the virus.

Pfizer says that its Covid-19 vaccine was more than 91% effective at protecting against the coronavirus and more than 95% effective against severe diseases up to 6 months after the 2nd dose. Moderna’s vaccine, which uses technology similar to Pfizer’s, was also shown to be highly effective at 6 months.

Just yesterday, the Biden administration’s Covid response chief science officer, David Kessler, noted that new Covid variants could “challenge” the effectiveness of the shots.

“We don’t know everything at this moment. We are studying the durability of the antibody response. It seems strong but there is some waning of that and no doubt the variants challenge … they make these vaccines work harder. So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost.”

Late last month, the National Institute of Health started testing a new Covid vaccine from Moderna in addition to the one it already has, designed to protect against a problematic variant first found in South Africa. The variant is similar to that of the UK one that has recently made landfall in Thailand.

Recent findings, by The Lancet, however, have stated that the UK variant, known as B117, has a higher reproductive rate than other strains, and it’s more transmissible. However, it refuted earlier reports that the strain is more severe. Meanwhile, Thailand’s health minister is confirming his commitment to making AstraZeneca the nation’s chosen vaccine.

SOURCE: CNBC

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Economy

China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020

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China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020 | Thaiger
PHOTO: China - the second largest economy, and only major economy to grow last year.

China’s economy set a record for growth in Q1, 2021, marking an 18.3% jump in year-on-year figures, the biggest quarterly growth in almost 30 years. China only started publishing growth statistics in 1992, and this drastic increase is the fastest growth recorded since then.

The figures, however impressive, are mainly due to what is called a “low base effect” where the change from a low starting point translates into big percentage statistics. Because of the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Q1 2020 figures were dismal, allowing the big gain over the last year.

Quarter to quarter, the last 3 months saw only a 0.6% growth, but in the last quarter of 2020 China recorded an economic boom of 6.5% according to the Chinese government. Still, the figures are admirable, as China was the only major economy in the world to achieve growth in 2020. Most of the planet struggled to contain global Covid-19 outbreaks, crippling economies across the globe. But China, now the second-largest economy in the world, managed a 2.3% overall expansion. Even Chinese officials called the impressive statistics “better than we had expected.”

China has been growing in terms of imports and exports as well, with exports expanding nearly 31% and imports up 38% by price over last years.

SOURCE: CNN

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine

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Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine | Thaiger
PHOTO: Flickr

Denmark has announced that it is abandoning the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first European country to do so, amid concerns about very rare but serious blood clots. The rollout of the vaccine has run into problems in several countries, with its use either temporarily suspended or restricted to older age groups.

When concerns first arose over the vaccine’s rare side-effects, Denmark was the first country in Europe to suspend its use. In Thailand, use of the vaccine was suspended last month, before officials judged it safe to proceed, with Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul going on to confirm it would become the Kingdom’s primary Covid-19 vaccine.

Both the European drugs regulator and the World Health Organisation are standing by the jab, saying the benefits outweigh the risks. However, health officials in Denmark have now decided to ditch it for good.

“Denmark’s vaccination campaign will go ahead without the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Denmark has reported 2 cases of thrombosis (blood clotting) linked to administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, one of which proved fatal. The blood clot incidents arose after 140,000 people had received the jab. The Bangkok Post reports that 8% of Denmark’s 5.8 million inhabitants have been fully vaccinated and 17% have received their first dose.

The country plans to continue its rollout using the Modern and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Officials say they are confident that the availability of other jabs, coupled with the fact that Covid-19 is relatively under control in Denmark, means the country’s mass inoculation can continue without issue.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has released a statement acknowledging the decision taken by Danish health authorities.

“We recognise and respect the decision taken by the Danish Health Authority. Implementation and rollout of the vaccine programme is a matter for each country to decide, based on local conditions. We will continue to collaborate with the regulators and local authorities to provide all available data to inform their decisions.”

SOURCE: Euro News | Bangkok Post

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