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World News: Pressure for ceasefire mounting in Israel-Gaza conflict

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

More diplomacy to try to halt Israel-Gaza fighting
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Hostilities between Islamist militants and Israel entered a sixth day as diplomatic efforts were set to intensify to try to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Israeli air strikes on Gaza.

International pressure for a ceasefire seemed certain to mount after the deadliest single incident in the flare-up on Sunday claimed the lives of at least 11 Palestinian civilians, including four children.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Cairo to add his weight to the truce efforts today. Egypt has taken the lead in trying to broker a ceasefire and its officials met the parties yesterday.

Israeli media said a delegation from Israel had been to Cairo for talks on ending the fighting, although a government spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi met Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, and Ramadan Shallah of Islamic Jihad as part of the mediation efforts, but a statement did not say if talks were conclusive.

Izzat Risheq, a close aide to Meshaal, wrote in a Facebook message that Hamas would agree to a ceasefire only after Israel “stops its aggression, ends its policy of targeted assassinations and lifts the blockade of Gaza”.

Listing Israel’s terms, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon wrote on Twitter: “If there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel’s citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack.”

Israel withdrew settlers from Gaza in 2005 and two years later Hamas took control of the impoverished enclave, which the Israelis have kept under blockade.

The 11 Palestinian civilians were apparently killed during an Israeli attack on a militant, which brought a three-storey house crashing down on them.

Gaza health officials have said 75 Palestinians, 21 of them children and several women, have been killed in Gaza since Israel’s offensive began. Hundreds have been wounded.

Grave concerns
Ban expressed grave concern in a statement before setting off for the region. He will visit Israel tomorrow.

“I am deeply saddened by the reported deaths of more than ten members of the Dalu family… (and) by the continuing firing of rockets against Israeli towns, which have killed several Israeli civilians. I strongly urge the parties to cooperate with all efforts led by Egypt to reach an immediate ceasefire,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had assured world leaders that Israel was doing its utmost to avoid causing civilian casualties in the military showdown with Hamas.

Gaza militants launched dozens of rockets into Israel and targeted its commercial capital, Tel Aviv, for a fourth day on Sunday. Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile shield shot down all three rockets.

In scenes recalling Israel’s 2008-2009 winter invasion of Gaza, tanks, artillery and infantry have massed in field encampments along the sandy, fenced-off border with Gaza and military convoys moved on roads in the area.

Israel has authorised the call-up of 75,000 reservists, although there was no immediate sign when or whether they might be needed in a ground invasion.

Israel’s operation has so far drawn Western support for what U.S. and European leaders have called its right to self-defence, but there have also been a growing number of appeals to seek an end to the hostilities.

Netanyahu said Israel was ready to widen its offensive.

“We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas and the terrorist organisations and the Israel Defence Forces are prepared for a significant expansion of the operation,” he said at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, but gave no further details.

The Israeli military said 544 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel since Wednesday, killing three civilians and wounding dozens. Some 302 rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome and 99 failed to reach Israel and landed inside the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s declared goal is to deplete Gaza arsenals and force Hamas to stop rocket fire that has bedevilled Israeli border towns for years. The rockets now have greater range, putting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem within their reach.

The southern resort city of Eilat was apparently added to the list of targets when residents said they heard an explosion thought to be a rocket, but it caused no damage or casualties, police said.

Eilat is thought to be well out of the range of any rocket in possession of Hamas or any other Gaza group. But Palestinian militants have in the recent past fired rockets at Eilat and its surroundings, using Egypt’s Sinai desert as a launch site.

Sworn enemies
Hamas and other groups in Gaza are sworn enemies of the Jewish state which they refuse to recognise and seek to eradicate, claiming all Israeli territory as rightfully theirs.

Hamas won legislative elections in the Palestinian Territories in 2006 but a year later, after the collapse of a unity government under President Mahmoud Abbas the Islamist group seized control of Gaza in a brief and bloody civil war with forces loyal to Abbas.

Abbas then dismissed the Hamas government led by the group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh but he refuses to recognise Abbas’ authority and runs Gazan affairs.

While it is denounced as a terrorist organisation in the West, Hamas enjoys widespread support in the Arab world, where Islamist parties are on the rise.

Western-backed Abbas and Fatah hold sway in the Israeli-occupied West Bank from their seat of government in the town of Ramallah. The Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

— Reuters

 

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Pfizer vaccine OK for US children 12-15, critics urge better use

Neill Fronde

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PHOTO: Children age 12-15 now deemed safe to received the Pfizer vaccine. (by Wikimedia)

While drug regulators authorised Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 in the US, critics are saying that the jabs would be more useful if sent to poor countries. The American Food and Drug Administration cleared the vaccine on Monday, saying that it was safe for children over the age of 12, and the US Centres for Disease Control will now convene an advisory committee to discuss the formal recommendation. But there are many countries where very vulnerable people still have not had access to any vaccine. Children are considered to have a minimal risk for Covid-19.

The head of the World Health Organisation spoke critically against vaccine diplomacy, the red tape and international negotiation that is slowing the distribution and administering of vaccines to other countries in need. The United States is one of many wealthy nations that have been able to quickly spread the vaccine throughout its population, with over 115 million people already fully vaccinated. The American economy is the world’s biggest, and thanks to the rapid vaccination, governmental authorities have begun to loosen restrictions related to Covid-19 and begin to revive the ailing economy.

President Joe Biden hailed the vaccine approval for children aged 12 to 15, saying that it was a promising development and will help the country fight against the Coronavirus. But the United States has been coming under increased pressure to aid in getting vaccines to less fortunate countries with greater need. The United States has recently joined the push to convince Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers to release their intellectual property rights in order to allow other nations to produce vaccines locally.

Here in Thailand, Americans have been calling for the United States government to make arrangements for expats and citizens abroad to get vaccinated when they’re in countries that do not provide them with vaccines. At the same time, many frustrated Thai people with the means to travel to the US are participating in vaccine tourism, planning American vacations where they can get vaccinated.

The head of the European Medicines Agency believes that the EU will also approve the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 15, possibly within this month. The move will further help vaccination efforts it hopes to jumpstart European economies. As Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted, the Justice Minister in Spain reminded people the coronavirus is not gone and they need to behave responsibly following the end of a six-month state of emergency there. People had responded by dropping masks and social distancing protocol to celebrate in the streets. Greece has reopened schools for younger children up to middle school and hopes to remain open from May 14th for the tourism season. Ireland also revoked domestic travel bans allowing people to move around the country more freely again.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

 

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World

China sees slowest population growth since 1960’s despite relaxing 1 child policy

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Stock photo via Flickr

China is seeing the slowest amount of population growth since the 1960’s despite relaxing its 1 child policy. The birthrate has been in a steady decline since 2017, and its growth is being measured at 5.4% since the last census in 2010. The population has reached 1.41 billion, but that number is low due to the sluggish growth rate.

The newest figures point towards an ageing population with a large drop in the number of working age people in the nation. The number of people aged between 15 and 59 dropped 7%, while those over the age of 60 increased more than 5%. Beijing relaxed the 1 child policy back in 2016, but it has yet to see the effects of the change. Ning Jizhe, an official from the National Bureau of Statistics, seems confident, however, that the family planning change will work.

“The adjustment of China’s fertility policy has achieved positive results.”

Failing marriage rates have increased in recent years, along with couples struggling to financially support a child in major cities. Women are also choosing to delay having children, or avoiding it altogether. China recorded its slowest birthrate since 1949 in 2019, at 10.48 per 1,000 people. In February of 2021, preliminary data indicated that the birthrate for 2020 was also down, but official findings have yet to be disclosed.

10 years ago the average size of a family was 3.10, but now, it is 2.62 people. As China’s society evolves, more and more people are choosing to live in urban areas. 63% of Chinese people reside in urban areas, increasing the urban population to 236.4 million, a 15% increase from the last census. But 500 million are part of what Beijing has termed, the “floating population” which is comprised of migrant workers living in other places than what they officially registered as their home.

The 2020 survey was conducted by sending out over 7 million volunteers to survey residents door-to-door. This year, however, most of the data was collected online.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

 

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Flight booking data shows vaccinations are key to rebooting travel globally

Maya Taylor

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Greece, ready to welcome vaccinated travellers. PHOTO: Flickr/Pedro Szekely

The latest findings from a research firm that analyses flight booking data confirms that vaccination is the key to rebooting international travel. The most recent research from ForwardKeys shows that destinations prepared to welcome vaccinated tourists have seen a surge in bookings.

In particular, Greece and Iceland, have had a significant uptake in inbound flights, while countries where mass vaccination is at an advanced stage, such as Israel, the US and the UK, have seen outbound bookings climb. They key point is that the world’s travel and flight industries are looking to insist on proof of vaccination or vaccine passports for the right to get on an international flight or travel beyond their borders.

Like Thailand, Greece is highly dependent on international tourism. Anxious to revive its decimated economy, the country has announced that tourists who are fully vaccinated, who have a negative Covid-19 test result, or who have recovered from the virus, are welcome to visit. The result is that the country is now the most popular destination among those summer booking holidays from the UK. According to TTR Weekly, confirmed flight bookings between July and September are 12% above what they were at the same time in 2019.

A similar trend can be seen in bookings from the US to Iceland. In March, the Icelandic government confirmed that vaccinated arrivals would face no entry restrictions, which led to a surge in bookings. Flight ticket sales shot up to 158% what they were at the same time in 2019.

Olivier Ponti from ForwardKeys says there is a clear correlation between high vaccination rates and outbound travel. In Israel, which has now vaccinated over 60% of the population, bookings for European trips have reached 63% of what they were in 2019, while in the UK, where over 52% of people are vaccinated, bookings are at 32% of 2019 numbers.

“Vaccinations appear to hold the key to reviving international travel, as countries that make clear promises to welcome vaccinated travellers are being rewarded by strong surges in flight bookings. We see a revival of confidence in outbound travel from countries where there has been a successful rollout of Covid-19 vaccines too.”

SOURCE: TTR Weekly

 

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