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Isreal declares war as death toll rises to 1,000

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The death toll in the Israel-Gaza war has surged close to 1,000 after the Palestinian militant group launched a massive surprise assault from Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu steeled the shocked and grieving nation for a “long and difficult” war ahead after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Israel on Saturday and sent in fighters who gunned down civilians and took at least 100 hostages.

The war has heightened Middle East tensions and killed more than 600 people on the Israeli side, which is the country’s worst losses since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when it came under attack from a coalition led by Egypt and Syria.

“Israel was caught flat-footed by the unprecedented attack. I’ve heard multiple comparisons to 9/11, and many Israelis are struggling to understand how this could have happened, ” said Jonathan Panikoff, director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative.

In Gaza, which was hammered by Israeli air strikes on 800 targets ahead of what many feared may be a looming ground invasion, officials reported at least 370 deaths, with thousands more wounded across the war zone.

Tens of thousands of Israeli forces were deployed to battle holdout Hamas fighters in the south, where the bodies of civilians had been found strewn on roads and in town centres.

“The enemy is still on the ground,” said military spokesman Daniel Hagari as a second night fell after the attack, adding that Israel was reinforcing its military strength near the Gaza Strip.

Gun battles raged as the Israeli army sought to secure desert regions near the coastal enclave, rescue Israeli hostages and evacuate all areas near Gaza.

“We’ll reach each and every community until we kill every terrorist in Israel,” vowed Hagari, a day after Hamas fighters launched their shock offensive and surged into Israel using vehicles, boats and even motorised paragliders.

100 Abducted to Gaza

There was widespread shock and dismay in Israel after at least 100 citizens were captured by Hamas and abducted into Gaza, with images circulating on social media of bloodied hostages, and distraught relatives pleading for the state to rescue them.

Yifat Zailer, 37, said she was horrified to see online video footage from Gaza that showed her female cousin and the woman’s children, aged nine months and three years.

“That’s the only confirmation we have,” she told AFP, her voice breaking with emotion, adding there was no information on her cousin’s husband and her elderly parents.

“After the army took control of the kibbutz, they weren’t at home. We assume they were kidnapped. We want to know what their condition is, we want them to return safely. They’re innocent civilians, ” she said.

Israel also came under attack from the north when Lebanon’s Hezbollah launched guided missiles and artillery shells Sunday “in solidarity” with the unprecedented Hamas offensive, without causing any casualties.

Israel responded with artillery strikes across the UN-patrolled border.

“We recommend Hezbollah not to come into this. If they come, we are ready,” said army spokesman Richard Hecht.

Israel was stunned when Hamas launched their multi-pronged offensive on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, raining down at least 3,000 rockets as fighters infiltrated towns and kibbutz communities and stormed an outdoor rave party.

Panicked Israeli residents phoned media outlets as they hid in their homes from militants going door to door and shooting civilians or dragging them away.

Two Thai nationals were among those killed, and other Asian nationals, many of whom work as farm labourers in the region, were believed to be among the hostages.
‘No respite’

Global concern has mounted, with Western capitals condemning the attack by Hamas, which Washington and Brussels consider a terrorist group.

Israel’s foes have praised the assault, including Iran whose President Ebrahim Raisi voiced support when he spoke with Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders.

Anti-Israel protests have flared in Iraq, Pakistan and some other majority Muslim countries, while Germany and France were among nations stepping up security around Jewish temples and schools.

In the Egyptian city of Alexandria a police officer opened fire “at random” on Israeli tourists Sunday, killing two of them and their Egyptian guide before he was arrested.

Netanyahu — who leads a hard-right coalition government but has received pledges of support from political opponents during Israel’s national emergency — has vowed to turn Hamas hideouts “to rubble” and urged Palestinians there to flee.

“We are embarking on a long and difficult war that was forced on us by a murderous Hamas attack,” Netanyahu wrote on X, formerly Twitter, pledging no “respite”.

US President Joe Biden has voiced “rock solid and unwavering” support for Israel and warned “against any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation”.

US Secretary of state Antony Blinken told CNN, “we have reports that several Americans were killed” and others missing and “we’re working to verify those reports”.

‘We will not give up’

Hamas has labeled its attack “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” and called on “resistance fighters in the West Bank” and “Arab and Islamic nations” to join the battle.

Its attack came half a century after the outbreak of the 1973 conflict called the Yom Kippur war in Israel, sparking bitter recriminations on what was widely seen as an enormous intelligence failure.

“There was a very bad failure here,” said Sderot resident Yaakov Shoshani, 70. “The Yom Kippur War was small compared to it, and I was a soldier in the Yom Kippur War.”

He recalled the terror of the attack on their town near Gaza.

“I held a kitchen knife and a large screwdriver, and I told my wife that, if something happens, to make sure to read the Kaddish (prayer) over me, if you stay alive,” he said. “And so we stayed close to each other at home, shut everything and turned off the lights.”

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has predicted “victory” and vowed to press ahead with “the battle to liberate our land and our prisoners languishing in occupation prisons”.

Hamas said Saturday it had fired 5,000 rockets, while Israel reported some 3,000 incoming projectiles, as Hamas ground forces launched their assault on nearby Israeli communities.

Sderot resident Yitzhak, 67, said he now expected the army to “conquer Gaza house by house, clean the area there properly, and not leave Gaza until they get the very last rocket out of the ground.”

Israeli attacks have reduced several Gaza residential towers to rubble, and another strike completely destroyed a mosque in Gaza’s Khan Yunis.

Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, leading to Israel’s blockade of the impoverished enclave of 2.3 million people.

Israel and Hamas have fought several wars since, with the latest in May killing 34 Palestinians and one Israeli.

Many Gaza residents voiced defiance. “We will not give up, and we are here to stay,” said Mohammed Saq Allah, 23. “This is our land, and we will not abandon our land.”

AFP

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IMF confirms Kristalina Georgieva for second 5-Year term

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IMF confirms Kristalina Georgieva for second 5-Year term

It means that Georgieva, who was the sole candidate in the running to lead the International Monetary Fund, will continue in office when her current term ends on September 30, 2024.

The decision was taken by consensus, the IMF said in a statement confirming the board’s decision.

“I am deeply grateful for the trust and support of the Fund’s Executive Board, representing our 190 members, and honored to continue to lead the IMF as Managing Director,” Georgieva said in a statement.

“I look forward to continue serving our membership, together with the highly professional and committed staff of the IMF,” she added.

Georgieva, a 70-year-old Bulgarian, has run the IMF since 2019, and told AFP last month that she was making herself “available to serve, if people want me to serve.”

During her tenure, the IMF has helped countries facing financial difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the havoc wrought by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially in Europe.

Under a controversial, decades-old agreement between Europe and the United States, the International Monetary Fund has historically been led by a European, and the World Bank by a US citizen.

This arrangement was reaffirmed last year when the Biden administration nominated Ajay Banga, an Indian-born, naturalized US citizen, to run the World Bank, which sits just across the street from the IMF in Washington.

Georgieva faced allegations in 2021 — which she strongly denied — that she had been involved in amending a popular World Bank business report in order to favor China when she worked at the development lender.

But after reviewing the World Bank report into the incident, the IMF executive board dismissed the allegations and reaffirmed its confidence in Georgieva, allowing her to remain in post.

The board’s announcement means that next week’s IMF and World Bank-hosted meetings of the world’s financial leaders in Washington can proceed without a distracting battle over the future of the Fund running in the background.

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Real estate tycoon sentence to death in largest-ever fraud case

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Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam in the country’s

Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam in the country’s largest financial fraud case ever, state media Vietnam Net said.

The 67-year-old chair of the real estate company Van Thinh Phat was formally charged with fraud amounting to $12.5 billion — nearly 3% of the country’s 2022 GDP.

Lan illegally controlled Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank between 2012 and 2022 and allowed 2,500 loans that resulted in losses of $27 billion to the bank, reported state media VnExpress. The court asked her to compensate the bank $26.9 million.

Despite mitigating circumstances — this was a first-time offense and Lan participated in charity activities — the court attributed its harsh sentence to the seriousness of the case, saying Lan was at the helm of an orchestrated and sophisticated criminal enterprise that had serious consequences with no possibility of the money being recovered, VnExpress said.

Her actions “not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organizations but also push SCB [Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank] into a state of special control; eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and State,” VnExpress quoted the judgment as saying.

Her niece, Truong Hue Van, the chief executive of Van Thinh Phat, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for aiding her aunt.

Lan and her family established the Van Thinh Phat company in 1992 after Vietnam shed its state-run economy in favor of a more market-oriented approach that was open to foreigners. She had started out helping her mother, a Chinese businesswoman, to sell cosmetics in Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest market, according to state media Tien Phong.

Van Thinh Phat would grow to become one of Vietnam’s richest real estate firms, with projects including luxury residential buildings, offices, hotels and shopping centers. This made her a key player in the country’s financial industry. She orchestrated the 2011 merger of the beleaguered SCB bank with two other lenders in coordination with Vietnam’s central bank.

The court found that she used this approach to tap SCB for cash. She indirectly owned more than 90% of the bank — a charge she denied — and approved thousands of loans to “ghost companies,” according to government documents. These loans then found their way back to her, state media VNExpress reported, citing the court’s findings.

She then bribed officials to cover her tracks, it added.

Former central bank official Do Thi Nhan was also sentenced Thursday to life in prison for accepting $5.2 million in bribes.

Lan’s arrest in October 2022 was among the most high-profile in an ongoing anti-corruption drive in Vietnam that has intensified since 2022. The so-called Blazing Furnace campaign has touched the highest echelons of Vietnamese politics. Former President Vo Van Thuong resigned in March after being implicated in the campaign.

But Lan’s trial shocked the nation. Analysts said the scale of the scam raised questions about whether other banks or businesses had similarly erred, dampening Vietnam’s economic outlook and making foreign investors jittery at a time when Vietnam has been trying to position itself as the ideal home for businesses trying to pivot their supply chains away from China.

The real estate sector in Vietnam has been hit particularly hard. An estimated 1,300 property firms withdrew from the market in 2023, developers have been offering discounts and gold as gifts to attract buyers, and despite rents for mixed-use properties known in Southeast Asia as shophouses falling by a third in Ho Chi Minh City, many in the city center are still empty, according to state media.

In November, Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s top politician, said that the anti-corruption fight would “continue for the long term.”

 

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US sends seized Iran weapons, ammunition to Ukraine

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US sends seized Iran weapons, ammunition to Ukraine

The United States has given Ukraine small arms and ammunition that were seized while being sent from Iranian forces to Tehran-backed rebels in Yemen, the US military said Tuesday.

The transfer last week came as Ukraine suffers from significant shortages of ammunition and US Republican lawmakers block new aid funding, but it does not address Kyiv’s need for key items such as artillery and air defense munitions.

“The US government transferred over 5,000 AK-47s, machine guns, sniper rifles, RPG-7s and over 500,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition to the Ukrainian armed forces” on Thursday, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on social media.

“These weapons will help Ukraine defend against Russia’s invasion” and are enough material to equip a brigade, it said.

The arms and ammunition were seized between May 2021 and February 2023 from four “stateless vessels” as the supplies were being transferred from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to Yemen’s Huthi rebels, CENTCOM said.

“The government obtained ownership of these munitions on December 1, 2023, through the Department of Justice’s civil forfeiture claims,” it said.

The Huthis have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November 2023 in attacks they say are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza — a significant international security challenge that threatens a major shipping lane.

Congressional impasse
“Iran’s support for armed groups threatens international and regional security, our forces, diplomatic personnel, and citizens in the region, as well as those of our partners. We will continue to do whatever we can to shed light on and stop Iran’s destabilizing activities,” CENTCOM said.

Washington made a similar transfer to Ukraine in early October, providing 1.1 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition that was seized from Iranian forces on the way to Yemen.

But funding for crucial artillery and air defense munitions for Ukraine has been held up by Republican lawmakers who have stalled a $60 billion support package in the US Congress since last year.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testified during a Senate hearing Tuesday that Washington not living up to its commitment to Kyiv would encourage America’s foes.

“It would be a signal that the United States is an unreliable partner, and that would encourage and embolden autocrats around the globe to do the types of things that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has done,” Austin said.

The United States announced a $300 million assistance package for Kyiv on March 12 — the first since December — that included anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons and artillery shells, but warned at the time that it would run out after a few weeks.

That package was funded by using money that the Pentagon saved on other purchases, allowing the US government to provide aid despite the congressional impasse.

US officials have spearheaded the push for international support for Ukraine, quickly forging a coalition to back Kyiv after Russia invaded in 2022 and coordinating aid from dozens of countries.

Washington has been by far Kyiv’s biggest donor of security aid, committing tens of billions of dollars to aid Ukraine since the invasion

Source: VANGUARD NEWS

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Total solar eclipse hits Mexico before moving to US, Canada

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Total solar eclipse hits Mexico before moving to US, Canada

A rare total solar eclipse plunged the Pacific coast of Mexico into complete darkness at 11:07 am (1807 GMT).

The “path of totality,” where the Moon completely obscures the Sun’s light, will streak across Mexico and the United States, before returning to the ocean over Canada’s Atlantic coast, in a celestial spectacle witnessed by tens of millions of people.

Source: PUNCH NEWS

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Senegal’s president names new government

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Senegal’s President Names New Government

Senegal’s President Bassirou Diomaye Faye named a “breakaway” government on Friday, appointing a host of fresh faces to top roles following his landslide election win last month.

The 44-year-old, who has never before held elected office, swept to a first-round victory on a promise of radical reform, becoming the country’s youngest president.

Faye looks set to share responsibilities with his appointed prime minister and former mentor Ousmane Sonko, who helped propel the political newcomer’s rise to power.

Sonko unveiled on Friday a cabinet of 25 ministers, hailing it as a break from the past.

“The government set up here on April 5 is a breakaway government… that embodies the project, a systemic transformation voted for by the Senegalese people,” said Sonko.

Sonko, 49, spearheaded Senegal’s anti-establishment movement but endorsed Faye on the presidential ballot after he was barred from running himself due to a defamation conviction.

Birame Souleye Diop was appointed energy minister, a strategic position in a country that is due to start producing oil and gas in 2024.

Ousmane Diagne, a former public prosecutor at the Dakar Court of Appeal, becomes justice minister.

The government included four women, who were handed the portfolios of foreign affairs, fisheries, family and youth and culture.

Senegal is facing a host of major challenges, including an official unemployment rate of 20 per cent.

Sonko said on Friday the government’s priorities would include employment for young people, lowering the cost of living and protecting human rights.

Source: DAILY TRUST

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Russia preparing to mobilize 300, 000 troops to Ukraine by June 1 – President Zelensky

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Russia preparing to mobilize 300, 000 troops to Ukraine by June 1 – President Zelensky

President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of preparing to mobilize an additional 300,000 troops to the battle line in his country by the beginning of June.

Zelensky disclosed this during a press conference in Kyiv on Wednesday.

He, however, said that it was unclear how many troops Ukraine plans to mobilize this year, but backtracked on his previous goals, saying, “we don’t need half a million.”

He said Kyiv “clearly” understands why Russia is looking to draft additional soldiers, and urged that the months of May and June “should be a time of activity for the sake of Ukraine, for the sake of achieving our goals in this war.”

“We clearly understand what Russia is preparing for, what they want, and what they will be drafting soldiers into their army for. Russia is preparing to mobilize 300,000 additional soldiers by June 1.

“And we, all of us, our partners, must have a strong response to Russian operations— any Russian operations. We must win this war,” he said.

This is coming a few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a routine spring conscription campaign into action, which called up 150,000 citizens for military service.

Ukraine’s military intelligence also recently reported that Russia was likely aiming to ramp up its mobilization efforts following the country’s presidential election, in which Putin won over 87 percent of the vote.

The Kremlin has faced backlash from Russian citizens in the past over military recruitment efforts to bolster its defenses against Ukraine.

 

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