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Australian Cabinet Approves 2 Billion Dollars for Fire Relief

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  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday that at least 2 billion dollars have been approved for bushfire recovery services.
  • The fires have been blazing across the country for months, and have burned over 14 million acres and killed at least 24 people. It has also been estimated that 480 million animals have perished in the state of New South Wales alone. 
  • Australia has faced fires before, but none quite like this, as these flames are intensified by worsening climate change. 
  • Many are frustrated with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, criticizing him of being complacent in the wake of disaster and not taking enough political action to combat climate change.

Funding for Months-Long Destruction

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced funding of at least 2 billion Australian dollars for bushfire recovery on Monday after months of devastation. 

At least 24 people have been killed and over 14 million acres burned by the fires that have raged across the country.   

The fire season kicked up in September after the nation went through its warmest recorded spring. The heat continued into December, when the record was broken for Australia’s hottest day, with average highs of 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit blazing across the continent.  

These extreme temperatures, as well as long periods of drought and fierce winds, have led to the intensification and rapid spread of the fires.

Even with the rain and cooler temperatures that also came on Monday, providing temporary relief, the circumstances remain dire. 

Tens of thousands of firefighters have been battling the flames over the past few months, a majority of them volunteers. Despite these forces, the situation in Australia is so bad that the country has requested additional international aid. 

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, around 100 U.S. firefighters have been deployed to assist in suppressing the Australian bushfires. Canada is also sending firefighters to Australia for the first time. As of Sunday, 87 Canadian firefighters were deployed to Australia, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center

Widespread Destruction

The flames have affected the nation’s east coast the most, particularly the state of New South Wales, where over 1,300 homes have been destroyed. As of Monday morning, more than 130 fires were still burning across the state, according to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

On Nov. 11, the state issued a “catastrophic” fire danger warning. This was the first time a rating that high had been issued since the warning system went into effect in 2009, according to The New York Times. Last month, the air quality in Sydney was measured at 11 times the “hazardous” level. 

Victoria, the state below New South Wales, has faced its own frightening conditions. 

Last week, about 4,000 residents and tourists in the town of Mallacoota fled to nearby beaches to escape the flames. About 1,000 people participated in voluntary evacuations headed by the Australian Defense Force’s navy vessels.

Devastation to Wildlife

In addition to the fires having tragic effects on Australian locals, wildlife have also gravely suffered. An estimated 480 million animals have died in New South Wales alone, according to a report by Chris Dickman, a professor at the University of Sydney. 

This figure includes mammals, birds, and reptiles and does not take into account insects, bats or frogs. It is reported that while many of these animals were likely killed directly by the fires, some succumbed later due to a loss of food and shelter resources. 

Climate Change Implications

Australia has faced tough fires before, but this season is far more intense. The nation typically sees dry, hot summers, and climate change brings extended stretches of extreme heat, which makes vegetation even more susceptible to burn.

According to scientific reports by the United Nations Association of Australia, few if any other developed countries are as vulnerable to climate change as this one. 

Backlash Against Prime Minister

Throughout this year’s fire season, Prime Minister Morrison has received backlash for his response to the disasters—and for what critics call his lack of political action in response to climate change.

In the wake of the bushfires, Morrison took a vacation to Hawaii before for the holidays. But after facing much criticism, he cut his trip short and returned home.

Scrutiny for Morrison then continued after his visit to Cobargo on Jan. 2, a town in New South Wales that has been heavily affected by the fires.

Morrison’s attempt to talk with locals and volunteers did not go well. After reaching out to thank a firefighter, the man said to him: “I don’t really want to shake your hand.”

Another Cobargo local made headlines when she criticized Morrison for not giving enough funds to Rural Fire Services.

“I’m only shaking your hand if you give more funding to RFS,” she told the Prime Minister. “So many people here have lost their homes. We need more help.”

International Attention

The Australian fires have gained attention from people all around the world, including celebrities who are donating funds toward relief and using their platforms to promote awareness. 

Nicole Kidman, who holds Australian citizenship, announced on Instagram that her family is donating $500,000 to RFS.

Musician Pink, whose full name is Alecia Beth Moore, pledged the same amount to local disaster services. 

Actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio has been posting and reposting updates on the fires for months, urging people to take action in the climate crisis.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Washington Post) (New York Times)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls

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Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.


Hundreds Make It Out Alive

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.

People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.

The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.

“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”

63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.

Putin’s Plans Go Poorly

In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.

The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”

Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.

After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.

“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.

Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.

The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.

Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)

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Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished

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The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.


Settlers Get Ready to Move in

On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.

“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.

The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.

The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.

In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”

“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.

In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.

Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land

On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.

Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s

“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Peace Now) (Associated Press)

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