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Death Toll Mounts in Gaza as Territory Enters Second Week of Airstrikes

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  • Over 210 people have been killed and more than 1,000 others have been injured since fighting between Hamas and Israel began last Monday,
  • Over the weekend, Israel attacked tunnels used by Hamas for transportation and storage, although one of these tunnels eventually collapsed when the housing above it was destroyed, killing at least 40.
  • Additionally, Israel is facing widespread backlash for targeting a building in Gaza that allegedly held Hamas military assets but also housed Al-Jazeera and the Associated Press offices.
  • The Associated Press denies allowing reporters to work in a building with any military value, and the strikes have caused Reporters Without Borders to demand an investigation into possible war crimes.

Mounting Death Toll

Gaza has entered its second week of bombardment by Israeli airstrikes and ground forces while Israel is facing ongoing rocket attacks from Hamas.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories are tense at the best of times, but they drastically escalated in recent weeks over how Israel treated worshipers at al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month. Adding to fuel to the fire were the forced evictions of the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. These two events led Hamas to issue an ultimatum that Israel ignored, and the group then launched rockets into Israel last Monday.

Since then, at least 1300 Palestinians in Gaza have been injured and over 200 were killed, including more than 50 children. Nearly one-fourth of those deaths happened on Sunday when a tunnel used by Hamas was targeted by Israel and collapsed, destroying the housing above. Hamas’ tunnels extend for hundreds of miles, are well built, and are used as defensive structures. Israel targets them with airstrikes and uses ground forces to collapse them at strategic points.

In a statement, the Israeli military said, “Hamas intentionally locates its terrorist infrastructure under civilian houses, exposing them to danger.” However, after Sunday’s collapse, Israel said it would reexamine how it destroys the tunnels to try and prevent such casualties.

The claim that Hamas hides its military assets among civilian infrastructure isn’t new. The group has long been accused of doing it throughout history, and often it’s true. Yet, at the same time, Israel very much prioritizes targeting Hamas’ offensive capabilities over nearly everything else.

The Israeli Defense Force claims that it informs residents of targeted areas beforehand in order to let them evacuate, but there is an increasing amount of evidence that doesn’t always happen. Additionally, it doesn’t solve the problem that most of these residents are left without a home afterward, lending to Gaza’s reputation as one of the most impoverished areas of the world.

Accusations of Targeting Journalists

Israel’s mission to bomb any and all alleged Hamas facilities hs led it to be accused of possible war crimes. On Saturday, Israel bombed the al-Jalaa tower, a 12-story building that houses Al-Jazeera, the Associated Press, and other media outlets. Israeli officials claimed the building also held Hamas military assets and said they gave advanced warning to allow people to evacuate. While there were no casualties, the attack drew widespread condemnation.

Gary Pruitt, president of the Associated Press, said in a statement, “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what transpired today.” He also demanded that Israel provide proof that Hamas was using the building for military assets, adding, “We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building. This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”

The incident has also caused Reporters Without Borders to issue a statement calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate, with its Secretary-General saying that “deliberately targeting media outlets constitutes a war crime.”

The attacks and death toll haven’t only been happening in Gaza. To date, nearly 3,000 rockets have been fired at Israel, although the vast majority were destroyed by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. The few that weren’t have led to 10 Israeli deaths.

While all of this is happening, Israel is also experiencing some of its worst internal sectarian violence in years. Throughout the country, Israelis and Palestinians have clashed on the streets, leading to stores being vandalized and many injuries, including what has been described as lynchings.

Calls for Peace

Around the world, leaders have called for the fighting to stop. The United Nations has tried to issue a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire, but the U.S. has blocked such a resolution three times by using its veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council

Looking at the U.S.’ stance further, President Joe Biden made it clear in phone calls with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday that the U.S. supports Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas’ rocket attacks. Abbas pushed back against Biden, asking him to intervene and put an end to “Israeli attack(s) on Palestinian people everywhere.”

In a press release from Sunday, the White House emphasized that it was still committed to a two-state solution.

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

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U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

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

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Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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