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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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China Cautiously Crawls Out of Zero COVID Policy

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Estimates put the number of people who will die if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.


People Go Back to Bars

The Chinese government has begun to ease some of its notoriously strict pandemic lockdown measures, signaling that the end of the “zero-COVID” policy may be on the horizon.

On Monday, commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.

In Shanghai, visitors to most sites will require a negative test within the last week, rather than the last two days, though schools, hospitals, and bars will require one within the past 48 hours.

Dining in restaurants in some parts of Beijing is still prohibited, but bars and restaurants in many areas of the country are reopening.

In Urumqi, where anti-lockdown protests erupted late last month after an apartment fire killed 10 people, authorities said in a statement Monday that malls, markets, and other venues will reopen.

Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone plant which was last month rocked by violent unrest, will no longer require COVID test results for public transport, taxis, and visits to “public areas”, authorities said in a Sunday statement.

Beijing authorities had required registration to purchase fever, cough, and soar throat medicine, which they believed people were using to hide their coronavirus infections, but that mandate has been lifted. Certain districts in the capital also announced that some residents may self-isolate inside their homes rather than being forced to quarantine in a centralized facility.

Is China Ready to Reopen?

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the country’s health system had withstood the test of the virus and that the omicron subvariant is less deadly than previous strains.

But there has not been a significant drop in cases recently to prompt the easing of restrictions. On Monday, the government reported 30,014 new cases, down from last week’s peak of over 40,000 but still near record highs for China.

Some observers speculate that the government’s move was related to the recent protests, in which thousands of people poured onto the streets of several major cities to demand freedom and an end to the zero-COVID policy. Authorities cracked down on demonstrators, and any mention of the protests was rigorously censored on Chinese social media.

There was no sign of any significant unrest this weekend.

Although many people are excited to enjoy less restricted lives and restart a shuddered economy, others are concerned about the public health consequences reopening society could incur. Estimates put the number of people who will die from the coronavirus if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.

Last week, the government launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly population.

Only about 40% of people over the age of 80 have gotten their booster shot, according to official statistics.

Health experts and economists say vaccination rates and ICU preparedness won’t be sufficient to fully end the zero-COVID policy until mid-2023 or 2024.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People

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The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.


Bridge Collapses

After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people. 

According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125. 

During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.

“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.

Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government. 

Shifting Blame

In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.

“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.

The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.

“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.

Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters. 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (VICE) (CNN)

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Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals

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Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.


Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies

Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.

Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.

The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.

For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.

An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”

Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.

As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.

Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.

The Arc of History Bends Toward China

Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.

Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.

Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.

At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.

Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.

Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.

Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.

Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.

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

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