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UN vote expected on 30-day cease-fire in Syria to help needy

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Sweden and Kuwait called for a vote Thursday on a U.N. resolution ordering a 30-day cease-fire throughout Syria to enable delivery of humanitarian aid to millions of people in acute need, and the evacuation of the critically sick and wounded.

But the Security Council resolution would exempt attacks directed at extremists from the Islamic State group, al-Qaida and the Nusra Front — targets the Syrian government and its Russian allies say they are pursuing.

The proposed resolution, put in a final form Wednesday, expresses “outrage at the unacceptable levels of violence” and attacks on civilians in several parts of Syria, particularly in Idlib governorate and the rebel-held Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta.

Whether Russia uses its veto or abstains in a vote on the resolution remains to be seen.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called a 30-day cease-fire unrealistic, and diplomats said during negotiations on the text he argued that it couldn’t be enforced. Instead, he proposed a change that would have the parties agree to a cease-fire themselves which was rejected by the sponsors, the diplomats said.

“We cannot simply decide that there is a cease-fire,” Nebenzia said Wednesday in an audio recording from Russia’s U.N. Mission. “That’s a long and complex process to achieve. Cessations cannot be established by putting a word in the resolution.”

Soon after final draft of the resolution was circulated, Nebenzia called for an open Security Council meeting Thursday on eastern Ghouta. Some diplomats complained privately that Russia was trying to delay action on the 30-day cease-fire resolution.

The U.N. human rights office said Wednesday that at least 346 people have been killed in eastern Ghouta since the Syrian government and its allies escalated an offensive on Feb. 4.

Nebenzia told the council it’s important that all sides in the conflict present their understanding of the situation in eastern Ghouta “and come up the ways of getting out of the situation there.”

Russia understands “there are terrorists there who the Syrian army is fighting and the terrorists are shelling heavily Damascus — and that has been neglected,” he said.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier urged an immediate suspension of “all war activities” in eastern Ghouta, where he said 400,000 people are living “in hell on earth.”

The U.N. chief said a suspension of fighting must allow for humanitarian aid to reach all in need and the evacuation of some 700 people needing urgent medical treatment.

“This is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes and I don’t think we can let things go on in this horrendous way,” he said.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley supported the U.N. chief saying “it is time for us to realize that we can’t continue to look away.”

Later, she accused “the barbaric Assad regime” of attacking men, women and children.

“It is simply preposterous to claim that these attacks on civilians have anything to do with fighting terrorism,” Haley said in a statement. “The Security Council must move to adopt a resolution establishing a cease-fire.”

But since the Syrian conflict began nearly seven years ago, the Security Council has been deeply divided, with Russia backing President Bashar Assad’s government and the U.S., Britain and France supporting the opposition. The result has been paralysis and inaction.

The proposed Syria humanitarian resolution drafted by Sweden and Kuwait expresses “grave distress” that more than 13.1 million people in Syria need urgent humanitarian assistance and “outrage” at the escalating violence and lack of access to civilians in need.

It calls for a cease-fire throughout Syria to begin 72 hours after the resolution’s adoption. It states that 48 hours after a cease-fire starts humanitarian convoys must be allowed “unimpeded and sustained access” and the U.N. and its partners must be allowed to evacuate urgent cases.

The draft resolution also calls for the immediate lifting of sieges including in eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya.

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Tokyo Olympics: Opening ceremony was ‘respectful, hopeful but sombre night’ | World News

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Olympic opening ceremonies are something of a unique art form. Playing to a global audience but with the host nation wanting to make the night their own.

Japan chose sombre. It was a respectful, hopeful but above all sombre night. They didn’t want to show off when everyone has lived through such hardship – and while so many people continue to do so.

Their display using 1,824 flying drones combining like a swarm of giant worker bees to create a giant globe stood out.

Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the Olympic cauldron
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Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the cauldron

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There were no Team GB fans at the 2021 summer olympic opening ceremony in Tokyo due to COVID-19 but Japan put on a stunning visual show regardless

So too Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka who was given the honour of firing up the hydrogen-fuelled Olympic cauldron.

But it was their courteous bow towards the pain of the pandemic that defined the evening.

Video montages of empty cities during lockdowns, and athletes cobbling together training regimes in their back gardens – it all made for an understated opening ceremony.

Outside, the protests in the streets continued among those still vehemently against the Games taking place while Tokyo remains in a state of COVID emergency.

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There were also people outside who just felt drawn to the Olympic stadium – to come and wave to the very select numbers of VIPs and media going inside. It was as close as they could get to the Games that they had waited almost a decade for.

While these Olympics will feel unusual there were reminders too of the magic they can create.

There was a towering Tongan taekwondo player who strode into the stadium with his bare oiled chest puffed out as he carried his island nation’s flag like a warrior on a mission.

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Protests held outside Olympic stadium

The Olympics can still produce special moments like that and there will be plenty more over the coming weeks.

There will be more COVID-19 disruption too but the Games of 2020 are finally open, just one year late.

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Business leaders have ‘obligation to speak up’, ex-Unilever boss says amid Ben & Jerry’s row | Business News

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Unilever’s ex-boss has said business leaders have an “obligation to speak up” after his former company became embroiled in a row with Israel over its Ben & Jerry’s business.

Paul Polman mounted a defence of the need to “fight for what is right” in remarks to Sky News after the ice cream brand said it would stop selling its products in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Ben & Jerry’s is owned by consumer goods giant Unilever – whose array of brands ranges from Marmite spread to Dove soap – but has an independent board to take such decisions.

Alan Jope, Unilever chief executive
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Current boss Alan Jope has spoken to Israel’s prime minister about the matter

Its announcement is one of the strongest steps taken by a well-known company over Israel’s settlements, which are widely seen as illegal by the international community.

The move drew condemnation from the Israeli government, whose new prime minister Naftali Bennett said this week that Israel would “use the tools at its disposal – including legal – on this issue” and that those taking such action “need to know that there will be a price to pay”.

Mr Polman, speaking to Sky’s Ian King Live, said it would be inappropriate to say how he would have handled the issue had he still been in charge of Unilever.

But he added: “What is very important is if we want humanity to function for the long term we need to be sure that we fight for the basic values, the basic values of dignity, respect, equity, compassion.

“If we see these values being violated anywhere in the world I think we have an obligation to speak up.

“What we’ve seen in the US in the last few years – too few people, also from the business side, spoke up against things that then bit by bit moved the boundaries and put us in a very difficult situation.

Naftali Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years
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Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett said there would be a “price to pay”

“So, fight for what is right and one of the few things we should fight for always is, these basic human rights.”

Mr Polman was speaking a day after current Unilever boss Alan Jope, in a conference call to discuss latest results, said the company remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel but gave no indication that Unilever would press Ben & Jerry’s to reverse the decision.

Mr Jope, who has spoken to Mr Bennett on the phone to discuss the matter, said that it was a “complex and sensitive matter”.

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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine withdraws to avoid facing Israeli competitor Tohar Butbul | World News

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An Algerian judo competitor has withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics after learning he could have faced an Israeli opponent.

Fethi Nourine said his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible to compete against Tohar Butbul.

He told Algerian TV he would not “get his hands dirty” and his “decision was final”.

“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics, and the news came as a shock, a thunder”, he added.

Tohar Butbul of Israel
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Tohar Butbul of Israel

The 30-year-old was drawn against Sudan’s Mohamed Asdalrasool on Monday for his first match in the men’s 73kg class. If he had won that match, he would have faced Butbul, who has a first-round bye, in the next round.

Nourine also withdrew from the world championships in 2019 for the same reason.

At the time, his coach Amar Ben Yaklif was quoted in Algerian media saying: “We were unlucky with the draw. We got an Israeli opponent and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision.”

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Tensions between Israel and Palestinians flared in Jerusalem earlier this year causing the worst violence in the region since 2014.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Judo - Training Sessions - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - July 22, 2021. Technicians work on the mat in Nippon Budokan Arena, during training sessions. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
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Judo training sessions take place at the Tokyo Games

The conflict between the two sides has been going on for decades and has seen athletes from Iran and Egypt also previously refuse to compete against Israeli opponents.

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The opening ceremony for this year’s Olympic games took place on Friday, with fans not allowed in the national stadium for the event due to COVID-19 concerns.

Instead, around 1,000 dignitaries and members of the media were allowed the witness the spectacular event.

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