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Syria strikes spotlight Israel’s nightmare: Iran on its border

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Although Israel rarely provides details or takes responsibility for such attacks, its military acknowledges it has struck inside Syria more than 100 times since 2012. Most targets have been suspected weapons’ convoys destined for Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has been engaged in battles alongside Syrian government forces.

Iran is a sponsor of Hezbollah and also backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a bloody 34-day war in 2006. More than 1,000 Lebanese — mostly civilians — were killed; 158 Israelis, 119 of them soldiers, also died. Many Israeli experts are convinced that the country’s next war will be against Hezbollah, which is part of Lebanon’s coalition government.

Assad is thought to be close to crushing the seven-year rebellion in his country thanks to Russia, as well as Iran and Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump appears determined to get out of Syria, having argued with his military advisers only last week that he prefers to bring U.S. troops home in months, not years.

Yossi Mekelberg, head of international relations at London’s Regent’s University, says that the Israeli government fears “the Iranians are getting too close.”

Trump’s isolationist impulses also concern Israel profoundly.

“I think that the worry in Israel as in many other places … is Trump’s unpredictability,” Mekelberg said.

 President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make their way to the Oval Office on March 5. Mandel Ngan / AFP – Getty Images file

If the U.S. is not deeply involved in the Middle East, “Israel will find itself more and more feeling the need to act in Syria” to thwart the threat from Iran, according to Mekelberg. “Israel really does not want to act in Syria.”

Underscoring the threat from the north, a senior cleric in Iran last week claimed that Hezbollah has weapons that could destroy the Israeli cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv. Referring to the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said Friday that the Lebanese group’s rockets had turned both cities into “ghost towns.”

And now Hezbollah was much more powerful, Khatami said.

“If you want Haifa and Tel Aviv to be razed to the ground, you can try your chance once again,” the firebrand cleric warned Israel.

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Giora Eiland, the former head of the Israeli National Security Council, blamed decisions made during President Barack Obama’s time in the White House for the situation unfolding in Syria.

“The biggest American mistake was not made in the past year, but it was made in the beginning of the uprising in Syria back in 2011,” he said.

At that time there were only two parties in Syria, Eiland said: Assad’s beleaguered government and a pro-democracy movement.

“Assad was quite lonely” and Western intervention could have made a big difference to those trying to oust him, he added.

Any advantage Syria’s rebels might have had was lost after Russia’s Sept. 2015 decision to support Assad militarily, Eiland said.

On Sunday, Trump condemned what he described as a “mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” laying the blame at the feet of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Assad and Iran.

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COVID-19: Muslim graveyard in India turns bodies away, as coronavirus cases continue to surge | World News

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Delhi’s main Muslim graveyard is running out of space due to COVID-related deaths, as it surpassed Mumbai to become India’s worst-hit city.

On 15 April, a stream of ambulances arrived at the Jadid Qabristan cemetery on the outskirts of Delhi, where a patch of waste ground was turned into a COVID-19 burial ground last year.

The graves now run-up to the boundary wall, with little space for more.

People bury bodies at a graveyard in Delhi. The graveyard has had to turn away bodies as it runs out of space
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Drone footage shows people burying bodies at a graveyard in Delhi
According to official figures, Delhi recorded over 17,000 coronavirus cases on 14 April
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According to official figures, Delhi recorded over 17,000 coronavirus cases on 14 April

Head gravedigger Mohammad Shameem said he has had to turn bodies away, with space and staff at a premium.

“Yesterday there were 19 bodies, but we can only handle 15,” he said.

Hospitals are also struggling to cope under the growing strain of increased cases.

Pappu Ali, 43, contracted coronavirus and his family visited several private hospitals in the city searching for a bed. He died after being admitted to a government hospital.

“There were not enough doctors, we couldn’t even find water,” his uncle Mehboob said.

According to official figures, Delhi recorded over 17,000 cases on 14 April, while Mumbai’s highest single-day peak was 11,163 on 4 April.

People bury the body of a man, who died from coronavirus disease at a graveyard in New Delhi
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People bury the body of a man, who died with coronavirus
A Muslim graveyard in Delhi is running out of space, with the gravediggers forced to turn people away
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The Jadid Qabristan cemetery has been forced to turn people away

India reported more than 200,000 new cases in a single day on 15 April, with hospitals reporting a shortage of beds and oxygen.

The financial hub of Mumbai, India’s largest city, has gone into lockdown, but other cities remain open despite a spike in cases.

This week, millions of Hindu pilgrims gathered in the temple town of Haridwar, in Uttarakhand to celebrate Maha Kumbh Mela, dubbed as a superspreader event.

Following the event, 30 Hindu priests tested positive for coronavirus.

Among those infected with the virus, was the leader of the All India Akhada Parishad, Mahant Narendra Giri, who has been admitted to hospital.

On Thursday night, Uttarakhand reported 2,200 cases in 24 hours – its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began in December 2019.

As cases around the country surge, India has found itself short of vaccines and is running out of the raw materials required to make new jabs.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is locally made by the Serum Institute of India (SII) but production has been delayed by a raw material shortage.

SII’s chief executive appealed to US president Joe Biden to end the ban on raw material exports out of the US.

A mourner is consoled after her husband died of COVID-19 in New Delhi. India recorded 200,000 cases on 16 April
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A mourner is consoled after her husband died of COVID-19 as India recorded 200,000 cases on 16 April
Due to a shortage of beds in hospitals, patients are forced to share beds as they received treatment for the virus
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Due to a shortage of hospital beds, patients are forced to share

“Respected POTUS, if we are to truly unite in beating the virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the US, I humble request you lift the embargo on raw material exports out of the US so that vaccine production can ramp up,” Adar Poonawalla said on Twitter.

Vaccination centres are rationing supplies, as the country inoculates over 45s having started its roll-out in mid-January with front line workers.

It has administered the most doses in the world, after America and China, but ranks much lower when looking at the per capita figure.

The government said the country had a stock of about 30 million doses, which will be enough for 10 days.

Despite initial reluctance to use non-Indian vaccines, the government has this week given emergency authorisation to Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to be imported this month.

It has also urged Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to sell jabs to India.

A new Indian variant of the virus has been detected in the UK, with 74 cases detected by Public Health England.

India is not on the travel red list, so there is no requirement for hotel quarantine. Travellers returning from India are required to take two COVID-19 tests and quarantine at home for 10 days.

Boris Johnson is scheduled to visit the country at the end of April, his first major international trip since Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Asked if his planned trip to India would still go ahead later this month, a No 10 spokesman said it was still on.

But he said the programme “will be slightly shorter” and added: “As you would expect, safety is obviously important and is a priority for us on this trip, which is why we will make sure that all elements of the visit are COVID-secure.”



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Hong Kong: Media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed over pro-democracy protests | World News

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Billionaire Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been imprisoned over his role in pro-democracy protests.

Mr Lai, founder of opposition newspaper Apple Daily, was one of several activists who appeared in court on Friday who had been earlier found guilty of taking part in “unauthorised assemblies” during mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.

He was sentenced to 14 months in prison while nine others received jail time or suspended sentences.

The 73-year-old is a fierce critic of Beijing and his sentence comes as the mainland is increasingly cracking down on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms.

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai is seen handcuffed and escorted by the guards leaving prison
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Mr Lai is seen handcuffed and escorted by the guards leaving prison for his hearing

Mr Lai has been in jail since December after being denied bail in a separate national security trial.

District court judge Amanda Woodcock said even though the 18 August assembly was peaceful there was a “latent risk of possible violence” and that a deterrent sentence and “immediate imprisonment” was appropriate.

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Raab says ‘China is violating the freedom of Hong Kong’

Mr Lai’s repeated arrests have drawn criticism from Western governments and international rights groups, who raised concerns over waning freedoms in the global financial hub, including freedom of speech and assembly.

Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director Yamini Mishra said: “The wrongful prosecution, conviction and sentencing of these activists underlines the… government’s intention to eliminate all political opposition.”

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The other defendants also found guilty, included prominent barrister Margaret Ng and veteran democrats Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, Leung Kwok-hung, Cyd Ho, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung.

They received sentences of up to 18 months. Ng, Leung Yiu-chung and Albert Ho were given suspended sentences.

The 2019 pro-democracy protests were spurred by Beijing’s tightening squeeze on wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong upon its return to Chinese rule in 1997, and plunged the semi-autonomous city into its biggest crisis since the handover.

Beijing has since consolidated its authoritarian grip on Hong Kong by imposing a sweeping national security law,
punishing anything it deems as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
Supporters of the law say it has restored stability.

Mr Lai has been a frequent visitor to Washington, meeting officials such as former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor”.

Prosecutors said he will face two additional charges of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces and conspiracy to
obstruct the course of justice.

Earlier this week, Apple Daily published a hand-written letter Mr Lai sent to his colleagues from prison, saying: “It is
our responsibility as journalists to seek justice.

“As long as we… do not let evil get its way through us, we are fulfilling our responsibility.”

It is “time for us to stand tall”, he wrote.

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Human cells grown in monkey embryos triggers ‘Pandora’s box’ ethical concerns | Science & Tech News

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Human cells have been grown in monkey embryos by scientists in the US, sparking ethical concerns and warnings that it “opens a Pandora’s box”.

Those behind the research say their work could help tackle the severe shortage of transplant organs as well as enable better overall understanding of human health, from the development of disease to ageing.

But some experts in the UK have highlighted the significant ethical and legal challenges posed by the creation of such hybrid organisms and called for a public debate.

Credit: Weizhi Ji, Kunming University of Science and Technology
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The chimeric embryos were monitored in the lab for 19 days before being destroyed. Pic: Weizhi Ji, Kunming University of Science and Technology

Concerns have been raised after researchers from the Salk Institute in California produced what is known as monkey-human chimeras.

This involved human stem cells – special cells that have the ability to develop into many different cell types – being inserted in macaque embryos in petri dishes in the lab.

The aim is to understand more about how cells develop and communicate with each other.

Chimeras are organisms whose cells come from two or more individuals.

In humans, chimerism can naturally occur following organ transplants, where cells from the organ start growing in other parts of the body.

Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte
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Professor Izpisua Belmonte said the work was conducted with ‘utmost attention to ethical considerations’

Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, who is leading the research, said: “These chimeric approaches could be really very useful for advancing biomedical research not just at the very earliest stage of life, but also the latest stage of life.”

In 2017, he and his team created the first human-pig hybrid, where they introduced human cells into early-stage pig tissue but found the environment provided poor molecular communication.

As a result, the researchers decided to investigate lab-grown chimeras using a more closely related species.

The human-monkey chimeric embryos were monitored in the lab for 19 days before being destroyed.

According to the scientists, the results, published in the journal Cell, showed human stem cells “survived and integrated with better relative efficiency than in the previous experiments in pig tissue”.

The Salk-Institute
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The chimeras were produced by researchers from the Salk Institute in California

The team said understanding more about how cells of different species communicate with each other could provide an “unprecedented glimpse into the earliest stages of human development” as well as offer scientists a “powerful tool” for research on regenerative medicine.

Insisting that their research has met current ethical and legal guidelines, Prof Izpisua Belmonte said: “As important for health and research as we think these results are, the way we conducted this work, with utmost attention to ethical considerations and by coordinating closely with regulatory agencies, is equally important.

“Ultimately, we conduct these studies to understand and improve human health.”

Human stem cells being injected into a pig embryo. Pic: Salk Institute
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Human stem cells being injected into a pig embryo. Pic: Salk Institute

Responding to the research, Dr Anna Smajdor, lecturer and researcher in biomedical ethics at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said: “This breakthrough reinforces an increasingly inescapable fact: biological categories are not fixed – they are fluid.

“This poses significant ethical and legal challenges.”

She added: “The scientists behind this research state that these chimeric embryos offer new opportunities, because ‘we are unable to conduct certain types of experiments in humans’.

“But whether these embryos are human or not is open to question.”

Prof Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and co-director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford, said: “This research opens Pandora’s box to human-nonhuman chimeras.

“These embryos were destroyed at 20 days of development but it is only a matter of time before human-nonhuman chimeras are successfully developed, perhaps as a source of organs for humans. That is one of the long-term goals of this research.

“The key ethical question is: what is the moral status of these novel creatures? Before any experiments are performed on live-born chimeras, or their organs extracted, it is essential that their mental capacities and lives are properly assessed.”

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