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Glad to meet you! Korean leaders in show of peace

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pledged a “new history” with South Korea as he met his counterpart south of the border, President Moon Jae-in.

It is the first time in 65 years that the leaders from the North and South have come face-to-face, making it a rare moment in history and a potential turning point as the pair hold a summit with denuclearisation at the top of the agenda.

Mr Kim stepped over the border to greet his rival, and in an unchoreographed move, Mr Kim then invited Mr Moon to cross briefly North with him before they returned to the South for talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in the truce village of Panmunjom
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They stepped over the border hand-in-hand

South Korea has said the Korean leaders have had “sincere and candid” talks on denuclearisation and are working on the wording of a joint statement.

:: Behind the smiles is the fear of failure

“I feel like I’m firing a flare at the starting line in the moment of (the two Koreas) writing a new history in North-South relations, peace and prosperity,” Mr Kim told Mr Moon as they sat at a table.

Mr Moon responded that there were high expectations that they produce an agreement that will be a “big gift to the entire Korean nation and every peace loving person in the world”.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the truce village of Panmunjom
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The meeting comes ahead of a planned summit between Mr Kim and Donald Trump

The two exchanged warm and encouraging words, with Mr Kim repeating “I am so glad to meet you”, and Mr Moon calling it “a pleasure”.

Mr Kim and Mr Moon poured a mixture of soil and water from both countries onto a pine tree they planted at a truce village as a symbol of peace before resuming their summit.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their meeting at the Peace House
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The two leaders exchanged warm and encouraging words

They also unveiled a stone plaque placed next to the tree that was engraved with a message saying Peace and Prosperity Are Planted.

:: Do we really want ‘distracted’ Trump to meet Kim?

The pine tree dates to 1953, the year the Korean War ended in an armistice.

The soil and water were brought from both the Koreas’ mountains and rivers.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend tree planting ceremony
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They planted a pine tree in the truce village

The leaders then talked while walking unaccompanied on a nearby bridge before they are expected to resume the afternoon session of their summit at Panmunjom, a small village located in the the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas.

Mr Kim at one point was seen waving away photographers as he and Mr Moon continued their talks sitting on chairs placed at the bridge.

Korea
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They chatted unaccompanied on a blue bridge

:: North v South: A tale of two Koreas

The rival Koreas have a long history, having fought one of the 20th century’s bloodiest conflicts.

The divided peninsula is today still technically in a state of war.

It is still not clear whether the leaders can make any progress in closed-door talks on the nuclear issue – which has plagued US and South Korean officials for decades.

Expectations are low, given the collapse of previous breakthroughs.

Security personnel jogged alongside Mr Kim's car as he went for lunch
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Security personnel jogged alongside Mr Kim’s car as he went for lunch

The meeting comes ahead of a planned summit in several weeks between Mr Kim and Donald Trump.

Mr Kim will be keen to discuss the nearly 30,000 heavily armed US troops stationed in South Korea and the lack of a formal peace treaty ending the Korea War – the two factors Mr Kim cites as making nuclear weapons necessary.

Siobhan Robbins, Sky’s South East Asia Correspondent, said: “Both sides are acutely aware a breakdown of talks could catapult the peninsula towards fresh conflict or push the fiery and unpredictable Donald Trump to order a pre-emptive strike.

“History has proven on this peninsula the road to peace is littered with failure.

“If, as many fear, in a few months the Kim family smiles turn out to be fake, the consequences for the world could be truly devastating.”

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COVID-19: Israel bans all passenger flights in and out of country | World News

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Israel is banning all passenger flights in and out of the country to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and prevent variants from getting a foothold among its population.

The announcement came as Israeli police clashed in a number of cities with ultra-Orthodox protesters who are resisting the coronavirus safety rules, Associated Press reported.

Authorities are struggling to enforce COVID-19 requirements, including social distancing, in ultra-Orthodox communities throughout the country, contributing to one of the world’s highest rates of infection.

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One-in-five Israelis now vaccinated

The infection rate among the community also threatens to undermine the Israeli government’s successful vaccine campaign, which has seen the country vaccinate over a quarter of its 9.2 million people.

But infection rates remain high, with an average of over 8,000 new cases reported every day.

Late on Sunday evening, the Israeli Cabinet approved measures to close nearly all incoming and outgoing air traffic, with exceptions for humanitarian travel such as for a funeral or for medical patients.

The order still requires parliamentary legislation to be made lawful and will last until the end of January, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He said: “Today we are closing Ben-Gurion International Airport. Contrary to what is being said, we are ahead of the whole world. No country has done what we are about to do.

“We are hermetically closing the skies apart from very rare exceptions in order to prevent the entry of mutated viruses and in order to ensure that we will advance quickly with our vaccines operation.

“I would like to emphasise that just this week, in which we are approving closing the skies, we will vaccinate another approximately one million Israelis.”

“We are thereby ensuring that the damage from the mutation, if it enters, and from additional variants, if they enter, will be much smaller, and of course, we will be able to open our economy,” Mr Netanyahu said.

“Until now we have vaccinated approximately 2.5 million Israeli citizens with the first dose of the vaccine. Of these, around one million citizens have received the second dose,” the prime minister concluded.

Experts say that a lack of compliance with safety regulations in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities has been a major factor in the spread of the virus.

Despite making up just over 10% of the country’s population, the Orthodox community accounts for more than a third of Israel’s COVID-19 cases.

The country’s police force have been reluctant to confront the community, reported Associated Press, with clashes in one city leading to an officer firing into the air to keep a crowd at bay.

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives his vaccination
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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has received a jab

Israel has recorded over 595,000 positive cases since the start of the pandemic and over 4,361 deaths.

The worst unrest on Sunday occurred in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, where large crowds of young men clashed with police and threatened journalists, prompting one police officer to fire his pistol into the air.

Associated Press reported how in Jerusalem police fired tear gas and putrid-smelling water to disperse hundreds of ultra-Orthodox residents outside a reopened school while the demonstrators called the police “Nazis”.

“I expect all citizens of Israel to respect the safety guidelines. That includes all the sectors, including the ultra-Orthodox,” said Mr Netanyahu, who is relying on ultra-Orthodox support in the upcoming elections.

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COVID-19: Joe Biden to reimpose travel ban on UK and European Union – reports | US News

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US President Joe Biden is set to reimpose a number of travel bans that were repealed by his predecessor, according to the Reuters news agency.

Mr Biden is also set to put a travel ban in place to arrivals from South Africa, apparently over fears of the new coronavirus variant discovered in the country.

Donald Trump lifted travel restrictions between the US and Brazil and Europe two days before he left office – a decision Joe Biden will imminently rescind through an executive order.

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Joe Biden makes sombre warning to Americans

Speaking to the Reuters news agency, anonymous sources said the new president will announce the move on Monday, that will stop entry into the US from European Union countries, the UK, Brazil and South Africa.

The move has been confirmed to the news agency by the principal director of the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Dr Anne Schuchat, who said: “We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa.”

She added the agency was “putting in place this suite of measures to protect Americans and also to reduce the risk of these variants spreading and worsening the current pandemic”.

The CDC is concerned that vaccines may be less effective against the COVID-19 variant discovered in South Africa, adding it is up to 50% more infectious than other versions of the virus.

Mr Biden has been seen as taking swift action on COVID-19 in the early days of office, and has already signed executive orders imposing mandatory mask wearing and social distancing on government properties across the US.

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The UK has also been mulling the idea of full border closures as part of the current lockdown, in an effort to limit the introduction of further variants into the country.

At the moment, flights arriving in to the UK from South America and Portugal are banned, with all other arrivals required to quarantine for 10 days.

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Mexico: 19 burned bodies found near town of Camargo on US border | World News

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Nineteen bodies have been found near a Mexican town on the US border which has seen a number of gang-related disputes in recent years.

The bodies, which had been shot and burned, were discovered on a dirt road close to the town of Camargo, across the Rio Grande from Texas, after complaints from locals about a burning vehicle, according to the Tamaulipas state prosecutor’s office.

Officials found two vehicles on fire – one containing 15 bodies and the other containing four.

All the bodies had been shot, but no shells were found nearby, leading authorities to believe they had been killed elsewhere.

An official said that the killings had happened on Friday, but locals had been too afraid to report them.

Camargo has faced high numbers of drug and migrant smuggling incidents in recent years, with gangs trying to win control of large stretches of the border with the aim of making money on items passing through.

Historically, the town has been run by the Gulf cartel, but has faced competition in recent years from the Northeast cartel, which is trying to take over.

In January last year, 21 bodies were found in vehicles close to the nearby town of Ciudad Mier, with the Mexican army killing 11 alleged gunmen days later.

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