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Pope loses skullcap in breezy Easter conditions in St Peter’s Square

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Pope Francis suffered a wardrobe malfunction as he was driven around St Peter’s Square, greeting thousands of well-wishers on Easter Sunday.

As he weaved through worshippers gathered for mass at the Vatican, his “zucchetto” (skullcap) lifted off his head amid breezy conditions.

Easter Mass at St Peter's Square in Rome
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Tens of thousands of people arrived from around the world

He briefly looked in the direction it had flown before carrying on waving to the pilgrims.

Francis began the Easter Sunday celebrations by tweeting: “Our faith is born on Easter morning: Jesus is alive!

“This experience is at the heart of the Christian message.”

Pope Francis waving from the balcony of St Peter's basilica
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A wave from the balcony of St Peter’s basilica

During his main address, he called for “reconciliation” in the Middle East, and an end to the “carnage” in Syria.

Francis said there should be better access to humanitarian aid, and “fitting conditions for the return of the displaced”.

And he hoped that forthcoming talks between North and South Korea would “advance harmony and peace” in the region.

Lebanese Christians celebrate Easter on the outskirts of Beirut
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Lebanese Christians celebrate Easter on the outskirts of Beirut

People who had come from around the world to be present on Easter Sunday were faced with heavy security, including the use of metal detector wands and bag checks.

Some 50,000 tulips, daffodils, roses and orchids were donated for the occasion by The Netherlands, under a long-standing tradition.

The Queen arriving at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle
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The Queen arriving at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle

As Easter celebrations took place around the world, the Queen and other members of the Royal Family attended a service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where Prince Harry will marry Meghan Markle in May.

Prince Philip, who was absent, had not been due to attend. It is understood the 96-year-old has been experiencing some trouble with his hip.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a Sung Eucharist service at Canterbury Cathedral.

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Australia mice plague sees rodents biting people’s feet and crawling over their faces | World News

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A persisting plague of mice in a part of Australia is making life a misery for many with people woken up by the rodents biting their feet – or crawling across their faces.

The infestation in a rural area of New South Wales, triggered after a bumper grain harvest led to a mass breeding season, has caused tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage and sparked warnings that hard-hit residents face “meltdown”.

The pest invasion comes on the back of one of the worst droughts on record and bushfires.

Residents in the small town of Tottenham have been left exhausted as they struggle to deal with the swarm.

They have spent every morning since February sweeping away thousands of dead mice before laying out fresh bait and traps to kill more.

The onslaught did start to improve a few weeks ago with colder and wetter conditions.

But drier weather has caused the plague to ramp back up.

Tonnes of grain cannot be sold because it’s been contaminated by mice droppings and truckloads of hay will be burnt because of the damage.

The local school has also been inundated.

Principal John Southon said “kids don’t blink” when mice regularly scurry across their desk.

He has told students to bring their lunch in sealed containers.

Mr Southon said: “They are in every aspect of our lives, our homes our cars, washing basket.

“Eventually people are going to have a meltdown because it’s constant and wears you down.”

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Ireland’s health service shuts down IT systems over ‘significant ransomware attack’ | World News

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Ireland’s health service has closed down its computer systems after what it described as a “significant ransomware attack”.

The Republic’s Health Service Executive (HSE) said it had shut down its entire IT network as a “precaution.”

It said COVID-19 vaccinations were not affected by the attack.

“There is a significant ransomware attack on the HSE IT systems,” the HSE said on Twitter.

“We have taken the precaution of shutting down all our IT systems in order to protect them from this attack and to allow us fully assess the situation with our own security partners.”

It added: “We apologise for inconvenience caused to patients and to the public and will give further information as it becomes available.

“Vaccinations not affected are going ahead as planned.”

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Israeli ground forces launch attacks on Gaza as fighting worsens | World News

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Israeli ground forces began launching attacks on Gaza in a widening of hostilities as Israel braced for more internal strife between its Arab and Jewish citizens following Friday prayers.

The Israeli military said air and ground forces were firing at the Hamas-run enclave, though it does not appear to mean the start of a ground invasion, with Sky News witnessing troops launching artillery and tank rounds from Israel’s side of the border.

“I said we would extract a very heavy price from Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement. “We are doing that, and we will continue to do that with heavy force.”

Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system has intercepted many of the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip

Thousands of Israeli forces along with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery are massing along the frontier with Gaza, preparing to push inside if given the order, in what would be a hugely significant escalation.

Unperturbed, Palestinian militants continued to launch rockets from the strip towards Israel into Friday morning.

At least 109 Palestinians have died since the exchanges began on Monday, including 28 children and 15 women, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Palestinian militants have said 20 of their fighters are among the dead, though Israeli officials said this figure is much higher.

Almost half of the deaths happened on Thursday – the deadliest day so far.

On the Israeli side, seven people have been killed, including two children and a soldier.

But this is a crisis on many fronts, as decades of Israeli-Palestinian trauma erupt into clashes on the streets of many towns and cities inside Israel – with Arabs and Jews, who had lived together peacefully, turning on each other, prompting warnings of a risk of civil war.

Synagogues have been attacked, cars torched and individuals beaten up by mobs in the worst internal violence in decades.

New protests could erupt following Friday prayers, with al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City a potential flashpoint.

It was at this walled compound – one of the most sacred sites in Islam, which is also revered by Jews and Christians – that violence between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters on Monday sparked the first volley of rockets from Gaza into Israel that ignited the wider crisis.

A Palestinian boy looks at ruins of buildings which were destroyed in Israeli air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip. Pic:  Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock
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The blockaded strip is home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee. Pic: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

There is of course a regional dimension as well.

On Thursday night, three rockets were fired towards Israel from Lebanon. They landed harmlessly in the Mediterranean Sea in what appears to have been a show of solidarity with Gaza by Palestinian groups in Lebanon rather than the start of a separate offensive.

With so much at stake, frantic diplomatic efforts are underway to try to broker a ceasefire.

Egyptian officials have been speaking with both sides as have officials from the United Nations. The US has dispatched a senior diplomat to the region and Russian President Vladimir Putin has added his voice to those calling for both sides to de-escalate.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said he spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant overreaction”.

He said the goal is to “get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centres”, and called the effort “a work in progress”.

The UN Security Council is due to hold its first public session on the situation on Sunday after the US objected to an open session on Friday, apparently wanting to give diplomacy a little longer to have an effect.

However, with bombardments between the two sides – unprecedented in their intensity – entering their fifth day, there is no obvious sign that diplomacy is cooling heads.

The Israel Defence Forces has hit close to 1,000 targets in Gaza, including multi-storey buildings, rocket launch sites and individual Hamas military commanders. But this blockaded strip of territory is also home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee.

Overnight, masses of red flames illuminated the skies as deafening blasts from the outskirts of Gaza City jolted people awake.

The strikes were so strong that people inside the city, several miles away, could be heard screaming in fear, according to the AP news agency.

At the same time, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a fellow Palestinian militant group, have fired close to 2,000 rockets towards Israel. Many were shot down by the country’s air defence system but some have penetrated deep into Israeli territory, including the commercial capital of Tel Aviv, sending families racing into shelters.

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