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There was ‘no reason for me to resign’



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WASHINGTON — Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin maintained Sunday that he was fired and did not resign from his post, despite conflicting claims from the White House.

“I came to fight for our veterans and I had no intention of giving up,” Shulkin said on Sunday’s “Meet The Press.” “There would be no reason for me to resign. I made a commitment, I took an oath, and I was here to fight for our veterans.”

A White House spokesperson told Politico on Saturday that Shulkin “resigned,” despite the former Cabinet member’s public statements saying otherwise. And asked on “Meet The Press” if he submitted a letter of resignation, Shulkin responded, “No, I did not.”

The terms of Shulkin’s departure could have an impact on President Donald Trump’s ability to pick a replacement, as some legal experts believe federal law could limit the president’s ability to fill the position if he did not resign. Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday his White House physician, Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, would be appointed to the role.

Shulkin said he found out about his dismissal in a phone call from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly shortly before the tweet was sent.

“He just simply said that the president had decided that he needed to make a change,” Shulkin said.

Shulkin said he spoke with Trump mere hours before the tweet was sent, and that the phone call did not leave him with any impression that he was about to be ousted.

“We talked a lot about issues the VA that were important and how we could continue to make progress on policy issues,” he said. “In fact, we had set up a meeting for the very next day where I was going to meet with him at 11:00 in the morning.”

The decision on new VA leadership, Shulkin said, was “somewhat of a surprise.”

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Israel assembles troops at Gaza border as international flights cancelled over safety fears | World News



Israel has assembled thousands of troops at the Gaza border, as it prepares for a possible ground operation while airstrikes continue on both sides.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has called up 7,000 reservists, cancelled all weekend leave for combat soldiers and is at “various stages of preparing ground operations”, a spokesperson told The Times of Israel.

Hamas launched hundreds more rockets towards Israel on Thursday, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his forces had carried out strikes on almost 1,000 targets.

The violence in the region, which began on Monday, is at its worst since the 50-day war of 2014.

Troops at the border with Gaza. Pic: AP
Troops at the border with Gaza. Pic: AP

Key developments:

• 87 people – including 18 children and eight women – have been killed and 530 injured in Gaza

• Seven people have been confirmed dead in Israel, with more than 200 wounded

• Hamas has acknowledged the death of 13 of its militants, including its Gaza City commander

• Smaller group Islamic Jihad says seven of its militants have been killed

• 1,600 rockets have been fired towards Israel since Monday, with 400 falling short and landing inside Gaza

• Israel says it has hit 600 Hamas targets and destroyed three high-rise buildings in Gaza

• Fears of civil war amid mob fighting between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs in “mixed” areas

• Flights to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv cancelled and redirected

• International community calls for “urgent de-escalation” with Egyptian mediators on the ground and a US envoy on his way

“We will soon pass 1,000 targets,” Mr Netanyahu said on Thursday. “We continue striking Hamas while defending our citizens.

“It will take more time… but we will achieve our goal of bringing back calm to the state of Israel.”

Despite Egyptian negotiators arriving in Gaza and Tel Aviv on Thursday, there was no sign of a ceasefire on either side.

Hamas said it fired its most powerful rocket towards Ramon Airport in southern Israel, after targeting the country’s main air hub – Ben Gurion – and the surrounding area earlier in the week.

Israeli helicopter launches flares over the Israeli-Gaza border. Pic:AP
Israeli helicopter launches flares over the Israeli-Gaza border. Pic:AP

Flights are being redirected to Ramon after heavy rocket fire in Tel Aviv and its suburbs on Tuesday and Wednesday.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa and Iberia have all cancelled flights to Tel Aviv.

Social media footage, claimed to have been filmed on a flight from Brussels – one of the first to be redirected to Ramon – purported to show rockets being fired and intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system over the city.

American and other European airlines are avoiding flying to Israel while the fighting continues, with a British Airways spokesman saying: “The safety and security of our colleagues and customers is always our top priority.”

The UN’s fears of “full-scale war” were heightened after a spokesman for Hamas’s military wing threatened to bomb the city of Dimona – the site of Israel’s nuclear reactor.

“The decision to bomb Tel Aviv, Dimona and Jerusalem is easier for us than drinking water,” he said in a video.

Elsewhere, rioting has broken out in “mixed” towns and cities throughout Israel where Arabs and Jews live side-by-side.

Mr Netanyahu told The Times of Israel mob fighting between the two sides risked civil war.

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Violence grips mixed Arab-Jewish towns in Israel

A burnt vehicle is seen after violent confrontations in the city of Lod, Israel between Israeli Arab demonstrators and police, amid high tensions over hostilities between Israel and Gaza militants and tensions in Jerusalem May 12, 2021
A burnt out vehicle in Lod, Israel amid tensions between communities. Pic: AP

After synagogues were attacked, vehicles were set on fire and violence broke out in the street, he said: “Nothing can justify an Arab mob assaulting Jews, and nothing can justify a Jewish mob assaulting Arabs.”

It comes as Muslims in the region celebrated Eid al-Fitr.

They were urged to keep communal prayers and meals inside mosques and their homes, but many have spilled out on to the streets in protest.

Meanwhile, funeral marches have taken place for those killed in the fighting.

International response

Speaking on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “everybody is very concerned” by the “cycle of violence and reprisals” in Israel.

“I think what everybody wants to see is urgent, urgent de-escalation,” he said.

While he acknowledged Israel’s right to defend itself, US President Joe Biden said the attacks on both sides should end “sooner rather than later” and has sent his most senior envoy to help negotiate.

Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City. Pic: AP
Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City. Pic: AP

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres condemned the “indiscriminate launching of rockets” from civilian areas in Gaza towards Israeli population centres, but he also urged Israel to show “maximum restraint”.

And Egyptian negotiators are holding in-person talks with both sides – Hamas leaders in Gaza and Israeli forces in Tel Aviv – to help end the fighting.

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
Israel’s Iron Dome defence system intercepts Hamas missiles

Why did the fighting start?

Since mid-April, there have been clashes on the streets of Jerusalem – a city both Israelis and Palestinians consider to be their capital.

Over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started on 12 April, Israel imposed a limit of 10,000 people gathering for prayers at the al Aqsa mosque.

The mosque is the third most holy site in Islam and is also the site where the Jewish first and second Temples are believed to have been built – known as Temple Mount.

Tens of thousands of Muslims were turned back from the mosque, which was condemned by both moderate Israelis and Palestinians across the board.

Another reason for the increased tension has been the threat of eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah district.

Jewish settler groups have brought their claim for land and property in the Palestinian neighbourhood, which is based in East Jerusalem, to the Israeli Supreme Court.

On 8 May, the holiest day of Ramadan, tens of thousands of Muslims gathered at the al Aqsa mosque, whose compound borders the Western Wall where Jews pray as it is the closest they can get to the foundations of where the temples once stood.

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Why has fighting escalated in Israel?

Israeli police blocked busloads of Muslims from entering the al Aqsa compound, citing unrest in the neighbouring Sheikh Jarrah over the possible court ruling.

On 10 May, Israeli police also used CS gas and stun grenades inside the mosque which drew widespread Palestinian condemnation.

Rockets were fired by Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, in what the militant group says was retaliation for Israeli actions in the al Aqsa compound.

Since that day, hundreds of rockets have been fired from Gaza towards Israel, and the Israeli Air Force has carried out airstrikes pounding Gaza.

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Ryanair offers expenses-paid trips across Europe (for something in return) | Business News



Ryanair, often the butt of jokes about complaints and its attitude towards passengers, is to create a customer advisory panel to help the airline “continue to improve its guest services”.

The company said it was seeking customers from across Europe to join the panel at meetings in cities across the continent from this autumn.

It said the airline would cover flights and accommodation for panel members and a partner ahead of the first planned gathering in Dublin, which would require a two-night stay.

Ryanair planes at Dublin Airport
Ryanair’s headquarters is in Dublin – the first destination for members of its new panel

Ryanair said: “The recommendations from the panel will shape Ryanair’s 2022 customer improvements program, re-enforcing Ryanair’s commitment to delivering the lowest fares, on-time flights and great customer service.”

It called for applications to be submitted via its website before 31 May and said the successful applicants would be notified before 14 June.

Ryanair’s director of marketing and digital, Dara Brady, added: “We are excited to announce our first ever Customer Advisory Panel to allow customers help us drive improvements in Ryanair’s customer care and service.

“While Ryanair cannot be beaten for low fares, choice and on-time flights, as we grow to 200 million passengers p.a (per annum), we are determined to keep listening to our customers and improving our service to them.

“Our new Customer Advisory Panel will provide us with direct feedback and recommendations from customers and will help us deliver an improved service for our guests throughout 2022 and beyond.

“As Ryanair emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic customers can look forward to even more service improvements on new aircraft at even lower prices.”

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COVID-19: Delaying second dose of coronavirus vaccine could cut deaths by up to 20%, study suggests | World News



Delaying the second dose of a COVID vaccine so more people can get a first dose could cut deaths by up to 20%, a study suggests.

The UK chose to use this strategy at the start of its rollout in December, with most people getting their second dose around 12 weeks after their first.

That’s despite a recommended interval of three weeks for the Pfizer jab and four to 12 weeks for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Live COVID updates from UK and around world

The peer-reviewed paper, published in the British Medical Journal, used a simulation model to test a daily rollout rate of 0.1%, 0.3% and 1% of the population.

Researchers found estimated deaths per 100,000 people fell from 442 to 402, 241 to 204, and 86 to 50 respectively – comparing standard dosing with a delayed strategy.

The results assume a first vaccine offers 80% protection, which is the estimate of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The US study found the delayed approach worked especially well for under-65s at all speeds of rollout tested.

“The results suggest that, under specific conditions, a decrease in cumulative mortality, infections, and hospital admissions can be achieved when the second dose of vaccine is delayed,” said the authors – who include experts from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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“This was most significant when the second dose was delayed in people below 65 years of age, with second doses still prioritised for those over 65.

“The conditions in which these benefits were observed included the first-dose vaccine efficacy being above 70% and vaccination rates remaining below 1% of the population per day.”

Dr Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control, said the UK decision to delay second doses had “proven highly effective”.

He said concerns about pushing back the second dose were “misplaced”.

“Everything we already knew about vaccines also tells us that a longer prime-boost interval enhances the breadth and depth of the immune response, giving longer-lasting immunity that is likely to provide greater cross-protection against variant strains,” he said.

“There is relatively little knowledge about this specifically related to COVID-19 vaccines – although such data as we have seen is consistent with this.

“It goes beyond this paper; but it seems likely that increasing the prime-boost interval will lead to better, longer-lasting immunity, as well as protecting more people more quickly.”

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