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Yulia Skripal says her ‘strength is growing daily’

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Yulia Skripal has said her “strength is growing daily” in her first statement since she and her father were poisoned in Salisbury last month.

In the statement issued by the Metropolitan Police on behalf of the 33-year-old, Ms Skripal revealed she “woke up over a week ago” after being exposed to a nerve agent in the Wiltshire city.

She said: “I am grateful for the interest in me and for the many messages of goodwill that I have received.

“I have many people to thank for my recovery and would especially like to mention the people of Salisbury that came to my aid when my father and I were incapacitated.

“Further than that, I would like to thank the staff at Salisbury District Hospital for their care and professionalism.

“I am sure you appreciate that the entire episode is somewhat disorientating, and I hope that you’ll respect my privacy and that of my family during the period of my convalescence.”

In the statement, Ms Skripal made no mention of the condition of her father Sergei.

The forensic tent covering a bench in the Maltings shopping centre  is blown over by the wind
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The Skripals were found collapsed on a bench on 4 March

The Skripals have been treated at Salisbury District Hospital since being found collapsed on a public bench on 4 March.

The UK Government blames Russia for the use of military-grade novichok in the attempted murder of ex-Russian spy Mr Skripal and his daughter. Moscow has denied the accusations.

The Russian Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, told journalists on Thursday he was “really happy” about the news of Ms Skripal’s condition and expressed hope her father would also recover.

He added he was “quite sure” Ms Skripal would return to her job and apartment in Moscow, but it would be the “choice” of Mr Skripal whether or not he returns to Russia.

The 66-year-old was sentenced to 13 years in a Russian jail in 2006 after being accused of acting as a double agent for Britain.

Sergei Skripal was imprisoned in 2010 after being found guilty of selling secrets to British intelligence
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There has been no word on Sergei Skripal’s recent condition

The former intelligence officer was part of a spy swap with the US in 2010, after which he flew to the UK and settled in Salisbury.

“From the point of the Russian state, Russia has no problems with him,” Mr Yakovenko said.

“Because, you know, he was sentenced, he spent several years in a prison and then he’s like any other citizens, he’s clear, that’s it.

“So, for us, they [the Skripals] are just Russian citizens.”

The Foreign Office revealed Ms Skripal has so far rejected the Russian embassy’s offer of consular help.

Russia's Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko
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Alexander Yakovenko said he is ‘really happy’ about Ms Skripal’s improvement

A spokesperson said: “We are pleased that Yulia’s condition has improved and pay tribute to the medical staff who have been treating her and Mr Skripal since they were attacked.

“We have conveyed to Ms Skripal the Russian embassy’s offer of consular assistance.

“Ms Skripal is now able to choose if and when to take up this offer, but to date she has not done so.”

Ms Skripal’s statement came after Russian state TV aired what it said was a phone conversation between Ms Skripal and her cousin Viktoria Skripal, which it said it obtained from the latter.

Ms Skripal was quoted as having told the cousin: “Everything is fine, everything is fixable, everyone is getting better.”

Asked about her father, Ms Skripal was said to have added: “Everything is fine, he is resting, sleeping. Everyone’s health is fine.”

Ms Skripal was also reported to have claimed she would soon be discharging herself from hospital.


VR reconstruction of Skripal final movements



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VR reconstruction of Russia spy’s movements

On Thursday evening, a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York will discuss the Salisbury poisoning amid a deepening diplomatic rift between Moscow and London.

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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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Fresh uncertainty for UK tourists as Portugal extends ‘state of calamity’ until 30 May | UK News

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Britons hoping for a holiday in Portugal when travel restrictions lift next week are facing fresh uncertainty after the country extended its “state of calamity”.

The second-highest level of alert is going to remain in place until 30 May at the earliest, almost two weeks after the country is added to a “green list” of destinations where holidaymakers can go without having to isolate on their return.

Portugal would have been one of the few options for travellers seeking a quick sunny break, as many of the other countries on the “green list” are either closed to tourists, too cold, or too remote.

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Portugal would have been one of the few options for sun-seeking British tourists

Other popular hotspots such as Greece, Italy, Spain and France are on the amber list, requiring 10 days of isolation and two COVID-19 tests on return to the UK.

The new restrictions cast a shadow over the Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea that is due to take place in Porto on 29 May – an event that has already been moved from Turkey, which is on the red list.

When asked whether restrictions on travel from the UK would be lifted, Portuguese Cabinet office minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said she had “no information to give yet”.

In comments reported by the BBC, she said: “Work is going on and as soon as there is a decision it will be announced, but no decision was taken in this cabinet meeting.”

She said British fans could still come to see the football game but they would need to fly on charter planes, arriving and leaving on the same day.

On Thursday, the world’s largest travel firm warned it may be forced to cancel holiday flights to Portugal, just as the UK allows them again, because of a continuing EU ban on non-essential travel from countries outside the bloc.

TUI, which told Sky News earlier this week that people were giving up on booking a break abroad because of a lack of clarity on the rules, said holidays could not happen unless “borders are open”.

The “state of calamity” means non-residents of Portugal can only enter if their travel is essential, a COVID test is required within 72 hours of departure, and even those with a negative result can still be refused permission to board a flight or be made to quarantine in government-approved accommodation on arrival.

It is understood the UK government has been speaking with Portuguese representatives this week about unlocking travel between the two countries.

The government is also talking to the European Commission about how to safely reopen travel on the continent, the PA news agency understands.

Portugal has reported 840,929 cases of COVID-19, with 16,999 deaths.

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