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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: Overweight and obese more likely to test positive for the virus | World News

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People with a higher body mass index – BMI – are more likely to test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, a study suggests.

Research by Chaim Sheba Medical Centre in Israel found that people who are overweight – with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 – are 22% more likely to contract the virus.

The figure for people who are obese – with a BMI between 30 and 34.9 – rises to 27%.

For those who are morbidly obese, with a BMI at or above 40, the risk increases by 86%.

Some 26,030 people were tested between 16 March and 31 December last year and 1,178 positive COVID-19 tests were recorded.

Even after age, sex, and other medical conditions were considered, the relationship between BMI and the probability of a person testing positive remained significant, the researchers found.

The study authors concluded: “As BMI rises above normal, the likelihood of a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result increases, even when adjusted for a number of patient variables.

“Furthermore, some of the comorbidities associated with obesity appear to either be associated with an increased risk of infection or to be protective.”

People with diabetes were 30% more likely to test positive, while the likelihood was six times greater for those with high blood pressure.

But the risk was reduced for those with a history of stroke (by 39%), ischemic heart disease (by 55%) and chronic kidney disease (by 45%).

The researchers were unable to explain this.

Also, research by the IRCCS Policlinico San Donato research hospital in Italy, has found that abdominal obesity is more important than general obesity in predicting the severity of chest X-ray results in coronavirus patients.

Abdominal obesity is fat around the waist as opposed to general obesity, which is determined by BMI.

Chest X-ray severity scores were calculated by dividing each lung into three zones, with each one scoring a maximum of three points – zero for normal lung performance and three for poor function.

Some 59% of patients with abdominal obesity had a high score, whereas this was true for just 35% of those without abdominal obesity.

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Hamas says it has fired rockets at Jerusalem in retaliation for Israeli ‘aggression’ | World News

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A number of rockets have been fired at Jerusalem and the surrounding area, says Israel’s military.

It came minutes after an ultimatum from Hamas for Israel to withdraw forces from two flashpoints in the city.

The group claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it retaliation for Israeli “crimes and aggression”.

Israel carried out a missile strike in northern Gaza in response, causing injuries, according to Palestinian media.

Seven rockets had set off sirens in Jerusalem and the surrounding area and rocket fire from Gaza was continuing, said Israel’s military.

A civilian car was hit and one person injured by one of the rockets, it added.

Sky’s Mark Stone, in Jerusalem, said he understood a number of rockets were fired at an area 10-15km west of the city.

He said Israel’s Iron Dome defence system is believed to have destroyed most, but that a few landed.

Stone said the attack was almost certain to mean a “heavy night of bombardment” on Hamas base the Gaza Strip this evening.

It comes as clashes in Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israeli forces reportedly injured more than 300 people.

Police fired stun grenades and tear gas inside the Old City’s Al Aqsa Mosque during the violence this morning.

Israeli authorities said “extremists” had thrown stones and other objects at officers, and onto a road near the Western Wall where thousands of people had gathered to pray.

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COVID-19: Ireland getting back to normal as restrictions on gatherings, shopping and travel ease | World News

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Life in Ireland is returning to normal with the easing of some lockdown restrictions including rules affecting meeting people, travel and shopping.

From Monday, click-and-collect services and in-store shopping by appointment will be allowed as part of a phased reopening of non-essential retail.

The sector is scheduled to reopen fully in a week.

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Close contact services, such as hairdressers, can resume, while COVID restrictions on travel between counties have lifted and some of the limitations on indoor and outdoor social gatherings have eased.

From today, up to 50 people can attend religious services in Ireland, including weddings and funerals, although a maximum of six will be allowed at indoor wedding receptions and 15 at outdoor celebrations.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin with Brenda Dillon who administered his AstraZeneca jab in Cork on Sunday
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Taoiseach Micheal Martin with Brenda Dillon who administered his AstraZeneca jab in Cork on Sunday

Three households, or up to six people from individual households, can now meet outdoors, including in private gardens.

People from vaccinated households can also meet with an unvaccinated household indoors without masks or social distancing.

But it applies only if they are not at risk of severe illness and there are no more than three households present.

A vaccination centre has been opened at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin
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A vaccination centre has been opened at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin

This measure will enable grandparents to meet and hug other family members indoors.

Many museums, galleries and libraries are now able to reopen and groups, or pods, of up to 15 adults can get together for team sports training.

The maximum permitted capacity on public transport has also increased to 50%.

Next Monday retail will reopen fully, with a variety of other restrictions due to lift in June.

On Sunday, Ireland’s leader, Taoiseach Micheal Martin, said he hoped Ireland could look forward to a good summer.

An empty city centre shopping street during the coronavirus lockdown in Dublin
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An empty city centre shopping street during the coronavirus lockdown in Dublin

Speaking after he received an AstraZeneca vaccine in Cork, Mr Martin said: “I think we’re making great progress as a country.

“I think people have done extremely well in responding to the various guidelines over the last number of months and the results are that we are emerging from this pandemic.

“We’re set to have a good summer if we can keep this progress going and the vaccination is certainly helping in bring down severe illness and bringing down death and hospitalisation, so keep with it and we’re making progress.”

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Ireland’s vaccination programme continues to gather pace and on Friday the country achieved a record for the number of jabs administered in one day, 52,000.

Another two coronavirus-related deaths and 514 more cases were recorded by the country’s department of health, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to almost 253,000.

A total of 4,921 people have died after catching the illness.

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