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Trump administration announces softer US stance on Israeli settlements in West Bank | UK News

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Mike Pompeo has said the US is softening its position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank – the latest move from the Trump administration to anger Palestinians.

The US Secretary of State rebutted a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law”.

The move weakens Palestinian claims to statehood and puts the US at odds with other nations working to end the conflict.

Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law
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Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law

However the latest US backing of Israel came as a victory for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to remain in power after two inconclusive elections this year.

Mr Pompeo said US statements regarding the settlements – which Israel captured during a 1967 war – had been inconsistent.

He said Democrat President Jimmy Carter found they were not consistent in 1978, and that Republican President Ronald Reagan said he did not view them as inherently illegal in 1981.

Mr Pompeo said that legal questions about the issue should be addressed by Israeli courts.

He added: “Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace.

“The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”

His announcement was praised by Mr Netanyahu but condemned by Palestinian officials.

Tear gas fumes are fired during a demonstration by Palestinian journalists alongside Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank
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Tear gas fumes are fired during a demonstration by Palestinian journalists alongside Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank
A Palestinian journalist carries away a child as other photojournalists assist a falling woman as they walk amidst tear gas canisters
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Palestinian journalists help a child and a falling woman as tear gas is fired around them

The US also issued a warning to Americans in the region to exercise greater vigilance because those opposing the move “may target US government facilities, US private interests and US citizens”.

Mr Netanyahu said the US decision “rights a historical wrong” and called on other countries to take a similar stance.

A statement from Mr Netanyahu’s office said: “Israel is deeply grateful to President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and the entire US administration for their steadfast position supporting truth and justice, and calls upon all responsible countries who hope to advance peace to adopt a similar position.”

Meanwhile Palestinians voiced outrage.

A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas condemned Mr Pompeo’s announcement, claiming settlements are illegal under international law.

Trump's move might have been designed to help Benjamin Netanyahu as he struggles to stay in power
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Trump’s move might have been designed to help Benjamin Netanyahu as he struggles to stay in power

“The US administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Trump administration was threatening “to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle'”.

Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, said the US policy change would have “dangerous consequences” for the prospects of reviving peace talks. He called settlements “a blatant violation of international law and United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

Past Trump administration pro-Israeli moves include President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as the movement of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.



Video from a traffic camera in central Israel captured the moment on Tuesday when a rocket strikes a major highway only metres from several passing vehicles.







Gaza-fired rocket lands on Israel highway

Mr Pompeo said the move was not intended to prejudge the status of the West Bank, which the Palestinians hope will become part of an eventual Palestinian state in a wider resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate,” he said, adding that the US decision was not meant “to compel a particular outcome nor create any legal obstacle to a negotiated resolution”.

Mr Pompeo’s announcement is likely to please evangelical Christians – an important part of Mr Trump’s political base – which he is relying on to help him win re-election in 2020.

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Coronavirus: Britain beware – Israel living the consequences of trying to return to normal | World News

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I live in Israel.

It is a country praised for the way it handled the coronavirus outbreak in March. There was clear guidance and a swift, hard, lockdown.

But it is now a place living the consequences of trying to return to normal.

People wear masks on a train in central Jerusalem
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People wearing masks on a train in central Jerusalem

In the UK, Boris Johnson says “we are very much through the worst” of the pandemic.

While we all dearly hope he is right, there are salutary lessons to learn by looking at the experiences of others battling this global virus.

Is Israel’s curve on the graph a warning for us all? Cases here are now at their highest-ever level.

It’s just over a month since Israelis were allowed back to bars, restaurants, beaches and shops.

I remember the euphoria clearly, and I shared it.

Our favourite restaurants were open once again and the beach our kids love was accessible at last.

Friends back in the UK were envious of our freedom: “You’re going camping?!”

I remember too the mixed emotions as I drove down a packed Tel Aviv promenade. It was great to see so many people out again. Normality. But what would this mean for the virus? Its habitat had returned.



Restaurants have opened in Jerusalem using social distancing measures







How to social distance in a cafe

There were regulations in an attempt to block the virus. Masks were made mandatory in all public places: inside and out. The washing of hands, the two-metre rule and restrictions for large gatherings were all central to the Israeli armour.

On the morning bars and cafes were allowed to reopen we visited a Jerusalem coffee shop and were impressed by the way they were sticking to the regulations.

But as the days passed, human nature set in. Masks were routinely round the chin, not the face. Two metres quickly turned into one, then half. And as the weather turned hotter, the beaches became even more crowded.

We’ve already seen the images of packed English beaches. This weekend’s images of pints being pulled in packed pubs will for many be very comforting; normality returning.



TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - APRIL 19: Israelis light flash lights as they protest at a rally in Rabin Square on April 19, 2020 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Thousands of Israelis gather at an Anti-Corruption rally under coronavirus restrictions, decrying proposed unity government talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz.  (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)







Israeli protesters follow strict social distancing

But beware, the UK is a few weeks behind Israel. At the beginning of this week, Israel (a country of only 8.6m people) had 450 new cases.

By Thursday night it was recording 1,000 new cases – the most it has ever recorded in a single day. The peak now is higher than the first one.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement to the nation on Thursday evening was blunt.

“Citizens of Israel, the corona crisis is continuing to hit the world,” he said.

“There were those here who took this lightly. They said that the virus would go away on its own, but it has not gone away. They said, ‘In summer, the heat will eliminate the virus’. However, reality has proven this assumption to be baseless. Summer is here and so is the virus in a big way, unfortunately.”

In the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, a full five-day total lockdown has now been re-imposed.

Across Israel, new local lockdowns are being put in place.

As I write, most cases are mild but serious cases seem to be doubling every few days. Hospital overload is the fear.

Benjamin Netanyahu
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Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the virus ‘has not gone away’

Mr Netanyahu said: “I want to tell you, citizens of Israel: The easiest thing to do would be to leave the situation as is, everything open, everyone apparently satisfied, but if we do this, we will very quickly lose control because the rate is exponential, geometric.

“What seems to you reasonable now would become thousands and tens of thousands of new cases. We cannot go there. If we do not take action, in another week we will have a record number of cases that includes more and more severe cases – and I do not want to reach the same hermetic shutdown that we were in.”

As countries globally tackle their own crises and prepare their own responses, the tendency is to look only inward and not around us.

But this is a global crisis. We are all in it together. There is huge benefit, surely, in sharing our experiences and learning from others.

In Israel, the lockdown was rightly lifted. But then the armour against the virus fell away fast: the masks slipped down, the distancing got smaller, the gatherings grew larger.

We are suffering the consequences now.

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Carbon monoxide ‘likely’ to have affected New Year’s Eve crash pilot | World News

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A pilot whose seaplane crashed in 2017 killing five Britons is likely to have had his ability to fly impaired by carbon monoxide, according to investigators.

British businessman Richard Cousins, the chief executive of the world’s largest contract catering company Compass, was killed along with his two sons, Edward, 23, and William, 25, his fiancee Emma Bowden and her 11-year-old daughter Heather, during a New Year’s Eve sightseeing trip near Sydney which ended in tragedy.

The de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, piloted by Canadian Gareth Morgan, who also died, plunged into the Hawkesbury River off Jerusalem Bay, 25 miles north of Sydney, after picking the family group up from an exclusive restaurant.

Richard Cousins, Will Cousins, Ed Cousins, Emma and Heather Bowden
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Richard Cousins (top left), Edward Cousins (top right), Will Cousins (bottom left) and Emma and Heather Bowden

Releasing an update on the investigation, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said blood tests indicated the pilot and two of the passengers had elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

The bureau’s chief commissioner Greg Hood said: “From … consultation with medical experts, and research into the effects of carbon monoxide on aircraft operations, the ATSB considers the levels of carbon monoxide were likely to have adversely affected the pilot’s ability to control the aircraft.”

A preliminary report from 2018 said the plane came down away from the expected and standard flight path, crashing in a near-vertical position.

At the time, Aaron Shaw, chief executive of operator Sydney Seaplanes, said the aircraft “simply should not have been where it was” and that the manoeuvres prior to the crash were “inexplicable”.

As part of the ATSB investigation, the aircraft has been examined and there have been attempts to replicate the potential source of carbon monoxide and its entry into the aircraft cabin.

They found pre-existing cracking of part of the engine exhaust, which could lead to leakage into the engine bay.

Mr Hood added: “This investigation is ongoing, and our final report, which will contain specific findings, is anticipated to be released in coming months, so we are limited in discussing specific details.

“However, if at any time during an investigation, should the ATSB identify issues that are critical to safety, we will immediately notify relevant stakeholders so proactive safety action can be taken to help prevent similar occurrences.”

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France: Jean Castex named new prime minister as Emmanuel Macron seeks to win back voters | World News

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France’s new prime minister has been named as Jean Castex following the resignation of Edouard Philippe, triggering a government reshuffle.

Speculation had been growing that a shake-up at the Elysee Palace was imminent – with French President Emmanuel Macron seeking to boost his green credentials and win back disillusioned voters.

Mr Philippe had actually seen his popularity increase significantly in recent weeks – despite French authorities facing criticism over their handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Edouard Philippe
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Edouard Philippe had served as prime minister since 2017

Nonetheless, rumours over his future had swirled since mid-June, when Mr Macron declared he wanted to “reinvent” his presidency.

In French government reshuffles, the prime minister tenders his or her resignation ahead of cabinet appointments, but can still be renamed to the position.

However, the Elysee Palace has announced the relatively low-profile Mr Castex, who coordinated France‘s COVID-19 reopening strategy, as the new officer-holder.

It will be a big political gamble for Mr Macron to replace Mr Philippe, who is more popular with the public than the
president.

More from Emmanuel Macron

His resignation could create a potential rival for Mr Macron, who is seeking to be re-elected in 2022.

Mr Macron has paid tribute to Mr Phillippe’s “outstanding work” in the past three years.

Mr Macron's party was defeated in major cities during Sunday's local election
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Mr Macron’s party was defeated in major cities during Sunday’s local election

The president is seeking to open a new chapter for the two remaining years of his term that will focus on efforts to relaunch the French economy deeply hit by COVID-19.

In local elections on Sunday, Mr Macron’s young centrist party faced defeat in France’s biggest cities as a green wave swept over the country.

In an interview given to several local newspapers on Thursday, Mr Macron, said he was seeking a “new path” to rebuild the country during the rest of his term.

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