BBC 2024-02-18 16:31:51

WHO says Gaza hospital raided by IDF not functional

The World Health Organization has said Gaza’s Nasser hospital has ceased to function following an Israeli raid.

Israel Defense Force (IDF) troops entered the complex on Thursday, saying intelligence indicated hostages taken by Hamas were being held there.

The WHO said it had not been allowed to enter the site to assess the situation.

The IDF has described its operation in Nasser as “precise and limited” and accused Hamas of “cynically using hospitals for terror”.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, WHO head Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Nasser hospital in Gaza is not functional anymore, after a week-long siege followed by the ongoing raid.”

“Both yesterday and the day before, the WHO team was not permitted to enter the hospital to assess the conditions of the patients and critical medical needs, despite reaching the hospital compound to deliver fuel alongside partners,” he said.

“There are still about 200 patients in the hospital. At least 20 need to be urgently referred to other hospitals to receive health care; medical referral is every patient’s right.”

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says only four medical staff were left in the hospital trying to care for the remaining patients.

One source inside the hospital, who did not want to be named, told BBC News that 11 patients had died due to interruptions in the supply of electricity and oxygen, and that several doctors had been arrested.

Yesterday, the Israeli military said its troops had been told to keep the hospital running and that food and water had been delivered. Asked about the state of the hospital this morning, an army spokesman said only that they were checking.

Fighting has raged around the Nasser site for weeks. Israel has repeatedly claimed Hamas is using hospitals, along with schools, as operational bases.

The Israeli military says it has killed about 20 Hamas fighters and seized numerous weapons in the area of the hospital.

“Over the past day, dozens of terrorists were eliminated and large quantities of weapons were seized,” the IDF said.

  • Netanyahu vows to press ahead with Rafah offensive
  • Latest ceasefire talks not very promising, says Qatar

At least 1,200 people were killed during attacks in Israel by Hamas-led gunmen on 7 October last year.

In response, Israel launched a military campaign in the Gaza Strip. More than 28,400 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed and more than 68,000 wounded since the war began, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

It added that at least 127 Palestinians have been killed and 205 others injured in the past 24 hours.

Despite the continued fighting in Gaza, efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas have been taking place in Cairo in recent days – although Qatari mediators said recent progress was “not very promising”.

“The pattern in the last few days [is] not really very promising but, as I always repeat, we will always remain optimistic and will always remain pushing,” said Sheik Mohammed, speaking at a meeting of world leaders at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he sent negotiators following a request from US President Joe Biden, but added they did not return for further discussions because Hamas’s demands were “delusional”.

Hamas has blamed Israel for a lack of progress in achieving a ceasefire deal.

The group has laid out a series of conditions, including the exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners, full withdrawal of Israel’s forces and an end to the war after a 135-day pause in fighting, broken into three phases.

Mr Netanyahu has also reiterated the Israeli government is continuing to push its ground invasion of Gaza further south, taking in the area of Rafah, despite international pressure not to do so without first having a plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians who fled there during the early days of the war.

Some 1.5 million people are in Rafah, close to the border with Egypt, after being told by Israeli forces to seek safety there while Hamas targets were attacked in northern, then central, Gaza.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday reiterated his opposition to any forced displacement of Palestinians into Egypt’s Sinai desert.

In a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, both leaders agreed instead on the “necessity of the swift advancement of a ceasefire”, according to a summary.

Mr Sisi has long maintained that the only solution is an independent state for Palestinians.

However, on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu announced that his government had unanimously voted to formally oppose what it called the “unilateral recognition” of Palestinian statehood.

He said any such agreement must be reached through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Israel rejects outright international dictates regarding a permanent accord with the Palestinians. An accord, should it be reached, will only come through direct negotiations between the sides, without preconditions,” a government statement said.

US and UK ambassadors to Russia lay Navalny tributes

The US and UK ambassadors to Moscow have laid flowers to honour Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died in prison on Friday.

US ambassador Lynne Tracy and Britain’s Nigel Casey were pictured paying their respects at a memorial in Moscow.

Navalny’s allies believe he was murdered on the orders of President Vladimir Putin. Prison authorities say he suffered “sudden death syndrome”.

About 400 Russians have been detained at gatherings for the campaigner.

Pictures showed a growing pile of flowers left for Navalny at the Solovetsky Stone – a monument to political repression that has become a major site of tributes for the 47-year-old.

“Today at the Solovetsky Stone we mourn the death of Alexei Navalny and other victims of political repression in Russia,” the US embassy in Moscow said on social media.

“We extend our deepest condolences to Alexei Navalny’s family, colleagues and supporters. His strength is an inspiring example. We honour his memory,” the embassy’s post added.

The UK embassy in Moscow’s account on X, formerly known as Twitter, posted a photo of the British ambassador visiting the memorial on Saturday, and in an earlier post called for a “full and transparent investigation into Navalny’s death.”

They said the Foreign Office had summoned a representative of the Russian embassy, adding “we make it clear that we hold the Russian authorities fully responsible for Alexei’s death.”

  • Rosenberg: Dissent takes courage – and Navalny supporters are defiant
  • In pictures – Navalny’s years as a Putin critic
  • Navalny – what next for Russia?

Navalny’s wife, Yulia, posted an Instagram on Sunday a photo of herself with her husband and the caption “I love you”.

She had earlier called for the Russian president and his allies to be held accountable for her husband’s death.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, confirmed on X that he would welcome Ms Navalnaya at the bloc’s Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.

He said that EU ministers would honour Navalny’s memory and “send a strong message of support to freedom fighters in Russia”.

As tributes pour in for the Kremlin critic, questions remain over the whereabouts of Navalny’s body, with allies accusing the Russian authorities of hiding his body.

Russian prison authorities said on Friday that the opposition activist had become unwell following a walk and had lost consciousness at the remote IK-3 prison in the Arctic Circle – also known as the Siberian “Polar Wolf” penal colony.

Navalny allies said the politician’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, was told his body would only be handed over once a post-mortem examination had been completed, and that the cause of death was said to be “sudden death syndrome” – a generic, vague term for a condition which could cover a cardiac arrest with no apparent cause.

Navalny’s allies said that Ms Navalnaya was told his body had been taken to the town of Salekhard, near the prison complex, but when she arrived the morgue was closed.

Prison officials reportedly told her an initial post-mortem examination was inconclusive and a second would have to be carried out.

The Russian president has not publicly commented on Navalny’s death, but in the immediate aftermath, the Kremlin said it was aware and the president had been informed.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it rejected “biased and unrealistic” assessments over his cause of death made during a meeting with British officials on Saturday.

Alexei Navalny: More coverage

  • OBITUARY: Russia’s most vociferous Putin critic
  • READ MORE: What we know about reports of Navalny’s death
  • BEHIND BARS: Life in notorious ‘Polar Wolf’ penal colony
  • IN HIS OWN WORDS: Navalny’s dark humour during dark times
  • SARAH RAINSFORD: Navalny was often asked: ‘Do you fear for your life?’
  • WATCH: Oscar-winning BBC documentary on Navalny

Biden assures Zelensky US will send $60bn in aid

US President Joe Biden has assured his Ukrainian counterpart that $60bn in military aid is on its way.

The measure still needs to pass a final congressional vote, but Mr Biden told Volodymyr Zelensky that he was confident it would be approved.

Mr Zelensky had earlier made an urgent appeal for more weapons to avoid a “catastrophic” situation in Europe.

The US has blamed Ukraine’s withdrawal from the battle at Avdiivka on a lack of Congressional support.

Taking Avdiivka – a gateway to the Russian-seized Donetsk regional capital in the east – is Russia’s first notable gain since they seized nearby Bakhmut in May.

“Ukraine’s military was forced to withdraw from Avdiivka after Ukrainian soldiers had to ration ammunition due to dwindling supplies as a result of congressional inaction,” a White House statement read.

Earlier this week, the US Senate approved a $95bn (£75bn) foreign aid package – which includes $60bn for Ukraine – after months of political wrangling. But it still faces an uphill battle in the House of Representatives, where members of the Republican Party are divided on the measure.

“Look, the Ukrainian people have fought so bravely and heroically, they’ve put so much on the line and the idea that now, when they’re running out of ammunition, we’d walk away – I find it absurd,” Mr Biden told reporters following his call with Mr Zelensky on Saturday.

“I find it unethical, I find it just contrary to everything we are as a country”, he added. “So I’m going to fight until we get them the ammunition they need and the capacity they need to defend themselves.”

The Ukrainian president also urged US lawmakers to approve the financial package.

“I am glad that I can count on the full support of the American president,” he posted on Telegram.

  • Is Russia turning the tide in Ukraine?
  • What weapons are being supplied to Ukraine?

Mr Zelensky has been in Germany, where he made an urgent appeal for more weapons to avoid a “catastrophic” situation in Europe.

“Keeping Ukraine in the artificial deficits of weapons, particularly in deficit of artillery and long-range capabilities allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war,” he told an international conference in Munich.

“Ukrainians have proven that we can force Russia to retreat,” he said. “We can get our land back.”

“Do not ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself, why is Putin still able to continue it?”

Ukraine is critically dependent on weapons supplies from the US and other Western allies to keep fighting Russia – a much bigger military force with an abundance of artillery ammunition.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said help for Ukraine from the UK, the EU and the US would make a “real difference” to the fight against Russia.

Speaking to the BBC, Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Goncharenko said that he felt let down by the American leadership.

“If you can’t count on your partner, because America was saying you can count on us, we will be with Ukraine as long as it takes, and where are those words now?” he said.

“We’re dying every day.”

Avdiivka has been engulfed in fierce fighting for months and has been a battlefield town since 2014, when Russian-backed fighters seized large swathes of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The fall of Avdiivka marks the biggest change on the more than 1,000km-long (620-mile) front line since Russian troops seized the nearby town of Bakhmut in May 2023.

The head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, welcomed Russia’s territorial gain.

“The Russian city of Avdiivka, one of the oldest settlements in Donbas, today returned home to Russia,” he said in a video posted on Telegram.

“On behalf of all residents of Donbas, I sincerely thank Russian military personnel, our army, our president, for the fact that the Donetsk People’s Republic continues to be liberated.”

Announcing the decision to withdraw early on Saturday, head of the Ukrainian armed forces Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi said he acted “to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of service personnel”.

“Our soldiers performed their military duty with dignity, did everything possible to destroy the best Russian military units, inflicted significant losses on the enemy in terms of manpower and equipment,” he said.

England slump to miserable defeat in third Test

Third Test, Rajkot (day four of five):
India 445 (Rohit 131, Jadeja 112; Wood 4-114) & 430-4 dec (Jaiswal 214*, Gill 91, Sarfaraz 68*)
England 319 (Duckett 153, Stokes 41; Siraj 4-84) & 122 (Jadeja 5-41)
India won by 434 runs, lead series 2-1

England spiralled to a miserable and massive defeat by India on the fourth day of the third Test in Rajkot.

In perhaps their worst performance since captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum took charge, England were dismantled by Yashasvi Jaiswal’s 214 not out, then capitulated with the bat.

Set a notional 557 to win, the tourists were bundled out for an embarrassing 122 in a blur of irresponsible strokes.

The 434-run margin of defeat is England’s largest in terms of runs since 1934 and India’s biggest of all time.

India, who take a 2-1 lead in the series, were led by the brilliant Jaiswal’s second double century in as many Tests.

The opener returned on 104 after retiring hurt on the third evening and took his tally to 12 sixes, equalling the record for a single Test innings.

In partnership with Sarfaraz Khan, who made 68 not out, Jaiswal took India to a declaration on 430-4.

Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja ran through England’s middle order for figures of 5-41, to go with the century he made in the first innings.

The fourth Test begins on Friday in Ranchi, where an India win will preserve an unbeaten home record that stretches back to 2012.

  • England do not need to change method – Stokes
  • Bazball at a crossroads after Rajkot loss – Agnew
  • India crush England in Rajkot – as it happened
  • England in India 2024 – fixtures & results

England wasteful and humbled

This was an astonishing implosion from England, who began Saturday with a golden opportunity to take control of the match, only to be crushed by Sunday evening.

It was a performance from a bygone age. England dropped crucial chances, misused the decision review system and at times saw their bowling dismantled by the India batting.

Most disappointing was England’s own batting. They surrendered the initiative with a collapse of eight wickets for 95 runs in their first innings, then were absolutely awful in the second.

So often England talk about their love of chases, whereas just taking this game into a final day would have been the minimum requirement.

What makes the defeat all the more galling is the fact India played more than a day of the match with 10 men after off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin returned home because of a family emergency. Ashwin, who withdrew on Friday evening, returned on Sunday and took a wicket in his six overs.

For any team to win one Test in India, let alone an entire series, is an incredibly difficult task, yet England have let chances slip by.

The superb win in the first Test in Hyderabad now feels a long time ago, surpassed by the wastefulness of the second and third Tests. Somehow, they must regroup for Ranchi.

England suffer at hands of ‘Jaisball’

This is turning into Jaiswal’s series, confirmation that the 22-year-old has arrived as a superstar of the global game.

He had to retire hurt with a back injury on Saturday, but not before helping India to 196-2 overnight.

Returning after Shubman Gill was run out for 91, Jaiswal’s awesome demolition of the England bowling effectively meant he made two separate hundreds in the same innings without being dismissed.

Just like on day three, Jaiswal slipped gears in an instant, scooping James Anderson over his shoulder in the first over after lunch. In Anderson’s next over, Jaiswal flayed three consecutive sixes.

Debutant Sarfaraz kept pace with Jaiswal for his second half-century of the match. The sixth-wicket pair added 172 in 158 riotous balls, laying waste to the England bowling in the unbearable afternoon heat.

Jaiswal’s single off Joe Root made him the third youngest man, after Vinod Kambli and Don Bradman, to make double hundreds in successive Tests. He hit the next two balls for six to match the record set by Pakistan’s Wasim Akram against Zimbabwe in 1996.

India declared at the end of the following over, the first team to do so against England since Stokes and McCullum took charge just under two years ago.

England implode

Before this Test, Stokes reiterated his belief that draws are “off the table”. On the third evening, when asked about a potential target, Ben Duckett said “the more the better”.

In reality, when given 131 overs to chase their record target, England could not last 40 of them.

Duckett was the first wicket to fall – run out after pushing into the leg side and setting off, before Zak Crawley rightly sent him back.

Mohammed Siraj’s throw was smartly gathered by wicketkeeper Dhruv Jurel to leave Duckett well short.

Crawley was aggrieved when replays showed Jasprit Bumrah’s lbw shout to be just clipping leg stump, then England fell apart.

Ollie Pope forced Jadeja to slip, while Jonny Bairstow and Root were both out sweeping the same bowler. Stokes also missed a sweep, this time to Kuldeep Yadav, the wrist-spinner then enticing Rehan Ahmed to hole out to long on.

Ben Foakes and Tom Hartley flirted with the fifth day, but Foakes edged Jadeja and Hartley chopped on off Ashwin to leave England 91-9.

Mark Wood smeared 33 from 15 balls before lofting to long-off to give Jadeja his fifth and end England’s sorry showing.

‘It unravelled very quickly’ – reaction

England captain Ben Stokes: ” We wanted to push the game on as much as we could. Sometimes gameplans don’t work out.

“Everyone has got a perception and opinion. The people in the dressing room are the opinions that really matter to us.

“We leave this game behind us and know we have to win the next two games to win the series.”

India captain Rohit Sharma: “When you play Test cricket, it’s not played over two days or three days. We know the importance of staying in the game for five days.

“They put us under pressure. The message was to stay calm, it’s easy to drift away from what you want to do. I’m proud of how we came back, and when that happens it’s a delight to watch.”

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew: “It unravelled very quickly. It was extraordinary. This will reawaken all of the debate about so-called Bazball. It is great when it works but there seems an inability to go back to a more traditional way of playing.

“England threw a chance away on the third day. I hope there is honesty in the dressing room.”


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Why India’s wildly remote islands are trending

India’s coral islands of Lakshadweep piqued tourists’ interest after Prime Minister Modi visited last month. But can the islands’ fragile environment handle the growth in tourism?

When you are about to land on India’s archipelago of Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea, 490km west of the closest Indian city of Kochi, you’ll see shades of blue all around. The narrow strip closest to the white beach, lined with hundreds of coconut trees, is light blue. A little further into the sea, the water is turquoise, while the deep sea is emerald blue.

“It’s mesmerising, really,” said Shradha Menon, a geologist from the Indian Institute of Technology, who visited the islands three times in the last two years to study their carbon sedimentation. Each time, she was one of just a handful of outsiders on the 36-seat plane from Kochi to Lakshadweep, carrying island residents and government officials posted there.

But recently there has been a lot more interest in the islands from Indian travellers after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Lakshadweep in January 2024. Pictures of him walking on the white beaches and snorkelling in its crystal-clear waters were uploaded on his official account on X (formerly Twitter) and his YouTube channel, garnering hundreds of thousands of views. In his message to the public, he said, “The beauty of Lakshadweep can’t be described in words. To those who like to visit beaches and islands around the world, I urge them to visit the Lakshadweep.”

Since then, the archipelago has been thrust into the spotlight. Google searches for “Lakshadweep” soared to the highest they’d been In 20 years, according to The Economic Times. Travel articles suddenly appeared in mainstream media outlets, and YouTube videos and Instagram reels flooded the internet. MakeMyTrip, one of India’s biggest travel booking portals, claimed a 3,400% increase to in-platform searches for Lakshadweep after Modi’s visit.

The phone lines of Lakshadweep’s Society for Promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports (SPORTS) that handles tourism in the territory have never been busier. From one or two tourist inquiries a day, they have been getting at least 10 a day since last month, said Abdul Samad, one of SPORTS’ two water sports instructors who helped Modi snorkel in the island in January. Meanwhile, Cordelia Cruises, which has been sailing from Mumbai, Kochi and Goa to Lakshadweep since September 2021, has witnessed a 2,500% increase in booking queries since Modi’s visit. New beach and water villas are already being planned on the islands of Suheli and Kadmat, Samad confirmed, and India’s finance minister Neermala Sitharaman even mentioned Lakshadweep in her budget speech on 1 February while talking about better connectivity to India’s islands to grow tourism.

A blip in the Arabian Sea, Lakshadweep’s 36 islands include 12 atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks. Its 10 inhabited islands have a population of about 70,000, mostly reliant on fishing and coconut cultivation.

The pristine, white-sand islands are not like other beaches found along India’s coastline. Lakshadweep, which means a lakh (100,000) islands in the Sanskrit language, are the only atolls in India and lie just above sea level, explained Vardhan Patankar, who has worked in Lakshadweep for 15 years and is conservation director of GVI, which facilitates conservation projects around the world. These atolls are remnants of ancient volcanoes that erupted and then gradually sank to just above sea level, growing a ring of corals that jut out of the ocean’s surface. “Lakshadweep, which is just a few metres above the sea level, is protected by the coral reefs,” said Patankar.

Like most islands in the world, Lakshadweep has been impacted by climate change. According to The Lakshadweep Research Collective, the archipelago’s land cover is rapidly shrinking due to coastal erosion, with the loss of an entire island (Parali 1, in Bangaram atoll) recorded in 2017. The islands have witnessed four major ENSO-related temperature anomalies (a climate phenomenon that causes variation in winds and sea surface temperatures) in the past two decades, together with three catastrophic cyclones within the last few years, resulting in widespread coral bleaching.

According to current, conservative predictions of scientists, Lakshadweep will submerge in the sea by 2050

“According to current, conservative predictions of scientists, Lakshadweep will submerge in the sea by 2050,” said Patankar. “If there is added pressure on the island due to tourism and other development projects or industrial fishing, it could be disastrous to the islands and its ecology, hastening the submergence.”

To temper the impact of increased numbers of tourists expected on the islands, SPORTS say they will continue to restrict numbers using a permit system. They are also inviting cruise ships and yachts to sail to the island, claiming that this will reduce the numbers of people staying overnight and thus control the amount of waste generated and preserve the already limited ground water.

However, scientists believe the chances of large ships damaging the island’s delicate coral reef wall, which prevents storm surges, can’t be ignored. Nor can the high carbon footprint generated by high-end villas being built on the island or the damage caused to the reef during construction. Patankar also fears that once resorts are built on the land, the scale of commercial fishing, which presently is minimal in the island, will also increase to cater to the food needs of the tourists.

“Tourism growth on the island has to be highly regulated and must be able to sustain the ecology of Lakshadweep,” added Menon.

For travellers who visit Lakshadweep, it’s important to travel lightly. Luckily there are myriad low-impact activities on offer.

Lakshadweep is one of the best places to snorkel and scuba dive in India due to the atolls’ shallow waters and abundance of marine life and corals. “The visibility underwater is exceptional and as a result the reef looks spectacular during snorkelling and diving sessions,” said Patankar.

While underwater, you may see snappers, groupers, moray eel, butterflyfish and black botched sting rays. Green sea turtles are also easily spotted, sometimes even from the beaches. Then there is the fascinating yellowmask surgeonfish that changes colour, from yellow to purple, as it reaches adulthood.

Lakshadweep is that beautiful, serene island where life seems to slow down and where a surreal sense of calm descends upon you

The night sky is another spectacle due to minimal light and air pollution. “I have never seen so many stars, constellations and shooting stars in my life as I saw in my three-day trip on the island,” said Shalina CV who visited Lakshadweep with her family in September 2023. She added: “Lakshadweep is that beautiful, serene island where life seems to slow down and where a surreal sense of calm descends upon you.”

Another not-to-miss adventure is night fishing. Tourists can join fishermen on a boating expedition and try their hands at the less wasteful pole-and-line fishing to catch skipjack and yellowfin tuna. A couple of government-run dive centres also offer kayaking, wind surfing, parasailing and other watersport activities.

There are also many homestays run by locals that provide clean and comfortable accommodation, such as Abdul Rahman Homestay (+91 8547 660 936) and Feroze Homestay (+91 9447 747 458) on Agatti island, or Kinak (+91 9447 474 332) on Kalpeni island. A few locals have also started private tourism companies, like Landiago, whose owner Shabab Ahmed takes tourists to visit the Juma Masjid on Minicoy Island or to an old lighthouse here. Booking trips with the locals ensures that the money goes directly to Lakshadweep’s economy, plus it means they can share their unique knowledge and understanding of the islands.

“I think the island will be safest in the locals’ hands. Working with them to empower and strengthen their ability to protect the islands is the best hope for the islands and its ecology,” said Patankar.

Green Getaways is a BBC Travel series that helps travellers experience a greener, cleaner approach to getting out and seeing the world.


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