INDEPENDENT 2024-02-20 16:33:47


Prince William urges end to Israel-Hamas war ‘as soon as possible’

Prince William has expressed his deep concern over the “terrible human cost of the conflict in the Middle East” and has called for an end to the fighting between Israel and Hamas “as soon as possible”.

“Too many have been killed,” the heir to the British throne said in a major intervention on Tuesday which pushes at the traditional diplomatic boundaries of his royal role, ahead of visits about humanitarian support in Gaza and a global rise in antisemitism.

“I remain deeply concerned about the terrible human cost of the conflict in the Middle East since the Hamas terrorist attack on 7 October. Too many have been killed,” said the Prince of Wales.

“I, like so many others, want to see an end to the fighting as soon as possible. There is a desperate need for increased humanitarian support to Gaza. It’s critical that aid gets in and the hostages are released.

“Sometimes it is only when faced with the sheer scale of human suffering that the importance of permanent peace is brought home.

“Even in the darkest hour, we must not succumb to the counsel of despair. I continue to cling to the hope that a brighter future can be found and I refuse to give up on that.”

The Prince’s rare political intervention goes even further than the significant royal statement issued by William and the Princess of Wales in October, to “utterly condemn” Hamas’s attack and express their “profound distress” at the “devastating” eruption of violence.

William is set to meet with aid workers helping to provide humanitarian support in the region, hearing about the experiences of those on the ground, and will separately join a synagogue discussion with young people from different communities who are advocates against hatred and antisemitism.

Championing inter-faith bonds and religious tolerance has been a priority for King Charles, who has stepped back from public-facing duties while he receives treatment for cancer, with which the monarch was diagnosed earlier this month.

Prior to becoming King, Charles carried out his first official tour of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2020, in what was the highest-level visit by a member of the monarchy to Israel and the Palestinian areas.

He visited the grave of his grandmother Princess Alice, who was famed for offering refuge to Jewish people during the Second World War in Nazi-occupied Athens. William also travelled to the region in 2018.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed and almost 70,000 injured since Israel began its retaliation for the cross-border massacre on 7 October, in which authorities say more than 1,200 people were killed.

Having already displaced more than 1.9 million people across Gaza, Israel’s Western allies are urging Benjamin Netanyahu not to press ahead with a threatened ground invasion of Rafah, a rare remaining place of relative albeit treacherous shelter close to the border with Egypt.

Benny Gantz, a leading member of Israel’s war cabinet, has threatened to invade the southern city unless all hostages are freed by Ramadan on 10 March.

The intervention by Prince William comes as Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party shifts its stance on the war to call for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza, warning on Tuesday: “We need the fighting to stop now.”

Warned that he faced the biggest rebellion of his leadership so far, Sir Keir met with his shadow cabinet ahead of a crunch vote in the Commons on Wednesday to discuss whether to order MPs to vote for an SNP-led motion which will call for an “immediate ceasefire” in the conflict.

His party has now published an amendment to the SNP motion, which also calls for a ceasefire but clarifies that Labour does not want Israel to stop fighting so long as Hamas continues to threaten violence.

Additional reporting by PA

Julian Assange’s wife joins protest outside last-ditch bid to avoid extradition

Protesters have gathered outside the High Court in London in support of Julian Assange as the WikiLeaks founder started his last-ditch bid to avoid extradition to the US.

Among those outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday morning were former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Mr Assange’s wife, Stella, who told a crowd: “They just cannot get away with this”.

The 52-year-old is making a last-ditch appeal at the two-day hearing against being to the US, where he faces charges for conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information after the publication of intelligence files on WikiLeaks.

US authorities were successful in overturning a UK judge’s ruling in 2021 stopping Assange from being sent over a risk of suicide – leaving this week’s hearing as the final chance in the UK appeals process to halt extradition.

Assange has been held at Belmarsh Prison since his arrest inside the Ecuadorian embassy in 2019 after the US indictment against him was unsealed. He had stayed at the embassy in London as he sought asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden on a rape allegation which was later dropped.

If the Australian fails in his bid for an appeal this week, his legal team has said it will lodge an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights.

Outside the court on Tuesday morning before the hearing kicked off at 10.30am, protesters gathered with banners reading “free Julian Assange”. Golden ribbons were also tied to the main fence and the surrounding gates and trees.

On a stage, his wife Ms Assange thanked the supporters and said: “Please keep on showing up, be there for Julian and for us, until Julian is free.”

She added: “We have two big days ahead, We don’t know what to expect, but you’re here because the world is watching. They just cannot get away with this. Julian needs his freedom and we all need the truth.”

Also speaking was former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He said: “He [Assange] was telling the truth about what was going on around the world. He was telling the truth about the US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was also telling the truth about corporate greed and corruption.”

Labour MP for Coventry South Zarah Sultana said: “We know Julian is being targeted for exposing US war crimes. This isn’t just an attack on Julian, this is an attack on journalism, on the free press.”

Supporters of Assange say he faces 175 years in prison if extradited to the US. But in the US, authorities say the 2021 decision to stop him being sent to the US on the risk of suicide would provide a “trump card” for anyone else.

For updates on the court case, follow our rolling coverage at The Independent.

CCTV shows moment missing toddler fell into water as police step up search

Police searching for a toddler in a river in Leicestershire have revealed they have obtained CCTV officers believe shows the moment the boy fell into the water.

The two-year-old boy has been missing since Sunday evening after he fell into the River Soar as his father was rushed to hospital. He has since been released.

Assistant chief constable Michaela Kerr, of Leicestershire Police, has also said the search for the toddler has been stepped up with Kent and West Mercia Police Search and Rescue team and the Metropolitan Police Marine Recovery dogs joining the operation.

The force gave an update on Tuesday lunchtime ahead of a briefing from the scene.

Emergency services attended the scene just after 5pm and a search and rescue operation, which involves officers from Leicestershire, Nottingham, Lincolnshire and Met police forces, began in Aylestone Meadows, close to Marsden Lane.

In their appeal on Monday night, they requested that members of the public who had spoken to officers come forward again, and that a dog walker who was seen walking along the towpath make contact with the police.

The father, who was taken to hospital as a as a precautionary measure, was believed to have followed the boy into the river.

Major incident declared in Plymouth after suspected WW2 bomb found

A major incident has been declared after what is thought to be a Second World War bomb was found in a garden in Plymouth.

Devon and Cornwall Police rushed to establish a 200-metre cordon around the garden on St Michael Avenue after they were called to the address on Tuesday morning.

Officers were working to evacuate nearby homes as a specialist disposal team worked on the explosive device, according to police.

“A 200-metre cordon has been put in place and officers are speaking to residents and assisting with the evacuation of properties within that cordon,” a police spokesperson said.

“The Royal Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal are currently at the scene. People are advised to avoid the area where possible.”

The man who discovered the bomb told Plymouth Live he was helping prepare the groundwork in the back garden of his daughter’s property for an extension when he found it.

One resident told the same publication: “We’ve been told to leave our homes – all the residents in St Aubyn Avenue. Police are out knocking on doors telling people there’s been a bomb found. They’ve closed off the lane behind our road. Apparently it’s an old Second World War bomb.”

Devonport Local Policing Team said anyone that needs shelter following the evacuation can visit North Prospect Library.

It said: “Officers are working hard to keep you safe. Anyone needing shelter following evacuation advice can get it at North Prospect Library”.

US vetoes UN resolution calling for immediate’’ ceasefire in Gaza

The United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Tuesday that called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza.

The US was the only country on the 15-member council to vote against the resolution, while the United Kingdom abstained, as the US continues to resists global pressure to join calls for Israel to immediately suspend its campaign.

The resolution was tabled by Algeria and has been backed by more than three-quarters of the 193-member UN General Assembly. It comes as Israel prepares an offensive on the southern Gazan city of Rafah, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, said the resolution would “negatively impact” negotiations between Israel and Hamas on the release of hostages held in Gaza.

“Demanding an immediate, unconditional ceasefire without an agreement requiring Hamas to release the hostages will not bring about a durable peace. Instead, it could extend the fighting between Hamas and Israel,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.

The US has instead proposed a draft resolution calling for a “temporary ceasefire” in Gaza “as soon as practicable.”

The draft resolution also warns against Israel’s ground incursion in Rafah in southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge after they were violently displaced by Israel’s months-long campaign.

Using unusually critical language for the US of its close ally Israel, the resolution notes that an offensive in Rafah would “result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighbouring countries” and “would have serious implications for regional peace and security, and therefore underscores that such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances.”

Last week, President Biden warned Mr Netanyahu that such an operation “should not proceed,” according to a readout of their call from the White House.

The UN’s humanitarian aid chief Martin Griffiths has warned that Israel’s “military operations in Rafah could lead to a slaughter in Gaza” and would leave “an already fragile humanitarian operation at death’s door.”

In a speech putting forward the resolution, Algeria’s UN ambassador, Amar Bendjama, said that voting against it “implies an endorsement of the brutal violence and collective punishment inflicted upon them.”

“Today, every Palestinian is a target for death, extermination and genocide. We should ask ourselves how many innocent lives must be sacrificed before the council deems it necessary to call for a ceasefire,” he added.

How to help create a smokefree generation

“Some people can just stop and then never smoke again, but for most it’s hard,” says Tim Eves a 45-year-old father of three from West Sussex.

“It’s just getting through those initial tough few months. Once you do the benefits hugely outweigh the stress of giving it up.”

Tim was a smoker for around 12 years, but gave up with help from a local support group who introduced him to nicotine patches and gum.

“I won’t pretend it isn’t hard,” he adds. “The first few months, you have it in your head that you’d love to have just one cigarette. But now, if we happen to be in the pub it doesn’t even enter my head.”

Taking the first step to go smokefree may sound daunting, but quitting smoking offers significant health benefits – and can save you money.

Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK each year.

It causes around 1-in-4 cancer deaths in the UK and is responsible for just over 70 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

Smoking also substantially increases the risk of many major health conditions throughout people’s lives, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease, stillbirth, dementia and asthma.

Smoking increases the chance of stillbirth by almost half and makes children twice as likely to be hospitalised for asthma from second-hand smoking.

And a typical addicted smoker spends £2,400 a year.

Jo Howarth, 52, from St Helens, Merseyside, finally kicked her addiction after 20 years of on-and-off smoking.

“I was quite anti-smoking as a young teenager, but I started when I was 16 because I wanted to fit in with the cool crowd,” she says.

“I knew it was bad for me, but it was so hard to give up. I tried cold turkey, hypnotherapy and at one point I had a staple in my ear, but I never lasted more than about six months.

“After I got married, I wanted to conceive so I cut down to one a day but the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I stopped.

“As soon as the reason outweighed the addiction, I found a reason to stop and as a hypnotherapist I know that pinpointing why you’re addicted is the key to stopping.

“I used to think that smoking calmed me down, but now I realise that’s a myth – it was just the deep breaths I was taking while I did it. Without it I’m so much healthier and I’m determined to stay smokefree for my kids.”

Smokers lose an average of 10 years life expectancy – around one year for every four smoking years.

Smokers also need care on average 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have – often while still of working age.

‘’Smoking is based on addiction and most people wish they had never taken it up,” says Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

“They try to stop and they cannot. Their choice has been taken away. As a doctor I have seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking but they cannot.”

The government is now working on creating a smokefree generation.

The new proposals give citizens more freedom. Smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and the large majority of smokers and ex-smokers regret ever starting in the first place.

Creating a smokefree generation will be one of the most significant public health measures in a generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS and the economy, and levelling up the UK by tackling one of the most important preventable drivers of inequality in health outcomes.

New laws will protect future generations from ever taking up smoking as well as tackling youth vaping by:

Alongside the Bill, there will be new funding to support current smokers to quit by doubling the funding of local ‘stop smoking services’ (to nearly £140 million) as well as £30m of new funding to crack down on illicit tobacco and underage sale of tobacco and vapes.

The fatal flaw in Israel’s strategy? Warfare won’t make it any safer

Aside from offering him some political “cover” and providing some semblance of national unity, one reason why Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, invited his opposition rival Benny Gantz to join a small war cabinet was to ensure the government had a disciplined, single message to send to its friends and enemies alike. It has not turned out that way.

For some months, various government ministers – some outside the cabinet, but nonetheless attracting attention – have been, to put things as bluntly as they have, shooting their mouths off. Remarks about Palestinians being “human animals” and the like have strengthened the genocide case being pursued against Israel in the International Court of Justice.

Now, Mr Gantz has warned Hamas that unless Israeli and other hostages are released by Ramadan, which begins on 10 March, the ground offensive against Rafah will go ahead.

What is the latest development in the Post Office scandal?

You could call it “Mrs Badenoch vs The Post Office”. There are few spectacles less edifying than a “he says/she says” row between two prominent figures in public life – and especially one in which each combatant’s main aim is to blame the other for some tragic injustice. So it is in the case of Kemi Badenoch, the business and trade secretary, and the former chair of the Post Office, Henry Staunton, whom she sacked on 26 January over the phone. She said someone had to “take the rap”. He disagrees it should be him.

Badenoch said around that time that she had asked Staunton to step down because his position as chair of the board “just wasn’t working”, and that fresh leadership was needed for the organisation because of concerns about “the entire business model” – ie it was about more than just the Horizon scandal.