BBC 2024-02-21 10:31:26


Israel Gaza: China condemns US veto of call for immediate ceasefire at UN

China has sharply criticised the US for vetoing a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Beijing said the move sent the “wrong message” and effectively gave a “green light to the continued slaughter”.

The White House said the Algerian-proposed resolution would “jeopardise” talks to end the war.

The US has proposed its own temporary ceasefire resolution, which also warned Israel not to invade the city of Rafah.

There has been widespread condemnation of the US decision to block Algeria’s resolution as fighting continued in Gaza. It was backed by 13 of the 15 members of the UN Security Council – with the UK abstaining.

In response to the veto, China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun said the claim the motion would interfere with ongoing diplomatic negotiations was “totally untenable”.

“Given the situation on the ground, the continued passive avoidance on an immediate ceasefire is nothing different from giving a green light to the continued slaughter,” he said.

“The spill-over of the conflict is destabilising the entire Middle East region leading to rising risk of a wider war,” he added.

“Only by extinguishing the flames of war in Gaza can we prevent the fires of hell from engulfing the entire region.”

Algeria’s top UN diplomat declared that “unfortunately the Security Council failed once again”. “Examine your conscience, how will history judge you,” Amar Bendjama added.

US allies were also critical of the move. France’s UN envoy Nicolas de Rivière expressed regret that the resolution had not been adopted “given the disastrous situation on the ground”.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Washington’s ambassador to the UN, said it was not the right time to call for an immediate ceasefire while negotiations between Hamas and Israel were continuing.

Her UK counterpart, Barbara Woodward, said the plan could “actually make a ceasefire less likely” by endangering talks.

Israel launched its operations in Gaza following an attack by Hamas on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 others taken hostage.

The Israeli military campaign has left more than 29,000 people dead in Gaza, according to the Palestinian territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

The draft resolution proposed by the US calls for a temporary ceasefire “as soon as practicable” and on the condition that all hostages are released, as well as urging barriers on aid reaching Gaza to be lifted.

The White House has previously avoided the word “ceasefire” during UN votes on the war, but it is unclear if or when the Security Council will vote on the proposal.

It also states a major ground offensive in Rafah would result in more harm to civilians and their further displacement, including potentially into neighbouring countries – a reference to Egypt.

But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he was “committed to continuing the war until we achieve all of its goals” and no pressure could change it.

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More than a million displaced Palestinians – about half of the Strip’s population – are crammed into Rafah after being forced to seek shelter there. The southern city, which borders Egypt, was home to only 250,000 people before the war.

Many of the displaced are living in makeshift shelters or tents in squalid conditions, with scarce access to safe drinking water or food.

The UN has issued its own warning that a planned Israeli offensive in the city could lead to a “slaughter”. The Israeli military has previously insisted it only targets Hamas fighters.

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz has warned the ground assault will be launched unless Hamas frees all its hostages by 10 March.

Trident missile test fails for second time in a row

The test firing of a Trident missile from a Royal Navy submarine has failed, for the second time in a row.

The latest test of the UK’s nuclear deterrent was from HMS Vanguard and was witnessed by the defence secretary.

The missile’s booster rockets failed and it landed in the sea close to the launch site, according to the Sun, which first reported the malfunction.

When on patrol missiles would usually carry nuclear warheads but they are not fitted for test fires.

The Ministry of Defence said the “nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective”.

This is highly embarrassing for both the UK and the US manufacturer of the Trident missile.

British tests of Trident missiles are rare, not least because of the costs. The price tag of each missile is around £17m and the last test was in 2016 when it also ended in failure when the missile veered off course.

Both the Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and the head of the Navy were on board HMS Vanguard off the east coast of the US when it fired the unarmed test missile in January.

The submarine had just had a more than seven year refit.

A defence source close to the Mr Shapps insisted the Trident “could absolutely fire in a real world situation” if it needed to.

“The issue that occurred during the test was specific to the event and would not have occurred during a live armed fire,” the source said.

A written ministerial statement is expected from Mr Shapps later.

The missile was supposed to have flown several thousand miles before landing harmlessly in the Atlantic between Brazil and West Africa. Instead it dropped into the ocean near to where it was launched.

At the time of the failed 2016 test, the Sunday Times reported that it was launched from HMS Vengeance off the coast of Florida.

The paper said the Trident II D5 missile was intended to be fired 3,700 miles (5,954 km) to a sea target off the west coast of Africa but veered towards the US.

The cause of what went wrong remains top secret, the paper reported, but quoted a senior naval source as saying the missile suffered an in-flight malfunction after launching out of the water.

The Labour Party has called for assurances over the effectiveness of the nuclear deterrent.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “Reports of a Trident test failure are concerning.

“The defence secretary will want to reassure Parliament that this test has no impact on the effectiveness of the UK’s deterrent operations.”

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) described it as an expensive failure following a reported £500m refit.

“We need to stop wasting our money on this,” the group said who campaign to get rid of nuclear weapons in Britain and worldwide.

In a statement the Ministry of Defence admitted an anomaly had occurred in the most recent launch. But it also said that HMS Vanguard and its crew had been “proven fully capable” in their operations and the test had “reaffirmed the effectiveness of the UK’s nuclear deterrent”.

The statement added that Trident was the “most reliable weapons system in the world” having completed more than 190 successful tests.

HMS Vanguard is one of four of the Vanguard-class nuclear submarines that have been on patrol in 1994, with one of the vessels continually at sea.

The submarines are based at Faslane Royal Navy base on the Firth of Clyde and carry US-built Trident 2 D5 missiles, while the nuclear warheads are stored at the nearby Coulport armaments depot on Loch Long.

Annual running costs are estimated at 6% of the defence budget – around £3bn for 2023/24, according to the House of Commons Library.

The V-class is due to be replaced by the bigger Dreadnought-class submarines in the 2030s.

Between £31bn and £41bn has been put aside for the wider programme of replacing the Vanguard-class submarines, the House of Commons Library said.

Ruby Franke: Parenting advice YouTuber given maximum sentence for child abuse

A Utah mother whose harsh parenting advice made her a YouTube influencer has been sentenced to at least four years in prison for child abuse.

Ruby Franke, 42, tearfully apologised in court as she learned her fate. She previously pleaded guilty to starving and abusing her children.

She appeared along with her former business partner Jodi Hildebrandt, 54, who received an identical sentence.

The judge sentenced them to serve four terms of one to 15 years each.

The sentences will run consecutively and are the maximum for each count under Utah law. How much time each will ultimately serve will be determined by the state’s parole board.

Franke will have 30 days to appeal the decision.

In court, Utah prosecutor Eric Clarke said that two of Franke’s children, aged nine and 11 at the time, lived in a “concentration camp-like setting” and called her a significant threat to the community.

“The children were regularly denied food, water, beds to sleep in, and virtually all forms of entertainment,” Mr Clarke said.

In court, Franke was in tears following the sentence. She apologised to her children and said: “I was so disoriented that I believed dark was light and right was wrong.”

“I was led to believe that this world was an evil place, filled with cops who control, hospitals that injure, government agencies that brainwash, church leaders who lie and lust, husbands who refuse to protect and children who need abuse,” she said.

The two women were arrested in August 2023 after Franke’s malnourished 12-year-old son climbed out of a window at Hildebrandt’s house in Ivins, Utah. Police said the child then ran to a neighbour’s house and asked for food and water. He had lacerations from being tied up with rope, according to police records.

The arrests marked the end of a long and controversial YouTube career. Franke racked up more than two million subscribers to her channel 8 Passengers, which she started in 2015.

It was a boom time for parenting vloggers, and she told a local news outlet that filming with her family helped her “live in the present and just enjoy the kids”.

Her videos showed a typical Mormon suburban family home-schooling, cooking, eating and chatting together.

But fans started to become suspicious in 2020, when one of her sons mentioned that he had been forced to sleep on a bean bag for seven months.

YouTube viewers combed through her archives and pointed out other disturbing and controversial methods used by Franke – such as withholding food, threatening to chop the head off a toy stuffed animal and “cancelling” Christmas as a punishment.

A petition started by one demanding an investigation brought in thousands of signatures and Utah’s child protection agency was called, although no legal action was taken at the time. Franke and her husband initially dismissed the criticism and said that some of their clips had been taken out of context.

But the channel began to decline in popularity and was deleted in 2022, the same year Franke and her husband separated.

Franke then began appearing in YouTube videos posted by Ms Hildebrandt – a counsellor and life coach – on her site, ConneXions Classroom.

Away from the camera, however, Franke’s children were being subjected to even harsher abuse.

This included tying them up, beating and kicking them, neglecting to feed them and forcing them to work outdoors in the summer without sunscreen, resulting in serious sunburn, according to police records.

In a plea agreement, Hildebrandt stated that she either tortured the children or was aware of the abuse and that she forced one of Franke’s daughters to “jump into a cactus multiple times”.

Franke told her children that they were “evil and possessed” and needed to “repent”.

Through his lawyer, Franke’s ex-husband Kevin Franke asked prior to the hearing for the maximum sentence to be imposed and called the abuse suffered by his children “horrific and inhumane”.

Bayern Munich boss Tuchel to leave at end of season

Manager Thomas Tuchel will leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season.

The 50-year-old replaced Julian Nagelsmann at the German champions in March 2023 on a deal until June 2025.

But the former Chelsea boss will depart a year earlier than planned as part of “a sporting realignment” at Bayern.

He led Bayern to last season’s Bundesliga title after taking over in the spring but they now sit eight points behind leaders Bayer Leverkusen after back-to-back league defeats.

One of those was an emphatic 3-0 loss to Leverkusen – and they were also beaten 1-0 by Lazio in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Bayern CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen said both parties agreed to “mutually end our collaboration” following “an open, good conversation”.

“Our goal is to carry out a sporting realignment with a new coach for the 2024-25 season,” he added.

“Until then, every individual in the club is expressly challenged to achieve the maximum possible in the Champions League and the Bundesliga.

“I also explicitly hold the team responsible. Especially in the Champions League, we are convinced after the defeat at Lazio we will advance to the quarter-finals with our fans behind us.”

Tuchel, who has also managed Paris St-Germain and Borussia Dortmund, said: “We will leave after this season. Until then, my coaching team and I will continue to do everything we can to ensure maximum success.”

The German, who won the Champions League with Chelsea in 2021, oversaw a quarter-final defeat at the hands of eventual winners Manchester City in Europe last season.

However, his Bayern side were able to pip Borussia Dortmund on the final day of the Bundesliga campaign – because their rivals drew 2-2 at home to Mainz – to seal an 11th straight German title.

England captain Harry Kane arrived from Tottenham Hotspur in a deal worth an initial 100m euros (£86m) in the hope of securing domestic and European success.

But a damaging period has seen Bayern slip further behind Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen side in the Bundesliga and they also must overturn a first-leg deficit against Lazio in Europe.

Sunday’s 3-2 defeat at Bochum was their third in a row in all competitions.

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Does ‘zombie deer disease’ pose risks for humans?

Some are looking to mad cow disease or experimental studies for the answer to whether animal-to-human transmission is possible.

‘Zombie deer disease’ is spreading among wildlife. But scientists haven’t reached an agreement on whether the condition can spread to humans.

Chronic wasting disease is a type of prion disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States. It’s a neurodegenerative condition that infects wildlife, including deer. No cases have yet been reported in humans, but it has most recently been confirmed in deer, as well as moose in Canada, after previous cases were reported in Yellowstone National Park in the United States.

However, as transmission increases across North America, Scandinavia and South Korea, some experts raise the concern that human transmission could be on the horizon. They’re basing their concerns on experimental studies, the history of other prion diseases transmitting from animals to humans (which is extremely rare) and the potential impacts of climate change.

“As of yet, there has been no transmission from deer or elk to humans,” says Jennifer Mullinax, associate professor of wildlife ecology and management at the University of Maryland. “However, given the nature of prions, CDC and other agencies have supported all efforts to keep any prion disease out of the food chain.”

What is zombie deer disease and what are the symptoms?

Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, is transmitted in cervids, which are hoofed ruminant mammals, such as deer, reindeer, elk and moose. Although it is an infectious disease, CWD is not caused by a bacterium or a virus, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Instead, a misfolded prion protein causes the issue, but researchers don’t yet know what causes the protein to become abnormal. Normal prion proteins potentially play a role in cell signaling. But when misfolded, they cause more proteins to misfold.

Misfolded prion proteins in the brain kill brain cells and cause bodily dysfunction, leading to unusual symptoms. Symptoms include weight loss, excessive drinking and urination, poor balance and coordination, drooping ears and difficulty swallowing. The difficulty swallowing can lead to drooling and eventually pneumonia and death. The classic symptoms – and the image of an uncoordinated, stumbling and drooling animal – have led to the term “zombie deer disease”. The symptoms can take months or years to manifest, making a visual diagnosis difficult.

When prion proteins are misfolded, they become infectious, which leads to spread among wildlife. CWD spreads from animal to animal through direct contact with bodily fluids and waste and through indirect contact with contaminated soil, water and food.

Can zombie deer disease spread to humans?

The CDC estimates that in areas where the prion disease is endemic, infection rates range from 10% to 25%. In 2023, surveillance results from the Canadian province of Alberta suggest a 23% positivity rate for mule deer.

Current evidence does not show that CWD can be spread to humans when they eat the meat of an infected animal, encounter infected wildlife, or drink or touch contaminated soil or water. But researchers continue to investigate whether animal-to-human transmission is possible. “The current body of research is a mixed bag, meaning we don’t know yet,” Mullinax says.

Older research from the CDC, published in 2011 used the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network 2006-2007 population survey to assess exposure risk. The survey included results from more than 17,000 participants. More than 65% of the total respondents reported eating wild game at least some of the time. The researchers were looking only at the prevalence of potential exposure, but they reported that no evidence of human transmission had been found to date.

However, prion diseases, also called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, are present in humans. These include Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which is an inherited condition, and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The latter, researchers have now confirmed, is caused by the same infectious agent that leads to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, also called “mad cow” disease.

Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or vCJD, was first discovered in 1996, in the United Kingdom. But mad cow in cattle was discovered about a decade prior. About 230 cases of vCJD have been reported globally across 12 countries.

“The situation with vCJD – caused by zoonotic transmission of the BSE prion from consuming infected beef – serves as perhaps the best example of what a potential crisis of CWD transmission to humans could look like, says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota.

“However, it’s important to note that BSE and CWD prions differ structurally and we do not yet know whether the pathology and clinical presentation would be comparable if CWD transmission to humans were to occur,” he adds.

In 2004, CDC researchers looked at cases of the human prion disease CJD in Wyoming and in Colorado from 1979 to 2000. The latter state is where CWD was first discovered in 1967. The researchers were partly investigating whether non-inherited cases were present and if they were related to zombie deer disease. Colorado reported 67 cases of CJD, and Wyoming 7. The incidence of CJD in these states proved similar to that of the rest of the United States. And the researchers report that, at the time, only two non-familial cases of CJD in people who ate venison in endemic areas had ever been reported.

Although CJD is generally an inherited disease, it was also previously transmitted through medical procedures. However, no cases of this type of transmission have been reported since the mid-1970s when better sterilization procedures were implemented, according to the CDC.

While older studies did not uncover definitive evidence of animal-to-human transmission of CWD, that doesn’t rule out the possibility. Newer research has raised concerns.

It’s important to note that BSE and CWD prions differ structurally and we do not yet know whether the pathology and clinical presentation would be comparable if CWD transmission to humans were to occur. – Michael Osterholm

What experimental studies of chronic wasting disease show

“Lab-based and animal-based testing have had mixed results depending on the species and methods used to attempt transmission,” Mullinax says. “What we know so far is that each species has a unique level of resistance or a barrier to infection by CWD prions, and species more closely related to humans have been completely resistant.”

In a 2018 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, researchers exposed 14 macaques, which share about 93% of their genome with humans,  to CWD-infected brain matter from deer and elk. They monitored the macaques for more than a decade, screening tissue through various tests. They found no evidence of transmission from the infected cervid tissue to the macaques. However, other experimental research, some unpublished, suggests possible transmission from cervids to macaques.

In an experimental study from the University of Calgary in 2022, researchers took CWD isolates from infected deer and injected them into “humanised” mice. Humanised mice are those that have been genetically modified for the purpose of exploring or modeling human diseases. Over 2.5 years, the mice developed CWD and shed infectious prion proteins in their waste. The researchers note that the mice developed an atypical prion signature and suggest that if CWD is transmissible to humans, it may manifest with atypical symptoms, making it hard to diagnose. The researchers also raise the concern about faecal shedding in the mice. If animal-to-human transmission ever proved possible, an infected person could spread it to others.

“These studies also come with inherent limitations that further complicate the interpretation of results,” Osterholm says. “When assessing the latest scientific publications on this topic, there is not sufficient evidence to confidently conclude ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question of CWD breaching the species barrier.”

What’s being done about surveillance of chronic wasting disease?

CIDRAP has assembled a group of experts to develop a contingency plan should CWD prove to spill over to humans. The team is actively monitoring the risk. And researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s Wildlife Futures Program have been analysing the gut microbiota of both non-infected and CWD-infected deer for enhanced surveillance and to learn more about the disease.

“Many academic and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers are working on potential live tests for CWD,” Mullinax says, “which would be an incredible help to mitigate the potential for humans consuming infected deer. Meanwhile, we will keep trying to better understand how CWD prions might mutate and what animals, including us, could be impacted.”

Experts do raise concerns about the possibility of CWD changing over time. “Ongoing transmission in cervids can also facilitate the emergence of novel CWD prion strains,” Osterholm says, “which might have the capacity to infect a different range of hosts.”

Likewise, climate change could play a role. “Research on the impacts of climate change on deer suggests deer populations will increase in response,” Mullinax says. 

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