INDEPENDENT 2024-02-25 04:35:43


US and UK hit more than a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen

The US and Britain have struck more than a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen in response to a recent surge in attacks by the Iran-backed militia group on ships in the Red Sea.

American and British fighter jets hit about 18 sites across multiple locations, targeting missiles, launchers, rockets, drones and unmanned surface and underwater vehicles, according to US officials.

This is the fourth time that the US and British militaries have conducted a combined operation against the Houthis since 12 January.

But the US has also been carrying out almost daily strikes to take out Houthi targets, including incoming missiles and drones aimed at ships, as well as weapons that were prepared to launch.

The US fighter jets launched from the USS Dwight D Eisenhower aircraft carrier, which is currently in the Red Sea.

President Joe Biden and other senior leaders have repeatedly warned that the US will not tolerate the Houthi attacks against commercial shipping.

The Houthi has launched at least 57 attacks on commercial and military ships in the the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since 19 November, and the pace has picked up in recent days.

“We’ve certainly seen in the past 48, 72 hours an increase in attacks from the Houthis,” Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said in a briefing on Thursday. And she acknowledged that the Houthis have not been deterred.

“We never said we’ve wiped off the map all of their capabilities,” she told reporters. “We know that the Houthis maintain a large arsenal. They are very capable. They have sophisticated weapons, and that’s because they continue to get them from Iran.”

There have been at least 32 US strikes in Yemen over the past month and a half. A few were conducted with allied involvement.

Earlier on Saturday, the destroyer USS Mason downed an anti-ship ballistic missile launched from Houthi-held areas in Yemen towards the Gulf of Aden, US Central Command said, adding that the missile was probably targeting MV Torm Thor, a US-flagged, owned, and operated chemical and oil tanker.

The US attacks on the Houthis have targeted more than 120 launchers, more than 10 surface-to-air-missiles, 40 storage and support building, 15 drone storage buildings, more than 20 unmanned air, surface and underwater vehicles, several underground storage areas and a few other facilities.

The rebels’ supreme leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, announced this past week an “escalation in sea operations” conducted by his forces as part of what they describe as a pressure campaign to end Israel’s war on Hamas.

But while the group says the attacks are aimed at stopping that war, the Houthis’ targets have grown more random, endangering a vital waterway for cargo and energy shipments travelling from Asia and the Middle East onwards to Europe.

Check if you are eligible for £299 cost-of-living payment

Hundreds of thousands of pensioners have been urged to check if they are eligible for a sizeable cost-of-living payment that ends next month.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said about 880,000 eligible UK households can secure an extra £299 if they claim pension credit by March 5.

Pension Credit averages more than £3,900 a year and aims to help low-income individuals who have reached state pension age with their day-to-day expenses.

It guarantees a minimum weekly income of £201.05 for single pensioners and £306.85 for couples, while additional help is available for those with disabilities or caring responsibilities.

About 1.4 million pensioners already receive pension credit in the UK.

The state pension is due to rise by 8.5% in April, when the new full state pension will be worth £221.20 weekly.

The DWP previously sent 2,000 people letters inviting them to apply for pension credit as part of a trial last July.

Minister for Pensions, Paul Maynard, said: “We are committed to ensuring every pensioner receives the financial support available to them.

“Anyone who is unsure whether they or a loved one is entitled to pension credit should quickly check using our online pension credit calculator – it’s never been easier.

“Not only could this secure an extra £3,900 every year and unlock a whole host of other support, if successfully claimed by 5 March a further £299 Cost of Living boost is up for grabs.”

You can claim for pension credit by visiting https://www.gov.uk/pension-credit/how-to-claim or by calling 0800 99 1234.

Bodyguards given to MPs as concerns over politicians’ safety escalate

Three female MPs have been given taxpayer-funded bodyguards and cars as concerns over politicians’ safety are escalating.

The women – who have not been named but include representatives of the Conservative and Labour parties – have had their security upgraded as MPs are said to be “petrified” at the abuse they are facing.

In an overhaul of safety measures in place for MPs, security minister Tom Tugendhat has been working with the Home Office, the police and the parliamentary authorities, as well as the royal and VIP executive committee (Ravec), a secretive organisation responsible for the security of senior politicians and the royal family.

The new process, launched following a referral by police or parliamentary authorities, comes as the threat level faced by British politicians has shot up in recent weeks.

A senior security source told The Sunday Times: “Many MPs are petrified by the abuse they are facing.”

The newspaper understands the three female MPs have been given close protection from private companies, as well as chauffeur-driven cars, which are usually only limited to senior members of the cabinet and the leader of the opposition.

“We’ve taken a front-footed approach to coordinating action against the people or suspects that intelligence suggests most threaten MPs,” said a senior Whitehall source.

Other MPs’ security is also under review if they are deemed at risk, while, for those not needing the highest level of protection, thousands of security measures have been put in place in London and at hundreds of constituency offices and homes.

Private security operatives have been used at thousands of members’ surgeries and hundreds of events, alongside a police presence if required. MPs also have access to security advice, including via advisers based throughout the UK.

Ravec’s membership and decisions are mostly opaque, although insiders do say it has a budget of hundreds of millions of pounds.

It comes after the Palestine Solidarity Campaign defended the right to lobby MPs “in large numbers”, amid reports the group wanted so many protesters to turn up that parliament would “have to lock the doors”.

The group said the issue of MPs’ security was “serious” but should not be used to “shield MPs from democratic accountability”.

The organisation’s director Ben Jamal said thousands of people were “shamefully” denied entry into parliament on Wednesday as they attempted to lobby MPs to vote in favour of a ceasefire in Gaza in what he described was one of the largest physical lobbies of parliament in history.

The Times reported that Mr Jamal told a crowd of demonstrators in the build-up to the protest on Wednesday: “We want so many of you to come that they will have to lock the doors of parliament itself.”

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker who has faced calls to resign after going against convention during the SNP’s Opposition Day debate on a ceasefire, said his motivation for widening Wednesday’s discussion was fuelled by concern about MPs’ security because of intimidation suffered by some parliamentarians.

Mr Jamal said the group “does not call” for protests outside MPs’ homes and believed parliamentarians have a right “to have their privacy respected”.

The government’s political violence tsar has said police should have the powers to “disperse” protests around parliament, MPs’ offices and council chambers that they deem to be threatening.

Baron Walney, the government’s adviser on political violence and disruption, said on Friday that the “aggressive intimidation of MPs” by “mobs” was being mistaken for an “expression of democracy”.

The crossbench peer, who in December submitted a government-commissioned review into how actions by political groups can “cross into criminality and disruption to people’s lives”, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was calling for police forces to act “uniformly in stopping” protest outside MPs’ homes.

Former England and QPR forward Stan Bowles dies aged 75

Former QPR forward Stan Bowles has died at the age of 75 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, the club have announced.

Bowles started his career as an apprentice at Manchester City, later joining Fourth Division Crewe and then Carlisle.

After signing for QPR in 1972, Bowles went on to make 315 league appearances, scoring 97 goals over seven seasons, and was part of the team which finished runners-up to Liverpool in the old First Division under Dave Sexton in 1975-76.

QPR said in a club statement: “It is with a heavy heart we have learned that QPR icon Stan Bowles sadly passed away this evening (Saturday), aged 75.

“All our thoughts are with his family and friends at this incredibly difficult time. May he rest in peace.

“The club will be confirming how we will be paying a fitting tribute to Stan in due course.”

Regarded as one of England’s top talents as well as a maverick, Bowles moved to Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough in 1979, but just a year later joined Second Division Leyton Orient.

Despite his talents, Bowles won just five England caps, his only international goal coming against Wales at Ninian Park in 1974.

Bowles wound down his playing career back in west London with Brentford and retired in 1984, moving into after-dinner speaking, as well as some pundit work and a betting column. His 1996 autobiography revealed the extent of his drinking, womanising and gambling during his playing days.

Upon being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Bowles moved back to Manchester to be cared for by his eldest daughter, Andria.

In 2017, QPR hosted a benefit match in Bowles‘ honour, playing against Bournemouth to help raise funds for his continuing care.

Police forced to close Tower Bridge due to pro-Palestine protest

Police have been forced to close Tower Bridge due to a pro-Palestine protest in central London.

City of London Police announced the closure of the bridge to vehicles and pedestrians on Saturday evening, as huge crowds were seen gathered on the road and pavement.

Demonstrators calling for a ceasefire in Gaza were heard chanting “free Palestine”, in videos posted on social media, as they waved Palestinian flags.

The force confirmed Tower Bridge was shut at around 5.40pm “due to protest activity”, with officers at the scene. Roughly 45 minutes later, police said the bridge had reopened.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, City of London Police said: “Tower Bridge is currently closed due to protest activity. Officers are in attendance at the scene.”

Later, it wrote: “Tower Bridge has now reopened. Thank you for your patience.”

It comes after the Palestine Solidarity Campaign defended the right to lobby MPs “in large numbers”, amid reports the group wanted so many protesters to turn up that Parliament would “have to lock the doors”.

The group said the issue of MPs’ security was “serious” but should not be used to “shield MPs from democratic accountability”.

The organisation’s director Ben Jamal said thousands of people were “shamefully” denied entry into Parliament on Wednesday as they attempted to lobby MPs to vote in favour of a ceasefire in Gaza in what he described was one of the largest physical lobbies of parliament in history.

The Times reported that Mr Jamal told a crowd of demonstrators in the build-up to the protest on Wednesday: “We want so many of you to come that they will have to lock the doors of Parliament itself.”

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker who has faced calls to resign after going against convention during the SNP’s Opposition Day debate on a ceasefire, said his motivation for widening Wednesday’s discussion was fuelled by concern about MPs’ security because of intimidation suffered by some parliamentarians.

Mr Jamal said the group “does not call” for protests outside MPs’ homes and believed parliamentarians have a right “to have their privacy respected”.

The Government’s political violence tsar has said police should have the powers to “disperse” protests around Parliament, MPs’ offices and council chambers that they deem to be threatening.

Baron Walney, the Government’s adviser on political violence and disruption, said on Friday that the “aggressive intimidation of MPs” by “mobs” was being mistaken for an “expression of democracy”.

The crossbench peer, who in December submitted a Government-commissioned review into how actions by political groups can “cross into criminality and disruption to people’s lives”, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was calling for police forces to act “uniformly in stopping” protest outside MPs’ homes.

Uncovering the human cost of Russia’s war on Ukraine

Iryna’s body told her it was time to leave. “I started to have panic attacks,” she says. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, she remained in Kyiv for the first year of the war to support her family financially. But the terror of Russian bombs and air raid sirens pushed her to breaking point. “My mental health was struggling and my parents advised me to leave.”

During her journey to the UK, she was overwhelmed with feelings of fear and guilt. Her elderly parents were reliant on a small pension to survive and Iryna also left behind her friends and a successful career as an accountant. “Before the war, my life in Ukraine was really good, I had so many opportunities,” she says. She arrived at the doorstep of a host family in Petersfield, Hampshire, and knocked on the front door. It opened and her new life in England began.

Iryna’s story isn’t an isolated one. Europe is now home to six million refugees from Ukraine, who have fled their homes since Russia first annexed Crimea in 2014. Many may never return home. A survey by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a charity that helps people’s lives that have been shattered by conflict, revealed that 87% of respondents had to leave their homes at least once since 2014, with 20% experiencing displacement multiple times. Over 36% of people also reported having to forgo basic necessities due to financial difficulties; and, worst of all, 74% said they’d been separated from a close family member.

It’s a heartbreak Svitlana knows all too well. She was an English tutor in her hometown of Chernihiv, where she lived a happy life with her husband and their two children. That was until war broke out. Svitlana evacuated to a small village in western Ukraine, taking her children and 70-year-old mother with her. Eight months later, they moved to the UK to give their children the best chance of living a peaceful life.

Svitlana now lives with a host family in Preston. “It was one of the hardest decisions of my life,” she recalls. “We had to choose either to stay in the city which was shelled and bombed and hope that it would come to an end or to pack our essentials and take a risk of moving.” It’s a decision that she is now at peace with. “When we arrived at Preston, we gave a sigh of relief. Finally, we got to a place with no air raid alerts. It was great to fall asleep without fear for the lives of your kids.”

For Iryna and Svitlana, the help of the IRC has been vital as both have embarked on a new and difficult chapter in their lives. Shortly after arriving in Hampshire, Iryna took part in the IRC’s orientation for newcomers and leadership training. The programmes are designed to help refugees from various different countries to navigate local services in the UK such as healthcare and education, and to support them to find employment and gain the skills that will allow them to prosper in the UK.

Iryna’s mental health is gradually healing and the training provided by the IRC has helped to rebuild her confidence. She volunteers as an interpreter for the local council and various other organisations. She is also part of a Ukrainian female choir, where she helps to translate and works part-time for the New Theatre Royal as a duty manager. Iryna’s long-term goal is to become an English teacher. She is soon to finish her CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course at Portsmouth City College.

Svitlana also enrolled on the same orientation course with the IRC. It was the perfect way to begin her assimilation to life in the UK and share her experiences with other Ukrainians. “I can’t express my grati Svitlana’s tude in words,” she says. “The sessions were online, but it gave me the chance to socialise with other Ukrainians and learn about healthcare, education, emergency cases, rights and opportunities in the UK.” It’s also helping her with her career. “It helped me to understand how to write a CV and cover letter and navigate interviews. Thanks to this guidance, I’ve gained employment and self-employment as well.”

Two years on from the start of full-scale war in Ukraine and the future looks brighter for Iryna and Svitlana. “Looking back I’ve come so far from my New Year’s wish last year, which was just to survive,” says Iryna. “Now I can desire weekends by the sea and find a full-time job to become fully independent and help my family.” Svitlana is also feeling positive: “We’ve been surprised by the hospitality of our sponsor and his family,” she says. “I knew that British people are polite, tolerant and supportive, but I couldn’t imagine to what degree.”

Follow the link to donate to the International Rescue Committee and find out more about the crucial work they’re doing in Ukraine

Rishi Sunak must take Islamophobia as seriously as any other prejudice

Ministers were quick to condemn Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, for giving in, as they saw it, to threats of violence against MPs. Sir Lindsay appeared to have changed the rules of parliament under pressure from MPs who feared for their safety if they were not allowed to vote for Labour’s compromise motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

When pro-Palestinian demonstrators are guilty of intimidation or antisemitism, Rishi Sunak is rightly prompt and forthright in denunciation. Yet the prime minister seems to be slower to speak out when his own MPs express Islamophobic sentiments.

Lee Anderson, until recently Mr Sunak’s red wall mascot as a deputy chair of the Conservative Party, disgraced himself on Friday in an interview on GB News, a TV channel with its own questionable record. Mr Anderson attacked Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, saying that “Islamists … have got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London”.

Will Shamima Begum ever be allowed to return to the UK?

Shamima Begum, the “Isis bride”, now 24 years of age, has lost her attempt at the Court of Appeal to overturn the government’s decision to strip her of British citizenship. Begum travelled with friends to Syria at the age of 15 without the knowledge of her parents, school or police, married an Isis fighter (a Dutch national), and became involved herself in supporting Isis as a law enforcer. She claims to have been trafficked and that she is the victim of abuse.

In February 2019, soon after Isis retreated from its “capital” in Syria, she was found in a refugee camp, and her UK citizenship was revoked shortly after. Since then she has conducted a legal and media campaign to have it restored and to return to Britain, where she was born. She has had three children, all now deceased. Thus far she’s enjoyed little success, or indeed sympathy.

Her solicitor Gareth Peirce states: “Shamima Begum is held unlawfully in indefinite arbitrary detention, which is banned by every international treaty. She and others, other women and children, are in what is not a refugee camp but a prison camp, and that is conceded by the United Kingdom, which has stated to the UN that it agrees that Geneva Convention articles apply. Unlawful as that is, there is no exit. There is no way that she can escape from unlawful imprisonment.”