BBC 2024-02-29 10:31:36


More than 30,000 killed in Gaza, Hamas-run health ministry says

More than 30,000 Palestinians have now been killed in Gaza since 7 October, the Hamas-run health ministry says.

That number equates to about 1.3% of the 2.3 million population of the territory – the latest grim marker of the awful toll of this war.

The ministry says that the majority of those killed were women and children.

Its figures do not differentiate between civilians and fighters when identifying those killed.

In its daily update on Thursday, the ministry said 81 people had been killed in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 30,035.

The actual number of dead is likely to be far higher as the count does not include those who have not reached hospitals, among them thousands of people still lost under the rubble of buildings hit by Israeli air strikes.

More than 70,000 injured people have been registered by the Gaza ministry of health (MoH), which is the only official source for casualties. Its data is quoted by UN agencies and other international institutions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it has a “long-standing co-operation” with the Gaza body and that it has “good capacity in data collection/analysis”. Its previous reporting has been considered credible and “well developed” by the UN agency.

The WHO notes that when the current breakdown of deaths is compared with previous data recorded by the UN from past conflicts in Gaza, “it clearly shows an increasing number of civilians being killed, with a higher proportion of children and women fatalities”.

Asked about its assessment on the number of fatalities and the breakdown of civilians and fighters, Israel’s military told the BBC only that “the number of terrorists killed stands at approximately 10,000”.

  • Tears of Gaza father who lost 103 relatives
  • Hamas hostages: Stories of the people taken from Israel

For a Palestinian death to be registered in Gaza, a corpse or remains must be seen by hospital staff or medical workers. At the end of each day, hospitals send lists of all casualties including – where known – names, identity numbers, dates of injury or death, and details of injuries and condition to a centralised MoH system. Its operators are now based in Rafah.

The Palestinian Red Crescent also contributes data.

During this war it has been more difficult than ever to report figures because of overflowing mortuaries, fighting in and around hospitals and clinics, and poor internet and phone connectivity.

However, if and when a longer-term truce is agreed or the war ends, efforts to recover bodies and trace the missing should allow a clearer picture to emerge of numbers killed, including numbers of combatants. The UN and rights groups, as well as the Israeli military, can be expected to carry out their own investigations.

An ongoing criticism of the existing figures is that they do not give a sense of how Palestinians were killed – whether this was as a result of Israeli air strikes, artillery shelling or other means such as misfired Palestinian rockets. All casualties are currently counted as victims of “Israeli aggression”.

In recent days, the Gaza MoH has highlighted more cases of what the WHO calls “indirect mortality” – that is people dying as a result of the war but not directly because of the fighting.

On Wednesday, it said six children had died from dehydration and malnutrition at hospitals in northern Gaza. Two were at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and four at the Kamal Adwan Hospital in the town of Beit Lahia.

The UN is warning that a quarter of Gaza’s population is now at risk of famine and that there has been a dramatic increase in infectious diseases compounded by a general shortage of medicines and lack of medical care.

There has been a dramatic increase in infectious diseases and malnutrition as well as a general shortage of medicines and lack of medical care.

The war began when thousands of Hamas fighters stormed into southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Vladimir Putin: Russian leader making annual speech in Moscow

A short while earlier, Putin claimed that “Russia today is the largest economy in Europe in GDP and fifth in the world “. As expected this received a strong applause from Putin’s government.

It is always difficult to verify Russia’s economic data, but it does seem that the economy has been doing well recently.

The BBC cannot verify Putin’s claim immediately, but we’re working on getting the facts now and will return to this shortly.

Biden and Trump head to border for high-stakes duel

Joe Biden and Donald Trump will both travel to the US-Mexico border on Thursday, locked in a high-stakes political duel on an issue that could ultimately decide the US presidential election.

That border was crossed last year by 2.5 million undocumented migrants, an influx that has overwhelmed processing facilities and pushed social services in major American cities to the brink.

The day provides an opportunity for Mr Biden to try to convince voters he is serious about immigration, while Mr Trump’s own trip is yet another chance to shine a spotlight on an issue that has been the central focus of his political career.

November’s general election is expected to be a Biden-Trump rematch, although the two candidates have not secured their respective parties’ nomination quite yet.

Mr Trump is visiting Eagle Pass, the Texas border town where Republican Governor Greg Abbott has defied the Biden White House by using state National Guard soldiers to detain undocumented migrants and erect border barricades, including razor-wire fences that critics say are inhumane.

The former president is likely to tout these kind of aggressive measures and cite them as part of the reason why border crossings have dropped in Texas recently, while spiking in Arizona and California – states with Democratic governors.

The White House only announced Mr Biden’s own visit to Brownsville, Texas, a few days ago and the president’s trip is another indication that Democrats are scrambling to respond to an area of perceived weakness.

More than 6.3 million migrants have been detained crossing into the US illegally during Mr Biden’s time in office – a higher number than under previous presidencies – though experts say the reasons for the spike are complex, with some factors pre-dating his government.

“He needs to get down there, show his face, and get the pulse of what’s happening,” says Jaime Dominguez, a professor of politics at Northwestern University. Mr Biden has been criticised for failing to engage on this issue until now, he notes, and “perception is reality”.

That perception is translating into public opinion polls that paint a dark picture for the president. According to a recent Gallup survey, 28% of Americans named immigration as their top concern, beating out every other topic, including the economy and inflation. A Harris poll found Mr Biden’s approval rating on the issue at 35% – his lowest issue rating.

Some 61% of Americans in a Monmouth survey listed illegal immigration as a “very serious problem”, with a majority of respondents for the first time saying they support Mr Trump’s proposal of building a US-Mexico border wall.

Leaders in major Democrat-run US cities have grown increasingly critical of the president’s immigration policies – a consequence of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have arrived in places like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York either on their own or with transportation arranged by Republican governors in states like Texas.

  • Three reasons why so many migrants want to cross from Mexico to US

“Very progressive mayors are having to grapple with this issue, and they’re pleading with the federal government to do something,” Prof Dominguez says. “This isn’t an issue Democrats can just hide behind and say that it’s OK.”

Mr Biden’s border visit, the second of his presidency, appears part of a concerted effort to reverse this trend and turn the tables on Republicans – or at least minimise the political damage – allowing the election outcome to hinge on other topics, such as the economy or abortion rights.

The Biden camp has been hitting Mr Trump and congressional Republicans for blocking Senate-passed bipartisan immigration reform legislation in the House of Representatives earlier this month. They cite claims by the former president that he wanted to deny Mr Biden a victory on border security as evidence that Republicans are not serious about addressing the issue.

“Democrats called the bluff of the Republicans who for 30 years have said we need border security,” says Douglas Rivlin, senior communications director for the pro-immigration group America’s Voice. “They walked away because they’re not interested in actually resolving these issues, they’re interested in demonising immigrants because they see that as an important political strategy.”

Mr Rivlin notes that Republicans tried to capitalise on immigration fears in recent national elections – including 2018, 2020 and 2022 – with minimal success.

Another prong of the White House’s pivot on immigration may be tougher border measures and more stringent asylum policies that the administration has hinted the president could announce in the coming days. Such steps would be an effort to blunt the criticism that the administration has not done enough over the past three years to address what the president himself recently called a “crisis”.

But this risks alienating pro-immigration elements of Mr Biden’s political base, which could further fracture a electoral coalition that is already strained because of the president’s support of Israel in its war in Gaza.

“If we’re just talking about the border, and using that as a backdrop for the president’s speech, and if he’s a just adopting Trump talking points, it’s not going to work for the president,” Mr Rivlin says. “He has a potential to anger people in his own base without really persuading anybody that he’s as tough as any Republican on the border.”

  • Where Biden and Trump differ – and overlap – on immigration policy

Meanwhile, Mr Trump and the Republicans are pressing their perceived advantage. They criticise Mr Biden’s efforts as too little, too late, they deride his border visit as a copycat move, and they say the bipartisan congressional reform package that Democrats supported would have been ineffective at best.

“Conscious, deliberate choices made by the Biden administration created what’s going on down at the border right now, and the Biden administration is having to deal with the consequences of it,” says Eric Ruark, director of research for NumbersUSA, a group advocating for lower immigration levels.

He says the Obama administration faced a similar surge in migrants and changed course. With Mr Biden, there was no one in the White House to “put the brakes on” until recently, as the general election campaign loomed.

“At some point, they realised that they have to at least give the impression that they’re changing course,” he says. “Whether they can sell that is the big question.”

Mr Trump has his own immigration message to sell, and it is one that has its own set of weaknesses. When he was president, his early restrictions on immigration from majority-Muslim countries – an attempt at implementing his so-called “Muslim ban” campaign promise – created chaos at US airports and became mired in months of legal battles.

A 2018 policy of separating children and parents in families detained at the border was roundly denounced as cruel – and led Mr Trump to reverse course.

Now the former president is promising that if he is re-elected he will initiate an even more intense effort to combat undocumented migration, including enforcement efforts throughout the US and massive detention camps on the border.

Mr Rivlin calls that right-wing extremism which the Biden campaign should target for attack.

“Trump is talking about massive roundups and deportations,” he says. “That doesn’t really address where most Americans are. Most Americans want a secure border, but they also think that legal immigration is a good thing.”

Thursday’s Texas trips are just the beginning of what promises to be a pitched general election debate over immigration policy. There is still time for the political ground to shift, but given the state of public opinion, Mr Trump starts the fight with a clear advantage.

“There are steps to take that could do a lot to stem the flow right now,” says Mr Ruark. “But the issue is we’ve got millions of people who are already in the country. It took three years to get here, and you’re not going to solve it before the election.”

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How Britain is modernising its Sunday roast

Once the staple of local pubs or humble carveries, the Sunday roast can now be found at any number of chef-driven eateries, where the offerings go well beyond the usual.
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It was Sunday in London and I was sitting in the skylit atrium of the NoMad Restaurant in Covent Garden. A plate of rosy beef slices was placed before me. The meat reclined alongside a puffy, golden Yorkshire pudding (also known as a “Yorkie”), which happened to be stuffed with watercress and horseradish-tinged short rib. Trimmings followed: a cast iron pan containing charred carrots, turnips and brussels sprouts; a bowl of crispy, fat-roasted potatoes; and a small jug filled with thick brown gravy. With one bite of the tender meat, I felt a sense of jubliation set in. The Cure’s In Between Days was on the sound system and I was reminded of 1986, when I first fell in love with London as a student abroad.

Since then, “hopping across the pond” has become a biennial event for me. And nothing says “welcome back” more than the British tradition of a Sunday roast.

As much as the music and the food took me back, the experience could not have been more different than the roasts I enjoyed circa 1986. The crowd around me was young and trendy – words that would never be spoken in the same breath as “roast” nearly 40 years ago, when a roast was regarded as a meaty, family affair rarely found beyond the local pub if not enjoyed at home.

I noted my friend’s plate, with a roasted monkfish at the centre amid the trimmings, proof that the roast has become more inclusive. As someone who doesn’t eat meat, she could have also chosen the vegetarian or vegan options: miso-marinated celeriac in butter sauce, or plump wood-charred leeks with whipped almond and olive oil vichyssoise. There were starters, too, their preciousness a reminder that we were indeed in 2024: a neat rectangle of cured salmon topped with sea vegetable tempura, and a tiny Weck jar filled with pickled carrot tartare, topped with a raw quail’s egg. That’s when it really struck me that the roast, just like the city’s skyline and the monarchy, has evolved over time.

A vegetarian take on the Sunday roast: charred leeks with almond and olive vichyssoise (Credit: Cristian Barnett)

According to Dr Polly Russell, food historian and curator at the British Museum, the British love of roasts dates to the 15th Century and King Henry VII’s “beefeater” Yeoman Warders, the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London who were so named due to the weekly beef rations they were given to eat. But the idea of a “Sunday” roast punctuating the week for the populace really took hold in the 19th Century, Russell explained. “By the time we were industrialised, and Sunday became a day of rest, people would go to church, put whatever food they might have in the oven to cook and be ready for when they came home.” She pinpoints that era to when “the roast beef, particularly, became a symbol of Britishness”.

“For me, Sunday roast always felt like a special occasion,” said NoMad Restaurant executive chef Michael Yates. “It’s when you try your best to come together with family and friends and really share a meal around the table.” Though his execution of the roast is rather refined, Yates makes sure that the meal doesn’t stray too far from tradition, with the communal and celebratory aspect best expressed by his signature lamb offering (for two): a succulent shoulder, slow-roasted for 12 hours, then shredded and scented with lavender.

Yates is but one London chef modernising the Sunday roast. Once the staple of local pubs or humble carveries, a Sunday roast can now be found at any number of chef-driven eateries, where the offerings go beyond the usual. The Michelin-starred The Harwood Arms in Fulham, for example, features a bacon-wrapped, slow-cooked deer shoulder, glazed with honey and mustard. The sustainably-minded Sussex in Soho touts a partridge with liver parfait, bread sauce and thyme jus.

The “new” face of the Sunday roast doesn’t always need to be so exclusive, however. The Great Chase, a non-alcoholic fine-dining restaurant in Islington, prides itself on being inclusive, with halal meats and a vegan wellington. The roast can even pop up in the most unlikely spots, such as Camden’s The Black Heart, a music venue known for showcasing metal bands. Their plant-based menu is a go-to for vegans, who clamour for the roast “pork tofu” belly marinated with maple mustard, or the signature “mocken” breast, made with tofu and jackfruit. All are served with eggless Yorkies.

Wilton’s breaks tradition by serving roasts on Wednesdays (Credit: Kathleen Squires)

Despite being a symbol of British culture, many roasts these days are influenced by flavours from around the globe, a testament to London becoming ever more multicultural. The Soho, Shoreditch and Paddington branches of the smokehouse Temper, for example, serve their roasts barbecue-style, showcasing pulled lamb or beef, smoked chicken or pork belly. Caribbean flavours, meanwhile, pervade the Sunday serving at Guanabana in Kentish Town, with a choice of jerked beef roast or jerk chicken, and trimmings including plantains and grilled cabbage. Asian influences distinguish the roast served at Ling Ling’s, the pop-up at The Gun in Hackney, in dishes such as five-spiced braised pork belly and sesame Yorkshire pudding. The Sunday roast has proven so popular that the Ling Ling’s team has promised the roast will live on when they find a new home after their residency at the Gun ends on 31 March.

Even with the proliferation of new options, I found myself particularly grateful for Wilton’s. Though it has been a London institution since 1742, the Jermyn Street restaurant breaks tradition by serving roasts on Wednesdays, allowing me the fortune to enjoy a second roast during my recent London visit. Despite the unconventional day of service, it was as classic as it comes: served from a gleaming silver trolley with a besuited server hand-slicing the beef tableside. The meat arrived with all of the trimmings, of course, triggering all the comforting memories of London visits, and delicious roasts, of years past.

NoMad’s Yorkshire Pudding recipe
By Michael Yates

Makes 4 puddings

Though traditionally only served with roast beef, diners may now find “Yorkies” alongside any manner of meats, fish and vegetable mains. Here’s chef Michael Yates’s easy recipe for the timeless classic.

Method

Step 1
In a bowl, mix the eggs, milk, water, flour and salt and leave to rest overnight in the fridge.

Step 2
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F. Divide the garlic oil into 4 moulds of a muffin/popover tray (or a Yorkshire pudding tin, if you have one), leaving space between each for the pudding to grow. Place in oven to heat for 10 minutes.

Step 3
Open the oven and carefully ladle ¼ cup/2oz of batter directly into the center of each of the oiled holes; the sides should start to bubble. Bake for 10 minutes. Lower the oven to 140C/285F and continue to bake until golden brown and crispy, about 10 minutes longer.

BBC.com’s World’s Table “smashes the kitchen ceiling” by changing the way the world thinks about food, through the past, present and future.

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The mathematical muddle created by leap years

Every four years we have a 29 February – apart from those that fall at the turn of a century, unless the year is divisible by 400. This is the messy story of how leap years work.
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I have a friend at work – in the mathematics department of the University of Bath in the UK – who is turning 11 this year. He’s not a child prodigy (although we definitely do get some of those in maths). He just has a very special birthday: February the 29th.

As 2024 is a leap year, it means he gets to celebrate on the actual date of his birth instead of one of the surrounding days. Although for my colleague it is undoubtedly tedious to have people like me joke about how old he is (and spare a thought for the 100 year old “leaplings” who have had to endure 25 such occasions), for the rest of us the leap year has a special, almost mystical, aura about it.

This exceptional day has been associated with all sorts of weird and wonderful traditions over the years: from the wildly outdated notion that 29 February is the only day when women can propose to men, to the Leap Year Festival held in Anthony, New Mexico, which sees people born on this special day gather to celebrate their rare birthdays together.

As a rule of thumb, leap days come around every four years. But there are exceptions to this rule. For example, at the turn of every century we miss a leap year. Even though the year is divisible by four, we don’t add a leap day in the years that end in 00. But there’s an exception to this rule too. If the year is a multiple of 400 then we do add in an extra leap day again. At the turn of the millennium, despite being divisible by 100, the year 2000 did, in fact, have a 29 February because it was also divisible by 400.

So far so complicated. But why do we have leap years at all? And why are the rules that govern them so convoluted? As you probably know, the answer is something to do with keeping things in sync.

The French newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur is only published on 29 February every four years (Credit: Getty Images)

There are only two fundamentally determined units of time for our planet. One of them is the day: the time it takes for the earth to spin once on its axis, from facing the Sun, to facing away and then back again. The other is the year: the time it takes the Earth to complete one orbit of the sun.

Annoyingly it takes the earth 365.24219… (roughly 365 and one quarter) days to rotate around the sun and return to its starting position. So, a true solar year is not actually 365 days long. This is very inconvenient. We can’t celebrate New Year at midnight one year and then at 6AM the next and midday the year after that – getting further and further out of sync.

Way back in 46 BCE, Julius Caesar recognised this problem and with his advisors decided on a clever solution to improve the running of his Julian calendar – which included adding the extra quarter days accumulated every four years to create a whole extra day. (Read about how the leap year was invented under Caesar, and refined by Pope Gregory in the 16th Century.)

Adding a day every four years, however, gives the average length of a year to be 365.25 days – a little bit too long.

When the Gregorian calendar was introduced, it was decided to improve the approximation by striking out one of the leap days in years divisible by 100. Under this system, over the course of a century we would add 24 extra days not 25, making the average year 365.24 days long – an (even smaller) bit too short.

Not satisfied with this better approximation, it was decided to add back in an extra leap day every 400 years. Over the course of one 400 year period, this entails adding in 97 extra days in total, making the average year length 365.2425 days – near enough that no-one could be bothered going further.

Leap years are a mathematical trick to overcome the rather inconvenient time it takes the Earth to make a complete orbit around the Sun (Credit: Alamy)

It took several attempts and false starts to get to our present-day calendar accuracy. To get to the next level of accuracy we’d need to remove leap days on years that were multiples of 3200. That would give us an extra 775 days over the course of 3200 years making the average year 365.2421875 days long – an even greater level of accuracy.

This seems like a lot of trouble to go to, just to make sure that days align with years. Why instead don’t we just change our definition of the year to make it exactly 365 days? This seems like a sensible solution, and indeed it would be, were it not for the axial tilt of the earth.

The “Big Whack” theory suggests that about 4.5 billion years ago, a huge collision between proto-Earth and another, Mars-sized, planet sent enough debris flying to create the Moon, but also caused the Earth’s axis to tilt. Although that tilt is thought to have varied over the years, the fact that we have a tilt at all gives rise to the seasons familiar at higher latitudes – summer when your part of the Earth is tilted towards the Sun and winter when it’s tilted away, with spring and autumn in between.

If we didn’t make adjustments for the leap days then our calendars would get out of sync with our seasons. After 100 years the calendar would be off by about 25 days. After about 750 years, those living in the northern hemisphere would be celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer and Valentine’s day in the autumn. And that just wouldn’t do. Indeed, this lack of alignment between the civic and solar calendars was what prompted Caesar to add in the leap day in the first place, as well as introducing a 445-day year in 46BC to correct the months-long lag that had built up. (Read more about the longest year in history.)

If we didn’t make adjustments for the leap days then our calendars would get out of sync with our seasons. After 100 years the calendar would be off by about 25 days

You may well have heard of leap seconds. You might well ask why we can’t just add in a few leap seconds every day so that we end up with the right number of extra hours by the end of each year? It’s a nice idea, but of course it would mean that, by extending the day, our clocks would get out of sync with our daylight, which would be an even worse problem. Halfway through the year we might end up eating breakfast at dusk or going to bed at sunrise. In fact, leap seconds are used to avoid exactly this problem – small variations in the period of Earth’s rotation on its axis that would otherwise throw our time out of kilter.

So it seems we are stuck with leap days. But this year, on this most unusual of dates why not take the opportunity to embrace the rarity. You could read along with the French by picking up a copy of the world’s least frequently publish newspaper, La Bougie du Sapeur, published every leap day since 1980 (this will be the 12th edition). Or you could test your culinary skills by making pig’s trotter noodles, like the people of Taiwan, who serve it to their elderly on leap day, viewing the speciality as a harbinger of good luck and longevity. Or you could just sit back and enjoy your evening with a “Leap Year” cocktail. A combination of gin, Grand Marnier, vermouth and lemon juice, its unusual combination of flavours are the perfect tonic for this unusual day. Who knows, you could even be inventive and try making up your own unique tradition to capture the spirit of the rarest day of the year.

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