INDEPENDENT 2024-03-04 04:34:23

Kamala Harris says there must be an ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza

Vice President Kamala Harris called on Sunday for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza that would last for six weeks as she spoke in Selma, Alabama, on the anniversary of the civil rights march later known as “Bloody Sunday”.

“[G]iven the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire — for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table,” said the vice president, standing with her back to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

She also delivered one of the sternest condemnations of Israel’s failure to allow humanitarian aid to citizens of the Gaza Strip from the White House so far, remarks that came after Israel’s military was widely criticised for opening fire as Palestinians swarmed an aid truck carrying flour. More than 100 Palestinians were killed in the incident, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane. And our common humanity compels us to act,” Ms Harris said.

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses,” she added.

“They must open new border crossings. They must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid. They must ensure humanitarian personnel, and convoys are not targeted. And they must work to restore basic services, and promote order in Gaza, so more food, water, and fuel can reach those in need,” Ms Harris said.

President Joe Biden has been under immense pressure from his own party in recent days to pressure Israel to halt fighting in Gaza and allow the delivery of more humanitarian aid, as aid agencies warn that a famine is imminent.

The US began dropping humanitarian into Gaza aid by air this week to alleviate the ongoing crisis following a months-long and largely unsuccessful effort by the US to convince Israel to allow much-needed supplies in on the ground. The United Nations said that 80 per cent of aid deliveries destined for northern Gaza were blocked by the Israeli army in January.

Those air drops have been roundly criticised as insufficient to stop famine from taking hold.

On Sunday, the head of Save the Children, Janti Soeripto, described the air drops as “theatre,” and called for urgent action.

“Essentially what we need is opening of crossings, more trucks of supplies coming in, we need a ceasefire, we need safe and unfettered access to the communities,” she told Sky News.

At least 15 children have died of malnutrition and dehydration in recent days, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Ms Harris insisted new routes for aid to Gaza would be established.

“As President Joe Biden said on Friday, the United States is committed to urgently get more lifesaving assistance to innocent Palestinians in need. Yesterday, the department of defence carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian assistance. And the United States will continue these airdrops. And we will work on a new route, by sea, to deliver aid.”

Her remarks come a day ahead of her planned meeting in Washington DC with Benny Gantz, a top Israeli minister and centrist rival of Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s far-right prime minister. Mr Gantz’s visit rankled the prime minister and his allies at a time when an increasing number of media reports point to a fraying of ties between Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu even if the US administration continues to maintain vocal support for Israel and its right to “self-defence”.

The vice president went on to deliver remarks about the civil rights marchers who endured beatings from police and others while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.

She and President Joe Biden have faced mounting pressure from their own party to speak out more forcefully against the intensity of Israel’s assault against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and to pressure both sides into reaching a permanent ceasefire.

The Biden administration remains publicly opposed to the idea of a permanent ceasefire and has reiterated that Israel supposedly has a “right” to end Hamas’s military and political control of the Gaza Strip in the wake of a shocking and deadly terrorist attack last October.

Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip continue to hold an unspecified number of hostages, including both Israeli and American civilians. Meanwhile, the civilian death toll from Israel’s assault and the resulting famine and other effects has passed 30,000.

This latest shift in the administration’s messaging comes after more than 100,000 voters in Michigan’s Democratic primary voted “uncommitted” after progressives including Rep Rashida Tlaib urged Michiganders to register protest votes against the administration’s handling of the war in Gaza.

Health chiefs voice fears over MP’s move to cut abortion limit

Fears have been raised that proposals to reduce the abortion deadline by two weeks could inflict cruelty on vulnerable women and actually increase the number of pregnancy terminations.

The warnings come after Tory MP Caroline Ansell proposed an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to decrease the legal limit to have an abortion from the current deadline of 24 weeks to 22 weeks – with MPs set to vote on the proposals in due course.

But healthcare leaders and abortion providers told The Independent that Ms Ansell’s plans, which have gained the backing of a cross-party group of 26 MPs, were “incredibly cruel” and not grounded in clinical fact.

Dr Ranee Thakar, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ president, said they are against any reduction in abortion time limits.

She added: “Only one per cent of abortions happen after 20 weeks, but these are often undertaken because significant foetal anomalies are detected or because of serious maternal health issues.

“Late recognition of the pregnancy or unforeseen changes in a woman’s personal circumstances can also mean women access a later term abortion. Regardless of the reason, we firmly believe that no woman should be forced to continue a pregnancy against her will.”

Dr Thakar called for greater investment in local abortion services to ensure women are not forced to endure lengthy waiting times or embark on long trips to access terminations.

Her comments come as MPs are also set to vote on an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill next month that would see pregnancy terminations wholly decriminalised in England and Wales.

Jonathan Lord, medical director of MSI Reproductive Choices, the UK’s leading abortion provider, added: “When a couple get the awful news of a scan anomaly at 18-20 weeks, they are distraught and rightly want diagnostic tests.

“Those can take a few weeks, so reducing the limit to when these tests aren’t ready will pressurise this group into having to consider an abortion whilst they can, rather than wait for any reassurance that the tests may indicate.”

Dr Lord, who is co-chair of the British Society of Abortion Care Providers, warned that curbing the cut-off point could actually increase the number of abortions taking place, adding that it is highly rare for terminations to be carried out after 22 weeks.

But in these unusual cases, women are “often exceptionally vulnerable”, the consultant gynaecologist at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust added, citing examples of patients who are in denial that they are pregnant due to suffering extreme distress and cases involving young pregnant teenagers.

He also cited examples of patients falling pregnant after being raped, domestic abuse victims living in fear of their partners, and those with mental health issues.

“Forcing them to give birth would be incredibly cruel and reinforces the abuse some have already suffered,” Dr Lord said.

Explaining why she wants the abortion limit to be cut, Ms Ansell recently told The Daily Telegraph: “Our current time limit is an outlier compared with our European neighbours and my hope is this amendment will command widespread support across the house.”

In France and Spain, the cut-off point for an abortion is 14 weeks.

Professor Katie Morris, president of British Maternal and Fetal Medicine Society, added: “For the most vulnerable women in our society, such as those who suffer domestic abuse or rape as examples, being able to access abortion after 20 weeks could be lifesaving.

“For all of these women in complex and distressing situations we must have compassion and be able to offer abortion as a form of healthcare.”

Abortions can legally be carried out within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy in England, Scotland and Wales. But pregnancy terminations must be approved by two doctors, with the health professionals agreeing that continuing with the pregnancy would be riskier for the physical or mental health of the woman than having an abortion.

If a medical professional delivers an abortion outside of the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act, they are at risk of being prosecuted. Legislation passed in 1861 means any woman who ends a pregnancy without getting legal permission from two doctors can face up to life imprisonment.

Rachael Clarke, chief of staff at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, a leading abortion provider, said: “These proposals are not supported by any medical bodies, are not based in clinical fact, and do not have the support of the British public.

“Members of Parliament should not be fooled by this predictable move from anti-abortion MPs to try and move focus away from the fact that they believe that in 2024, women should be jailed for having an abortion.

“In light of the roll back in women’s rights in the US, none of us should be surprised to see American-funded anti-abortion groups leading attempts to deny thousands of British women every year the legal abortions they need.”

Abortions can legally be carried out after 24 weeks in a number of highly limited situations, such as when the mother’s life is at risk or the child would be born with severe disabilities.

But government data shows abortions performed at 24 weeks or over only make up 0.1 per cent of the total – with 276 such abortions in 2021.

Louise McCudden, of MSI Reproductive Choices’ UK, warned curbing the cut-off for abortions would be “devastating for the small number of women in the incredibly difficult position of needing to consider an abortion at this point in their pregnancy.”

She added: “Women would be forced to choose between continuing an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy and risking criminal prosecution.”

Ms McCudden explained that women already tend to do the “lion’s share” of childcare and caring for relatives and we must “trust women to know what is best for their own bodies, lives and families.”

“Some foetal anomalies are not picked up until 22 weeks,” she added. “Forcing people to make a decision before they have all the information is heartless and, ironically, will leave some people feeling they have no option but to end an otherwise wanted pregnancy.”

Ms Ansell has been approached for comment.

Moment police tracked down Wayne Couzens revealed in new documentary

Detectives who arrested Sarah Everard’s killer, Wayne Couzens, have described the moment the colour drained from his face after they knocked on his front door.

The harrowing new documentary into a crime that shocked the nation reveals how the Metropolitan Police tracked down a killer hiding in their ranks after he falsely arrested Ms Everard, 33, before raping and murdering her.

The marketing executive was snatched by Couzens, who was working with the force’s Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection unit, while she was walking home in Clapham, south London, on 3 March 2021 sparking a desperate search. Her burnt body was eventually found dumped in a woodland.

In the hour-long BBC documentary, Detective Chief Inspector Katherine Goodwin recalls the moment she discovered their prime suspect was a serving Metropolitan Police officer.

At the time, a team of officers was racing with blue lights from their London headquarters to his home in Deal, Kent, on 9 March after CCTV from a passing bus captured footage of Couzens’ hire car parked at the side of the road with Ms Everard.

“Whilst Nick and his team were running on blue lights to, to get some control over the address, one of my detective sergeants came running into the office and said, ‘We need to shut the door. You need to hear this’,” she said.

“He then put one of our researchers on speaker phone and she said, ‘He’s a police officer. He’s a serving officer in the Met. He currently works for the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Group’.

At Couzens’ home in Deal, the arresting officer, Nick Harvey, said his team “went silent” with shock when he was told the man they were about to arrest was a serving officer.

“We knocked on the door. Actually, he opened it. I just put my foot straight into the door. I showed him my warrant card and he just went grey. Just… all the colour just ran out of his face,” he recalled.

Inside, the killer fed officers a concocted story about his family being threatened by gangsters if he did not deliver a girl to them, before vowing: “If I honestly could tell you anything else, then you’d have it right now. Honestly. Honestly.”

Her remains were found the following day after officers tracked his mobile phone to Hoad’s Wood, in Ashford, where his family owned a plot of land.

DCI Goodwin added: “I then went to see Sarah’s family, and we told them that we’d found a body and that we believed it was Sarah’s. Which, as you can imagine, is just the most horrific news you can deliver to someone’s loved ones.”

Prosecutor Tom Little KC said it was the breach of trust after the officer used his warrant card to trick Ms Everard into getting into his car that helped secure a rare whole life order for Couzens – who will never be released from prison.

Although the case prompted a nationwide outcry about women’s safety and violence against women and girls, he fears the crisis is not getting any better.

“I don’t think that the incidences of violence against women and girls are reducing or decreasing in any way. In fact, it would appear to me that it’s getting worse,” he added.

Emma Loach, who commissioned the BBC documentary, said: “The murder of Sarah Everard sent shock waves across the country and ignited an urgent conversation about police failings and violence against women and girls.

“This is an important and timely film and we, like Sarah’s family, hope it will contribute to the ongoing dialogue around the issues raised.”

Sarah Everard: The Search for Justice on Tuesday 5 March, 9pm, BBC One and iPlayer.

The hidden homicides of women being pushed to their deaths

The family of a woman who was murdered by her abusive husband after he pushed her off Arthur’s Seat are backing a campaign to ensure justice for women who die after being pushed from a height.

Fawziyah Javed, 31, and her unborn child died when she was pushed from Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh in September 2021.

Kashif Anwar, 29, from Leeds, was found guilty of the murder after a trial at the High Court in Edinburgh last year and was given a life sentence and ordered to serve at least 20 years behind bars.

Ms Javed’s family has now backed the group Killed Women, which is calling for major change as it seeks to uncover and prevent the “hidden homicides” of women pushed to their deaths.

It coincides with the Channel 4 documentary The Push, which follows the case of Ms Javed, who was from the Pudsey area of Leeds.

Ms Javed’s mother Yasmin, a member of the Killed Women network, said: “Domestic abusers will continue to get away with murder if we don’t ensure the cases of so-called fallen women are rigorously investigated by authorities.

“We must have a system that delivers justice for these women.

“The conviction will never heal the grief of losing our beautiful Fawziyah, but we are campaigning to ensure that all those who murder women in this way are held to account.”

Criminologist Jane Monkton Smith estimates there are around 130 primarily female victims killed every year in England and Wales whose deaths are not investigated or prosecuted as homicides.

Killed Women submitted freedom of information requests to all 44 UK police forces to find out how many incidents of women falling from a height there were between 1973 and 2023.

It said 42 of the forces were not able to provide the data, or said they were unable to access the information due to the required time and cost.

Police Scotland did respond, stating there had been 10 homicides involving women falling from height, while Humberside provided data between 2017 and 2023, stating there were seven incidents, the campaign group said.

Killed Women’s Fallen Women campaign calls for the deaths of all women who have fallen from a height to be reviewed by police to identify whether domestic abuse may have been a feature.

The group wants official data collection to track the number of women who die after falling from a height each year, and said domestic abuse should be a key line of inquiry for police in all such cases.

Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, said: “I strongly support the fallen women campaign to shine a light on this hidden issue.

“Police, forensic specialists and the whole justice system must look seriously at the wider context to these deaths, taking the time to understand any history of domestic abuse, and join the dots.”

Killed Women is a campaigning organisation led by and representing the bereaved families of women killed by men.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, National Police Chiefs’ Council and Police Scotland have been contacted for comment.

Star Wars and Gremlins voice actor Mark Dodson dies aged 64

Voice actor Mark Dodson has died aged 64, his agent has said.

Dodson was known for playing various alien roles across the Star Wars universe.

He first voiced Salacious Crumb, a comedic monkey-like creature who works for his gangster leader Jabba the Hutt (Kevin Michael Richardson), in 1983 film Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi.

Dodson also appeared in various roles in 2015 film Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and 1985 spin-off movie Ewoks: The Battle For Endor.

In 1984, he portrayed the Mogwai and their evil alter egos in the Christmas-set horror film Gremlins.

The creatures, which become feral Gremlins if mystical rules are broken, were created using puppets and were brought to life by voice actors.

In a Sunday Instagram post, Stellar Appearances wrote that Dodson died on Saturday.

The statement also said: “Mark worked on dozens of movies, video games, commercials and advertisements adding his unique voice and sound to each character and script he touched.

“Mark truly loved his fans and enjoyed meeting them at conventions around the world.

“Mark leaves behind a wonderful family, close friends, and adoring fans around the world. The family asks for privacy during this difficult time.”

The Algarve… but make it luxury. The ultimate indulgent break guide

What does a luxury break look like to you? Chances are, it involves a picture-perfect beach, with miles of golden sands and crystal-clear waters. Perhaps some secret coves, lush lagoons and picturesque villages too. Add in mouth-watering food, incredible local wine, state-of-the-art spas and a spot of designer shopping, and you’ve got all the ingredients for the ultimate, five-star luxury holiday – and you’ll find it all in the Algarve.

Located on Portugal’s southern coastline, the Algarve is one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations – famously loved by families, sun-seekers (it enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year) and golfers. It’s also the ideal location for a luxury break. Between five-star resort settings and Michelin-starred restaurants, world-class leisure facilities and one-of-a-kind natural wonders, you’ll find everything you need for a truly exquisite experience.

To help you settle on your perfect holiday, travel experts Jet2holidays offer retreats in more than 50 amazing destinations in their Indulgent Escapes portfolio, including the Algarve. From beachfront boltholes to rural retreats, each hotel in this outstanding collection boasts a five-star rating and is hand-picked for its superb location and service.

With breaks including return flights, generous 25kg baggage, and return private hotel transfers*, all with a low £60pp deposit**, these stays are tailor-made. Plus, you can enjoy thoughtful extras such as complimentary priority lanes passes at your UK airport, two in-flight drinks✝ and a £10pp onboard voucher✝✝, for the ultimate luxury package holiday. Each one is ABTA and ATOL-protected, while has been voted Best Airline – UK by Tripadvisor and Jet2holidays is Which? Travel Brand of the Year 2023.

Here, we explore the best luxury experiences in the Algarve, from five-star stays and Michelin-starred cuisine to soothing spas and blissful boutiques.

The very best holiday starts with accommodation to match, and the Algarve has a huge array of luxury stays to choose from, including intimate hotels, private villas and wellness retreats.

For complete indulgence, set your sights on the region’s selection of luxury resorts, all designed with total relaxation in mind – whether that involves a round of golf, a spot of fine dining, cocktails by the pool or some nourishment in the spa. Couples and honeymooners can enjoy clifftop hideaways featuring wellness centres, poolside cabanas and buzzy bars. While families might prefer to stay in a lavish apartment complex, complete with on-site children’s entertainment and babysitting facilities. All set against a backdrop of stunning sea views, of course.

The Algarve might be famous for its vast beaches and warm climate – but it also holds a reputation as a must-experience foodie destination. From seafood hotspots with incredible ocean views to award-winning restaurants and hidden-gem tabernas, there are gourmet experiences to suit every taste. Sample freshly netted fish in the picturesque port of Olhão, enjoy a meal with a view in Vilamoura’s glitzy marina, or tempt your taste buds in the many upscale options in Quinta do Lago.

Fans of grand gastronomy will be spoilt for choice, as the region has an impressive eight Michelin-starred restaurants – two of which have a coveted two stars. It’s perhaps not surprising that the chefs here are so inspired – such is the incredible array of fresh and local produce available. Grilled sardines are a speciality (there’s even the annual Sardine Festival in Portimão), while signature local dish Cataplana combines succulent clams with onion, tomatoes, seafood, white wine and sausage.

For a real treat, look out for fresh oysters from the Ria Formosa lagoon and octopus from the village of Santa Luzia – dubbed the ‘octopus capital’ of Portugal. And while it may not be fine-dining per se, you can’t visit the Algarve without trying one of its most famous dishes: peri-peri chicken.

There’s plenty to wash it all down with too, as the Algarve has four distinctive wine areas: Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa and Tavira. Best known for its red wines, you should also be sure to try the famous fruity digestif, Medronho, produced in the Monchique mountains.

Luxury is all about enjoying fabulous things, and you won’t be short on beautiful sights around here – starting with the miles and miles of blissful beaches. From the famous aquamarine waters of Praia da Marinha in the central Algarve to the dramatic golden cliffs of Albufeira’s Praia da Falésia, as well as the soft sands of Vilamoura, it’s easy to secure your slice of paradise.

To get a little more off the beaten track, hire a car (we recommend a sporty little number for the full luxury experience) and drive the spectacular coastal roads. Alternatively, head inland to the jaw-dropping mountain landscapes and whitewashed villages.

You could even charter a boat and explore the hidden treasures of the region’s coastline, coves and sea caves. Meanwhile, Ria Formosa natural park – a maze of canals, islands, marshland and beaches – is one of Portugal’s natural wonders and a protected haven for wildlife. It’s great for hiking, bird-watching and snorkelling. The coastal town of Olhão is the perfect starting point to explore the lagoon.

For total tranquility, take a ferry to Ihla Deserta — which translates as ‘deserted island’ — where there are no homes or cars, just one wooden building that houses a renowned sustainable restaurant.

Feeling energetic? Take a swing at some of the best golf courses in Europe, sign up for a surf school, or work on your serve at one of the many tennis courts.

Looking to pick up some unique souvenirs? Or perhaps to treat yourself to a few designer threads? The Algarve has plenty of opportunities for retail therapy, be that in upscale boutiques and large shopping malls, or historic markets and artisan workshops.

Trendsetters should venture to the designer stores of Quinta do Lago, or browse the fashion and jewellery stores at Vilamoura Marina. Faro, Loulé, Portimão and Albufeira all have shopping centres, and there’s even a large designer outlet, where you can browse well-known brands at discounted prices.

Perusing the Algarve’s vibrant markets is another must. With so many to choose from, you can buy everything from fresh fish, olives and cheese to hand-crafted jewellery, ceramics and antiques.

For another way to unwind, you’re never too far from a spa in the Algarve. The medley of luxury hotels boasts incredible wellness facilities, where you can relax with a massage, get a rejuvenating facial, glam up with a manicure, or soothe your muscles in a hydrotherapy pool, hot tub or sauna. Afterwards, order a sundowner cocktail by the pool, sit back and revel in the sweetness of doing nothing.

To make it even easier for you to enjoy the ultimate break in the Algarve, Indulgent Escapes by Jet2holidays provides the perfect luxury package holiday looking look after you at every stage of your journey through their VIP customer service.

Fly to the Algarve from 11 UK airports: Belfast International, Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool John Lennon, London Stansted, Manchester and Newcastle. To find out more and start planning your trip, visit Jet2holidays

*Unless otherwise stated.

**On bookings made ten weeks or more before departure. Full payment required by balance due date.

Excludes champagne which is payable. One drink per person, per flight. T&Cs apply.

✝✝£10 voucher only available on Jet2shop products, excluding cigarettes and tobacco, non-transferable for cash. One per person above the age of two, per booking. Cannot be used on the in-flight menu.

In the interest of the nation, the Budget must look to the long term

When the chancellor of the Exchequer rises to present his Budget in the Commons on Wednesday, he will be addressing two distinct audiences. The first will be made up of his fellow Conservatives, including MPs on his own benches, who will be hoping against hope that he can conjure up some stroke of genius that could save them and their party from the seemingly inevitable rout at the general election.

The other will be made up of the broad swathes of voters and their families, who have grown weary of a political process that has given them three prime ministers in as many years, without leaving most people any better off in any sense. On the contrary, per capita GDP has declined over the past year gone; NHS waiting lists are at record levels, and many local authorities have been cutting back public services for want of money. As every government surely knows, the purse of the nation is the key to the health of the nation.

Jeremy Hunt’s dilemma is that what may suit the interests of the first constituency is unlikely to do much to help the second, and vice versa. This is why, however difficult it might be for such a seasoned party operator as Mr Hunt – and for a prime minister who must know that the removal vans will almost certainly be drawing up at Downing Street as soon as the general election results are in – it is essential that, between them, they choose the latter.

What are fiscal rules and how will they affect the spring budget

On Wednesday the chancellor will present his final spring Budget before the next general election.

This will be one of the last opportunities for the government to set out its plans for the economy and increase the Conservatives standing in the opinion polls.

Jeremy Hunt has been keen to show that his party will be fiscally “prudent and responsible” and will not commit to any unfunded tax cuts.