BBC 2024-07-05 04:07:04


How does the UK general election work?

By James FitzGeraldBBC News, London

Millions of people are expected to cast their ballots in Thursday’s UK general election that will decide who runs the country.

The poll is voters’ first chance since December 2019 to decide who should represent them as their local Member of Parliament, or MP, in Westminster.

Most will choose their preferred candidate in person at polling stations across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Others have already done the same job using postal votes.

Here are some of the key things to know.

When is the UK general election? Who decided that?

Polling stations across the UK opened at 07:00 BST (02:00 EST), closing at 22:00.

The 4 July date was set by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a televised address on 22 May that marked the start of a six-week campaign.

He had to declare a vote by 17 December, according to rules that required him to do so before the fifth anniversary of the day that the previous Parliament first sat.

Who can vote?

Anyone on the UK electoral register who is 18 or over on polling day can vote – as long as they are a UK citizen, a qualifying citizen of a country in the Commonwealth, or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland who has an address in the UK.

And UK citizens living abroad can vote in areas where they were previously on the electoral roll.

People who cannot vote in general elections include prisoners serving a sentence in jail, and members of the UK’s upper chamber, the House of Lords.

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What’s at stake?

All 650 MP seats in the lower chamber, the House of Commons, are up for grabs. Each member voted into the House solely represents a single voting area, or constituency.

Under the first-past-the-post system, the candidate who wins the most votes in any given constituency becomes the MP.

They simply need to beat all the other candidates to emerge victorious; they do not need to get the majority of all the votes cast in their area.

Losing candidates get nothing.

What is at stake for the parties? A chance to lead the country as the next government.

What happens after results are announced?

Results from across the UK will arrive overnight and into Friday morning.

After the votes have been counted, the King asks the leader of the party with the most MPs to form a government.

If no party ends up with a majority of at least 326 seats – meaning it faces being unable to pass new laws without the help of others – the result is known as a hung parliament.

At this point, the largest party might decide to form a coalition government with another party or operate as a minority government, relying on votes from other parties to pass any laws.

How is the prime minister chosen?

The leader of the party with the most MPs becomes prime minister – an action that is also confirmed by an official conversation with the King.

That person leads the UK government and takes responsibility for deciding its direction and priorities, as well as other tasks like representing the country abroad.

Meanwhile, the leader of the party with the second highest number of MPs becomes the leader of the opposition.

Sitting opposite government MPs in the House of Commons, they lead their MPs in challenging or scrutinising decisions made by the governing party.

How does the BBC report on the vote?

Like other UK broadcasters, the BBC is not allowed to report details of campaigns or election issues while polls are open on the day of the general election.

During that time, it is in fact a criminal offence to publish information about how people say they have voted in the election.

That is why coverage until the close of polls is restricted to uncontroversial factual accounts, such as the appearance of politicians at polling stations, or the weather.

However, online sites do not have to remove archived reports. And the lists of candidates and their pledges stay available online.

Why am I seeing photos of dogs at polling stations?

This has become a British election-day tradition, with social media users sharing snaps of their pet pooches under the hashtag #dogsatpollingstations.

It is not uncommon for people to take along other pets, too. A snake and a chicken have both been spotted this time round.

The rules state that animals are not usually allowed inside the stations themselves – other than assistance dogs – though they can be left outside while their owner votes.

How to follow the election on the BBC

BBC News is on hand with a wealth of coverage for election night on 4 July.

The latest news, analysis and results will be available from 22:00 BST on Thursday, across all platforms and whether you are in the UK or overseas.

Online

Follow all the election developments and the results as they come in on the BBC News website and app.

BBC News cameras and reporters across the country will feature on our live pages and video streams, so you will not miss a thing.

You can follow General election 2024 for simple explainers and in-depth analysis from BBC News political correspondents and experts.

International users can access all BBC News election content on BBC.com.

Television and streaming

Why does Laura Kuenssberg love election night?

Laura Kuenssberg and Clive Myrie will host BBC News’ election night coverage, along with BBC political editor Chris Mason and other experts.

The programme will be on BBC One in England, BBC Two in Wales and Northern Ireland, and the BBC News channel for audiences in Scotland and overseas.

Dedicated election results programmes on BBC One in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will be presented by Martin Geissler, Mark Carruthers, and Nick Servini respectively, with Anne McAlpine hosting a Gaelic-language election round-up on BBC Alba.

You can also keep up to date through the BBC News Channel and the Election 2024 livestream on BBC iPlayer.

News Channel coverage will be signed from 21:55 BST on Thursday night to 16:30 on Friday.

Sign up for our Election Essential newsletter to bring all the latest news and analysis straight to your inbox.

Radio and Sounds

The BBC News flagship Newscast programme, rebranded Electioncast for the election period, will be running an all-nighter overnight on Thursday into Friday with Adam Fleming and the BBC News political team.

It will transform the BBC Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House into the biggest living room in the country, getting live reaction from 150 audience members as results come in.

BBC Radio 4’s election-night coverage will be hosted by Rachel Burden and Nick Robinson.

For analysis, they will be joined by BBC News chief political correspondent Henry Zeffman.

Audio-only political coverage will also be available on the “Election 24” stream on BBC Sounds and on smart speakers.

Global audiences can follow events, with a mix of dedicated UK-election coverage and international news, through the BBC World Service.

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Israel tells ceasefire Gaza negotiators to resume work

By Raffi BergBBC News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to send a team of negotiators to discuss a hostage release deal with Hamas.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the development, which comes a day after Hamas responded to a Gaza ceasefire plan he outlined at the end of May.

The last indirect talks took place in Cairo in early May and efforts to get them back on track since then have made little progress, with the US putting the blame on Hamas.

The details of Hamas’s latest response have not been made public, but a Palestinian official familiar with the negotiations told the BBC that the group was no longer demanding a full ceasefire at the outset of the plan presented by Mr Biden.

On Wednesday, Hamas’s political leadership said it had contacted mediators from Egypt and Qatar about ideas it had been discussing with the aim of reaching an agreement.

Up to now Hamas has demanded an end to the war and a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. Israel says it will accept only temporary pauses in the fighting, until it eliminates Hamas.

When he announced the plan on 31 May, President Biden said it was based on a more detailed Israeli proposal, and that it involved three phases.

The first would include a “full and complete ceasefire” lasting six weeks, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from populated areas of Gaza, and the exchange of some of the hostages – including women, the elderly and the sick or wounded – for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

The second phase would involve the release of all other living hostages and a “permanent end to hostilities”. The third phase the start of a major reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of dead hostages’ remains.

On Thursday, Israeli and US leaders discussed Hamas’s response in a telephone conversation.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu updated President Biden on his decision to send a delegation to continue the hostage negotiations and reiterated the principles that Israel is committed to, especially its commitment to end the war only after all of its goals have been achieved,” the Israeli government said in a statement.

Mr Netanyahu has declared his objectives to be the return of all remaining hostages, the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, and ensuring Gaza no longer constitutes a threat to Israel.

The White House said Mr Biden “welcomed the prime minister’s decision to authorise his negotiators to engage with US, Qatari, and Egyptian mediators in an effort to close out the deal”.

It was not clear when or where the Israeli delegation would travel, but Israel’s Channel 12 TV reported that the head of the Mossad intelligence agency would lead it.

A source in the Israeli negotiating team meanwhile told Reuters news agency that Hamas’s response included “a very significant breakthrough” and that there was “a deal with a real chance of implementation”.

A senior Palestinian official told the BBC earlier on Thursday that Hamas had given up the demand for a complete ceasefire. Its new conditions, the official said, related to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from a strip of land running along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, known as the Philadelphi corridor, and from the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

The source, who was informed of the response Hamas submitted to the mediators, added that the atmosphere was positive. “We are going to a new round of negotiations soon,” the source said.

The US has accused Hamas of blocking progress towards a ceasefire.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the group was the “one exception” to international support for the ceasefire proposal. Hamas, he said, had created “gaps… in not saying yes to a proposal that everyone, including the Israelis, had said yes to”.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has said he is “committed to the Israeli proposal welcomed by President Biden”, although he has not publicly endorsed the outline as it was laid out.

The war was triggered by Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on 7 October in which Hamas-led gunmen killed about 1,200 people and took 251 others back to Gaza as hostages.

At least 38,010 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza as a result of Israel’s offensive, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Hamas and allied armed groups are believed to still be holding 116 hostages who were taken on 7 October. At least 42 are presumed by Israeli authorities to be dead.

The others have been released, rescued or their bodies recovered.

Four other Israelis have been held hostage since 2014 and 2015, two of whom are presumed dead.

US man jailed in Russia for 12 years on drug charges

By Matt MurphyBBC News

A US citizen has been sentenced to 12.5 years at a maximum security penal colony by a Russian court after being convicted on drugs charges.

Robert Woodland, 32, was detained in Moscow in January and accused by prosecutors of seeking to sell a large quantity of methadone. His lawyer told the Reuters news agency that he had partially confessed to the charges.

Mr Woodland, who was born in Russia and adopted when he was two, had travelled to the country in 2020 to find his birth mother. His journey was documented by a Russian reality TV programme.

He is the latest US citizen to be imprisoned in the country, with some Western officials suggesting the Kremlin is “hoarding” Americans to trade for allies and operatives imprisoned abroad.

In a statement released after Mr Woodland’s conviction on Thursday, Russian prosecutors said he had been caught while packaging a large quantity of narcotics at an apartment in the Russian capital.

They claimed he had been working with a large-scale criminal group and had transported 50-grams of the drug from a pick-up point outside the city.

His lawyer, Stanislav Kshevitsky, had initially denied the charges, saying officials had presented “no evidence” of drug sales before the court.

But he told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday that Mr Woodland had confessed to some of the allegations against him. It remains unclear which charges he has accepted.

Footage carried by state media in Russia showed Mr Woodland sitting inside a glass cage in court, staring impassively ahead as the verdict against him was read out.

Russian media reported that Mr Woodland decided to remain in the country after meeting his mother in 2020 and worked as an English teacher near Moscow. His tearful reunion with his mother was broadcast on state television at the time.

The Interfax news agency said he holds US and Russian citizenship.

At least a dozen US nationals, including journalists and active duty soldiers, are currently being held in Russian prisons and penal colonies.

Among those is Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter detained over a year ago on espionage charges which he denies. The US considers him to be “wrongfully detained”.

Western officials have long suspected that Moscow is seeking to detain Western citizens to use as bargaining chips in prisoner swaps. US law prohibits the payment of ransoms to terror groups, but successive administrations have been willing to offer concessions to other states to secure the release of Americans.

This is what happened to Brittney Griner, who was released at the end of 2022 in a prisoner swap with the US in return for the controversial Russian arms dealer Victor Bout.

While the US state department said earlier this year that it was aware of Mr Woodland’s case, it avoided commenting directly on the allegations.

Instead, it issued a statement saying it “has no greater priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas”.

US officials have repeatedly warned US citizens in Russia to leave the country, citing the risk of wrongful arrest and harassment by authorities.

Hurricane Beryl leaves Jamaican homes without power

By Nick DavisBBC News, Kingston
Cayman Islands and Mexico braces for Hurricane Beryl

Hundreds of thousands of homes in Jamaica remain without power in the wake of Hurricane Beryl.

The category four storm – one of the most powerful to ever hit the country – swept along the island’s southern coast on Wednesday night, bringing more than 12 hours of heavy rain.

Officials and residents are assessing the damage after an island-wide curfew was lifted early on Thursday.

Beryl, which has now weakened to a category three storm, is headed for Mexico and the Cayman Islands. It left a trail of devastation across the Caribbean, killing at least 10 people.

St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Venezuela reported three deaths each, while one person died in Jamaica.

The storm destroyed almost every home on two small islands in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Mayreau and Union.

Predicted path of Hurricane Beryl

Here in the capital, Kingston, while the winds were extremely strong, they weren’t the hurricane gusts that were expected. But the hours of heavy rain are a real concern, especially on farmland where flooding has been reported.

One resident of a rural farming community told the Reuters news agency: “It’s terrible. Everything’s gone. I’m in my house and I’m scared.”

“It’s a disaster,” said Amoy Wellington, who lives in the southern parish of St Elizabeth.

On Wednesday night I was able to go outside briefly to move my car away from overhanging trees.

A full-length mirror was lying next to the car – it had probably blown off someone’s balcony, a reminder that unexpected objects suddenly become missiles in winds that strong.

Jamaican energy provider JPS said that 65% – or about 400,000 of its customers – were without power on Thursday morning.

The hurricane has delivered “a most devastating blow” to parts of the island, said the MP for St Elizabeth South Western.

Posting on X, Floyd Green said in his constituency “significant numbers of roofs [have been] lost, houses destroyed, trees uprooted, light poles downed, almost all roads are impassable.”

King Charles III, who is also monarch in several Caribbean nations, said on Thursday he was “profoundly saddened to learn of the dreadful destruction” left by Hurricane Beryl.

The UN has unlocked $4m (£3.1m) from its emergency response fund to help the recovery in Jamaica, Grenada and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness thanked “first responders, essential services, security forces and good Samaritans who have assisted others in this time of crisis” on his X account.

Beryl became the the earliest category five Atlantic hurricane in records going back around 100 years – thought to be as a result of warmer sea surface temperatures.

The storm shocked meteorologists at how fast it intensified – taking just 42 hours to go from a tropical depression to a major hurricane.

Watch: Flooding and destruction after Hurricane Beryl hits Jamaica

Diddy faces new sexual assault case

By James FitzGeraldBBC News

Embattled rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs is facing another sexual assault case after a woman came forward with fresh accusations against him.

The complaint filed him in New York by former porn star Adria English is the latest of several lawsuits filed against the star in recent months.

Mr Combs, who is one of rap’s most successful moguls, has consistently denied all allegations of sexual assault and physical abuse, including the latest ones.

The star is now reportedly also the subject of a federal criminal investigation, though there is no sign any charges are imminent, according to NBC News.

Mr Combs’s legal woes have mounted after accusations made by ex-girlfriend Cassandra “Cassie” Ventura in November. Earlier this year, he apologised after footage came to light that showed him attacking Ms Ventura in a hotel hallway in 2016.

The new case against in New York alleges that Mr Combs “forced and coerced (Ms English) to engage in sex work for him” at parties. It also alleges that the rapper threatened to ruin her career if she did not comply.

A total of 33 allegations are made against Mr Combs and his associates in Ms English’s 114-page filing, which gives an account of events between 2004 and 2009.

“No matter how many lawsuits are filed it won’t change the fact that Mr Combs has never sexually assaulted or sex trafficked anyone,” his lawyer told US media.

The statement went on to say that “Mr Combs is confident he will prevail against these and other baseless claims in court”.

Ms English is the latest in a string of women to make claims against Mr Combs in recent months, following a lawsuit launched by Ms Ventura that was settled by Mr Combs in November for an undisclosed sum.

She had accused him of rape and sexual trafficking over a decade. Mr Combs’ team clarified that the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing.

Various allegations of sexual and physical abuse have been made against the rapper since then.

His homes in Los Angeles and Miami, Florida, were raided earlier this year as part of a federal investigation into human trafficking.

Mr Combs’s team has been notified that he is a subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation, according to NBC News, citing two sources familiar with his legal issues.

Details of the reported investigation have not been revealed, and neither federal officials or Mr Combs’s legal team have commented on the matter specifically.

Hezbollah fires 200 rockets and drones into Israel

By David GrittenBBC News

The Lebanese armed group Hezbollah has launched more than 200 rockets and attack drones into northern Israel, in response to the killing of one of its senior commanders.

Israel’s military said one of its officers was killed in the barrage, which started a number of fires.

The military also said it had targeted Hezbollah “military structures” and other targets in southern Lebanon in response.

Lebanese media reported that one person was killed in an Israeli drone strike in the town of Houla.

The latest barrage, which followed one comprising 100 rockets on Wednesday afternoon, was one of the biggest so far in the nine months of cross-border violence which have raised fears of an all-out war.

The Hezbollah commander killed in an Israeli air strike near the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, Mohammed Nimah Nasser, was one of the most senior figures in the group to have been killed in the conflict.

The Israeli military said Nasser commanded Hezbollah’s Aziz Unit, which is responsible for launching rockets from south-western Lebanon, and accused him of directing a “large number of terror attacks”.

It also described him as “the counterpart” of Taleb Sami Abdullah, the commander of another unit whose killing last month prompted Hezbollah to launch more than 200 rockets and missiles into northern Israel in a single day.

There have been almost daily exchanges of fire across the Israel-Lebanon border since the day after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza on 7 October.

Hezbollah has said it is acting in support of the Palestinian group that is also backed by Iran. Both groups are proscribed as terrorist organisations by Israel, the UK and other countries.

So far, more than 400 people have been reported killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them Hezbollah fighters, and 25 people in Israel, mostly soldiers.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to restore security in northern Israel.

“In the tough campaign against Lebanon we have set a principle – whoever harms us is a dead man. We are making that a reality in practice,” he said on Thursday.

The hostilities have also displaced tens of thousands of people from border communities in northern Israel and southern Lebanon.

“The response to the assassination of the dear leader Hajj Abu Nimah [Nasser]… started last night and quickly,” senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine warned at Nasser’s funeral in Beirut on Thursday.

“This series will continue to target new sites that the enemy did not imagine would be hit.”

A spokeswoman for the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, Unifil, said the exchanges were now extending deeper into both sides of the border, and called on both Israel and Hezbollah to show restraint.

“We’re very concerned… because any exchange, any incident, can escalate into something greater if there is a misunderstanding,” Kandice Ardiel told the BBC.

There has been a flurry of diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions in recent weeks, with the UN and US warning of the potentially catastrophic consequences of a war that could also draw in Iran and other allied groups.

Israeli officials have repeatedly warned that they are ready for a war if diplomacy fails. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Wednesday that the military would soon be ready to “take any action required in Lebanon, or to reach an arrangement from a position of strength”.

Hezbollah, which is seen as a significantly superior foe to Hamas, has said it does not want a full-out war with Israel and that it will observe in Lebanon any ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. But it has also warned Israel that it would fight “without rules” if there was a war.

Ukraine calls them meat assaults: Russia’s brutal plan to take ground

By Gordon CoreraSecurity correspondent, Kyiv

On the frontlines, Ukrainian soldiers use a graphic term to describe the Russian tactics they face daily.

They call them “meat assaults”: waves of Russian soldiers coming at their defensive positions, sometimes nearly a dozen times in a day.

Lt Col Anton Bayev of the Khartia Brigade of Ukraine’s National Guard says wave after wave can arrive in just a few hours at front-line positions north of Kharkiv.

“The Russians use these units in most cases purely to see where our firing equipment is located, and to constantly exhaust our units,” he said.

“Our guys stand in positions and fight, and when four or five waves of the enemy come at you in a day, which you have to destroy without end, it is very difficult – not only physically, but also psychologically.”

This tactic has led to staggering Russian casualties since Moscow launched its latest offensive two months ago. Around 1,200 Russian soldiers were being killed or wounded every day in May and June, the highest rate since the beginning of the war, according to Western officials.

Those attacking are normally quickly spotted by drones above and the Russians leave their dead and wounded on the battlefield, Lt Col Bayev says. “Their main task is simply meat assaults and our total exhaustion.”

The tactic is a sign that Russia is seeking to make the most of its key advantage – numbers.

In Pokrovsk in the Donetsk region, Captain Ivan Sekach from Ukraine’s 110th Brigade compares what he sees to a conveyor belt bringing Russians to be killed, although still allowing them to push forward slowly.

Russia benefits from a significantly larger population than Ukraine. Some of those in the assaults are former prisoners, but Russia is also able to recruit through making one-off payments, sometimes thousands of dollars.

And there have been complaints from the Russian side about “crippled regiments”, in which wounded soldiers are forced back into fighting. One video shows dozens of men, some on crutches, appealing to their commanders because they say they are wounded and require hospital treatment, but instead are being sent back into combat.

All of this, Western officials say, means Moscow can keep throwing soldiers, even if poorly trained, straight on to the front lines at the same rate they are being killed or wounded.

Ukraine could not match the Russian tactics even if it had the numbers, partly due to a different attitude towards casualties. A senior general was removed in recent weeks after complaints he was using what are often called Soviet tactics – throwing people at the front lines.

“There are a lot of criticisms because we have lost a lot of our guys because of Soviet-type mindset and strategy,” says Ivan Stupak, a former Security Service officer. “We are limited with manpower. We have no other options than thinking of our people.”

In the area around Kharkiv, Russian advances have been stopped. But in the east, Russia’s attritional approach is making slow but steady advances.

“Unfortunately there are a lot of Russians. And they are trying to conduct this rolling operation centimetre by centimetre, inch by inch, 100m per day, 200m per day. And unfortunately, it’s successful for them,” says Stupak.

There is frustration in Kyiv about the pace of Western support. One senior official complains they are receiving enough help to ensure they do not lose but not enough to make sure they win.

Western officials acknowledge 2024 has been a tough year for Ukraine, with delays in the arrival of US military aid creating a major strain on defences which has cost territory and lives.

“It seems like a so-called incremental approach,” Oleksandr Merezhko, chair of Ukraine’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told the BBC.

“We receive little by little, and I get the impression that our Western allies give a little bit of weaponry, and they see what happens next, as if they’re afraid of what they refer to as escalation.”

The lifting of restrictions on using US weapons over the border into Russia has made a difference and helped stall Moscow’s assault on Kharkiv.

“If we have to fight with our hands tied behind our back, you know we’ll be only bleeding to death,” says Mr Merezhko. “That’s why it’s crucially important to be allowed to use long range missiles in the territory of Russia, and we already have results.”

But a Ukrainian official said the use of longer range strikes into Russia had only been a palliative and was not fundamentally altering the dynamic of the war.

“We are driving towards stalemate,” former security service officer Ivan Stupak says, acknowledging that this may lead eventually to the “bitter pill” of some form of negotiation.

During a visit to Kyiv this week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban suggested a ceasefire first to hasten negotiations, a position that officials in Kyiv are wary of.

“We [are] not ready to go to the compromise for the very important things and values,” Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine’s President Zelensky, told reporters in Washington.

Ukrainians fear without hard security guarantees – such as Nato membership, rather than vague talk of a bridge to such status – Russia may simply regroup and attack again in the future.

Vladimir Putin is counting on wearing down Ukraine on the battlefield and outlasting the West’s resolve to provide support. As well as launching guided aerial bombs against frontline positions and civilians in Kharkiv, Moscow has also targeted energy infrastructure across the country, leading to increasingly frequent power blackouts and concerns over what winter might bring.

November’s US election adds another layer of uncertainty, along with a question mark as to whether the European Union could realistically pick up any slack.

For Lt Col Anton Bayev on the frontline near Kharkiv, the ability to strike into Russia may have been vital, but he now sees his enemy adapting its tactics – and not just with “meat assaults”.

His losses now come from mortars and glide bombs, while his Ukrainian forces remain short of ammunition.

“We need everything, and there is always a lack,” he says.

“The boys are holding on. We’re all hanging on. It’s hard, but everyone knows the price and why it’s all being done.”

Biden says he ‘screwed up’ debate but vows to stay in election

By Gareth Evans, Courtney Subramanian and Kayla EpsteinBBC News, Washington & New York
Joe Biden admits poor performance in debate

US President Joe Biden has admitted he “screwed up” in last week’s debate against Donald Trump, but has vowed to fight on in the election race and moved to reassure key allies.

He told a Wisconsin radio station he made a “mistake” with his stumbling performance, but urged voters to instead judge him on his time in the White House.

On Wednesday, as reports suggested he was weighing his future, he worked to calm senior Democrats including state governors and campaign staff.

“I’m the nominee of the Democratic Party. No one’s pushing me out. I’m not leaving,” he said in a call to the broader campaign, a source told BBC News.

Mr Biden was joined on the call by Vice-President Kamala Harris, who reiterated her support.

Speculation has mounted over whether she could replace the president as the party’s candidate ahead of the November election.

A fundraising email sent after the call by the Biden-Harris campaign was also bullish. “Let me say this as clearly and simply as I can: I’m running,” Mr Biden said.

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Questions have been swirling around whether the 81-year-old will continue with his campaign following a debate marked by verbal blanks and a weak voice.

It sparked concern in Democratic circles around his fitness for office and his ability to win the election.

Pressure on Mr Biden to drop out has only grown as more polls suggest his Republican rival’s lead has widened.

A New York Times poll conducted after the debate, which was published on Wednesday, suggested Trump was now holding his biggest lead yet at six points.

And a separate poll published by the BBC’s US partner CBS News suggested Trump has a three-point lead over Mr Biden in the crucial battleground states.

Name-calling and insults – key moments from Biden and Trump’s debate

The damaging polling for Mr Biden has been compounded by some Democratic donors and lawmakers publicly calling on the president to stand aside.

Among them are Ramesh Kapur, an Indian-American industrialist based in Massachusetts, who has organised fundraisers for Democrats since 1988.

“I think it’s time for him to pass the torch,” Mr Kapur told the BBC. “I know he has the drive, but you can’t fight Mother Nature.”

And two Democrats in Congress also called for a change at the top of the party’s ticket. The second, Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona, told the New York Times it was time for Democrats to “look elsewhere”.

Despite this, the White House and the Biden campaign have vehemently denied reports he is actively weighing his future and say he is committed to defeating Trump for a second time on 5 November.

The New York Times and CNN reported on Wednesday that Mr Biden had told an unnamed ally he was aware his re-election bid was in danger.

His forthcoming appearances – including an ABC News interview and a Friday rally in Wisconsin – were hugely important to his campaign, he reportedly said.

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A spokesperson rejected the reports as “absolutely false”, shortly before White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said reports that he may drop out were untrue.

Among the senior Democrats Mr Biden met on Wednesday was a group of 20 state governors from around the country, including California’s Gavin Newsom and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer. Both have been tipped as potential replacements if Mr Biden were to stand aside.

“The president has always had our backs, we’re going to have his back as well,” Maryland Governor Wes Moore told reporters after the meeting.

But Ms Harris is still considered the most likely replacement. The 59-year-old has been hampered by poor approval ratings, but her support has increased among Democrats since the Biden-Trump debate.

Amid the speculation, comments made by Trump indicated he could be switching his attention to attacking Ms Harris.

In footage obtained by the Daily Beast – and shared online by Trump himself – he can be seen in a golf cart pouring scorn on Mr Biden, whom he describes as “broken down”. He suggests that Ms Harris would be “better”, though still “pathetic”.

The vice-president gave an immediate interview on CNN after the debate, projecting calm as she expressed full support for the president.

“She has always been mindful to be a good partner to the president,” her former communications director Jamal Simmons told BBC News.

“The people who ultimately will make the decision about who the nominee should be mostly are people who are pledged to him. Her best role is to be a partner to him.”

A source close to Ms Harris said nothing had changed and she would continue to campaign for the president.

Members of the Democratic National Committee are charged with voting to officially make President Biden the party’s nominee at the August convention, putting him on the ballot nationwide.

One member, who has spoken to other delegates and requested anonymity to speak frankly about sensitive discussions, told the BBC that the nomination should go to Vice-President Harris if Mr Biden opted not to run.

“If we open up the convention, it will cause pure chaos that will hurt us in November,” they said.

A report by the Washington Post, meanwhile, said Mr Biden and his team recognised that he must demonstrate his fitness for office in the coming days.

He has planned trips to Wisconsin and Philadelphia later in the week, and is due to appear on ABC News on Friday for his first televised interview since the debate.

His full interview with Wisconsin’s Civic Media is also due to be published on Thursday.

While acknowledging that he had “screwed up” with his performance, he told the station: “That’s 90 minutes on stage. Look at what I’ve done in 3.5 years.”

Ghana chef accused of faking Guinness World Records award

By Thomas Naadi & Basillioh RukangaBBC News, Accra and Nairobi

A Ghanaian chef who claimed to have broken the world record for the longest non-stop cooking by an individual has been arrested over a dispute with his sponsor.

Ebenezer Smith held a press conference on Tuesday announcing he was the new world-record holder after cooking continuously for 802 hours and 25 minutes – more than a month.

He presented a certificate purportedly from Guinness World Records (GWR) confirmed him as the record holder.

But on Wednesday, a GWR spokesperson told BBC Pidgin the claims were “not true” and added that it was “not our certificate”.

In another response to a Ghanaian media outlet, GWR also explained they were not aware of his attempt and that they did not receive an application from him.

The chef was arrested by the police shortly after announcing his purported award, over a dispute with his sponsor, the Amadia Shopping Centre, Spintex, in the capital Accra, where he held his cooking marathon in March.

They accused him of breaching a contractual agreement by not informing them about the new developments regarding the alleged confirmation of the award.

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Many Ghanaians have expressed shock and disappointment on social media about the case, which was widely covered when Mr Smith claimed to have broken the record.

The chef, who is still in police custody and has not been charged yet, has not commented on the accusations.

His unsuccessful record attempt earlier this year attracted the support of several local celebrities.

Several Ghanaians have attempted to break Guinness World Records in recent times, including media personality and entrepreneur Afua Asantewaa Aduonum, who attempted the longest singing marathon last year.

Earlier this year another chef, Failatu Abdul Razak, attempted the longest cooking marathon in the northern city of Tamale.

The current record for longest cooking marathon by an individual is held by Ireland’s Alan Fisher at 119 hours, 57 minutes 16 seconds from 28 September-3 October last year, GWR said.

It had previously been held by Nigerian chef Hilda Bacci, whose record stood at 93 hours 11 minutes. Her win caused a sensation in Nigeria with people trying to get themselves in the record books by doing things like crying or singing non-stop.

She was dethroned by Mr Fisher months after being declared the record holder.

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DR Congo soldiers sentenced to death for desertion

By Wedaeli ChibelushiBBC News

Twenty-five soldiers with the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army have been sentenced to death for fleeing battles against the notorious M23 rebels in the conflict-hit east of the country.

The soldiers were also convicted of theft by a military tribunal as they stole goods from shops in a nearby village after abandoning their positions, an army spokesman said.

Four of the soldiers’ wives were acquitted by the military court of receiving goods looted by their husbands.

In March, the government lifted a moratorium, in place for more than 20 years, on the death penalty being carried out after the justice minister cited the need to remove “traitors” from the army.

A lawyer for the soldiers, two of whom were captains, said he would appeal against the sentence, which was handed down on Wednesday by the military tribunal in DR Congo’s North Kivu province.

In addition to the 25 who received death sentences, one soldier was given a 10-year prison sentence and another was acquitted.

In May a military court in the city of Goma sentenced eight soldiers to death for “desertion” and “cowardice” when fighting rebel forces. They, too, are appealing against their sentences.

The M23 rebels have over the last few days captured several towns, including the strategic town of Kanyabayonga.

Neighbouring Rwanda is widely accused of backing the M23, but the government in Kigali denies it.

The UN has said that the current situation in North Kivu is “particularly concerning”.

In the past week more than 150,000 civilians fled their homes, it said, worsening a humanitarian crisis in a region where 2.8 million people had already been displaced.

North Kivu is also “perilous” for humanitarian workers, the UN added.

On Sunday two aid workers with the charity Tearfund were killed after their convoy was attacked in the town of Butembo.

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The army’s fight against the M23 and other rebel groups in the east has long been hampered by the disarray within its ranks.

The army is seen as unprofessional and badly disciplined. Soldiers complain of poor pay and a lack of equipment.

Both the UN and regional states have troops in DR Congo to support the army, but they have failed to stem the violence.

M23 fighters are said to be well-armed and disciplined.

The rebel group began operating in 2012 ostensibly to protect the Tutsi population in the east of DR Congo, which had long complained of persecution and discrimination.

Despite Rwanda’s denials, UN experts – along with France and the US – say the M23 is supported by President Paul Kagame’s government.

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Ecuador police free 49 people held by gang

By Vanessa BuschschlüterBBC News

Police in Ecuador say they have freed 49 people who had been kidnapped by a criminal gang in the southern of the country.

Two of the suspected kidnappers were arrested during the joint raid by the Ecuadorean security forces in a mining area in Azuay province.

The powerful Los Lobos (The Wolves) gang was behind the kidnapping, police said.

Ecuador has seen a surge in gang violence in recent years as transnational criminal organisations have expanded in to the Andean country to take advantage of its large ports to export drugs.

Video released by police shows heavily armed officers entering what appears to be the tunnel of a mine.

Little information has so far been released about those freed.

An earlier post on social media by the Ecuadorean armed forces stated that there were three women among the kidnap victims.

Dynamite, weapons and ammunition were seized during the raid, security forces also said.

Los Lobos is one of the most powerful gangs in Ecuador with an estimated 8,000 members.

Originally a jail gang accused of instigating some of Ecuador’s bloodiest prison riots, Los Lobos has expanded its operations and now wields considerable power outside the prison system.

Its members are involved in contract killings, kidnappings for ransom and extortion.

The gang has also forged links with the Mexican Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG), for which it smuggles cocaine from Colombia through Ecuador’s port cities to the US and Europe.

Fuelled by drug money and armed by their Mexican allies, Los Lobos have become a formidable enemy for the Ecuadorean state.

In January, following a particularly bloody wave of killings and attacks, President Daniel Noboa deployed the army to try and quell the violence.

Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and its most important port, has so far been the worst hit by gang-related violence but the raid in Azuay suggests that mining areas are now seen as lucrative targets by Los Lobos.

Israel approves largest W Bank land seizure in decades – watchdog

By David GrittenBBC News

Palestinians and the UN have criticised what an anti-settlement watchdog says is Israel’s largest seizure of land in the occupied West Bank in more than three decades.

About 12.7 sq km (4.9 sq miles) of the Jordan Valley was declared “state property” in June, denying Palestinians there private ownership and usage rights, according to the Peace Now group.

The declaration also created “territorial continuity” between Israeli settlements in a key corridor bordering Jordan, the group said.

A Palestinian official said the seizure was designed to dispossess Palestinians, while the UN criticised it as “a step in the wrong direction” for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The declaration was welcomed by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich – a far-right settler who has authority over settlement policies in the coalition government and who considers the West Bank as part of a “Greater Israel”.

Israel has built about 160 settlements housing some 700,000 Jews since it occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land the Palestinians want as part of a future state – in the 1967 Middle East war.

The vast majority of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

The seizure approved by Israel’s Civil Administration last month – but only made public on Wednesday – covers an area north of the settlement of Yafit that had mostly been designated as a nature reserve or as an Israeli military “fire area”.

“The size of the area designated for declaration is the largest since the Oslo Accords,” Peace Now said, referring to the 1993 interim peace deal that set out how parts of the West Bank and Gaza would be governed by the Palestinian Authority until a permanent peace settlement could be reached.

The group added that 2024 “marks a peak in the extent of declarations of state land,” with a total of 23.7 sq km seized since the start of the year, including 8 sq km of land adjoining the latest area that is connected to the settlement of Masua.

Peace Now accused Mr Smotrich and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being “determined to fight against the entire world and against the interests of the people of Israel for the benefit of a handful of settlers” over resolving Israel’s political crisis or ending the war in Gaza.

“Today, it is clear to everyone that this conflict cannot be resolved without a political settlement that establishes a Palestinian state alongside Israel,” it said.

When asked to comment, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “Frankly, it’s a step in the wrong direction. And the direction we want to be heading is to find a negotiated two-state solution.”

The head of the Palestinian Authority’s Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission, Muayyad Shaaban, meanwhile said the seizure was “part of a large plan aimed at controlling the eastern part of the West Bank”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Israeli media reported that Mr Smotrich welcomed the declaration along with the news that the Israeli military’s Higher Planning Council was holding a two-day meeting to advance plans for 5,300 new settler homes in the West Bank, and the security cabinet’s decision last week to retroactively authorise five settlement outposts built without official government approval.

“Thank God, we are building and developing the settlements and thwarting the danger of a Palestinian state,” he was quoted as saying.

Last month, Peace Now released a taped recording of Mr Smotrich outlining in a speech to a conference for his Religious Zionism party a series of moves that the campaign group warned would irreversibly change the way the West Bank was governed and lead to “de facto annexation”.

It said they included the completion of transferring the management of settlements from the military to civilian officials; the creation of a “legalisation bypass route” for settlement outposts; expanding the authorisation of agricultural outposts; and cracking down on unauthorised Palestinian construction.

In return for the retroactive authorisation of the five settlement outposts, Mr Smotrich reportedly agreed to unfreeze the last three months of tax revenues withheld from the Palestinian Authority and to extend a waiver protecting Israeli banks that work with Palestinian banks.

The US had urged Israel to release the funds, warning that further economic hardship for Palestinians could lead to more violence in the West Bank.

The UN says more than 530 Palestinians and 14 Israelis have been killed in the territory since the start of the war in Gaza, which was triggered by Hamas’s deadly attack on southern Israel on 7 October.

Nearly 30,000 evacuated from California wildfires

By Mallory MoenchBBC News
Blazing infernos force evacuations in northern California

Tens of thousands of people in northern California have been told to leave their homes as wildfires grow across the state during a heatwave.

About 28,000 people were under evacuation warnings or orders on Thursday after the Thompson fire broke out two days earlier, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

Dangerously hot weather is expected to continue with temperatures of 118F (47C) forecast in some areas until early next week.

No one has died, while 74 structures across the state have been destroyed or damaged.

The city of Oroville, near where the Thompson fire started, cancelled its 4 July Independence Day fireworks celebration over the risk of starting another blaze.

“The last thing we need is somebody who’s purchased fireworks from a local fire stand going out and doing something stupid,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. “Don’t be an idiot, cause a fire and create more problems for us.”

Mr Honea said the area had seen four fires within the last couple of weeks and cautioned that danger was far from over.

“This is a bad fire season,” he added.

Fire season started recently in California and usually runs until October. The size and intensity of fires in the state have grown in recent years.

The amount of burned areas in the summer in northern and central California increased five times from 1996 to 2021 compared to the 24 year period before, which scientists attributed to human-caused climate change.

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This week, the National Weather Service issued excessive heat and red flag warnings – indicating hot, dry and windy weather – across the state. The agency said “dangerous” temperatures posed a major to extreme risk of heat stress or illnesses.

According to CalFire, around two dozen fires have burned more than 10 acres sparked across the state since the last week of June. The largest one, at nearly 14,000 acres, was in Fresno county.

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Butte County to provide resources.

The Thompson fire started in Oroville, about 70 miles north of the state capital Sacramento, on Tuesday. The city is around 20 miles from Paradise, which was devastated by the Camp Fire in 2018 that killed 85 people. Fires hit the region again in the years following.

Some 28,000 people were impacted by evacuation orders or warnings as of Thursday, CalFire spokesman Robert Foxworthy told the BBC. The fire was around 3,500 acres and only 7% contained.

He said the fire was no longer growing amid lighter wind speeds, but the heat – which was predicted to hit 110F (43C) on Thursday – was the “biggest factor” impacting firefighters.

Two days after the fire broke out, many residents remained unable to return home.

Brittanie Hardie, a Louisiana native and recent California transplant, told the San Francisco Chronicle that she had not been at home when her girlfriend evacuated their flat, and had nothing but the clothes she was wearing.

“I knew wildfires were bad in California, but I didn’t know it was this bad,” Hardie told the newspaper.

Oroville City Council member Shawn Webber posted a video on Facebook on Wednesday showing hillsides smoking on both sides of a road, but thanked firefighters for preventing further destruction.

California’s state parks system said agencies responding to the fire “also have employees with families displaced by these evacuations who are tirelessly assisting the community of Lake Oroville”.

India preacher denies blame for crush deaths

By Anbarasan EthirajanBBC News, Hathras • Toby LuckhurstBBC News, London

The preacher who led an overcrowded gathering in India where more than 120 people were crushed to death on Tuesday has denied blame, and pledged to co-operate with the police investigation.

A lawyer for the self-styled guru known as Bhole Baba told the BBC the crush occurred “due to some anti-social elements”, and blamed a “criminal conspiracy hatched against” his client.

On Thursday, police said they had arrested six people who were part of a committee that organised the event.

Nearly all those killed were women and children, who were attending the satsang – a Hindu religious festival – in Hathras district.

The case has sparked outrage in India and questions about a lack of security measures.

Bhole Baba – whose real name is Narayan Sakar Vishwa Hari – will fully co-operate with the investigation, his lawyer AP Singh said.

Mr Singh also denied reports that security guards at the festival triggered panic by pushing away people who tried to get Bhole Baba’s blessing.

“Totally false allegation,” Mr Singh told the BBC. “Security staff always provide help to the followers.”

Watch: Survivors recount the horror of India religious event crush

This is one of the worst crushes to happen in India for years.

Shocking images from the aftermath of the disaster have circulated online, of people driving the wounded to hospital in pick-up trucks, tuk tuks and even on motorbikes.

What happened?

The crush took place in Pulrai village, where Bhole Baba was holding a religious gathering.

An initial police report said that officials had given permission for 80,000 people to gather, but some 250,000 people turned up to the event.

The report says the chaos began as the preacher drove off. Eyewitnesses said people lost their footing and started falling on top of each other as hundreds rushed towards the preacher as he was leaving the venue.

As people ran after his vehicle, survivors said a number of those sitting and squatting on the ground got crushed.

One of the first on the scene, local resident Yogesh Yadav, told the BBC that hundreds of women ran after Bhole Baba’s car as he was leaving.

“Some crossed the highway to get a better glimpse of his car. In the melee, many women fell in the drain adjacent to the highway. People started falling on top of each other,” Mr Yadav said.

The police document added that some people tried to cross the road to a patch of mud-soaked fields, but were forcibly stopped by the organisers and were crushed.

Bhole Baba was originally named Suraj Pal, but he reportedly re-christened himself as Narayan Sakar Vishwa Hari.

One senior police officer in Uttar Pradesh told BBC Hindi that the preacher had been a police constable, but was suspended from service after a criminal case was lodged against him.

He was reinstated in the force after a court cleared him but left his job in 2002, the senior officer said.

The preacher has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers in Hathras and neighbouring districts.

Bhole Baba is known to have an ashram in Mainpuri, about 100km (62 miles) from Pulrai village.

His lawyer told the BBC his client is now at his ashram. The preacher has not been named in the initial police complaint.

Hamas faces growing public dissent as Gaza war erodes support

By Lucy Williamson & Rushdi AboualoufBBC Middle East correspondent & Gaza correspondent

The man in the video is beside himself, a mask of anguish radiating through his bloodied face.

“I am an academic doctor,” he says, “I had a good life, but we have a filthy [Hamas] leadership. They got used to our bloodshed, may God curse them! They are scum!”

The video – unthinkable before the Gaza war – was filmed outside a hospital, inundated with hundreds of Palestinian casualties after an Israeli operation to free hostages from central Gaza last month.

Seconds before the video ends, he turns to the crowd.

“I’m one of you,” he says, “but you are a cowardly people. We could have avoided this attack!”

The video went viral. And it’s not the only one.

Open criticism of Hamas has been growing in Gaza, both on the streets and online.

Some have publicly criticised Hamas for hiding the hostages in apartments near a busy marketplace, or for firing rockets from civilian areas.

Residents have told the BBC that swearing and cursing against the Hamas leadership is now common in the markets, and that some drivers of donkey carts have even nicknamed their animals after the Hamas leader in Gaza – Yahya Sinwar – urging the donkeys forward with shouts of “Yallah, Sinwar!”

“People say things like, ‘Hamas has destroyed us’ or even call on God to take their lives,” one man said.

“They ask what the 7 October attacks were for – some say they were a gift to Israel.”

Some are even urging their leaders to agree a ceasefire with Israel.

There are still those in Gaza fiercely loyal to Hamas and after years of repressive control, it’s difficult to know how far the group is losing support, or how far existing opponents feel more able to speak their mind.

But a senior Hamas official privately acknowledged to the BBC, months ago, that they were losing support as a result of the war.

And even some on the group’s own payroll are wavering.

One senior Hamas government employee told the BBC that the Hamas attacks were “a crazy, uncalculated leap”.

He asked that we concealed his identity.

“I know from my work with the Hamas government that it prepared well for the attack militarily, but it neglected the home front,” he said.

“They did not build any safe shelters for people, they did not reserve enough food, fuel and medical supplies. If my family and I survive this war, I will leave Gaza, the first chance I get.”

There was opposition to Hamas long before the war, though much of it remained hidden for fear of reprisals.

The last time Palestinian elections were held, in 2006, in the party list vote Gazans voted for Hamas in 15 out of 24 seats in the territory – in the other nine districts, voters chose a different party.

A year later, Hamas violently ejected Palestinian Authority forces from Gaza causing a bitter rift with the rival Fatah movement, and took over the running of the whole Gaza Strip.

Ameen Abed, a political activist, said he had been arrested many times for speaking out against Hamas before the war, but said – nine months on – dissent was becoming more common there.

“In Gaza, most people criticise what Hamas has done,” he said.

“They see children living in tents, and insulting their leaders has become routine. But it has a lot of support among those outside Gaza’s border, who are sitting under air conditioners in their comfortable homes, who have not lost a child, a home, a future, a leg.”

Desperation and war are eroding social structures in Gaza, and Hamas control is not what it was.

Four-fifths of Gaza’s population is displaced, often moving between temporary shelters.

And law and order has broken down in places, partly as a result of Israel’s policy of targeting Gaza’s security forces – not just the official Hamas internal security service, but also the community police responsible for street crime.

As control has waned, criminal gangs have thrived, looting neighbourhoods and aid convoys; and private security companies – some run by powerful local families – have emerged.

One staff member from an aid organisation operating in Gaza described “absolute chaos at street level” and “a state of anarchy”, saying that civilian order had completely broken down as a result of the Israeli policy.

Israel’s prime minister has repeatedly vowed to continue the war until Hamas’s military and governing capabilities are destroyed.

But some aid agencies – in both northern and south areas of Gaza – have also reported regular checks on their activities by local Hamas officials, and videos are frequently circulated of unofficial Hamas security forces shooting and beating those caught looting.

One well-placed source told the BBC that dozens of people had been killed by Hamas in bloody score-settling with other local groups, after Israeli troops withdrew from one area.

Fear of criticising Gaza’s leaders might have lessened, but it hasn’t gone, so it is still hard to accurately gauge, beyond individual testimony, how far support for the group is shifting.

Some, like 26-year-old Jihad Talab, still strongly support Hamas.

Displaced from the Zeitoun area of Gaza City with his wife, daughter and mother, and now sheltering in Deir al Balah, he said the group was not responsible for their suffering.

“We must support [Hamas] because it’s the one working on the ground, the one who understands the battle – not you or I,” he said. “Empty accusations only serve the Occupation [Israel]. We’ll support it until our last breath.”

A regular poll carried out by a West Bank-based think tank, the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, claims that most people in Gaza still blame Israel and its allies for the war, rather than Hamas.

The latest survey in June said that almost two-thirds of Gazan respondents were satisfied with Hamas – a rise of 12 points from December – and suggested that just around half would still prefer Hamas to run Gaza after the war ends, over any other option.

Glimpses through chinks in the media blockade around Gaza can never give a full assessment of the situation. International journalists are barred by Israel and Egypt from reporting on the situation there first-hand.

What is clear is that Hamas remains very sensitive to public opinion.

Strikingly similar messages regularly appear on certain social media platforms to justify its actions, often apparently in response to criticism at home.

A source familiar with Hamas told the BBC there was an organised international network to co-ordinate social media messaging for the group.

After Israeli families released a video showing the moment female soldiers were kidnapped by Hamas units on 7 October, some in Gaza questioned whether targeting women during war was in line with Islamic teaching.

In response, several pro-Hamas social media accounts put out similar messages insisting that soldiers – male or female – were justified military targets, and saying the unit had been involved in shooting Gazan protestors during demonstrations six years ago.

Criticism of Hamas is growing sharper, and long-buried divisions over Hamas rule in Gaza are becoming clear.

Out of the destruction left by Israel’s battle with Hamas, a new war is emerging: a battle for control of public opinion within Gaza itself.

Lucy Letby: Courtroom drama, a failed appeal, and battles over the truth

By Judith Moritz and Jonathan CoffeyBBC News

When former nurse Lucy Letby was convicted of murdering babies last year, news channels rolled on the story, and her mugshot was splashed across front pages and websites around the world.

The scale of Letby’s crimes, the extreme vulnerability of her victims, and unanswered questions about the nurse all combined to stoke interest in the case.

But this was a saga that was still unfolding. Hospital consultants who’d suspected Letby spoke of the struggles they’d had to be heard. Public outcry quickly led to the announcement of a public inquiry.

Meanwhile, police said they were reviewing the cases of 4,000 admissions of babies into neonatal units at hospitals where Letby worked or trained, and were launching an investigation to establish whether the Countess of Chester Hospital should face criminal charges.

There was blanket coverage. Then the news cycle moved on, and Lucy Letby fell out of the headlines.

But that wasn’t the only reason things went quiet. We can now explain why coverage of Letby’s story has been restricted over the last 10 months – and what we haven’t been able to report, until now.

  • Listen to Judith read this article on BBC Sounds

A month after Britain’s most notorious nurse was sentenced to spend the rest of her life in prison, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced it was seeking a fresh trial.

Letby had been convicted of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder another six at the Countess of Chester Hospital’s neo-natal unit between June 2015 and June 2016. She was acquitted of two counts of attempted murder.

But there were six further charges on which jurors couldn’t decide. Now the CPS said it was intending to run a retrial to put one of those undecided charges before a new jury. The judge quickly imposed a court order prohibiting the reporting of anything that could prejudice the upcoming trial. The result was a virtual news blackout, at least temporarily.

In the background, Letby’s defence team applied for permission to appeal against her convictions. There was no public hearing, and journalists weren’t told about Letby’s grounds for appeal – or the judge’s reasons when they decided to deny her request.

But that wasn’t an end to it – Letby could make one final appeal request, in front of three judges at the Court of Appeal in London – and this time the hearing would take place in public.

Barristers, solicitors, police officers and journalists who’d been involved in the original trial traipsed down to the Royal Courts of Justice. Letby attended remotely, via a video link from a non-descript room in HMP Bronzefield, where she is currently an inmate.

It was the first time we’d seen her since she’d refused to turn up to her sentencing hearing. Her hair had grown, but it was still difficult to read anything from her expression – she maintained the same impassivity as she had during the trial.

What unfolded in court was fascinating, but had to stay in our notebooks.

Letby’s lawyers claimed her convictions were unsafe, calling into question the science behind the prosecution case, laying into the prosecution’s expert witness, and arguing part of the judge’s directions to the jury had been wrong.

It was the first time since the end of her trial eight months earlier that anyone had heard her team set out its stall – but much of it was familiar to those of us who’d been following the case.

The same attacks on the prosecution’s experts had been made during the course of the trial, and Letby’s lawyers had also previously argued against the judge’s legal directions.

But Letby’s lead barrister, Ben Myers KC, a seasoned courtroom performer, had a couple of cards up his sleeve. The first was a saga involving a fight in a cafe, the theft of a mobile phone, and an email to the court from someone alleging they’d overheard a juror claim the jury had already made up their minds from the start of the trial.

Although the judge had spoken to the juror and allowed him to carry on serving, Letby’s barrister argued this wasn’t enough. The judge, Mr Myers argued, should have questioned the person who’d made the allegation too.

None of this had anything to do with whether or not Letby had murdered babies – but it was thrown into the mix as one of the grounds for appeal.

More Lucy Letby coverage

There was also a new witness – neonatologist Shoo Lee, from Toronto, the co-author of a 1989 medical research paper about air embolism in neonatal babies. An air embolism occurs when one or more air bubbles enter a vein or artery, causing a block in circulation. The consequences can be fatal.

Letby was found guilty of injecting air into the bloodstreams of some of the infants, causing air embolism. Prosecution experts had based some of their evidence on Dr Lee’s paper, although he hadn’t been called to give evidence.

Now he was appearing on behalf of the defence.

During the trial, much was made of changes in skin colour observed on some of the babies, which it was suggested were symptomatic of air embolism. The prosecution cited Dr Lee’s paper in support of this, and paediatric consultant Dr Ravi Jayaram told the court a “chill went down (his) spine” in June 2016 when he read the research and believed it fitted with what he’d seen on babies in Chester.

But nobody had checked with Dr Lee. The point he now made, via webcam from 3,500 miles away, was that only one, very specific skin discolouration was diagnostic of air embolism, and none of the babies in the case had displayed this exactly.

For Letby’s defence, it was a basis for appeal. The prosecution disagreed. They argued that all of the instances of skin discoloration in the Letby case were consistent with air embolism, and some of these could be proven using Dr Lee’s own diagnostic method.

They said Dr Lee hadn’t been shown any of the eyewitness testimony from the trial, or any of the babies’ records – and so was not qualified to weigh in now.

Sitting on the uncomfortable wooden benches of court 4, one couldn’t help but wonder why this development hadn’t been aired at the trial. Letby’s lawyers were arguing the science was too weak to support as many as nine of her 14 convictions.

But on 24 May, Court of Appeal judges again rejected Letby’s request for permission to appeal against her convictions.

During Letby’s trial, online forums and communities sprang up, where users analysed the evidence as the case unfolded. There were views on everything from the science, to the barristers’ performance, and endless speculation about Letby herself.

Very few of those posting opinions were at Manchester Crown Court to watch the trial in person. The majority were following media reports, tweets, and a live blog on the Chester Standard newspaper’s website.

The online commentary was voluminous – and often in breach of legal restrictions. The trial judge directed jurors not to go online, or conduct their own extra-curricular research, and the hearings continued without anyone being prosecuted for contempt of court.

After the verdicts finally came through last August, newspaper headlines screamed “Monster” and “Angel of Death”. But the view on the internet wasn’t always as condemnatory.

Sceptics appeared, including Richard Gill, a statistician in the Netherlands, who argued the data presented at the trial was flawed and used improperly. Sarrita Adams, a California-based biotech consultant, launched a campaign aimed at critiquing the science in Letby’s case. Her website invites donations and describes itself as “the first organisation dedicated to fighting for a new trial for Lucy Letby”.

They weren’t the only ones. There are podcasts, blogs, websites and videos dedicated to the same topic. Some delve into the arguments presented by the defence about air embolism, and the expertise in the case. Others stray into different territory – statistics, or questions about other areas of science which Letby’s team have steered clear of.

It was notable how the sceptics’ arguments weren’t incorporated in the defence submissions at the Court of Appeal. We understand some of those campaigning for Letby’s freedom have made repeated attempts to contact her, her inner circle, and her lawyers.

But why the mismatch between the arguments raging online and those in the courtroom? It may be that Letby’s team has looked into the sceptics’ arguments and decided they don’t check out and wouldn’t stand up in a court of law.

But that’s not the only possibility.

Letby and her legal team didn’t have carte blanche to make any arguments they wanted in support of her request for permission to appeal.

Criminal appeals are not “a second bite of the cherry”, as lawyers sometimes put it. The only way Letby would be allowed to appeal against her conviction was if she could show the judge in her original trial had made a legal mistake, or there was new evidence that, had it been available at the time, might have led the jury to different verdicts.

That meant the range of arguments Letby’s legal team could present was limited. Cherry-picking the best of the online arguments was never an option.

  • Who is baby serial killer Lucy Letby?

It’s also important to remember the one person in control of the defence case was Letby herself. Her lawyers advised her, but they were required to act according to her instructions. Letby has used the same local Chester solicitor since her arrest in 2018, and has been represented by the same barristers throughout both trials and the appeal. Whether she’s aware of the community campaigning in her name or not, she hasn’t signalled she’s unhappy with her lawyers’ strategy.

Those who’ve continued to maintain the nurse’s innocence are undeterred. They seem to be increasingly vocal and at the first hearing of the Thirlwall Inquiry, which will examine the way the hospital dealt with Letby, barristers representing the parents of the babies spoke of the anguish these campaigns have caused.

“The modern age has brought a proliferation of conspiracy theories which sprout, spread and fester on social media blogs and on websites,” Peter Skelton KC said. “Lucy Letby’s crimes, in particular, continue to be the subject of such conspiracies, some of which are grossly offensive and distressing for the families of her victims.”

The families’ lawyers argued, unsuccessfully, for the public inquiry to be live streamed when it gets under way in Liverpool in the autumn.

“It is well known that the case has generated considerable public interest and that conspiracy theories have grown around it,” Richard Baker KC said. “They are toxic, they are often ill-informed, and they ultimately grow in the shadows. The more light that we put on this Inquiry, the less space there is for speculation and conspiracy.”

It probably hasn’t helped that much of the reporting of the Letby case over the past year has been restricted by court orders, to protect the retrial. It has left an information vacuum – one the internet has happily filled.

On 10 June, 10 months after she was first convicted of murdering and attempting to murder babies, Letby was back in court for her retrial on one count of attempted murder.

Although there was a feeling of déjà vu – the same courtroom, the same lawyers, the same judge – there was something palpably different about the atmosphere.

During the first trial, which had lasted for nearly a year, only five or six members of the public turned up with any regularity. They sat quietly in an annexe alongside police officers and experts who couldn’t fit into the main room.

At the retrial, up to 30 people crowded around the courtroom door each morning, jostling to be allowed in. Court ushers did their best to maintain order, asking them to move aside to allow the baby’s family, police officers and journalists in, but then they were allowed to take their places in the public gallery.

Katie, Leah and Richard were in court throughout the first trial and came back for the second. They’ve asked for their names to be changed because they say they’ve felt intimidated by some of the people who’ve turned up this time around.

“People come literally from all over, we’ve had people come from the USA and Brazil,” Katie says.

“They’re not interested in listening to the arguments – they just want to be in that court,” Leah adds. “Then halfway through they’re trying to get up and leave because they realise it’s quite dry, it’s quite tedious.”

They maintain it’s important for members of the public to be allowed to observe trials. Richard, who had never been to one before, says he committed his time to following the Letby trial because of its complexity.

“To really understand the case, I think you have to be there to listen to it and absorb as much of it as you can.”

  • What did nurse Lucy Letby do to babies in her care?

Not everyone was there to listen carefully. A man handing out flyers about judicial corruption was asked to leave. Court ushers had to remind someone else not to record the hearing. And there was shouting and tears when competing views were aired outside in the corridor. But if the lack of decorum inside the courthouse felt new, it was as nothing compared with the invective raging online.

Reporters and even witnesses found themselves being trolled and accused of bias and dishonesty. There were two battles – the traditional courtroom duel of prosecution v defence; and the information war going on in parallel.

Where will this all end up?

“I’m not guilty of what I’ve been found guilty of,” Letby said at her retrial. But having been denied permission to appeal, she’d have to come up with startling new evidence or arguments to have a chance of overturning her convictions. That won’t stop the debate though.

There could be further criminal prosecutions – Cheshire Police is still investigating Letby’s career. And the public inquiry, which starts in September, will examine the wider fallout, interrogating hospital managers about the way they handled doctors’ concerns.

We watched Letby as closely during her retrial as we had throughout the 10 months of the first prosecution. She was readier to catch our eye – looking up at the public gallery, and glancing across to where the baby’s family was sitting. She often blinked rapidly and clutched a furry stress-toy under the desk of the witness box. When she gave evidence, she spoke in the same neutral, clipped tone as before, betraying little emotion.

These were intriguing little details, but they seemed to conceal more than they revealed. Even after two trials, questions about the nurse’s character, motive and psychology are still unanswered.

Lucy Letby remains an enigma.

BBC Action Line

In Marseille, pétanque masks political divides ahead of Sunday’s vote

By Andrew Harding@BBCAndrewHParis correspondent

First came the sharp clack of metal on metal, then the scuffing of shoes on gravel, and finally a chorus of polite applause.

On a bright, blustery morning this week, thousands of people gathered in a park in the southern port city of Marseille, taking their minds off France’s seething political divisions and focusing instead on the beloved local sport of pétanque.

And this was no casual game, but rather a quarter finals match at the World Pétanque Championships – an annual televised event held on France’s Mediterranean coast, and overlapping this year with the nation’s unexpected parliamentary elections.

“The show must go on. Pétanque must go on. Smiling must go on,” said Laurence Astier, head of communications for the championships.

“France is the best nation in the world, of course, at this sport. But the other ones are Thailand and Benin. It’s an international sport,” Astier enthused.

Around her, in the dappled shade of the park’s leafy avenues, the crowds moved between matches, beer in hand, necks craned for a glimpse of the action.

“I lost yesterday,” said George Gonzalez-Gomez, 68, a retired civil servant, with a cheerful shrug.

But even here, the discordant clamour of France’s polarised politics sometimes broke through.

“Fachos,” – fascists – said a man near the entrance, waving a copy of La Marsaillaise, the proudly communist newspaper that was sponsoring the championship. He was referring to supporters of the far-right National Rally, which looks likely to win the most seats in France’s parliament.

“I support the National Rally. We need to fix the country,” countered Gonzalez-Gomez, blaming immigrants for Marseille’s high crime rate.

“It’s like the way you had Brexit. Things were calmer after that. Now there is delinquency, crime, and [Islamist] radicalisation. As for [President] Macron – he is finished,” he said, arguing that France should take back control of its borders from the European Union.

In Marseille, candidates for the National Rally (RN) – the far-right, staunchly anti-immigration party that won 33% of the vote in the first round of France’s parliamentary elections last week – have steered clear of media interviews since their electoral success. Local press are referring to them as “phantom candidates”.

But their members are actively trying to rally support for their party online.

“We’re the last bastion against chaos,” candidate Olivier Fayssat wrote on X.

“Less immigration means fewer homeless people and more money for the people of Marseilles,” Gisèle Lelouis, another RN candidate, posted on the site.

With its luxury yachts, ancient architecture, and crowded, impoverished , Marseille has always been a chaotic melting pot of a city, due to its position on the Mediterranean coast and its history as a gateway to France and beyond.

In recent years National Rally has built up a powerful support base across the south, but has always been strongly challenged by parties from the left and the centre. This election has changed that balance, with President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist candidates already losing their seats in the city in the first round.

“Macron… is not popular here at all,” said Gilles Rof, the local correspondent for Le Monde newspaper, explaining that residents have not yet felt the impact of the president’s multi-billion euro infrastructure project for Marseille, and are, more generally, in a mood to shake things up.

Rof argued that racism lay at the root of much of the anti-immigrant sentiment in parts of the city, and that RN was playing on people’s legitimate concerns about crime.

“The basis of this vote [for RN] is clearly racism. [Their supporters say] there are too many immigrants and too many Arabic people. You can hear that all the time. It’s out in the open,” he said.

Much of the crime is linked to Marseille’s powerful drug gangs, which operate – often quite openly – in some of the poorer suburbs north of the city.

In a windswept neighbourhood one afternoon this week, a small crowd gathered to offer support for their parliamentary candidate, a 20-year-old man of Algerian heritage.

“Front Populaire! Front Populaire! Amine Kessaci! Amine Kessaci!” people chanted, naming France’s new left-wing coalition and its young would-be deputy.

Mr Kessaci’s social activism – focused on tackling crime and on local empowerment – was influenced by the death of his brother in a drug-gang-related murder in 2020.

He said migrants were being scapegoated by the far right for political gain, and that poverty and unemployment needed to be addressed as a priority.

“This election… is a rendezvous with history. The extremists are at the gates of power. [If RN wins] it will be chaos, like what you had in Germany in the 1930s,” he said.

“We need to stop them waging a war against the poor, a war against foreigners. We need to tackle the drug traffickers and help the marginalised.

“The far right have no plan, they just have anger. My parents chose this country and I’m a Frenchman,” the young candidate said, before racing off to meet the deadline to submit his application to run in the second-round vote.

‘Something needs to happen’ – Democratic voters on replacing Biden

By Ana FaguyBBC News, Washington

In the days since President Joe Biden’s widely-criticised debate performance against former president Donald Trump, Democrats across the country have begun questioning whether Mr Biden is the best candidate for the party.

Most voters think Democrats have a better chance of keeping the White House if Biden isn’t the nominee, a CNN poll found this week.

The BBC spoke to Democratic voters who reflected that concern but who also worried about the logistics of switching candidates this far into the campaign.

As the party confronts this thorny question, we asked voters what they want to see Democrats do next and who they think could replace Mr Biden. Familiar names include Vice-President Kamala Harris, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, California Governor Gavin Newsom and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro.

We start with a voter who feels the Democratic party is not listening to its constituents and wants a fresh face atop the ticket in place of Mr Biden.

They give us these text messages “Are you going to support President Biden for re-election?” and I said “no”. I don’t want someone who doesn’t have the ability to continue in office for a very long time.

I’m just tired.

They push who they think is going to get elected without listening to our voices.

We want someone younger, we want someone who has new ideas, has new ways to engage the whole country. But at the same time, what do I do now?

He should step aside.

I’m hoping we get someone fresh, but I don’t know who.

Other candidates don’t get the air time, so I have to do my own research.

I want someone new. I wish he would step down. I wish he would recognize as president, you’re the president of the people. Listen to the people, listen to us.

I definitely have been watching the governor of Michigan [Whitmer]. I think we need a woman as president and that’s who I would like on a ticket.

I think there has to be a serious discussion about Biden stepping down…

In the end, it’s up to Joe Biden, but I think at very least, there should be some other candidates floated to be able to to articulate what our our game plan is going forward…

I think the more the party tries to tell the public to not believe what we saw during that debate, it’s going to take me from believing we should maybe just deal with Biden to we need a change.

A lot of Democratic voters feel gas lit.

We’re being asked to not believe what we saw, and being told that this is a one off, and we know that this is not a one-off.

There’s been a lot that’s been accomplished, but if we can’t articulate those messages, we can’t win, which means that vision ceases to continue. The president – they affect down ballot races, and those down ballot races could mean catastrophe with what’s at stake in this election.

Gretchen Whitmer would be an excellent example of someone who could replace Biden, or Pete Buttigieg, but I think at this stage, it’s difficult to say.

But I think a Whitmer-Buttigieg ticket could win.

We need people and Democratic candidates who are from Midwestern states or other states who know how to communicate a little bit better with people in their constituencies.

On the one hand, I personally wouldn’t mind him stepping down, but that does lead me to a lot of scepticism that whoever replaces him as the nominee would have the capabilities and momentum to beat Trump.

It is a tough question of who could replace Biden.

Realistically, I don’t think my policy positions totally align with VP [Kamala] Harris, but I do think that, honestly, she’d probably be the best choice for president in terms of logistics, in terms of name recognition.

If he were to step down, she’s the clear successor. She’s already part of the ticket.

That said, I think if we could go back in time and rerun the primary system and actually have a proper voting primary with a field of candidates, I’d probably be more likely to lean towards someone who has a bit more support in the midwest and rust belt states. Someone like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer or Illinois Governor JB Pritzker.

Something needs to happen.

The Democrats need to have a moment of, “hey, this is what we did wrong”. Let’s have a conversation about if Biden is truly viable or not.

Is he the best to beat Trump now?

I don’t think anyone can confidently say he is.

Possibly Gavin Newsom is. He’s primed himself as the best alternative, knowing that this opportunity would come up.

If he runs, he’s just a name that people can get behind. He has a face that people like. He has a great family.

I just don’t know another name in the Democratic Party who, at this stage of the race, could catch up.

Gavin Newsom, who has primed himself to be in that position, or [Pennsylvania Governor] Josh Shapiro, who is an underdog that can really get there.

I’m conflicted.

Personally, yes, I think Biden should step down, but realistically and logistically, no – the primary is done.

He has won the Democratic nomination, even though participation in the primaries for an incumbent president is more of a formality. You have other candidates, like Newsom, Whitmer, Pritzker, Harris, who could technically be good candidates to replace him, but the plan should have been put in place years ago, if not a year ago, in my opinion.

Yeah, I would personally like to see Biden replaced, but I don’t see how that would logistically happen.

I would like to see Pritzker on the ticket.

It seems to me that Newsom is the heir apparent, but I would say Pritzker and maybe Harris, or Harris-Pritzker.

Pritzker has a more progressive policy that he’s enacted in Illinois that could expand as a vision for the rest of the country.

Biden’s done a good job as president, and I think his legacy as a decent one-term caretaker president is at risk by trying to hold on to power.

His legacy is absolutely in the gutter if he loses to Trump, in a landslide, which seems to be a possibility.

It’s too late. We’re too close to the election to have a switch.

If there was a single person that everyone could immediately get behind, maybe. But I don’t think that person exists right now.

I think if Kamala Harris came in, there’d be all these people complaining about her. Or if Pete Buttigieg came in, people complaining about him. So I think right now, where we are right now, I think it’s too late to switch.

If Biden were to drop out, I like Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg.

Kamala Harris has the most name recognition, so I like her quite a lot, but I know that she also turns a lot of people off. I would worry that she would cause people not to show up to vote, but I guess I would support her.

I want to see him replaced. I feel guilty or bad saying that or thinking that. If Joe Biden stays in the race, I’ll be voting for Joe Biden.

But I don’t see how he can come back from that debate performance.

There are a lot of people who folks would be genuinely excited to vote for and I think now it’s really a feeling of dread.

Gretchen Whitmer is a name that has been thrown around who I think would be great. Josh Shapiro is wonderful.

Those are two that come to mind who I think people would be excited about.

I’d be excited to vote for Josh Shapiro, I’d be excited to vote for Gretchen Whitmer, I’d be excited to vote for Gavin Newsom.

I don’t even know a ton about Gavin Newsom, but from what I do know, I think there would be a level of excitement just knowing we have somebody other than Joe Biden who is qualified and capable and dynamic and decades younger.

‘I’m as happy as I’ve been in my life,’ says aid worker Simon Boas as he faces death

Simon Boas explains how cancer diagnosis helped him enjoy life more

In September 2023, Simon Boas was diagnosed with throat cancer. Aged just 46, he was told the disease was terminal, and that it would ultimately take his life.

Over the following year, he knitted together his reflections on life into a book – A Beginner’s Guide to Dying. The book is set to hit the shelves in October. It will be a posthumous publication.

In what he expects to be one of his final interviews, Simon spoke to Emma Barnett on the Today Programme, offering his reflections on life and death as he moved into hospice care.

My pain is under control and I’m terribly happy – it sounds weird to say, but I’m as happy as I’ve ever been in my life.

I used to think I’d rather be hit by the proverbial bus, but having a couple of months knowing this is coming has really helped me both do the boring ‘death-min’, but also get my thoughts and prepare myself, and feel so accepting of what’s to come.

It’s been such a great bonus, actually.

The book is called A Beginner’s Guide to Dying, but really what I’m trying to convey is how enjoying life to the full kind of prepares you for this.

In some ways I was lucky that my life and my career have taken me to quite a lot of places where death is more a part of life than it is for us in the West.

I spent my life as an aid worker – quite a lot with the UN – and I’ve lived in places where death is something that not just exists in the background, but is imminently possible.

I spent three years running a UN office in the Gaza Strip. I spent a lot of time in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and I’ve been working in Ukraine. Seeing people there for whom death is such a part of life – they lose children, they don’t know where the next meal is coming from – has really helped me.

I’ve also been a Samaritan for the past four years. In some cases you are on the line while people end their lives, so I think death has been more a part of my life than for many people.

It does us all good to think about it.

That’s not in a gloomy way… by kind of realising it’s inevitable and it’s a part of life, it actually throws life into perspective and helps you to enjoy it more and prioritise the important things.

My family are about to go through the most difficult thing in their lives. My lovely wife, Aurelie, and my parents… are well surrounded, and I hope that my cheerfulness in the leaving of life might perhaps help them in the next few years…

All our lives are little books – but they’re not someone else’s complete book. You’re a chapter or a page or a footnote in someone else’s life and they are going to keep writing beautiful chapters when you are gone.

And those green shoots can grow around grief and put it in perspective. I hope people will think, “I’m glad I read that – Simon’s story”. And just because it’s over, doesn’t mean it’s gone.

You don’t need to have been a politician or a mover and shaker or an aid worker or anything in life. All of us make a huge difference.

I love this quote from George Eliot’s Middlemarch:

“The effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistorical acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

All of us make a huge difference in life. I love the idea that most films about time travel revolve around changing one tiny thing in the past, and of course they come back to the present and everything is different.

If you project that forward, you can change huge amounts of things into the future.

All our tombs will be unvisited in a few years – all our actions will mostly be unremembered – but the smile you gave the checkout lady or the kind words you gave to a stranger in the street could still be rippling forward.

We all have that opportunity and it’s a huge power. And I want everyone to realise how special and precious they are.

I love melted cheese. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to eat since Christmas. The chemotherapy killed my taste buds and the radiotherapy killed my salivary glands.

So, sadly, melted cheese and all the things I loved are off the menu.

However, I’ve been given full permission by my oncologist and my hospice team to enjoy as much Muscadet and as many cheeky rollups as I want – and I shall certainly be indulging in those and spending time with my family.

I’m sort of – not looking forward to my final day – of course that’s the wrong way to see it. But I’m kind of curious about it, and I’m happy and I’m ready.

As Julian of Norwich said: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

More on this story

How record-breaking Hurricane Beryl is a sign of a warming world

By Mark PoyntingClimate reporter

Hurricane Beryl is wreaking havoc in parts of the Caribbean – and putting the role of climate change under the spotlight.

With maximum sustained wind speeds of more than 160mph (257km/h), it became the earliest category five Atlantic hurricane in records going back around 100 years.

In fact, there has only been one previous recorded case of a category five Atlantic hurricane in July – Hurricane Emily, on 16 July 2005.

The causes of individual storms are complex, making it difficult to fully attribute specific cases to climate change.

But exceptionally high sea surface temperatures are seen as a key reason why Hurricane Beryl has been so powerful.

Usually, such strong storms only develop later in the season, after the seas have heated up through the summer.

Hurricanes generally need the sea surface to be at least 27C in order to have a chance of developing. As the map below shows, waters along Hurricane Beryl’s path have been much warmer than this.

All else being equal, warmer seas mean more powerful hurricanes, because the storms can pick up more energy, enabling higher wind speeds.

“We know that as we warm the planet, we’re warming our sea surface temperatures as well,” explains Andra Garner, an assistant professor at Rowan University in the US.

“And we know that those warm ocean waters are a critical fuel source for hurricanes.”

In the main Atlantic hurricane development region, the ocean heat content – the energy stored throughout the water column – is at levels not usually seen until September.

That is when the Atlantic hurricane season is usually at its most active, as the sea surface is typically at its warmest at the end of summer.

This is illustrated by the chart below, where a dot represents a major hurricane between 1940 and 2024. As you can see, most major hurricanes happen in late August and September, and earlier ones are very rare.

While a category five hurricane is unheard of this early in the season, its strength fits into the broader picture of how these storms are changing in a warming world.

The number of hurricanes has not been increasing, but a higher proportion of them are expected to reach the highest categories globally as temperatures rise.

“Although it is uncertain to what extent climate change contributed to the early formation of Hurricane Beryl, our climate models suggest that the mean intensity of hurricanes will increase in the future due to enhanced global warming,” explains Hiroyuki Murakami, research scientist at Noaa’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

Another factor to consider this year is regional weather patterns.

In the eastern Pacific, El Niño conditions have recently come to an end.

El Niño inhibits the formation of strong hurricanes in the Atlantic, because of the way it affects winds in the atmosphere. The opposite phase, known as La Niña, favours Atlantic hurricane development.

Currently, there are “neutral” conditions – neither El Niño nor La Nina. But La Niña conditions are expected later this year.

This likely transition – as well as rising sea temperatures through July and August – has led to concerns that even more powerful hurricanes could form later in the season.

“Hurricane Beryl sets a precedent for what we fear is going to be a very, very active, very dangerous hurricane season, which will impact the entire Atlantic basin,” says Ko Barrett, Deputy Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization.

In May, the US weather agency Noaa warned an “extraordinary” Atlantic hurricane season could be in store, forecasting between four and seven major hurricanes – category three (111mph) or above – between June and November. On average, the Atlantic is hit by three major hurricanes a year.

Watch: Union Island resident explains impact of Hurricane Beryl

Rapid intensification

Meteorologists and climate scientists have also remarked about how quickly Hurricane Beryl strengthened.

It took just 42 hours to go from a tropical depression – with maximum sustained wind speeds of 38mph or less – to a major hurricane (meaning above 111mph).

“What makes Beryl particularly notable is that it […] intensified the fastest from a tropical depression to a hurricane [of any Atlantic hurricane in June or early July],” explains Shuyi Chen, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington.

Hurricane Beryl is an example of “rapid intensification” – where maximum wind speeds increase very quickly. It can be especially dangerous, because communities have less time to prepare.

The frequency and magnitude of these rapid intensification events in the Atlantic appears to have increased in recent decades.

“Unprecedented as Beryl is, it actually very much aligns with the kinds of extremes we expect in a warmer climate,” Dr Garner says.

“As we’re warming the planet, we’re essentially “stacking the deck” of extreme events against ourselves, making events like Hurricane Beryl not only possible, but more likely.”

“It’s up to us to reduce our emissions to change that story.”

More on Hurricane Beryl

Japan declares victory in ‘war’ on floppy disks

By Kelly NgBBC News

It’s taken until 2024, but Japan has finally said goodbye to floppy disks.

Up until last month, people were still asked to submit documents to the government using the outdated storage devices, with more than 1,000 regulations requiring their use.

But these rules have now finally been scrapped, said Digital Minister Taro Kono.

In 2021, Mr Kono had “declared war” on floppy disks. On Wednesday, almost three years later, he announced: “We have won the war on floppy disks!”

Mr Kono has made it his goal to eliminate old technology since he was appointed to the job. He had earlier also said he would “get rid of the fax machine”.

Once seen as a tech powerhouse, Japan has in recent years lagged in the global wave of digital transformation because of a deep resistance to change.

For instance, workplaces have continued to favour fax machines over emails – earlier plans to remove these machines from government offices were scrapped because of pushback.

The announcement was widely-discussed on Japanese social media, with one user on X, formerly known as Twitter, calling floppy disks a “symbol of an anachronistic administration”.

“The government still uses floppy disks? That’s so outdated… I guess they’re just full of old people,” read another comment on X.

Others comments were more nostalgic. “I wonder if floppy disks will start appearing on auction sites,” one user wrote.

Created in the 1960s, the square-shaped devices fell out of fashion in the 1990s as more efficient storage solutions were invented.

A three-and-a-half inch floppy disk could accommodate up to just 1.44MB of data. More than 22,000 such disks would be needed to replicate a memory stick storing 32GB of information.

Sony, the last manufacturer of the disks, ended its production in 2011.

As part of its belated campaign to digitise its bureaucracy, Japan launched a Digital Agency in September 2021, which Mr Kono leads.

But Japan’s efforts to digitise may be easier said than done.

Many Japan businesses still require official documents to be endorsed using carved personal stamps called hanko, despite the government’s efforts to phase them out.

People are moving away from those stamps at a “glacial pace”, said local newspaper The Japan Times.

And it was not until 2019 that the country’s last pager provider closed its service, with the final private subscriber explaining that it was the preferred method of communication for his elderly mother.

Kris Jenner shares plans for removal of her ovaries

By Bonnie McLarenCulture reporter

US reality TV star Kris Jenner has spoken emotionally about plans to have her ovaries removed.

In scenes during reality show The Kardashians, the US media personality and businesswoman revealed she was set to have the procedure after doctors found a cyst and a tumour.

While on holiday in Aspen, Colorado with partner Corey Gamble, Jenner broke the news to her daughters, Kendall, Kim and Khloé Kardashian.

“I wanted to tell you guys something because I hadn’t told you yet, but I went to the doctor and I had my scan,” she said.

“And this just makes me really emotional, but… they found a cyst and like a little tumour on my ovary.

“So I went to the doctor, and Dr A said I have to have my ovaries taken out. And I’m just really emotional about it because they came in handy with you guys.

“It’s also a thing about getting older,” she added.

“It’s a sign of ‘we’re done with this part of your life.’ It’s a whole chapter that’s just closed.”

Jenner has six children. Kim, Khloé, Kourtney and Rob Kardashian, from her marriage to the late Robert Kardashian. She also has Kendall and Kylie Jenner, from her marriage to Caitlyn Jenner.

Kris Jenner added that her biggest achievement was raising her family.

“People often ask me what is the best job you’ve ever had, and I always say mom,” she said.

“The biggest blessing in my life was being able to give birth to six beautiful kids.”

Daughters’ support

Speaking to the camera, Kim Kardashian empathised with why her mother was upset.

“To have a surgery and remove your ovaries is a really big deal,” she said.

“I feel really sad for her. I couldn’t even imagine being in that situation and how you would feel really scared to be going through that.”

Kourtney also agreed, saying she “would feel the same way”. “It’s like your womanly power,” she added.

“It doesn’t mean it’s taking away who she is or what she’s experienced, but I would feel this sentimental feeling of what it’s created.”

Kendall added: “I get that it’s sad because they [her ovaries] have brought all her kids into the world, which is totally fair.

“But at the same time, what are we going to use those for anymore? If they’re potentially hurting you, let’s get them out of there.”

Chess star, 9, to become youngest England player

By Will VernonBBC News

A nine-year-old chess prodigy is set to make history as the youngest person ever to represent England internationally in any sport.

Bodhana Sivanandan, from Harrow, north-west London, will join the England Women’s Team at the Chess Olympiad in Hungary later this year.

She is almost 15 years younger than the next-youngest teammate, 23-year-old Lan Yao.

“I found out yesterday after I came back from school, when my dad told me,” Bodhana told the BBC. “I was happy. I hope I’ll do well, and I’ll get another title.”

Malcolm Pein, manager of the England chess team, says the schoolgirl is the most remarkable prodigy British Chess has ever seen.

“It’s exciting – she’s on course to be one of the best British players ever,” he said.

However the nine-year-old’s father, Siva, says he is mystified as to where his daughter got her talent from.

“I’m an engineering graduate, as is my wife, but I’m not good at chess,” he told the BBC. “I tried a couple of league games, but I was very poor.”

Bodhana first picked up a pawn during the pandemic.

“When one of my dad’s friends was going back to India, he gave us a few bags [of possessions],” Bodhana said. “There was a chess board, and I was interested in the pieces so I started playing.”

She says chess makes her feel “good” and helps her with “lots of other things like maths, how to calculate”.

Two years ago, Bodhana won all three chess world championships for the under eight age group – in the classical game, where a match lasts several hours, the rapid game, which lasts up to an hour, and the blitz game, which can be as short as three minutes.

As for preparation for Hungary, Bodhana is taking it very seriously.

“On school days I practice for around one hour every day,” she said. “On the weekends, I usually play tournaments, but when I don’t I practice for more than an hour.”

While some of her teammates are old enough to be her grandparents, Bodhana is not the only upcoming young talent.

The game is seeing a surge of interest among young people, according to Mr Pein, which he attributes to two factors – the legacy of the lockdowns and the impact of smash-hit Netflix drama The Queen’s Gambit, which is about a gifted female chess player.

Mr Pein says he feels “very confident” that his prodigy will achieve her ultimate goal and become a grandmaster, the highest title in international chess.

Abhimanyu Mishra, from the US, holds the record for the youngest person to reach grandmaster in 2021, when he was just 12.

But Bodhana says she intends to clinch the title at the tender age of 10. One year, she is keen to point out, before she finishes primary school.

Scotland’s skies aglow with rare clouds

Noctilucent clouds have been spotted from Scotland over the past few weeks.

The Met Office says the clouds are extremely rare and form in summer high up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Latin name means “night shining” and the clouds usually appear bluish or silvery in colour.

They have been seen from the Western Isles, north-east Scotland and the Scottish Borders.

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Cameroon president’s daughter hints at same-sex relationship

By Paul NjieBBC News, Yaoundé

The daughter of Cameroon’s president has shared an image in which she is kissing another woman, sparking mixed reactions in a country where same-sex relationships are illegal.

The Instagram post shows 26-year-old Brenda Biya embracing Brazillian model Layyons Valença.

“I’m crazy about you & I want the world to know,” Ms Biya wrote, adding a love heart emoji.

Her 91-year-old father, Paul Biya, became Cameroon’s president in 1982 and is one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders.

Those engaging in same-sex acts or relationships in the Central African nation face up to five years in jail.

Ms Biya – a musician based abroad who goes by the name King Nasty – did not explicitly state her sexuality when posting the picture of the kiss.

However, some time after the image was published, Ms Biya shared an article from Le Monde, in which the French newspaper reported that she had “come out”.

She also shared other messages from people expressing their support for her.

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Transgender Cameroonian activist Shakiro was among those who praised Ms Biya, saying her Instagram post could be a “turning point for the LGBTQ+ community in Cameroon”.

Shakiro said Ms Biya “is now positioning herself as a voice for social change in a country where taboos are deeply rooted”.

Shakiro currently resides in Belgium. She sought asylum there after being convicted of “attempted homosexuality” in Cameroon.

Although Ms Biya has been praised by some, several social media users in Cameroon responded to her post with homophobic comments.

Some have speculated whether Ms Biya shared the picture in order to generate a buzz, given her reputation for publishing social media posts that spark controversy among Cameroonians.

There have also been questions about whether coming out is a privilege that can only be enjoyed by a select few in the country.

“I love this for Cameroon’s First Daughter,” LGBT activist Bandy Kiki said in a Facebook post.

“However, it highlights a harsh reality: Anti-LGBT laws in Cameroon disproportionately target the poor. Wealth and connections create a shield for some, while others face severe consequences.”

Human rights groups have previously criticised Cameroon’s strict laws against members of the LGBT community.

In 2022, Human Rights Watch urged Cameroon to “take urgent action to revoke this discriminatory law and to ensure that the human rights of all Cameroonians, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics, are upheld”.

Barrister Alice Nkom, a renowned human rights lawyer who defends LGBT people in Cameroon, said Ms Biya was a “model of courage” who is “sending an important universal message of love”.

Most media outlets in Cameroon have not reported on Ms Biya’s recent picture. The media regulatory body has been known to sanction publications and broadcasters for depictions of homosexuality.

The government – and President Biya himself – have not officially commented on the story either.

The BBC has contacted Ms Biya and is yet to receive a response.

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BBC Africa podcasts

Jeff Bezos to sell another $5bn of Amazon shares

By João da SilvaBusiness reporter

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos says he will sell another 25 million shares in the technology giant, worth nearly $5bn (£3.9bn).

It comes after the company’s stock market value hit a record high on Wednesday.

In February, he announced that he would sell Amazon shares worth around $8.5bn.

That marked the first time since 2021 that Mr Bezos had sold Amazon shares.

The company’s shares have risen by more than 30% this year on expectations that growing demand for artificial intelligence (AI) technology will boost earnings at its cloud computing business.

Last month, Amazon’s stock market valuation topped the $2tn for the first time.

However, that is still behind other major technology firms Nvidia, Apple and Microsoft, all of which have crossed the $3tn mark.

Amazon reported robust quarterly earnings at the end of the April, that showed the company’s bet on AI was paying off.

Mr Bezos stepped down as the company’s chief executive in 2021 and is currently its executive chair and remains its largest shareholder.

He founded Amazon in 1994 in a garage in Bellevue, Washington, when the internet was still in its infancy.

The company started out as an online bookseller, touting the world’s largest collection of ebooks.

Since then Amazon has become one of the world’s leading online retail and cloud computing companies.

He also founded the rocket company Blue Origin, which in May sent six customers to the edge of space.

Mr Bezos is the world’s second richest person, according to the Forbes Billionaires list, with an estimated net worth of around $214bn.

Major safety incident linked to Kevin Campbell death

By Rumeana Jahangir and PA MediaBBC News

Serious concerns over the hospital care of former Arsenal and Everton footballer Kevin Campbell have been flagged up by a health trust, an inquest has heard.

Mr Campbell, 54, died at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) on 15 June after being admitted a month earlier.

Coroner Zak Golombek said Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, which manages the hospital, had declared a Level 5 patient safety incident – the most serious category – about aspects of his care.

He said the provisional cause of death given for Mr Campbell was multi-organ failure due to a heart infection.

No family members were present at Manchester Coroner’s Court as Mr Golombek outlined background details during Thursday’s inquest opening.

He said that Mr Campbell had been admitted to MRI on 15 May.

“He had been reported to have been fit and well until around January 2024, when he had a number of admissions to hospital before this final admission,” the coroner said.

Mr Golombek said the health trust declared a Level 5 incident related to a delay in aspects of Mr Campbell’s care and diagnosis, and concerns over decision-making processes about palliative care.

Mr Golombek said the trust was conducting internal investigations and there would be extra evidence including the investigation report, witness statements from clinicians and a statement from Mr Campbell’s next of kin.

He said: “I have also received notification from the trust that a medical cause of death can be offered and, therefore, I will consider evidence from the clinicians involved in Mr Campbell’s care as to the cause of his death.

“The provisional cause of death, as it stands, refers to Mr Campbell dying from multi-organ failure as a result of infective endocarditis.”

Infective endocarditis is a rare infection of the inner lining or valves of the heart.

It can be very serious and sometimes fatal.

It is most commonly caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream from elsewhere in the body and sticking to heart valves.

Mr Golombek said final determinations on the medical cause of death and the care received by Mr Campbell “will be made as part of the inquest process”.

Proceedings have been adjourned for a hearing at a later date.

‘Life and soul of every party’

Mr Campbell’s 24-year-old son Tyrese, who plays for Stoke City, tweeted at the time of his father’s death that “the pain of this is indescribable and as a son you look at your dad as invincible”.

“He was the life and soul of every party and room he blessed, a one-in-a-million person that was loved by everyone.”

Kevin Campbell scored 148 goals in 542 appearances in a career involving eight clubs.

He won four major trophies with Arsenal and also played for Everton, Leyton Orient, Leicester, Nottingham Forest, Trabzonspor, Cardiff and West Bromwich Albion.

More on this story

Hezbollah fires 200 rockets and drones into Israel

By David GrittenBBC News

The Lebanese armed group Hezbollah has launched more than 200 rockets and attack drones into northern Israel, in response to the killing of one of its senior commanders.

Israel’s military said one of its officers was killed in the barrage, which started a number of fires.

The military also said it had targeted Hezbollah “military structures” and other targets in southern Lebanon in response.

Lebanese media reported that one person was killed in an Israeli drone strike in the town of Houla.

The latest barrage, which followed one comprising 100 rockets on Wednesday afternoon, was one of the biggest so far in the nine months of cross-border violence which have raised fears of an all-out war.

The Hezbollah commander killed in an Israeli air strike near the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, Mohammed Nimah Nasser, was one of the most senior figures in the group to have been killed in the conflict.

The Israeli military said Nasser commanded Hezbollah’s Aziz Unit, which is responsible for launching rockets from south-western Lebanon, and accused him of directing a “large number of terror attacks”.

It also described him as “the counterpart” of Taleb Sami Abdullah, the commander of another unit whose killing last month prompted Hezbollah to launch more than 200 rockets and missiles into northern Israel in a single day.

There have been almost daily exchanges of fire across the Israel-Lebanon border since the day after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza on 7 October.

Hezbollah has said it is acting in support of the Palestinian group that is also backed by Iran. Both groups are proscribed as terrorist organisations by Israel, the UK and other countries.

So far, more than 400 people have been reported killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them Hezbollah fighters, and 25 people in Israel, mostly soldiers.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to restore security in northern Israel.

“In the tough campaign against Lebanon we have set a principle – whoever harms us is a dead man. We are making that a reality in practice,” he said on Thursday.

The hostilities have also displaced tens of thousands of people from border communities in northern Israel and southern Lebanon.

“The response to the assassination of the dear leader Hajj Abu Nimah [Nasser]… started last night and quickly,” senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine warned at Nasser’s funeral in Beirut on Thursday.

“This series will continue to target new sites that the enemy did not imagine would be hit.”

A spokeswoman for the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, Unifil, said the exchanges were now extending deeper into both sides of the border, and called on both Israel and Hezbollah to show restraint.

“We’re very concerned… because any exchange, any incident, can escalate into something greater if there is a misunderstanding,” Kandice Ardiel told the BBC.

There has been a flurry of diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions in recent weeks, with the UN and US warning of the potentially catastrophic consequences of a war that could also draw in Iran and other allied groups.

Israeli officials have repeatedly warned that they are ready for a war if diplomacy fails. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Wednesday that the military would soon be ready to “take any action required in Lebanon, or to reach an arrangement from a position of strength”.

Hezbollah, which is seen as a significantly superior foe to Hamas, has said it does not want a full-out war with Israel and that it will observe in Lebanon any ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. But it has also warned Israel that it would fight “without rules” if there was a war.

Charge over alleged inmate and officer sex video

A woman has been charged over a social media video allegedly showing a member of prison staff having sex with an inmate in a jail cell.

The Metropolitan Police said Linda De Sousa Abreu, 30, from Fulham in west London, was charged on Saturday with misconduct in public office.

The Met added it began its investigation on Friday “after officers were made aware of a video allegedly filmed inside HMP Wandsworth”.

Ms De Sousa Abreu is due to appear in custody at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

In May, an “urgent notification” about conditions at HMP Wandsworth was issued by chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor.

It came after inspectors found Wandsworth was stricken with severe overcrowding, vermin and rising violence among inmates.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons declined to comment due to the pre-election period.

Ministry of Justice figures from June 2023, quoted by the House of Commons Library, showed HMP Wandsworth was operating at 163% of Certified Normal Accommodation – the standard that the Prison Service aspires to provide all prisoners.

There are more than 1,500 inmates at the jail in south-west London, which was built in 1851.

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Ukraine calls them meat assaults: Russia’s brutal plan to take ground

By Gordon CoreraSecurity correspondent, Kyiv

On the frontlines, Ukrainian soldiers use a graphic term to describe the Russian tactics they face daily.

They call them “meat assaults”: waves of Russian soldiers coming at their defensive positions, sometimes nearly a dozen times in a day.

Lt Col Anton Bayev of the Khartia Brigade of Ukraine’s National Guard says wave after wave can arrive in just a few hours at front-line positions north of Kharkiv.

“The Russians use these units in most cases purely to see where our firing equipment is located, and to constantly exhaust our units,” he said.

“Our guys stand in positions and fight, and when four or five waves of the enemy come at you in a day, which you have to destroy without end, it is very difficult – not only physically, but also psychologically.”

This tactic has led to staggering Russian casualties since Moscow launched its latest offensive two months ago. Around 1,200 Russian soldiers were being killed or wounded every day in May and June, the highest rate since the beginning of the war, according to Western officials.

Those attacking are normally quickly spotted by drones above and the Russians leave their dead and wounded on the battlefield, Lt Col Bayev says. “Their main task is simply meat assaults and our total exhaustion.”

The tactic is a sign that Russia is seeking to make the most of its key advantage – numbers.

In Pokrovsk in the Donetsk region, Captain Ivan Sekach from Ukraine’s 110th Brigade compares what he sees to a conveyor belt bringing Russians to be killed, although still allowing them to push forward slowly.

Russia benefits from a significantly larger population than Ukraine. Some of those in the assaults are former prisoners, but Russia is also able to recruit through making one-off payments, sometimes thousands of dollars.

And there have been complaints from the Russian side about “crippled regiments”, in which wounded soldiers are forced back into fighting. One video shows dozens of men, some on crutches, appealing to their commanders because they say they are wounded and require hospital treatment, but instead are being sent back into combat.

All of this, Western officials say, means Moscow can keep throwing soldiers, even if poorly trained, straight on to the front lines at the same rate they are being killed or wounded.

Ukraine could not match the Russian tactics even if it had the numbers, partly due to a different attitude towards casualties. A senior general was removed in recent weeks after complaints he was using what are often called Soviet tactics – throwing people at the front lines.

“There are a lot of criticisms because we have lost a lot of our guys because of Soviet-type mindset and strategy,” says Ivan Stupak, a former Security Service officer. “We are limited with manpower. We have no other options than thinking of our people.”

In the area around Kharkiv, Russian advances have been stopped. But in the east, Russia’s attritional approach is making slow but steady advances.

“Unfortunately there are a lot of Russians. And they are trying to conduct this rolling operation centimetre by centimetre, inch by inch, 100m per day, 200m per day. And unfortunately, it’s successful for them,” says Stupak.

There is frustration in Kyiv about the pace of Western support. One senior official complains they are receiving enough help to ensure they do not lose but not enough to make sure they win.

Western officials acknowledge 2024 has been a tough year for Ukraine, with delays in the arrival of US military aid creating a major strain on defences which has cost territory and lives.

“It seems like a so-called incremental approach,” Oleksandr Merezhko, chair of Ukraine’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told the BBC.

“We receive little by little, and I get the impression that our Western allies give a little bit of weaponry, and they see what happens next, as if they’re afraid of what they refer to as escalation.”

The lifting of restrictions on using US weapons over the border into Russia has made a difference and helped stall Moscow’s assault on Kharkiv.

“If we have to fight with our hands tied behind our back, you know we’ll be only bleeding to death,” says Mr Merezhko. “That’s why it’s crucially important to be allowed to use long range missiles in the territory of Russia, and we already have results.”

But a Ukrainian official said the use of longer range strikes into Russia had only been a palliative and was not fundamentally altering the dynamic of the war.

“We are driving towards stalemate,” former security service officer Ivan Stupak says, acknowledging that this may lead eventually to the “bitter pill” of some form of negotiation.

During a visit to Kyiv this week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban suggested a ceasefire first to hasten negotiations, a position that officials in Kyiv are wary of.

“We [are] not ready to go to the compromise for the very important things and values,” Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine’s President Zelensky, told reporters in Washington.

Ukrainians fear without hard security guarantees – such as Nato membership, rather than vague talk of a bridge to such status – Russia may simply regroup and attack again in the future.

Vladimir Putin is counting on wearing down Ukraine on the battlefield and outlasting the West’s resolve to provide support. As well as launching guided aerial bombs against frontline positions and civilians in Kharkiv, Moscow has also targeted energy infrastructure across the country, leading to increasingly frequent power blackouts and concerns over what winter might bring.

November’s US election adds another layer of uncertainty, along with a question mark as to whether the European Union could realistically pick up any slack.

For Lt Col Anton Bayev on the frontline near Kharkiv, the ability to strike into Russia may have been vital, but he now sees his enemy adapting its tactics – and not just with “meat assaults”.

His losses now come from mortars and glide bombs, while his Ukrainian forces remain short of ammunition.

“We need everything, and there is always a lack,” he says.

“The boys are holding on. We’re all hanging on. It’s hard, but everyone knows the price and why it’s all being done.”

Major safety incident linked to Kevin Campbell death

By Rumeana Jahangir and PA MediaBBC News

Serious concerns over the hospital care of former Arsenal and Everton footballer Kevin Campbell have been flagged up by a health trust, an inquest has heard.

Mr Campbell, 54, died at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) on 15 June after being admitted a month earlier.

Coroner Zak Golombek said Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, which manages the hospital, had declared a Level 5 patient safety incident – the most serious category – about aspects of his care.

He said the provisional cause of death given for Mr Campbell was multi-organ failure due to a heart infection.

No family members were present at Manchester Coroner’s Court as Mr Golombek outlined background details during Thursday’s inquest opening.

He said that Mr Campbell had been admitted to MRI on 15 May.

“He had been reported to have been fit and well until around January 2024, when he had a number of admissions to hospital before this final admission,” the coroner said.

Mr Golombek said the health trust declared a Level 5 incident related to a delay in aspects of Mr Campbell’s care and diagnosis, and concerns over decision-making processes about palliative care.

Mr Golombek said the trust was conducting internal investigations and there would be extra evidence including the investigation report, witness statements from clinicians and a statement from Mr Campbell’s next of kin.

He said: “I have also received notification from the trust that a medical cause of death can be offered and, therefore, I will consider evidence from the clinicians involved in Mr Campbell’s care as to the cause of his death.

“The provisional cause of death, as it stands, refers to Mr Campbell dying from multi-organ failure as a result of infective endocarditis.”

Infective endocarditis is a rare infection of the inner lining or valves of the heart.

It can be very serious and sometimes fatal.

It is most commonly caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream from elsewhere in the body and sticking to heart valves.

Mr Golombek said final determinations on the medical cause of death and the care received by Mr Campbell “will be made as part of the inquest process”.

Proceedings have been adjourned for a hearing at a later date.

‘Life and soul of every party’

Mr Campbell’s 24-year-old son Tyrese, who plays for Stoke City, tweeted at the time of his father’s death that “the pain of this is indescribable and as a son you look at your dad as invincible”.

“He was the life and soul of every party and room he blessed, a one-in-a-million person that was loved by everyone.”

Kevin Campbell scored 148 goals in 542 appearances in a career involving eight clubs.

He won four major trophies with Arsenal and also played for Everton, Leyton Orient, Leicester, Nottingham Forest, Trabzonspor, Cardiff and West Bromwich Albion.

More on this story

Ghana chef accused of faking Guinness World Records award

By Thomas Naadi & Basillioh RukangaBBC News, Accra and Nairobi

A Ghanaian chef who claimed to have broken the world record for the longest non-stop cooking by an individual has been arrested over a dispute with his sponsor.

Ebenezer Smith held a press conference on Tuesday announcing he was the new world-record holder after cooking continuously for 802 hours and 25 minutes – more than a month.

He presented a certificate purportedly from Guinness World Records (GWR) confirmed him as the record holder.

But on Wednesday, a GWR spokesperson told BBC Pidgin the claims were “not true” and added that it was “not our certificate”.

In another response to a Ghanaian media outlet, GWR also explained they were not aware of his attempt and that they did not receive an application from him.

The chef was arrested by the police shortly after announcing his purported award, over a dispute with his sponsor, the Amadia Shopping Centre, Spintex, in the capital Accra, where he held his cooking marathon in March.

They accused him of breaching a contractual agreement by not informing them about the new developments regarding the alleged confirmation of the award.

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Many Ghanaians have expressed shock and disappointment on social media about the case, which was widely covered when Mr Smith claimed to have broken the record.

The chef, who is still in police custody and has not been charged yet, has not commented on the accusations.

His unsuccessful record attempt earlier this year attracted the support of several local celebrities.

Several Ghanaians have attempted to break Guinness World Records in recent times, including media personality and entrepreneur Afua Asantewaa Aduonum, who attempted the longest singing marathon last year.

Earlier this year another chef, Failatu Abdul Razak, attempted the longest cooking marathon in the northern city of Tamale.

The current record for longest cooking marathon by an individual is held by Ireland’s Alan Fisher at 119 hours, 57 minutes 16 seconds from 28 September-3 October last year, GWR said.

It had previously been held by Nigerian chef Hilda Bacci, whose record stood at 93 hours 11 minutes. Her win caused a sensation in Nigeria with people trying to get themselves in the record books by doing things like crying or singing non-stop.

She was dethroned by Mr Fisher months after being declared the record holder.

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US man jailed in Russia for 12 years on drug charges

By Matt MurphyBBC News

A US citizen has been sentenced to 12.5 years at a maximum security penal colony by a Russian court after being convicted on drugs charges.

Robert Woodland, 32, was detained in Moscow in January and accused by prosecutors of seeking to sell a large quantity of methadone. His lawyer told the Reuters news agency that he had partially confessed to the charges.

Mr Woodland, who was born in Russia and adopted when he was two, had travelled to the country in 2020 to find his birth mother. His journey was documented by a Russian reality TV programme.

He is the latest US citizen to be imprisoned in the country, with some Western officials suggesting the Kremlin is “hoarding” Americans to trade for allies and operatives imprisoned abroad.

In a statement released after Mr Woodland’s conviction on Thursday, Russian prosecutors said he had been caught while packaging a large quantity of narcotics at an apartment in the Russian capital.

They claimed he had been working with a large-scale criminal group and had transported 50-grams of the drug from a pick-up point outside the city.

His lawyer, Stanislav Kshevitsky, had initially denied the charges, saying officials had presented “no evidence” of drug sales before the court.

But he told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday that Mr Woodland had confessed to some of the allegations against him. It remains unclear which charges he has accepted.

Footage carried by state media in Russia showed Mr Woodland sitting inside a glass cage in court, staring impassively ahead as the verdict against him was read out.

Russian media reported that Mr Woodland decided to remain in the country after meeting his mother in 2020 and worked as an English teacher near Moscow. His tearful reunion with his mother was broadcast on state television at the time.

The Interfax news agency said he holds US and Russian citizenship.

At least a dozen US nationals, including journalists and active duty soldiers, are currently being held in Russian prisons and penal colonies.

Among those is Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter detained over a year ago on espionage charges which he denies. The US considers him to be “wrongfully detained”.

Western officials have long suspected that Moscow is seeking to detain Western citizens to use as bargaining chips in prisoner swaps. US law prohibits the payment of ransoms to terror groups, but successive administrations have been willing to offer concessions to other states to secure the release of Americans.

This is what happened to Brittney Griner, who was released at the end of 2022 in a prisoner swap with the US in return for the controversial Russian arms dealer Victor Bout.

While the US state department said earlier this year that it was aware of Mr Woodland’s case, it avoided commenting directly on the allegations.

Instead, it issued a statement saying it “has no greater priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas”.

US officials have repeatedly warned US citizens in Russia to leave the country, citing the risk of wrongful arrest and harassment by authorities.

Lucy Letby: Courtroom drama, a failed appeal, and battles over the truth

By Judith Moritz and Jonathan CoffeyBBC News

When former nurse Lucy Letby was convicted of murdering babies last year, news channels rolled on the story, and her mugshot was splashed across front pages and websites around the world.

The scale of Letby’s crimes, the extreme vulnerability of her victims, and unanswered questions about the nurse all combined to stoke interest in the case.

But this was a saga that was still unfolding. Hospital consultants who’d suspected Letby spoke of the struggles they’d had to be heard. Public outcry quickly led to the announcement of a public inquiry.

Meanwhile, police said they were reviewing the cases of 4,000 admissions of babies into neonatal units at hospitals where Letby worked or trained, and were launching an investigation to establish whether the Countess of Chester Hospital should face criminal charges.

There was blanket coverage. Then the news cycle moved on, and Lucy Letby fell out of the headlines.

But that wasn’t the only reason things went quiet. We can now explain why coverage of Letby’s story has been restricted over the last 10 months – and what we haven’t been able to report, until now.

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A month after Britain’s most notorious nurse was sentenced to spend the rest of her life in prison, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced it was seeking a fresh trial.

Letby had been convicted of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder another six at the Countess of Chester Hospital’s neo-natal unit between June 2015 and June 2016. She was acquitted of two counts of attempted murder.

But there were six further charges on which jurors couldn’t decide. Now the CPS said it was intending to run a retrial to put one of those undecided charges before a new jury. The judge quickly imposed a court order prohibiting the reporting of anything that could prejudice the upcoming trial. The result was a virtual news blackout, at least temporarily.

In the background, Letby’s defence team applied for permission to appeal against her convictions. There was no public hearing, and journalists weren’t told about Letby’s grounds for appeal – or the judge’s reasons when they decided to deny her request.

But that wasn’t an end to it – Letby could make one final appeal request, in front of three judges at the Court of Appeal in London – and this time the hearing would take place in public.

Barristers, solicitors, police officers and journalists who’d been involved in the original trial traipsed down to the Royal Courts of Justice. Letby attended remotely, via a video link from a non-descript room in HMP Bronzefield, where she is currently an inmate.

It was the first time we’d seen her since she’d refused to turn up to her sentencing hearing. Her hair had grown, but it was still difficult to read anything from her expression – she maintained the same impassivity as she had during the trial.

What unfolded in court was fascinating, but had to stay in our notebooks.

Letby’s lawyers claimed her convictions were unsafe, calling into question the science behind the prosecution case, laying into the prosecution’s expert witness, and arguing part of the judge’s directions to the jury had been wrong.

It was the first time since the end of her trial eight months earlier that anyone had heard her team set out its stall – but much of it was familiar to those of us who’d been following the case.

The same attacks on the prosecution’s experts had been made during the course of the trial, and Letby’s lawyers had also previously argued against the judge’s legal directions.

But Letby’s lead barrister, Ben Myers KC, a seasoned courtroom performer, had a couple of cards up his sleeve. The first was a saga involving a fight in a cafe, the theft of a mobile phone, and an email to the court from someone alleging they’d overheard a juror claim the jury had already made up their minds from the start of the trial.

Although the judge had spoken to the juror and allowed him to carry on serving, Letby’s barrister argued this wasn’t enough. The judge, Mr Myers argued, should have questioned the person who’d made the allegation too.

None of this had anything to do with whether or not Letby had murdered babies – but it was thrown into the mix as one of the grounds for appeal.

More Lucy Letby coverage

There was also a new witness – neonatologist Shoo Lee, from Toronto, the co-author of a 1989 medical research paper about air embolism in neonatal babies. An air embolism occurs when one or more air bubbles enter a vein or artery, causing a block in circulation. The consequences can be fatal.

Letby was found guilty of injecting air into the bloodstreams of some of the infants, causing air embolism. Prosecution experts had based some of their evidence on Dr Lee’s paper, although he hadn’t been called to give evidence.

Now he was appearing on behalf of the defence.

During the trial, much was made of changes in skin colour observed on some of the babies, which it was suggested were symptomatic of air embolism. The prosecution cited Dr Lee’s paper in support of this, and paediatric consultant Dr Ravi Jayaram told the court a “chill went down (his) spine” in June 2016 when he read the research and believed it fitted with what he’d seen on babies in Chester.

But nobody had checked with Dr Lee. The point he now made, via webcam from 3,500 miles away, was that only one, very specific skin discolouration was diagnostic of air embolism, and none of the babies in the case had displayed this exactly.

For Letby’s defence, it was a basis for appeal. The prosecution disagreed. They argued that all of the instances of skin discoloration in the Letby case were consistent with air embolism, and some of these could be proven using Dr Lee’s own diagnostic method.

They said Dr Lee hadn’t been shown any of the eyewitness testimony from the trial, or any of the babies’ records – and so was not qualified to weigh in now.

Sitting on the uncomfortable wooden benches of court 4, one couldn’t help but wonder why this development hadn’t been aired at the trial. Letby’s lawyers were arguing the science was too weak to support as many as nine of her 14 convictions.

But on 24 May, Court of Appeal judges again rejected Letby’s request for permission to appeal against her convictions.

During Letby’s trial, online forums and communities sprang up, where users analysed the evidence as the case unfolded. There were views on everything from the science, to the barristers’ performance, and endless speculation about Letby herself.

Very few of those posting opinions were at Manchester Crown Court to watch the trial in person. The majority were following media reports, tweets, and a live blog on the Chester Standard newspaper’s website.

The online commentary was voluminous – and often in breach of legal restrictions. The trial judge directed jurors not to go online, or conduct their own extra-curricular research, and the hearings continued without anyone being prosecuted for contempt of court.

After the verdicts finally came through last August, newspaper headlines screamed “Monster” and “Angel of Death”. But the view on the internet wasn’t always as condemnatory.

Sceptics appeared, including Richard Gill, a statistician in the Netherlands, who argued the data presented at the trial was flawed and used improperly. Sarrita Adams, a California-based biotech consultant, launched a campaign aimed at critiquing the science in Letby’s case. Her website invites donations and describes itself as “the first organisation dedicated to fighting for a new trial for Lucy Letby”.

They weren’t the only ones. There are podcasts, blogs, websites and videos dedicated to the same topic. Some delve into the arguments presented by the defence about air embolism, and the expertise in the case. Others stray into different territory – statistics, or questions about other areas of science which Letby’s team have steered clear of.

It was notable how the sceptics’ arguments weren’t incorporated in the defence submissions at the Court of Appeal. We understand some of those campaigning for Letby’s freedom have made repeated attempts to contact her, her inner circle, and her lawyers.

But why the mismatch between the arguments raging online and those in the courtroom? It may be that Letby’s team has looked into the sceptics’ arguments and decided they don’t check out and wouldn’t stand up in a court of law.

But that’s not the only possibility.

Letby and her legal team didn’t have carte blanche to make any arguments they wanted in support of her request for permission to appeal.

Criminal appeals are not “a second bite of the cherry”, as lawyers sometimes put it. The only way Letby would be allowed to appeal against her conviction was if she could show the judge in her original trial had made a legal mistake, or there was new evidence that, had it been available at the time, might have led the jury to different verdicts.

That meant the range of arguments Letby’s legal team could present was limited. Cherry-picking the best of the online arguments was never an option.

  • Who is baby serial killer Lucy Letby?

It’s also important to remember the one person in control of the defence case was Letby herself. Her lawyers advised her, but they were required to act according to her instructions. Letby has used the same local Chester solicitor since her arrest in 2018, and has been represented by the same barristers throughout both trials and the appeal. Whether she’s aware of the community campaigning in her name or not, she hasn’t signalled she’s unhappy with her lawyers’ strategy.

Those who’ve continued to maintain the nurse’s innocence are undeterred. They seem to be increasingly vocal and at the first hearing of the Thirlwall Inquiry, which will examine the way the hospital dealt with Letby, barristers representing the parents of the babies spoke of the anguish these campaigns have caused.

“The modern age has brought a proliferation of conspiracy theories which sprout, spread and fester on social media blogs and on websites,” Peter Skelton KC said. “Lucy Letby’s crimes, in particular, continue to be the subject of such conspiracies, some of which are grossly offensive and distressing for the families of her victims.”

The families’ lawyers argued, unsuccessfully, for the public inquiry to be live streamed when it gets under way in Liverpool in the autumn.

“It is well known that the case has generated considerable public interest and that conspiracy theories have grown around it,” Richard Baker KC said. “They are toxic, they are often ill-informed, and they ultimately grow in the shadows. The more light that we put on this Inquiry, the less space there is for speculation and conspiracy.”

It probably hasn’t helped that much of the reporting of the Letby case over the past year has been restricted by court orders, to protect the retrial. It has left an information vacuum – one the internet has happily filled.

On 10 June, 10 months after she was first convicted of murdering and attempting to murder babies, Letby was back in court for her retrial on one count of attempted murder.

Although there was a feeling of déjà vu – the same courtroom, the same lawyers, the same judge – there was something palpably different about the atmosphere.

During the first trial, which had lasted for nearly a year, only five or six members of the public turned up with any regularity. They sat quietly in an annexe alongside police officers and experts who couldn’t fit into the main room.

At the retrial, up to 30 people crowded around the courtroom door each morning, jostling to be allowed in. Court ushers did their best to maintain order, asking them to move aside to allow the baby’s family, police officers and journalists in, but then they were allowed to take their places in the public gallery.

Katie, Leah and Richard were in court throughout the first trial and came back for the second. They’ve asked for their names to be changed because they say they’ve felt intimidated by some of the people who’ve turned up this time around.

“People come literally from all over, we’ve had people come from the USA and Brazil,” Katie says.

“They’re not interested in listening to the arguments – they just want to be in that court,” Leah adds. “Then halfway through they’re trying to get up and leave because they realise it’s quite dry, it’s quite tedious.”

They maintain it’s important for members of the public to be allowed to observe trials. Richard, who had never been to one before, says he committed his time to following the Letby trial because of its complexity.

“To really understand the case, I think you have to be there to listen to it and absorb as much of it as you can.”

  • What did nurse Lucy Letby do to babies in her care?

Not everyone was there to listen carefully. A man handing out flyers about judicial corruption was asked to leave. Court ushers had to remind someone else not to record the hearing. And there was shouting and tears when competing views were aired outside in the corridor. But if the lack of decorum inside the courthouse felt new, it was as nothing compared with the invective raging online.

Reporters and even witnesses found themselves being trolled and accused of bias and dishonesty. There were two battles – the traditional courtroom duel of prosecution v defence; and the information war going on in parallel.

Where will this all end up?

“I’m not guilty of what I’ve been found guilty of,” Letby said at her retrial. But having been denied permission to appeal, she’d have to come up with startling new evidence or arguments to have a chance of overturning her convictions. That won’t stop the debate though.

There could be further criminal prosecutions – Cheshire Police is still investigating Letby’s career. And the public inquiry, which starts in September, will examine the wider fallout, interrogating hospital managers about the way they handled doctors’ concerns.

We watched Letby as closely during her retrial as we had throughout the 10 months of the first prosecution. She was readier to catch our eye – looking up at the public gallery, and glancing across to where the baby’s family was sitting. She often blinked rapidly and clutched a furry stress-toy under the desk of the witness box. When she gave evidence, she spoke in the same neutral, clipped tone as before, betraying little emotion.

These were intriguing little details, but they seemed to conceal more than they revealed. Even after two trials, questions about the nurse’s character, motive and psychology are still unanswered.

Lucy Letby remains an enigma.

BBC Action Line

Israel approves largest W Bank land seizure in decades – watchdog

By David GrittenBBC News

Palestinians and the UN have criticised what an anti-settlement watchdog says is Israel’s largest seizure of land in the occupied West Bank in more than three decades.

About 12.7 sq km (4.9 sq miles) of the Jordan Valley was declared “state property” in June, denying Palestinians there private ownership and usage rights, according to the Peace Now group.

The declaration also created “territorial continuity” between Israeli settlements in a key corridor bordering Jordan, the group said.

A Palestinian official said the seizure was designed to dispossess Palestinians, while the UN criticised it as “a step in the wrong direction” for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The declaration was welcomed by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich – a far-right settler who has authority over settlement policies in the coalition government and who considers the West Bank as part of a “Greater Israel”.

Israel has built about 160 settlements housing some 700,000 Jews since it occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land the Palestinians want as part of a future state – in the 1967 Middle East war.

The vast majority of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

The seizure approved by Israel’s Civil Administration last month – but only made public on Wednesday – covers an area north of the settlement of Yafit that had mostly been designated as a nature reserve or as an Israeli military “fire area”.

“The size of the area designated for declaration is the largest since the Oslo Accords,” Peace Now said, referring to the 1993 interim peace deal that set out how parts of the West Bank and Gaza would be governed by the Palestinian Authority until a permanent peace settlement could be reached.

The group added that 2024 “marks a peak in the extent of declarations of state land,” with a total of 23.7 sq km seized since the start of the year, including 8 sq km of land adjoining the latest area that is connected to the settlement of Masua.

Peace Now accused Mr Smotrich and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being “determined to fight against the entire world and against the interests of the people of Israel for the benefit of a handful of settlers” over resolving Israel’s political crisis or ending the war in Gaza.

“Today, it is clear to everyone that this conflict cannot be resolved without a political settlement that establishes a Palestinian state alongside Israel,” it said.

When asked to comment, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “Frankly, it’s a step in the wrong direction. And the direction we want to be heading is to find a negotiated two-state solution.”

The head of the Palestinian Authority’s Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission, Muayyad Shaaban, meanwhile said the seizure was “part of a large plan aimed at controlling the eastern part of the West Bank”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Israeli media reported that Mr Smotrich welcomed the declaration along with the news that the Israeli military’s Higher Planning Council was holding a two-day meeting to advance plans for 5,300 new settler homes in the West Bank, and the security cabinet’s decision last week to retroactively authorise five settlement outposts built without official government approval.

“Thank God, we are building and developing the settlements and thwarting the danger of a Palestinian state,” he was quoted as saying.

Last month, Peace Now released a taped recording of Mr Smotrich outlining in a speech to a conference for his Religious Zionism party a series of moves that the campaign group warned would irreversibly change the way the West Bank was governed and lead to “de facto annexation”.

It said they included the completion of transferring the management of settlements from the military to civilian officials; the creation of a “legalisation bypass route” for settlement outposts; expanding the authorisation of agricultural outposts; and cracking down on unauthorised Palestinian construction.

In return for the retroactive authorisation of the five settlement outposts, Mr Smotrich reportedly agreed to unfreeze the last three months of tax revenues withheld from the Palestinian Authority and to extend a waiver protecting Israeli banks that work with Palestinian banks.

The US had urged Israel to release the funds, warning that further economic hardship for Palestinians could lead to more violence in the West Bank.

The UN says more than 530 Palestinians and 14 Israelis have been killed in the territory since the start of the war in Gaza, which was triggered by Hamas’s deadly attack on southern Israel on 7 October.

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Andy Murray’s farewell appearance at Wimbledon began with a straight-set defeat alongside older brother Jamie in the men’s doubles.

The two-time singles champion is playing at the All England Club for the final time before retiring later this year.

The Murray brothers arrived on to Centre Court – which had not hosted a first-round men’s doubles match since 1995 – to a standing ovation.

Another followed moments after they lost 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 to Australian pair John Peers and Rinky Hijikata on Centre Court.

However, 37-year-old Andy is set to appear again later this week, having signed up to the mixed doubles with fellow British Grand Slam champion Emma Raducanu.

“It was obviously very special to play with Jamie, we’ve not the chance to do it before,” Murray said.

“It was a race against time to get out here and physically it wasn’t easy but I’m glad we were able to do it one time together.”

A video montage of Murray’s career was played on the big screen after the match, leaving the Scot in tears as the thousands of fans showed their appreciation in an elongated ovation.

Murray’s parents Judy and Willie, his wife Kim and two of their daughters also watched on.

Fellow Grand Slam champions Novak Djokovic, Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe and Iga Swiatek applauded from the side of the court, alongside British players Dan Evans, Jack Draper and Cameron Norrie.

More to follow.

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New Zealand v England first Test

Date: Saturday, 6 July Kick-off: 08:05 BST Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Coverage: Listen to commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds and follow live text commentary on BBC Sport website and app.

When England last toured New Zealand 10 years ago, the All Blacks were on top of the rugby world.

After winning the World Cup in 2011, Steve Hansen’s side were on an extraordinary run that would culminate in back-to-back glory in 2015.

A new crop of future All Blacks stars were coming through, while all-time greats like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter were still in their prime.

Even without the injured Carter, and despite strong English performances in the first two Tests, the All Blacks eventually secured a 3-0 series win to cement their status as the dominant rugby nation on earth.

The landscape is different in 2024. South Africa and France have stolen a march – the Springboks on the pitch and the French off it. The Japanese league has coaxed some great All Blacks into international sabbaticals or international retirements. Covid took its toll.

“It’s been a few tough years, there is no doubt about that,” said New Zealand Rugby Union boss Mark Robinson.

The Henry-Hansen-Ian Foster lineage – which ran the All Blacks for 20 years – has been broken up, with the popular former flanker Scott Robertson, 49, now at the helm after guiding the Crusaders to a remarkable seven consecutive Super Rugby titles.

“He has spent a huge amount of time developing his craft,” said Robinson.

“He’s thought really deeply about the role for a long time. It feels this is the time for him.”

But despite the excitement around the Robertson era, the New Zealand rugby public – often so bullish – is a little nervous.

The All Blacks haven’t played a game since losing the World Cup final last October, while a host of key players including locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, scrum-half Aaron Smith and fly-half Richie Mo’unga are no longer available.

With Sam Cane stepping down as captain, second row Scott Barrett will lead the team for the first time, while Damian McKenzie starts at fly-half.

“There is uncertainty about how this team is going to come together,” explained Liam Napier of the New Zealand Herald.

“I look at this New Zealand squad and there are so many unknowns,” agreed former England scrum-half Danny Care.

“They don’t have the players anymore that you fear. They have players you massively respect, but as a team, do you go there literally with fear? I don’t think New Zealand has that at the moment.

“This is a massive opportunity for England to go down there and shock the New Zealand world.”

‘England’s style of play has evolved’

Among the local media, England’s sharp performances at the back end of the Six Nations and the polished display in the win against Japan in Tokyo have not gone unnoticed. Nor has the continuity in Steve Borthwick’s selection or the tweak in playing style since last autumn’s World Cup.

“It’s not traditional England – they have evolved,” said Napier. “Maybe England have a chance to surprise the All Blacks with their style.

“There is cohesion there and they have named largely the same team. But how is this All Blacks team going to come together? No-one is quite sure.”

While Borthwick has had his whole squad in camp for almost four weeks, Robertson has had his together for just 10 days. Leaders like Ardie Savea and Beauden Barrett missed the Super Rugby season while playing in Japan.

“I’m nervous,” World Player of the Year Savea admitted on Thursday. “But nerves bring the best out of us. And it’s a great challenge for myself to step forward and try and own it.”

“You hope England can maybe catch New Zealand a little bit on the hop,” said Care.

“There are a lot of things that put the All Blacks in a different space to where they have been in years gone by,” added former England wing Chris Ashton.

Despite all this, England supporters will be cautious in their optimism.

The All Blacks still boast some world-class players, whether in the form of the magnificent Savea or the talented Jordie Barrett [the third of the brothers in the matchday squad]. TJ Perenara is back at scrum-half after a two-year absence. Robertson can even afford to leave the great Beauden Barrett out of his starting XV.

England’s inexperienced side – the vast majority of whom have never played in New Zealand – will be tested both mentally and physically. It is the All Blacks in New Zealand and it remains – according to Borthwick – the biggest challenge in world rugby.

But it nonetheless feels like England have a once-in-a-generation chance of making history, and becoming only the third English side – after 1973 and 2003 – to win a Test in New Zealand.

Under Robertson, the All Blacks will only improve going forward. Any cobwebs will be blown away, and quickly.

Next week’s second Test is at Eden Park in Auckland, the spiritual home of All Blacks rugby, where their record is incomprehensibly good.

For England, Saturday in Dunedin might be a case of now or never.

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Cameron Norrie looked back to his best as he stunned British number one Jack Draper with an assured second-round win at Wimbledon.

Norrie was displaced by Draper, 22, as Britain’s leading man last month.

The 28-year-old has struggled this season, suffering first-round exits at the French Open, Queen’s and Eastbourne.

But he moved past an in-form Draper 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 7-6 (8-6).

“It wasn’t easy coming out here today to play Jack, he’s been playing so well and we’re such good friends off the court so we had to put that aside today,” said Norrie.

“I felt like I was a little bit of the underdog coming in today, so I was pretty relaxed.”

Norrie’s victory was another triumph for British number twos on Court One after Harriet Dart overcame Britain’s top-ranked woman Katie Boulter in extraordinary fashion earlier on Thursday.

British wildcard Jacob Fearnley took a set off seven-time champion Novak Djokovic but fell short of creating a seismic shock earlier on Thursday at Wimbledon.

Fearnley, a 22-year-old from Scotland, was beaten 6-3 6-4 5-7 7-5 by the Serb second seed in an increasingly-febrile atmosphere on Centre Court.

“All in all this match potentially deserved to go into a fifth, particularly with the way he played in the fourth. But I’m very glad it didn’t,” said Djokovic, who is still recovering from knee surgery last month.

Norrie uses experience to outsmart big-hitter Draper

Draper came into the Championships on a rich vein of form having won his first ATP Tour title in Stuttgart a couple of weeks earlier.

Seeded at Wimbledon for the first time, his five-set victory under the Centre Court lights in the first-round evoked memories of Andy Murray.

But Draper, whose career has already been hampered by injury and fitness issues, will have to wait at least another year to try and emulate the two-time Wimbledon winner.

The left handers needed a tie-break to settle the opening set and Norrie swept aside his big-hitting opponent with lightning-fast reactions at the net.

The former world number eight continued to outsmart Draper, winning the next four games before holding off the 28th seed to take a two-set lead.

Unable to serve out the third after breaking early, Draper was left ruing missed chances as Norrie took charge of the tie-break to reach the third round.

He will face either German fourth seed Alexander Zverev or American Marcos Giron.

Djokovic hails Fearnley after tough test

Fearnley, the world number 277, finished his university studies in the United States in May.

Six weeks later, he was trying to beat one of the greatest players of all-time on the world’s most iconic tennis court.

Making his main-draw debut at the All England Club, Fearnley showcased his talent and caused serious problems for the 24-time Grand Slam champion.

Fearnley was two points away from taking the match into a deciding set before Djokovic survived to come through.

It was an impressive performance from the British number 13, who deservedly received a standing ovation which Djokovic joined in with.

“He played very good tennis and deserves a great round of applause,” said Djokovic.

“I hadn’t had a chance to see him play until two days ago, there is always an element of surprise and nothing for him to lose.

“He served very well, it was hard to break his serve and he made me work.

“All in all this match potentially deserved to go into a fifth, particularly with the way he played in the fourth. But I’m very glad it didn’t.”

Fearless Fearnley pushes Djokovic

Facing 37-year-old Djokovic on Centre Court was Fearnley’s reward for a marvellous summer on the British grass courts.

Ranked outside the world’s top 500 last month, Fearnley won the Nottingham Open for his first title on the ATP Challenger Tour and was given a wildcard for the Wimbledon main draw as a result.

He said he “froze” watching Friday’s draw as the realisation dawned he could be pitted against Djokovic.

But Fearnley more than warmed to the task when he saw one of his idols, who he had watched “countless” times on television, on the opposite side of the net.

A competitive start saw Fearnley confidently hold his opening three service games in the first two sets, and create a break point at 2-1 up in the second, before being worn down by Djokovic’s relentless returning.

Fearnley lost serve at 2-2 in the third set and Djokovic’s passionate celebration was a sign of how much he was being pushed.

However, Fearnley refused to be disheartened.

He broke straight back for 3-3, saved two more break points for a 5-4 lead, then pinched the third set with another break to the delight of the jubilant home fans.

Fearnley continued to play calmly and fearlessly and, at 4-5 and 15-30 in the fourth, was two points away from levelling the match.

But Djokovic found his first serve just when it mattered to hang on and, after Fearnley blinked with a double fault on break point at 5-5, moved into the last 32 without needing to go the distance.

Djokovic is still recovering from knee surgery he had last month, but offered few physical excuses as he praised his opponent.

“Again, credit to Jacob. On my side, I should have done some things better when I was a break up in the third,” said Djokovic, who will face Australian world number 46 Alexei Popyrin next.

“Can I be playing better and moving better? Absolutely. I hope as the tournament progresses I’ll be feeling much better.”

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Manchester United have triggered a one-year extension in Erik ten Hag’s contract to keep him at the club until 2026.

The Dutchman’s previous deal, which he signed when he was appointed in 2022, was due to expire in 2025.

Ten Hag, who joined United from Ajax, has won two trophies in two years at Old Trafford.

“I am very pleased to have reached agreement with the club to continue working together,” said the 54-year-old.

“Looking back at the past two years, we can reflect with pride on two trophies and many examples of progression from where we were when I joined.”

Ten Hag stressed “we must also be clear that there is still lots of hard work ahead”.

United finished third in the Premier League during Ten Hag’s first season at the club as the Dutchman ended the club’s six-year wait for silverware with victory against Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final.

But the Dutchman’s second season was far more difficult as United finished eighth in the Premier League and were knocked out of the Champions League group stages.

A 2-1 victory against Manchester City in May’s FA Cup final proved vital to Ten Hag keeping his job.

The club, led by co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe following his investment last December, conducted a review of the team’s performance across the season following the victory at Wembley.

The review saw United speak to potential replacements for Ten Hag but it was eventually decided that the Dutchman deserved to keep his job in order to work under a new, improved structure.

Ratcliffe has overhauled the club’s board structure since taking a 27.7% in the club.

Jason Wilcox, Omar Berrada, Sir Dave Brailsford and Dan Ashworth have all joined in senior positions.

“This group of players and staff have already shown they are capable of competing and winning at the top level; now we need to do it more consistently,” said sporting director Ashworth.

“With our strengthened football leadership team now in place, we are looking forward to working hand-in-hand with Erik to achieve our shared ambitions for this football club.”

United are in talks with Ten Hag to restructure his backroom staff.

Former United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who was PSV Eindhoven manager from 2022-23, is expected to return to Old Trafford as part of a revamped coaching set-up alongside Go Ahead Eagles manager Rene Hake.

Former Chelsea technical director Christopher Vivell also joins United as director of global talent on a short-term deal to assist during the current transfer window, with an extended stay not ruled out.

‘There will be no excuses’ – analysis

The announcement over Erik ten Hag’s contract was virtually automatic once it became clear Manchester United had decided to stick with the Dutchman.

His existing deal was due to expire in 2025 and it contained an option for an additional year.

Ten Hag’s terms have not been improved, so all that has happened really is the option has been triggered.

Potentially of more significance is the planned arrival of Rene Hake from Go Ahead Eagles and former striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has been out of work since quitting as PSV Eindhoven manager in 2023, as part of Ten Hag’s revamped coaching team.

With Dan Ashworth now in place and putting his name to United’s statement in his first public utterances as sporting director, and Omar Berrada taking over as chief executive within a fortnight, the structures will soon be in place that Sir Jim Ratcliffe felt were missing before.

Shortly, there will be no excuses for Ten Hag.

Any semblance of another eighth-placed finish and he won’t even get close to reaching the end of this repackaged new contract.

  • Published

Top seed Iga Swiatek reached the third round of the women’s singles with a tenacious straight-set win over Petra Martic on Centre Court at Wimbledon.

Croatian Martic pushed the Polish world number one in moments but lost her serve late in both sets in Swiatek’s 6-4 6-3 win.

She also needed a lengthy medical timeout for a back injury in the opening set.

Swiatek’s victory extended her formidable win streak to 21 matches.

The 23-year-old is a five-time Grand Slam winner, although she has struggled on grass in the past, and has never advanced beyond the quarter-finals at SW19.

Swiatek will face Yulia Putintseva in the third round with the Kazakh player upsetting Czech 27th seed Katerina Siniakova 6-0 4-6 6-2 earlier on day four.

Elsewhere in the women’s draw, American fifth seed Jessica Pegula became the highest-ranked casualty at this year’s singles when she was beaten by world number 42 Wang Xinyu.

The Chinese player won 6-4 6-7 (7-9) 6-1 on court three to set up a third-round tie with Britain’s Harriet Dart.

Pegula had looked in formidable form on grass, reaching the final of Eastbourne and winning her first-round tie at Wimbledon in just 49 minutes.

But plenty of other seeds recorded dominant straight-set wins on a wind-affected day in south London.

Ons Jabeur, runner-up at the past two Wimbledons, beat American Robin Montgomery 6-1 7-5.

The Tunisian 10th seed will take on 21st seed Elina Svitolina in the third round after the Ukrainian overcame German Jule Niemeier 6-3 6-4.

American 11th seed Danielle Collins beat Hungary’s Dalma Galfi 6-3 6-4 and will face 20th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia next after the Brazilian benefitted from a walkover.

Madison Keys, a quarter-finalist last year’s, beat China’s Wang Yafan 6-2 6-2, while 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko defeated Ukraine’s Daria Snigur 6-3 6-0.

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Only eight teams are left in Euro 2024, but who will make it to the final in Berlin on 14 July?

BBC Sport football expert Chris Sutton did pretty well with his predictions for the last 16, with Switzerland’s success against Italy and Turkey’s win over Austria the only results he got wrong.

Turkey caught most of you out too – of more than 95,000 votes, only 12% of you backed them to progress – but you were right about the outcome of the other seven ties.

That is a vast improvement on your record in the group stage and means that, like Sutton, from the 44 games played in Germany, you have been correct about 22 of them.

Will there be any more surprises in the quarter-finals? You can make your predictions below, including England against Switzerland, and France – Sutton’s pick to win the European Championship – versus Portugal.

QUARTER-FINALS

FRIDAY, 5 JULY

Spain v Germany

Spain are the best team in the competition.

Germany were jubilant when Niclas Fullkrug scored their stoppage-time equaliser in their final group game against Switzerland, but they will be gutted that it meant they ended up in this side of the draw. They would rather be playing England, I’m sure.

Germany are not just the hosts, though. They have got a bit about them as well. Antonio Rudiger has arguably been the best central defender at this tournament.

They are a well-balanced team but Spain have stood out and, wherever you look, they have got quality and nous.

Rodri and Fabian Ruiz have been dominant on the ball in midfield and they have the intelligence of Pedri ahead of them. On the wings, they have Lamine Yamal, who is such an exciting talent, and Nico Williams, who is impossible to stop in one-on-one situations.

So Spain are going to be difficult to stop. If there is a criticism of them at these Euros, it is that they have not been ruthless enough, but, in terms of performance levels, they have been head and shoulders above everyone else.

That makes it very difficult to go against them here, even though Germany have got home advantage and have also been playing well.

Sutton’s prediction: 2-1

What information do we collect from this quiz?

Portugal v France

I really don’t understand why Portugal manager Roberto Martinez indulges Cristiano Ronaldo the way he does.

We know what a great player Ronaldo has been in the past, and he can still influence games, but you have got to draw the line when it is clear he is having a negative impact on the team.

Why, for example, is Ronaldo taking free-kick after free-kick when there are much better options? It’s selfish from him, and he has a massive ego, but why is Martinez allowing it to happen? The bigger fault lies with him, and he should be strong enough to do what is best for the team.

I may end up with a large dollop of egg on my face if Portugal win the tournament and Ronaldo bangs in a couple of 35-yard free-kicks on the way, but I don’t see it happening.

In 300 years people will probably still be talking about what a genius Ronaldo was, but he is 39 and I don’t know what Martinez is expecting from him. Football has always been a team game and it feels absolutely ridiculous to rely on him like this when you look at how much quality Portugal have right through their side.

I picked France to win Euro 2024 before a ball was kicked and I am not going to change my mind now. They were not exactly exciting against Belgium in the last 16, but there were signs that they are coming to life, and they look so solid defensively.

France have scored only three goals in their first four games in Germany – and they were two own goals and a penalty. I am expecting them to click here, though.

I am at this game for Radio 5 Live. My other prediction is that Ronaldo will take seven free-kicks – and not one of them will be on target.

Sutton’s prediction: 0-2

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SATURDAY, 6 JULY

England v Switzerland

Switzerland are another well-balanced team. They have belief in the way they play, and they seem to be getting stronger as the tournament goes on, as we saw when they beat Italy in the last 16.

I had hung my hat on Italy, thinking the holders had to get going eventually – a bit like I have been doing with England – but they didn’t play well and a big part of that was down to how dominant the Swiss were.

There are plenty of similarities with this tie, but I don’t think England will be rolled over like Italy. I am not just backing Gareth Southgate’s side blindly, because they deserved to beat Slovakia – just about – and maybe a moment like Jude Bellingham’s equaliser can change the mood of their tournament.

There are still plenty of areas where England need to get better. I hate their lack of balance on the left-hand side. Luke Shaw has not played a minute in this tournament yet, and that was a risk that manager Southgate has got badly wrong.

At the moment, there is not much point dwelling on that. It is all about getting through this game, and England can do it.

I still want to see Cole Palmer start on the right because he offers something different creatively and looks so at ease with himself, but it is pretty obvious that won’t happen.

We will see one change at the back because Marc Guehi is suspended, and Ezri Konsa will probably come in, which is fine, but that will be it.

I am not expecting England to do very much different from what we’ve seen so far.

England are a bits-and-pieces team and are not going to suddenly turn into a side like Spain who play some beautiful football, but they have so much talent that they should still have too much for the Swiss.

Sutton’s prediction: 1-0

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Netherlands v Turkey

What a game Turkey’s last-16 win win over Austria was.

I am at this quarter-final for Radio 5 Live and am looking forward to seeing Turkey and their fans in Berlin – their supporters have brought so much to this tournament.

I loved the way Turkey fought to get over the line against Austria – and they did it without their captain, Hakan Calhanoglu, who was suspended for that game but will be back for this one.

Mert Gunok’s incredible save in stoppage time was something people will talk about for years and I guess he will now be known as the ‘Turkish Gordon Banks’.

There were many reasons why I expected Austria to win that tie, but Turkey were much better organised defensively than I thought they would be, so credit to their manager, Vincenzo Montella. They always carried a threat on the counter too.

The only problem is they all gave so much in that game. Turkey will need to do it all again to get past the Netherlands, and that is such a big ask.

The ‘Oranje Army’ have been amazing too, so the atmosphere at the Olympiastadion is going to be incredible.

I am still not fully convinced by the Netherlands team. They beat Romania easily enough last time out, but we don’t really know how good Romania are.

The Netherlands have to be favourites here, though. With players like Nathan Ake and Virgil van Dijk at the back and Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons going forward, they have quality all over the pitch.

Memphis Depay misses so many chances that he reminds me of me when I was playing for Chelsea, but his movement is excellent and he does a lot of good work for the team.

This is going to be close but, rather than predicting Turkish delight, it will be a case of a double Dutch strike sending them through.

Sutton’s prediction: 2-1

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