The Guardian 2024-07-11 20:13:15


Israeli weapons packed with shrapnel causing devastating injuries to children in Gaza, doctors say

Surgeons who worked in European and al-Aqsa hospitals describe extensive wounds caused by ‘fragmentation’ shrapnel experts say are designed to maximize casualties

Israeli-made weapons designed to spray high levels of shrapnel are causing horrific injuries to civilians in Gaza and disproportionately harming children, foreign surgeons who worked in the territory in recent months have told the Guardian.

The doctors say many of the deaths, amputations and life changing wounds to children they have treated came from the firing of missiles and shells – in areas crowded with civilians – packed with additional metal designed to fragment into tiny pieces of shrapnel.

Volunteer doctors at two Gaza hospitals said that a majority of their operations were on children hit by small pieces of shrapnel that leave barely discernible entry wounds but create extensive destruction inside the body. Amnesty International has said that the weapons appear designed to maximise casualties.

Feroze Sidhwa, a trauma surgeon from California, worked at the European hospital in southern Gaza in April.

“About half of the injuries I took care of were in young kids. We saw a lot of so-called splinter injuries that were very, very small to the point that you easily missed them while examining a patient. Much, much smaller than anything I’ve seen before but they caused tremendous damage on the inside,” he said.

Weapons experts said the shrapnel and wounds are consistent with Israeli-made weapons designed to create large numbers of casualties unlike more conventional weapons used to destroy buildings. The experts question why they are being fired into areas packed with civilians.

The Guardian spoke to six foreign doctors who have worked at two hospitals in Gaza, the European and al-Aqsa, in the last three months. All of them described encountering extensive wounds caused by “fragmentation” weapons, which they said have contributed to alarming rates of amputations since the war began. They said the injuries were seen in adults and children but that the damage done was likely to be more severe to younger bodies.

“Children are more vulnerable to any penetrating injury because they have smaller bodies. Their vital parts are smaller and easier to disrupt. When children have lacerated blood vessels, their blood vessels are already so small it’s very hard to put them back together. The artery that feeds the leg, the femoral artery, is only the thickness of a noodle in a small child. It’s very, very small. So repairing it and keeping the kid’s limb attached to them is very difficult,” Sidhwa said.

Mark Perlmutter, an orthopaedic surgeon from North Carolina, worked at the same hospital as Sidhwa.

“By far the most common wounds are one or two millimetre entry and exit wounds,” he said.

“X-rays showed demolished bones with a pinhole wound on one side, a pinhole on the other, and a bone that looks like a tractor trailer drove over it. The children we operated on, most of them had these small entrance and exit points.”

Perlmutter said children hit by multiple pieces of tiny shards often died and many of those who survived lost limbs.

“Most of the kids that survived had neurologic injuries and vascular injuries, a major cause of amputation. The blood vessels or the nerves get hit, and they come in a day later and the leg is dead or the arm is dead,” he said.

Sanjay Adusumilli⁩, an Australian surgeon who worked at the al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza in April, recovered shrapnel made up of small metal cubes about three millimetres wide while operating on a young boy. He described wounds from fragmentation weapons distinguished by the shards of shrapnel destroying bone and organs while leaving just a scratch on the skin.

Explosives experts who reviewed pictures of the shrapnel and the doctors’ descriptions of the wounds said they were consistent with bombs and shells fitted with a “fragmentation sleeve” around the explosive warhead in order to maximise casualties. Their use has also been documented in past Israeli offensives in Gaza.

Trevor Ball, a former US army explosive ordnance disposal technician, said the explosive sprays out tungsten cubes and ball bearings that are far more lethal than the blast itself.

“These balls and cubes are the main fragmentation effect from these munitions, with the munition casing providing a much smaller portion of the fragmentation effect. Most traditional artillery rounds and bombs rely on the munition casing itself rather than added fragmentation liners,” he said.

Ball said the metal cubes recovered by Adusumilli are typically found in Israeli-made weapons such as certain types of Spike missiles fired from drones. He said the doctors’ accounts of tiny entry wounds are also consistent with glide bombs and tank rounds fitted with fragmentation sleeves such as the M329 APAM shell, which is designed to penetrate buildings, and the M339 round which its manufacturer, Elbit Systems of Haifa, describes as “highly lethal against dismounted infantry”.

Some of the weapons are designed to penetrate buildings and kill everyone within the walls. But when they are dropped onto streets or among tents, there is no such containment.

“The issue comes with how these small munitions are being employed,” said Ball. “Even a relatively small munition employed in a crowded space, especially a space with little to no protection against fragmentation, such as a refugee camp with tents, can lead to significant deaths and injuries.”

Amnesty International first identified ammunition packed with the metal cubes used in Spike missiles in Gaza in 2009.

“They appear designed to cause maximum injury and, in some respects, seem to be a more sophisticated version of the ball-bearings or nails and bolts which armed groups often pack into crude rockets and suicide bombs,” Amnesty said in a report at the time.

Ball said that weapons fitted with fragmentation sleeves are “relatively small munitions” compared with the bombs that have a wide blast area and have damaged or destroyed more than half the buildings in Gaza. But because they are packed with additional metal, they are very deadly in the immediate vicinity. The shrapnel from a Spike missile typically kills and severely wounds over a 20-metre (65-ft) radius.

Another weapons expert, who declined to be named because he sometimes works for the US government, questioned the use of such weapons in areas of Gaza crowded with civilians.

“The claim is that these weapons are more precise and limit casualties to a smaller area. But when they are fired into areas with high concentrations of civilians living in the open with nowhere to shelter, the military knows that most of the casualties will be those civilians,” he said.

In response to questions about the use of fragmentation weapons in areas with concentrations of civilians, the Israel Defense Forces said that military commanders are required “to consider the various means of warfare that are equally capable of achieving a defined military objective, and to choose the means that is expected to cause the least incidental damage under the circumstances.

“The IDF makes various efforts to reduce harm to civilians to the extent feasible in the operational circumstances ruling at the time of the strike,” it said.

“The IDF reviews targets before strikes and chooses the proper munition in accordance with operational and humanitarian considerations, taking into account an assessment of the relevant structural and geographical features of the target, the target’s environment, possible effects on nearby civilians, critical infrastructure in the vicinity, and more.”

The UN children’s agency, Unicef has said that “staggering” numbers of children have been wounded in Israel’s assault on Gaza. The United Nations estimates that Israel has killed more than 38,000 people in Gaza in the present war of which at least 8,000 are confirmed to be children, although the actual figure is likely to be much higher. Tens of thousands have been wounded.

In June, the UN added Israel to a list of states committing violations against children during conflict, describing the scale of killing in Gaza as “an unprecedented scale and intensity of grave violations against children”, principally by Israeli forces.

Many of the cases recalled by the surgeons involved children severely injured when missiles landed in or near areas where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are living in tents after being driven from their homes by the Israeli assault.

Perlmutter described repeatedly encountering similar wounds.

“Most of our patients were under 16,” he said. “The exit wound is only a couple millimetres big. The entrance wound is that big or smaller. But you can see it is extremely high velocity because of the damage it does on the inside. When you have multiple small fragments travelling at insane speeds, it does soft tissue damage that far outweighs the size of the fragment.”

Adusumilli⁩ described treating a six-year-old boy who arrived at the hospital after an Israeli missile strike close to the tent where his family was living after fleeing their home under Israeli bombardment. The surgeon said the child had pinhole wounds that gave no indication of the scale of the damage beneath the skin.

“I had to open his abdomen and chest. He had lacerations to his lung, to his heart, and holes throughout his intestine. We had to repair everything. He was lucky that there was a bed in the intensive care unit. But, despite that, that young boy died two days later,” he said.

An American emergency room doctor now working in central Gaza, who did not want to be named for fear of jeopardising his work there, said that medics continue to treat deeply penetrating wounds created by fragmentation shards. The doctor said he had just worked on a child who suffered wounds to his heart and major blood vessels, and a build up of blood between his ribs and lungs that made it difficult to breathe.

Sidhwa said that “about half of the patients that we took care of were children”. He kept notes on several, including a nine year-old girl, Jouri, who was severely injured by shards of shrapnel in an air strike on Rafah.

“We found Jouri dying of sepsis in a corner. We took her to the operating room and found that both of her buttocks had been completely flayed open. The lowest bone in her pelvis was actually exposed to the skin. These wounds were covered in maggots. Her left leg she was missing a big chunk of the the muscles on the front and back of the leg, and then about two inches of her femur. The bone in the leg was just gone,” he said.

Sidhwa said doctors were able to save Jouri’s life and treat septic shock. But in order to save what remained of her leg, the surgeons shortened it during repeated operations.

The problem, said Sidhwa, is that Jouri will need constant care for years to come and she’s unlikely to find it in Gaza.

“She needs advanced surgical intervention every one to two years years as she grows to bring her left femur back to the length it needs to be to match her right leg, otherwise walking will be impossible,” he said.

“If she does not get out of Gaza, if she survives at all, she will be permanently and completely crippled.”

Adusumilli⁩ said fragmentation weapons resulted in high numbers of amputations among children who survived.

“It was unbelievable the number of amputations we had to do, especially on children, he said. “The option you’ve got to save their life is to amputate their leg or their hands or their arms. It was a constant flow of amputations every day.”

Adusumilli operated on a seven year-old girl who was hit by shrapnel from a missile that landed near her family’s tent.

“She came in with her left arm completely blown off. Her family brought the arm in wrapped in a towel and in a bag. She had shrapnel injuries to her abdomen so I had to open up her abdomen and control the bleeding. She ended up having her left arm amputated,” he said.

“She survived but the reason I remember her is because as I was rushing into the operating theatre, she reminded me of my own daughter and it sort of it was very difficult to accept emotionally.”

Unicef estimated that in the first 10 weeks of the conflict alone about 1,000 children lost one or both of their legs to amputations.

The doctors said that many of the limbs could be saved in more normal circumstances but that shortages of medicines and operating theatres limited surgeons to carrying out emergency procedures to save lives. Some children endured amputations without anaesthetic or painkillers afterwards which hindered their recovery alongside the challenges of rampant infections because of unsanitary conditions and lack of antibiotics.

Adusumilli said that, as a result, some children saved on the operating table died later when they could have been saved in different conditions.

“The sad part is that you do what you can to try and help these kids. But at the end of the day, the fact that the hospital is so overcrowded and doesn’t have the resources in intensive care, they just end up dying later on.”

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Welcome to our latest live blog on the Israel-Gaza war and the wider crisis in the Middle East. I’m Tom Ambrose.

The White House national security spokesperson John Kirby has told CNN that the United States is “cautiously optimistic” about Gaza ceasefire talks,, adding that gaps between the two sides could be narrowed, according to Reuters. When asked if a ceasefire deal was close, Kirby said:

We are cautiously optimistic that things are moving in a good direction … There are still gaps remaining between the two sides. We believe those gaps can be narrowed, and that’s what Brett McGurk and CIA Director Bill Burns are trying to do right now.

President Joe Biden detailed a proposal of three phases in late May, aimed at achieving a ceasefire: the release of hostages in Gaza and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the rebuilding of the coastal territory.

Burns and US Middle East envoy McGurk are in the Middle East meeting with regional counterparts to discuss a possible deal.

Meanwhile, the fighting rages on. Israel’s army Wednesday dropped thousands of leaflets over war-torn Gaza City urging all residents to flee a heavy offensive through the main city.

The leaflets, addressed to “everyone in Gaza City”, set out designated escape routes and warned that the urban area – where UN humanitarian agency OCHA said up to 350,000 people were staying – would “remain a dangerous combat zone”.

Here’s a summary of the latest developments:

  • The Israeli military told all Palestinian civilians to leave Gaza City and head south on Wednesday as it stepped up a military offensive in the territory that has killed dozens of people over the past 48 hours. The evacuation order, carried out by dropping leaflets urging “all those in Gaza City” to take two “safe routes” south to the area around the central town of Deir al-Balah, came after a series of deadly strikes over the past two days in other parts of Gaza.

  • An Israeli airstrike on the entrance of a school-turned-shelter in southern Gaza has killed at least 31 people as a stepped-up military offensive in the territory sent thousands fleeing in search of refuge. The airstrike on Tuesday afternoon hit the tents of displaced families outside a school in the town of Abassan, east of Khan Younis. Officials at the nearby Nasser hospital said on Wednesday that 31 people had been killed, including eight children, and more than 50 wounded. Footage broadcast by Al Jazeera showed children playing football in the school’s yard when a sudden boom shook the area, prompting shouts of “a strike, a strike!”

  • The Biden administration will resume shipping 500lb bombs to Israel but will continue to hold back on supplying 2,000lb bombs over concerns about their use in densely populated Gaza, according to a US official. The US in May paused a shipment of 2,000lb and 500lb bombs due to concern over the impact they could have in Gaza during the war that began with Hamas’ deadly 7 October cross-border raid.

  • The Israeli army said Wednesday that it has completed its mission in Shujaiya, a neighbourhood in the east of Gaza that has been the scene of violent fighting for two weeks. The military statement said the operations destroyed “eight tunnels” and “eliminated dozens of terrorists, destroyed combat compounds and booby-trapped buildings.” The offensive in Shujaiya, which involved elite Israeli units, expanded Monday into the centre of Gaza City. Mahmoud Bassal, a civil defence spokesperson in Gaza, said there was extensive damage to “infrastructure and residential area” in Shujaiya, which had become a “ghost town”.

  • Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday his group would accept Palestinian ally Hamas’s decision on Gaza truce negotiations and would stop cross-border attacks on Israel if a ceasefire were reached. “Whatever Hamas accepts, everyone accepts and is satisfied with,” he said, adding: “We do not ask (Hamas) to coordinate with us because the battle in the first instance is theirs,” reports Agence France-Presse.

  • A suspected attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeted a Liberian-flagged tanker in the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait on Wednesday. The attacks come after an unexplained pause of a week and a half. The rebels may be regrouping ahead of the arrival of a new US aircraft carrier to the region after the USS Dwight D Eisenhower began heading home, reports Associated Press. The attack occurred south of Mocha, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said. The captain reported explosions off the vessel’s side. The “vessel and all crew are safe,” the UKMTO said. “The vessel is proceeding to its next port of call.”

Firefighters told French media that the fire has been contained.

Rouen’s cathedral spire catches fire in Normandy

Plume of smoke seen rising from cathedral, one of France’s finest which was painted by Claude Monet

  • Rouen cathedral fire: latest updates

The spire of the gothic cathedral in the French city of Rouen in Normandy caught fire during renovation works on Thursday, in scenes reminiscent of the fire at Notre Dame in Paris in 2019.

Initial television images on BFM showed a dark plume of smoke rising from the spire and people in the streets below looking up in horror. In later images, smoke could still be seen through a gap in the white cover encircling the scaffolding around the spire but it was no longer rising in a dark column.

A jewel of French medieval gothic architecture, the cathedral dates to the 12th century and was repeatedly painted by the impressionist artist Claude Monet in the 19th century, lifting its worldwide fame.

Fire in the wooden frame of the roof caused devastating damage to the world-famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in 2019, and repairs are only now nearing completion.

Fire also engulfed Copenhagen’s Old Stock Exchange, one of the Danish capital’s most historic landmarks in April, toppling its spire. Large parts of the outer walls also later collapsed.

The Rouen cathedral spire had been surrounded by scaffolding and a white cover for several weeks.

The local prefecture, which exercises authority in the region, said the cathedral had been evacuated and emergency services were on the scene. A security cordon was in place around the building. The prefecture said there were no reports of casualties and the extent of the damage was unclear.

Rouen’s mayor, Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol, posted on X: “The beginning of a fire is underway on the spire of the cathedral of Rouen. The origin is unknown at this stage. All public resources are mobilised.”

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China accused Nato on Thursday of seeking security at the expense of others and told the alliance not to bring the same “chaos” to Asia, reports the Associated Press (AP).

The statement by a foreign ministry spokesperson came a day after Nato labeled China a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

“Nato hyping up China’s responsibility on the Ukraine issue is unreasonable and has sinister motives,” spokesperson Lin Jian said at a daily briefing. He maintained that China has a fair and objective stance on the Ukraine issue.

China has broken with the United States and its European allies over the war in Ukraine, refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion. Its trade with Russia has grown since the invasion, at least partially offsetting the impact of western sanctions.

Nato, in a communique issued at a summit in Washington DC, said China has become a enabler of the war through its “no-limits partnership” with Russia and its large-scale support for Russia’s defence industrial base.

According to the AP, Lin said that China’s trade with Russia is legitimate and reasonable and based on World Trade Organization rules.

He said that Nato’s “so-called security” comes at the cost of the security of other countries. China has backed Russia’s contention that Nato expansion posed a threat to Russia.

China has expressed concern about Nato’s budding relationships with countries in the region. Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea sent their leaders or deputies to the Nato summit this week.

“China urges Nato to … stop interfering in China’s internal politics and smearing China’s image and not create chaos in the Asia-Pacific after creating turmoil in Europe,” Lin said.

The AP reports that Chinese troops are in Belarus this week for joint drills near the border with Poland, a Nato member. The exercises are the first-ever with Belarus, an ally of Russia.

Lin described the joint training as normal military exchange and cooperation that is not directed at any particular country.

China a ‘decisive enabler’ of Russia’s war in Ukraine, says Nato

Communique highlights concerns over Beijing’s nuclear arsenal and space capabilities

  • Nato summit live – latest updates
  • Ukraine war briefing: Path to Nato membership ‘irreversible’

Nato leaders have labelled China a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s war against Ukraine and called its deepening ties with Moscow a cause of “deep concern”, in what has been seen as the most serious rebuke against Beijing from the alliance.

The final communique, approved by the 32 Nato members at the summit in Washington, also highlights concerns about Beijing’s nuclear arsenal and its capabilities in space.

“I think the message sent from Nato from this summit is very strong and very clear, and we are clearly defining China’s responsibility when it comes to enabling Russia’s war,” the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg said, calling the statement an important message.

Nato leaders have urged China “to cease all material and political support to Russia’s war effort”, adding that Beijing has become a large-scale supporter of Russia’s “defence industrial base”.

“This includes the transfer of dual-use materials, such as weapons components, equipment, and raw materials that serve as inputs for Russia’s defence sector,” the declaration said.

Beijing insists that it does not provide direct military aid to Russia, but has maintained strong trade ties with its neighbour throughout the conflict.

China’s foreign ministry expressed displeasure at Nato’s growing interest in Asia and demanded the alliance stay out of the Asia-Pacific region and not incite confrontation. Beijing’s mission to the EU said the summit was “filled with cold war mentality and belligerent rhetoric”.

“The China-related paragraphs are provocative with obvious lies and smears,” the mission said in a statement.

On Thursday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said the Nato statement was “malicious” and that China’s position on Ukraine was to “promote peace talks and political settlement”.

Last month, China skipped a peace summit for Ukraine held in Switzerland, on the grounds that it did not meet Beijing’s expectations, which included the participation of Russia.

The Nato statement came as leaders from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea were set to attend summit talks on Thursday. It will be the third year in a row that leaders from the four Asia-Pacific partners have met at the summit.

The final communique also accused China of being behind sustained, malicious cyber and hybrid activities, including disinformation. It also raised alarms that China is rapidly expanding and diversifying its nuclear arsenal with more warheads and a larger number of sophisticated delivery systems.

Danny Russel, the former US assistant secretary of state for Asia, called the new wording by Nato “an extraordinary step”.

“It is a mark of how badly Beijing’s attempt to straddle Russia and western Europe has failed and how hollow its claim of neutrality rings,” said Russel, who is vice-president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute. “China’s attempts at divide-and-conquer have instead produced remarkable solidarity between key nations of the Euro-Atlantic and the Asia-Pacific regions.”

This week Chinese troops have been conducting joint military drills in Belarus, to which neighbouring Poland says it is paying close attention. China and Belarus are allies of Russia, while Poland is a Nato member and supporter of Kyiv.

“The defence ministry is well aware of the risk of the operations in question being used for disinformation and propaganda purposes,” Poland’s defence ministry told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday.

China has previously held joint drills with Belarus, though these are the first since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The “Falcon Assault” drills started on Monday and are set to run until mid-July, with China’s defence ministry saying it hoped to deepen cooperation with Minsk.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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Outrage in China over use of unwashed fuel tankers to transport cooking oil

Food safety scandal exposed by state-run newspaper has implicated several major Chinese firms

A food safety scandal has caused mounting public outrage in China days before a high-level Chinese Communist party meeting at which leaders will try to boost confidence in the economy.

Last week the state-run newspaper Beijing News published an in-depth exposé on the “open secret” of fuel tankers being used to transport cooking oil, without the tankers being washed or disinfected in between.

In the report, an undercover reporter interviewed a trucker who had driven a tanker of coal-derived fuel from Ningxia, a region in the west of China, to the east coast city of Qinhuangdao in Hebei, a journey of more than 800 miles. The trucker told the journalist that he was not allowed to return with an empty vehicle, and subsequently drove to a facility in another part of Hebei to load up with nearly 32 tons of soya bean oil, without cleaning the tanker. Several other tankers featured in the article made similar journeys.

The scandal has implicated several major Chinese firms including the state-owned oil and grain company Sinograin and Hopefull Grain and Oil Group, a private conglomerate. Both companies said they were investigating the claims.

This week the office of the food safety commission under China’s State Council said it was investigating the claims and that “individuals found violating the law through improper use of tanker trucks will face severe punishment”.

Chinese regulations state that different tankers should be used for transporting cooking oil and fuel, which is derived from coal and is potentially poisonous.

The Beijing News report revealed that inspections were often absent or cursory. In one case, on a tanker waiting to collect a load of edible oil, a piece of white paper was taped over the writing that indicated it should be used for fuel.

It is not clear where the cooking oil in the fuel-contaminated tankers ultimately ended up. Follow-up reports tracking the truckers identified in the Beijing News article suggested that the tankers delivered oil to packaging facilities run by household brand names in China, intensifying concerns that people could be consuming toxic oil. The article also quoted an industry insider as saying that some of the oil may ultimately be packaged into small bottles for foreign sales.

The news has caused widespread outrage in China, where there are deeply rooted fears about food safety after a series of scandals and perceived lack of accountability for rule-breakers.

In 2008, six babies died and 300,000 were sickened by contaminated baby formula. In 2013, more than 16,000 dead pigs were found in the Huangpu River, which supplies Shanghai with drinking water. Last year, images of a school canteen in Jiangxi went viral after a student found a rat’s head in his meal, which the school initially claimed was duck meat.

The hashtag #edibleoil had more than 16m views on Weibo on Thursday. Many commenters praised the role of journalists in exposing the scandal. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen investigative journalism like this, kudos to the media,” one commenter wrote on Weibo.

Some analysts questioned why Beijing News, a Chinese Communist party-backed outlet, had been allowed to publish such a damning report shortly before CCP leaders meet for the third plenum, one of China’s most important political gatherings, next week.

Investigations into consumer and public health issues used to be relatively common in China’s media, but in the past decade the space for independent reporting has been dramatically squeezed and the CCP maintains a tight grip on what kind of information can be published.

Other hashtags relating to the incident, particularly those that named specific companies, appear to have been censored on Weibo.

One sensitive topic appears to be posts relating to Jinlongyu, a household brand of cooking oil that has been implicated in the scandal. Shares in Jinlongyu’s parent company fell by more than 8% on Wednesday amid concerns that its oil could be tainted. The company said its trucks met national requirements.

Additional research by Chi Hui Lin

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Crossbow laws being urgently reviewed after three women killed, says minister

Dan Jarvis says government examining legislation as part of commitment to halve violence against woman and girls

Ministers will move “at pace” to review the law on crossbow ownership, the security minister has said, after three women were killed in a suspected crossbow attack in Hertfordshire.

Dan Jarvis said it was “entirely reasonable” to question whether existing laws on the weapons were fit for purpose and that ministers would act decisively if they needed to be changed.

He said Yvette Cooper, the home secretary, was “very carefully” examining a call for evidence that was launched by the Home Office earlier this year.

“These are clearly very serious and pressing matters,” Jarvis told BBC Breakfast. Asked about the suitability of the existing legislation, which allows people aged 18 and above to buy and own a crossbow without needing to register it or get a licence, he said: “I think that is an entirely reasonable challenge.”

He continued: “​We’ll want to look very carefully at the legislation that’s in place at the moment and we’ll need to come to a conclusion sooner rather than later as to whether the current legislation is appropriate or not.

“If we decide that it isn’t – and I think you raise a really important point about the ability of people to buy these particular weapons – then we’ll need to make changes to the legislation. But we need to do this properly, there needs to be due process.”

The call for evidence closed under the Conservative government in April but there has been no further progress towards changing the laws governing crossbows.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Jarvis said the attack in Bushey was “devastating” and expressed his condolences for the victims’ family.

He said that Cooper was “very concerned” about the current legislation. “She will want to look at the evidence that already has been collected and look at the circumstances not just of what happened yesterday but of other incidents as well.

“We are seized by the seriousness and the importance of this and I think you will be aware we have made a manifesto commitment to halve violence against women and girls in our country over a 10-year period.”

Jarvis added: “We will make a judgment as early as we are able as to whether the current legislative framework is appropriate and if it’s not we will change it, because nothing is more important than ensuring the safety of the public,” he said.

Tributes have been paid to Carol Hunt and her two daughters, Hannah, 28, and Louise, 25, who were found seriously injured at a home in Bushey, Hertfordshire on Tuesday and died shortly after at the scene.

It emerged on Wednesday that they were the family of John Hunt, the BBC racing commentator.

Police believe the attack was targeted and carried out with a crossbow, as well as possibly other weapons. They detained Kyle Clifford, 26, on Wednesday in connection with the incident and he remains in hospital with injuries.

Ch Supt Jon Simpson, from Hertfordshire police, told reporters the women were believed to have been killed in a targeted incident. No one else is being sought in connection with the investigation.

The government is expected to authorise the release of thousands of inmates in England and Wales early in the coming months to prevent jails from becoming full.

The scheme is expected to allow early release for those who have served 40% of their sentence, instead of 50% under current rules. Ministers are examining whether the scheme can exclude domestic abusers.

Asked what would happen if someone who was freed early offended again, Jarvis told the Today programme: “We will always act to keep the public safe, but we will have to make decisions in the coming days about prison population.”

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Crossbow laws being urgently reviewed after three women killed, says minister

Dan Jarvis says government examining legislation as part of commitment to halve violence against woman and girls

Ministers will move “at pace” to review the law on crossbow ownership, the security minister has said, after three women were killed in a suspected crossbow attack in Hertfordshire.

Dan Jarvis said it was “entirely reasonable” to question whether existing laws on the weapons were fit for purpose and that ministers would act decisively if they needed to be changed.

He said Yvette Cooper, the home secretary, was “very carefully” examining a call for evidence that was launched by the Home Office earlier this year.

“These are clearly very serious and pressing matters,” Jarvis told BBC Breakfast. Asked about the suitability of the existing legislation, which allows people aged 18 and above to buy and own a crossbow without needing to register it or get a licence, he said: “I think that is an entirely reasonable challenge.”

He continued: “​We’ll want to look very carefully at the legislation that’s in place at the moment and we’ll need to come to a conclusion sooner rather than later as to whether the current legislation is appropriate or not.

“If we decide that it isn’t – and I think you raise a really important point about the ability of people to buy these particular weapons – then we’ll need to make changes to the legislation. But we need to do this properly, there needs to be due process.”

The call for evidence closed under the Conservative government in April but there has been no further progress towards changing the laws governing crossbows.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Jarvis said the attack in Bushey was “devastating” and expressed his condolences for the victims’ family.

He said that Cooper was “very concerned” about the current legislation. “She will want to look at the evidence that already has been collected and look at the circumstances not just of what happened yesterday but of other incidents as well.

“We are seized by the seriousness and the importance of this and I think you will be aware we have made a manifesto commitment to halve violence against women and girls in our country over a 10-year period.”

Jarvis added: “We will make a judgment as early as we are able as to whether the current legislative framework is appropriate and if it’s not we will change it, because nothing is more important than ensuring the safety of the public,” he said.

Tributes have been paid to Carol Hunt and her two daughters, Hannah, 28, and Louise, 25, who were found seriously injured at a home in Bushey, Hertfordshire on Tuesday and died shortly after at the scene.

It emerged on Wednesday that they were the family of John Hunt, the BBC racing commentator.

Police believe the attack was targeted and carried out with a crossbow, as well as possibly other weapons. They detained Kyle Clifford, 26, on Wednesday in connection with the incident and he remains in hospital with injuries.

Ch Supt Jon Simpson, from Hertfordshire police, told reporters the women were believed to have been killed in a targeted incident. No one else is being sought in connection with the investigation.

The government is expected to authorise the release of thousands of inmates in England and Wales early in the coming months to prevent jails from becoming full.

The scheme is expected to allow early release for those who have served 40% of their sentence, instead of 50% under current rules. Ministers are examining whether the scheme can exclude domestic abusers.

Asked what would happen if someone who was freed early offended again, Jarvis told the Today programme: “We will always act to keep the public safe, but we will have to make decisions in the coming days about prison population.”

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Biden under renewed pressure to step aside as top Democrats make agonized appeals

Senator Michael Bennet said Trump may win ‘by a landslide’ while two more senators echoed his concerns

Joe Biden came under renewed moral pressure on Wednesday to abandon his presidential candidacy amid agonised appeals by a succession of senior Democrats for him to consider the broader picture.

Those calls came as the US president dug in his heels to make it hard to supplant him as the nominee.

With the backlash over his 27 June TV debate fiasco refusing to abate, Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, became the most senior party member yet to subtly float the possibility of Biden stepping down while stopping short of explicitly telling him to do so.

Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, gleefully sought to further tighten the screw by summoning three White House aides to testify about Biden’s mental fitness.

The summons came in the form of a subpoena from James Comer, the GOP chair of the House oversight committee, who demanded testimony from Anthony Bernal, the top aide to the first lady Jill Biden; the deputy White House chief of staff Annie Tomasini, and the president’s senior adviser Ashley Williams, Axios reported.

Pelosi, 84, who was speaker until Republicans regained control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections, told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “it’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run”, adding: “We’re all encouraging him to make that decision. Because time is running short.”

That remark came as the president seemed intent on running down the clock until next month’s Democratic national convention in Chicago, to make it practically impossible to replace him. Pelosi later qualified her comments, claiming they had been subject to “misrepresentations”, while adding: “The president is great.”

But they prefaced further critical interventions from Senate Democrats, who followed the lead of Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado in voicing doubts over whether Biden could beat Donald Trump in November.

Bennet told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Tuesday evening that Trump was likely to win November’s poll in a landslide because of the widespread concerns over Biden’s age and mental acuity.

“This race is on a trajectory that is very worrisome if you care about the future of this country,” he said in an impassioned interview. “Donald Trump is on track, I think, to win this election and maybe win it by a landslide, and take with him the Senate and the House. It’s not a question about politics, it’s a moral question about the future of our country.”

He added: “I have not seen anything remotely approaching the kind of plan we need to see out of the White House that can demonstrate that he can actually beat Donald Trump, which is not going to be about the accomplishments that we all had, you know, three and four years ago. This is something for the president to consider.”

Bennet’s comments stopped short of a full-blown appeal for Biden’s withdrawal, in contrast to Democrats in the House – where seven members have explicitly made such calls in the wake of the debate, where the president repeatedly appeared confused, mangled his words and allowed Trump to lie without effective contradiction.

Soon after, Pete Welch of Vermont became the first senator to call on Biden to withdraw from the election. Welch said he was worried about the race because “the stakes could not be higher”.

“I understand why President Biden wants to run,” Welch wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “He saved us from Donald Trump once and wants to do it again. But he needs to reassess whether he is the best candidate to do so. In my view, he is not.

“For the good of the country, I’m calling on President Biden to withdraw from the race.”

Richard Blumenthal, a senator from Connecticut, also voiced concerns.

“I am deeply concerned about Joe Biden winning this November,” Blumenthal told reporters, adding that the party “had to reach a conclusion as soon as possible” and that Biden still retained his support.

A similarly circumspect call to reconsider came from Katie Hobbs, the Democratic governor of Arizona, a battleground state that was one of six moved by the Cook Political Report – a non-partisan election forecaster – in Trump’s direction following the president’s post-debate poll slide.

“I want the president to look at the evidence and make a hard decision,” Hobbs told reporters, adding that Biden had “a lot to do to assure Americans and Arizonans”.

And on Wednesday evening, Representative Earl Blumenauer, the longest-serving Democrat in Oregon’s House delegation, put it bluntly: “President Biden should not be the Democratic presidential nominee.”

“The question before the country is whether the president should continue his candidacy for re-election. This is not just about extending his presidency but protecting democracy,” he said in an emailed statement.

“It is a painful and difficult conclusion but there is no question in my mind that we will all be better served if the president steps aside as the Democratic nominee and manages a transition under his terms.”

There were even signs of slippage within the staunchly loyal Congressional Black Caucus, which had pledged its support on Monday night. On Wednesday one of its members, Marc Veasey of Texas, became the first to break ranks by telling CNN that Democrats running in tight races should “distance themselves” from Biden in an effort to “do whatever it is they need to do” to win.

The public agonising illustrated how Biden’s debate failure has plunged the Democrats into paralysis as the campaign approaches a key phase.

Yet there seemed little imminent sign of Biden – who has already written to the party’s congressional group en masse telling doubters to challenge him at the convention – yielding to pressure to bow out.

Far from Biden retreating, plans were announced for a second primetime television interview – this time with NBC’s Lester Holt next Monday in the symbolic setting of the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas – to follow last Friday’s with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

The latest interview, coming on the heels of Biden’s hosting of Nato’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington this week – where he has been meeting a succession of world leaders – appeared designed to reinforce the message that he intends to stay the course.

On Wednesday, the president visited the Washington headquarters of the main US trade union body, the AFL-CIO, an important Democrat constituency.

The trade union visit followed a virtual meeting from the White House on Tuesday evening with about 200 Democratic mayors, in which he restated his determination to remain and reportedly won their support.

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Ollie Watkins’ bolt from blue stuns Netherlands and sends England to final

The more rabbits England pull out of the hat, the more it feels as if this is their time. They survived more jeopardy during this absorbing semi-final triumph over a decent but hardly awe-inspiring Netherlands, and there were moments when the game seemed to be slipping away from them. With Ronald Koeman adjusting his tactics midway through the first half and the Dutch pushing as extra time beckoned, the fear was that this was going to be another night of questions about Gareth Southgate’s touchline decisions.

But there is something magical about a team that can keep taking blows but somehow find ways to clamber off the canvas. For here, after the wonder of Jude Bellingham’s overhead kick against Slovakia and the nerveless penalty shootout against Switzerland, was a moment that will go stand the test of time – and, thanks to Ollie Watkins and Cole Palmer, will forever serve as the perfect riposte to those who have pinned the blame for every disappointment on on Southgate’s in-game management.

England’s manager has been derided, mocked and even showered with empty cups of beer. His tactics have been questioned and he has been told that he always get easy draws. But after Southgate turned to his bench with 10 minutes left here, how satisfying it must have been for the two players he introduced for a tiring Harry Kane and Phil Foden to be the architects of the goal that carried England into their first ever final overseas.

There could be no better exhibition of the spirit instilled by Southgate than when Watkins took a pass from Palmer in the 90th minute, held off Stefan de Vrij and then turned sharply before making it 2-1 with an angled shot into the far corner.

In a different environment, Watkins would never have been in the right frame of mind to make such a stunning impact. The Aston Villa striker has not played since England’s second game, the dispiriting draw with Denmark that heaped pressure on Southgate, and knows that few jobs in football are more thankless than being Kane’s back-up.

Yet there have been various positive contributions from Southgate’s substitutes during these Euros. This team, while far from perfect, has developed priceless resilience. It can be glimpsed in the defending from Marc Guéhi, who returned from suspension to make a huge block on Wout Weghorst in the second half, and the response after the Netherlands went ahead with a special goal from Xavi Simons.

Behind for a third successive game, England refused to panic. Driven on by the 19-year-old Kobbie Mainoo, once again full of magnificent little touches in midfield, they were level when Kane equalised from the spot after a foul by Denzel Demfries. And at times, with Bukayo Saka irrepressible on the right and Foden having his best game of the tournament, there were moments in the first half when it seemed England would run away with it. That they failed to kill the game there and then, though, will be a source of concern for Southgate. There cannot be a similar generosity against Spain in Sunday’s final in Berlin.

But thoughts of dealing with Lamine Yamal, Nico Williams and Rodri can wait. For now, England can revel in the way that they responded to a bright start from the Dutch.

There were structural issues down England’s left early on. They paid after seven minutes, when Guéhi’s clearing header fell to Declan Rice, who was slow to move his feet and quickly dispossessed by Simons.

In a tournament of great goals by wonderkids, here was another one. Simons advanced with one thought in his mind, any doubt banished by John Stones backing off. A few yards outside the area, the midfielder laced a right-footed effort into the far corner, the velocity stunning Jordan Pickford, who was beaten by power despite getting a hand to the ball.

Over on the left, Kieran Trippier called for calm and Rice regained his composure. England, again in a 3-4-2-1, took belief from Kane moving with greater freedom.

The captain had a point to prove about his fitness. Kane looked stronger, holding defenders off, and he led the fightback. England sensed a way back when their No 9, having pulled away from Virgil van Dijk, tested Bart Verbruggen from 25 yards.

Saka was next to drive forward, wriggling away from Nathan Aké, who was having a torrid time. Desperation taking over the Dutch defence, they panicked when the ball reached Kane, who shot over a split second before being caught by Dumfries.

It was a clear foul, albeit one that needed a video assistant referee review, and Kane stood over his first penalty in a tournament since his miss against France. Any nerves? No chance. Verbruggen guessed correctly, diving to his right, but Kane’s shot was too hard and too close to the corner.

England poured forward, Kyle Walker supporting Saka with a stream of overlapping runs. Foden was untouchable for a while. One curling shot hit the woodwork; another was cleared off the line by Dumfries.

The Netherlands right-back was having quite the half. There was a warning for England when Dumfries headed a corner against the bar. But the Dutch were hanging on. Mainoo, who took the breath away with one delightful mid-air turn, was running midfield.

Koeman responded, the hamstrung Memphis Depay replaced by Joey Veerman, who stiffened midfield. It made a difference. Koeman also changed the complexion of his attack at half-time, Donyell Malen making way for Weghorst.

Despite bringing Luke Shaw on for Trippier, England struggled to regain their flow. They were no longer working the ball to Saka and Jude Bellingham was blunted. Pickford denied Aké after a poorly defended free-kick.

The Dutch had Tijani Reijnders, Jerdy Schouten and Veerman dictating the tempo. Southgate reacted after Saka had a goal disallowed for offside against Walker, Watkins and Palmer coming on.

The game hung in the balance. Cody Gakpo had stirred on the left for the Netherlands. Palmer sliced over but he kept his head up. England attacked again and Palmer cleverly found Watkins, whose unerring finish gave Verbruggen no chance.

There was no time left. Kane was on the touchline, shouting instructions alongside Southgate. Nobody could doubt England’s togetherness. They will not be favourites against Spain, but they should not be underestimated.

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Germany’s AfD and extremist allies set up second EU parliament far-right group

Europe of Sovereign Nations group could prove more extreme than existing Fidesz-National Rally grouping

Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland has joined forces with extremist parties from France and central and eastern Europe to create a second far-right group in the European parliament.

The Europe of Sovereign Nations group will be the smallest in the European parliament, with only 25 MEPs from eight countries, just above the threshold to form a group.

It could prove more extreme than Patriots for Europe, the larger far-right group formed on Monday that unites Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz MEPs and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally.

The new group is dominated by the AfD with 14 MEPs, with members from Poland’s Confederation party, Bulgaria’s pro-Kremlin Revival party and the Czech Freedom and Direct Democracy party , which once urged voters to walk pigs near mosques and not eat kebabs. It includes France’s Reconqûete, the party founded by the TV pundit Éric Zemmour, who has convictions for inciting racial hatred.

Before last month’s European parliament elections, the AfD was kicked out of a previous far-right group that included National Rally, as it was judged too extreme by Le Pen, who has spent years trying to normalise the image of her party while retaining its core anti-immigration message.

She said it was urgent to establish a cordon sanitaire, after the AfD lead candidate, Maximilian Krah, said members of the SS, the Nazi’s main paramilitary force, were “not all criminals”.

Despite the furore, the AfD won 15 seats in the European elections, pushing the governing Social Democrat party into third place. But it risked being politically homeless in the new parliament – and losing out on funds – unless it was able to form a political group.

That appeared to have been resolved on Wednesday when the AfD’s European parliament chair, René Aust, announced the party had managed to find a new parliamentary group. “After just a few weeks in the EU Parliament, we have managed to find new partners. We are looking forward to the next five years of working together!” he wrote on X.

Tomio Okamura, the Freedom and Direct Democracy party leader, who co-founded the group, set out its aims on X: “We will fight against the Green Deal, migration, the Islamisation of Europe and we want the return of powers from Brussels back to the national European states.”

It was “crucial” that the group included the AfD, Okamura added, “since it is Germany that governs the entire European Union”, voicing a familiar Eurosceptic trope.

While European parliament groups could fluctuate before the official opening of the assembly in Strasbourg next week, the rightward shift is clear. The centre-right European People’s party remains the largest force, with three alliances further to its right – the far-right groups and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) led by the Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni.

The far-right groups will vote against the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen as European Commission president next Thursday, but the ECR is split. Within the ECR, Poland’s Law and Justice party will vote against her, but the Czech governing Civic Democratic party supports a second term for the incumbent commission president. Meloni abstained on von der Leyen’s appointment at an EU leaders’ meeting, leaving a question mark over how her Brothers of Italy MEPs will vote.

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Swimmer rescued 80km off Japan coast, 36 hours after being swept out to sea

Twenty-one year old spent two nights in the ocean before being spotted by a cargo ship

A woman who was swept out to sea while swimming at a beach in Japan has been rescued about 80km (50 miles) off the coast, 36 hours after she went missing, officials have said.

The 21-year-old Chinese national, buoyed by a rubber ring, had been swimming at Shirahama Ohama beach at about 7.30pm on Monday with a friend, the coast guard said on Thursday.

Authorities launched a search and rescue operation after her friend raised the alarm at the beach in the central Shizuoka region that same evening.

“It was around 7.55pm on July 8 when we received the information after the woman’s friend reported to a nearby convenience store that she was missing,” a local Japan coast guard official said.

The woman, who was not named, told rescuers that she was swept out to sea and could not return to the beach as she was swimming with a rubber ring.

She was finally spotted floating off the southern tip of Chiba’s Boso peninsula by a cargo ship at 7.48am on Wednesday, the official said.

Two crew members of a smaller nearby tanker were contacted by radio and jumped into the sea to rescue her.

“There are 80km in a straight line [between the beach and rescue spot] … but it is assumed she drifted for an even greater distance,” the official said.

The woman was taken to hospital after the rescue but did not need to be admitted as she was clear-headed and her dehydration was not life-threatening.

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‘Africa’s most resilient lion’ and his brother filmed making 1.5km swim across dangerous African river

A team led by an Australian researcher captured the pair making the ‘record- breaking’ swim after two failed attempts

A record-breaking swim by two lion brothers across a predator-filled African river has been documented by a team led by a researcher from an Australian university.

The two-male lion coalition was filmed crossing the Kazinga Channel in Uganda at night using high-definition heat detection cameras on drones.

After two failed attempts, the pair swam about 1.5km to make it across the channel.

One half of the duo was a 10-year-old local icon known as Jacob, who has survived several life-threatening incidents including the severing of one of his hind legs in a poacher’s snare.

Griffith University’s Dr Alexander Braczkowski, who led the research, said Jacob “really is a cat with nine lives”.

“I’d bet all my belongings that we are looking at Africa’s most resilient lion: he has been gored by a buffalo, his family was poisoned for lion body part trade, he was caught in a poacher’s snare, and finally lost his leg in another attempted poaching incident where he was caught in a steel trap,” he said.

Braczkowski said the fact Jacob and his brother Tibu had managed to survive as long as they have in a national park under significant human pressures – including from high poaching rates – was a feat in itself.

Braczkowski’s research has found the population in the park has halved in the past five years due to a range of factors. They include several human-caused catastrophes – poisoning by poachers and electrocution on a fence in the park among them.

He said the impact had been particularly severe for the park’s female lions.

“This population is skewing two males to one female and that’s the reason we suspect these lions have swum across the Kazinga Channel – because they’re searching for females,” he said.

He said it was “just sad” the animals were being pushed in this way by pressures created by humans.

Braczkowski’s team included South African film-maker Luke Ochse and field coordinators Bosco Atukwatse, from Uganda, and Orin Cornille, from Belgium. Scientists from Griffith University and Northern Arizona University worked on the research.

“Competition for lionesses in the park is fierce and they lost a fight for female affection in the hours leading up to the swim, so it’s likely the duo mounted the risky journey to get to the females on the other side of the channel,” Braczkowski said.

“There is a small connecting bridge to the other side but the presence of people was probably a deterrent for them.”

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