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Tulkarm Brigade commander killed by Israeli forces in raid on refugee camp

TEL AVIV, April 20: Commander of a Palestinian resistance group affiliated with Saraya al-Quds, the military wing of the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad movement, has been killed in violent clashes with the Israeli regime’s forces in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian media reports said on Friday that Muhammad Samer Jaber, the commander of the Tulkarm Brigade, and a number of resistance fighters had been killed during the occupation’s aggression on the Nour Shams refugee camp in the east of the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarm.

Jaber, known as Abu Shujaa, was killed by live bullets after violent clashes broke out between Palestinian resistance fighters and the occupation army during the latter’s storming of Nour Shams, which also resulted in the injury of four Israeli forces, two of whom were in serious condition.

The Tulkarm Brigade leader had survived many attempts on his life in the past and was wanted by the Israeli military.

“Without fear of any threat, if they assassinate me or any human being, the situation will remain unchanged until the land is liberated. By assassinating, they offer us a gift. It’s difficult for the camp to be broken. Every day they assassinate leaders, and they increase our strength and determination,” Jaber said in a viral video on resistance social media networks.

Salim Faisal Ghanem, 30, was also killed by Israeli troops in the camp earlier in the day. He was the brother of Amer and Ahmed Ghanem, who were killed by the Israeli occupation army in a raid on the camp in October 2023.

Ahmed Abu Fahim, known as Abu Adham, was another Palestinian fighter killed in the Israeli raid.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said the Israeli occupation army launched Thursday evening a large-scale 17-hour-long onslaught against the Nour Shams refugee camp, triggering confrontations and causing extensive destruction.

The Israeli forces, accompanied by two bulldozers, stormed and imposed a strict siege on the camp, deploying military vehicles on all routes leading to the camp.

“Israeli bulldozers deliberately destroyed main streets, alleyways, water and wastewater networks on their way to and inside the camp, and tore down walls, stores and parts of houses in the camp,” the news agency said.

Reports by WAFA also stressed that the Israeli soldiers broke into Palestinian houses and carried out search before dragging the occupants to a single room and interrogating them.

“They turned some houses into military outposts, deployed snipers and prevented ambulances from entering the camp to evacuate patients,” the news agency added.

'Our Next Response Will Be At Maximum Level': Iran Warns Israel Again

TEHRAN, April 20: Iran's foreign minister on Friday said Tehran was investigating an overnight attack on Iran, adding that so far a link to Israel had not been proven as he downplayed the strike.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told NBC News the drones took off from inside Iran and flew for a few hundred meters before being downed.

"They're ... more like toys that our children play with, not drones," Amirabdollahian said.

"It has not been proved to us that there is a connection between these and Israel," he said, adding that Iran was investigating the matter but that media reports were not accurate, according to Tehran's information.

Iranian media and officials described a small number of explosions, which they said resulted from air defenses hitting three drones over Isfahan in central Iran in the early hours of Friday. They referred to the incident as an attack by "infiltrators", rather than by Israel, obviating the need for retaliation.

Amirabdollahian warned that if Israel retaliated and acted against the interests of Iran, Tehran's next response would be immediate and at maximum level.

"If Israel wants to do another adventurism and acts against the interests of Iran, our next response will be immediate and will be at the maximum level," Amirabdollahian said.

The attack appeared to target an Iranian Air Force base near the city of Isfahan, deep inside the country, but without striking any strategic sites or causing major damage.

Israel has said nothing about the incident. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had not been involved in any offensive operations, while the White House said it had no comment.

Turkey's Erdogan Meets Hamas Chief In Istanbul

ISTANBUL, April 19: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Palestinians to unite amid Israel's war in Gaza following hours-long talks with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul on Saturday, his office said.

Erdogan has failed to establish a foothold as a mediator in the Gaza conflict that has roiled the region, with the Hamas-run Palestinian territory bracing for a new Israeli offensive and a reported Israeli attack on Iran.

Erdogan said Palestinian unity was "vital" following the talks at the Dolmabahce palace on the banks of the Bosphorus strait, which Turkish media reports said lasted more than two and a half hours.

"The strongest response to Israel and the path to victory lie in unity and integrity," Erdogan said according to a Turkish presidency statement.

Hamas -- designated a terrorist organisation by the United States, the European Union and Israel -- is a rival of the Fatah faction that rules the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank.

As fears of a wider regional war grow, Erdogan said recent events between Iran and Israel should not allow Israel to "gain ground and that it is important to act in a way that keeps attention on Gaza".

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz condemned the meeting, writing on X: "Muslim Brotherhood alliance: rape, murder, desecration of corpses and the burning of babies. Erdogan, shame on you!"

Hamas was founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1987.

Israel Launches Attack on Iran

TEL AVIV, April 19: Israel launched an attack on Iranian soil on Friday, US officials said, in the latest tit-for-tat exchange between the two arch foes, whose decades of shadow war has broken out into the open and threatened to drag the region deeper into conflict.

Israel launched a strike against Iran in retaliation for its weekend attack, said US officials, though media from both countries appeared to downplay the severity of the incident.

Iran activated its air defence system over several cities, state media reported, after the country's official broadcaster said explosions were heard near Isfahan, Iran's third-biggest city.

Several Iranian nuclear sites are located in Isfahan province, including Natanz, centerpiece of Iran's uranium enrichment program. Nuclear facilities in Isfahan were reported to be "completely secure", Iran's Tasnim news agency said.

Though some media reports said that missiles had been fired, Iran said that they have shot down several drones but there had been "no missile attack for now".

Several drones "have been successfully shot down by the country's air defence, there are no reports of a missile attack for now," Iran's space agency spokesman Hossein Dalirian said on X.

Israel government and military have not commented on the strike yet. The Jewish state rarely comments on specific military actions linked to Iran.
Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport was closed to all flights, according to a notice to airmen posted on a US Federal Aviation Administration database.

Some Emirates and Flydubai flights that were flying over Iran early on Friday made sudden sharp turns away from the airspace, according to flight paths shown on tracking website Flightradar24.

Israel had warned it would hit back after Iran fired hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel over the weekend. Most of them were intercepted. That strike came in the wake of an attack on Iran's consulate in Damascus widely blamed on Israel.

Magnitude 6.3 quake hits western Japan

TOKYO, April 17: An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.3 struck off southwestern Japan on Wednesday night, the US Geological Survey said, but there were no tsunami warnings or reports of damage.

The USGS put the epicentre of the quake in a channel that separates the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku, about 18 kilometres (11 miles) west of Uwajima, at a depth of about 25 kilometres.

"In areas the jolt was strong, please don't approach any dangerous areas. There is no risk of tsunami caused by this earthquake," the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said on social media platform X.

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority said the Ikata nuclear power plant in the area was operating as normal.

"No abnormalities have been detected at the Ikata power plant... and the operation is continuing," it said.

Government spokesman Yoshimasa Hayashi confirmed that there were no tsunami warnings or abnormalities at any power plants and that authorities were investigating what other damage may have occurred.

"We will do everything we can to respond," Hayashi said.

He urged the public to be vigilant for aftershocks.

Israel says conflict with Iran is ‘not over yet,’ vows to ‘exact a price’ after attack

TEL AVIV, April 15: Israel has issued a stark warning, saying that the conflict with Iran is “not over yet.” It has also vowed to “exact a price” after 330 drones and missiles were fired overnight by Tehran. According to the Israeli military, over 99 per cent of the drones and missiles had been intercepted with help of the US, UK and France.

“We will build a regional coalition against the threat of Iran, and we will exact a price from it in the way and at the time that suits us,” Israel minister Benny Gantz said, according to The Independent. Tehran had earlier said the matter can be considered “concluded.”

The US military has confirmed that it destroyed as many as 80 attack drones, and at least six ballistic missiles that had been fired from Iran and Yemen. “CENTCOM remains postured to support Israel’s defense against these dangerous actions by Iran. We will continue to work with all our regional partners to increase regional security,” the US military said.

Meanwhile, president Joe Biden told Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US refuses to take part in a counter-offensive against Iran.

Iraq, Jordan and Turkey officials have now also said that the nations had warned Israel days before Iran’s attack on the country. According to Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran had given neighbouring countries and the US a 72-hour notice before the drones and missiles were launched.

Turkey’s foreign ministry insisted that it spoke with Tehran and Washington before the attack, and tried to ensure that reactions were proportionate. “Iran said the reaction would be a response to Israel’s attack on its embassy in Damascus and that it would not go beyond this. We were aware of the possibilities. The developments were not a surprise,” a Turkish diplomatic source told Reuters.

A government security adviser and a security official, both Iraqi sources, said that Iran used diplomatic channels to inform Baghdad about the attack three days before it was launched. “The government clearly understood from the Iranian officials that the US military in Iraq was also aware of the attack in advance,” said the Iraqi security official.

'Era Of Strategic Patience Is Over,' Says Iran On Israel Attack

TEHRAN, April 15: Iran's missile and drone barrage against Israel was the first act of a tough new strategy, Tehran says, warning arch-foe Israel that any future attack will spark "a direct and punishing response".

This spells a dramatic shift from past years in which the Islamic republic and Israel have fought a shadow war of proxy fights and covert operations across the Middle East and sometimes further afield.

Iran from late Saturday launched hundreds of drones and missiles, including from its own territory, directly at Israel, to retaliate for a deadly April 1 strike on Iran's consulate in Damascus.

Israel's military said it intercepted 99 per cent of the aerial threats with the help of the United States and other allies, and that the overnight attack caused only minor damage.

Iran said it had dealt "heavy blows" to Israel and hailed the operation as "successful".

"Iran's victorious... operation means that the era of strategic patience is over," the Iranian president's political deputy, Mohammad Jamshidi wrote on X.

"Now the equation has changed. Targeting Iranian personnel and assets by the regime will be met with a direct and punishing response."

President Ebrahim Raisi said the operation had "opened a new page" and "taught the Zionist enemy (Israel) a lesson".

Iran said it acted in self-defence after the Damascus strike levelled the consular annexe of its embassy and killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including two generals.

Western governments denounced Iran's retaliation as "destabilising the region".

Iran, however, insisted the attack was "limited" and urged Western nations to "appreciate (its) restraint" towards Israel, especially since the outbreak of the Gaza war on October 7.

Regional tensions have soared amid the Israel-Hamas war which has drawn in Iran-backed armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Several IRGC members, including senior commanders, have been killed in recent months in strikes in Syria which Iran has also blamed on Israel.

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has frequently called for Israel's destruction and made support for the Palestinian cause a centrepiece of its foreign policy.

But it had refrained from directly striking Israel until Saturday, an attack on a scale which appeared to catch many in the international community by surprise.

For decades, Iran relied on a network of allied groups to exert its influence in the region and to deter Israel and the United States, according to experts.

A 2020 report by the Washington Institute said that Tehran had adopted a policy of "strategic patience", which had "served it well since the inception of the Islamic republic in 1979".

Former moderate president Hassan Rouhani was a staunch defender of the strategy, especially following Washington's 2018 withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal, advocating for Tehran not to take immediate countermeasures and taking a longer view.

Even after the 2020 US killing of Qasem Soleimani, an IRGC commander revered in Iran, Tehran gave prior warning to Washington, US sources said, before it launched missiles against two American bases in Iraq, and no soldiers were killed in the attack.

After Saturday's attack on Israel, Guards chief Hossein Salami also said Iran was "creating a new equation".

"Should the Zionist regime attack our interests, our assets, our personnel and citizens at any point, we will counterattack it from the Islamic Republic of Iran," he was quoted as saying by local media.

Jaishankar on rising deaths of Indian students in US: ‘Big concern for us’

BENGALURU, April 15: External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Monday expressed concerns over the rising deaths of Indian students in the United States, saying that such cases are unconnected but a ‘big concern’ for the government.

“Obviously, in every case, wherever anything unfortunate has happened to the students, it is of great tragedy for the family, and a big concern for us but...our embassy or consulate has looked at every case and they're actually unconnected,” said the minister.

Jaishankar added that the embassies have been directed to keep in touch with the students and chat with them, and also warn them about dangerous areas of cities to avoid.

While stating that there are 11 lakh to 12 lakh Indian students living in various countries, the minister said, “Student welfare is very important. Like I said, every Indian going out, you have Modi's guarantee. Student welfare is particularly important for us."

Jaishankar's remarks have come amid rising incidents of Indians losing their lives in the US. Earlier this month, an Indian student named Uma Satya Sai Gadde was found dead in Ohio. The local police said they are investigating the death.

On April 9, a 25-year-old Indian student who had been missing since last month was found dead in Cleveland. Mohammad Abdul Arfath, hailing from Nacharam, Hyderabad, arrived in the US last year in May to pursue a Masters in IT from Cleveland University.

Last month, a 34-year-old Bharatnatyam and Kuchupudi dancer from Kolkata named Amarnath Ghosh was shot dead in Missouri. Acccording to television actor Devoleena Bhattacharjee, Ghosh was shot dead in St Louis Academy neighbourhood.

The Indian missions in the US have stepped up their student-outreach initiatives in view of incidents of deaths of Indian students in that country in recent months.

"There have been some unfortunate incidents resulting in the death of Indian students in the US. These cases are under investigation," external affairs ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said.

Iran Fires Over 300 Drones, Missiles; Israel, Allies Foil Attack

TEL AVIV, April 14: Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles towards Israel in its unprecedented attack overnight, injuring at least 12 people, an Israeli army spokesman said Sunday.

"Last night Iran fired over 300 ballistic missiles, UAVs and cruise missiles towards Israel," military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a televised statement.

Iran's unprecedented overnight attack on Israel has been "foiled", the Israeli military said Sunday, with hundreds of missiles and drones intercepted with the help of the United States and allies, including Britain and Jordan.

Israeli military said that 99 percent of the launches had been intercepted. While 170 drones and 30 cruise missiles were shot down before they reached Israel, a few of the 110 ballistic missiles did get through, injuring 12 people.

The attack which began late Saturday marks a major escalation of the long-running covert war between the regional foes, and comes against the backdrop of the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Iran's proxies and allies also carried out coordinated attacks on Israeli positions as sirens sounded in many places and correspondents heard blasts in the skies above Jerusalem early Sunday.

Two senior Israeli ministers signalled on Sunday that retaliation by Israel is not imminent and it would not act alone.

"We will build a regional coalition and exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us," centrist minister Benny Gantz said ahead of a war cabinet meeting.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant also said Israel had an opportunity to form a strategic alliance against "this grave threat by Iran which is threatening to mount nuclear explosives on these missiles, which could be an extremely grave threat," he said. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.

Iranian Army Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri warned on television that "our response will be much larger than tonight's military action if Israel retaliates against Iran" and told Washington its bases could also be attacked if it helped Israel retaliate.

Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian said Tehran had informed the United States its attack on Israel would be "limited" and for self defence and that regional neighbours had also been informed of its planned strikes 72 hours in advance.

A Turkish diplomatic source said Iran had informed Turkey in advance of what would happen.

Iran said the attack was aimed at punishing "Israeli crimes" but it now "deemed the matter concluded."

Russia, China, France and Germany as well as Arab states Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates urged restraint and the UN Security Council was set to meet at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) on Sunday.

"We will do everything to stop a further escalation," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on a visit to China. "We can only warn everyone, especially Iran, against continuing this way."

Turkey also warned Iran it did not want further tension in the region.

Biden Tells Netanyahu US Would Not Take Part In Israeli Counter-Offensive Against Iran

WASHINGTON, April 14: President Joe Biden warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the US will not take part in a counter-offensive against Iran if Israel decides to retaliate for a mass drone and missile attack on Israeli territory overnight, a White House official said.

The threat of open warfare erupting between the arch Middle East foes and dragging in the United States has put the region on edge, triggering calls for restraint from global powers and Arab nations to avoid further escalation.

US media reported earlier on Sunday that Biden had informed Netanyahu he would not participate in retaliatory action in a phone call overnight. The remarks were confirmed by a White House official.

The US will continue to help Israel defend itself, but does not want war, John Kirby, the White House's top national security spokesperson, told ABC's "This Week" program on Sunday.

Iran launched the attack over a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Syria on April 1 that killed top Revolutionary Guards commanders and followed months of clashes between Israel and Iran's regional allies, triggered by the war in Gaza.

Iran Says Its Retaliation 'Concluded', Warns Israel Not To Respond

Iran on Sunday urged Israel not to retaliate militarily to an unprecedented attack overnight, which Tehran presented as a justified response to a strike that destroyed its consulate building in Damascus earlier this month.

"The matter can be deemed concluded," Iran's mission to the United Nations said in a post on X just a few hours after the start of the operation late Saturday.

"However, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran's response will be considerably more severe," the Iranian mission warned.

S Jaishankar Speaks To Iranian Counterpart, Discusses West Asia Situation

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar today said he spoke with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and discussed the situation in West Asia. The telephonic conversation between the two leaders came after Iran attacked Israel.

He also discussed the release of 17 Indian crew members on a cargo ship seized by the Iranian military on Saturday.

"Spoke to Iranian FM this evening. Took up the release of 17 Indian crew members of MSC Aries. Discussed the current situation in the region. Stressed the importance of avoiding escalation, exercising restraint and returning to diplomacy. Agreed to remain in touch," Jaishankar said on X.

G7 Condemns Iran Attack On Israel, Calls For Restraint

G7 leaders today unanimously condemned Iran's unprecedented attack against Israel and urged that all parties must exercise restraint.

"We will continue all our efforts to work towards de-escalation. Ending the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible, notably through an immediate ceasefire, will make a difference. The situation in the Middle-East, including Lebanon, will be discussed at the European Council next week," President of the European Council Charles Michel said on X.

Sarabjit Singh's Killer Shot Dead By Bike-Borne Gunmen In Lahore

NEW DELHI, April 14: Amir Sarfaraz Tamba, an accused in the murder of Indian death row prisoner in Pakistan Sarabjit Singh and a close associate of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror outfit founder Hafiz Sayeed, was killed by unidentified gunmen in Lahore today, official sources said.

Tamba was attacked by motorcycle-borne assailants in Lahore's Islampura area and was rushed to a hospital in critical condition but he died of his injuries, they said.

Sarabjit Singh, 49, died of a heart attack in Lahore's Jinnah Hospital in the early hours of May 2, 2013, after being in a coma for nearly a week following a brutal assault by inmates, including Tamba, inside Lahore's high-security Kot Lakhpat jail.

Tamba was born in Lahore in 1979 and was a close associate of the LeT founder.

A group of Pakistani prisoners attacked Sarabjit Singh with bricks and iron rods. He was allegedly found guilty of taking part in several bombings in Pakistan's Punjab province in 1990 and was given the death penalty.

17 Indians On Ship Seized By Iran Off UAE Coast Amid Tensions

DUBAI, April 13: Of the 25 crew members aboard the container ship seized by Iran's Revolutionary Guards off the UAE coast on Saturday, 17 are Indian, according to reports.

The container ship, MCS Aries, was seized near the Strait of Hormuz by carrying out a "heliborne operation", and it is now headed towards the territorial waters of Iran, the country's state-owned IRNA news agency reported.

A source said, "We are aware that Iran has taken control of a cargo ship 'MSC Aries'. We have learnt that there are 17 Indian nationals onboard. We are in touch with the Iranian authorities through diplomatic channels, both in Tehran and in Delhi, to ensure security, welfare and early release of the Indian nationals."

The ship's operator, the Italian-Swiss group MSC, confirmed it had been boarded by Iranian authorities. "We regret to confirm that MSC Aries owned by Gortal Shipping Inc which is affiliated to Zodiac Maritime, and chartered to MSC, has been boarded by Iranian authorities via helicopter. She has 25 crew onboard, and we are working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and the safe return of the vessel," the company said in a statement.

The seizure of the vessel comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East. There are apprehensions of an attack on Israel by Iran, which has vowed retaliation for an airstrike on the consular section of its embassy in Syria's Damascus almost two weeks ago. Seven people, including, two generals were killed in the airstrike.

Iran has said that the vessel is "related to the Zionist regime (Israel) in the Gulf". Two websites that track shipping traffic, vesselfinder.com and marinetraffic.com, said MSC Aries is a Portuguese-flagged container ship and its last reported position was in the Gulf.

"A container ship named 'MCS Aries' was seized by the Sepah (Guards) Navy Special Forces by carrying out a heliborne operation," the IRNA agency reported.

The operation, it said, was carried out "near the Strait of Hormuz" - between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman - which is vital to world trade, and "this ship has now been directed towards the territorial waters" of Iran.

Israeli Army Warns Of 'Consequences' After Iran Seizes Ship Off UAE Coast

TEL AVIV, April 13: Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Saturday seized a container ship "related to the Zionist regime (Israel) in the Gulf," state media reported, as tensions soar in the region.

Iran will suffer the "consequences" of escalating the conflict in the region, Israel's army warned Saturday, after Iran announced it had seized the ship.

"Iran will bear the consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further," military spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a statement.

The ship's operator, the Italian-Swiss group MSC, later confirmed Iranian authorities had boarded it.

The White House on Saturday called on Iran to immediately release the British-owned ship it seized near the Strait of Hormuz.

"We call on Iran to release the vessel and its international crew immediately," said National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson. "Seizing a civilian vessel without provocation is a blatant violation of international law, and an act of piracy by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps."

It added that the operation took place "near the Strait of Hormuz" and "this ship has now been directed towards the territorial waters" of Iran.

MSC confirmed the Aries had "been boarded by Iranian authorities via helicopter as she passed the Strait of Hormuz" on Saturday morning.

It said that 25 crew were onboard and that it was "working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and safe return of the vessel".

The Strait of Hormuz connects the Gulf with the Indian Ocean and, according to the US Energy Information Administration, more than a fifth of annual global oil consumption passes through it each year.

A video shared on social media appeared to show people descending from a helicopter onto the deck of the Aries using a rope.

Vessel tracking websites, vesselfinder.com and marinetraffic.com, say MSC Aries is a Portuguese-flagged container ship and gave its last reported position as in the Gulf.

White House Tells Iran To Immediately Release Seized Ship

WASHINGTON, April 13: The White House on Saturday called on Iran to immediately release a British-owned ship it seized near the Strait of Hormuz, as Middle East tensions soar and fears mount over an retaliatory attack on Israel.

"We call on Iran to release the vessel and its international crew immediately," said National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson. "Seizing a civilian vessel without provocation is a blatant violation of international law, and an act of piracy by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps."

6 Killed In Sydney Mall Stabbings, Attacker Shot Dead, Say Police

SYDNEY, April 13: Six people were killed and several others injured -- including a nine-month-old baby -- when a knife-wielding attacker rampaged through a busy Sydney shopping centre on Saturday.

Australian police said multiple people were stabbed by the unidentified assailant, who was tracked down and shot dead by a policewoman who is being hailed as a national hero.

The incident occurred at the sprawling Westfield Bondi Junction mall complex, which was packed with thousands of Saturday afternoon shoppers.

New South Wales police commissioner Karen Webb said five women and one man had died. A baby was undergoing emergency surgery.

Police said the attacker is believed to be a 40-year-old man who was known to law enforcement, but he has not yet been formally identified.

Webb played down suggestions that the attack could have been an act of terrorism and said it is believed the attacker acted alone.

"If it is in fact the person we believe it is, then... it's not a terrorism incident," she said.

India advises citizens against travel to Iran, Israel as tension escalates in Middle East

NEW DELHI, April 12: The ministry of external affairs on Friday issued a travel advisory urging all Indian citizens to refrain from travelling to Iran or Israel until further notice.

The advisory, prompted by escalating tensions in the region, encouraged Indian nationals currently residing in Iran or Israel to contact the nearest Indian Embassies and register themselves with the authorities.

They were also advised to exercise extreme caution and limit their movements to essential activities only.

“In view of the prevailing situation in the region, all Indians are advised not to travel to Iran or Israel till further notice,” the advisory read.

“All those who are currently residing in Iran or Israel are requested to get in touch with Indian Embassies there and register themselves. They are also requested to observe utmost precautions about their safety and restrict their movements to the minimum,” the ministry added.

The advisory comes after Iran threatened reprisals over an Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Syria, sparking fears of an escalation of violence in the Middle East. Iran has vowed revenge for the April 1 airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus that killed a top Iranian general and six other Iranian military officers.

The "imperative for Iran to punish this rogue regime" might have been avoided had the U.N. Security Council condemned the strike and brought the perpetrators to justice, Tehran's mission to the United Nations said on Thursday.

Earlier today, the French foreign ministry advised its citizens against travelling to Iran, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian territories.

In a statement on social media platform X, the French foreign ministry added that relatives of Iran-based diplomats will return to France and that French civil servants are now banned from conducting any missions in Iran, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Switzerland To Host 100 Countries For Ukraine Peace Conference In June

GENEVA, April 12: Swiss President and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said on Thursday that Switzerland will host a high-level international conference in the month of June with more than 100 countries invited to help chart a path towards peace in Ukraine after more than two years of war.

In an official post on X, Ignazio Cassis said, "Switzerland will host a High-Level Conference on Peace in Ukraine."

"Peace is at the heart of the Swiss spirit. Its humanitarian tradition plays a key role in this quest. Peace is not an abstraction, but a call to action that reflects our values and our responsibilities on the world stage," Ignazio Cassis added.

Further, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said in the press release that, Switzerland is organising a high-level conference on peace in Ukraine, which is expected to take place in June 2024 at the Burgenstock.

The aim of the heads of state and government meetings is to develop a common understanding of a path towards a just and lasting peace in Ukraine.

"The conference aims to provide a platform for a high-level dialogue on ways to reach a comprehensive, just and lasting peace for Ukraine based on international law and the UN Charter. It aims to create a common understanding of the framework conducive to this goal and a concrete roadmap for the peace process," the release added.

By organising this conference, Switzerland is making another important contribution to support a just and lasting peace in Ukraine and greater security and stability in Europe and the world.

According to the Press release, Switzerland is actively involved in the search for solutions and as with (Ukraine Recovery Conference 2022) URC2022 is helping to shape a sustainable future for Ukraine.

Meanwhile, during President Zelenskyy's visit to Bern on January 15, 2024, Switzerland and Ukraine discussed the next steps towards a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine.

At Ukraine's request, Switzerland agreed to host a high-level conference. Switzerland regularly hosts negotiations or acts as a mediator for talks and meetings.

Middle East on brink, Israel prepares for 'other fronts' amid Iran threat

TEL AVIV, April 11: The threat of war looms large in the Middle East as Israel said it was preparing for "scenarios in other areas" amid its ongoing military operation in Gaza. This comes amid concerns that Iran was preparing to strike the country in retaliation for airstrikes on its consulate in Syria on April 1.

The strike, which killed a top Iranian general and six other military officers, prompted Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to say that an attack on Israel was "inevitable".

Israel, which launched a war in the Gaza Strip six months ago against Iran-backed Hamas, has not confirmed it was behind the strike on Damascus, but the Pentagon has said it was.

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country is continuing its war in Gaza but is also preparing for scenarios in other areas, amid concern that Iran was preparing to strike Israel.

"We are preparing to meet the security needs of the state of Israel both in defence and attack," he said.

Germany's Lufthansa airline said it had suspended flights to and from Tehran until probably April 13. A spokesperson for the airline said it had decided not to operate a flight from Frankfurt to Tehran last weekend to avoid the crew having to disembark to spend the night in Tehran.

Besides Lufthansa, its subsidiary Austrian Airlines also said it was still planning to fly to Tehran on Thursday but was adjusting timings to avoid crew having to disembark for an overnight layover.

Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock discussed the tense situation in the Middle East with her Iranian counterpart and urged all sides to act responsibly and exercise restraint.

"No one can have an interest in a wider regional escalation," the ministry posted on social media platform X.

Russia's foreign ministry told citizens they should not travel to the Middle East, especially to Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

Moscow also urged countries in the Middle East to show restraint. "Right now it's very important for everyone to maintain restraint so as not to lead to a complete destabilisation of the situation in the region, which doesn't exactly shine with stability and predictability," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi also condemned the killing of the three sons of Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in airstrikes by Israel in Gaza City.

"Undoubtedly, this crime made clearer the savage and child-killing psyche of this regime," Tehran Times quoted Raisi as saying.

Iran supports anti-Israeli militant organisations like Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The US believes that a major Iranian attack on Israel is imminent and it is a "matter of when, not if", a Bloomberg report said quoting top officials. The report further said the attack could take place in the coming days.

According to an Axios report, General Michael Kurilla, head of the US Central Command, is expected to visit Tel Aviv on Thursday for consultations with Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. He is likely to discuss the impending threat of an Iranian attack, the report states.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden reiterated America's "ironclad" support to Israel amid Iranian threat.

"Our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad," he said after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday. "Let me say it again: ironclad."

According to a CNN report, Iran is unlikely to attack Israel directly and could use its proxies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthis in Yemen, to launch strikes.

Meanwhile, Israel said 13 hostages, who freed from Hamas captivity in Gaza after 40 days, are back in their territory.

North Korea’s Kim says ‘now is time to be prepared for war’: State media

PYONGYANG, April 11: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says now is the time to be more prepared for war than ever as he visited the country’s main military university, state media reported.

He made his remarks on the same day as rival South Korea’s parliamentary elections on Wednesday, in which the governing party suffered a major defeat, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Thursday.

“Now is the time to be more thoroughly prepared for a war than ever before,” the North Korean leader said at the Kim Jong Il University of Military and Politics, citing the “uncertain and unstable military and political situation” around.

North Korea has, in recent months, stepped up its accusations against South Korea and its ally, the United States, for what it called provoking military tensions by conducting “war manoeuvers” and holding military drills with greater intensity and scale.

In March, Kim also ordered heightened war preparations after inspecting troops at a major military operations base in the country’s west.

North Korea “should be more firmly and perfectly prepared for a war, which should be won without fail, not just for a possible war”, he added.

Since the election of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in 2022, tensions between the two Koreas have been intensifying, with the North declaring the South as its “principal enemy”.

In response to Yoon’s hardline stance towards the North, Kim ordered the scrapping of agencies dedicated to reunification and outreach, and threatened war over “even 0.001mm” of territorial infringement.

Hamas says it does not have 40 hostages who fit criteria for deal with Israel

GAZA, April 11: The Palestinian militant group Hamas has indicated it does not have 40 captives who are still alive who meet the “humanitarian” criteria for a proposed hostages-for-prisoners ceasefire agreement with Israel.

A senior Israeli official confirmed claims made at the weekend by Hamas during talks in Cairo that it does not have 40 hostages in Gaza who meet the exchange criteria.

Ceasefire talks have focused on a US-backed proposal of a phased exchange of hostages and prisoners. In the first instance women, children, and elderly or sick people – including five female Israeli soldiers – would be exchanged for an estimated 900 Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel, alongside a six-week ceasefire in Gaza.

Hamas appears reluctant to make up the numbers for an exchange with surviving male hostages. Reliable information about how many hostages remain alive, who is holding them and where has been hard to come by.

The CIA director, William Burns, has presented a new proposal to try to bridge the gaps between the two sides.

The US is pressuring Israel to agree to release 900 Palestinian prisoners in the first phase of a three-stage deal as well as allowing the return of Palestinians to northern Gaza.

The talks, which resumed on Sunday, have brought no signs of a breakthrough on a plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators, which Hamas said it was studying.

About 240 hostages, including the bodies of some killed during Hamas’s 7 October attack on southern Israel, were taken into Gaza during the assault.

So far 112 hostages have been returned alive to Israel. Of those, 105 were released as part of an exchange last year. Before that, Hamas released four prisoners unilaterally, while three more were rescued by the Israel Defense Forces.

In the months since 7 October, Israel has revealed that a number of those who were believed to have been alive when they were abducted were in fact killed during the initial Hamas attack.

Hamas has said some hostages have died during Israeli strikes on Gaza. In a high-profile friendly fire incident Israel killed three escaped male hostages as they approached Israeli troops.

Israel believes about 30 of the remaining hostages are dead, which would leave about 100 still alive, including 91 Israelis or dual nationals, eight Thai citizens, one Nepali, and one French-Mexican national.

The long-running manoeuvres on both sides around ceasefire negotiations – an increasingly politically contentious issue in Israel – have become more tortuous by the week despite pressure from mediators.

While there was speculation that Israel’s withdrawal of its forces from operations in southern Gaza may have been an undeclared confidence-building measure, the killing of three of the sons of Hamas’s political bureau chief, Ismail Haniyeh, along with several of his grandchildren, appeared to undercut that analysis.

In an interview with the Al Jazeera satellite channel, Haniyeh said the killings would not pressure Hamas into softening its positions.

Haniyeh left Gaza in 2019 and lives in exile in Qatar. The top Hamas leader in Gaza is Yahya Sinwar, who masterminded the 7 October attack on Israel, which killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Among the various stumbling blocks on the Israeli side are demands that displaced Palestinians be allowed to return to northern Gaza, as well as the identity of prisoners to be released from Israeli jails.

Hamas has been pushing for a far more significant cessation in hostilities, including a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, even as Israeli officials have vowed to continue with the war.

South Korea's Opposition hands stinging defeat to President Yoon’s party

SEOUL, April 11: South Korea's liberal opposition parties scored a landslide victory in a parliamentary election held on Wednesday, dealing a resounding blow to President Yoon Suk Yeol and his conservative party but likely falling just short of a super majority.

The Democratic Party (DP) was projected to take more than 170 of the 300 seats in the new legislature, data by the National Election Commission and network broadcasters showed, with more than 99 per cent of the votes counted as of 5:55 am on Thursday (2055 GMT Wednesday).

A splinter liberal party considered allied with the DP was expected to take at least 10 seats, projections showed.

"When voters chose me, it was your judgment against the Yoon Suk Yeol administration and you are giving the Democratic Party the duty to take responsibility for the livelihood of the people and create a better society," DP leader Lee Jae-myung said.

Lee won a seat in the city of Incheon to the west of the capital, Seoul, against a conservative heavyweight candidate considered a major ally of the president.

The bitterly fought race was seen by some analysts as a referendum on Yoon, whose popularity has suffered amid a cost-of-living crisis and a spate of political scandals.

"Judgment" was the common theme running through comments by opposition victors, many of whom had campaigned heavily focused on what they said was Yoon's mismanagement of the economy and his refusal to acknowledge his wife acted improperly when she accepted a Dior bag as a gift.

First lady Kim Keon Hee has not been seen in public since Dec. 15 and was absent when Yoon voted, reflecting the view by some analysts and opposition party members that she had become a serious political liability for the president and his PPP.

His People Power Party (PPP) was projected to win just over 100 seats, meaning Yoon would avoid the super-majority of a two-third opposition control that could break presidential vetoes and pass constitutional amendments.

But nearing the end of the first two years of his five-year single term allowed by the constitution, Yoon was likely to slip into a lame duck status, some analysts said.

The National Election Commission (NEC) was expected to announce the official results later on Thursday. Nearly 29.7 million people, or 67% of eligible voters, cast their ballots, according to the NEC.

It marked the highest ever turnout for a parliamentary election, though the numbers were down from the 2022 presidential vote that narrowly brought Yoon to power.

Yoon, who took office in May 2022, was not up for election this time but his ability to pass legislation is likely to be badly damaged by the poor showing by his PPP.

He has suffered low ratings for months, hamstrung in implementing his pledges to cut taxes, ease business regulations and expand family support in the world's fastest ageing society.

Hamas leader Haniyeh says his 3 sons killed in Israeli air strike in Gaza

GAZA, April 10: The leader of Hamas said on Wednesday Israel had killed three of his sons in an air strike in Gaza as the war in the Palestinian territory raged despite ongoing truce negotiations in Cairo.

Qatar-based Ismail Haniyeh said his three sons and "some of" his grandchildren had been killed in the strike in an interview with Al Jazeera.

The strike came as talks in Cairo aimed at a ceasefire and a hostage release deal dragged on without signs of a breakthrough. Israel did not immediately comment on the strike.

The United States has been ramping up pressure on Israel to agree to a truce, increase the amount of aid it allows into the Gaza Strip and abandon plans to invade the southern city of Rafah.

US President Joe Biden labelled Israel's conduct of the war a "mistake" in an interview broadcast on Tuesday.

Wednesday marked the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with Gazans gathering to pray amid the devastation of the six-month war.

Israeli forces meanwhile kept up combat operations and air strikes in Gaza, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed no let-up in the campaign to destroy Hamas and bring home the hostages.

Israel says ‘date set’ for Rafah invasion amid ongoing Gaza ceasefire talks

TEL AVIV, April 9: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a date has been set to invade Rafah in southern Gaza as truce talks with Hamas in Cairo are ongoing but do not appear close to the finish line.

In a video statement in Hebrew, Netanyahu reiterated his position that a ground military operation in Rafah, bordering Egypt, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering, is essential for victory in the war.

“It will happen. There is a date,” he said on Monday without elaborating.

He doubled down on Tuesday saying that Israel will proceed with its goal of eliminating all of Hamas’s brigades, including in Rafah.

“There is no force in the world that will stop us. There are many forces that are trying to do so, but it will not help since this enemy, after what it did, will never do it again,” Netanyahu said.

This comes as Hamas was presented with a new proposal in ceasefire talks at the end of the weekend, but one that does not appear to be able to secure a deal.

The Palestinian group confirmed in a statement that it is reviewing the proposal, but said Israel “has not responded to any of the demands of our people and our resistance”.

Senior Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zahry said that Netanyahu’s remarks “raise questions about the purpose of resuming negotiations”.

“The success of any negotiations depends on ending the aggression,” said Zahry, adding that the group’s “demands are clear: an end to aggression against our people”.

Israel has so far rejected Palestinian demands of an unrestricted return of hundreds of thousands of Gaza Palestinians to the enclave’s north, and the retreat of Israeli military ground forces from the strip.

Boota Singh Gill, leading builder and president of Canadian gurdwara, shot dead

TORONTO, April 9: Prominent builder and head of the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Canada’s Edmonton, Boota Singh Gill, was killed on Monday after he was shot multiple times.

The incident took place at a construction site linked to Gill’s business near the Millwood Rec Center in the Alberta province.

Maninder Singh Gill, managing director of Radio India, said that Sarabjeet Singh, a civil engineer who was also shot in the incident, is reportedly fighting for his life.

Gill said that as per preliminary reports, three individuals were present at the construction site when an altercation ensued, resulting in an Indian-origin construction worker allegedly shooting both Gill and Singh before taking his own life. While the cause of the altercation remains unclear, investigations are ongoing.

Edmonton Journal reported that officers were called to the site of the crime, Cavanagh Boulevard and 30 Avenue SW, at around noon. Two bodies were found at a residential construction site.

Gill had previously filed police complaints about receiving extortion calls and threats on 2-3 occasions. The police have initiated an investigation into the matter. There have been reports of other builders in Edmonton receiving threats and incidents of newly constructed homes being set on fire.

Earlier, in a press conference in January this year, the Edmonton police had said that a criminal network in India is behind a series of extortions targeting home builders in Edmonton’s South Asian community.

Canada-based CBC News had reported that 27 events — five extortions, 15 arsons, and seven firearms offences — are linked to a criminal gang in India which uses local operatives.

Staff Sgt. Dave Paton had said that six youths have been arrested and charged in connection with these crimes. He had further said that the gang operates through WhatsApp calls.

Monday’s killings have sent shock waves in the community and prominent figures such as Member of Parliament Tim Uppal, Mayor Amarjeet Singh Sohi, Radio India’s Managing Director Maninder Gill, and Gursharan Singh Butter have expressed their condolences and solidarity with the affected families.

Israel gears up for fresh offensive against Hamas in Rafah

TEL AVIV, Arpil 8: Israel's military announced Sunday it had withdrawn its forces from the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, wrapping up a key phase in its ground offensive against the Hamas militant group and bringing its troop presence in the territory to one of the lowest levels since the six-month war began.

But defense officials said troops were merely regrouping as the army prepares to move into Hamas’ last stronghold, Rafah. “The war in Gaza continues, and we are far from stopping,” said the military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.

Local broadcaster Channel 13 TV reported that Israel was preparing to begin evacuating Rafah within one week and the process could take several months.

Still, the withdrawal was a milestone as Israel and Hamas marked six months of fighting. Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity under army policy, said a “significant force” remained in Gaza to continue targeted operations including in Khan Younis, hometown of the Hamas leader, Yehya Sinwar.

Israel for weeks has vowed a ground offensive in nearby Rafah. But the city shelters some 1.4 million people — more than half of Gaza's population. The prospect of an offensive has raised global alarm, including from Israel's top ally, the U.S., which has demanded to see a credible plan to protect civilians. Allowing people to return to nearby Khan Younis could relieve some pressure on Rafah.

Russian-run Zaporizhzhia N-plant comea under drone attack

GENEVA, April 8: The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' atomic watchdog agency, condemned the recent Ukrainian drone strike on one of the six nuclear reactors at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. Rafael Mariano Grossi, the IAEA Director General, stated that such attacks “significantly increase the risk of a major nuclear accident."

The dome above a shutdown reactor at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear station was struck by Ukraine on April 7, according to the plant's Russian-installed administration.

“It was not immediately clear what weapon was used in the strike on Sunday," reported Al Jazeera. However, the Russian state-owned nuclear agency Rosatom stated that it was a drone attack at the nuclear plant, which was taken over by Russian forces shortly after their full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

According to plant officials, radiation levels were normal, and there was no significant damage following the attack. Nonetheless, Rosatom later reported that three individuals had been hurt, particularly as a result of a drone hit close to the canteen on the site.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which had its experts on the site, also informed that the Russian-run plant had come under a drone attack.

According to Al Jazeera, “IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi has warned both sides to refrain from actions that ‘jeopardise nuclear safety’."

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear station is Europe's largest nuclear power station. It comprises six uranium-235 water-cooled and water-moderated VVER-1000 V-320 reactors designed by the Soviet Union. The facility also houses spent nuclear fuel.

According to the plant's administration, reactors number one, two, five, and six are in cold shutdown, reactor number three is shut down for maintenance, and reactor number four is in what is known as “hot shutdown", reported Al Jazeera.

The facility remains near the front lines, and Russia and Ukraine have frequently accused each other of attacking it, raising the possibility of a nuclear accident.

One Step Away From Victory, No Ceasefire Until Hamas Frees All Hostages: Netanyahu

TEL AVIV, April 7: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel was "one step away from victory" in the Gaza war and vowed there would be no truce until Hamas frees all hostages.

He was speaking in a cabinet meeting marking six months of the war that broke out on October 7 after an unprecedented attack on Israel by Hamas militants.

"We are one step away from victory," Netanyahu said. "But the price we paid is painful and heartbreaking."

Speaking as truce talks were expected to resume in Cairo with international mediators, he said: "There will be no ceasefire without the return of hostages. It just won't happen."

He stressed that "Israel is ready for a deal, Israel is not ready to surrender".

"Instead of international pressure being directed at Israel, which only causes Hamas to harden its positions, the pressure of the international community should be directed against Hamas. This will advance the release of the hostages."

Israel has faced a storm of international outrage over the killing of seven aid workers of the US-based food charity World Central Kitchen in a Gaza air strike on April 1.

US President Joe Biden in a phone call with Netanyahu on Thursday demanded an "immediate ceasefire" and hinted at making US support for Israel conditional on curtailing the killing of civilians and improving humanitarian conditions.

Netanyahu meanwhile accused Iran of being behind several attacks against Israel "through its proxies".

"Anyone who hurts us or plans to hurt us -- we will hurt him. We put this principle into practice, all the time and in recent days," Netanyahu added.

Fears that the war in Gaza could spread have intensified after Iran vowed to hit back for the killing of seven of its Revolutionary Guards in an air strike Monday on the consular annex of its embassy in Damascus.

Iran's leaders have pledged retaliation, and the leader of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, has called the consulate strike a "turning point".

Israel to ‘temporarily’ reopen north Gaza crossing for aid after Biden call

TEL AVIV, April 5: Israel has said it will reopen the Beit Hanoon (Erez) crossing with northern Gaza for aid, hours after a warning from United States President Joe Biden for it to take steps to protect civilians and humanitarian workers following the Israeli military’s strikes on a food charity’s team.

Nearly six months of Israeli attacks and siege on Gaza have killed more than 33,000 people and prompted urgent warnings of an imminent and man-made famine amid a deepening displacement and hunger crisis.

The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that Israel will “temporarily” open the Ashdod port to receive humanitarian aid packages that will be transported to the Erez crossing – which will be opened for the first time since the current conflict started in October.

It said that Israel will also increase the amount of aid from neighbouring Jordan moving through the Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing with southern Gaza.

Israel said by opening the crossings the “increased aid will prevent a humanitarian crisis and is necessary to ensure the continuation of the fighting and to achieve the goals of the war”.

Following a tense phone call between Biden and Netanyahu on Thursday, the White House had said the US president called for an “immediate ceasefire” and signalled he is prepared to make changes to Washington’s ironclad political and military support for Israel if aid is not increased.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said alongside EU leaders in Belgium: “Really the proof is in the results, and we will see those unfold in the coming days, in the coming weeks” in an apparent retreat from Biden’s demand for immediate action.

Reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands said the crossing announcement is indicative of the level of influence the US can have over Israel if it chooses to use it, but pointed out how Israel is still portraying this as working towards its war goals.

22 Arrested With Villas, Cars, Gold Worth $652 Million In EU Covid Fund Fraud

MILAN, April 4: Italian police said on Thursday they had arrested 22 people and seized assets from villas to Rolexes worth over 600 million euros ($652 million) as part of an investigation into alleged fraud tied to European Union and Italian funding schemes.

Finance police in Venice said they believe the group, which operated in various European countries, sought to defraud the European Union's COVID pandemic recovery fund and generous home improvement schemes introduced by Italy.

Police said they seized flats, villas, Rolex watches, Cartier jewellery, gold, cryptocurrencies and luxury cars such as a Lamborgini and a Porsche, in addition to some 600 million euros worth of illegitimate tax credits for home improvements.

Three people were arrested in Slovakia, two in Austria and 17 across Italy, police said, with searches also carried out in Romania.

The investigation will heighten fears that both the EU's Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) and Italy's own building schemes are proving a boon for fraudsters.

Italy has so far received almost 102 billion euros from the EU COVID recovery funds, with over 90 billion more expected by 2026.

Simultaneously, the government is paying out billions for the building schemes, including one which offered to pay homeowners 110% of the cost of energy-saving renovations and another which covered up to 90% of the cost of doing up facades.

Police said the suspects, who were not named, had devised "sophisticated fraud systems", using a series of front companies to present fictitious projects and thereby win tradeable tax credits from the state.

Once the fraud was completed, the organisation set up a money laundering system, including using cloud servers located in non-cooperative countries and cryptoassets.

The Italian police said they had worked with the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO), which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes against the bloc's financial interests.

In its annual report published in February, EPPO said that in 2023 it had 1,927 ongoing investigations, which together involved some 19.2 billion euros of suspected fraud.

Some 618 investigations were opened in Italy alone.

10 Dead In Attack On Iranian Security Personnel In Sistan-Baluchistan

TEHRAN, April 4: Jihadist attacks in southeastern Iran near Pakistan killed 10 Iranian security personnel, state media reported on Thursday, doubling an earlier toll.

The number of dead is almost as large as from a similar attack in December, which the same group claimed and was followed by tit-for-tat air strikes with neighbouring Pakistan.

The attacks occurred in Sistan-Baluchistan province which has for years faced unrest involving drug-smuggling gangs, rebels from the Baluchi minority, and Sunni Muslim extremists.

"The case of the terrorist attacks was closed with the martyrdom of 10 members of the security forces," and the killing of 18 "terrorists", state television said.

Majid Mirahmadi, vice-minister of the interior, had earlier told the channel that five members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the police died during two night-time attacks against a Guards base in Rask and a police post in Chabahar.

"The terrorists had planned to seize military bases," Mirahmadi later told state television, adding "none of them survived" the clashes.

He added that the assailants appeared to be foreigners, without providing further details.

The number of assailants killed in the clashes also rose from the 15 which General Mohammad Pakpour, who heads the Guards' land forces, had announced on television.

The Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice, in Arabic) group claimed the attacks on its Telegram channel.

Based in Pakistan, the Sunni Muslim rebel organisation, formed in 2012, is listed as a "terrorist" group by Iran and also by the United States.

Jaish al-Adl claimed an attack in December that killed 11 officers, one of the deadliest attacks in years, at a police station in Sistan-Baluchistan's city of Rask.

The group claimed another police station attack in Rask that killed one officer on January 10.

A week later, Iran said it retaliated with missiles and drone strikes against Jaish al-Adl over the border in Pakistan. Pakistan then said it carried out air strikes against ethnic separatists inside Iran.

The Iranian strikes killed at least two children, according to Pakistan, while Pakistan's strikes left at least nine people dead in Iran, according to the official IRNA news agency.

The rare cross-border fire added to regional tensions during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, but by late January the two countries sought to ease the pressure.

The porous border region of Baluchistan is split between Iran and Pakistan.

Impoverished Sistan-Baluchistan province, which also borders Afghanistan, is one of the few mainly Sunni provinces in Shiite-dominated Iran.

Have Urged Israel To Ensure Safety Of Indian Workers There: Govt

NEW DELHI, April 4: India on Thursday said it has urged Israel to ensure the safety of the Indian construction workers who have gone to the country this week under the framework of a bilateral mobility agreement.

Israeli Ambassador to India Naor Gilon had said on Tuesday that the first batch of over 60 Indian construction workers has left for Israel.

"As you are aware, these (first batch) workers have gone to Israel as part of a mobility agreement that we have signed with the country," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said at his weekly media briefing.

"This agreement predates the conflict. We are conscious of their safety. We have urged the Israeli authorities to ensure their safety and well-being," he said.

Jaiswal said around 18,000 Indian caregivers are currently employed in Israel and the Indian embassy in that country is in touch with them.

Following the Israel-Hamas conflict, there were media reports that said the Israeli construction industry is looking at recruiting 100,000 Indian workers to replace the 90,000 Palestinians.

Last month, India said it is focusing on ensuring the safety and security of all its citizens in Israel in the wake of the death of an Indian in that country in a missile attack reportedly launched by Hezbollah.

Taiwan Hit By Strongrest Earthquake In 25 Years

TAIPEI, April 3: Nine people died and more than 800 got injured in Taiwan after the island was hit by its biggest earthquake in at least 25 years on Wednesday morning. While Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency said the quake was 7.2 magnitude, the US Geological Survey (USGS) put it at 7.4.

The epicentre of the quake was located just 18 kilometres south-southwest of Hualien County, which is situated in eastern Taiwan. Multiple aftershocks were experienced, and one of them was 6.5 magnitude, according to USGS.

Earthquake prompted tsunami warnings that extended to Japan and the Philippines before being lifted.

Notably, Taiwan is prone to earthquakes as it lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire” — where 90% of the world’s earthquakes take place. The island and its surrounding waters have registered about 2,000 earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.0 or greater since 1980, and more than 100 earthquakes with a magnitude above 5.5, according to the USGS.

Officials said the quake and series of strong aftershocks was the strongest to shake the island in decades, and warned of more tremors in the days ahead.

"The earthquake is close to land and it's shallow. It's felt all over Taiwan and offshore islands," said Wu Chien-fu, director of Taipei's Central Weather Administration's Seismology Center.

Strict building regulations and disaster awareness appear to have staved off a major catastrophe for the island, which is regularly hit by earthquakes as it lies near the junction of two tectonic plates.

Wu said the quake was the strongest since one of 7.6-magnitude struck in September 1999, killing around 2,400 people in the deadliest natural disaster in the island's history.

Hamas Chief Accuses Israel Of Procrastination In Truce Talks

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh accused Israel on Wednesday of procrastinating in stalled talks to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza war and a hostage release deal.

Recent negotiations have made little progress and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the Palestinian Hamas group has hardened its position.

"The Zionist occupation continues to procrastinate stubbornly, and does not respond to our fair demands for an end to the war and aggression," Haniyeh said in a recorded speech shown at a Hezbollah meeting.

Netanyahu's office said on Tuesday that Israel's negotiating team had returned from another round of discussions in Cairo.

"In the framework of the talks, under useful Egyptian mediation, the mediators formulated an updated proposal for Hamas," the premier's office said.

However, senior Hamas official Bassem Naim said on Tuesday that the group had not been sent any new proposals.

"The movement has not received any proposals from the mediators or the occupation (Israel) regarding a ceasefire and a prisoner exchange deal", he said.

In his speech shown on Wednesday ahead of comments from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, the Qatar-based Haniyeh reiterated Hamas's conditions for peace.

These include a permanent ceasefire, a full Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the return of displaced Gazans, unhindered entry of aid, full reconstruction of the war-ravaged territory, and "a respectable prisoner exchange deal."

Haniyeh also denounced what he said was "direct American participation" in the war in Gaza by supplying weapons and ammunition to the Israeli military.

Israeli airstrike in Damascus kills Iran’s top commander for Syria, Lebanon

DAMASCUS, April 1: An Israeli airstrike on Monday decimated Iran’s consulate in Damascus, killing several people including the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ top commander for Syria and Lebanon.

Iranian state news agency IRNA reported that Mohammad-Reza Zahedi, a senior commander overseeing operations in Lebanon and Syria for the IRGC’s Quds Force, was among those killed in the strike. The Quds Force is the foreign operations arm of the IRGC.

Citing unnamed sources, Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported that Zahedi’s deputy, identified as Mohammad-Hadi Haji Rahimi, was also killed in the attack.

Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, said between five to seven people were killed in the attack, which he said was carried out by F-35 fighter jets.

In a phone call with his Syrian counterpart, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that the assault on Iran’s consulate constitutes a breach of all international conventions.

Iran holds Israel responsible for the ensuing consequences of this attack, he added, according to IRNA.

According to Iran’s Arabic-language al-Alam TV channel, the strike “completely destroyed” the consulate.

NATO's ‘Readiness’ Drills Near Russian Border Soon; U.S.-Made Patriot Unit To Be Deployed

AMSTERDAM, April 1: NATO nation Netherlands will deploy a U.S.-made Patriot air defence unit near the Russian border. The Dutch defence ministry said its air defence unit will conduct NATO drills in Lithuania.

The military drill aims to bolster NATO'S air defences along the eastern flank, as per the Dutch military. The drill also aims to test NATO's ability to swiftly transport & deploy units to specific areas.

Israelis rally in their largest anti-government protest since the war in Gaza began

TEL AVIV, April 1: Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered outside the parliament building in Jerusalem on Sunday in the largest anti-government demonstration since the country went to war in October. They urged the government to reach a deal to free dozens of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and to hold early elections.

Nearly six months of war have renewed divisions in Israeli society. The Hamas militant group killed some 1,200 people during its cross-border attack on October 7, and took 250 others hostage. Roughly half the hostages were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November, but repeated attempts by international mediators to broker another cease-fire deal have failed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas and bring all the hostages home. But those goals have been elusive. While Hamas has suffered heavy losses, it remains intact, and hostages’ families believe time is running out.

“After six months, it seems like the government understands that Bibi Netanyahu is an obstacle,” said demonstrator Einav Moses, whose father-in-law, Gadi Moses, is held hostage. “Like he doesn’t really want to bring them back, that they have failed in this mission.” The crowd stretched for blocks around the Knesset, or parliament building, and organizers vowed to continue the demonstration for several days. They urged the government to cancel an upcoming parliamentary recess and to hold new elections nearly two years ahead of schedule.

Netanyahu, in a nationally televised speech before undergoing hernia surgery later Sunday, said he understood the pain of the hostages’ families. “I will do everything to bring the hostages home,” he said.

He also said calling new elections — in what he described as a moment before victory — would paralyze Israel for six to eight months and would paralyze the hostage talks.

Netanyahu also repeated his vow for a military ground offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than half of territory’s population of 2.3 million now shelters after fleeing fighting elsewhere.

“There is no victory without going into Rafah,” he said.

The military has said Hamas battalions remain there. Allies and humanitarian groups have warned of catastrophe with a Rafah ground offensive.

Israeli troops withdraw from Shifa Hospital after 2-week raid

TEL AVIV, April 1: Israel’s military withdrew from Gaza’s largest hospital early Monday after a two-week raid, in which it said it killed some 200 militants and detained hundreds more.

Palestinian residents said the troops left behind several bodies and a vast swath of destruction.

The military has described the raid on Shifa Hospital as one of the most successful of the nearly six-month war. But it came at a time of mounting frustration in Israel, with tens of thousands protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday and demanding he do more to bring home dozens of hostages held in Gaza.

It was the largest anti-government demonstration since the start of the war.

The fighting showed that Hamas can still put up resistance even in one of the hardest-hit areas. Israel said it had largely dismantled Hamas in northern Gaza and withdrew thousands of troops late last year, leaving a security vacuum that has made it difficult to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid.

The military said that among those killed were senior Hamas operatives and other militants who had regrouped there after an earlier raid in November, and that it seized weapons and valuable intelligence.

The UN health agency said more than 20 patients died and dozens were put at risk during the raid, which brought even further destruction to a hospital that had already largely ceased to function.

Israel has accused Hamas of using hospitals for military purposes and has raided several medical facilities. Health officials in Gaza deny those allegations.

Turkey’s Opposition Wins Stunning Victory In Polls

ISTANBUL, April 1: Turkey’s opposition won a stunning victory across several major cities in the country’s local elections Sunday, dealing a severe blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and handing it its largest defeat in more than two decades.

“Those who do not understand the nation’s message will eventually lose,” Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu told thousands of supporters after vote counts revealed that his center-left Republican People’s Party, or CHP, had won the megacity of Istanbul by more than 1 million votes.

“Tonight, 16 million Istanbul citizens sent a message to both our rivals and the president,” he said.

Erdogan’s conservative Justice and Development Party, abbreviated locally as AKP, dominates the country at the national level.

In a speech Sunday night, Erdogan admitted his party had “lost altitude” and would work to rectify its errors.

“If we made a mistake, we will fix it ... if we have anything missing, we will complete it,” he said from the balcony of the presidential palace. Erdogan, 70, has governed Turkey since 2003.

The sweeping opposition win in municipal elections across major Turkish cities like Istanbul, Izmir and the capital Ankara could set the country in a new direction. Erdogan himself rose to prominence as Istanbul’s mayor in the 1990s before later going on to win the presidency; now, analysts are speculating that Imamoglu’s victory in Istanbul could make him a front-runner for the Turkish presidency in 2028.

Erdogan himself once said that whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey.

Imamoglu, a 52-year-old former businessman, has been Istanbul’s mayor since 2019. He attempted to run for president in Turkey’s 2023 general election, but was banned by Erdogan’s government from running, in a move CHP supporters say was purely political. In those elections, Erdogan’s party won big, leaving AKP on top at the national level.

Roughly 61 million voters were eligible to cast their votes for mayors, council members and other administrative leaders across Turkey’s 81 provinces. Voter turnout was registered at 76%, according to the country’s state-run Anadolu news agency. It said CHP came out ahead in 36 of 81 provinces, including several of Turkey’s largest cities.

Turkey’s economy has been on a downward spiral since 2018, battling severely high inflation, a weak currency and struggling foreign currency reserves. Annual inflation in the country of 85 million was recorded at 67% for the month of February, and Turkey’s national interest rate sits at 50% — with both figures causing significant pain for the ordinary Turkish consumer.

 
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