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Blinken claims progress in effort to boost Israel-Hamas truce | Gaza News

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has wrapped up a two-day visit to the Middle East, winning diplomatic support and hundreds of millions of dollars of pledges from Arab countries as he moved to shore up the ceasefire that ended an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group which rules the Gaza Strip.

But the mission made little headway in resolving the deeper issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the tensions in occupied East Jerusalem that played a key role in triggering the latest violence.

After two days of talks with Egyptian, Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian officials, Blinken acknowledged that any resumption of peace talks remained far off.

In the meantime, he said he had made progress towards the more modest goals of cementing the ceasefire and rebuilding Gaza, which suffered widespread destruction as Israel bombarded the territory from air, land and sea for 11 days.

“We see the ceasefire, not as an end, but as a beginning, something to build on,” Blinken told reporters on Wednesday in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where he met King Abdullah II.

Earlier, he was in Egypt for talks with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Egypt has longstanding relations with both sides in the conflict and played a key role in brokering the ceasefire after 11 days of violence, in coordination with the US.

“We’ve had in Egypt a real and effective partner in dealing with the violence, bringing it to a close, relatively quickly,” Blinken said in Cairo after a meeting with el-Sisi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

The US and Egypt were now “working closely together to build something positive”, he said.

Egypt, Blinken said, is vital to shared aspirations for Palestinians and Israelis to “live in safety and security to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity and dignity”.

In Jordan, King Abdullah told Blinken on Wednesday he welcomed the administration’s move to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, state-owned media said.

Blinken however said a bit of time would be needed to carry out the move, which he announced on Tuesday.

The Jerusalem consulate had served as a de facto embassy for the Palestinians until former President Donald Trump shuttered it in 2019.

Blinken was also quoted as saying that the Jordanian monarch, whose Hashemite dynasty has custodianship of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, had played an instrumental role in brokering the deal to end fighting.

He also said that aid had started to arrive in the Gaza Strip as part of a drive to help reconstruction in devastated areas of the enclave.

Gaza aid

Blinken arrived in Egypt after stops in Jerusalem and Ramallah on Tuesday, when he pledged that the US would provide new aid to help rebuild the Gaza Strip, including $5.5m in disaster relief and nearly $33m for the UN Palestinian aid agency there, after hundreds of devastating Israeli air attacks.

Speaking in Amman, he said Washington intended to ensure that Hamas, which is listed by Washington as a “terrorist organisation”, did not benefit from humanitarian aid.

“In the coming days I’ll be consulting broadly with Gulf countries and other partners to ensure we all contribute to recovery, stability and the reduction of tensions,” he said.

Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza and has security contacts with Hamas, is likely to have a role in channelling aid, a senior US State Department official said earlier.

Meanwhile, Qatar also announced on Wednesday it would provide $500m for Gaza’s reconstruction.

“The state of Qatar announces $500 million in support for the reconstruction of Gaza,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said in a tweet on Wednesday.

“We will continue to support our brothers in Palestine to reach a just and lasting solution by establishing their independent state.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting with Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi at Bayt Al Urdon, in Amman, Jordan [Alex Brandon/Pool via Reuters]

In Gaza, Hamas leader Yehiyeh Sinwar told journalists on Wednesday that the group welcomed reconstruction aid, as long as it did not come from Israel, and had no objections to international oversight.

“I emphasise our commitment in Hamas that we will not take a single penny earmarked for rebuilding or humanitarian issues,” he said.

Sinwar, who has close ties with the group’s armed wing, said Hamas receives ample military assistance from outside sources – led by Iran.

“When I said we do not take money destined for aid, this is because we have comfortable sources of funds covering our activities,” he said.

He also lashed out at Blinken for trying to strengthen the Palestinian Authority at Hamas’s expense. “They are trying to add more fuel to the fire of Palestinian division,” Sinwar said.

Blinken said on Tuesday the US is trying to bolster the rival government of President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority now administers autonomous areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Abbas has been largely sidelined by recent events, is deeply unpopular at home and has little influence in Gaza.

The worst exchange of fire in years between Israel and armed Palestinian groups in the enclave started on May 10 after Israeli security forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, wounding hundreds of Palestinians.

Tensions had been rising in East Jerusalem for several weeks over Israel’s policing of the area during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened forced expulsion of Palestinian families to make way for Jewish settlers.

In 11 days of fighting, Israeli air attacks and artillery fire on Gaza killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded more than 1,900 people, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

Rocket and other fire from Gaza killed 12 people in Israel, including two children, medics say. Some 357 people in Israel were wounded.

The truce remains tenuous since tensions are still high in Jerusalem and the fate of the Palestinian families is not yet resolved.

On Wednesday an Israeli court postponed its decision on an appeal lodged by Palestinian families facing forced displacement from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Silwan district.

In his remarks after his meeting with Blinken on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hardly mentioned the Palestinians, warning of a “very powerful” response if Hamas breaks the ceasefire while expressing support for economic development in the West Bank.

As he closed his trip, Blinken said repairing Gaza would take cooperation from all of the key players.

“It’s really incumbent on all sides to, again, avoid taking steps that could potentially reignite this cycle of violence,” he said.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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New Zealand’s Hubbard selected as first transgender Olympian | LGBTQ News

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Laurel Hubbard, 43, will compete in the super-heavyweight women’s event in Tokyo.

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games, a decision set to test the ideal of fair competition in sport.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief Kereyn Smith said 43-year-old Hubbard – who was assigned male at birth but transitioned to female in 2013 – had met all the qualification criteria for transgender athletes.

“We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,” Smith said in a statement.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kg category after showing testosterone levels below the threshold required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The 43-year-old had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning.

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard, an intensely private person who rarely speaks to the media, said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) on Monday.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of people who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.

Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticised Hubbard’s selection.

“It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category,” the group said in a statement.

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate about the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the host nation.

Samoa’s weightlifting boss said Hubbard’s selection for Tokyo would be like letting athletes “dope” and feared it could cost the small Pacific nation a medal.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo was unfair for women and “like a bad joke”.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.

Hubbard was forced to withdraw after injuring herself during competition, and thought her career was over.

“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” Hubbard said on Monday, thanking New Zealanders.

“But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson said Hubbard had worked hard to come back from the potentially career-ending injury.

“Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform,” he said.

Hubbard is currently ranked 16th in the world in the super heavyweight category.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Apple Daily could shut ‘in days’ after Hong Kong asset freeze | Freedom of the Press News

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Company adviser says action under security law means it cannot access some $50 million in funds to pay staff and vendors.

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities used the national security law imposed by China to freeze the company’s assets as it arrested the paper’s editor and four other directors, an adviser to jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai told Reuters on Monday.

Mark Simon, speaking by phone from the United States, said the company was no longer able to access its funds and would be holding a board meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward.

“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month,” Simon told the news agency. “It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days.”

His comments signal closure is imminent even after Apple Daily said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left the newspaper with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.”

The news comes two days after editor Ryan Law, 47, and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail after being charged under the security law with collusion with foreign forces.

Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law arrives back at the detention centre after he was remanded in custody on Saturday [Lam Yik/Reuters]

Three other senior executives were also arrested last Thursday when 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices in a case that has drawn condemnation from Western nations, human rights groups and the chief United Nations spokesperson for human rights.

The three have been released on bail.

Simon told Reuters it had become impossible to conduct banking operations.

“Vendors tried to put money into our accounts and were rejected. We can’t bank. Some vendors tried to do that as a favour. We just wanted to find out and it was rejected,” he said.

Speaking earlier to US news channel CNN, Simon said the company had about $50 million available, but was unable to access the funds.

The publisher has come under increasing pressure since its owner Jimmy Lai was arrested under the national security law last August, which marked the first time the company’s headquarters was raided. Lai, 73, is now jailed and facing trial under the national security law. In May, the authorities also froze some assets belonging to the longtime critic of Beijing has also had some of his assets frozen.

Three companies related to Apple Daily are also being prosecuted for collusion with a foreign country and authorities have frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of their assets.

China imposed the national security law on Hong Kong last June saying it was necessary to restore “stability” to a territory that had been rocked by mass protests in 2019, some of which turned violent.

The broadly-worded law criminalises acts such as subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment, but critics have said it is being used to suppress legitimate political debate with dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists among the more than 100 arrested since it was brought into force.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Birmingham Classic: Ons Jabeur beats Daria Kasatkina to win first title

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Tunisian second seed Ons Jabeur defeated Russia’s Daria Kasatkina in straight sets to win her first singles title at the Birmingham Classic.

World number 24 Jabeur triumphed 7-5 6-4 against the fourth seed to become the first Arab woman to win a WTA title.

In Berlin, Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova stunned Swiss fifth seed Belinda Bencic to win her first title.

The 22-year-old world number 106 battled back from a set down to win 1-6 6-1 6-3 in her first final.

Victories for Jabeur and Samsonova mean there have now been 10 first-time singles winners on the women’s Tour this year.

Jabeur broke Kasatkina’s serve three times to prevail in the first set, before successive breaks at the start of the second put the 26-year-old in control at 4-0.

Two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kasatkina recovered to 4-3, but Jabeur held on to win a singles final at the third attempt.

It was a breakthrough week for Samsonova in Germany, during which she also defeated seventh seed Victoria Azarenka of Belaurus in the semi-final.

World number 12 Bencic won the first five games as she dominated the opening set, but Samsonova matched that feat in the second before completing her comeback with breaks in the first and ninth games in the deciding set.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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