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India is easing lockdown in several states after COVID case levels dropped to their lowest in two months.

Shops, restaurants and other businesses are allowed to reopen with limited hours in New Delhi and Mumbai, with some restrictions also lifted in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

The Delhi metro, which serves the city and surrounding areas, has reopened at 50% capacity, but Mumbai’s state rail network remains closed.

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The Delhi metro system has reopened. Pic: AP

Coronavirus infections peaked at around 400,000 a day in May after a devastating wave hit the country at the start of April.

But on Monday, the number of new COVID cases was the lowest it has been for two months – with 100,636 reported in the past 24 hours.

Despite recorded infections steadily declining, experts fear the virus is spreading unchecked through India’s rural areas – where the majority of its people live.

India is still second to the US in terms of total cases globally – with almost 29 million – but a lack of testing facilities and hospital capacity mean that figure is thought to be a vast underestimate.

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The country’s health ministry said 2,427 new deaths were registered in the latest 24-hour period, taking the total to 349,186.

So far 222 million COVID-19 jabs have been given out across India – with less than 5% of India’s 1.39 billion population fully vaccinated.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is under mounting pressure to speed up the rollout and was due to address the nation for the first time since April on Monday.

India has just ordered 300 million doses of an unlicensed vaccine made by an Indian company called Biological E.

The jab is still in phase three trials, but previous ones have shown encouraging results.

Last month the UK sent 1,000 ventilators to India as cases spiralled out of control, families begged for oxygen equipment and officials struggled to deal with the number of dead.

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Shops in Mumbai have been allowed to reopen with restricted opening hours. Pic: AP
Pic: AP
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A man gets his hair cut at a barbers in Mumbai. Pic: AP

The Delta variant, a double mutation of the virus that originated in India, has left health systems overwhelmed.

Politicians have been under pressure to the save the economy, with New Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal saying on Monday: “Now the corona situation is under control. The economy must be brought back on track.”

But other states are being more cautious, with the southern states of Jammu and Kashmir and Tamil Nadu extending their lockdowns for at least another week.

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Kamala Harris: US vice president says there must be ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza and more aid – as Israel ‘boycotts’ talks

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Kamala Harris: US vice president says there must be 'immediate ceasefire' in Gaza and more aid - as Israel 'boycotts' talks

US vice president Kamala Harris has said there must be an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza as she called on the Israeli government to do more to increase the flow of aid, with “no excuses”.

Ms Harris said a six-week ceasefire would get Israeli hostages out and get a significant amount of aid into the war-ravaged Palestinian territory.

She said people were “starving” and Israel needed to increase the flow of aid to ease what she described as “inhumane” conditions and a “humanitarian catastrophe”. Her comments are among the strongest by a senior US official over the crisis.

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The vice president also said there is a “deal on the table” and Hamas “needs to agree to that”.

“Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families. And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza,” she said.

Although a Hamas delegation is in Egypt for the latest truce talks, Israel has reportedly boycotted them.

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Israeli media says it is because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not got an answer from Hamas on two questions – a list of hostages who are alive in Gaza and the number of Palestinian prisoners Hamas wants released in exchange for each hostage.

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Gaza: Doctors set up clinics in streets

Ms Harris is on Tuesday due to meet top Israeli politician Benny Gantz, who will also have talks in Washington with US secretary of state Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Although Mr Gantz is in Mr Netanyahu’s war cabinet, he is also a centrist political rival and is thought to have been rebuked by the Israeli prime minister for those planned discussions in America.

An official from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party said Mr Gantz’s visit was not authorised by the leader.

And the PM had a “tough talk” with Mr Gantz about the trip and told him the country has “just one prime minister”, according to the official.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz. File pic: Reuters
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(L-R) Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and war cabinet member Benny Gantz. File pic: Reuters

Mr Gantz had told the PM of his intention to travel to the US and to co-ordinate messaging with him, added an official.

US efforts in the region have increasingly been hampered by Mr Netanyahu’s hardline cabinet, which ultra-nationalists dominate. Mr Gantz’s more moderate party sometimes acts as a counterweight to the PM’s far-right allies.

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US carries out first aid airdrop in Gaza

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There are deep disagreements between Mr Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden over how to alleviate Palestinian suffering in Gaza and come up with a post-war vision for the enclave.

On Saturday, the US airdropped aid into Gaza after dozens of Palestinians rushing to grab food from trucks were killed last Thursday.

Speaking on Sunday in Selma, Alabama, Ms Harris said: “People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act.

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

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A senior US official had said the path to a ceasefire was “straightforward and there’s a deal on the table”, with mediators returning to Egypt hoping to reach an agreement before Ramadan begins in a week.

The unidentified official spoke to the Reuters news agency ahead of the talks in Cairo, billed as the final hurdle to a six-week ceasefire.

Earlier on Sunday, the US said a deal had already been “more or less accepted” by Israel and was waiting for approval by Hamas militants.

But after the Hamas delegation arrived, a Palestinian official said the deal was “not yet there”. Hamas also reportedly wanted a permanent ceasefire to be part of any deal.

The war started after Hamas launched a cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October last year, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking more than 250 others hostage.

Israel retaliated with strikes and a military ground assault in Gaza which have so far killed more than 30,000 people, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Around 80% of the population of 2.3 million have fled their homes, and UN agencies say hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.

More than 100 hostages in Gaza have been released.

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A fresh truce between Israel and Hamas could be highly significant – in more ways than one

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A fresh truce between Israel and Hamas could be highly significant - in more ways than one

There is increasing hope that a new hostage deal can be agreed between Israel and Hamas in time for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a week from now, but time is running out and divisions remain between the sides.

Hamas has sent a delegation to Cairo to continue talks; Israel is yet to dispatch its own team and government sources have told Sky News that, among other things, they are still waiting for Hamas to provide information on the hostages they will release.

There are other points of difference, notably over which Palestinian prisoners Israel will agree to release in exchange and the status of Israeli forces inside Gaza, if a truce goes ahead.

Middle East latest: Houthis vow to sink British ships; path to Gaza truce ‘straightforward’

All parties, including the US, Egypt and Qatar, are making positive noises that a deal can be reached but such is the hatred and mistrust between Hamas and Israel that we can take nothing for granted at this stage.

Separately, but not unconnected, a senior member of Israel’s war cabinet, Benny Gantz, is flying to Washington and London for meetings this coming week.

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US puts pressure on Hamas to clinch ceasefire ‘deal on table’

FILE - Israeli Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz attends a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Oct. 28, 2023. While Israelis quickly rallied behind the military, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party took a hit in opinion polls. Israelis now believe Netanyahu is less fit to govern than Benny Gantz, a rival who agreed to join Netanyahu in an emergency wartime Cabinet. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)
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Benny Gantz could become Israel’s next leader. Pic: Abir Sultan via AP

Although a member of the war cabinet, Mr Gantz leads an opposition party in Israel and has a clear lead in the polling over who should be Israel’s next prime minister.

Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly furious because he wasn’t consulted on the trip.

If a truce is agreed, it might also be the moment when Bibi’s political foes finally move against him – a deal with Hamas could be highly significant on a number of levels and a watershed moment as this war closes in on the five month mark.

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Anger as Pakistan’s parliament confirms Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister

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Anger as Pakistan's parliament confirms Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister

Pakistan’s newly-formed parliament has elected Shehbaz Sharif as the country’s prime minister for the second time.

Mr Sharif won 201 votes from Pakistan’s National Assembly, comfortably ahead of Omar Ayub, the candidate backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, who secured 92 votes.

It means the 72-year-old will resume the role he had until August, when parliament was dissolved and a caretaker government was put in charge until last month’s elections.

Mr Sharif was named premier despite his elder brother Nawaz Sharif winning a seat in parliament and being favourite for the top job.

Nawaz did not want to lead a minority coalition government, having enjoyed majorities in his three previous stints as PM, his daughter Maryam said on X.

The brothers’ Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party won fewer seats than Khan’s allies in the February election – but coalition support was enough to get them a majority.

The election saw arrests, violence, an internet blackout and delayed results, leading to claims from Khan’s allies that the vote was rigged.

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They continued their protests in parliament as Mr Sharif’s premiership was confirmed, calling him a “vote thief” and shouting “shame”.

Imran Khan supporters gather for a protest in Karachi demanding free and fair elections. Pic: Reuters
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Imran Khan supporters protest in Karachi a few days after the election. Pic: Reuters

Mr Sharif offered “reconciliation”, adding: “Let us sit together to work for the betterment of Pakistan.” But his words were met by more shouting.

Meanwhile, his government faces a number of challenges: a struggling economy, a surge in militant attacks, tricky relations with Pakistan’s Taliban-run neighbour Afghanistan, and aging infrastructure.

Financially, Pakistan relies heavily on help from outside – wealthy states such as China and Saudi Arabia, as well as the International Monetary Fund.

An IMF bailout negotiated during Mr Sharif’s previous term will expire at the end of this month and he will need to strike another deal while also addressing growing anger over the rising cost of living.

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