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At least 170 people have now died following “historic” flooding across Germany and Belgium – with fears the death toll could keep rising.

The search and rescue operation is continuing as the deadly flood waters recede and debris is cleared.

Days of torrential downpours left rivers severely overflowing, leading to waters surging through streets – lifting up cars, tearing up power lines and collapsing homes and businesses.

At least 143 people have died as a result of the flooding in western Germany, with officials telling the public that the risk is not yet receding with the floodwaters.

In Belgium, where at least 27 people have died, dykes along a river are threatening to collapse.

Large parts of a dam near Cologne in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, which is Germany’s most populous, have broken away and there is “enormous pressure” on the structure because of the high water level, posing “an acute risk” the dam could rupture. More people have been evacuated from the area.

Trees and other detritus were left between houses in Schuld. Pic: Associated Press
Trees and other detritus were left between houses in Schuld, Germany. Pic: Associated Press

Pictures from across the region – one of the most prosperous in Europe – show homes destroyed and businesses devastated. Astonishing footage from near Frankfurt shows an entire house being carried down the River Ahr.

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Sky News visited one area of North Rhine-Westphalia where police are patrolling to ensure people have left their homes amid fears a nearby dam could collapse and consume hundreds of houses.

And officers have also warned people in the Ahrweiler area to be wary of downed power lines, and are asking visitors to stay away as sightseers have blocked roads.

Parts of the town of Erfstadt have been cut off for days, with a huge sinkhole making the rescue operation more difficult.

Aerials of flood destruction in Erftstadt, Germany
Aerials of flood destruction in Erftstadt, Germany

Residents have been transported out of the area, many left with nothing on the back of flat bed lorries, and have been forced to queue for €200 handouts so they can buy basic amenities.

State minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, said: “Hundreds of people are willing to drop everything and help us on the ground, so I want to thank all those volunteers. Germany will do everything possible over the next couple of days to organise the funds necessary.”

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Flood relief arrives for German victims

Meteorologists said some areas of western Europe had received two months’ rain in two days ahead of the floods, with more than 150 litres per square metre falling over 24 hours in parts of western Germany.

Several senior officials have blamed climate change for the disaster.

“Climate change isn’t abstract anymore. We are experiencing it up close and painfully,” said Malu Dreyer, governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state.

She said it showed the need to speed up action on the issue.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also said it showed that decisive action was the only way “to limit the extreme weather conditions we are now experiencing”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been in the US but will visit Rhineland-Palatinate – one of the worst affected villages – on Sunday.

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COP28 host UAE has climate plan downgraded to ‘critically insufficient’ while hosting summit




COP28 host UAE has climate plan downgraded to 'critically insufficient' while hosting summit

The nation hosting the COP28 climate summit has had its climate plan downgraded to the lowest category.

The United Arab Emirates‘ climate plan is now rated “critically insufficient” by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a consortium of climate analysts and thinktanks.

The group assesses whether countries’ plans – known as “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) – are good enough to fulfil their part of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Even though the UAE recently ramped up the targets in its plan, the policies to match it were missing, CAT said.

“A country like the UAE with very high per capita emissions and very high GDP per capita, they need to reduce their emissions. That’s very clear. And that’s currently not happening,” said Dr Niklas Hohne, an analyst from New Climate Institute involved in the research, and a professor in cutting emissions.

In October, the UAE’s national oil company, ADNOC, awarded contracts worth $17bn (£13bn) for the development of the Hail and Ghasha offshore gas fields, as part of a $150bn (£118bn) fossil fuel expansion plan.

“That’s totally counter to what is discussed here [at the climate summit],” said Dr Hohne.

More on Cop28

The UAE’s COP28 team was not immediately available to comment.

It comes as the UAE’s COP presidency team unveiled a slew of announcements on energy it had brokered with governments and industries.

More than 110 countries pledged to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030, in a bid to displace demand for fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, more than 20 nations committed to trebling nuclear power, and more than 50 oil and gas companies said they would tackle emissions from their operations.

World leaders pose for a group photo during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 1, 2023. COP28 / Mahmoud Khaled/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
World leaders pose for a group photo during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai

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Tom Evans from thinktank E3G, which was not involved with the analysis, but is tracking progress in Dubai, said: “For all the flashy announcements made on the stage of COP, when you look closer it’s clear that there’s much more the UAE needs to do to get its emissions down.”

CAT had already rated the UAE’s plan “insufficient”, the fourth lowest of five categories.

The downgrade was partly due to the analysts filling out missing data about greenhouse gas emissions from air conditioning, relied on by people here in Dubai, where it is currently 30C in winter.

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Inside the climate summit

Read more:
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The change was also down to an update in what science says is needed to try to limit global warming to 1.5C – a change that affected other countries’ assessments too.

The coal-powered Hassyan power plant is seen under construction in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. The planned $3.4 billion coal-fired power plant in Dubai instead will be converted to use natural gas, the sheikhdom announced Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, amid the United Arab Emirates' wider pledge to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
The coal-powered Hassyan power plant is seen under construction in Dubai

But Dr Hohne said it was “particularly unfortunate” in the case of the UAE because as COP28 president it has a leadership role, “and usually they should really do the right things”.

However, he praised the advances the UAE has made, including its investment in renewable power domestically and in dozens of countries abroad, though it is outweighed by the investment in oil and gas.

Other countries rated ‘critically insufficient’ include fellow major fossil fuel producers like Russia and Saudi Arabia, as well as Turkey, Singapore and Thailand.

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China warns of firm response after UK sanctions Chinese firms ‘supplying Russia’s war effort’




China warns of firm response after UK sanctions Chinese firms 'supplying Russia's war effort'

China has accused Britain of violating international law after the UK announced new sanctions targeting “individuals and groups supporting and funding Putin’s war machine”.

China’s embassy said it firmly opposes the sanctions and has warned any action harming China’s interests “will be met with a firm response”.

In a statement, the embassy insisted Beijing had remained objective and fair on the war in Ukraine and urged the UK to “correct its mistakes and withdraw the sanctions on Chinese firms”.

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August: Putin lashes out at grain sanctions

Forty-six new sanctions were announced by the UK, and the list of targets includes businesses in China, as well as firms in Belarus, Serbia, Turkey, the UAE and Uzbekistan, which the government said “continue to support Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine”.

The UK’s sanctions targeted 31 people and entities it said were linked to the design and manufacture of drones and missile parts and the importing of electronic components.

Three Chinese entities, Asia Pacific Links Limited, Sinno Electronics Co., Limited, and Xinghua Co., Limited, were targeted for supplying sanctioned goods.

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FILE PHOTO: A security surveillance camera overlooking a street is pictured next to a nearby fluttering flag of China in Beijing, China November 25, 2021. Picture taken November 25, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
Three Chinese entities were targeted for supplying sanctioned goods

Four UAE-based entities it said were involved in trading Russian oil were also affected, as well as others linked to the Wagner mercenary group.

A Belarusian defence organisation the UK said had manufactured military technology used by Minsk to support Russia’s war effort was also sanctioned.

“We will continue to ratchet up pressure on Putin and crack down on third parties providing restricted goods and technology to Russia, wherever they may be,” junior foreign minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said.

“Today’s sanctions will hit Putin where it hurts, damaging Russian defence systems, and cracking down on illegal supply chains propping up Russia’s war machine.

“Working alongside our G7 partners and international allies we will continue to ratchet up pressure on Putin and crack down on third parties providing restricted goods and technology to Russia, wherever they may be.”

It brings the total number of sanctioned individuals to more than 1,600 with a further 250 entities.

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Netanyahu says human rights groups are turning a blind eye to alleged rapes by Hamas




Netanyahu says human rights groups are turning a blind eye to alleged rapes by Hamas

Benjamin Netanyahu has accused human rights groups of turning a blind eye to rapes that Israel says were committed by Hamas during the 7 October massacre.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, the Israeli prime minister accused the international community of playing down the attacks and even ignoring them.

He said he expects “all civilised leaders, governments, nations to speak up against this atrocity”.

“I say to the women’s rights organisations, to the human rights organisations, you’ve heard of the rape of Israeli women, horrible atrocities, sexual mutilation – where the hell are you?” Netanyahu told a news conference on Tuesday, speaking in English to emphasise his point.

US President Joe Biden called the reports of sexual violence “appalling” and urged the world to condemn “horrific accounts of unimaginable cruelty”.

Speaking at a campaign fundraiser in Boston, he called on the world to condemn the acts by Hamas “without equivocation” and “without exception”.

He also stressed that “Hamas’s refusal to release the remaining young women” is what ended a temporary truce and hostage agreement that the US helped broker.

Israel’s justice ministry says “victims were tortured, physically abused, raped, burned alive, and dismembered” however Hamas has rejected all allegations that its gunmen committed sexual assault.

‘Widespread’ sexual violence

A human rights group has reported that rape and sexual violence were “widespread” during Hamas’ 7 October attack on Israel.

A group named Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, which has a long record of advocating for Palestinian civilians in Gaza, published an initial assessment in November.

“What we know for sure is that it was more than just one case and it was widespread, in that this happened in more than one location and more than a handful of times,” Hadas Ziv, policy and ethics director for the organisation, said on Tuesday.

“It is becoming more apparent that the violence perpetrated against women, men and children also included widespread sexual and gender-based crimes.

“What we don’t know and what the police are investigating is whether it was ordered to be done and whether it was systematic.”

While investigators are still trying to determine the scope of the sexual assaults, many witnesses of the atrocities have spoken out, with some giving harrowing details of terrorists raping, mutilating and murdering women.

Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, after a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas expired, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip

A man hiding in a pit during the assault on a music festival said he heard someone nearby screaming she was being raped.

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An army reservist who was tasked with identifying those killed said some of the women were found wearing only bloodied underwear.

Others said they found women semi-naked, bound, eviscerated, stripped, bruised, shot in the head or torched.

Hamas and other Gaza militant groups killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took more than 240 hostages that day.

Protesters call for the immediate release of Israeli hostages (file image)
Protesters call for the immediate release of Israeli hostages

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The truce has ended – what will Israel do now?

The scene at the site of Nova Festival

Two months after the attack on farming communities and army posts in southern Israel, police are still trying to put together the pieces.

In the immediate aftermath, priority was given to identifying bodies, not to preserving evidence.

Police say they’re combing through 60,000 videos seized from the body cameras of Hamas attackers, from social media and from security cameras as well as 1,000 testimonies to bring the perpetrators to justice.

It has been difficult finding rape survivors, with many victims killed by their attackers.

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This was Emilia’s first day back at school following her release.

Last month, Israel’s police chief presented to the international news media videotaped testimony of a rape witness at the music festival.

Her face blurred, she said she watched militants gang-rape a woman as she lay on the ground.

The woman in the video described watching the militants as she pretended to be dead.

“I couldn’t understand what I saw,” she said.

‘Absolutely concerned’ about sexual violence against hostages

At the Shura military base where victims are being identified, Shari Mendes, a member of the army reserve unit that deals with the identification and religious burial preparation of female soldiers, said some of the women’s bodies came in with little clothing.

“Often women came in in just their underwear,” she said.

“Sometimes we had people who – we just had a torso, okay – or they were very decomposed or they were mutilated.

“I saw very bloody genitals on women.”

Based on open-source information and interviews, the Physicians for Human Rights in Israel report documents incidents at the music festival, homes around the Gaza Strip and an Israeli military base, all attacked by Hamas.

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Kibbutz survivor returns home for first time since October 7 attack

On Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu and members of his war cabinet held a meeting with recently released hostages and family members of hostages still held in Gaza.

Some of those former hostages shared testimonies of sexual abuse during their time in Gaza, participants said.

Separately, a doctor who treated some of the 110 released hostages said that at least 10 men and women among those freed were sexually assaulted or abused, but did not provide further details.

According to the Israeli military, 138 hostages, including 15 women, are still held by Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza.

Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a military spokesman, said the army is “absolutely” concerned about sexual violence against female hostages.

Echoing these concerns earlier this week, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said: “It seems that one of the reasons they (Hamas) don’t want to turn women over that they’ve been holding hostage – and the reason this pause fell apart – is that they don’t want these women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody.”

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