Palestinian militants ‘ready to die’ as prospect of all-out war increases after West Bank clashes
The alleyways that run inside the Balata refugee camp are narrow, claustrophobic and full of uncollected rubbish.
Posters celebrating dead militants are stuck to the walls. Children are everywhere – more than half the population of the camp is under 25.
We were escorted to meet fighters from Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, one of the largest and oldest militant groups in the West Bank.
They are a proscribed terror group by Israel, the EU and US, but not the UK.
Out front, I turned a corner and they were there – dressed all in black, M16 assault rifles in hand and balaclavas covering their faces.
They are young men, heavily armed and say they are ready to die defending their land.
We made our introductions and then moved down another alleyway – an Israeli military lookout post was on the hill above us; snipers watch every move in the camp below.
“We’re seeing an escalation by the [Israeli] occupation forces across camps in the West Bank, especially in Jenin and Balata,” one of the militants tells me.
“Most of the operations are carried out by the Israeli special forces. Yesterday, two of our men were killed in clashes when they entered inside the camp.”
The fighters are relaxed. This is their stronghold.
CCTV cameras seem to be everywhere, they joke it’s like Paris or London; the militia has its own reconnaissance unit that watches for undercover Israeli special forces entering the camp.
Violent clashes have been more frequent in recent months – 2022 was the deadliest year since 2005 and already 2023, only a few weeks old, is more deadly still.
After nine Palestinians, mostly militants, were killed in an Israeli counter-terror raid on Thursday, the prospect of another all-out war is closer.
One of those killed was a 61-year old woman, Magda Obaid, caught in the crossfire.
The IDF says it’s investigating her death, but the list of unexplained civilian fatalities is growing.
“I think because of the policies of the right-wing Israeli government there will be an escalation in the West Bank,” the militant from Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades predicts.
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Talk of a new uprising, a third intifada, which has been so often threatened in recent years, is emerging again.
“I think that there is an intifada coming,” Ibrahim Ramadan, governor of Nablus tells me.
“Why? There is not any hope among my people. The Palestinian people need hope, small hope for their freedom.”
The deputy mayor of Nablus, Dr Husam Shakhshiris, is more sanguine but equally blunt in his assessment of the current situation.
“It [Nablus] is occupied by the state of Israel. The Israeli army is entering the city everyday,” he says.
“We have two military camps on top [of the surrounding hills], we have seven settlements surrounding Nablus city connected by bus routes, and it’s easy for the Israelis to close the city and prevent the movement in and out of the city.”
As we walk around the city together, Dr Husam is clearly popular. Residents stop to greet him.
Unlike the militants we met, he has the wisdom of age and is thoughtful and considered in his words, but no less damning of Israel.
“How bad is it?” I ask him.
“This is bad. I see all the time in the past that there was hope to have a peace solution, to have a two-state solution implemented, especially after Oslo,” says Dr Husam.
“Now we don’t see this hope, we don’t see a peaceful solution and we are stuck in these contours created by the policies of the state of Israel. They don’t see or recognise our national right of self-determination.
“It is the worst situation in my life.”
Violence in Israel and the West Bank goes in cycles.
Right now, any prospect of peace talks, or even a two-state solution, feels a long way off.
Neither side is in the mood to talk or to compromise, and so for many Palestinians fighting seems like the only route to more freedoms.
At least 35 people killed after falling into well during celebration at Indian temple
At least 35 people have died after the roof of a stepwell collapsed, plunging scores of people tens of feet down into the well.
The army was called in last night to help with rescue operations that have gone on for over 18 hours.
The incident took place at the Baleshwar Mahadev temple in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
Devotees had thronged the temple on Ram Navami, one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar which celebrates the birth of Lord Rama.
Dr Ilayaraja, the District Collector of Indore, said “a total of 35 people died, one missing and 14 people have been rescued. Two people returned home safely after getting treatment. The search operation to trace persons reported missing is underway.”
A fire ritual (Havan) was being conducted on the concrete slab covering the stepwell where the devotees had gathered. The platform could not take the weight of the many on it and gave way.
Mahesh Chandra Jain, of the state Disaster Emergency and Response Force, said the army joined the rescue operation late on Thursday.
“Seventy army soldiers started the rescue and recovered at least 16 bodies buried under the debris of the roof in the stepwell.”
The National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), police and locals have been engaged in rescue operations. Unable to reach some areas of the well, the authorities requested for military help.
Mr Jain said: “We were facing difficulty in rescue operation because water is continuously coming out of the stepwell.”
In a tweet Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Extremely pained by the mishap in Indore.
“Spoke to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and took an update on the situation. The State Government is spearheading rescue and relief work at a quick pace. My prayers are with all those affected and their families.”
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident. “I have given instructions to investigate the incident. In this unfortunate incident, the government stands with all those families with full sensitivity, whom we could not save.”
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The temple head priest Laxminarayan Sharma, who was rescued, said that due to construction in the temple the fire ritual was conducted on the stepwell platform.
“The roof was constructed without any concrete and was supported by putting stone slabs and concrete by fitting iron rods”, he added.
Images from the site showed many people including women and children trapped in a mesh of iron rods and concrete debris.
There are reports that residents of the area had made prior complaints to the municipal corporation regarding the safety of the temple.
The families of those killed have demanded action against the temple trust.
UK to join Indo-Pacific trade bloc in biggest trade deal since Brexit
The UK is set to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – known as CPTPP – in what the government says is its biggest trade deal since Brexit.
The CPTPP is a free trade agreement between 11 countries across the Indo-Pacific – namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The partnership sees the countries open up their markets to one another, reducing trade barriers and tariffs, with the hope of bolstering the economies of its members.
When it joins, the UK will become the first European country to enter the agreement, and the government claims it will lead to a £1.8bn boost to the economy “in the long run”.
The deal has been praised by a number of business groups, including the CBI, Standard Chartered and Pernod Ricard.
But other trade experts have warned it will not make up for the economic hit caused by leaving the trade bloc of the European Union.
Zero tariffs for cheese, cars, chocolate and gin
The UK began negotiations to join the bloc in September 2021 when Boris Johnson was in Downing Street.
The signatory countries of the CPTPP are home to 500 million people and the government claims after the UK joins, it will be worth 15% of global GDP.
Number 10 said as a result of becoming a member, more than 99% of goods exported from the UK to the list of countries would be eligible for zero tariffs, including cheese, cars, chocolate, machinery, gin and whisky.
And it said the services industry would benefit too, with “reduced red tape and greater access to growing Pacific markets”.
Commenting on the announcement, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the agreement “puts the UK at the centre of a dynamic and growing group of Pacific economies”.
He added: “We are at our heart an open and free-trading nation, and this deal demonstrates the real economic benefits of our post-Brexit freedoms.
“As part of CPTPP, the UK is now in a prime position in the global economy to seize opportunities for new jobs, growth and innovation.”
The final administrative and legal steps will now take place, before the UK formally signs up in 2023.
‘EU should be priority’
The announcement was welcomed by the interim director general of business group the CBI, Matthew Fell, who called it “a real milestone for the UK and for British industry”.
He added: “Not only does the agreement provide greater access to a group of fast growth economies representing 14% of global GDP and over 500 million consumers, but membership reinforces the UK’s commitment to building partnerships in an increasingly fragmented world.
“CPTPP countries and business need to work together to future-proof the rules-based trading system and stimulate growth with a focus on digital, services and resilient supply chains.”
However, while the Institute of Directors it was “vital the UK signs trade deals to restore our international reputation since Brexit”, it said “complete reorientation” to the Indo-Pacific would not solve “the very real problem that businesses currently face – namely that they have many more trade related challenges than they did six years ago”.
They added: “From our surveys, directors have told us that the EU-UK relationship is a priority issue the government needs to address in order to support business.
“UK companies still rely on the long established links they have with EU markets, which are directly on our doorstep and with whom they have closer historical ties.
“The Indo-Pacific strategy will open up important opportunities for UK businesses, but the government must not forfeit the significance of our relationship with the EU in order to do so.”
Donald Trump faces criminal charges over alleged hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels
Donald Trump has been indicted on criminal charges arising from an alleged hush money payment to an adult film actress.
A grand jury in New York voted to indict Trump over possible offences related to a $130,000 (£105,000) payment to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
It was allegedly made in exchange for Daniels’ silence about an alleged sexual encounter she said she had with Trump a decade earlier.
He is the first former US president to face criminal charges in court, even as he makes a bid to retake the White House in 2024.
Trump, a Republican, said he was “completely innocent” and called the indictment “political persecution”, with his lawyers saying they will “vigorously fight” it.
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The Manhattan district attorney’s investigation centred on accusations of money paid to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, whom Trump allegedly feared would go public with claims they had extramarital sexual encounters with him.
Trump, 76, has denied having affairs with either woman.
His former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said he co-ordinated with Trump on the payments to Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, and also to McDougal.
Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in 2018 related to the payments and served more than a year in prison.
Federal prosecutors said Cohen acted at Trump’s direction.
Trump said: “The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable – indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant election interference.”
“Never before in our nation’s history has this been done.”
He added: “I believe this witch-hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden.”
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Trump was expected to surrender to authorities next week.
He has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly attacked the investigation by district attorney Alvin Bragg.
His office has spent nearly five years investigating Trump and the grand jury has been hearing its evidence since January.
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On Twitter, one of Trump’s sons, Eric, wrote: “This is third world prosecutorial misconduct. It is the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year.”
Amid speculation in recent weeks that the former American leader was due to be indicted, Trump urged his supporters to protest against the authorities if he was detained.
He published a long statement describing the investigation as a “political witch-hunt trying to take down the leading candidate, by far, in the Republican Party”.
“I did absolutely nothing wrong,” he said, before criticising a “corrupt, depraved and weaponised justice system”.
Other ongoing cases Trump faces include a Georgia election interference probe and two federal investigations into his role in the 6 January 2001 insurrection at the US Capitol.
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