Jeddah Ministerial Meeting Calls on Iran to Stop Fueling Sectarianism

Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir speaks during the emergency meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah. (SPA)
Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir speaks during the emergency meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah. (SPA)
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Jeddah Ministerial Meeting Calls on Iran to Stop Fueling Sectarianism

Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir speaks during the emergency meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah. (SPA)
Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir speaks during the emergency meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah. (SPA)

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir reiterated the Kingdom’s accusations that Iran was still supplying arms and missiles to the Houthi militias in Yemen, adding that it was stoking sectarianism in the region.

"The Iranian regime still continues to smuggle weapons and missiles to the Houthi militias in Yemen with the aim of attacking the Kingdom, its people and its vital interests,” he said during the emergency meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah on Sunday, which was held upon the request of Saudi Arabia.

The minister said that the firing of Iranian ballistic missiles from Yemen demonstrates that the regime is continuing in its aggressive approach of supporting terrorism and blatant interference in the affairs of regional countries.

He noted that the number of these missiles has exceeded 300, including 90 targeting various regions of the Kingdom, mainly Makkah.

Jubeir explained that the emergency meeting was held to take urgent action against the launch of Iran-manufactured ballistic missile towards Riyadh by the Houthis, which is a violation of the OIC charter and United Nations and international laws and resolutions, especially Security Council resolution 2216.

During a press conference on the sidelines of the emergency meeting, he said in response to a question on whether Iran will be suspended or removed from the OIC: "We are looking into available options, and the decision will not be made at a press conference. Houthis are Iran's tool in Yemen to implement its agenda there just as ‘Hezbollah’ implements its agenda in Lebanon."

He accused Tehran of adopting aggressive and negative policies, inciting sectarian strife, interfering in regional affairs, disrespecting neighborly ties, supporting terrorism and violating international resolutions on the use of ballistic missiles.

“The foreign ministers of the members of the OIC have unanimously agreed, for the second time, to condemn Iran's policy and request that it cease. We will continue to address these hostile policies,” the Saudi minister added.

OIC Secretary General Yousef al-Othaimeen, for his part, condemned the actions of the Houthi militia and its refusal to comply positively to the UN and regional efforts to resolve the Yemen crisis through peaceful means.

He expressed solidarity with Saudi Arabia and backed all the actions taken by the Kingdom to protect its territory.



EU Foreign Chief Says Israel Must Respect UN Court, Control Settler Violence in West Bank

26 May 2024, Belgium, Brussels: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa (L) and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speak during a press conference after the Ministerial International Partners Meeting on Palestine. (Lukasz Kobus/European Commission/dpa)
26 May 2024, Belgium, Brussels: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa (L) and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speak during a press conference after the Ministerial International Partners Meeting on Palestine. (Lukasz Kobus/European Commission/dpa)
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EU Foreign Chief Says Israel Must Respect UN Court, Control Settler Violence in West Bank

26 May 2024, Belgium, Brussels: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa (L) and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speak during a press conference after the Ministerial International Partners Meeting on Palestine. (Lukasz Kobus/European Commission/dpa)
26 May 2024, Belgium, Brussels: Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa (L) and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speak during a press conference after the Ministerial International Partners Meeting on Palestine. (Lukasz Kobus/European Commission/dpa)

The European Union's foreign policy chief insisted Sunday that Israel must abide by the UN top court's rulings and end its offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and, at the same time, questioned the possible involvement of authorities in the settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

On a day that visiting Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa basked in the attention after two EU nations and Norway pledged to recognize a Palestinian state, Josep Borrell further pressured Israel to take immediate actions to make sure that tax income meant for the Palestinian authorities is no longer stopped.

The demands came at the end of the week that saw the international community put increasing pressure on Israel to fundamentally change the course of the war it wages on Hamas in the Gaza Strip through international court action and diplomatic maneuvering.

Borrell insisted Israel had driven the Palestinians to the edge of a catastrophe because "the situation in Gaza is beyond words. The occupied West Bank is on the brink, risking an explosion any time."

While most of the global attention is centered on Gaza, Borrell said that "we should not forget what’s happening in the West Bank," where the seat of the Palestinian Authority is based.

"There we see an intensified spiral of violence. Indiscriminate and punishing attacks by extremist settlers, more and more targeting humanitarian aid heading to Gaza. And they are heavily armed. And the question is, who is arming them? And who is not preventing this attack from happening," Borrell said.

Rights groups and Palestinian residents have said that Israeli forces often provide an umbrella of security to armed settlers attacking Palestinian towns and nomadic communities.

Such settler violence, Borrell said, "is coupled with unprecedented Israeli settlement expansions and land grabbing."

Borrell also countered Israeli threats to hit the Palestinians financially. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said he would stop transferring tax revenue earmarked for the Palestinian Authority, a move that threatens to handicap its already waning ability to pay salaries to thousands of employees.

Under interim peace accords in the 1990s, Israel collects tax revenue on behalf of the Palestinians, and it has used the money as a tool to pressure the PA. After the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that triggered the war in Gaza, Smotrich froze the transfers, but Israel agreed to send the money to Norway, which transferred it to the PA. Smotrich said Wednesday that he was ending that arrangement.

"Unduly withheld revenues have to be released," said Borrell, with Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide standing next to him.

Eide was in Brussels Sunday to hand over diplomatic papers to Mustafa ahead of Norway's formal recognition of a Palestinian state, a largely symbolic move that has infuriated Israel.

The formal recognition by Norway as well as Spain and Ireland — which all have a record of friendly ties with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, while long advocating for a Palestinian state — is planned for Tuesday.

The diplomatic move by the three nations was a welcome boost of support for Palestinian officials who have sought for decades to establish a statehood in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — territories Israel seized in the 1967 Mideast war and still controls.

"Recognition means a lot for us. It is the most important thing that anybody can do for the Palestinian people," said Mustafa. "It is a great deal for us."

Some 140 countries — more than two-thirds of the United Nations — recognize a Palestinian state but a majority of the 27 EU nations still do not. Several have said they would recognize it when the conditions are right.

The EU, the United States and Britain, among others, back the idea of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel but say it should come as part of a negotiated settlement.

Belgium, which holds the EU presidency, has said that first the Israeli hostages held by Hamas need to be freed and the fighting in Gaza must end. Some other governments favor a new initiative toward a two-state solution, 15 years after negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed.

Sunday's handover of papers came only two days after the United Nations’ top court ordered Israel to immediately halt its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah in the latest move that piled more pressure on the increasingly isolated country.

Days earlier, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with Hamas officials.

The war in Gaza started after Hamas-led militants stormed across the border, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostage. Israel’s ensuing offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, and has caused a humanitarian crisis and a near-famine.


Renewed Flash Floods Due to Unusually Heavy Seasonal Rains Kill at Least 15 People in Afghanistan

An Afghan man stands at the site of flash floods in the Pashah Qol of Baghlan province on May 19, 2024. (AFP)
An Afghan man stands at the site of flash floods in the Pashah Qol of Baghlan province on May 19, 2024. (AFP)
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Renewed Flash Floods Due to Unusually Heavy Seasonal Rains Kill at Least 15 People in Afghanistan

An Afghan man stands at the site of flash floods in the Pashah Qol of Baghlan province on May 19, 2024. (AFP)
An Afghan man stands at the site of flash floods in the Pashah Qol of Baghlan province on May 19, 2024. (AFP)

Renewed heavy rains have triggered more flash floods in Afghanistan, killing at least 15 people, including 10 members of the same family in the northeast, officials said Sunday.

The unusually heavy seasonal rains have been wreaking havoc on multiple parts of the country, killing hundreds of people and destroying property and crops. The UN food agency warned that survivors were unable to make a living.

The floods Saturday night hit northeastern Badakhshan and northern Baghlan provinces, with the latter already having suffered the brunt of the rains earlier this month.

The family — a set of parents and their eight children — was reported dead in Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan, said Mohammad Akram Akbari, director of the provincial natural disaster management department in the province, adding that rescue teams were only able to recover the mother’s body.

In Baghlan province, Edayatullah Hamdard, provincial director of Natural Disaster Management, said at least 40 houses were destroyed in Doshi district, and several people have died but was unable to provide further details.

However, a local official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to talk to the press, reported that five bodies have so far been found in the province and rescue teams were looking for more.

Earlier, the World Food Program said the exceptionally heavy rains in Afghanistan had killed more than 300 people and destroyed thousands of houses, mostly in the northern province of Baghlan on May 10 and May 11. Survivors have been left with no home, no land, and no source of livelihood, WFP said.

In the western province of Ghor, 50 people were reported dead due to floods on May 18.

On May 19, at least 84 people were killed in northern Faryab, and around 1,500 houses were either completely or partially destroyed while hundreds of hectares (acres) of farmlands.

The latest disaster came on the heels of devastating floods that killed at least 70 people in April. The waters also destroyed about 2,000 homes, three mosques and four schools in western Farah and Herat, and southern Zabul and Kandahar provinces.


Zelenskiy, from Kharkiv, Urges Biden, Xi to Join Peace Summit

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during an interview with Reuters, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 20, 2024. (Reuters)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during an interview with Reuters, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 20, 2024. (Reuters)
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Zelenskiy, from Kharkiv, Urges Biden, Xi to Join Peace Summit

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during an interview with Reuters, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 20, 2024. (Reuters)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during an interview with Reuters, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 20, 2024. (Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Sunday to join an upcoming peace summit as his country struggles to stave off unrelenting attacks by Russia in its 27-month-old invasion.

Moscow's forces have in recent weeks advanced on the battlefield and stepped up air strikes on cities, and Kyiv hopes the June meeting in Switzerland will help pile international pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In English-language video recorded inside the charred remains of a printing press destroyed on Thursday in a Russian air strike, Zelenskiy said the summit would "show who in the world really wants to end the war".

"I am appealing to the leaders of the world who are still aside from the global efforts of the Global Peace Summit – to President Biden, the leader of the United States, and to President Xi, the leader of China," he said.

"Please, show your leadership in advancing the peace – the real peace and not just a pause between the strikes.

Russia has said it sees no point in the conference to which Moscow is not currently invited.

Zelenskiy's comments came two days after Russian sources told Reuters that Putin was ready to halt the war in Ukraine with a negotiated ceasefire that recognizes the current battlefield lines.

Zelenskiy and Ukraine's supporters say a ceasefire will only help Russia rearm and regroup.

Russia has in recent months made slow but steady gains along several parts of the sprawling eastern front and is attempting to push deeper into the northeastern Kharkiv region after a ground incursion launched earlier this month.

In an interview with Reuters last week, Zelenskiy said it was crucial to get as many countries around the table at the peace talks as possible. Putin has said he believes the talks may convert Ukrainian demands for a Russian withdrawal into an ultimatum for Russia.


Trump Trial Reaches Its End Game

Former US President Donald Trump talking with former Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley during a Security Council session in September 2018 (AFP)
Former US President Donald Trump talking with former Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley during a Security Council session in September 2018 (AFP)
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Trump Trial Reaches Its End Game

Former US President Donald Trump talking with former Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley during a Security Council session in September 2018 (AFP)
Former US President Donald Trump talking with former Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley during a Security Council session in September 2018 (AFP)

The historic trial of Donald Trump enters its final act Tuesday, with closing arguments to the jury who must then decide whether to hand down the first ever criminal conviction of a former US president.
Less than six months before American voters choose whether to return Trump to the White House, the stakes riding on the verdict are hard to overstate -- for the 77-year-old personally, but also for the country as a whole, AFP said.
Trump is accused of falsifying business records to buy the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels about a 2006 sexual encounter between them that could have damaged his 2016 presidential bid.
If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison on each of 34 counts, but legal experts say that as a first-time offender he is unlikely to get jail time.
Crucially, a conviction would not bar Trump from appearing on the ballot in November as the Republican presidential challenger to Democrat Joe Biden.
It has taken nearly five weeks, the testimony of more than 20 witnesses and a few courtroom fireworks to reach closing arguments -- the last chance for the prosecution and defense to impress their case on the anonymous, 12-member jury.
As expected, Trump chose not to testify in his defense -- a move that would have exposed him to unnecessary legal jeopardy and forensic cross-examination.
For a man who has always prided himself on being in charge and in control, the role of silent, passive defendant did not come easily.
At times it has been downright excruciating, especially when Trump was forced to sit and listen while Daniels recounted their alleged encounter in sometimes graphic detail.
Speaking to reporters before and after each day in court, Trump launched regular tirades against Judge Juan Merchan -- calling him "corrupt" and a "tyrant" -- and condemned the whole trial as "election interference" by Democrats intent on keeping him off the campaign trail.
The politics of the case were in full view in the final days when a coterie of leading Republicans -- including several vice-presidential hopefuls -- came to the court and stood behind Trump in a gesture of support as he spoke to the press.
In all, he was cited 10 times for contempt of court and fined $10,000 by Merchant for failing to heed a gag order prohibiting him from publicly attacking witnesses, the jury, court staff or their relatives.
The judge has said he expects closing arguments to take up all of Tuesday.
He will then give his final instructions to the jury, who will likely begin their deliberations on Wednesday.
To return a guilty or not guilty verdict requires unanimity. Just one holdout means a hung jury and a mistrial.
- Other cases -
Aside from Daniels, the key prosecution witness was Michael Cohen, Trump's former "fixer" turned bitter foe who arranged the $130,000 hush money payment.
Walking jurors through the reasoning behind the payments, Cohen said they were made "to ensure that the story would not come out, would not affect Mr. Trump's chances of becoming president of the United States."
Trump's defense team devoted most of their questioning trying to discredit Cohen, recalling that he had admitted lying to Congress and spent time in prison for tax fraud.
The defense called only two witnesses of their own before resting.
In addition to the New York case, Trump has been indicted in Washington and Georgia on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
He also faces charges in Florida of allegedly mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House.
None of those trials are expected to take place before the November election.


At Least 11 Dead in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas after Severe Weather Roars across Region

A tornado damaged car sits in a pile of debris, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Greenfield, Iowa. (AP)
A tornado damaged car sits in a pile of debris, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Greenfield, Iowa. (AP)
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At Least 11 Dead in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas after Severe Weather Roars across Region

A tornado damaged car sits in a pile of debris, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Greenfield, Iowa. (AP)
A tornado damaged car sits in a pile of debris, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Greenfield, Iowa. (AP)

Powerful storms killed at least 11 people and left a wide trail of destruction Sunday across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas after obliterating homes and destroying a truck stop where drivers took shelter during the latest deadly weather to strike the central US.

Seven deaths were reported in Cooke County, Texas, near the Oklahoma border, where a tornado Saturday night plowed through a rural area near a mobile home park, officials said. Storms also caused damage in Oklahoma, where guests at an outdoor wedding were injured. Tens of thousands of residents were without power across the region.

“It’s just a trail of debris left. The devastation is pretty severe,” Cooke County Sheriff Ray Sappington told The Associated Press.

The dead included two children, ages 2 and 5, the sheriff said. Storms also destroyed a nearby truck stop where dozens of people had rushed to take shelter.

The dead in Texas included three family members who were found in one home near the small community of Valley View, Sappington said.

Officials said multiple people were transported to hospitals by ambulance and helicopter in the Texas county of Denton, but they did not immediately know the full extent of the injuries.

At least two people were reported killed in Arkansas, including a 26-year-old woman who was found dead outside a destroyed home in Olvey, a small community in Boone County, according to Daniel Bolen, with the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

Another person died in Benton County, Arkansas. Melody Kwok, a county communications director, said multiple other people were injured and that emergency workers were still responding to calls.

“We are still on search and rescue right now,” she said. “This is a very active situation.”

Officials also confirmed two deaths in Mayes County, Oklahoma. Details about the dead were not immediately available, said Mike Dunham, the county's deputy director of emergency management.

The destruction continued a grim month of deadly severe weather in the nation's midsection.

Tornadoes in Iowa this week left at least five people dead and dozens injured. The deadly twisters have spawned during a historically bad season for tornadoes, at a time when climate change contributes to the severity of storms around the world. April had the second-highest number of tornadoes on record in the country.

In Texas, a tornado crossed into Denton County, north of Dallas, overturning tractor-trailers and halting traffic on Interstate 35, county spokesperson Dawn Cobb said. A shelter was opened in the rural town of Sanger.

Sappington said at least 60 to 80 people were inside a highway truck stop, some of them seeking shelter, when the storm barreled through, but there were no serious injuries.

Daybreak began to reveal the full scope of the devastation. Aerial footage showed dozens of damaged homes, including many without roofs and others reduced to rubble.

Residents woke up to overturned cars and collapsed garages. Some residents could be seen pacing around and sorting through scraps of wood, assessing the damage. Nearby, neighbors sat on the foundation of a wrecked home.

At the height of the storms, more than 24,000 homes and businesses lost power in Oklahoma, according to the state Office of Emergency Management. The agency also reported extensive damage from baseball-sized hail and multiple injuries at an outdoor wedding that was being held in rural Woods County.

Meteorologists and authorities issued urgent warnings to seek cover as the storms marched across the region overnight. “If you are in the path of this storm take cover now!” the National Weather Service office in Norman posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

In Texas, the Denton Fire Department posted on social media that emergency crews near Dallas were responding to a marina “for multiple victims, some reported trapped.” Inaccessible roads and downed power lines in Oklahoma also led officials in the town of Claremore, near Tulsa, to announce on social media that the city was “shut down” due to the damage.

April and May have been a busy month for tornadoes, especially in the Midwest. Iowa was hit hard last week, when a deadly twister devastated Greenfield. Other storms brought flooding and wind damage elsewhere in the state.

The system causing the latest severe weather was expected to move east over the rest of the Memorial Day weekend, bringing rain that could delay the Indianapolis 500 auto race Sunday in Indiana and more severe storms in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky.

The risk of severe weather moves into North Carolina and Virginia on Monday, forecasters said.


UN Migration Agency Estimates More than 670 Killed in Papua New Guinea Landslide

View of the damage after a landslide in Maip Mulitaka, Enga province, Papua New Guinea May 24, 2024 in this obtained image. (Emmanuel Eralia via Reuters)
View of the damage after a landslide in Maip Mulitaka, Enga province, Papua New Guinea May 24, 2024 in this obtained image. (Emmanuel Eralia via Reuters)
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UN Migration Agency Estimates More than 670 Killed in Papua New Guinea Landslide

View of the damage after a landslide in Maip Mulitaka, Enga province, Papua New Guinea May 24, 2024 in this obtained image. (Emmanuel Eralia via Reuters)
View of the damage after a landslide in Maip Mulitaka, Enga province, Papua New Guinea May 24, 2024 in this obtained image. (Emmanuel Eralia via Reuters)

The International Organization for Migration on Sunday increased its estimate of the death toll from a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea to more than 670.

Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of the UN migration agency's mission in the South Pacific island nation, said the revised death toll was based on calculations by Yambali village and Enga provincial officials that more than 150 homes had been buried by Friday's landslide. The previous estimate had been 60 homes.

“They are estimating that more than 670 people (are) under the soil at the moment,” Aktoprak told The Associated Press.

Local officials had initially put the death toll on Friday at 100 or more. Only five bodies and a leg of a sixth victim had been recovered by Sunday.

Emergency responders in Papua New Guinea were moving survivors to safer ground on Sunday as tons of unstable earth and tribal warfare, which is rife in the country's Highlands, threatened the rescue effort.

The South Pacific island’s government meanwhile is considering whether it needs to officially request more international support.

Crews have given up hope of finding survivors under earth and rubble 6 to 8 meters (20 to 26 feet) deep, Aktoprak said.

“People are coming to terms with this so there is a serious level of grieving and mourning,” he said.

Government authorities were establishing evacuation centers on safer ground on either side of the massive swath of debris that covers an area the size of three to four football fields and has cut the main highway through the province.

“Working across the debris is very dangerous and the land is still sliding,” Aktoprak said.

Beside the blocked highway, convoys that have transported food, water and other essential supplies since Saturday to the devastated village 60 kilometers (35 miles) from the provincial capital, Wabag, have faced risks related to tribal fighting in Tambitanis village, about halfway along the route. Papua New Guinea soldiers were providing security for the convoys.

Eight locals were killed in a clash between two rival clans on Saturday in a longstanding dispute unrelated to the landslide. Around 30 homes and five retail businesses were burned down in the fighting, local officials said.

Aktoprak said he did not expect tribal combatants would target the convoys but noted that opportunistic criminals might take advantage of the mayhem to do so.

“This could basically end up in carjacking or robbery,” Aktoprak said. “There is not only concern for the safety and security of the personnel, but also the goods because they may use this chaos as a means to steal.”

Longtime tribal warfare has cast doubt on the official estimate that almost 4,000 people were living in the village when a side of Mount Mungalo fell away.

Justine McMahon, country director of the humanitarian agency CARE International, said moving survivors to “more stable ground” was an immediate priority along with providing them with food, water and shelter. The military was leading those efforts.

The numbers of injured and missing were still being assessed on Sunday. Seven people including a child had received medical treatment by Saturday, but officials had no details on their conditions.

Medical facilities were buried along with houses, several small businesses, a guest house, school and gas station, officials said.

McMahon said there were other health facilities in the region, the provincial government was sending health workers and the World Health Organization was mobilizing staff.

“There will be some support, but it's such a spread-out area that I think it will be quite a challenging situation,” McMahon said. “The scale of this disaster is quite immense.”

While Papua New Guinea is in the tropics, the village is 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) above sea level where temperatures are substantially cooler.

Papua New Guinea Defense Minister Billy Joseph and the government’s National Disaster Center director Laso Mana were flying from Port Moresby by helicopter to Wabag on Sunday to gain a firsthand perspective of what is needed.

Aktoprak expected the government would decide by Tuesday whether it would officially request more international help.

The United States and Australia, a near neighbor and Papua New Guinea’s most generous provider of foreign aid, are among governments that have publicly stated their readiness to do more to help responders.

Papua New Guinea is a diverse, developing nation with 800 languages and 10 million people who are mostly subsistence farmers.


US Announces $275Mln in New Military Aid for Ukraine

Firefighters put out a fire after two guided bombs hit a large construction supplies store in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Saturday, May 25, 2024. Writing reads “Garden Center”. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)
Firefighters put out a fire after two guided bombs hit a large construction supplies store in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Saturday, May 25, 2024. Writing reads “Garden Center”. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)
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US Announces $275Mln in New Military Aid for Ukraine

Firefighters put out a fire after two guided bombs hit a large construction supplies store in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Saturday, May 25, 2024. Writing reads “Garden Center”. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)
Firefighters put out a fire after two guided bombs hit a large construction supplies store in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Saturday, May 25, 2024. Writing reads “Garden Center”. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said his country will provide a new $275 million military aid package for Ukraine to help the beleaguered country repel Russia’s assault on Kharkiv.

His announcement came while US media reports highlighted the Ukrainian ongoing shortages of artillery ammunition and air defense interceptors against Russia’s offensive since May 10.

According to Blinken, the new package includes ammunition for HIMARS, 155 mm and 105 mm artillery rounds, missiles, anti-armor systems and precision aerial munitions.

“Assistance from previous packages has already made it to the front lines, and we will move this new assistance as quickly as possible so the Ukrainian military can use it to defend their territory and protect the Ukrainian people,” the State Department said.

Although the new package is an urgent response to Kyiv's needs, several reports have suggested that Russia's recent advances on the battlefronts, both in Kharkiv and the Donetsk region, are due to its success in using new jamming techniques to cut off Ukraine's access to the Starlink satellite Internet network and the ability of its forces to use advanced Western weapons.

Many US-made satellite-guided munitions in Ukraine have failed to withstand Russian jamming technology, prompting Kyiv to stop using certain types of Western-provided armaments after effectiveness rates plummeted, according to senior Ukrainian military officials and confidential internal Ukrainian assessments obtained by The Washington Post.

It said this development has far-reaching implications for Ukraine and its Western allies, potentially providing a blueprint for adversaries such as China and Iran. It is a key factor in Moscow’s forces regaining the initiative and advancing on the battlefield.

The documents obtained by the Post also reveal that the success rate for the US-designed Excalibur shells, for example, fell sharply over a period of months — to less than 10 percent hitting their targets — before Ukraine’s military abandoned them last year.

Russia’s jamming tactics have compromised Ukraine’s ability to defend its territory, as it has failed to use high-tech Western weapons, such as the Excalibur GPS-guided artillery shells and the of High Mobility Artillery Rockets (HIMARS), forcing Ukrainian officials to request improvements from the Pentagon and arms manufacturers urgently, the Post said.

Russia “has continued to expand their use of electronic warfare,” a senior US official, who was not named, told the Post. “And we continue to evolve and make sure that Ukraine has the capabilities they need to be effective.”

In addition to the jamming difficulties, the Ukrainian army has been barred to use long-range missiles to Russian territories near the border.

The United States and other Western allies have permitted only the firing of Western weapons into Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine, not into Russia itself, for fear of escalating the war.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Ukraine hit a Russian military complex in Crimea with US-provided long-range missiles Thursday night.

The missile strike hit a communications center of Russian air-defense forces in the city of Alushta, according to a Ukrainian defense official.

In return, the Russian air defenses have downed three ATACMS missiles over the Crimean Peninsula, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement published by TASS.

On Friday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his forces have secured “combat control” of areas where Russian troops entered the northeastern Kharkiv region earlier this month.

“Our soldiers have now managed to take combat control of the border area where the Russian occupiers entered,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Friday evening.

Also, Ihor Prokhorenko, a representative of the Main Operational Directorate of Ukraine's General Staff, said at a briefing in Kyiv on Friday that Ukrainian forces halted Russian troops in the Kharkiv sector and are conducting counterattacks.

Prokhorenko described the situation on the battlefield as “difficult,” saying Ukrainian soldiers continue to hold the line in the country's east and south.


Russian Attack on Ukraine's Kharkiv Kills Twelve, Injures Dozens

Firefighters work at the site of a household item shopping mall hit by a Russian air strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine May 25, 2024. REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak
Firefighters work at the site of a household item shopping mall hit by a Russian air strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine May 25, 2024. REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak
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Russian Attack on Ukraine's Kharkiv Kills Twelve, Injures Dozens

Firefighters work at the site of a household item shopping mall hit by a Russian air strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine May 25, 2024. REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak
Firefighters work at the site of a household item shopping mall hit by a Russian air strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine May 25, 2024. REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak

A Russian strike on a crowded DIY hardware store in Kharkiv killed 12 people and wounded dozens more, Ukrainian prosecutors said on Sunday morning, the death toll rising as the country's second-largest city reeled from two attacks a day earlier.
Two guided bombs hit the Epicentr DIY hypermarket in a residential area of the city on Saturday afternoon, Regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov said on national television, Reuters said.
The strikes caused a massive fire which sent a column of thick, black smoke billowing hundreds of meters into the air.
Forty-three people were injured, the local prosecutors' office said, adding that ten of the twelve dead had still not been identified.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said about 120 people had been in the hardware store when the bombs struck.
"The attack targeted the shopping center, where there were many people - this is clearly terrorism," Terekhov said.
In a post on the Telegram app, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said 16 people were still missing after the strike.
The past week has seen an uptick in strikes on the city after Russian troops stormed across the border, opening a new front north of the city.
Russia has bombarded Kharkiv, which lies less than 30 kilometers (20 miles) from its border, throughout the war, having reached its outskirts in a failed bid to capture it in 2022.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a plea to Ukraine's Western allies to help boost air defenses to keep the country's cities safe. French President Emmanuel Macron, writing on social media platform X, denounced the attack on the store as "unacceptable."
A separate early evening missile strike hit a residential building in the center of the city of 1.3 million. The number of people wounded by that strike had climbed to 25 by Sunday morning.
The missile left a crater several meters deep in the pavement at the foot of the building, which also housed a post office, a beauty salon and a cafe.
Emergency workers ushered away residents of nearby apartment buildings. Some of the injured had blood on their faces.
Just over the border, in Russia's Belgorod region, the regional governor said four residents died in Ukrainian attacks on Saturday.
FIREFIGHTERS BATTLE BLAZE
Andriy Kudinov, director of the suburban shopping center, told local media the hardware store was full of shoppers buying items for their summer cottages.
It took 16 hours to fully extinguish the fire at the center, which had raged over an area of 13,000 square meters (15,548 square yards), Interior Minister Klymenko said.
Rescuers, medics and journalists occasionally had to rush away from the scene of both strikes on the city and take cover on the ground, fearing another strike, as has occurred during several recent Russian attacks.
Dmytro Syrotenko, a 26-year-old employee of the DIY center, described panicked scenes.
"I was at my workplace. I heard the first hit and ... with my colleague, we fell to the ground. There was a second hit and we were covered with debris. Then we started to crawl to the higher ground," said Syrotenko, who had a large gash on his face.
Syrotenko told Reuters he was taken to safety by a rescue worker who helped him, several colleagues, and shoppers.
Zelenskiy, in his nightly video address, denounced the strike as "yet another example of Russian madness. There is no other way to describe it."
"When we tell world leaders that Ukraine needs sufficient air defenses, when we say we need real decisive measures to enable us to protect our people, so that Russian terrorists cannot even approach our border, we are talking about not allowing strikes like this to happen," he said.
Writing later on Telegram, Zelenskiy noted air raid alerts had been in effect in Kharkiv for more than 12 hours and 200 emergency workers and 400 policemen remained at the scene dealing with the aftermath of the attacks.
Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, but thousands have been killed and injured during its 27-month invasion of Ukraine.


China Ends Military Drills Around Taiwan, Taipei Labels Them as ‘Provocative’ to Int’l Order

An outdoor screen shows news coverage of China’s military drills around Taiwan, in Beijing on May 23, 2024. Photo: Jade Gao/AFP.
An outdoor screen shows news coverage of China’s military drills around Taiwan, in Beijing on May 23, 2024. Photo: Jade Gao/AFP.
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China Ends Military Drills Around Taiwan, Taipei Labels Them as ‘Provocative’ to Int’l Order

An outdoor screen shows news coverage of China’s military drills around Taiwan, in Beijing on May 23, 2024. Photo: Jade Gao/AFP.
An outdoor screen shows news coverage of China’s military drills around Taiwan, in Beijing on May 23, 2024. Photo: Jade Gao/AFP.

China has ended the large-scale military drills it kicked off on Thursday morning around Taiwan and which were accompanied by a tightening of Beijing's tone towards Taipei.
The Chinese army has “successfully completed” the “Joint Sword-2024A” drills directed against Taiwan, a presenter for CCTV-7, China's state-run military news channel, said in a broadcast late Friday.
Punishing Separatists
China said the drills would serve as “strong punishment for the separatist acts of 'Taiwan independence' forces,” according to AFP.
The drills were launched three days after Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te took office. Beijing regards Lai as a “dangerous separatist.”
On Friday, Beijing's defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian said that Lai was pushing Taiwan “into a perilous situation of war and danger.”
China called the drills a test of its ability to seize the self-ruled island.
The exercises took place all around the main island, and for the first time also targeted the Taipei-controlled islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin which lie close to the Chinese coast, according to maps released by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA).
On Friday evening, China's army published images of the drills' highlights, featuring missile-launching trucks ready to fire, fighter jets taking off and naval officers looking through binoculars at Taiwanese ships.
Blatant Provocation
China's two-day military drills around Taiwan were a “blatant provocation to the international order,” Taipei said in a statement Saturday after the war games encircling the self-ruled island ended.
In a statement, Lai's presidential spokesperson Karen Kuo reiterated that ensuring peace and stability across the region was “related to the common interests of the international community.”
“However, China's recent unilateral provocation not only undermines the status quo of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait but it is also a blatant provocation to the international order, triggering serious concern and condemnation from the international community,” she said.
Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, when nationalists fled to the island following their defeat by the Chinese Communist Party in a civil war on the mainland.
Beijing considers the democratic island part of its territory and has not ruled out using force to bring it under its control.
It has also amped up its rhetoric, with its foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin saying “Taiwan independence forces will be left with their heads broken and blood flowing after colliding against the great... trend of China achieving complete unification.”
Chinese Threats
On Monday, Taiwan's President said in his inauguration speech that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait were “not subordinate to each other,” which China viewed as a declaration the two are separate countries.
Beijing's defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian said Friday that Lai was pushing Taiwan “into a perilous situation of war and danger.”
“Every time 'Taiwan independence' provokes us, we will push our countermeasures one step further, until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved,” he said.
Political analyst Wen-Ti Sung from The Atlantic Council's Global China Hub told AFP that “Beijing is trying to use this very high-profile show of force to not only show displeasure against Taiwan, but also... to deter and dissuade other countries and partners from contemplating further cooperation or engagement of Taiwan.”
“That furthers isolation of Taiwan, which allows Beijing to negotiate with Taiwan going forward from a position of strength,” he added.
Calls for Self-Restraint
The United States, Taiwan’s strongest ally and military backer, on Thursday “strongly” urged China to act with restraint. The United Nations called for all sides to avoid escalation.
The Pentagon announced on Friday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would meet his Chinese counterpart Dong Jun at the end of the month at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual gathering of defense officials from around the world.
It will be the first meeting between the two defense leaders following a phone call in April.

 


Iraqi Officials Feature Prominently at Raisi’s Memorial Service in Iran

A photo released by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office shows him seated with Iranian and Iraqi officials at the memorial service.
A photo released by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office shows him seated with Iranian and Iraqi officials at the memorial service.
TT

Iraqi Officials Feature Prominently at Raisi’s Memorial Service in Iran

A photo released by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office shows him seated with Iranian and Iraqi officials at the memorial service.
A photo released by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office shows him seated with Iranian and Iraqi officials at the memorial service.

Tehran held on Saturday a memorial service for late President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials who died in a helicopter crash last Sunday.

Iraqi officials featured prominently at the event as shown in photos released by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office.

Khamenei was seen seated among Iraqi religious clerics and politicians. Other foreign officials were not seated among them but elsewhere at the service.

Seated in the same row as Khamenei were head of Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council Judge Faiq Zidan and major Iranian officials.

Iraq had said Zidan was traveling to Tehran to offer his condolences. President Abdul Latif Rashid had also headed to Iran with former Prime Ministers Adel Abdul Mehdi and Haidar al-Abadi and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Bafel Talabani.

Talabani enjoys strong ties with Iraq’s pro-Iran Coordination Framework and Iran itself.

Other Iraqi officials at the service were head of the Popular Mobilization Forces Faleh al-Fayyad, head of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Hikma movement Ammar al-Hakim, and Kurdish politician Adham Barzani, known for his controversial stances,

Barzani has stirred controversy for backing Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s traditional rival.