World News
SIMON WOHLFAHRT/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Paul Rusesabagina, the former hotelier who inspired the acclaimed 2004 film "Hotel Rwanda," alleges he was tortured by Rwandan authorities for several days at an unknown location he described as a "slaughterhouse" after he unintentionally traveled to Kigali last August where he was arrested, according to documents obtained by ABC News.

The previously unshared details of the treatment that Rusesabagina, a 66-year-old cancer survivor, claims he was subject to when he first arrived in Rwanda's capital were revealed in an affidavit of one of his Rwandan lawyers, Jean-Felix Rudakemwa. The affidavit, dated May 3, includes a memorialization of a conversation that Rudakemwa said he had with Rusesabagina in the Kigali prison where he's been detained for nearly nine months while he is tried on a slew of terrorism-related charges. Rudakemwa states in the affidavit that he intended to have a formal statement signed by Rusesabagina but the situation at the prison "has deteriorated considerably, to the point where I am no longer allowed to visit him with privileged and confidential material in my possession."

Rusesabagina's family and legal representatives submitted the documents Tuesday to update the complaint they filed last September with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The new documents were part of an urgent appeal requesting that the special rapporteur, Nils Melzer, intervene to help secure Rusesabagina's release.

"We caution that we have a good faith basis to believe that the extent of the torture suffered by Mr. Rusesabagina is greater than that revealed," Rusesabagina's international counsel said in a letter addressed to Melzer on Tuesday. "We believe the same about the nature and extent of his injuries."

Rusesabagina, who is originally from Rwanda but is a Belgian citizen and permanent U.S. resident, traveled to the United Arab Emirates on Aug. 27 to meet up with Constantin Niyomwungere, a Burundi-born pastor who Rusesabagina alleges had invited him to speak at churches in Burundi about his experience during the Rwandan genocide. Later that night, the pair hopped on a private jet that Rusesabagina believed would take them from Dubai to Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, according to Rusesabagina's international legal team.

Rusesabagina did not know that the pastor was working as an informant for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau and had tricked him into boarding a chartered flight to Kigali.

"Myself, the pilot and cabin crew knew we were coming to Kigali," Niyomwungere told Rwanda's high court in Kigali earlier this year. "The only person who didn’t know where we were headed was Paul."

Rwandan prosecutors allege that Rusesabagina wanted to go to Burundi to coordinate with rebel groups based there and in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to the affidavit, Rusesabagina told his lawyer that both the pilot and flight attendant said they were flying to Bujumbura. It was not until the airplane landed early on Aug. 28 that Rusesabagina said he realized they were at the Kigali International Airport. Rusesabagina said he then started screaming and tried to get off the jet but was restrained by agents of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, according to the affidavit.

"They tied my arms and legs, eyes and nose, mouth and ears," he told his lawyer, according to the affidavit.

Rusesabagina’s international legal team, pointing to publicly available flight records, believes the plane was operated by GainJet, which has been used by the Rwandan government and has an office in Kigali. Rusesabagina's family is suing the Greek air charter company for allegedly helping Rwandan authorities kidnap him. GainJet has not responded to ABC News' requests for comment.

According to the affidavit, Rusesabagina told his lawyer that he was taken to an undisclosed facility where he remained blindfolded and bound at the hands and feet until Aug. 31.

"I call that place the slaughterhouse," he said, according to the affidavit. "I could hear persons, women screaming, shouting, calling for help."

While at the "slaughterhouse," Rusesabagina alleges he was deprived of food and sleep and was not allowed communication with his family or lawyers. At times, he said, his nose and mouth were also covered. When his legs would shake due to a lack of oxygen, Rusesabagina said an agent of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau would release the gag so he could breathe, according to the affidavit.

Rusesabagina also recalled one instance where a Rwanda Investigation Bureau agent allegedly stepped on his neck with military boots. Rusesabagina said he "was hardly breathing" by that point but could hear the agent say, "We know how to torture," according to the affidavit.

ABC News has reached out to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau as well as a Rwandan government spokesperson for comment.

Rusesabagina's whereabouts were unknown for several days until Rwandan authorities paraded him in handcuffs during a press conference at the Rwanda Investigation Bureau's headquarters in Kigali on Aug. 31. According to the affidavit, Rusesabagina told his lawyer that he was interrogated by Rwandan authorities that day for the first time since arriving in Kigali.

Rusesabagina's family and legal representatives have accused Rwandan authorities of kidnapping him and bringing him to the country illegally.

The Rwandan government has admitted to paying for the plane that took Rusesabagina to Kigali, but Rwandan President Paul Kagame said there was no wrongdoing because he was "brought here on the basis of what he believed and wanted to do."

"So there was no kidnap. It was actually flawless," Kagame told Rwanda’s public broadcaster during an interview last September.

The United Arab Emirates has denied having any involvement in Rusesabagina’s arrest and said he left Dubai legally.

Rusesabagina was initially denied access to any of his chosen counsel and still has not been allowed contact with his international lawyers. He is provided limited contact with two Rwandan attorneys who are representing him in court. The privileged documents given to him by his lawyers are routinely confiscated in prison, according to his international legal team.

Rusesabagina was held in solitary confinement for more than eight months and has been denied his prescribed medication for a heart disorder, according to his international legal team. The U.N.'s Nelson Mandela Rules state that keeping someone in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days is torture.

One of Rusesabagina's daughters, Anaise Kanimba, told ABC News that her father was no longer in solitary confinement as of last Wednesday, following media coverage of his detention.

"While we are pleased that he is no longer alone, we are still worried about his safety and conditions in prison," Kanimba said.

Rusesabagina was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when divisions between the East African nation's two main ethnic groups came to a head. The Rwandan government, controlled by extremist members of the Hutu ethnic majority, launched a systemic campaign with its allied Hutu militias to wipe out the Tutsi ethnic minority, slaughtering more than 800,000 people over the course of 100 days, mostly Tutsis and the moderate Hutus who tried to protect them, according to U.N. estimates.

More than 1,200 people took shelter in the Hotel des Mille Collines during what is often described as the darkest chapter of Rwanda's history. Rusesabagina, who is of both Hutu and Tutsi descent, said he used his job and his connections with the Hutu elite to protect the hotel's guests from massacre. The events were later immortalized in "Hotel Rwanda," with American actor Don Cheadle's portrayal of Rusesabagina garnering an Academy Award nomination for best actor in 2005.

After the movie's release, Rusesabagina rose to fame and was lauded as a hero. He also became an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government.

Rusesabagina's ongoing trial in his home country has captured worldwide attention. If convicted on all charges, he could face 25 years to life in prison. He has maintained his innocence.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



200mm/iStock

(WASHINGTON) -- As the fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, enters a second week, President Joe Biden is now backing a cease-fire as critics urge him to take a more active role in addressing the decades-old conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.

During a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday, Biden for the first time "expressed his support for a cease-fire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end," according to the White House.

An increasingly vocal wing of Biden's own party has been pressing him to pressure Netanyahu to halt Israeli strikes on Gaza. On Sunday, 29 Democratic senators issued a joint statement urging an "immediate cease-fire," as did the top Republican and Democratic senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Mideast subcommittee.

Biden and Netanyahu have spoken three times in the last week now, and while the president now supports a cease-fire, it's unclear whether the U.S. has any proposal on the table or will exert pressure on Israel to agree to one -- something Netanyahu signaled Monday he would not agree to.

In the last 48 hours, the U.S. has escalated its "quiet, intensive diplomacy," in Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan's words, to end the violence. He and Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a series of calls on Monday, as U.S. envoy Hady Amr met with Palestinian leadership in the West Bank Monday.

"We are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties, should they seek a cease-fire," Blinken said earlier on Monday before Biden's call with Netanyahu. "But ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a cease-fire."

Amr, who serves as deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli-Palestinian issues, had his first meetings with Palestinian leaders, sitting down with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Monday in the West Bank -- who has little to no influence with Hamas and its leadership in Gaza.

While Biden expressed support for a cease-fire, it's unclear if he pushed Netanyahu for one -- a question the White House declined to answer. Earlier in the day, press secretary Jen Psaki told ABC News that the administration is focused on "having those conversations behind the scenes."

Regardless of the change in Biden's position, Netanyahu has made clear he is not ready to stop and will take further military action. After meeting his national security advisers Monday, he said he ordered them "to continue striking at the terrorist targets," as Hamas continues to fire rockets indiscriminately into Israeli territory.

In the last week, 212 Palestinians have been killed, including 61 children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, with some 1,400 people injured. In Israel, 10 people, including one child, have been killed because of rocket fire, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes overnight to target Hamas' system of underground tunnels, Israeli Defense Forces said Monday, claiming to have killed more than 130 Hamas fighters and destroyed over 60 miles of tunnels. Rocket fire from Gaza continued as well, with the IDF reporting more than 3,200 fired in the last week.

Biden has defended Israeli strikes, saying last week that he's seen "no overreaction" and that Israel has a right to self defense. He ignored questions Monday about whether he still believed Israel's response has been proportionate, but the White House said he expressed to Netanyahu "his firm support for Israel's right to defend itself."

But a strike on Saturday seemed to turn the tide for others, especially among U.S. Democratic lawmakers. Israeli forces destroyed the offices of the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other outlets in Gaza on Saturday. Israel said that Hamas used the building as well -- which the Associated Press denied -- and that it shared intelligence with the Biden administration to that effect.

Blinken said Monday he had not personally seen "any information provided" to the U.S.

"To the extent that it is based on intelligence, it would have been shared with other colleagues, and I'll leave it to them to assess," he said.

The top U.S. diplomat spoke to the Associated Press' president Saturday, expressing "relief" that no one was harmed.

But other Democrats have expressed outrage. In a statement, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a staunch supporter of Israel, called for "a full accounting of actions that have led to civilian deaths and destruction of media outlets. ... This violence must end."

Menendez was one of only a handful of Democrats who didn't sign a joint statement issued Sunday, led by freshman senator Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., that said succinctly, "To prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we urge an immediate cease-fire."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday that he agreed, and at least one Republican has now made a similar plea. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee for the Middle East, joined his Democratic chair Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and called for a cease-fire to "be reached quickly and that additional steps can be taken to preserve a two-state future.”

In response to criticisms, Blinken denied that the U.S. is "standing in the way of diplomacy" at the United Nations, where the U.S. has been blocking a Security Council statement calling for a cease-fire. He implied that was because a Security Council statement would not "advance the prospects for ending the violence.

"If we think that there's something, including at the United Nations, that would effectively advance that, we would be for it," he added.

In the meantime, he and Sullivan continued to make calls Monday. Sullivan spoke to his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts, while Blinken spoke to foreign ministers from Israel, Tunisia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and the European Union.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabriel Ashkenazi said in a tweet that he thanked Blinken for backing Israel at the U.N. and that Israel "would continue to act against the terrorists of #Hamas until peace was restored to the communities in the south & center of the country."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



ramihalim/iStock

(LONDON) -- A man has been killed in a shark attack while he was surfing off the coast of Australia on Tuesday morning.

The incident occurred at approximately 11:20 a.m. on Tuesday morning when emergency services were called to Tuncurry Beach in New South Wales to reports of a man suffering from injuries sustained in a suspected shark attack, according to the New South Wales Police.

The victim, a man believed to be in his 50s, had been surfing Tuesday morning when he was attacked and suffered critical injuries to his upper right thigh during the incident.

“The man … believed to be in his 50s, was pulled from the water and officers from Manning Great Lakes Police District commenced CPR; however, he died at the scene,” New South Wales police said in a statement regarding the attack.

New South Wales Ambulance also tweeted about the incident and said that “despite the best efforts of paramedics and bystanders at the scene the man could not be resuscitated.”

Tuncurry Beach and Forster Main Beach are currently closed as police work with the Department of Primary Industries to identify the species responsible.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Bashar Taleb/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Israeli warplanes continued to bombard the neighboring Gaza Strip on Monday, a day after carrying out the deadliest single attack there in the latest outbreak of violence between Israel's military and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group ruling the blockaded territory.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said at least 42 people in Gaza City were killed by Israeli airstrikes early Sunday. The attack levelled buildings and targeted roads leading to a hospital, preventing ambulances from reaching the wounded. Medical doctors were among the dead, according to the health ministry, which called on the international community to protect the already fragile health system in the Gaza Strip.

In total, 200 people -- including 59 children and 35 women -- have died in the Gaza Strip since tensions escalated last week. About 1,305 others have been injured so far, according to the health ministry.

In a televised address on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the offensive at "full-force" and for "as long as necessary," saying his country "wants to levy a heavy price" on Hamas.

Hamas has also shown no signs of backing down, with its exiled leader, Ismail Haniyeh, telling a pro-Palestine rally in Qatar's capital on Saturday that "the resistance will not give in."

"The enemy is destroying homes and towers and carrying out massacres, thinking they will create deterrence against the resistance and the people of Gaza," Haniyeh said. "But they were wrong."

The latest round of fighting was triggered by recent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in and around Jerusalem's Old City amid rising tensions over the potential eviction of several Palestinian families.

Hundreds of people were injured earlier this month after Israeli officers fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinian demonstrators who hurled rocks and chairs outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Then Hamas, which gained a majority in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after battling rival Palestinian forces, started firing a barrage of rockets toward Israeli territory on the night of May 10. In response, the Israel Defense Forces began unleashing airstrikes aimed at what it said were Hamas and other terror targets in the Gaza Strip, a 140-square-mile territory where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a blockade imposed by neighboring Israel and Egypt since Hamas seized power.

The IDF said that Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a smaller Palestinian militant group, have fired more than 3,150 rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern and central Israel since May 10, of which approximately 450 misfired and exploded inside the Palestinian territory. Israel's air defense system, known as the Iron Dome, has intercepted about 90% of the rocket attacks, according to the IDF.

The rockets were aimed at various Israeli cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with some striking multiple homes as well as a school, a hospital and a bus. A total of 10 people, including a soldier and a 6-year-old child, have died in Israel, according to the IDF, which said hundreds of others have been wounded, at least 50 critically, according to the IDF.

"The fact that there aren't more casualties in Israel does not mean that Hamas isn't trying to kill Israeli civilians," the IDF said in a statement on Friday. "It simply means that the IDF is preventing them from doing so at an incredible level. The Iron Dome Aerial Defense System and easily-accessible bomb shelters all over Israel have saved thousands of lives. IDF troops will continue to work 24/7 to defend Israeli civilians at the highest level possible and minimize Gazan casualties wherever possible."

Hamas, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, has said that Israel bears responsibility.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military has conducted about 1,450 airstrikes on the Gaza Strip since May 10, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, which said the attacks are targeting densely populated residential areas and have destroyed more than 1,000 houses and apartments as well as dozens of government buildings, schools and businesses. Some 40,000 families have been displaced so far, the health ministry said, calling for necessary supplies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in overcrowded shelters.

Unlike Israel, the Gaza Strip has no air raid sirens or bomb shelters. However, the IDF has said it warns people to evacuate before striking targets in civilian areas.

The IDF said the airstrikes have hit more than 820 terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including rocket launch sites in civilian areas, attack tunnels along the border, several homes purportedly belonging to Hamas commanders and a number of high-rise buildings in Gaza City that Israeli officials alleged were used by Hamas' military wing. 

International media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, said the airstrike could be a war crime.

"Voluntarily targeting the media is a war crime," RSF's secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in a statement Sunday. "By intentionally destroying media outlets, the IDF not only inflicts unacceptable material damage on newsrooms, it more generally hinders media coverage of a conflict that directly affects the civilian population. RSF is asking the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to determine whether these bombings constitute war crimes."

Israel's prime minister defended the airstrike in an interview Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," saying the building was "a perfectly legitimate target" and that Israel "took every precaution to make sure that there were no civilians injuries." When pressed for evidence that members of Hamas were actually inside the building, Netanyahu did not provide any but said: "We share with our American friends all of the intelligence."

The Israeli airstrikes have also killed a total of more than 130 Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives, including several high-ranking officials, according to the IDF.

Gaza City resident Reyad Eshkontana told ABC News that an Israeli airstrike hit his home "without warning," killing his wife and four of their five children. Eshkontana and his 7-year-old daughter, Susie, were injured in the attack.

"They executed my family," Eshkontana said during an interview from his hospital bed on Sunday. "We are civilians, and my neighborhood was inhabited by doctors. There is no one from Hamas or anything."

Eshkontana recalled how the walls around them collapsed as their house fell apart, burying them in rubble.

"I was buried, my children were calling me from under the rubble and I couldn't do anything," he told ABC News. "My wife was silent."

Eshkontana said his only surviving child is "still shocked and can't speak."

"Her brother was killed on her lap," he said.

Raji Sourani, a Palestinian human rights lawyer in the Gaza Strip, accused the Israeli military of committing "flagrant war crimes" and said there's "big shame" on members of the international community who remain silent.

"It's time to hold Israel accountable in the international court," Sourani told ABC News.

The United States has deployed a delegation to the Middle East to meet with leaders from both sides, amid growing fears that the Israeli military would launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with the U.S. delegation on Sunday, according to his office. Gantz told the delegation that the objective of the offensive is to restore long-term peace to Israel's borders and safety to its citizens. He said the Israeli military is taking every precaution to strike only terror targets and to avoid harming civilians, according to his office.

U.S. President Joe Biden had a telephone call with Netanyahu last Wednesday before speaking with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday for the first time since taking office. But the Biden administration has given no signs of stepping up pressure on Israel to agree to an immediate ceasefire with Hamas, despite calls from some Democratic lawmakers. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told an emergency high-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday that the United States was "working tirelessly through diplomatic channels" to bring the fighting to an end.

Israel and the United States, Israel's closest ally, both consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The group aims to establish an independent Palestinian state that includes parts of modern-day Israel.

Palestinians want to include the Gaza Strip and the West Bank -- a landlocked territory bordered by Israel and Jordan -- in their future state, with east Jerusalem as their eventual capital. The U.S. government has voiced support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would create an independent Israel and Palestine. However, former U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017 and relocated the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv in 2018, a controversial move that was welcomed by Israelis and condemned by Palestinians.

Jerusalem has long been a flashpoint in the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were displaced from their homes during a war that accompanied Israel's creation in 1948. Some Palestinian refugees were rehoused in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, just outside the Old City, by the Jordanian government in the 1950s -- before Israel captured the city from Jordan during the 1967 war, along with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Now, several Palestinian families are facing possible eviction from land that Jewish settlers claim they lost to Arabs during the 1948 war. Israeli law allows citizens to take back such land but it does not allow Palestinians to do the same.

On May 9, the day before Hamas and Israel began trading rockets and airstrikes, the Israeli Supreme Court decided to delay a ruling on the eviction case by up to 30 days after the attorney general requested more time to review.

ABC News' Nasser Atta, Guy Davies, Conor Finnegan, Ben Gittleson, Matt Gutman, Hatem Maher, Luis Martinez, Jordana Miller, Bruno Nota, Becky Perlow, Joseph Simonetti, Cynthia Smith, Sam Sweeney, Christine Theodorou, Karen Travers and Sami Zayra contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



John Theodor/iStock

(JERUSALEM) — At least two people were killed, including a child, and dozens were injured Sunday when a bleacher sitting people for Shavuot prayers collapsed in Jerusalem, authorities said.

A police spokesperson said 650 worshippers were in the synagogue located in the Givat Ze'ev settlement for the start of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.

Israel's Magen David Adom ambulance service said that the grandstand that seated some of the worshipers collapsed. Security footage showed people falling on top of each other.

As of Sunday at 3:15 p.m. ET, two people had died -- a 40-year-old worshiper and a 12-year-old worshiper, officials said. There were 167 people injured as of Sunday afternoon, five of whom were in critical condition and 10 who were moderately wounded, the officials said.

The bleacher collapse comes more than two weeks after 45 Jewish pilgrims were crushed to death on Israel's Mount Meron in a stampede in a narrow passageway during annual celebrations at the burial site of a Jewish sage.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Courtesy of the Chernobyl Spirit Company

(LONDON) — A team of British and Ukrainian scientists are battling Ukraine's government in court for the return of 1,500 bottles of liquor made from "radioactive" apples grown near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The liquor, branded as Atomik, is part of a four-year experiment by the scientists to see if they could produce a product safe to consume from crops grown in an area that was contaminated during the 1986 nuclear disaster at the plant.

The team sourced the apples from a farmer inside the outer ring of the 18-mile "Exclusion Zone." Around 10,000 people still live in that outer zone and the scientists hoped that farming, which is still officially banned there, can now be safe to resume.

The first bottle of the liquor was produced in 2019 and scientists used rye grain and water from the Exclusion Zone. This year, the scientists had hoped to ship their first batch to the United Kingdom, with profits intended to go to the local community near Chernobyl.

But in March they hit a roadblock: Ukraine’s security service, the SBU, seized the bottles at a distillery plant in western Ukraine. The reason, according to Ukrainian prosecutors, wasn’t radiation, but problems with the bottles’ customs documents.

"I have no idea why. The reason they gave was they thought the bottles had forged duty stamps on. But they clearly had the U.K. stamps on. We hope it was just a mistake,” said Jim Smith, a professor of environmental science at the University of Portsmouth and one of the scientists behind the liquor.

The city prosecutor’s office in Kyiv told ABC News that the British stamps for the bottles didn’t correspond to examples submitted by the plant for registration.

Smith said his team won a first ruling in court to return the impounded liquor but are now awaiting a new hearing after the prosecutors appealed.

The liquor was intended mainly as a way of drawing attention to the scientists' real work in the Exclusion Zone, where they have spent years studying how the landscape around Chernobyl has recovered following the disaster.

Smith and Gennadiy Laptev, a scientist from Ukraine’s Hydrometeorological Institute who also took part in the cleanup of the disaster, believe their studies show contamination in the outer ring is so weak that restrictions on farming no longer make sense.

Although there are still hot spots in the Exclusion Zone where radiation levels are potentially dangerously high, in most areas -- even much closer to the power plant itself -- levels are normal and nature in recent years has thrived there.

The apples used in the liquor showed slightly elevated radiation levels but were below the limit considered safe for consumption by Ukrainian law. That radiation was then filtered out in the distillation process, Smith said.

To prove the liquor’s safety, Smith sent it to be analyzed by scientists at the University of Southampton in 2019. The scientists found no sign of unusual radiation, he said. The only trace of radiation in the liquor, Laptev said, was Carbon-14 -- a radioactive isotope that naturally occurs in spirits.

The same Southampton University scientists were due to analyze the batch for sale before they were impounded.

The spirit was expected to sell for around $50 in Britain. The scientists said they had already received a lot of interest.

"We’re getting emails from people all over the world -- Australia, U.S., Canada, France -- from people saying, 'Where we can buy some?'" Smith said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Youssef Massoud/AFP via Getty Images

(JERUSALEM) -- Even the moments of quiet in Gaza City come with their own psychological toll.

"They're so precious," Najla, who did not provide her surname for safety reasons, a Palestinian humanitarian worker in the city, told ABC News. "But at the same time, they're so frightening because ... preparing yourself for the next attack is as horrible psychologically as it is experiencing it in itself. Every minute there are continuous airstrikes and explosions all across the Gaza Strip and several of them were close by."

Tensions over the prospective eviction of six Palestinian families in East Jerusalem dramatically escalated last weekend, with clashes between police and protesters at al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. This prompted a rocket assault from Hamas into Israel on Monday. In turn, Israel responded with airstrikes of its own, and the two sides have continued to trade assaults since.

Hamas has fired more than 1,600 rockets into Israel this week at both civilian and military targets, the Israeli military has said, killing 10 and injuring 636.

Kinneret Edelman, an Israeli English teacher and mother of two children from the border settlement of G'ea, a target for many rocket attacks, said she left her home for the north of the country on Thursday. Most of the explosions she heard were rockets intercepted by the Iron Dome, Israel's rocket defense system, though one rocket fell near her parents' home in G'ea after she left, she said.

"I started seeing the trauma [in my sons], so I realized this wasn't about me, we had to leave," she told ABC News. "You find yourself sitting there with two kids, waiting for the next alarm. They can't go outside, they can't meet friends, they can't jump on the trampoline outside, because my calculation says that they don't have enough time to get in -- 20 seconds, that's not enough."

In Gaza, residents say there is nowhere to run.

"We're not allowed to leave," Najla said. "We are locked in. Very few people who are granted permits to leave through Israel."

The Israeli strikes and shelling in Gaza, which the military says are aimed at Hamas targets, have killed 145 people, including 46 children as of Saturday, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. At least 1,100 have been injured.

Gaza is described by many human rights groups as an effective “open-air prison.”

“Gaza is one of the most [densely] populated areas in the world. It is unavoidable to have to have civilian casualties when there is shelling or airstrikes,” Suhair Zakkout, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza, told ABC News.

According to the IDF and UN reports, Hamas regularly uses apartment buildings as bases of their operations, positioning themselves near civilians for cover. As part of the Israeli assault, whole buildings have been destroyed in devastating airstrikes. On Saturday, the building housing media outlets such as The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera in Gaza was destroyed in an airstrike, with journalists in the building given roughly an hour to evacuate. The Israeli Air Force said the building housed Hamas military assets.

The Associated Press said it was "horrified" by the attack and only just managed to evacuate its journalists in time. "The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today," it said in a statement.

Al Jazeera also put out a statement saying it "condemns in the strongest terms bombing and destruction of its offices by the Israeli military in Gaza, and views this as a clear act to stop [journalists] from conducting their sacred duty to inform the world and report events on the ground."

Following the strike, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that the U.S. has "communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility."

Earlier on Saturday, an Israeli strike at a refugee camp in Gaza City killed eight children and two women from the same extended family, in the single deadliest incident of the conflict so far, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The father, Mohammed Hadidi, was seen consoling his 5-month-old son, the only other known survivor from his immediate family.

In any conflict, it is civilians that pay the highest price. Describing the recent rocket attacks from Gaza in Tel Aviv, resident Giordana Grego said that after hearing the initial siren, her family has around 90 seconds to make it to a bomb shelter, some of which are built into homes. The closer that people live to the border, like Kinneret, they have even less time to react.

“I'm concerned,” Grego told ABC News. “But there are so many variables that are so unpredictable and so out of control that I'd better not think about them.”

“You wonder when you're in the shelter, you don't really know if the rockets have been intercepted by the 'Iron Domes' or if they actually have fallen somewhere close to you,” she said.

Around 90% of Hamas’ rockets have been intercepted by Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ defense system, which intercepts missiles, according to the IDF. However, those that do get through have caused damage to residential areas and loss of life.

In Gaza, there is no such warning system. Instead, the Israeli military warns ahead of its strikes on large residential buildings by calling ahead and telling civilians to evacuate, or firing preliminary warnings via drones ahead of the full strike in a move dubbed “roof knocking.” Usually, residents have time to evacuate their homes, the IDF says, but in crowded Gaza, there is little room to maneuver.

Israel imposed a blockade of the strip after Hamas, who oppose the existence of Israel, seized control of the strip in a bloody coup in 2007.

“The people when they rush to the street, when they find that the street is safer than their own homes, this is the tragedy they are living,” Zakkout said. “There is no shelters in Gaza. So people either, they are accommodated in their extended families’ homes or they go to places like the [NGO] Palestine Red Crescent to take refuge for a couple of hours till the morning comes. And then they can find their own ways.”

Under blockade by Israel and Egypt, life in Gaza has always been difficult, Najla said. And with two young children, she said she faces the dilemma of how to explain the ongoing crisis as a parent.

"What story can I tell my children?" she said. "What can I say when she sees that a school was shattered? What can I say when the road was broken completely? In many familiar places that we always all the time go to, they're just huge holes. It's hard, it's horrifying."

Several airstrikes and explosions have happened near her house, she said, causing their building to shake.

"It's so painful. It's really hard to describe what it feels like to go through such experience of bombardment that is ongoing," she said.

Prior to the latest escalation, the COVID-19 pandemic had already stretched Gaza’s under-resourced health system, with around 80% of ICU beds already occupied, according to the ICRC. Now, Zakkout said, patients are being moved between hospitals to accommodate for the influx of injured.

“The professionals, doctors, nurses, they have been working in the past 15 years from three military operations and then the Great Return March and then the pandemic. I mean, they have not been given a break. So they are themselves tired, over fatigued, let's say, to start responding to this escalation.”

The end of the Islamic holy month, Ramadan, came this week, but the atmosphere, rather than celebration with Eid, is a “climate of fear,” Zakkout said.

“Streets are deserted. They are empty. No shops are open … And it's really heartbreaking to see how the life of people can kind of change in a blink of an eye just for a decision to wage a conflict that doesn't put the civilians on the top of the agenda.”

In the meantime, the conflict shows no signs of abating. Communal violence between Arab and Jewish communities in Israel, the likes of which have not been seen in decades, has added another worrying dimension to the escalation. Ugly scenes of beatings and rioting -- prompting emergency orders from the Israeli authorities -- have been seen across the country. At least six Palestinians were killed in widespread protests in the West Bank on Friday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Hamas has continued to strike civilian targets in Israel, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Hamas, and another Islamist group in Gaza, Islamic Jihad, will “pay a heavy price.” Hamas has called for Palestinians to “set the ground ablaze under the feet of the occupation.”

According to Ghassan Khatib, a political expert at Birzeit University in the West Bank, the outbreak of fighting could be politically advantageous to both Netanyahu and Hamas. The militant group has been able to seize on the “winning cause” of unrest in east Jerusalem to bolster its claims to represent all Palestinians, Khatib said. While for Netanyahu, the conflict helps distract from his own political crisis, of corruption charges, instability and unrest in Jerusalem, Khatib said.

"It is very worrying, especially as far as the humanitarian situation of the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza,” Khatib said. “Because from previous experiences, no matter who claims victory politically, militarily, at the end of this, the main loser is going to be the population in Gaza, who will have a great deal of losses, material and lives."

ABC News' Nasser Atta, Jordana Miller, Angus Hines and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Brandon Baur/ABC News

(NEW DELHI) -- On the ground in India, COVID-19 is everywhere. It's in the fear that keeps people trapped indoors, a vacant silence falling over the normally bustling city of New Delhi. It's in the chaos outside of hospitals, where we see family members desperately searching for an intensive care unit bed or oxygen for their loved ones. And it's even in our team, where we had more than half a dozen people drop out after they either tested positive, they no longer felt safe leaving their homes or, sadly, because a loved one was in critical care.

Every day on the ground was dominated by precautions. Our team from America was fully vaccinated. We wore double masks so tight to our faces that we have the marks to prove it, and we only filmed outside.

It was easy to remain vigilant as we saw India’s terrifying reality firsthand. The long lines at crematoriums that burned throughout the night. People gasping for breath in makeshift clinics on the side of the road. Doctors who told us that at one point the hospitals got so crowded there wasn’t even any room on the floor for new patients. But what I’ll remember from our time on the ground in India isn’t just the horrors -- I’ll remember the regular people who stepped in when their health care system failed them.

Ishaan Singh and Paramjot Kaur, a young couple from Punjab. She is a software engineer for IBM, and he's an expert in cybersecurity. When the crisis hit, they dropped everything and moved to New Delhi with only a change of clothes and their fierce dedication to serve others. At first, they slept on the floor of the makeshift clinic where they were volunteering.

In just three days, they and their team at the Hemkunt Foundation were able to convert what was normally a wedding tent into a large field hospital in the middle of a dirt field outside of Delhi, where they’ve helped thousands of people. We met one young woman outside the clinic who said the hospital told her that she needed to find her own oxygen for her father. As volunteers loaded two canisters into her car, she told us without this clinic, she wouldn’t be able to keep her father alive.

Puneet Singh and Amarpreet Singh, two volunteers at Khalsa Aid. When people are turned away from hospitals, they step in to get them the urgent, lifesaving care they need, free of charge. We drove along with them as they delivered oxygen concentrators to homes all over the city. The look of relief in people’s eyes when they saw them outside their front doors is something I will never forget.

Sarabjit Singh. We met him as he was finishing up the night shift at a makeshift clinic in New Delhi that had been set up by a local house of worship. He’s not a medical professional, but he’s spent the last three weeks helping patients as they lay on cots in the 100-degree heat on the side of the road.

He told us he brought his grandmother here when she needed oxygen, and he stayed on to help. He hasn’t been home -- or seen his 4-month-old daughter -- since. At the peak, he said he watched nearly a dozen people die every day. But every day, he also helped up to 600 people receive life-saving oxygen.

Dr. Sumit Ray and Dr. Madhu Handa, two doctors who have been fighting on the front lines of this crisis. Ray said his staff is emotionally scarred, and it pains him to think about all the lives that were lost simply because his team couldn’t access basic medical supplies. Despite the constant onslaught of this outbreak, the doctors kept showing up, often on just a few hours of sleep a night. They were there, doing whatever they could with whatever they had to save as many lives as possible.

As India suffers through this deadly second wave, these are the people I will remember. The people who are the heart and soul of a country that is getting battered but -- thanks to their efforts -- will not be broken.

Even in the middle of despair, it was these people who showed us that India is still India. We still saw stray cows in the middle of the road blocking traffic, smelled fragrant spices getting cooked up for takeout, and felt the warm generosity of a group of people who, despite living through some of the worst days of their lives, always welcomed people with gracious offers to help.

ABC News' Brandon Baur contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



Rainer Puster/iStock

(TEHRAN) -- Alireza Monfared, a 20-year-old who was gay, was allegedly killed by family members, just days before he could leave Iran to seek asylum, according to multiple reports.

News of his early May death made headlines in the U.S. this week thanks in part to LGBTQ news sites and actors such as Dan Levy and singer Demi Lovato sharing the story on social media.

Some reports say Monfared was beheaded around Ahwaz, a southwestern city of Iran. Deputy police of the province confirmed that "bleeding from the neck area" was the cause of his death, Saednews reported Tuesday.

"I believe the exact term for this horrendous murder is gay-killing rather than the general term of honor-killing," Mina Khani, an Iranian LGBTQ and women's rights activist based in Germany, told ABC News.

"Of course the motive of such murders by family members is to defend the 'honor' of the tribe or family, but we should never forget the social stigma and hatred constantly reproduced by the social and legal constructs against LGBTQ members," she added.

Many in this area of the world face enormous dangers for being openly gay. According to Human Rights Watch, nearly 15 countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa criminalize homosexuality, leading to punishments that include prison, lashes and even the death penalty. But it's people in their local villages and communities that have many gay individuals scared.

Monfared's friend Aghil Abyat who is based in Turkey, told BBC Persian that Monfared had told him about his step-brother's repeated threats.

A report by 6Rang claimed Monfared had applied for an exemption from Iran's compulsory military service. Iranian law states that men over the age of 18 need to serve in the military before they may leave the country, but homosexuality is classified under "psychological disorders," which can lead to an exemption from service. Prior to this 2016 amendment, only transgender citizens were allowed to apply for such an exception, either before or after a gender confirmation surgery.

This government rule leaves many in the LGBTQ community there concerned for their safety.

"We were shocked and scared at the same time. We are still afraid of the regime making a database of gay and transgender people and putting them under pressure whenever they want," Shadi Amin, an LGBTQ activist based in Germany, told ABC News.

The idea of receiving an exemption card is leaving many gay and trans Iranians worried they'd be branded and vulnerable to harassment and discrimination.

"It can be an immediate threat to gay men who receive this card," Amin said. "The specific reason mentioned on their card can cause systematic discrimination against them. Like, they cannot get employed at state and even private organizations, or in extreme cases, it may lead to life threatening risks like what happened to Alireza."

Mahdi, a 36-year-old Iranian gay man who did not want to use his full name over safety concerns, told ABC News that hearing the news of Monfared's murder broke his heart.

"What makes such news even bitter is the fact that there are many of such cases happening in the country without their news going viral. And, when they go viral, it really matters what details to disclose," he said.

"My own boyfriend was already hesitant to use gay people's military exemption. But, when the news [became] viral, he said there is no way he'd do that because his family would realize his sexual orientation," he explained.

Despite criticism against the Iranian government, many aren't feeling hopeful for change. Mahdi said the Islamic Republic is not a regime that responds "logically" to any criticism.

"Besides the immediate threat that many gay exempts face now, such way of coverage and the pressure from outside of the country is not likely to have any impact on the illogical and conservative officials in Iran," he said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



scyther5/iStock

(DUBLIN) -- Ireland’s health care system was hit by a major ransomware attack on Friday, forcing its health service to shut down its IT systems and locking many hospitals out of their computers, in what one government minister said was possibly the most serious cyber attack in the country's history.

The ransomware attack began overnight, targeting Ireland's Health Service Executive which said it had decided to shut down most of its IT systems as a precaution.

Many hospitals and clinics reported on Friday they had lost access to their computer systems -- suddenly shut out of patients' records, appointment booking and email systems -- prompting some to cancel most non-urgent appointments. Those facilities said they had contingency plans in place; medical equipment was not impacted; and care was being given as normal to patients.

The health service said the attack was also significantly disrupting Ireland's coronavirus testing program, although it said that its vaccination rollout was not affected.

"It's widespread. It is very significant, and possibly the most significant cybercrime attack on the Irish State," Ossian Smith, a state minister for procurement and eCommerce told the national broadcaster RTE on Friday. Smith told RTE that the attack was "not espionage" and was the work of a criminal gang seeking to extort money from the country. He said the attack went "right to the core" of the health service and that Ireland was now "deploying everything" in response.

He said Ireland's National Cyber Security Center and police were assisting in containing the attack and launching an investigation into the criminals responsible. Ireland has requested help from Interpol with the investigation.

The attack blindsides Ireland's health system amid the coronavirus pandemic and comes amid heightened attention to the threat posed by ransomware attacks following the hack of Colonial Pipeline in the United States that has wrought havoc on fuel supplies.

Paul Reid, the head of the Health Service Executive, told RTE radio that it had shut down its systems as a precautionary measure allow to specialists to contain the ransomware and assess the damage. The Irish government's chief information officer said it was working to ensure that ransomware had not spread to any other government networks and that for the time being that did not appear to have happened.

Smith said the National Cyber Security Center was now working through the health service's systems by "clearing through each section, each subunit of the network, and when it's safe, they're reopening."

He said that would continue throughout the weekend, "and possibly longer,"

The attack disrupted the Ireland health care system's ability to offer outpatient care, forcing some hospitals to suspend many key services, including cancer and stroke treatments as well as testing, such as CT scans.

Fergal Malone, the head of Dublin's The Rotunda maternity hospital, said the facility had had to shut down its computer systems after learning they were affected overnight. That meant the hospital had had to revert to paper systems for administration, a slower process he said, resulting in the cancellation of non-urgent appointments, except those for women over 36 weeks pregnant.

But for the hospital itself, he said it was able to function “absolutely normally" for the patients already there.

“All patients in the hospital are safe, all care is being provided,” Malone said.

Several other major hospitals said they were also seriously affected and canceled non-urgent appointments, although others continued to receive people.

The health service's chief operating officer, Anne O'Connor said that if the attack was not overcome by Monday "we will be in a very serious situation and we will be cancelling many services."

O'Connor said the attack was carried out using "a brand new variant of the Conti ransomware," a type of ransomware known to cybersecurity researchers and different to that involved in the Colonial Pipeline attack.

Conti is a so-called "double extortion" ransomware, which means that as well as locking victims out of their systems, the malware also steals data, which the criminals then threaten to release if they are not paid. Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky listed Conti as No 2 on its list of top ransomware groups and estimates that it accounted for 13% of all ransomware attacks from late 2019 through 2020. Some security researchers have linked Conti to cyber criminal gang believed to operate from Russia.

Last month reports emerged that Conti ransomware hackers had encrypted the systems of the Broward County Public School District in Florida and demanded $40 million in ransom. The hackers released some files after the school said it would not pay the amount.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



David Corio/Redferns/Getty Images

(LOD, Israel) -- Amid the violence and bloodshed between Israel and Hamas, Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar, an Israeli citizen, said he is scared for his life and is asking for help from international organizations.

The leader of the first Palestinian hip-hop group spoke to ABC News from Lod, Israel, the epicenter of the violence, where both Palestinians and Israelis live. Authorities imposed a curfew on the city, but Nafar said even after it went into effect, he could see Israeli settlers walking on the streets with weapons.

"As a citizen of the most democratic country in the Middle East, I called the cops. ... At the same time, I'm seeing a lot of settlers coming from ... all over ... and they are equipped with short Uzis and with weapons," he told ABC News, while also pointing to a video on his Instagram of the moment.

Nafar said that when he called the police, the woman on the phone told him not to worry and that they would "take care of it." However, from his apartment window, he said the police were escorting these people.

"I'm seeing me, having two kids in my house unarmed -- as I said, my only weapon is my microphone -- and I'm being locked in my house and I have armed people being protected by police," he said. "So she gave me the supervisor of the police and the supervisor of the police told me, 'Sir, I don't owe you any answer,' and then she hung up. And this is how we feel unprotected."

"So, as somebody who is scared for his life, the only solution is that somebody, any organization, [like] the U.N. … since the Israeli police is … not protecting me, I'm asking for protection," he added. "Me and another 1.6 million Palestinians held hostages inside of Israel."

The Israel Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment from ABC News.

It’s the worst outbreak of violence between Israeli forces and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group ruling over the Gaza Strip since a 50-day war in 2014. Between airstrikes and violence on the ground since Monday evening, 122 Palestinians have died, including 31 children, and at least 900 have been wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Eight Israelis have died and over 523 others have been injured, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Palestinian forces began firing rockets at Israel earlier on Monday evening, a day after the holiest night of Ramadan, during which Israel Police and Palestinian protesters clashed at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City. Israel responded with hundreds of its own airstrikes.

The IDF said Thursday that more than 1,500 rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip into southern and central Israel since Monday, and that at least 350 failed, landing in Palestinian territory. Israeli airstrikes have hit over 600 terror targets in the Gaza Strip, according to the IDF, including three residential buildings that Israeli officials said were used by Hamas. Civilians were warned to evacuate beforehand, the IDF said.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the retaliatory attacks toward Hamas. On Thursday, he repeated a promise to charge “a very heavy price.”

“The last word was not said, and this operation will continue as long as necessary,” he said on Twitter.

He also condemned rioting and clashes that have broken out on the streets since Monday.

“Nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “We will not tolerate this.”

There are also now growing concerns that Israel’s military will launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. Early Friday, the IDF said that ground forces, including tanks and artillery, were firing into the Palestinian territory from the Israeli side of the border.

The IDF said there were currently no Israeli boots on the ground in the Gaza Strip, correcting a previous statement to ABC News that troops had entered the territory.

Nafar said Palestinians in Israel have long lived as "second-class citizens" and that they don't benefit from the same rights as Israeli Jews.

"It doesn't mean that it's the same qualities," he said. "It doesn't mean that they both enjoy the same democratic laws."

While acknowledging there are differences, he said there are also some similarities between the struggle he's currently experiencing and that of Black Americans facing racism in the U.S.

"As somebody who grew up on hip-hop, I can say that I'm very inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. ... I owe the African American culture a lot," he said. "I can see a resemblance to the African American struggles, but I'm not comparing struggles. I'm being inspired by other struggles."

ABC News' Morgan Winsor, Nasser Atta, Guy Davies, Conor Finnegan, Ben Gittleson, Matt Gutman, Hatem Maher, Luis Martinez, Jordana Miller, Bruno Nota, Becky Perlow, Joseph Simonetti, Cynthia Smith, Sam Sweeney, Christine Theodorou, Karen Travers and Sami Zayra contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



200mm/iStock

(LONDON) -- More than 100 civilians have been killed and over 1,000 wounded as the latest round of fighting between Israel's military and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group ruling the neighboring Gaza Strip, hurtled toward an all-out war with neither side showing any signs of backing down.

So far, a total of 122 people, including 31 children and 20 women, have died in the Gaza Strip since tensions escalated Monday. At least 900 others have been injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, a total of seven people, including a soldier and a 6-year-old, were killed in Israel. More than 523 others have been wounded, according to the Israel Defense Forces. An eighth Israeli citizen, an 87-year-old woman, also died after falling while on her way to a bomb shelter, according to the Israeli emergency service.

Friday marked the fourth straight day of fighting between the two sides amid growing fears that Israel's military would launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. The IDF said early Friday that ground forces, including tanks and artillery, were now firing into the blockaded Palestinian territory from the Israeli side of the border while aircraft continued to strike targets. The IDF said there were currently no Israeli boots on the ground in the Gaza Strip, after a spokesperson erroneously told ABC News that troops had entered the territory. The spokesperson said the error was due to a miscommunication between forces and his media team.

Nevertheless, the deployment of ground troops along the border signaled an escalation in the ongoing conflict, which is reportedly the worst outbreak of violence between Israeli forces and Hamas since a 50-day war in the summer of 2014.

"The last word was not said and this operation will continue as long as necessary," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement early Friday.

Hamas, which gained a majority in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after battling rival Palestinian forces, began firing a barrage of rockets toward Israeli territory on Monday evening. In response, the IDF unleashed hundreds of airstrikes aimed at what it said were Hamas and other terror targets in the Gaza Strip, a 140-square-mile territory where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a blockade imposed by neighboring Israel and Egypt since Hamas seized power.

The IDF said that Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a smaller Palestinian militant group, have fired more than 1,750 rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern and central Israel since Monday, of which approximately 300 misfired and exploded inside the Palestinian territory. Israel's air defense system, known as the Iron Dome, has intercepted 90% of the rocket attacks, according to the IDF.

"The fact that there aren't more casualties in Israel does not mean that Hamas isn't trying to kill Israeli civilians," the IDF said in a statement Friday morning. "It simply means that the IDF is preventing them from doing so at an incredible level. The Iron Dome Aerial Defense System and easily-accessible bomb shelters all over Israel have saved thousands of lives. IDF troops will continue to work 24/7 to defend Israeli civilians at the highest level possible and minimize Gazan casualties wherever possible."

The rockets were aimed at various Israeli cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with some striking multiple homes as well as a school, a hospital and a bus, according to the IDF.

Hamas, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, has said that Israel bears responsibility. The group aims to establish an independent Palestinian state that includes parts of modern-day Israel.

"It’s the Israeli occupation that set Jerusalem on fire, and the flames reached Gaza," Hamas' exiled leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a televised address earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes have hit more than 650 terror targets in the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli military, including rocket launch sites, attack tunnels and three high-rise buildings that Israeli officials said were used by Hamas. The IDF said it warned civilians to evacuate before striking the targets.

The IDF said Thursday that it was calling up some 9,000 reservists. As Israeli troops began amassing at the Gaza frontier that night, the IDF ordered all Israelis living at the border to go into their safe rooms and remain there until further notice.

Throughout Thursday night and into Friday morning, the IDF said 160 aircraft were targeting an underground network of tunnels that Hamas had dug in the northern Gaza Strip.

The Israeli airstrikes have killed a total of more than 100 Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives, including several high-ranking officials, according to the IDF. So far, Hamas has confirmed 13 deaths among its militants, including a senior commander, while Islamic Jihad said seven of its militants had died.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said the Israeli airstrikes have destroyed at least 500 homes in the Gaza Strip, along with 60 government buildings and three apartment towers. Some 23 schools and universities have also been damaged, while 24 factories and industrial establishments have been damaged or destroyed. Scores of people have been displaced and are taking shelter at a United Nations-run school due to a lack of bomb shelters, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Sacha Bootsma, director of the World Health Organization's office in the Gaza Strip, told ABC News on Friday that there was a major shortage in medical supplies and fuel, as hospitals were currently running on ventilators.

The United States has deployed its deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, to the Middle East to meet with leaders from both sides in the coming days. President Joe Biden had a telephone call with Netanyahu on Wednesday, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken to leaders on both sides.

Israel and the U.S. both consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The U.S. government has voiced support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would create an independent Israel and Palestine.

Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has raged on for decades, but tensions have heightened in recent weeks over a long-running legal battle on the potential expulsion of Palestinians from their Jerusalem homes.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were displaced from their homes during a war that accompanied Israel's creation in 1948. Some Palestinian refugees were rehoused in east Jerusalem by the Jordanian government in the 1950s -- before Israel captured the city from Jordan during the 1967 war. Now, several Palestinian families are facing possible eviction from land that Jewish settlers claim they lost to Arabs during the 1948 war. Israeli law allows citizens to take back such land but it does not allow Palestinians to do the same.

On Sunday, the Israeli Supreme Court decided to delay a ruling on the case by up to 30 days after the attorney general requested more time to review.

Just days before Hamas and Israeli forces began trading rockets and airstrikes, hundreds of Palestinian protesters and dozens of Israeli police officers were injured in clashes in the Old City of Jerusalem at a sacred site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The compound is considered the holiest place in Judaism because it was the site of two ancient temples. It's also home to Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest structures in Islam, and the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine.

Dozens more people and officers have been injured in recent days amid wide-scale riots and violence between Arabs and Jews on the streets of various Israeli cities, according to Israeli police.

Israel’s prime minister has condemned the rioting and violent clashes as "unacceptable."

"Nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews," Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday.

Mass protests have also broken out across the West Bank, a landlocked territory that Israel captured from Jordan along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip during the 1976 war. Palestinians want to include the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in their future state.

Six Palestinians were shot and killed by the Israeli army in the West Bank on Friday, amid clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Five were killed while throwing stones at Israeli forces in several locations across the territory, while a sixth was killed during an attempt to stab an Israeli soldier, the ministry said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



KeithBinns/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- Newlyweds Ishaan Singh and Paramjyot Kaur wanted to take a honeymoon after their wedding, but as the death toll from COVID-19 continued to rise in India, they felt a sense of duty.

The couple from Punjab aren't medical professionals -- he works in cybersecurity and she is an engineer for IBM -- but they traveled to New Delhi to help run a makeshift hospital out of a wedding venue.

"Day and night, we are open 24/7," Singh told ABC News' Nightline. "We don't charge anything."

"We are just so satisfied that we are helping people," Kaur said. "We are ready to help anyone at any time."

The volunteers have been offering food, water and -- crucially -- scarce oxygen to those who need it as India experiences a devastating COVID-19 surge.

Other makeshift overflow clinics have been popping up in the streets of India, as the country is in the midst of a second COVID-19 wave that is crushing its medical system and overflowing its intensive care units.

In the past day, India reported over 360,000 new COVID-19 cases and over 4,100 new deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Experts believe those numbers are likely underreported, as COVID-19 testing is scarce.

At a crematorium in New Delhi, the funeral pyres have been burning nonstop for the past few weeks, locals said. Dozens of dead bodies have washed up on the banks of the Ganges River in eastern India in recent days, though officials said they could not confirm the cause of death.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation currently projects that India could see 1.5 million deaths from COVID-19 by September.

Dramatically ramping up COVID-19 vaccinations is key to ending the crisis in India, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC's This Week anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

So far, only about 3% of India's population has been fully vaccinated, and residents say they're having trouble getting the shot.

"Every day I have to apply, but no space," Sukhdev Singh told Nightline. "They're totally booked."

For now, medical staff and volunteers are trying to save as many people as they can. Humanitarian aid group Khalsa Aid has received oxygen concentrators from the U.K., China and the U.S. that they're getting to desperate people in need, like Neha Suri. She told Nightline her husband was hospitalized with COVID-19, but had to be discharged when the hospital was unable to provide daily oxygen.

"I really feel very happy that at least I managed to be able to get the oxygen concentrator," Suri said. "Nowadays it's really very difficult. ... I'm really very happy. At least I can save my husband's life."

Newlyweds Singh and Kaur said they are passionate about helping their fellow countrymen during this crisis, despite the risks.

"Everyone is joining hands because this is a need, this is a cause of the country," Kaur said. "So everyone needs to join the hands."

The couple credits their religion for their sense of selfless service.

"I am a Sikh. I am born to die. That's just a word that I use," Singh said. "[Sikhs] have just sacrificed their lives for their humanity. And that's the whole learnings that we have got from our parents, from our religion. And that's what we are following over here. We are not afraid to die."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



prill/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- Fueled by frustration over recently proposed tax increases that critics say would have disproportionately impacted Colombia's middle and working classes, ongoing protests in the South American country are exposing years of unmet demands, experts tell ABC News.

Violent protests erupted in major cities across the country on April 28, following President Ivan Duque's announcement of tax reforms that he said were "a necessity to keep the social programs going." Duque subsequently withdrew the proposed tax hikes after protests left 42 people dead and hundreds more injured -- but weeks later, demonstrations are continuing with no end in sight as protesters have expanded their demands.

Demands for higher wages, a better health care system, more job stability and more money for public education have prompted strikes and protests for many years, Florida International University professor of politics and international relations Eduardo Gamarra told ABC News.

While the majority of the current demonstrations have been peaceful, some major cities have seen businesses vandalized and several police stations burned amid violent clashes between police and protesters.

In recent days, the city of Cali, which has emerged as an epicenter of the demonstrations, has seen an increase in violence between security forces and protesters, some of them armed. Demonstrators have blocked major highways, disrupting the arrival of food and fuel supplies to the city.

"These protests are not just about the proposed tax reform," Gamarra said. "These demonstrations go a lot further back, and right now the pandemic has exacerbated many of the problems that people are frustrated about."

The issue of police reform in particular has emerged as a vital issue for protesters, Gamarra said.

"Colombia's police force was one of the most trusted in the early part of the century," said Gamarra. "And now, there is an incredible level of distrust of the police."

According to Temblores, a non-governmental organization that tracks allegations of police abuse, there have been more than 1,800 alleged cases of police violence since the marches began.

The protests are taking place as coronavirus infections reach record levels in Colombia, where nearly 80,000 people have died from COVID-19. Over the past week the country has averaged more than 15,000 new cases a day.

Arlene Tickner, a political science professor at Bogota's Rosario University, told ABC News that many of the demands from the protests stem from the issues that were supposed to be addressed with the nation's 2016 peace deal.

The landmark 2016 peace accords with the country's largest guerrilla group -- the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- aimed to "strengthen democratic institutions that were under attack and bring more jobs and opportunity to people," Tickner said. But it's only resulted in empty promises, according to Tickner.

"You have unemployment and inequality which are historically high, as well as increased levels of political violence that have grown during the pandemic, on top of the wide range of social, economic and political grievances," Tickner said. "The unpopular tax reform was just a spark that resulted in the current wave of protests."

While the tax hike was supposed to be a solution to maintain vital social programs like cash support for the unemployed and credit lines for businesses, Tickner told ABC News that the government could have chosen to tax the wealthy instead of implementing a tax hike on working people.

"The government is doing what is easy, which is to tax employees, working people who are struggling," Tickner said.

Last week, after withdrawing the proposed tax reform, President Duque invited representatives from all political parties to participate in a national dialogue.

"I want to announce that we will create a space to listen to citizens and construct solutions oriented toward those goals, where our most profound patriotism, and not political differences, should intercede," Duque said in a video.

But critics say that Duque's call for a national dialogue is just a repeat of the one he called for in 2019, after days of anti-government protests.

"That will not go anywhere. People are fed up with the empty promise that things are going to change," said Sergio Guzmán, director of the political consulting firm Colombia Risk Analysis. "We are at a standstill."

The 2019 protests themselves followed earlier demonstrations against police corruption and abuse, systemic issues that critics say have only increased.

"The poorest sectors of Colombia have the highest rates of violence, and the government has not come up with systemic solutions to address their concerns," said Guzmán. "You have all of these people who are tired and whose lives have been made more difficult."

Tickner told ABC News that the current protests have also been fueled by Duque's relationship with former President Álvaro Uribe. Duque is an acolyte of the former president, a U.S. ally who fought the FARC using brutal tactics that resulted in accusations of human rights abuses.

"He was handpicked by Uribe," Tickner said of Duque. "From the beginning many questioned his fitness to govern, and now I think he has overwhelmingly proven and confirmed those fears."

Guzman told ABC News that young protesters criticize Duque for failing to fulfill campaign promises that were aimed to help poor communities.

"He is the youngest president we've had in a generation, he was supposed to be a president who really connected with the younger generation who care a lot about social and economic issues," Guzman said. "These young people on the streets want much more from their government."

"What we're seeing in these protests is a lot of younger kids who don't have access to education, who don't have jobs, essentially having nothing to lose," Tickner said. "I don't see these protests ending anytime soon and it's very scary."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments



VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, is getting even more personal about his mental health struggles, his tensions with being a royal and his life today in California with his wife Duchess Meghan and their son, Archie.

Harry, who lives with his family in Montecito, California, opened up in an in-depth interview on actor Dax Shepard's popular "Armchair Expert" podcast.

The casual but revealing conversation between Harry, Shepard and podcast co-host Monica Padman marked the first time Harry has given a sit-down interview since he and Meghan spoke with Oprah Winfrey in March.

Harry appeared on "Armchair Expert" to promote a mental health-focused docu-series, The Me You Can't See, on which he partnered with Winfrey.

Here are five revelations from Harry's interview with Shepard and Padman.

1. Harry wanted to leave royal life in his 20s

When Padman asked Prince Harry if he felt like he was in a "cage" while performing his royal duties, Harry said he had thoughts in his 20s of wanting to leave royal life.

"It's the job right? Grin and bear it. Get on with it. I was in my early 20s and I was thinking I don't want this job, I don't want to be here," he said. "I don't want to be doing this. Look what it did to my mom, how am I ever going to settle down and have a wife and family when I know that it's going to happen again?"

"I've seen behind the curtain, I've seen the business model and seen how this whole thing works and I don't want to be part of this," Harry added.

2. Harry is working to 'break the cycle' with his parenting

When asked if he is parenting in an "opposite direction" from the very specific way he was raised as a royal, Harry, who is expecting his second child, a girl, with Meghan, said yes.

"It's very much a case of ... isn't life about breaking the cycle," said Harry. "There's no blame. I don't think we should be pointing the finger or blaming anybody, but certainly when it comes to parenting, if I've experienced some form of pain or suffering because of the pain or suffering that perhaps my father or my parents had suffered, I'm going to make sure that I break that cycle so I don't pass it on."

"There's a lot of genetic pain and suffering that gets passed on anyway, as parents we should be doing the most that we can to try and say, 'You know what, that happened to me, I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen to you,'" he said.

Presumably speaking about his father, Prince Charles, Harry added, "It's really hard to do, but for me it comes down to awareness. I never saw it. I never knew about it, and then suddenly I started to piece it all together and go, 'OK, so this is where he went to school. This is what happened. I know this bit about his life. I also know that's connected to his parents, so that means that he's treating me the way that he was treated, which means, how can I change that for my own kids?'"

"Well, here I am. I've now moved my whole family to the U.S.," he said. "Well, that wasn't the plan, but sometimes you've got to make decisions and put your family first and put your mental health first."

3. Being a royal was like 'living in a zoo'

Harry spoke at length about the British media's fixation on the royal family and what it is like to live under the glare of the media and the public spotlight.

"It's a mix between The Truman Show and being in a zoo," he said, referring to a 1998 Jim Carrey film in which the main character is living on a giant TV set where his every move is recorded.

4. Therapy was life-changing for Harry

Prince Harry has made mental health a part of his platform since 2016, when he and his brother, Prince William, and sister-in-law, Duchess Kate, launched an initiative, Heads Together, to try to destigmatize mental health.

The duke has spoken previously of going to counseling in his 20s at the urging of Prince William, but told Shepard that Duchess Meghan pushed him to therapy as well.

Harry said Meghan saw that he was "hurting" and angry about things he could not control in their lives in the royal family.

"I was like, 'OK, you're in this position of privilege, stop complaining, or stop thinking as though you want something different, because you can't get out. So how are you going to do this differently? How are you going to make your mom proud? How are you going to use this platform to really affect change and be able to give people that confidence to be able to change their own lives?'" he said.

He went on, "And then once I started doing therapy it was like the bubble was burst. I plucked my head out of the sand and gave it a good shake off and I was like, you're in this position of privilege, stop complaining and stop thinking you want something different -- make this different -- because you can't get out. How are you going to do these things differently, how are you going to make your mum proud and use this platform to really affect change?"

5. Harry feels 'a little bit more free' in California

Harry described a life of having to live with his head down to avoid being recognized in public -- and even having to text with Meghan while grocery shopping apart in London to avoid being seen together -- but said he feels "more free" in their new home of Montecito.

"Living here now, I can actually like lift my head, and actually, I feel different," he said. "My shoulders have dropped, so have [Meghan's].

"I can walk around feeling a little bit more free," Harry added. "I get to take Archie on the back of my bicycle ... I never I would never had the chance to do that."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

0
comments