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Russian forces interfering at Ukraine nuclear plant: IAEA | Russia-Ukraine war News



Ukraine told the United Nations agency that Russia switched off some mobile networks and the internet at the Zaporizhzhia power plant.

Russian forces have tightened their control on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant since seizing it on Friday, the United Nations nuclear watchdog has warned.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Sunday that Ukraine’s nuclear regulator informed it that staff members at the plant, the largest in Ukraine, are now required to seek approval for any operation, even maintenance, from Russian forces.

Russian forces have also switched off some mobile networks and the internet at the plant, hampering the possibility of receiving reliable information from the site through normal channels of communication, he said.

“I’m extremely concerned about these developments that were reported to me today,” said IAEA’s Director General Rafael Grossi.

“In order to be able to operate the plant safely and securely, management and staff must be allowed to carry out their vital duties in stable conditions without undue external interference or pressure,” he added.

The UN agency was informed that since Sunday, phone lines – as well as emails and faxes – were not functioning. Mobile phone communication was still possible, but with poor quality.

“The deteriorating situation regarding vital communications between the regulator and the Zaporizhzhia NPP [Nuclear Power Plant] is also a source of deep concern, especially during an armed conflict that may jeopardise the country’s nuclear facilities at any time,” Grossi said.

Despite the difficulties, the agency confirmed that radiation levels at the plant remained normal.

The nuclear power plant was captured nine days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Russian shelling caused a fire in a building at the site, triggering global concern of a potential massive disaster. The blaze was later put out without major damage. Russia blamed the attack on Ukrainian saboteurs, calling it a “monstrous provocation”.

Ukraine is also home to Chernobyl, another nuclear plant that exploded in 1986, causing the worst nuclear accident in history. The decommissioned nuclear site was seized by Russian forces on the first day of the invasion.

On Sunday, Ukraine’s nuclear regulator also informed the IAEA that it had faced problems communicating with personnel at the Chernobyl plant. It said the more than 200 staff at the site had not been able to rotate since the seizure of the site.

In another concerning development, the IAEA said in a statement that “communications have also been lost with all enterprises and institutions in the port city of Mariupol that use Category 1-3 radiation sources and there was no information about their status”.

Grossi reiterated his willingness to travel to Ukraine to establish a framework for safeguarding nuclear facilities across the country during the conflict.

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China passenger jet catches fire, dozens ‘lightly injured’ | Aviation News



Tibet Airlines says all 113 passengers and 9 crew on board the plane that caught fire were safely evacuated.

A Chinese passenger jet has caught fire after veering off the runway in China’s Chongqing, leaving dozens of people with what were said to be minor injuries.

The incident happened on Thursday as the Tibet Airlines plane was preparing to take off at 8:09am local time (00:09 GMT).

The Airbus A319-115 jet, carrying 113 passengers and nine crew, was headed from the southwestern city of Chongqing to Tibet’s Nyingchi.

Everyone on board was safely evacuated, the airline said in a statement.

“In the process of taking off, the flight crew discovered an abnormality with the aircraft and stopped the takeoff, after which the aircraft left the runway,” the statement said.

“The injured passengers were all only lightly injured, and have been sent to hospital for treatment,” it added.

In a separate statement, the Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport said about 40 passengers with minor injuries were sent to hospital.

It said Flight TV9833 deviated from the runway during takeoff and that “the left side of the aircraft’s nose caught fire”.

Operations at the airport have since returned to normal and “the cause of the accident is being investigated,” it added.

The incident follows the crash of a Chinese Eastern Boeing 737-800 in southeastern China on March 21, in which all 132 people on board were killed.

That accident, in which the plane went into a sudden nosedive and slammed into the ground in a mountainous area, remains under investigation.

Two flight recorders, or “black boxes”, were recovered from that crash and are being analysed in the United States.

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North Korea reports first COVID outbreak since pandemic began | Coronavirus pandemic News



State media reports ‘biggest emergency incident’ after BA.2 sub-variant is detected in Pyongyang.

North Korea has confirmed its first outbreak of COVID-19, raising fears of a humanitarian disaster in one of the world’s only unvaccinated countries.

Authorities detected a sub-variant of the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, BA.2, in people in Pyongyang, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Thursday, without elaborating on the number of confirmed cases.

“There has been the biggest emergency incident in the country, with a hole in our emergency quarantine front, that has been kept safely over the past two years and three months since February 2020,” the state broadcaster said.

It added that “maximum” control efforts were being imposed in Pyongyang.

The North, which sealed its borders in January 2020, had been one of the few countries on Earth not to report an outbreak of COVID-19, although analysts have long expressed doubt about the official figures given the country’s long, porous land border with China.

Analysts said Pyongyang’s public admission of the outbreak was probably a sign of the severity of the situation, but not necessarily a sign that leader Kim Jong Un would be amenable to outside assistance.

“Pyongyang will likely double down on lockdowns, even though the failure of China’s zero-Covid strategy suggests that approach won’t work against the omicron variant,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said in emailed comments. “North Korea is entering a period of uncertainty in managing its domestic challenges and international isolation. The Kim regime would be well advised to swallow its pride and quickly seek donations of vaccines and therapeutics.”

A train crosses the viaduct from North Korea into China at Dandong
China and North Korea share a long border with trade taking place through the train service connecting Dandong and Pyongyang [File: Greg Baker/AFP]

The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported the Politburo of the ruling Workers’ Party admitting there had been a “breach” in the country’s virus defences, and criticised the department handling the epidemic for its “carelessness, laxity, irresponsibility, and incompetence” in “failing” to respond to the acceleration in transmission around the world, according to the NK News media outlet.

NK News said a lockdown was imposed on May 10.

China is currently battling dozens of outbreaks of the virus including in Dandong, which is the North’s main trading link with the country. Pyongyang suspended inbound rail cargo from China in late April as a result of the outbreaks, only four months after resuming the service, according to NK News

The North has repeatedly rejected offers of vaccines from the United Nations-backed global vaccination initiative, and aid workers have warned that it would struggle to handle a major coronavirus outbreak, given its dilapidated health system.

“The North Korean medical system is antiquated, fragile and drastically ill-equipped to deal with a major outbreak,” said Tim Peters, a Christian aid worker who runs the Helping Hands Korea organisation in Seoul. “The fact that 40 percent of the population is in need of food assistance speaks volumes about the weak immune systems of at least 11 million North Korean citizens. In short, the outdated healthcare infrastructure and highly vulnerable population is a catastrophe waiting to happen. I sincerely hope it doesn’t.”

Before the pandemic, the UN estimated that more than one-quarter of North Koreans suffered from malnourishment. In July, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said the country was struggling to feed itself.

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Shireen Abu Akleh: US activists slam ‘impunity’ for Israeli abuse | Israel-Palestine conflict News



Washington, DC – The US Department of State often says that it “has no higher priority than the safety and security of US citizens abroad”.

But on Wednesday morning, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh became the second American this year to be killed by Israel – a top recipient of US military aid and Washington’s closest ally in the region.

Department of State spokesperson Ned Price was quick to condemn the killing and call for an investigation, but later in the day, he confirmed that Washington trusts Israel to investigate itself and would not call for an independent probe.

Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said calls for investigations are “empty gestures” if the probe is to be left for Israel.

“You can’t ask the Israelis to investigate themselves when they’ve been abusing human rights for over 70 years and expect them to arrive at a different result that they’ve been arriving at after all these decades,” Abuznaid told Al Jazeera.

“These are atrocities that the international community has witnessed time and time again – whether recorded on live footage or not – and we have never seen accountability.”

On Wednesday, Price said repeatedly when pressed by reporters at a State Department briefing that Israel has the “wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation” into the killing of Abu Akleh.

He said it is important for Washington for Abu Akleh’s legacy to be honoured with accountability. “Those responsible for Shireen’s killing should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Price told reporters.

But recent incidents show that when Israel carries out investigations into its own forces’ misconduct, meaningful accountability is seldom the outcome, Palestinian rights advocates have said.

Despite multiple eyewitness testimonies saying she was shot by Israeli forces, he Israeli government’s initial reaction to the killing of Abu Akleh was to blame “armed Palestinians” for shooting the journalist.

“History and action has shown that Israel cannot be trusted to investigate its own war crimes, and human rights violations,” Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told Al Jazeera.

“We demand an independent investigation, free from political pressure and influence from American and Israeli interests.”

In January, 78-year-old US citizen Omar Assad suffered a stress-induced heart attack after he was arbitrarily detained, bound, blindfolded and gagged by Israeli forces.

At the time, the Department of State also called for a “thorough criminal investigation and full accountability” in the case.

In February, the Israeli military called the incident a “clear lapse of moral judgment” and announced administrative disciplinary action against the battalion involved in Assad’s killing but no criminal charges.

At the time, the Department of State suggested that it expects more from the investigation, saying that the US continues to “discuss this troubling incident with the Israeli government”.

But since then, next to nothing has been said by US officials about the killing of the elderly American citizen. Asked for an update on the case on Wednesday, a Department of State spokesperson shared comments that Washington had released earlier this year expressing condolences for Assad’s family.

Meanwhile, US officials have continued to heap praise on Israel. And this year, Washington increased its annual $3.8bn military assistance to Israel by an additional $1bn to “replenish” the Iron Dome missile defence system after the May 2021 conflict with Gaza.

When Israel bombed the building of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera in Gaza during that conflict, the Department of State called for additional details backing the Israeli claim that the tower was being used by Hamas operatives.

To date, the US administration has not condemned the bombing of the Gaza building housing media offices or provided an assessment on whether it was justified.

On Wednesday, Price was asked about the targeting of the building a year ago in the context of Israeli attacks on the media and the killing of Abu Akleh. He said, “We voiced our concern by the fact that journalists were put at risk, that their offices came under assault,” adding that those concerns still stand today.

Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington-based think-tank, said calls for an investigation are welcome, but the outcome of such probes is what matters.

“The question is what happens next?” Berry told Al Jazeera. “That’s the key here. What will they do next? Are we expecting the Israeli forces to investigate themselves and find that there’s either a ‘moral lapse in judgment’ or no error was committed?”

The Biden administration has maintained that Israel is equipped to investigate its own alleged war crimes – an argument used against Palestine’s push for an International Criminal Court probe into Israeli abuses.

For her part, Berry decried the lack of accountability for Israel from the US, including when it abuses American citizens.

“Regrettably, because we give Israel an exception in its treatment of not just American citizens, in its human rights abuses – but certainly when it comes to treatment of Americans – you will not arrive to a rational explanation for what it is allowed to do with impunity, counter to the interest of protecting Americans and certainly counter to our own US interests abroad,” Berry told Al Jazeera.

As a candidate, Joe Biden promised a more even-handed approach to the conflict in outreach efforts to Arab- and Muslim-American voters, despite categorically ruling out conditioning aid to Israel.

“Joe Biden believes in the worth and value of every Palestinian and every Israeli,” the Biden campaign said in its platform for Arab Americans in 2021. “He will work to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and democracy.”

Variations of that comment still surface in Department of State and White House statements. However, Palestinian rights advocates say Biden has done little – other than resuming some humanitarian aid to Palestinians – to change the policies of his predecessor Donald Trump on Israel-Palestine.

Amer Zahr, a Palestinian-American comedian and president of New Generation for Palestine, an advocacy group, said the killing of Abu Akleh was a “targeted assassination”.

“The tepid response by our State Department confirms what we already knew: The Biden administration couldn’t care less about Palestinian lives, whether they are Americans or not,” he told Al Jazeera.

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