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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Gaza - a new way of seeing


The death toll so far – more than 600 Palestinians killed – most of them women, children and civilian men. 29 Israelis killed, almost all of them soldiers. And yet the UK and US governments keep telling us Hamas are the terrorists.

Whenever Israel’s apologists, like John Kerry or some chap called Hammond, who says he’s now the UK’s Foreign Secretary, are asked to condemn Israel’s slaughter of civilians they always fall back on the mantra that ‘Israel has the right to defend itself.’ But let’s imagine the boot was on the other foot.

Suppose it was the Israelis who had been expelled by terrorists from their country, and then blockaded in a giant prison camp or turned into a subject people whose menfolk could be rounded up and taken away by the occupying Palestinians whenever they felt like it, and who had a little more of their land stolen every day.

Suppose it was the Israelis who had been strung along for decades in a ‘peace process’ which was supposed to free them but never got anywhere. And suppose that every now and then they got fed up, and tried to resist, and that then the Palestinians slaughtered them by the houseful.


Would we hear Kerry and Hammond banging on about the Palestinians’ ‘right to defend themselves’? As one of the more intelligent Israeli newspapers put it: ‘The Palestinians are expelled from their homeland and later attacked in the refugee camps to which they fled, and the Jews boast of being more moral.’

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Civilian airliners shot down by the military


From their frantic attempts to conceal and remove evidence from the crash site, it now seems clear that it was pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine who shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 people aboard the Boeing 777. What is not yet clear is how deep was the involvement of President Putin of Russia.

In 1983, a Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 en route from Alaska to Seoul in south Korea was shot down by a Soviet fighter close to Sakhalin Island. All 269 people on board died. The aircraft had been passing through forbidden Soviet air space around the time of a US reconnaissance mission.

At first the Soviet Union denied shooting down the aircraft, then later admitted it, claiming the jumbo was on a spying mission. It took many years and the collapse of the Soviet regime before the flight data recorders were released.

In 1988, a US warship shot down an Iran Air Airbus A-300 over the Straits of Hormuz, killing all 290 people on board, in the apparent belief that it was an Iranian warplane. The US denied responsibility for the act, but in 1996, it paid more than $130m in compensation after Iran took a case to the International Court of Justice.


Friday, 11 July 2014

AIDS cure hopes dashed


One of the most worrying and depressing features of the AIDS virus is that it appears to leave its victims infected, and able to infect others, for life. So there was great excitement back in March when it appeared that a little American girl, born with the virus, had been cured by retroviral drugs.

These medicines are able to keep the virus in check, but it had always seemed that once treatment stopped, the disease would advance again. Then along came the ‘Mississippi baby’ who was treated within a few hours of birth, with apparently dramatic results.

The shattering of these hopes with the reappearance of the virus in the four year old has been "obviously disappointing" in the words of Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the USA’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  


The world has made progress on reducing the number of people newly infected with AIDS. In 2012, the figure was 2.3 million, down by a third since 2001, but that still leaves more than 35 million people across the world living with the disease.

Monday, 7 July 2014

7/7 bombings memorial vandalised


While mourners and survivors prepared to mark today’s ninth anniversary of the London bus and tube bombings of 2005, vandals sprayed the 52 steel columns which commemorate the victims of the attack with slogans such as ‘4 innocent Muslims.’

Royal Parks staff cleaned off the graffiti before the event began. There is one column for each of the 52 who were killed by four Islamist suicide bombers a day after London won the contest to host the Olympic Games of 2012.

The then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, described it as an attack on ordinary Londoners – ‘black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old’. And the names of the victims reinforced his message – Adams, Ciaccia, Gunoral, Ikeagwu, Islam, Rosenberg etc.


The radical imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was said to have inspired the bombers was killed by a US drone in Yemen in 2011.  

Friday, 4 July 2014

More refugees than ever

This week 45 African men suffocated in the hold of a ship as they tried to get themselves smuggled into Italy. It is said they had begged to be released but that they were kept below in case the vessel capsized. Another 70 boat people were lost in the Mediterranean in a separate incident.

Over last weekend, patrol boats picked up 5,000 migrants, following a reversal in Italian policy. Until 2011, the country had tried to block them, sending those it caught back to Africa, but after 360 drowned off Lampedusa last year, it has started search-and-rescue missions.

Since then, the number of arrivals has ballooned to 65,000, compared with 8,000 in the first half of last year, while Greece has seen the number of illegal migrants more than double. Earlier this week, Italian police arrested five Eritreans they said were running a people-smuggling operation.


Across the world, 2013 saw 6 million people driven from their homes by violence and conflict, taking the global total for refugees to more than 50 million. The war in Syria has displaced 9 million people – nearly half the population.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Sarajevo 1914 - a bizarre chapter of accidents


100 years ago today, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, went to one of its outposts, Sarajevo, to inspect the army. He had married his wife, a mere countess, in the teeth of opposition from his family, and she was banned from sitting at his side on ceremonial occasions – except when he was acting in his capacity as a field marshal of the army.

So on June 28, 1914, she rode with him in his open top car as a group of Bosnian nationalists lay in wait. One of them threw a grenade, but it hit the car behind. The Archduke insisted on going to the hospital to visit the injured, but no one told the drivers of the motorcade.

In the confusion that resulted, they found themselves having to back up into a narrow street where they came to a stop outside a café. Sitting inside was 19 year old Gavrilo Princip, one of the conspirators, who had gone there after the apparent failure of their plot. He crossed the street and shot Franz Ferdinand and his wife, who both died.


37 days later the first World War began, a conflict that cost the lives of perhaps 10 million military personnel and 7 million civilians. Nobody much wanted the archduke’s assassination to lead to a world war, but a series of bad decisions by politicians brought precisely that outcome. Princip was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In harsh conditions, he died of tuberculosis six months before Armistice Day.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Don't forget the kidnapped girls - or Boko Haram's other victims


In spite of the energetic worldwide ‘Bring Back our Girls’ campaign, the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, continues to hold the 200 schoolgirls it kidnapped in April.

And the group, whose name means ‘Western Education is forbidden’, mounted further attacks over the weekend in the country’s north-eastern state of Borno. They rolled into two villages is suv’s and spent six hours burning houses and gunning down everyone they could find. Dozens of people were killed.

Apparently they told villagers they had come to preach to them, and then when they had gathered a crowd, they opened fire. Witnesses said that on this occasion, Nigerian armed forces – often criticised for their inaction – did try to launch a counter-attack, killing a number of Boko Haram fighters.

It is just the latest in a series of attacks by the group in the region that have seen hundreds of people killed in the last few months. 45 died in Borno’s capital, Maiduguri, at the beginning of this month, but Boko Haram have also struck in Nigeria’s capital city, Abjua.