Multiple blasts rock boys’ school in Afghan capital; over 20 killed

News Network
April 19, 2022

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Kabul, Apr 19: Three explosions ripped through a boys' school in a Shia-dominated neighborhood of Kabul Tuesday, killing at least 20 students.

The death toll is likely to mount, according to Afghan security officials, as cited by media outlets.

Local reports and eyewitnesses said a suicide bomber targeted a school in west Kabul’s Dashte Barchi, a predominantly Shia neighborhood.

The blast occurred at the main exit of Abdul Rahim Shahid School when students were leaving the school premises. They had reportedly gathered there for a university entrance examination.

Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran in a Twitter post confirmed that the blasts targeted Abdul Rahim Shahid School, which he said had "caused casualties among our Shiite brothers".

TOLOnews, the South Asian country's leading private TV channel, said the Ministry of Interior has ordered an investigation into the incident and details will be shared later. 

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, but analysts believe it could be the handiwork of the Daesh terrorist group, which has witnessed a resurgence since the Taliban's sweeping takeover of the country last August.

The group had claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Hazara-dominated areas in west Kabul between September and December 2021, which were mainly magnetic bombings targeting civilian vehicles.

Meanwhile, quoting eyewitnesses, TOLOnews and Etalaat newspaper also reported a blast near "Mumtaz" training center in the west of Kabul from a hand grenade. 

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News Network
June 24,2022

Mumbai, June 24: Even before the Bharatiya Janata Party could officially speak about its support to Eknath Shinde’s revolt in Maharashtra, the rebel leader himself admitted on Thursday that he has been promised all support by the ‘mahashakti’ that has taken on Pakistan, giving clear indication of the BJP’s involvement. 

After his meeting with the party MLAs, MPs and leaders, Sharad Pawar confirmed the BJP as Shinde’s partner. Shinde made the reference while addressing the rebel Sena MLAs at the hotel they are staying put in Guwahati, Assam, after he was elected as their Legislative Party leader.
 
Shinde’s speech was recorded and the video was released by his office, after a few NCP leaders sarcastically commented that they didn’t see the BJP’s hand in the entire episode. “Let’s be together in happiness and in trouble. The victory is ours. A national party, a mahashakti that has taken on Pakistan…has told me that the decision I have taken is historic for the country. It has promised to provide us all help. You will see it,” Shinde says.

It was evident that Shinde and his group had already made up their minds to align with the national party [BJP]. The statement was seen as a rejoinder to the chief minister’s faction that appealed through party’s chief spokesperson Sanjay Raut, and gave the rebels 24 hours to return home. Thackeray would consider their demand for exiting the Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition, they were told.

“If you are Sainiks, be brave and show guts to land in Mumbai,” said Raut. It sounded like an appeal laced with warning and instruction for the party workers to be ready to give a Sena-style welcome to the rebels.        

The video from Guwahati was released immediately after the Nationalist Congress Party leaders, including Ajit Pawar and state president Jayant Patil, commented sarcastically that they didn’t see the BJP’s hand in the entire episode. Congress party’s state chief Nana Patole, however, saw the BJP as a driving force. Patil wondered who was making all the arrangements, like the luxury stay and the aircraft, for Shinde’s group. Ajit Pawar and Patil said their party would stand by Thackeray to save the government. 

An hour before Shinde’s footage was made public, Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis left for New Delhi, in a signal that the BJP would come out with guns blazing to topple the Thackeray government. So far, the BJP has maintained a stoic silence. In fact, it issued a gag order to its leaders, especially the verbose ones. Sources said the BJP high command is in full control of Operation Lotus, and Fadnavis has been playing an important role. Neither Fadnavis nor other BJP leaders were available for a comment.   

After his meeting with the party MLAs, MPs and leaders, NCP chief Sharad Pawar confirmed the BJP as Shinde’s partner. “I have seen the video in which Shinde says a national party has supported him.” He then took out a list of Election Commission-approved seven national parties, and said that only the BJP among them could do it (because others are anti-BJP or have no stakes in Maharashtra).

“Ajit Pawar does not know about the situation or the (BJP) people in Gujarat and Assam. But I know people who are managing (the rebels) in Assam and helped them out in Gujarat,” the NCP boss said. He then went on to name Gujarat BJP president C R Patil, the BJP-led Assam government and the party leaders there.

On the crisis, Sharad Pawar said the rebels will have to come to Maharashtra Vidhan Bhavan. “The BJP may not guide them here. The majority will be proved on the floor of the House. We know why the MLAs went to Assam only after they were here.”

Cautioning the rebels about disqualification, the NCP president said their action was against the anti-defection law. “History proves that those who defected have lost by-elections as well. Similar possibilities cannot be denied in this case as well,” he said, recalling the defeats of Chhagan Bhujbal and others who had quit the Sena to join the Congress.

He also dismissed the Congress’s allegation of injudicious allotment of funds by Ajit Pawar, who also holds the finance portfolio. “The complaints are not factual,” he said while responding to Nana Patole’s accusation.

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News Network
June 23,2022

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Kabul, June 23: Afghan authorities are struggling to reach a remote area hit by an earthquake that killed at least 1,000 people as poor communications and a lack of proper roads hampered their efforts, officials said.

“We can’t reach the area, the networks are too weak, we trying to get updates,” Mohammad Ismail Muawiyah, a spokesman for the top Taliban military commander in hardest-hit Paktika province, told Reuters news agency on Thursday, referring to telephone networks.

Survivors dug by hand through villages reduced to rubble by a magnitude 5.9 earthquake that struck early on Wednesday about 160km (100 miles) southeast of Kabul, in arid mountains dotted with small settlements near the border with Pakistan.

The quake was Afghanistan’s deadliest in 20 years, and officials said the toll could rise. An estimated 1,500 others were reported injured.

Access to the affected eastern provinces of Khost and Paktika has been hampered by road blocks due to the earthquake as well as prior landslides from recent heavy rains.

In Paktika’s hard-hit Gayan district, villagers stood atop a pile of mud bricks that once were a home. Others carefully walked through dirt alleyways, gripping onto damaged walls with exposed timber beams to make their way.

Survivors quickly prepared the district’s dead, including children and an infant, for burial.

“We ask the Islamic emirate and the whole country to come forward and help us,” a survivor, who gave his name as Hakimullah, told The Associated Press. “We are with nothing and have nothing, not even a tent to live in.”

Helicopters were used to reach the injured and deliver urgent medical supplies and food provisions. Authorities confirmed 1,800 households have been destroyed.

Sultan Mahmood, Spera district’s chief, told Al Jazeera that 29 people have been killed in the area, 42 injured and 500 homes have been destroyed, with the remote village of Afghan-Dubai being hit the hardest.

The Taliban government has appealed for international aid. Most aid agencies pulled out of the country and many governments imposed sanctions on Afghanistan’s banking sector and cut billions of dollars worth of aid after the Taliban took control in August last year.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the foreign affairs ministry’s spokesperson, told a press conference that “entire villages have been razed to the ground”.

“Despite the sanctions that have been imposed by the international community, the government has done whatever it can in its capacity and the Afghan Red Crescent has immediately dispatched emergency aid to the area, along with the Turkish Red Crescent and other agencies,” Balkhi said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter that eight trucks of food and other necessities from Pakistan arrived in Paktika. He also said on Thursday that two planes of humanitarian aid from Iran and another from Qatar had arrived in the country.

Neil Turner, country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Afghanistan, said in a statement that Taliban authorities had granted humanitarian agencies full access to affected areas.

However, according to Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN deputy special representative to Afghanistan, the Taliban did not formally request that the UN mobilise international search-and-rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighbouring countries.

Many international aid agencies are wary of dealing directly with the Taliban due to sweeping international sanctions, while others have left Afghanistan altogether after the Taliban takeover last August.

Al Jazeera’s Ali Latifi, reporting from the Paktika province, said World Food Programme (WFP) trucks could be seen heading to affected areas as well as convoys from other international organisations, but that poor weather conditions on Wednesday had prevented much of the aid from reaching people in need.

At the Paktika regional hospital, badly injured patients were being turned away. “The Paktika regional hospital still lacks very important resources,” Latifi said. “For instance, they don’t have a helicopter, so patients have to be sent to Kabul by road,” a journey that takes on average five hours.

The United States on Wednesday expressed sorrow and said it would look for ways to help, including through potential talks with Taliban rulers.

“President Biden is monitoring developments and has directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess US response options to help those most affected,” Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said.

The Khost province, one of the most affected by the earthquake, is home to thousands of internally displaced Afghans, returnees, and refugees from Waziristan who had already been displaced.

The death toll reported as of Thursday was equal to that of a quake in 2002 in northern Afghanistan. Those are the deadliest since 1998, when an earthquake of 6.1 in magnitude and subsequent tremors in the remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people.

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News Network
June 15,2022

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Washington: The new I2U2 grouping of India, Israel, UAE and the US will hold its first virtual summit next month as part of the Biden administration's efforts to re-energise and revitalise American alliances across the world, according to the White House.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Neftali Bennett and UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan would attend the first-of-its-kind virtual summit of the I2U2 grouping next month for discussions of the food security crisis and other areas of cooperation, it said on Tuesday.

The virtual summit of the four countries would take place during Biden's trip to the Middle East region from July 13 to 16, a senior administration official told reporters during a conference call.

President Biden looks forward to this unique engagement with Prime Minister Bennett, Prime Minister Modi and President Mohammed bin Zayed, the official said.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price, during his daily news conference on Tuesday, told reporters that each of these countries are technological hubs.

"India is a massive consumer market. It is a massive producer of high-tech and highly sought-after goods as well. So, there are a number of areas where these countries can work together, whether its technology, trade, climate, COVID-19, and potentially even security as well," he said.

"Part of our approach from the start is not only to revitalise and re-energise our system of alliances and partnerships around the world, but also to stitch together partnerships that did not exist previously or were not utilised to their full extent," Mr Price said.

"Biotechnology is also prominent. Deepening trade and economic ties between these countries is in our interest when it comes to the relationship between Israel and the UAE. That is something we have sought to deepen. These two countries have deepened their relationship in recent years, including in the economic realm," he said.

Joe Biden will visit the Middle East region from July 13 to July 16 with stops in Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia, and engagements with nearly a dozen counterparts from across the region and beyond.

"The first stop is Israel. This will be President Biden's first visit to the country as President, and it comes nearly 50 years after his first visit to Israel as a young senator," said the official.

During the trip, Joe Biden will engage with nearly a dozen of his counterparts in three stops - Israel, the West Bank, and Saudi Arabia.

It is part of this clear sequence of global engagements at an important moment, the official said.

"It demonstrates, we believe, the return of American leadership to bring countries together to address common threats and challenges, something the US can uniquely do.

"And with new frameworks that aim to harness unique American capabilities to enable partners to work more closely together, which is essential to a more secure, prosperous and stable Middle East region over the long term," the official said.

Biden's visit will also focus on Israel's increasing integration into the region, both through the Abraham Accords with the UAE, Morocco and Bahrain; through deepening ties between Israel, Jordan and Egypt; and also entirely new groupings of partners, including Israel, India, the UAE, and the United States - what they call I2U2, said the official.

"We consider these initiatives central to our strategy of empowering partners and encouraging them to work more closely together, which will lead to a more stable region and also to Israel's security and prosperity over the longer term."

"Importantly, some of these new partnerships reach beyond the Middle East, and the President will hold a virtual summit with the I2U2 heads of state for discussions of the food security crisis and other areas of cooperation across hemispheres where the UAE and Israel serve as important innovation hubs," the official added.

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