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Dozens killed and wounded after explosions at Gaza ‘safe-zone’ camp

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Dozens killed and wounded after explosions at Gaza ‘safe-zone’ camp

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Explosions and fires ripped through a camp for displaced persons in Rafah late on Sunday after what authorities in Gaza said were Israeli air strikes.

Local health officials said at least 35 people had been killed and dozens more injured.

The Israeli military said it had struck a “Hamas compound” in Rafah at approximately the same time, but that it was looking into the specific incident at a UN-run “safe zone” in the city’s north-western Tal as-Sultan neighbourhood.

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It said two senior Hamas figures had been killed in its strike on Tal as-Sultan — naming them as Yassin Rabia and Khaled Nagar, two commanders responsible for the group’s militant operations in the West Bank. 

Palestinian eyewitnesses and videos on social media showed fires raging through makeshift tents while survivors tried in vain to extricate those caught in the flames.

Earlier in the day the Palestinian militant group fired long-range rockets at central Israel for the first time in months, including past Tel Aviv, in a demonstration of the capability it retains.

Eight rockets were fired from Rafah, less than a kilometre from advancing Israeli troops, in a move that Daniel Hagari, chief spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, attributed to Hamas’s fears for their weapons stocks.

Israeli officials have described Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, as the last stronghold for the group in the territory and earlier this month launched a major air and ground assault on the area.

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About 1.2mn people took shelter in Rafah from Israeli attacks elsewhere in the Gaza Strip after Hamas’s October 7 assault on Israel triggered the ongoing war.

At least 800,000 of those had already fled to areas north of Rafah as the Israeli offensive deepened in recent weeks, according to the UN.

They have travelled to places that are designated “safe zones” but which lack basic services such as clean water and medical care, according to international aid groups.

Egypt and Israel were in talks on Sunday to resume aid deliveries to Gaza via the strip’s southern Rafah crossing as Israel pressed on with its military operations in the area despite an order to halt from the International Court of Justice.

The ICJ on Friday described conditions for those Palestinians still sheltering in Rafah as “disastrous”.

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Israel has rejected the UN court’s call for it to cease military operations in Rafah. The bench also ordered Israel to reopen the Rafah crossing to Egypt for direly needed aid, as Gazans struggle with acute shortages of food and other necessities.

The humanitarian situation for Gazans has become a point of contention between Israel and its allies, including the US, as well as playing a role in the court’s decision to order Israel to take fresh interim measures.

On Sunday, the supply of aid from Egypt to Gaza resumed, but only via the separate Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel. Aid from Egypt had been halted for several weeks following Israel’s seizure of the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing earlier this month, and Cairo’s angry reaction to the offensive.

More than 120 Egyptian aid trucks crossed via Kerem Shalom into Gaza on Sunday, said Israeli military officials, after US President Joe Biden spoke on Friday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in an attempt to ease tensions.

The White House said talks were ongoing to “reopen the Rafah crossing with arrangements acceptable to both Egypt and Israel”, a move that would require the tactical redeployment of IDF personnel in the area, said an Israeli official.

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Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, on Sunday said the situation in Gaza was “beyond words” as he spoke in Brussels alongside Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa.

The Israeli military claimed on Sunday that aid entering Gaza had doubled from the previous week, and that supplies had included 300,000 litres of fuel to run essential services at shelters and hospitals.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected calls for a halt to Israel’s offensive. He has also rebutted accusations of war crimes from the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who last week requested arrest warrants against him and his defence minister.

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Netanyahu maintains that his country’s forces will pursue “total victory” against Hamas.

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Israeli forces have in recent days taken control of more than 70 per cent of Gaza’s frontier with Egypt, known as the Philadelphi corridor, and have pushed deeper into Rafah including the al-Shaboura refugee camp, according to Israeli military analysts.

Israeli officials insist military action in Rafah is needed to eliminate the last four standing Hamas battalions and sever the group’s access to smuggling routes from Egypt.

Israeli special forces have in recent weeks also retrieved the bodies of six hostages held by Hamas since October 7. According to Israeli officials, 125 Israeli and foreign nationals are still being held in Gaza, with 39 confirmed dead.

Negotiations for their release as part of a ceasefire deal tentatively resumed at the weekend in Paris as the head of Israel’s Mossad, David Barnea, met CIA chief Bill Burns and Qatar’s prime minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.

Additional reporting by Henry Foy

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Vietnam’s ‘bamboo diplomacy’ triumphs with visits from Biden, Xi and now Putin

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Vietnam’s ‘bamboo diplomacy’ triumphs with visits from Biden, Xi and now Putin

Over the past nine months, Vietnam has hosted Joe Biden, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, balancing geopolitical rivalries with an élan that has eluded other countries.

The string of visits shows how a country adept at attracting manufacturing investment from companies eager to diversify their supply chains is adroitly managing its foreign policy.

By hosting Putin this week for his first visit since 2017, Vietnam, which has a long-standing independent and diversified foreign policy, joins the ranks of North Korea, Iran and China in opening its doors to a leader shunned globally after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Putin’s visit, which follows his trip to North Korea and comes less than a year after Washington and Hanoi upgraded their ties, has irked the US but is unlikely to disrupt relations. “Vietnam has played this game quite well,” said Nguyen Khac Giang, a visiting fellow at Singapore’s Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Vietnam has been “actively neutral” unlike other countries that have been more passive, he said. “Hanoi knows it must actively balance different powers . . . because that’s the way for Vietnam to gain benefits from all three powers. Otherwise it would be drawn into political games without any ability to change the direction of the game.”

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Communist party-ruled Vietnam’s independent foreign policy dates back to the end of the cold war, when Hanoi decided to be a friend to all countries. Long-standing party chief Nguyen Phu Truong, the most senior political figure in Vietnam, calls this “bamboo diplomacy”, citing the plant’s “strong roots, stout trunk and flexible branches”.

Workers in Hanoi manufacturing Russian flags ahead of this week’s visit by Vladimir Putin © Thinh Nguyen/Reuters

Under his leadership, Vietnam has upgraded relations with the US and allies such as Australia, Japan and South Korea to “comprehensive strategic partnerships”, the highest level of diplomatic ties afforded by Hanoi.

When Biden visited Hanoi last September, the US president hailed the move to upgrade the partnership as part of the 50-year “arc of progress” between the two former foes.

In recent years Vietnam has become a favoured destination for companies such as Apple as they look to diversify their supply chains away from China. Foreign direct investment in Vietnam hit $36.6bn last year.

Yet Vietnam has managed to achieve this without disrupting its ties with China, its largest trading partner, and Russia, its biggest arms supplier. The two have been strategic partners with Vietnam since 2008 and 2012, respectively.

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Three months after the Biden visit, Xi followed in his footsteps and the two communist neighbours agreed to build a “shared future” to strengthen their ties — despite disagreements and regular stand-offs between their ships in the South China Sea, where Vietnam and Beijing have overlapping claims.

Vietnam has been astute in navigating the relationship with China by striking the right balance “between defiance and deference”, said Susannah Patton, the Lowy Institute’s director of south-east Asia programme.

Vietnam has used its relationships with the US and Russia as a balance against China, she said. “Vietnam has benefited from its omnidirectional foreign policy stance and has made itself relevant to many partners.”

Vladimir Putin being greeted at Noi Bai International Airport
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is greeted at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday © Nhac Nguyen/AFP

Vietnam’s foreign policy direction has withstood recent domestic political upheaval — a result of a long-running corruption crackdown — and is unlikely to change even as geopolitical tensions rise.

Analysts said the Communist party was pragmatic about its foreign policy and understood the importance of having western allies, especially as it looked to cement its place as a crucial manufacturing hub.

At the same time, hosting Putin is a “matter of principle” for Vietnam to show the balance and diversity in its foreign policy, said Le Hong Hiep, senior fellow and co-ordinator of the Vietnam studies programme at Iseas.

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The US has expressed disappointment at the visit but said its relationship with Vietnam would continue to strengthen.

“We reiterate that no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalise his atrocities. We cannot return to business as usual or turn a blind eye to the clear violations of international law Russia has committed in Ukraine,” a US state department spokesperson told the Financial Times.

Russia, the biggest supplier of military equipment including submarines to Hanoi, has been a close partner of Vietnam since the cold war. The two countries have run joint exploration projects for oil and gas in the South China Sea.

Vietnamese media has reported that Hanoi is seeking closer co-operation with Russia in natural resources, artificial intelligence, life sciences and energy. Putin is expected to meet Nguyen and other senior officials, with talks focusing on trade, economic and technological prospects, along with international and regional issues. It is unclear if any deals will be announced.

This week’s visit may ultimately prove more beneficial for Putin than for Vietnam, said Iseas’ Le, as it shows that doors still open for him. Vietnam might be cautious in announcing any major deals with Russia as it seeks to remain on good terms with the US and its allies.

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“Vietnam will be wise enough to make sure that the visit will not harm its relation with US and western partners,” said Le. “It has been able to maintain good ties with all the major powers, and that plays an important role in helping Vietnam attract investment from different partners.”

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Louisiana will require the 10 Commandments displayed in every public school classroom

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Louisiana will require the 10 Commandments displayed in every public school classroom

Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom under a bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry on Wednesday. Above, workers repaint a Ten Commandments billboard off of Interstate 71 near Chenoweth, Ohio, on Nov. 7, 2023.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom, the latest move from a GOP-dominated Legislature pushing a conservative agenda under a new governor.

The legislation that Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signed into law on Wednesday requires a poster-sized display of the Ten Commandments in “large, easily readable font” in all public classrooms, from kindergarten to state-funded universities.

Opponents questioned the law’s constitutionality and vowed to challenge it in court. Proponents said the the measure is not solely religious, but that it has historical significance. In the language of the law, the Ten Commandments are “foundational documents of our state and national government.”

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The posters, which will be paired with a four-paragraph “context statement” describing how the Ten Commandments “were a prominent part of American public education for almost three centuries,” must be in place in classrooms by the start of 2025.

Under the law, state funds will not be used to implement the mandate. The posters would be paid for through donations.

The law also “authorizes” but does not require the display of other items in K-12 public schools, including: The Mayflower Compact, which was signed by religious pilgrims aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and is often referred to as America’s “First Constitution”; the Declaration of Independence; and the Northwest Ordinance, which established a government in the Northwest Territory — in the present day Midwest — and created a pathway for admitting new states to the Union.

Not long after the governor signed the bill into law at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Lafayette on Wednesday, civil rights groups and organizations that want to keep religion out of government promised to file a lawsuit challenging it.

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The law prevents students from getting an equal education and will keep children who have different beliefs from feeling safe at school, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation said in a joint statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Even among those who may believe in some version of the Ten Commandments, the particular text that they adhere to can differ by religious denomination or tradition. The government should not be taking sides in this theological debate,” the groups said.

The controversial law, in a state ensconced in the Bible Belt, comes during a new era of conservative leadership in Louisiana under Landry, who replaced two-term Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in January. The GOP holds a supermajority in the Legislature, and Republicans hold every statewide elected position, paving the way for lawmakers to push through a conservative agenda.

Similar bills requiring the Ten Commandments be displayed in classrooms have been proposed in other states including Texas, Oklahoma and Utah. However, with threats of legal battles over the constitutionality of such measures, no state besides Louisiana has succeeded in making the bills law.

Legal battles over the display of the Ten Commandments in classrooms are not new.

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In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a similar Kentucky law was unconstitutional and violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says Congress can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The high court found that the law had no secular purpose but rather served a plainly religious purpose.

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Officer on Sunak protection detail arrested over alleged bet on timing of UK poll

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Officer on Sunak protection detail arrested over alleged bet on timing of UK poll

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Police investigating bets on the timing of the UK’s general election have arrested an officer from the team guarding Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over the claims.

London’s Metropolitan Police said an officer from its Royalty and Specialist Protection command had been held over “alleged bets”, without identifying whom the officer had been guarding.

A person familiar with the situation confirmed he had been part of Sunak’s protection detail.

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It is the first reported arrest since the Gambling Commission opened a probe into betting on the timing of the surprise election.

The investigation was launched after Craig Williams, a Conservative MP and aide to Sunak, admitted he had placed a wager on a July election shortly before the poll was announced.

The Met said on Wednesday that the Gambling Commission contacted it on Friday saying it was investigating “alleged bets” by a constable from the specialist unit “related to the timing of the general election”.

The force added: “The matter was immediately referred to officers in the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, who opened an investigation, and the officer was also removed from operational duties. The officer was subsequently arrested on Monday 17 June on suspicion of misconduct in public office.”

The Met said the arrested officer had been taken into custody and bailed “pending further inquiries”. The matter had also been referred to the force watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, it added.

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The Met did not name the officer, in line with normal practice before anyone is charged.

Sunak aide Williams insisted when admitting laying his bet that the Gambling Commission’s investigation of the matter amounted to “some routine inquiries” with which he would “fully co-operate”. He remains the Conservative general election candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr in Wales.

The Guardian reported he had bet £100 on May 19 at odds of 5-1 that the election would be in July, at a time when it was not expected before the autumn. Sunak made his surprise announcement of a July 4 election on May 22.

The police officer is the only person known to have been arrested.

The Gambling Commission said it was investigating the “possibility” of offences concerning the date of the election.

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“This is an ongoing investigation, and the Commission cannot provide any further details at this time,” it said.

Additional reporting by Eri Sugiura

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