Flash floods triggered by destructive monsoon rains across much of Pakistan have killed more than 1,000 people and injured and displaced thousands more since June, officials have said.
The updated death toll came a day after the prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, asked for international help in battling deadly flood damage. More than 33 million people have been displaced.
The government has declared an emergency to deal with monsoon flooding, which began in June and continues to cause havoc in Pakistan.
The National Disaster Management Authority said on Sunday that 119 people had died in the previous 24 hours as heavy rains continued to lash parts of the country. That brought the death toll since mid-June to 1,033 with at least 1,456 injured.
The authority’s report the previous day said 45 people were killed in flood-related incidents from Friday to Saturday.
Many parts of Pakistan have become inaccessible, and rescuers are struggling to evacuate thousands of marooned people from flood-affected areas. Balochistan and Sindh provinces are believed to be among the worst-affected areas.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Zahid Hussein
Ukraine’s capital Kyiv banned public celebrations this week commemorating independence from Soviet rule, citing a heightened threat of attack as a U.S. official warned of Russian plans to strike Ukrainian infrastructure in the coming days.
Near frontlines in the south of the country, Ukraine said Russia fired rockets into several towns north and west of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, captured by Russian forces shortly after they invaded Ukraine in February.
Artillery and rocket fire near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor complex, on the south bank of the Dnipro River, has led to calls for the area to be demilitarised. Ukrainians living near the plant voiced fears shells could hit one of the plant’s six reactors, with potentially disastrous consequences.
“Of course, we are worried. … It’s like sitting on a powder keg,” said Alexander Lifirenko, a resident of the nearby town of Enerhodar, now under control of pro-Moscow forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned that Moscow could try “something particularly ugly” in the run-up to Wednesday’s 31st independence anniversary, which also marks half a year since Russia invaded.
Warning of potential harm to civilians, a U.S. official told Reuters that Russia “is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days.”
The official said the statement was based on downgraded U.S. intelligence.
Fearing renewed rocket attacks, authorities in Kyiv moved to ban public events related to the independence anniversary from Monday until Thursday. The capital is far from the front lines and has only rarely been hit by Russian missiles since Ukraine repelled a ground offensive to seize the capital in March.
Other jurisdictions also restricted public gatherings. In Kharkiv, a northeastern city that has come under frequent and deadly longer-range artillery and rocket fire, Mayor Ihor Terekhov announced an extension to an overnight curfew to run from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. effective from Tuesday to Thursday.
In the port of Mykolaiv near Russian-held territory to the south, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said authorities planned a precautionary order for residents to work from home on Tuesday and Wednesday and urged people not to gather in large groups.
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A bombing at a mosque in the Afghan capital of Kabul during evening prayers killed at least 21 people, including a prominent cleric, and wounded at least 33 others, eyewitnesses and police said Thursday.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack Wednesday night, the latest to strike the country in the year since the Taliban seized power. Several children were reported to be among the wounded.
The Islamic State group’s local affiliate has stepped up attacks targeting the Taliban and civilians since the former insurgents’ takeover last August as U.S. and NATO troops were in the final stages of their withdrawal from the country. Last week, the extremists claimed responsibility for killing a prominent Taliban cleric at his religious center in Kabul.
Khalid Zadran, the spokesman for Kabul’s Taliban police chief, gave the figures to The Associated Press for the bombing at the Siddiquiya mosque in the city’s Kher Khanna neighborhood. An eyewitness told the AP the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber.
The slain cleric was Mullah Amir Mohammad Kabuli, the eyewitness said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the explosion and vowed that the “perpetrators of such crimes will soon be brought to justice and will be punished.”
There were fears the casualty numbers could rise further. On Thursday morning, one witness to the blast who gave his name as Qyaamuddin told the AP he believed as many as 25 people may have been killed in the blast.
“It was evening prayer time, and I was attending the prayer with others, when the explosion happened,” Qyaamuddin said. Some Afghans go by a single name.
AP journalists could see the blue-roofed, Sunni mosque from a nearby hillside. The Taliban parked police trucks and other vehicles at the mosque, while several men carried out one casket for a victim of the attack.
A U.S.-led invasion toppled the previous Taliban government, which had hosted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Since regaining power, the former insurgents have faced a crippling economic crisis as the international community, which does not recognize the Taliban government, froze funding to the country. On Thursday, the Taliban hosted a gathering of 3,000 tribal elders, religious scholars and others in Kandahar, their state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported. It wasn’t immediately clear what topics they planned to discuss.
Separately, the Taliban confirmed on Wednesday that they had captured and killed Mehdi Mujahid in western Herat province as he was trying to cross the border into Iran.
Mujahid was a former Taliban commander in the district of Balkhab in northern Sar-e-Pul province, and the only member of the minority Shiite Hazara community among the Taliban ranks.
Mujahid had turned against the Taliban over the past year, after opposing decisions made by Taliban leaders in Kabul.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
Germany’s chancellor said Wednesday that he was “disgusted by the outrageous remarks” made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin, accusing Israel of committing “50 Holocausts” against Palestinians over the years.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s statement on Twitter came a day after Abbas refused to condemn a deadly attack by Palestinian militants on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Instead, Abbas countered by saying he could point to “50 Holocausts” by Israel.
“I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,” Scholz said. “For us Germans in particular, any relativization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust.”
Scholz was criticized both in Germany and Israel for not rejecting Abbas’ comments immediately at the press conference he held with him on Tuesday night at the Chancellery.
A spokesman for Scholz told reporters that his office had summoned the head of the Palestinian mission in Berlin on Wednesday.
The chancellor’s foreign and security policy advisor conveyed that Scholz expects the Palestinian president “to acknowledge the singularity of the Holocaust without any qualification,” Steffen Hebestreit said.
“His gaffe yesterday casts a dark shadow over Germany’s relations with the Palestinian Authority,” Hebestreit said, referring to Abbas’ comments. He added that Scholz has arranged a telephone call with Israeli Prime Minister Lapid for Thursday in order to be able to speak directly with him about this incident as well.
Standing next to Scholz at Tuesday’s press conference, Abbas explicitly used the word “Holocausts” in his reply, drawing a grimace from the German chancellor. Germany has long argued the term should only be used to describe the Nazis’ singular crime of killing 6 million Jews before and during World War II.
While Scholz had earlier rejected the Palestinian leader’s description of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “apartheid,” he did not immediately rebuke Abbas for using the term “Holocaust.”
Abbas said that “from 1947 until today, Israel has committed 50 massacres in 50 Palestinian villages.”
“Fifty slaughters. Fifty Holocausts,” he added.
During the Third Reich, the Germans and their henchmen murdered 6 million Jews across Europe.
On Wednesday, Abbas appeared to walk back his comments.
In a written statement, his office said that “President Mahmoud Abbas reaffirms that the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.”
The statement stressed that “his answer was not intended to deny the singularity of the Holocaust that occurred in the last century, and condemning it in the strongest terms.”
Abbas’s remarks drew strong condemnation by leaders across Israel’s political spectrum. Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the comments, “not only a moral disgrace, but a monstrous lie.”
Dani Dayan, chairman of the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center, had called Abbas’s remarks about the Holocaust “appalling” and urged the German government to respond to the “inexcusable behavior done inside the Federal Chancellery.”
The remarks came a few weeks before the planned commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Munich attack, in which Palestinian militants killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team. Relatives of the slain Israeli athletes said they plan to boycott the ceremony after failing to reach an agreement on bigger compensation from the German government.
Germany’s leading Jewish group also sharply criticized the comment and expressed shock that Scholz did not repudiate Abbas’ comment immediately.
Abbas “tramples on the memory of six million murdered Jews and damages the memory of all victims of the Holocaust,” said Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “Such statements cannot be left uncommented. That a relativization of the Holocaust, especially in Germany, at a press conference in the Federal Chancellery, goes unchallenged, I consider scandalous.”
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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have accepted an invitation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to meet Thursday to review the deal allowing Ukrainian grain to be shipped to world markets to help alleviate the global grain crisis and discuss ways to end the six-month-old war.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Tuesday that he has no doubt the three leaders will also discuss the situation at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling.
Dujarric said they also will likely talk about a U.N. fact-finding mission to investigate the killings at the Olenivka prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine that the warring nations accuse each other of carrying out.
He said he expects “the need for a political solution” to the war to be raised during the meeting in the western city of Lviv, not far from the Polish border.
It comes after the signing of an international agreement in Istanbul on July 22 clearing the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grain stuck at its Black Sea ports and in silos since Russia invaded the country on Feb. 14. A separate memorandum between Russia and the U.N. signed the same day was aimed at clearing roadblocks to its shipments of food and fertilizer to world markets.
Erdoğan’s office confirmed that he leader will be in Lviv on Thursday to meet with Zelenskyy and Guterres to discuss the grain deal as well as ways to end the war through diplomatic means.
Guterres first proposed the grain deal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Zelenskyy at separate meetings in Moscow and Kyiv in late April. The U.N.’s Dujarric said the secretary-general’s trip to Ukraine is “a chance for him just to see first-hand the results of an initiative … that is so critically important to hundreds of millions of people.”
After the three-way meeting, and likely bilateral talks between Erdogan and Guterres, the U.N. chief will travel to Odesa, one of the three Ukrainian ports now operating to ship grain, on Friday, Dujarric said. He will then travel to Istanbul on Saturday to visit the center coordinating the Black Sea shipping, which includes the four parties to the deal — Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations.
Russia was not invited by Zelenskyy to the meeting in Lviv.
Dujarric said the secretary-general had “a very good conversation” Monday with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, which touched on the grain shipments from both Ukraine and Russia.
During the phone call, Guterres and Shoigu also discussed “the conditions for the safety operations of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant” and a fact-finding mission to the Olenivka prison, Dujarric said.
The war and a halt to all Ukrainian grain shipments and most Russian shipments of grain and fertilizer added significantly to the global food crisis because both countries are major suppliers to world markets.
Developing countries have been especially hard-hit by supply shortages and high prices. Even though ships are now leaving Russia and Ukraine and some prices have dropped, the food crisis has not ended.