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Covid-19: Thailand’s Prime Minister Fined $190 For Not Wearing Face Mask

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With Thailand struggling to bring its worst coronavirus outbreak under control, Bangkok made it compulsory for residents to wear masks in public beginning on Monday. One of the first to break the new rule?

The country’s prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was seen maskless at a government meeting in a photo published on his official Facebook page.

As a first-time offender, he agreed to pay a fine of about $190. Bangkok’s governor, Aswin Kwanmuang, came around with top police officials on Monday to help collect it.

“I informed the prime minister this was a violation of the rules,” the governor wrote on Facebook. The photograph was removed from the prime minister’s Facebook page.

For Mr. Prayuth, the gaffe is the least of his pandemic problems. His government has struggled to curb transmissions and been slow to obtain vaccines. As infections ticked upward earlier this month, he decided to let Thais continue to travel widely during a major holiday.

Now, his government is scrambling to procure vaccines from a stretched global supply and rushing to set up field hospitals at sports stadiums and other locations as many hospitals report being near capacity. Only 0.3 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.

On Tuesday, the government reported 15 deaths, its highest daily total since the pandemic began, and more than 2,000 new cases for the fifth day in a row. That brings Thailand’s total for the pandemic to nearly 60,000 cases and 163 deaths, according to the government.

The numbers are low by global standards; Thailand was among the world’s leaders in containing the virus last year. Nearly 90 percent of its cases have come since Jan. 1.

Many provinces have imposed their own restrictions, including Bangkok, which has ordered the closure of more than 30 types of businesses, such as fitness centers, cinemas, bars and massage parlors. Restaurants, malls and department stores can continue operating but with restrictions.

Nearly two-thirds of Thailand’s provinces have imposed fines for failing to wear a mask in public. The maximum penalty is about $635.

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Germany Urges End To Middle East Violence As EU Calls Talks

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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Sunday it is “imperative” for Israelis and Palestinians to stop fighting and resume talks ahead of an emergency meeting this week with his EU counterparts.

The “highly explosive” situation in the region could lead to “unforeseeable consequences”, Maas warned in a tweet, adding: “It is imperative that we prevent this from happening.”

“What is needed now is: 1. an end to the rocket attacks, 2. an end to the violence and 3. a return to talks between Israelis & Palestinians and on a two-state solution,” he said.

European Union foreign ministers will hold urgent video talks on the escalating fighting between Israel and the Palestinians on Tuesday, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said.

“In view of the ongoing escalation between Israel and Palestine and the unacceptable number of civilian casualties, I am convening an extraordinary VTC of the EU Foreign Ministers on Tuesday,” Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter Sunday.

“We will coordinate and discuss how the EU can best contribute to end the current violence.”

The heaviest fighting since 2014 between Israel and Islamist group Hamas, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, has claimed 174 lives in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza and killed 10 people in Israel since Monday.

The European Union says Borrell has been conducting “intense” diplomatic efforts to try to help de-escalate the violence — holding talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and the top diplomats from neighbouring nations.

“The EU’s priority and message in this context remain clear: violence must end now,” the bloc’s foreign service said in a statement Saturday.

The EU’s 27 nations often struggle to find a common position over the conflict with some members including Germany, Austria and Slovenia firmly supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and others urging it to show greater restraint.

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Gaza Rockets, Israeli Airstrikes, Violent Clashes Put Region On Edge

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Ongoing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, retaliatory airstrikes by the Israeli army and confrontations in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Arab-majority areas in Israel marked a region inflamed with violence unlikely to subside anytime soon.

Saturday marked Nakba Day, referring to the Palestinian “catastrophe,” which remembers the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.

Rockets fired by militant Palestinians continued to rain on Israeli cities: Warning sirens sounded in the desert city of Beersheba in southern Israel and in border areas near Gaza, the Israeli army said.

Alarms also went off several times in Tel Aviv, where explosions could be heard in the sky and in the south of the city.

Another rocket alarm was triggered in the Israeli coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv late Saturday.

At least one person was killed in a rocket attack on the greater Tel Aviv area on Saturday.

A man, about 50 years old, in the Ramat Gan suburb had suffered fatal injuries, according to paramedics.

The Israeli army attacked further targets on Palestinian territory, including rocket launchers and two combat units belonging to the Hamas movement.

The air force destroyed a high-rise in the Gaza Strip that was housing the offices of several media organisations, the military said.

The military said the building also contained “military assets” belonging to the Hamas movement, adding it had warned civilians ahead of the strike and left them time to evacuate.

“This is an incredibly disturbing development.

The news agency had been informed in advance of the airstrike on the high-rise, he said.

A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were pulled to safety in time, he added.

Pruitt said he was “shocked and horrified” that the Israeli military destroyed a building with media offices.

He said the world would now know less about what is happening in Gaza.

Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera said it too had its office in the high-rise.

The channel quoted its correspondent Youmna al-Sayed as saying that the army had given the owner of the high-rise one hour to evacuate.

The owner had unsuccessfully asked for more time, it said.

“No place in Gaza now seems safe,” al-Sayed said.

“We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted.

After the attack – the fifth high-rise destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in the current conflict – a spokesperson for Hamas said Tel Aviv should prepare for an “answer that will shake the earth.”

The Israeli army tweeted on Saturday that the house of Khalil al-Hayya, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, had been attacked.

The house served as “terror infrastructure,” the army said, releasing a video of the attack.

According to Palestinian sources, however, al-Hayya was not in the house at the time of the attack.

Separately, the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported on Saturday that a house had been hit in the Shati refugee camp in western Gaza.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 10 members of a Palestinian family were killed, including eight children.

Civilians were also killed in Beit Lahi in the north of Gaza and in other locations, Wafa reported.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said they were investigating the reports.

According to the Health Ministry in Gaza, about 140 Palestinians have been killed and 1,000 injured since fighting escalated on Monday.

According to the Magen David Adom rescue service, 10 people were killed and 636 injured in Israel as a result of the rocket fire over the past few days.

Palestinian militants have been continuously firing rockets at Israel since Monday.

More than 2,300 have been fired, according to Israel’s army, although about 20 per cent go down over Gaza without reaching Israeli territory.

Israel has responded with airstrikes and artillery shelling, striking more than 650 targets, according to an officer.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden about the Gaza conflict, the second official contact since it began.

“The president reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza,” the White House said in a statement after the call.

A separate White House statement on a phone call with Mahmoud Abbas said Biden briefed the Palestinian Authority president on U.S. diplomatic engagement in the ongoing conflict.

The U.S. president stressed his commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the best way to achieve a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell meanwhile called for respect for international law.

He condemned Hamas and other groups that attacked civilian targets in Israel with rockets.

Israel had the right to protect its population from these attacks, but had to act appropriately and avoid civilian casualties.

Civil unrest has also been mounting between in Israel’s Jewish and Arab populations, with protests and riots reported.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, at least nine people died in clashes in the West Bank and 21 were severely injured.

The Israeli army initially did not comment on the report.

There was also concern about several incidents near the Lebanese border, where two Lebanese protesters were reportedly killed.

The conflict first came to a head during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with clashes at a Jerusalem holy site as well as over the forced evictions of Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. (dpa/NAN)

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We Won’t Be Silenced, Al Jazeera Speaks After Gaza Office Destroyed

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Al Jazeera said Saturday it would not be silenced, after an Israeli air strike on Gaza demolished the building housing the Qatar-based broadcaster as well as US news agency The Associated Press.

”It is clear that those who are waging this war do not only want to spread destruction and death in Gaza, but also to silence media that are witnessing, documenting and reporting the truth of what is happening in Gaza,” said Walid al-Omari, Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief.

”But this is impossible,” he said on air shortly after the 13-storey Jala Tower in Gaza was obliterated.

”This is a crime among a series of crimes perpetrated by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip.”

Al Jazeera broadcast footage showing the building collapsing to the ground after the Israeli air strike, sending up a huge mushroom cloud of dust and debris.

Jawad Mehdi, the owner of the Jala Tower, said an Israeli intelligence officer warned him he had just one hour to ensure the evacuation of the building.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Gaza, Safwat al-Kahlout, tweeted his despair over the destruction.

”I have been working here for 11 years. I have covered many events from this building… now everything, in two seconds, just vanished,” he said.

Israel alleged its “fighter jets attacked a high-rise building which hosted military assets belonging to the military intelligence of the Hamas terror organisation”.

“The building also hosted offices of civilian media outlets, which the Hamas terror group hides behind and uses as human shields,” it said.

Israeli air and artillery strikes on Gaza since Monday have killed 139 people including 39 children, and wounded 1,000 more, health officials in the coastal enclave say.

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