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European countries shut doors to UK as new coronavirus strain spreads

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(Last Updated On: December 21, 2020)
European countries began to close their doors to travellers from the United Kingdom on Sunday, with several banning planes and trains over concerns about a new coronavirus strain that is spreading quickly through the country, Reuters reported.
 
Among the countries to impose a travel ban were Belgium, which said it would close its borders to flights and trains from the United Kingdom, and Italy and the Netherlands, which also ordered the suspension of flights from Britain.
 
“The COVID variant recently discovered in London is worrying and will need to be investigated by our scientists,” Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said.
 
“In the meantime we choose the path of maximum prudence.”
 
Germany meanwhile has announced it will restrict flights from Britain and South Africa – which has also detected a new coronavirus strain, a government spokesman said.
 
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that the new strain had led to spiralling infection numbers, Reuters reported.
 
Johnson’s government tightened its COVID-19 restrictions for London and nearby areas, and also reversed plans to ease restrictions over the Christmas period.
 
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said the ban on incoming travel from Britain covers Eurostar services via the Channel Tunnel and will take effect for at least 24 hours from midnight on Sunday.
 
Belgium was also in touch with France over road transit passengers from Britain, Reuters reported.
 
The Italian order blocked any flights departing from Britain and prohibited anyone who had transited through it in the last 14 days from entering Italy.
 
The Italian health ministry said flights leaving for Britain would not be affected, to allow those living there to return home.
 
The Netherlands banned flights carrying passengers from the United Kingdom from Sunday and the restrictions will remain in place until January 1, the Dutch government said.
 
Germany wants to ban all flights from the United Kingdom from midnight until January 6, Bild newspaper said, citing government sources.

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Khalilzad says a Taliban ruled Afghanistan will become a pariah state

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(Last Updated On: August 3, 2021)

The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Monday that if the Taliban take over the country by force, they will not win international recognition and “they will become a pariah state.”

Speaking to VOA, Khalilzad said the United States remains committed to promoting a political settlement between warring Afghans, stressing that neither side to the conflict can win militarily.

Asked whether the US has a moral and political responsibility to ensure that Afghanistan does not slide into another civil war, after U.S. military departure, as happened following the Soviet exit in 1989, Khalilzad said “it is a point that we have kept in mind that what happened in the 90s should not be repeated and that working with the Afghans we did something big, a huge sacrifice on the part of the Afghans with our support to get the Soviets out, and then we abandon Afghanistan, and a terrible war took place and it produced challenges particularly in 9/11.

“So, we do not want to repeat that mistake,” he said adding “we have an agreement with the Taliban in principle to depart. But we engaged the Taliban as part of a strategy, a plan to have safe withdrawal of U.S. forces.”

He also said the start of the peace process was part of this strategy.

According to him, the US-Taliban agreement, signed in Doha in February last year, provided the opportunity for Afghans to sit across the table from each other, “a historic development”, to reach an agreement to agree on a formula that would have broad support in Afghanistan and international support as well.

“Unfortunately, the two sides have not taken advantage of that opportunity as quickly as we would have liked, as the Afghan people would have liked,” he said.

He reiterated that there is no military solution to the war and that there must be a “political solution, a political agreement for a lasting peace.”

Khalilzad meanwhile stated that the Afghan government “also has had challenges or difficulties in terms of agreeing to or embracing the idea of a new Islamic government and the Taliban have used force to see if it could coerce the government into agreeing to a formula for a new Islamic government, a new constitution as they see it as well.”

He said in the US’s opinion, the Afghan government cannot get rid of the Taliban, “and the Taliban cannot conquer Afghanistan and have a government that has the support of the overwhelming majority of the Afghans and international support.”

He said while the Taliban tells the US they know there is no military solution, “maybe some Taliban think there is a military solution to the conflict.”

Khalilzad said “the wise thing is for both sides to engage seriously and quickly, urgently to respond to the wishes of the people of Afghanistan for a political agreement.”

He pointed out that history has shown, over the past 45 to 50 years, that attempts by one party to impose its will on the people only leads to war.

“I hope that the leaders of Afghanistan have learned that lesson and that they need to agree to a formula that has broad support, accepts that all Afghans have legitimate rights, that those rights have to be respected and the people have to have a say ultimately in how they are governed.”

ON the gains the Taliban has made in the country in terms of seizing territory, Khalilzad said the Afghan security forces “are numerically far superior than the Taliban. They have over three hundred thousand troops, it has an Air Force and it has special forces. It has heavy equipment and both proper leadership, political and military and proper military strategy and plan and execution.”

However he added “the government forces should have done a lot better than they are doing.”

Khalilzad, who has worked tirelessly to bring the two warring sides together over the past three years, told VOA that he is “concerned very much by the lack of progress. I know that the gap has been large, continues to be a big gap between the two sides, but they need to put the leader or the interests of the Country first, rather than their own interest or their factional interest.”

“There cannot be peace without a compromise, without give and take, without respect for the fundamental rights of all Afghans men and women and the Afghans having a say, ultimately the people and in terms of what happens to them.”

He said the question now is “will these leaders rise to the occasion and put country first or will they go down in history as people who put their own interests or the interests of their faction first”.

In conclusion, Khalilzad touched on Pakistan and its relations with the Taliban.

He said: “Pakistan has a special role and responsibility, given also that many Taliban leaders are in Pakistan, located there, to do what it can to encourage peace and a political settlement as soon as possible, for it will be judged internationally also as to whether it has done all that it can or it could to promote a political settlement.

He said peace in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interests and that many Pakistan leaders have acknowledged this.

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Intense fighting a serious challenge for patients, MSF staff in Helmand

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(Last Updated On: August 3, 2021)

Médecins Sans Frontières reported Tuesday that while fighting has been intense since May in Helmand province, clashes between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban have intensified in recent weeks and spread to more urban areas such as the provincial capital of Lashkargah city.

“There has been relentless gunfire, airstrikes and mortars in densely populated areas. Houses are being bombed, and many people are suffering severe injuries,” says Sarah Leahy, coordinator of the MSF Helmand project.

“Fighting within the city makes it harder for us to respond; our staff are part of the community and they, like many people, are afraid to leave their homes. It’s just far too dangerous and life is at a standstill,” says Leahy.

“Some of our colleagues are staying overnight in the hospital as it’s safer, but also so they can keep on treating patients. The situation has been dire for months but now it is even worse.”

Despite the challenges, the MSF-supported Boost hospital remains operational and has seen a marked increase in trauma needs over the past week.

“In just one day we performed 10 surgeries on people injured by violence, which is unheard of for us as we are not Lashkargah’s main provider of trauma care,” says Leahy. “Before last week we were operating on average on two war-wounded people per day.”

The main trauma centre in the city is run by another organisation, and is also under immense pressure; the people they cannot admit are sent to MSF for care, the statement read.

Between 29 and 31 July alone, MSF treated 70 war-wounded patients. In total from 3 May until 31 July, we have treated 482 war-wounded people, nearly all (92 per cent) for injuries caused by shells and bullets, and around a quarter (26 per cent) aged under 18. The patients seen by MSF are just a fraction of the total number injured by the violence, the organization reported.

MSF also said the conflict is stopping people from seeking medical attention when ill.

“The conflict leads people to think 10 times about whether they really want to make the journey. They delay until they can’t wait anymore, when their relatives haven’t opened their eyes for two or three days, have shallow breathing and are unresponsive. From a medical perspective, that’s almost too late.”

Even amongst MSF staff, the impact of the fighting is clearly visible. “Healthcare staff are exhausted. The work itself, seeing all these patients, is hugely difficult. And then on top of that, people have to deal a lot with outside pressures and worries,” says an MSF doctor.

Our teams continue to provide much-needed healthcare in Boost hospital, while continuing to run projects in four other locations around the country; Herat, Kandahar, Khost and Kunduz.

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US and UK accuse Taliban of possible war crimes

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(Last Updated On: August 2, 2021)

The U.S. and British embassies in Kabul said on Monday the insurgent Taliban may have committed war crimes in southern Afghanistan by carrying out revenge murders of civilians, a charge denied by the insurgents.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban negotiating team member based in Doha, told Reuters that tweets containing the accusations were “baseless reports.”

The U.S. Embassy in the capital Kabul tweeted a statement accusing the Taliban of killing dozens of civilians in the area of Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar province. The statement was also tweeted by the British embassy.

“These murders could constitute war crimes; they must be investigated & those Taliban fighters or commanders responsible held accountable,” the U.S. Embassy tweeted.

In a second tweet, it said: “The Taliban’s leadership must be held responsible for the crimes of their fighters. If you cannot control your fighters now, you have no business in governance later.”

The tweets, accompanied by calls for a ceasefire, stepped up the United States’ public criticism of the group as U.S. troops withdraw and the Taliban goes on the offensive.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that Afghanistan would become a ‘pariah state’ if any future Taliban rule in Afghanistan resulted in atrocities against civilians.

The insurgents gained control last month of the strategic area of Spin Boldak, which lies at a border and trade crossing with Pakistan, and heavy fighting has taken place since as Afghan forces try to recapture the area.

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