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Israel-Hamas ceasefire holds, U.N. to launch Gaza aid appeal

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A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas held into a third day on Sunday as mediators spoke to all sides about extending the period of calm after the worst outbreak of fighting in years.

Egyptian mediators have been shuttling between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas, to try to sustain the ceasefire and have also met the Islamist group’s rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in the occupied West Bank.

Egypt’s foreign minister was also set to meet with top Jordanian officials on Sunday to discuss de-escalation and ways to revive the Middle East peace process.

Lynn Hastings, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said on Sunday the U.N. would launch an appeal to repair the damage in densely populated Gaza, where there is a threat of COVID-19 spreading.

“The escalation has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, generated by nearly 14 years of blockade and internal political divisions, alongside recurrent hostilities,” she said in a statement issued from the Palestinian enclave.

“We must also ensure support to continue addressing needs that already existed, including those arising from the ongoing pandemic.”

Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007, saying this prevents Hamas bringing in arms. Hastings said the United Nations had long been asking Israel to stop the blockade and would continue doing so.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said Washington will work with U.N. agencies on expediting humanitarian aid for Gaza “in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal”.

His top diplomat, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in television interviews on Sunday said that while the Biden administration was now focused was on aid, reconstruction and diplomacy, an end to violence could help shift gears toward long-term peace.

“We’ll be re-engaging with the Palestinians — of course continuing our deep engagement with the Israelis — in trying to put in place conditions that allow us over time, hopefully, to advance a genuine peace process. But that is not the immediate order of business,” Blinken told CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program. “We have a lot of work to get to that point.”

The United Arab Emirates on Sunday also said it stands ready to facilitate peace efforts.

Palestinian officials put reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars in Gaza, where medical officials said 248 people were killed during the 11 days of fighting.

Medics said rocket fire and a guided missile attack killed 13 people in Israel during the hostilities.

Economists said Israel’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic could be curbed by the hostilities. Israel reopened its borders to foreign tourists on Sunday but said it would take time to revive the tourism industry.

Israel has fully vaccinated about 55% of its population and COVID-19 cases have dropped sharply.

AL-AQSA

Israel admitted Jewish visitors on Sunday to a contested Jerusalem holy site where police confrontations with Palestinian protesters helped to ignite the cross-border Gaza fighting on May 10.

Police said this was a regular scheduled visit to the sacred compound known as Temple Mount by Jews and the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims. Israeli social media accounts showed a few dozen Jews in religious garb strolling around the site under guard and police reported no unusual incidents.

The hilltop plateau in Jerusalem’s walled Old City is the most sensitive site in the conflict, and was the focus of frequent protests by Palestinians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The holiest site in Judaism, it is revered by Jews as the site of the Biblical temples of antiquity. It is now dominated by two Muslim shrines, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third-holiest site in Islam.

It is situated in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured and occupied in a 1967 war, later annexing in a move not recognised internationally.

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the capital of a future state. But Israel deems all of Jerusalem to be its capital, citing religious and historical ties.

(Writing by Dan Williams and Stephen Farrell; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by David Goodman, Timothy Heritage and Daniel Wallis)

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EU, U.S. agree to talk on carbon border tariff

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The United States and European Union agreed on Tuesday to hold talks on the bloc’s planned carbon border tariff, possibly at the World Trade Organisation, EU chief executive Ursula von der Leyen said.

U.S. President Joe Biden met European Commission President von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel on Tuesday for a summit tackling issues from trade to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The leaders also discussed climate change policy, including the EU’s plan to impose carbon emissions costs on imports of goods, including steel and cement, which the Commission will propose next month.

“I explained the logic of our carbon border adjustment mechanism,” von der Leyen told a news conference after the summit.

“We discussed that we will exchange on it. And that WTO might facilitate this,” she said.

Brussels and Washington are keen to revitalise transatlantic cooperation on climate change, after four fractious years under former president Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, they outlined plans for a transatlantic alliance to develop green technologies and said they will coordinate diplomatic efforts to convince other big emitters to cut CO2 faster.

But the EU border levy could still cause friction. A draft of the proposal said it would apply to some U.S. goods sold into the EU, including steel, aluminium and fertilisers.

Brussels says the policy is needed to put EU firms on an equal footing with competitors in countries with weaker climate policies, and that countries with sufficiently ambitious emissions-cutting policies could be exempted from the fee.

The United States and EU are the world’s second- and third- biggest emitters of CO2, respectively, after China.

A draft of the EU-U.S. summit statement, seen by Reuters, repeated commitments the leaders made at the G7 summit at the weekend to “scale up efforts” to meet an overdue spending pledge of $100 billion a year by rich countries to help poorer countries cut carbon emissions and cope with global warming.

It did not include firm promises of cash. Canada and Germany both pledged billions in new climate finance on Sunday, and campaigners had called on Brussels and Washington to do the same.

The draft statement also stopped short of setting a date for the United States and EU to stop burning coal, the most polluting fossil fuel and the single biggest of greenhouse gas emissions.

Brussels and Washington said they will largely eliminate their CO2 emissions from electricity production by the 2030s.

 

(Reporting by Kate Abnett, additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Andrew Heavens and Barbara Lewis)

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U.S. fine Air Canada $25.5 milliom over delayed refunds

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The U.S. Transportation Department said on Tuesday it was seeking a $25.5 million fine from Air Canada over the carrier’s failure to provide timely refunds requested by thousands of customers for flights to or from the United States.

The department said it filed a formal complaint with a U.S. administrative law judge over flights Air Canada canceled or significantly changed. The penalty is “intended to deter Air Canada and other carriers from committing similar violations in the future,” the department said, adding Air Canada continued its no-refund policy in violation of U.S. law for more than a year.

Air Canada said it believes the U.S. government’s position “has no merit.” It said it “will vigorously challenge the proceedings.”

Air Canada obtained a financial aid package this spring that gave the carrier access to up to C$5.9 billion ($4.84 billion) in funds through a loan program.

The carrier said it has been refunding nonrefundable tickets as part of the Canadian government’s financial package. Since April 13 eligible customers have been able to obtain refunds for previously issued nonrefundable tickets, it said.

The Transportation Department disclosed it is also “actively investigating the refund practices of other U.S. and foreign carriers flying to and from the United States” and said it will take “enforcement action” as appropriate.

The administration said the Air Canada penalty sought was over “extreme delays in providing the required refunds.”

Refund requests spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March 2020, the Transportation Department has received over 6,000 complaints against Air Canada from consumers who said they were denied refunds for flights canceled or significantly changed. The department said the airline committed a minimum of 5,110 violations and passengers waited anywhere from five to 13 months to receive refunds.

Last month, a trade group told U.S. lawmakers that 11 U.S. airlines issued $12.84 billion in cash refunds to customers in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic upended the travel industry.

In May, Democratic Senators Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal called on carriers to issue cash refunds whether flights were canceled by the airline or traveler.

($1 = 1.2195 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Shepardson in WashingtonAdditional reporting by Allison Lampert in MontrealEditing by Matthew Lewis)

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Egypt upholds death sentence for 12 senior Muslim Brotherhood figures

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Egypt’s highest civilian court on Monday upheld death sentences for 12 senior Muslim Brotherhood figures over a 2013 sit-in which ended with security forces killing hundreds of protesters, judicial sources said.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, means the 12 men could face execution pending approval by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. They include Abdul Rahman Al-Bar, commonly described as the group’s mufti or top religious scholar, Mohamed El-Beltagi, a former member of parliament, and Osama Yassin, a former minister.

Many Muslim Brotherhood figures have been sentenced to death in other cases related to the unrest that followed the military’s ousting of Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi in 2013, but the Court of Cassation ordered retrials.

Rights groups have documented a sharp rise in the number of executions in Egypt, with at least 51 carried out so far this year according to Amnesty International.

“Instead of continuing to escalate their use of the death penalty by upholding death sentences following convictions in grossly unfair mass trials Egyptian authorities must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions,” Amnesty said in a statement.

Monday’s ruling relates to a mass trial of hundreds of suspects accused of murder and incitement of violence during pro-Brotherhood protests at Rabaa al-Adawiya square in Cairo in the weeks after Mursi’s overthrow.

In September 2018, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced 75 people to death and issued varying jail terms for more than 600 others. Many defendants were tried in absentia.

Forty-four of those sentenced to death appealed to the Court of Cassation. Thirty-one had their sentences changed to life in prison, while death sentences were upheld for 12 others.

A final defendant, the senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian, died in prison in Cairo in August 2020. Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, died in prison in 2019.

The court also upheld jail terms for many other defendants including a life sentence for Mohamed Badie, leader of the outlawed Brotherhood, and a 10-year jail term for Mursi’s son Osama, the judicial sources said.

 

(Reporting by Haitham Ahmed; writing by Mahmoud Mourad; editing by Aidan Lewis, William Maclean and Grant McCool)

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