‘Dad, please don’t go out’: The Gazans killed as Israel freed hostages

Abed-Alrahman Al-Najjar
Image caption,Abed-Alrahman al-Najjar was killed on 12 February

By Fergal Keane

BBC News, Jerusalem

When Israeli special forces rescued two of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas, there was relief for their families and a boost for national morale. But the rescue on 12 February has left angry feelings in Gaza, where more than 70 people were reported killed on the night.

Warning: Readers may find some of the details below distressing.

Nawara al-Najjar was asleep in the tent that had been her family’s home in Rafah for the last five weeks, just a few hundred metres away from the site of the rescue raid.

Lying on the ground were Nawara, who is six months pregnant, her six children – ranging in age from 13 to four – and her husband Abed-Alrahman.

They had fled from their home in Khan Younis, about 9km (6 miles) north, following the instructions of the Israel Defense Forces who said Rafah was a safe area.

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Before falling asleep, the couple discussed what to do about two of their children who had been injured. Their son had been burned by scalding food, and their daughter was recovering from facial paralysis caused by trauma in the early stages of the war.

Before they became refugees, Abed-Alrahman did whatever work he could find to support his family, often as a labourer on farms.

They were a strong couple who always tried to solve problems together.

“My husband was anxious, thinking about how he would find a way to treat them and where to take them,” Nawara says. “Our neighbours said they wanted to take my daughter to a doctor for treatment… So, we decided that he would be in charge of our son, and I would be in charge of my daughter.”

Then something unusual happened. Nawara usually slept surrounded by the children. But that night, Abed-Alrahman asked to change the arrangement. “Before he went to sleep, he asked me to come and sleep next to him. It was the first time he said, ‘Come sleep with me’.”

They fell into the exhausted sleep of refugee life. Then shortly before 02:00 (00:00 GMT), Nawara woke to the sound of shooting.

Abed-Alrahman said he would go out and see what was happening.

Nawara says: “Our oldest son was telling him, ‘Dad, please don’t go out’. [Abed-Alrahman] was trying to reassure him that nothing would happen; my son was telling him not to go out, that he would die.”

Then she felt a searing pain in her head. Shrapnel from an explosion had ripped into the tent.

Nawara started screaming. At first she could not see anything. After some minutes her vision returned in time to see Abed-Alrahman in his death throes. She remembers the “rattle” of his final breaths.

“When my children first saw him, they were screaming, ‘Oh, father, oh father, don’t leave us, don’t leave us’. I told them, ‘Stay away from your father. Just pray for him’.”

Daughter Malak, aged 13, was hit in the eye by a splinter of shrapnel. Four other children sustained minor wounds. They also endured the trauma of what they heard and saw – the explosions and their father being carried away to hospital. Later that night, in a hospital filled with other victims, it was confirmed to Nawara that Abed-Alrahman was dead.

Weeping, she asks: “What was his sin? What was his children’s sin? What’s my sin? I became a widow at 27.

Malak says she was taken to three different hospitals to try and get treatment, but she lost her eye.

“I was not treated immediately. Only after three days was my surgery performed. I was injured in the eye and I was also shot in my waist. I’m in pain, pain, pain.”

Then Malak became distraught, and cried out: “I lost my dad. Enough!”

Malak Al-Najjar
Image caption,Malak al-Najjar, aged 13, lost an eye on the same night of the Israeli military raid

According to the health ministry, run under the direction of the Hamas government in Gaza, at least 74 people were killed during the raid in the early hours of 12 February.

It is not possible to say precisely how many of the dead were civilians and how many were fighters. But witnesses and medical sources suggest a high proportion of the dead were non-combatants. The independent Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, based in Gaza, using details obtained from hospital lists, says 27 children and 22 women were among those killed.

Mohammed al-Zaarab, 45, a father-of-10 from Khan Younis, also fled to Rafah believing it would be safe. He remembers being woken in his tent by the intensity of the assault. “They were shelling with helicopters, with F-16 jets …My son was shot in his hand. Our neighbour was shot in the head.”

The following day, Mohammed’s elderly father felt unwell. He took him to the doctor, but soon after the old man died of a heart attack. “I buried him. Today is the third day in his grave. Why is this happening to us?” he asks.

The International Medical Corps – which provides emergency aid in crisis zones around the world – runs a field hospital near the scene. Dr Javed Ali, a surgeon from Pakistan, was jolted awake by the first strikes and went to shelter in a safe room in the staff quarters near the hospital.

“Aside from the air strikes, we were hearing tanks in the background, there was active exchange of fire from small firearms, as well as a helicopter gunship that was going over the hospital fighting and firing in all directions. So, it was very, very scary. We thought that this was it.”

Hearing the sound of ambulances, the medics decided to leave the safe room and help. Along with the wounded came women and children seeking shelter.

“The hospital itself is a tent structure. So there were a lot of concerns. Obviously, if there is any strike towards the hospital it will be devastating, but we had to make a decision to save as many patients as possible.”

The Al-Najjar family
Image caption,Nawara al-Najjar, sitting with some of her children, was injured by shrapnel that ripped into her tent on 12 February

Many of the dead were thought to be still lying under the rubble of destroyed houses. Another doctor – from the international agency Médecins Sans Frontières – sent a series of anguished voice messages to colleagues in London after sunrise on 12 February.

She described lying across her children’s bodies to protect them as shrapnel flew through the windows of the room where they were sheltering. The doctor has given the BBC permission to quote the messages but wants to remain anonymous.

Her account of what she found after the raid is harrowing.

“At our home when we were checking, I found pieces of human flesh. We found a whole lower limb belonging to a human that we don’t know who he is. When I saw the pieces of flesh on the floor, I cried.”

Since the beginning of the IDF incursion into Gaza, the military has accused Hamas of using the civilian population as human shields, and using medical facilities to conceal military operations and hide hostages.

The rescue of two hostages – Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70 – in Rafah this month was a rare success for the Israeli teams searching for more than 130 people, including two children, still believed to be held captive.

In a statement to the BBC about the events of 12 February, an IDF spokesman said it was “committed to mitigating civilian harm” during military operations. Military lawyers advised commanders so that strikes complied with international legal obligations.

The statement says: “This process is designed to ensure that senior commanders have all reasonably available information and professional advice that will ensure compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict, including by providing ‘Target Cards’ which facilitate an analysis that is conducted on a strike-by-strike basis, and takes into account the expected military advantage and the likely collateral civilian harm, amongst other matters.

“Even where circumstances do not allow for a targeting process involving this level of deliberate pre-planning and pre-approval, IDF regulations emphasise that commanders and soldiers must still comply with the Law of Armed Conflict.”

Photo uploaded to social media of Simon Marman and Louis Har being reunited with their families
Image caption,Israeli hostages Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har were reunited with their families shortly after being rescued on 12 February

Human rights organisations have previously accused Israel of using disproportionate force. In a statement on 8 February – four days before the hostage raid – Human Rights Watch warned that Israel “might be carrying out unlawfully indiscriminate attacks. When it comes to the question of whether Israel is violating the law in Gaza, there is enough smoke to suspect a fire”.

In December US President Joe Biden warned Israel against “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza.

Any legal deliberation on whether the raid constituted a disproportionate use of force, and therefore a war crime, must await an independent investigation. With no end to the war in sight, that process may take a long time.

The anonymous MSF doctor who found body parts in her home is deeply pessimistic.

“To be honest, the one who died is the one who is lucky… the one who is left has been cursed and abandoned by all people around the world. It’s not fair… I don’t know how anybody can sleep knowing that our kids are suffering for nothing. We are only civilians.”

Her message comes from inside the frightened, claustrophobic confines of Rafah, where 1.5 million people – six times its normal population – have sought shelter.

Israel is threatening an invasion of Rafah in the next few weeks, necessary, it says, to destroy Hamas. The fear for the refugees is that the horror of 12 February will soon be overtaken by new miseries, and forgotten by the international community.

“I know that this message means nothing to a lot of people,” the MSF doctor says, “and will change nothing”.https://blejermot.com/

Wagner in Africa: How the Russian mercenary group has rebranded

A private Russian security guard in the CAR - December 2020

By Joe Inwood & Jake Tacchi

BBC Newsnight & BBC Eye Investigations

Russia is offering governments in Africa a “regime survival package” in exchange for access to strategically important natural resources, a major new report has found.

Internal Russian government documents, seen by the BBC, also detail how it is working to change mining laws in West Africa, with the ambition of dislodging Western companies from an area of strategic importance.

This is part of the process of the Russian government taking over the businesses of the Wagner mercenary group, broken up after a failed coup in June 2023.

The multibillion dollar operations are now mostly being run as the Russian “Expeditionary Corps”, managed by the man accused of being behind the attempt to murder Sergei Skripal using the Novichok nerve agent on the streets of the UK – a charge Russia has denied.

“This is the Russian state coming out of the shadows in its Africa policy,” says Jack Watling, land warfare specialist at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) and one of the report’s authors.

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Back in June 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin was probably the most feared and famous mercenary in the world. His Wagner Group was in control of billions of dollars’ worth of companies and projects, while his fighters were central to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Then, he decided to march on Moscow, ostensibly calling for the removal of the defence minister and head of the general staff, but in reality threatening President Vladimir Putin in a way no-one had before.

Within weeks he had died in a highly suspicious plane crash, along with much of the Wagner leadership. There was widespread speculation at the time about what would happen to the Wagner Group. Now, we have the answer.

According to Dr Watling, “there was a meeting in the Kremlin fairly shortly after Prigozhin’s mutiny, in which it was decided that Wagner’s Africa operations would fall directly under the control of Russian military intelligence, the GRU”.

Control was to be handed to Gen Andrey Averyanov, head of Unit 29155, a secretive operation specialising in targeting killings and destabilising foreign governments.

But it seems Gen Averyanov’s new business was not destabilising governments, but rather securing their future, as long as they paid by signing away their mineral rights.

In early September, accompanied by deputy Defence Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, Gen Averyanov began a tour of former Wagner operations in Africa.

They started in Libya, meeting warlord Gen Khalifa Haftar. Their next stop was Burkina Faso where they were greeted by 35-year-old coup leader Ibrahim Traoré.

After that, they landed in the Central African Republic, possibly the most well-established Wagner operation on the continent, before heading to Mali to meet the leaders of the junta there.

Demonstrators carry banners in Bangui, on March 22, 2023 during a march in support of Russia and China's presence in the Central African Republic.
Image caption,This banner in the Central African Republic reads: Russia is Wagner, we love Russia and we love Wagner

On a subsequent trip they also met General Salifou Modi, one of the military men who seized power in Niger last year.

Readouts of the various meetings demonstrate that the two men were reassuring Wagner’s partners on the continent that the demise of Prigozhin did not mean the end of his business deals.

Reports of the meeting with Capt Traoré of Burkina Faso confirmed cooperation would continue in “the military domain, including the training of Burkinabe officer cadets and officers at all levels, including pilots in Russia”.

In short, the death of Prigozhin did not mean the end for the junta’s relationship with Russia. In some ways, it would become deeper still.

The three West African states with close links to Wagner – Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso – have all experienced military takeovers in recent years. They have since announced their withdrawal from the regional bloc Ecowas, and the creation of their own “Alliance of Sahel States”.

Maybe the most entwined with the mercenaries was Mali, where an ongoing Islamist insurgency, combined with multiple coups, had left an essentially failed state.

Previously, security assistance had come in the form of the UN mission known as Minusma, alongside the French military’s long-running counter-insurgency operation.

But there was no particular fondness for France, the former colonial power, and so when the Wagner group offered to replace their security operations with Russian backing, the offer was accepted.

“The French were tolerated, rather than welcomed,” says Edwige Sorgho-Depagne, an analyst of African politics who works for Amber Advisers.

“The French mandate to help in the terror crisis in the Sahel was always regarded as limited in time. So, the fact that the French stayed for that long – over 10 years – without finding a way to end the crisis didn’t help”.

Flowers commemorating Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin at a monument to Russian mercenaries built in 2021 in CAR
Image caption,These flowers commemorating Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin were laid at a monument to Russian mercenaries in CAR

Beyond pragmatism, there was also nostalgia. “In these countries, Russia is not a new ally. Russia was there before in the 1970s and 1980s.”

“There’s this dream of getting back to a better time, which is often associated with the relationship with Russia.”

But for the military juntas running these countries, Russia’s military presence has obvious benefits.

“Initially, these juntas were transitional leaders. They were supposed to organise elections and bring about a return to democratic institutions.”

“But now Russian paramilitaries are brought in to protect the military junta, allowing them to stay as long as they want.”

The junta ordered the French forces to leave and Mali is now largely dependent on Wagner for its internal security, a change that is having an immediate impact on ordinary Malians.

“What the Russians have provided is a strike force, with helicopters with advanced capabilities and a lot of firepower,” says Dr Watling. “They are using pretty traditional Soviet anti-partisan methods. You see fighters who were executed, as well as civilians targeted for enabling or being associated with fighters.”

There have been multiple claims that Wagner forces carried out human rights abuses on the African continent, as well as in Ukraine and Syria, where Prigozhin’s organisation previously held a commanding presence.

One of the most well-documented incidents took place in the central Malian town of Moura where, according to a UN report, at least 500 people are believed to have been summarily executed by Malian troops and “armed white men”, who eyewitnesses described as speaking an “unknown language”.

While independent verification has not been possible, Human Rights Watch identified the unknown white attackers as Russian mercenaries.

Russian military specialists at the airport in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou
Image caption,A hundred Russian military specialists arrived in Burkina Faso, along with equipment and weapons last month, with more expected soon

In exchange for considerable, if brutal, security assistance, Wagner required something in return.

Mali, like many African nations, is rich in natural resources – from timber and gold to uranium and lithium. Some are simply valuable, while others have strategic importance as well.

According to Dr Watling, Wagner was operating in a well-established tradition: “There is a standard Russian modus operandi, which is that you cover the operational costs with parallel business activity. In Africa, that is primarily through mining concessions.”

In every country in which it operates, Wagner was reported to have secured valuable natural resources using these to not only cover costs, but also extract significant revenue. Russia has extracted $2.5bn (£2bn) worth of gold from Africa in the past two years, which is likely to have helped fund its war in Ukraine, according to the Blood Gold Report.

This month, Russian fighters – formerly Wagner mercenaries – took control of Mali’s Intahaka gold mine, close to the border with Burkina Faso. The artisanal mine, the largest in northern Mali, had been disputed for many years by various armed groups active in the region.

But there is something else, with potential geopolitical significance.

“We are now observing the Russians attempting to strategically displace Western control of access to critical minerals and resources,” says Dr Watling.

In Mali, the mining code was recently re-written to give the junta greater control over natural resources. That process has already seen an Australian lithium mine suspend trading on its shares, citing uncertainty over the implementation of the code.

While lithium and gold mines are clearly important, according to Dr Watling there is possibly an even greater strategic headache around the corner: “In Niger the Russians are endeavouring to gain a similar set of concessions that would strip French access to the uranium mines in the country.”

Gold miners empty containers of earth removed from a mining shaft in Koflatie, Mali, on October 28, 2014, a mine located a few miles from the border with its southwestern neighbour Guinea.
Image caption,Many Malians earn their living by mining gold

The report details internal Russian memos focussed on trying to achieve in Niger what was done in Mali. If Russia managed to gain control of West Africa’s uranium mines, Europe could be left exposed once again to what has often been called Russian “energy blackmail”.

France is more dependent on nuclear power than any other country in the world, with 56 reactors producing almost two-thirds of the country’s energy. About a fifth of its uranium is imported from Niger. There have previously been complaints about the terms of trade, with suggestions that the former colonial power exploits nations like Niger.

“The narrative that Russia is pushing is that Western states remain fundamentally colonial in their attitude,” says Dr Watling. “It’s very ironic because the Russian approach, which is to isolate these regimes, capture their elites and to extract their natural resources, is quite colonial.”

In reality, the “Expeditionary Corps” appears more as “Wagner 2.0”, than a radical departure for Russian foreign policy. Prigozhin had built deep political, economic and military ties on the African continent – dismantling this complex web would have been difficult and ultimately counter-productive.

The “Expeditionary Corps” is operating in the same countries, with the same equipment and – it seems – with the same ultimate goal.

According to Dr Watling, the fundamental change lies in “the overtness with which Russia is pursuing its policy”. Prigozhin’s Wagner Group had always provided Russia with a level of plausible deniability in operations and influence abroad.

Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many in the Western security apparatus say that Russia’s mask has slipped.

“What they are looking to do is to exacerbate our crises internationally. They are trying to start fires elsewhere, and expand those that already exist, making a less safe world,” Dr Watling.

“Ultimately, it weakens us in the global competition that we are currently facing. So the impact is not immediately felt, but over time, it is a serious threat.”https://blejermot.com/

Minnesota shooting: Wife of killed police officer says ‘he had to do what was right’

Paul Elmstrand with his wife Cindy and two-year-old daughter
Image caption,Paul Elmstrand with his wife Cindy and two-year-old daughter

By James FitzGerald

BBC News

The widow of one of the police officers killed in a shooting in Minnesota has said he was “the most generous, loving, patient person I’ve ever known”.

Paul Elmstrand, 27, was shot dead at a home in Burnsville on Sunday, alongside another officer and a paramedic.

The gunman had barricaded himself inside with seven children and opened fire as police tried to negotiate.

One other officer and a paramedic died in the incident, which followed a domestic abuse call in the early hours.

Mr Elmstrand’s wife, Cindy Elmstrand-Castruita, told the BBC’s US partner CBS: “I think he just had to be the hero. He had to do what he thought was right to protect those little lives even if it meant putting his at risk and it breaks my heart because now he’s gone.

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“But I know that he thought what he did was right.”

She said her husband – who was father to a five-month-old baby and two-year-old – “would drop everything to help someone who was in need, whether it be family, friend or someone on the street”.

“He could have a conversation with anyone and make them feel seen,” she said.

As well as Mr Elmstrand, police officer Matthew

Ruge, also 27, and paramedic Adam Finseth, 40, were also killed in the shooting.

A composite image with portrait photos of Paul Elmstrand, Adam Finseth and Matthew Ruge
Image caption,Police officers Paul Elmstrand (L) and Matthew Ruge (R) were shot dead, along with paramedic Adam Finseth (C)

State authorities said officers were called at about 01:50 local time (07:50 GMT) to the address in Burnsville, a city about 15 miles (24 km) south of central Minneapolis.

They were responding to a “report of a domestic situation” involving an armed man, said Supt Drew Evans from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

The responders later learned seven children, aged two to 15, were also “barricaded” in the property. They went on to spend “quite a bit of time negotiating with this individual”.

The attacker then opened fire, killing the three victims and inflicting non-life-threatening injuries on a fourth policeman, who was named as Adam Medlicott.

Details of exactly what happened next are not yet clear, though Supt Evans confirmed that the police “did return fire”. Local media said the gunman killed himself.

He is said by Supt Evans to have had “several guns and large amounts of ammunition”, and shot at the first responders from different parts of the home.

He has not yet been named. He was found dead at about 08:00, which left other inhabitants of the home able to escape unharmed.

Ms Elmstrand-Castruita told CBS she learnt about her husband’s death on Sunday morning, after waking up and seeing a text from her friend saying that she was sorry what she was going through.

“I looked out my bedroom window and saw a squad car out there,” she said. “I knew. That’s when I knew he was gone.”

Neighbours on the quiet residential street described their fear as the incident escalated. Jason Skog recalled seeing a large police and Swat presence in his neighbourhood.

Describing the sound of explosions and gunfire, he said it quickly became clear that “something bad was taking place”.

An investigation is under way into what happened, while tributes have been paid by emergency workers in the local area and beyond. A candlelit vigil was held for the victims on Sunday night.

Burnsville police chief Tanya Schwartz said her whole force was “hurting”, while Minnesota Governor Tim Walz described it as a “tragic loss for our state”.

The incident came just days after another mass shooting in another Midwestern state, during which one person was killed and 21 injured in Missouri.

The victims were among a crowd who had been watching a victory parade by the Kansas City Chiefs after the NFL team won the Super Bowl earlier this month.https://blejermot.com/

Tens of thousands at pro-Palestinian march in London

Protesters in London
Image caption,Tens of thousands of protesters gathered at the start of the protest in Marble Arch

By Andre Rhoden-Paul, & Louisa Pilbeam at the protest

BBC News

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in a pro-Palestinian march in central London.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) march was calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza war.

Saturday’s march was the first protest to go near the Israeli embassy in west London since a static rally in October.

Some 1,500 officers were deployed to police the protest. Demonstrators said it was one of busiest marches they have attended so far.

Five people were arrested in one incident, on suspicion of assaulting an emergency worker, and police said there were seven other arrests.

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One person was arrested on suspicion of supporting a proscribed organisation, one arrested for obstruction, two arrested on suspicion of refusing to remove a face covering when requested, and a further three for using abusive or threatening words or behaviour or displaying material abusive or likely to stir up racial hatred.

BBC News saw tens of thousands of people at the start of the march at Marble Arch.

PSC criticised the government and Labour for refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire. The campaign group’s Ben Jamal said there was “mounting pressure from world leaders” on Israel.

“The moral imperative is clear. An immediate ceasefire is a simple, absolute necessity,” he said.

Police officers at protest
Image caption,Around 1,500 officers have been deployed on public order duties

It was the first demonstration in the area of the Israeli embassy since a protest was held two days after the 7 October attacks on Israel by Hamas, a group designated as a terror organisation by the UK government.

Police restricted the start time of the march to ensure an event taking place at a synagogue would finish prior to the protest passing by the building.

The march set off along Park Lane around 13:30 GMT, and made its way along Knightsbridge and Kensington Road to near the Israeli embassy in Kensington, where speeches were taking place.

Addressing the crowd, the Palestinians’ top envoy to the UK, Husam Zomlot, said: “Hang on to your anger, hang on to your enragement, hang on to your horror and use it, use it in the pursuit of justice.”

Protesters had been told by police the march must stop by 17:00 and that demonstrators had to leave by 18:00.

Cdr Kyle Gordon appealed for marchers to stay within the law, after the force dealt with a number of offences involving placards and hate speech at previous protests.

The protest faced criticism from Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy, who accused the march of being “another antisemitic hate parade through London”.

Protests have also taken place in Sydney and Istanbul.

  • Gaza hospital in ‘catastrophic’ state as Israeli troops raid
  • Israel Gaza war: History of the conflict explained
  • Why are Israel and Hamas fighting in Gaza?

Israel launched its military offensive after waves of Hamas fighters burst through Israel’s border on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people – mainly civilians – and taking about 250 others back to Gaza as hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 28,600 people, mainly women and children – have been killed in Israel’s campaign. Israel says its aim is to destroy Hamas and secure the return of the hostages.

Israel is being urged not to send ground forces into Rafah in southern Gaza and on the Egyptian border, where many Palestinians are living after areas closer to their homes were affected by fighting.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called for a pause to fighting to get aid in and hostages, and a “sustainable ceasefire”.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has said the government supports a “move from a pause – to get aid in and hostages out – towards a sustainable ceasefire, leading to a long term political solution, including a Palestinian state”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told BBC News on Saturday “we all want to get to a ceasefire” in Gaza, but stopped short of calling for an “immediate” ceasefire.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Sir Keir said: “We do need to get to a ceasefire, we all want to get to a ceasefire. The question is how do we get there? The fighting has to stop. Any assault on Rafah must be repelled, we must not allow that to go ahead”.https://blejermot.com/

The day I found out I had special ‘neo’ blood

Baby with breathing tube and other wires attached
Image caption,Willow’s life was saved by a unit of CMV-free blood

By Catherine Snowdon

BBC News

I have always been proud of donating blood. I have a relatively rare blood type (B-) and recently found out my blood is even more precious to the NHS, because it can be given to newborn babies.

At my last donation session, the donor carer who was about to put the needle in my arm asked: “It must feel great being a Neo?”

My baffled face prompted her to show me the bright blue tag that was waiting in the bowl to receive my bag of blood. Neo was written in large font on it. “Your blood is special, it’s going to help the tiniest of patients,” she explained.

Neo stands for neonatal, which is the term used to describe a baby in the first 28 days of life.

Neo tag on blood bag

As my blood was collected I had a speed lesson about how blood is tested after donation. It turns out some patients – including infants – need specific blood.

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I wanted to learn more so I spoke to Dr Andy Charlton, a consultant in haematology and transfusion medicine at NHS Blood and Transplant.

He explained that all donated blood is screened for HIV, hepatitis B, C, and E, as well as syphilis.

Once that has been done, further tests and processes are carried out on some samples to ensure they are suitable for patients who have specific requirements.

For instance, some people need blood that has been “washed” to remove proteins they have previously had allergic reactions to during transfusions.

Common virus

Blood that is destined for new babies, immunocompromised patients, pregnant women or to be transfused into a foetus in-uterine must be screened for a virus called cytomegalovirus or CMV.

Part of the herpes virus family, it is very common and usually harmless, causing mild flu-like symptoms or none at all. But for some people it can be serious.

In babies it can cause seizures, sight and hearing problems as well as damage to the liver and spleen. In rare cases it can be deadly.

Estimates vary but it is thought that between 50 and 80% of adults in the UK have had CMV. As only about 2% of the eligible population in England currently give blood, finding enough donors who have not been exposed to the virus is crucial for supplies.

The blood I donated the previous time was tested and came back clear of antibodies for CMV, meaning I had not been exposed and received the special tag. My blood will be tested for the virus every time I donate, to ensure I have not caught it in the interim.

Immunity to the virus lives forever in white blood cells so if I ever catch it, my blood can no longer be given to these vulnerable patients.

I am one of only 10,916 active donors in England who has CMV-free, B- blood. Over the last year 153,801 units of CMV negative blood products were requested by hospitals.

Dr Charlton says demand for “specialised blood components” is increasing and urges people to come forward to donate.

“We can’t thank our donors enough,” he says. “Every donation of blood is a gift of life and can save more than one person.”

Lifesaver

No-one understands the importance of blood donation better than Hayley Bean. Her daughter Willow’s life was saved soon after birth by a transfusion of CMV-free blood.

Hayley holding Willow as a newborn
Image caption,Hayley Bean with her daughter Willow, who received a blood transfusion soon after she was born

During pregnancy, Hayley was diagnosed with vasa previa, a dangerous condition in which the blood vessels from the placenta or umbilical cord block the birth canal.

The vessels are at risk of rupture at any time and, because they obstruct the baby’s passage out of the uterus, natural birth is impossible.

Hayley was admitted to hospital at 32 weeks for monitoring, and a Caesarean section was planned for 35 weeks.

During the operation, Willow’s blood vessels burst, causing life-threatening bleeding.

Baby with breathing tube inserted
Image caption,Willow needed intensive care after she was born

“All the alarms were going off and people were running around,” recalls Hayley.

“They got Willow out and I waited to hear that first cry. It was the worst moment of my life. She wasn’t breathing and had gone into shock. The neonatal team had to resuscitate her. After about 10 minutes I remember finally hearing a tiny cry.”

Willow was taken to intensive care after a nurse quickly took a picture to show Hayley.

“All I remember was how pale and swollen she looked,” she says.

Hayley finally held Willow for the first time 12 hours after she was born.

Willow smiling at camera
Image caption,Willow is now four

Willow is now a thriving four-year-old, and Hayley is eternally grateful for the treatment her daughter received.

“She was in intensive care for five days but there was no permanent damage, thanks to her getting that blood transfusion,” says Hayley.

“She wouldn’t be here today except for the kindness of a stranger. Someone, somewhere made the choice to give blood, and it’s thanks to them that Willow is here today.”

A few days after my first Neo donation, the text I had been waiting for came through. It told me which hospital my blood had been issued to. I smiled and wished the little one well.https://blejermot.com/

Gaza’s Nasser hospital: Fears for patients as Israeli raid continues

A screengrab from footage taken at Nasser hospital shows people, including in medical scrubs, appearing to run through a corridor
Image caption,Footage verified by the BBC shows chaotic scenes at the hospital

By Rushdi Abu Alouf in Istanbul & Kathryn Armstrong in London

BBC News

The Israeli military says its special forces are still inside the Nasser hospital in Gaza as fears grow for patients at the site.

Israel launched what it described as a “precise and limited mission” there on Thursday. The military says it has caught “dozens of terror suspects”.

Hamas dismissed that claim as “lies”. The Hamas-run health ministry said five people died after generators failed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the facility urgently needed fuel.

It said the fuel was vital to “ensure the continuation of the provision of life-saving services”.

Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesperson, said there were now reports that the orthopaedic unit at the hospital, in the city of Khan Younis, had been damaged.

“That obviously reduces the ability to provide the urgent medical care,” he said, adding there were still “critically injured and sick patients” at the hospital.

“More degradation to the hospital means more lives being lost.”

Nasser is the main hospital in southern Gaza, and is one of the few still functioning. It has been the scene of intense fighting between the IDF and Hamas for days.

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An injured man who had to leave the hospital said the conditions there were dire.

“Since they besieged it, there is no water or food,” Raed Abed told the Associated Press.

“Garbage is widespread, and sewage has flooded the emergency department.”

The hospital’s director, Nahed Abu-Teima, told BBC Arabic the situation inside was “catastrophic and very dangerous”.

The Hamas-run health ministry reported on Friday that the five people who died at the hospital did so after the electricity generators went down and oxygen could not be provided.

The deaths have not been independently verified.

On Wednesday, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) ordered thousands of displaced people who had been sheltering there to leave.

Images, verified by the BBC, showed medical staff rushing patients on stretchers through a corridor filled with smoke or dust.

The IDF believes Hamas has been using hospitals and other civilian bases as shields for military activities.

“We can’t give them [Hamas] a free pass, we have to make sure that they are pursued and hunted down,” IDF spokesperson Lt Col Peter Lerner told the BBC.

He said the military had been making “a huge effort to evacuate people from the hospital in order to get them out of harm’s way”, denying claims that civilians had been targeted.

The IDF said that among those it had captured at the hospital were 20 Hamas members who were part of the 7 October attacks on Israel.

It also said it had found weapons, including grenades, at the facility.

The military is also searching for the bodies of Israeli hostages which it said intelligence suggests might be hidden in the hospital.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said Israeli tanks were targeting the nearby Al-Amal hospital, “resulting in very severe damage in two nursing rooms”.

They wrote on social media that nobody had been hurt.

Intense hostilities have been reported around the hospital recently. The PRCS said it was raided last week after some 8,000 displaced people and patients complied with an order to evacuate.

On Friday, they said that two doctors who were arrested during the raid had been released, while 12 other staff remained in custody.

Israel launched its military offensive after waves of Hamas fighters burst through Israel’s border on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people – mainly civilians – and taking 253 others back to Gaza as hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry says more than 28,700 people, mainly women and children – have been killed in Israel’s campaign.

Israel is facing increasing international pressure to show restraint but efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting have not yet yielded any results.

A senior Palestinian official familiar with the ceasefire talks told the BBC that the gap between the negotiating parties was still wide and there were disagreements over many of the proposed provisions.

Senior officials from the US, Israel, Egypt and Qatar have been meeting in Cairo this week to try and hammer out a deal.

The official said that the main issue remains the disagreement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over what happens the day after the war is over. The US want to rely on a strengthened Palestinian Authority, while Israel is against having a single administration in charge of the West Bank and Gaza.

Another disagreement is over Israel’s aim of completely destroying Hamas, which the US thinks will be difficult to achieve anytime soon.

The US is said to be trying to pressure the two sides to reach a long period of calm to make it difficult for the two sides to return to fighting again.https://blejermot.com/

Israel Gaza: Biden says Israel must protect vulnerable in Rafah

Palestinians walk past houses destroyed by Israeli air strikes in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. Photo: 12 February 2024
Image caption,Many Palestinians fleeing the violence have ended up in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza

US President Joe Biden has said civilians who are “packed” into Rafah in the Gaza Strip are “exposed and vulnerable” and must be protected.

Israel must make “credible” efforts to protect the more than one million Palestinians sheltering in the southern Gazan city, he said.

Rafah has come under heavy Israeli air strikes in recent days, with a number of casualties reported.

A Palestinian doctor told the BBC people in Rafah were living in fear.

Last week, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had ordered troops to prepare to expand its ground operation to Rafah. He vowed to defeat Hamas gunmen hiding in the city.

UN human rights chief Volker Türk said any assault would be “terrifying” and many civilians “will likely be killed”.

More than half of the Gaza Strip’s population of 2.3 million is now crammed into the city on the border with Egypt, which was home to only 250,000 people before the war between Israel and Hamas erupted in October.

Many of the displaced people are living in makeshift shelters or tents in squalid conditions, with scarce access to safe drinking water or food.

Israel’s military launched its operations in the Gaza Strip after at least 1,200 people were killed in southern Israel on 7 October by Hamas-led gunmen, who also took 253 people hostage.

A number of those hostages were later released but Israel says 134 are still unaccounted for.

Some 28,473 Palestinians have been killed and more than 68,000 wounded in Gaza since 7 October, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there.

On Sunday, Israel’s military said two male Israeli-Argentine hostages had been rescued during a raid in Rafah.

President Biden again appealed for the protection of Rafah civilians after his meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Washington on Monday.

He said any major military operation in the city “should not proceed without a credible plan for ensuring the safety” of those living there.

“Many people there have been displaced, displaced multiple times, fleeing the violence to the north and now they’re packed into Rafah, exposed and vulnerable.

“They need to be protected. And we’ve also been clear from the start, we oppose any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza.”

Last week, the White House said it would not support major Israeli operations in Rafah without due consideration for the refugees there.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s Hamas rulers said there could be “tens of thousands” of casualties in Rafah, warning that any operation would also undermine talks about a possible release of Israeli hostages held in the territory.

The head of Israel’s intelligence agency, David Barnea, CIA chief William Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani met Egyptian officials in Cairo on Tuesday for further talks about a Gaza truce proposal, according to AFP news agency, which cited Egyptian outlet Al-Qahera News. The officials’ planned meeting was also reported in Israeli media.

Benjamin Netanyahu last week rejected Hamas’s proposed terms for a ceasefire, saying “total victory” in Gaza would be possible within months.

Alongside the US, a number of countries and international organisations have warned Israel against launching its planned offensive.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron on Monday said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah.

EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged allies of Israel to stop sending weapons, as “too many people” were being killed in Gaza.

Last week, Saudi Arabia warned of “very serious repercussions” if Rafah was stormed.

Correction 14 February 2024: This article originally included a sentence which described Rafah as the only open point of entry for humanitarian aid into Gaza. This is inaccurate because humanitarian aid has also been entering Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing.https://blejermot.com/

Bali: Foreign tourists to pay $10 entry tax from Valentine’s Day

Millions of tourists are drawn to Bali's beaches and resorts each year
Image caption,Millions of tourists are drawn to Bali’s beaches and resorts each year

By Nicholas Yong

BBC News, Singapore

Foreign tourists must now pay a 150,000 rupiah (£7.60; $9.60) levy to enter Bali, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

Indonesian authorities say this is aimed at protecting the island’s environment and culture.

Bali is known for its pristine beaches and surfing waves, as well its beautiful landscapes.

Official data shows that almost 4.8 million tourists visited Bali between January and November last year.

The tourist tax, which was first announced last year, came into effect from Wednesday – Valentine’s Day.

It applies to foreign tourists entering the province from abroad or other parts of the country, with domestic Indonesian tourists exempt. Travellers are urged to pay up before arrival, through the Love Bali website.

Tourism contributed some 60% to Bali’s annual GDP before the pandemic.

According to the province’s statistics bureau, Australia was the largest contributor of foreign tourists to Bali in November 2023 with more than 100,000 arrivals. This was followed by tourists from India, China and Singapore.

But misbehaving tourists in Bali have riled locals in recent years.

Last March, a Russian man was deported from Bali after stripping off on Mount Agung, believed by Hindus to be the home of the gods.

In the same month, authorities said they planned to ban foreign tourists from using motorbikes, after a spate of cases involving people breaking traffic laws.

In 2021, uproar also resulted when a three-minute video circulated of a Russian couple having sex on Mount Batur, another holy site.

Watch: What maps don’t show about this Asian nation

The announcement came on the same day that millions of Indonesians headed to the polls to select a new president and legislature. More than 200 million people over Indonesia’s 17,000 islands and across three time zones are eligible to vote.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sells shares worth over $4bn

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azon founder Jeff Bezos sells shares worth over $4bn”

Lauren Sánchez and Jeff Bezos arrive at the Dolce&Gabbana Party during the Milan Menswear Fall/Winter 2024-2025 on 13 January, 2024 in Milan, Italy.
Image caption,Jeff Bezos (right) and girlfriend Lauren Sánchez

By Mariko Oi & Natalie Sherman

BBC News

Multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos has sold more of his shares in Amazon, bringing the total value of sales in recent days to more than $4bn (£3.2bn).

The technology giant, which Mr Bezos founded in 1994, said he has sold 24 million Amazon shares this month.

Mr Bezos, who is the firm’s executive chair, last sold Amazon shares in 2021.

Earlier this month, the company said he was planning to sell 50 million shares over the next year, which are worth around $8.4bn at current prices.

The first sale of 12 million shares was announced in a regulatory filing on Friday, followed by an announcement on Tuesday of the sale of another 12 million shares.

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Mr Bezos has also given away shares in Amazon as part of his philanthropy, most recently in 2022.

As Mr Bezos moved to Miami in Florida from Seattle in Washington last year, he will save around $280m in tax on the $4bn worth of stock he has sold.

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Gains above $250,000 from the sale of shares or other long term investments, are taxed at 7% in Washington state. Florida does not have state taxes on incomes or capital gains.

However, he will still be liable to federal taxes as a result of selling the shares.

When Mr Bezos announced his move to Florida it prompted speculation over whether it was because of a potential tax bill he would have faced in Washington after the state approved a new tax on large stock sales.

His sales of Amazon shares come after they have risen by almost 70% in the past year.

Mr Bezos said in November that his parents had recently moved back to Miami where he spent some of his childhood and that he wanted to be close to them and to his Blue Origin space project, which was “increasingly shifting to Cape Canaveral”.https://blejermot.com/

Hungary resignations leave Viktor Orban in biggest crisis yet

Hungarian President Katalin Novak delivering her speech in the Alexander Palace in Budapest, Hungary, 10 February 2024
Image caption,Katalin Novak resigned as president on Saturday, then the justice minister stood down as an MP

By Nick Thorpe

BBC News, Hungary

This has become the biggest threat to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s rule since he returned to power in 2010.

Hungary has been shaken by the sudden resignations of the two most popular and successful women in an otherwise strongly male-dominated governing party.

President Katalin Novak and former Justice Minister Judit Varga have both taken responsibility for the decision to grant clemency to Endre K, former deputy director of a state orphanage.

Endre K was jailed for persuading children to withdraw their testimony against the director of the orphanage for sexual abuse.

He was one of 25 people pardoned by the president during a visit by Pope Francis last year. But his name only became public on 2 February.

The issue has become deeply problematic for a government which has made protection of children and traditional family values the cornerstone of its policies.

Worst of all for Mr Orban and his party, the departures of the two women have been followed by an avalanche of allegations about the way he runs the country.

And this double resignation, coming amid increasing protests, has deprived Viktor Orban of two very different but essential allies.

  • Who is Viktor Orban, Hungarian PM with 14-year grip on power?

President Novak radiated a “mother of the nation” image, closely identified with popular policies to encourage couples to have more children. She also promoted a more inclusive, less aggressive style than the prime minister in her largely symbolic role as head of state.

The tough-talking Judit Varga had been due to lead the governing Fidesz party into battle against the “Brussels bureaucrats” in the European elections in June. Now she has resigned as an MP and withdrawn from public life.

Former Hungarian Minister of Justice Judit Varga in Brussels in July 2023
Image caption,Until her resignation, Judit Varga was a high-profile Fidesz figure destined to play a key role in the European elections in June

Two other key figures have come under attack too – Mr Orban’s communications chief Antal Rogan, who is also in charge of the secret services, and Zoltan Balog, a Protestant bishop and personal adviser to the prime minister.

Mr Balog is alleged to have lobbied behind the scenes for the presidential clemency in the Endre K case. He has denied the allegation.

Within minutes of Judit Varga’s resignation, her ex-husband, powerful Fidesz insider Peter Magyar, announced: “I do not want to be part of a system for a minute longer where the real culprits hide behind women’s skirts.”

“For a long time, I believed in an ideal, in a national, sovereign, civic Hungary,” he complained. “However, over the past few years and especially today, I have come to realise all this is indeed just a political product, a sugary coating that serves only two purposes: to conceal the operation of the power factory and to acquire enormous wealth.”

He followed that up with a 100-minute interview on Sunday evening to the government-critical Partizan channel on YouTube, which has now been viewed 1.4 million times.

Each day, he posts new criticism of government figures on Facebook.

On Tuesday, he singled out Antal Rogan, the government’s communications maestro, asking him why he was staying silent, hiding behind the prime minister’s spokesman.

“You used to cut a much tougher figure,” he said. “Why are you hiding from your constituents? Why haven’t you held a press conference for years? Are you afraid to answer questions?”

Then he turned on Istvan Tiborcz, the son-in-law of the prime minister and husband of Mr Orban’s daughter Rahel.

“Dear Stephen [Istvan], you are a really talented person, at the age of 37, you have 100bn Forints (£220m), so many hotels, banks, fund managers, valuable former state-owned properties.”

“What other companies have you taken over lately? What is the total of government loans or grants you received to build your portfolio? Have you recently visited villages in Borsod [in northeast Hungary], where children sometimes play in the yard without warm clothes in winter?”

People walk on the Chain Bridge as they take part in a protest to demand the resignation of Hungarian President Katalin Novak
Image caption,Ahead of President Novak’s resignation protesters marched in Budapest to object to the pardon she had given last year

Opposition parties have tabled demands to investigate how the clemency was granted, how the state is run, and to call for the direct election of the next president.

The response of the government and of pro-government media has been furious.

“We do not respond to the desperate attempts of people in hopeless situations,” insisted the prime minister’s spokesman, Bertalan Havasi, about Peter Magyar.

“We must demonstrate our strength, because the pack of hyenas, these completely amoral, lying bastards… now smell blood because they think that the moment has come,” wrote Zsolt Bayer in the government flagship daily, Magyar Nemzet.

He went on to propose a show of strength by government supporters on 15 March, a national holiday: “”Let’s show them that the moment hasn’t bloody well come!”

Another commentator, Zsolt Jeszenszky, did not hold back in the government tabloid, Pesti Sracok.

“Those who proclaim [Judit Varga] an ally of paedophiles, who foam at the mouth demanding her head, are the same vile, satanic mob who demanded the death of Christ from Pontius Pilate,” he fumed. “The scum, the sewer rats, have not changed in 2,000 years.”

From the prime minister himself there has been strict silence. At least for now.

It is without doubt his biggest challenge in 14 years of uninterrupted Fidesz rule and the high-profile resignations have dented but not yet seriously damaged his power.

An anti-Orban protest is planned for Friday, but the prime minister will come out fighting, presumably on Saturday when he is due to deliver his annual state of the nation address.https://blejermot.com/

Conservative ex-PM Alexander Stubb elected Finland president

Alexander Stubb (centre) celebrates his election victory in Helsinki, Finland. Photo: 11 February 2024
Image caption,Alexander Stubb (centre) will officially assume office on 1 March

Finland’s conservative former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb has won Sunday’s presidential election, final results show.

He secured 51.6% of the vote, while his Green Party rival Pekka Haavisto, the former foreign minister, had 48.4%. Mr Haavisto has already admitted defeat.

It is the first election since Finland joined the Nato military alliance.

Mr Stubb, 55, takes a hardline approach towards Russia, with which the Nordic nation shares a long land border.

He had said that joining Nato was a “done deal” for his country as soon as Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Finland officially became the Washington-led alliance’s 31st member last April.

At a press conference late on Sunday, Mr Stubb, a member of Finland’s National Coalition Party, described his election victory as “the greatest honour of my life”.

He also stressed that it was “rather self-evident that it’s difficult to have any kind of political dialogue with Putin as long as Russia is waging an aggressive war against Ukraine.

“So, I don’t see any kind of communication with Putin or with the Russian political leadership in the near future. We all want to find a pathway towards peace, but it seems to me that that pathway happens only through the battlefield at the moment.”

Mr Haavisto, who ran as an independent, admitted his defeat.

“Well, Alexander. Congratulations to Finland’s 13th president,” the 65-year-old said.

“If you ask me today if I’ll ever be involved in any elections again, my answer is probably ‘no’, not for a while and maybe never,” added Mr Haavisto, who had also unsuccessfully run for the presidency twice before.

Instead, he said he would would now focus on his job as a lawmaker.

Mr Stubb will officially assume office on 1 March, replacing Sauli Niinisto.

The Finnish head of state is directly responsible for foreign and security policy, and is commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces.https://blejermot.com/