World

Gay Iranian man allegedly killed by family days before seeking asylum

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(TEHRAN) -- Alireza Monfared, a 20-year-old who was gay, was allegedly killed by family members, just days before he could leave Iran to seek asylum, according to multiple reports.

News of his early May death made headlines in the U.S. this week thanks in part to LGBTQ news sites and actors such as Dan Levy and singer Demi Lovato sharing the story on social media.

Some reports say Monfared was beheaded around Ahwaz, a southwestern city of Iran. Deputy police of the province confirmed that "bleeding from the neck area" was the cause of his death, Saednews reported Tuesday.

"I believe the exact term for this horrendous murder is gay-killing rather than the general term of honor-killing," Mina Khani, an Iranian LGBTQ and women's rights activist based in Germany, told ABC News.

"Of course the motive of such murders by family members is to defend the 'honor' of the tribe or family, but we should never forget the social stigma and hatred constantly reproduced by the social and legal constructs against LGBTQ members," she added.

Many in this area of the world face enormous dangers for being openly gay. According to Human Rights Watch, nearly 15 countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa criminalize homosexuality, leading to punishments that include prison, lashes and even the death penalty. But it's people in their local villages and communities that have many gay individuals scared.

Monfared's friend Aghil Abyat who is based in Turkey, told BBC Persian that Monfared had told him about his step-brother's repeated threats.

A report by 6Rang claimed Monfared had applied for an exemption from Iran's compulsory military service. Iranian law states that men over the age of 18 need to serve in the military before they may leave the country, but homosexuality is classified under "psychological disorders," which can lead to an exemption from service. Prior to this 2016 amendment, only transgender citizens were allowed to apply for such an exception, either before or after a gender confirmation surgery.

This government rule leaves many in the LGBTQ community there concerned for their safety.

"We were shocked and scared at the same time. We are still afraid of the regime making a database of gay and transgender people and putting them under pressure whenever they want," Shadi Amin, an LGBTQ activist based in Germany, told ABC News.

The idea of receiving an exemption card is leaving many gay and trans Iranians worried they'd be branded and vulnerable to harassment and discrimination.

"It can be an immediate threat to gay men who receive this card," Amin said. "The specific reason mentioned on their card can cause systematic discrimination against them. Like, they cannot get employed at state and even private organizations, or in extreme cases, it may lead to life threatening risks like what happened to Alireza."

Mahdi, a 36-year-old Iranian gay man who did not want to use his full name over safety concerns, told ABC News that hearing the news of Monfared's murder broke his heart.

"What makes such news even bitter is the fact that there are many of such cases happening in the country without their news going viral. And, when they go viral, it really matters what details to disclose," he said.

"My own boyfriend was already hesitant to use gay people's military exemption. But, when the news [became] viral, he said there is no way he'd do that because his family would realize his sexual orientation," he explained.

Despite criticism against the Iranian government, many aren't feeling hopeful for change. Mahdi said the Islamic Republic is not a regime that responds "logically" to any criticism.

"Besides the immediate threat that many gay exempts face now, such way of coverage and the pressure from outside of the country is not likely to have any impact on the illogical and conservative officials in Iran," he said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Ireland's health service hit by 'significant' ransomware attack

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(DUBLIN) -- Ireland’s health care system was hit by a major ransomware attack on Friday, forcing its health service to shut down its IT systems and locking many hospitals out of their computers, in what one government minister said was possibly the most serious cyber attack in the country's history.

The ransomware attack began overnight, targeting Ireland's Health Service Executive which said it had decided to shut down most of its IT systems as a precaution.

Many hospitals and clinics reported on Friday they had lost access to their computer systems -- suddenly shut out of patients' records, appointment booking and email systems -- prompting some to cancel most non-urgent appointments. Those facilities said they had contingency plans in place; medical equipment was not impacted; and care was being given as normal to patients.

The health service said the attack was also significantly disrupting Ireland's coronavirus testing program, although it said that its vaccination rollout was not affected.

"It's widespread. It is very significant, and possibly the most significant cybercrime attack on the Irish State," Ossian Smith, a state minister for procurement and eCommerce told the national broadcaster RTE on Friday. Smith told RTE that the attack was "not espionage" and was the work of a criminal gang seeking to extort money from the country. He said the attack went "right to the core" of the health service and that Ireland was now "deploying everything" in response.

He said Ireland's National Cyber Security Center and police were assisting in containing the attack and launching an investigation into the criminals responsible. Ireland has requested help from Interpol with the investigation.

The attack blindsides Ireland's health system amid the coronavirus pandemic and comes amid heightened attention to the threat posed by ransomware attacks following the hack of Colonial Pipeline in the United States that has wrought havoc on fuel supplies.

Paul Reid, the head of the Health Service Executive, told RTE radio that it had shut down its systems as a precautionary measure allow to specialists to contain the ransomware and assess the damage. The Irish government's chief information officer said it was working to ensure that ransomware had not spread to any other government networks and that for the time being that did not appear to have happened.

Smith said the National Cyber Security Center was now working through the health service's systems by "clearing through each section, each subunit of the network, and when it's safe, they're reopening."

He said that would continue throughout the weekend, "and possibly longer,"

The attack disrupted the Ireland health care system's ability to offer outpatient care, forcing some hospitals to suspend many key services, including cancer and stroke treatments as well as testing, such as CT scans.

Fergal Malone, the head of Dublin's The Rotunda maternity hospital, said the facility had had to shut down its computer systems after learning they were affected overnight. That meant the hospital had had to revert to paper systems for administration, a slower process he said, resulting in the cancellation of non-urgent appointments, except those for women over 36 weeks pregnant.

But for the hospital itself, he said it was able to function “absolutely normally" for the patients already there.

“All patients in the hospital are safe, all care is being provided,” Malone said.

Several other major hospitals said they were also seriously affected and canceled non-urgent appointments, although others continued to receive people.

The health service's chief operating officer, Anne O'Connor said that if the attack was not overcome by Monday "we will be in a very serious situation and we will be cancelling many services."

O'Connor said the attack was carried out using "a brand new variant of the Conti ransomware," a type of ransomware known to cybersecurity researchers and different to that involved in the Colonial Pipeline attack.

Conti is a so-called "double extortion" ransomware, which means that as well as locking victims out of their systems, the malware also steals data, which the criminals then threaten to release if they are not paid. Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky listed Conti as No 2 on its list of top ransomware groups and estimates that it accounted for 13% of all ransomware attacks from late 2019 through 2020. Some security researchers have linked Conti to cyber criminal gang believed to operate from Russia.

Last month reports emerged that Conti ransomware hackers had encrypted the systems of the Broward County Public School District in Florida and demanded $40 million in ransom. The hackers released some files after the school said it would not pay the amount.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Palestinian rapper living in Israel says he's 'scared for his life' amid violence

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(LOD, Israel) -- Amid the violence and bloodshed between Israel and Hamas, Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar, an Israeli citizen, said he is scared for his life and is asking for help from international organizations.

The leader of the first Palestinian hip-hop group spoke to ABC News from Lod, Israel, the epicenter of the violence, where both Palestinians and Israelis live. Authorities imposed a curfew on the city, but Nafar said even after it went into effect, he could see Israeli settlers walking on the streets with weapons.

"As a citizen of the most democratic country in the Middle East, I called the cops. ... At the same time, I'm seeing a lot of settlers coming from ... all over ... and they are equipped with short Uzis and with weapons," he told ABC News, while also pointing to a video on his Instagram of the moment.

Nafar said that when he called the police, the woman on the phone told him not to worry and that they would "take care of it." However, from his apartment window, he said the police were escorting these people.

"I'm seeing me, having two kids in my house unarmed -- as I said, my only weapon is my microphone -- and I'm being locked in my house and I have armed people being protected by police," he said. "So she gave me the supervisor of the police and the supervisor of the police told me, 'Sir, I don't owe you any answer,' and then she hung up. And this is how we feel unprotected."

"So, as somebody who is scared for his life, the only solution is that somebody, any organization, [like] the U.N. … since the Israeli police is … not protecting me, I'm asking for protection," he added. "Me and another 1.6 million Palestinians held hostages inside of Israel."

The Israel Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment from ABC News.

It’s the worst outbreak of violence between Israeli forces and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group ruling over the Gaza Strip since a 50-day war in 2014. Between airstrikes and violence on the ground since Monday evening, 122 Palestinians have died, including 31 children, and at least 900 have been wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Eight Israelis have died and over 523 others have been injured, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Palestinian forces began firing rockets at Israel earlier on Monday evening, a day after the holiest night of Ramadan, during which Israel Police and Palestinian protesters clashed at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City. Israel responded with hundreds of its own airstrikes.

The IDF said Thursday that more than 1,500 rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip into southern and central Israel since Monday, and that at least 350 failed, landing in Palestinian territory. Israeli airstrikes have hit over 600 terror targets in the Gaza Strip, according to the IDF, including three residential buildings that Israeli officials said were used by Hamas. Civilians were warned to evacuate beforehand, the IDF said.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the retaliatory attacks toward Hamas. On Thursday, he repeated a promise to charge “a very heavy price.”

“The last word was not said, and this operation will continue as long as necessary,” he said on Twitter.

He also condemned rioting and clashes that have broken out on the streets since Monday.

“Nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “We will not tolerate this.”

There are also now growing concerns that Israel’s military will launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. Early Friday, the IDF said that ground forces, including tanks and artillery, were firing into the Palestinian territory from the Israeli side of the border.

The IDF said there were currently no Israeli boots on the ground in the Gaza Strip, correcting a previous statement to ABC News that troops had entered the territory.

Nafar said Palestinians in Israel have long lived as "second-class citizens" and that they don't benefit from the same rights as Israeli Jews.

"It doesn't mean that it's the same qualities," he said. "It doesn't mean that they both enjoy the same democratic laws."

While acknowledging there are differences, he said there are also some similarities between the struggle he's currently experiencing and that of Black Americans facing racism in the U.S.

"As somebody who grew up on hip-hop, I can say that I'm very inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. ... I owe the African American culture a lot," he said. "I can see a resemblance to the African American struggles, but I'm not comparing struggles. I'm being inspired by other struggles."

ABC News' Morgan Winsor, Nasser Atta, Guy Davies, Conor Finnegan, Ben Gittleson, Matt Gutman, Hatem Maher, Luis Martinez, Jordana Miller, Bruno Nota, Becky Perlow, Joseph Simonetti, Cynthia Smith, Sam Sweeney, Christine Theodorou, Karen Travers and Sami Zayra contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Over 100 civilians killed, 1,000 wounded as Israel intensifies attacks against Hamas

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(LONDON) -- More than 100 civilians have been killed and over 1,000 wounded as the latest round of fighting between Israel's military and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group ruling the neighboring Gaza Strip, hurtled toward an all-out war with neither side showing any signs of backing down.

So far, a total of 122 people, including 31 children and 20 women, have died in the Gaza Strip since tensions escalated Monday. At least 900 others have been injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Meanwhile, a total of seven people, including a soldier and a 6-year-old, were killed in Israel. More than 523 others have been wounded, according to the Israel Defense Forces. An eighth Israeli citizen, an 87-year-old woman, also died after falling while on her way to a bomb shelter, according to the Israeli emergency service.

Friday marked the fourth straight day of fighting between the two sides amid growing fears that Israel's military would launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. The IDF said early Friday that ground forces, including tanks and artillery, were now firing into the blockaded Palestinian territory from the Israeli side of the border while aircraft continued to strike targets. The IDF said there were currently no Israeli boots on the ground in the Gaza Strip, after a spokesperson erroneously told ABC News that troops had entered the territory. The spokesperson said the error was due to a miscommunication between forces and his media team.

Nevertheless, the deployment of ground troops along the border signaled an escalation in the ongoing conflict, which is reportedly the worst outbreak of violence between Israeli forces and Hamas since a 50-day war in the summer of 2014.

"The last word was not said and this operation will continue as long as necessary," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement early Friday.

Hamas, which gained a majority in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after battling rival Palestinian forces, began firing a barrage of rockets toward Israeli territory on Monday evening. In response, the IDF unleashed hundreds of airstrikes aimed at what it said were Hamas and other terror targets in the Gaza Strip, a 140-square-mile territory where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a blockade imposed by neighboring Israel and Egypt since Hamas seized power.

The IDF said that Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a smaller Palestinian militant group, have fired more than 1,750 rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern and central Israel since Monday, of which approximately 300 misfired and exploded inside the Palestinian territory. Israel's air defense system, known as the Iron Dome, has intercepted 90% of the rocket attacks, according to the IDF.

"The fact that there aren't more casualties in Israel does not mean that Hamas isn't trying to kill Israeli civilians," the IDF said in a statement Friday morning. "It simply means that the IDF is preventing them from doing so at an incredible level. The Iron Dome Aerial Defense System and easily-accessible bomb shelters all over Israel have saved thousands of lives. IDF troops will continue to work 24/7 to defend Israeli civilians at the highest level possible and minimize Gazan casualties wherever possible."

The rockets were aimed at various Israeli cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with some striking multiple homes as well as a school, a hospital and a bus, according to the IDF.

Hamas, claiming to be defending Jerusalem, has said that Israel bears responsibility. The group aims to establish an independent Palestinian state that includes parts of modern-day Israel.

"It’s the Israeli occupation that set Jerusalem on fire, and the flames reached Gaza," Hamas' exiled leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a televised address earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes have hit more than 650 terror targets in the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli military, including rocket launch sites, attack tunnels and three high-rise buildings that Israeli officials said were used by Hamas. The IDF said it warned civilians to evacuate before striking the targets.

The IDF said Thursday that it was calling up some 9,000 reservists. As Israeli troops began amassing at the Gaza frontier that night, the IDF ordered all Israelis living at the border to go into their safe rooms and remain there until further notice.

Throughout Thursday night and into Friday morning, the IDF said 160 aircraft were targeting an underground network of tunnels that Hamas had dug in the northern Gaza Strip.

The Israeli airstrikes have killed a total of more than 100 Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives, including several high-ranking officials, according to the IDF. So far, Hamas has confirmed 13 deaths among its militants, including a senior commander, while Islamic Jihad said seven of its militants had died.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said the Israeli airstrikes have destroyed at least 500 homes in the Gaza Strip, along with 60 government buildings and three apartment towers. Some 23 schools and universities have also been damaged, while 24 factories and industrial establishments have been damaged or destroyed. Scores of people have been displaced and are taking shelter at a United Nations-run school due to a lack of bomb shelters, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Sacha Bootsma, director of the World Health Organization's office in the Gaza Strip, told ABC News on Friday that there was a major shortage in medical supplies and fuel, as hospitals were currently running on ventilators.

The United States has deployed its deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, to the Middle East to meet with leaders from both sides in the coming days. President Joe Biden had a telephone call with Netanyahu on Wednesday, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken to leaders on both sides.

Israel and the U.S. both consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The U.S. government has voiced support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would create an independent Israel and Palestine.

Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has raged on for decades, but tensions have heightened in recent weeks over a long-running legal battle on the potential expulsion of Palestinians from their Jerusalem homes.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were displaced from their homes during a war that accompanied Israel's creation in 1948. Some Palestinian refugees were rehoused in east Jerusalem by the Jordanian government in the 1950s -- before Israel captured the city from Jordan during the 1967 war. Now, several Palestinian families are facing possible eviction from land that Jewish settlers claim they lost to Arabs during the 1948 war. Israeli law allows citizens to take back such land but it does not allow Palestinians to do the same.

On Sunday, the Israeli Supreme Court decided to delay a ruling on the case by up to 30 days after the attorney general requested more time to review.

Just days before Hamas and Israeli forces began trading rockets and airstrikes, hundreds of Palestinian protesters and dozens of Israeli police officers were injured in clashes in the Old City of Jerusalem at a sacred site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The compound is considered the holiest place in Judaism because it was the site of two ancient temples. It's also home to Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest structures in Islam, and the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine.

Dozens more people and officers have been injured in recent days amid wide-scale riots and violence between Arabs and Jews on the streets of various Israeli cities, according to Israeli police.

Israel’s prime minister has condemned the rioting and violent clashes as "unacceptable."

"Nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews," Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday.

Mass protests have also broken out across the West Bank, a landlocked territory that Israel captured from Jordan along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip during the 1976 war. Palestinians want to include the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in their future state.

Six Palestinians were shot and killed by the Israeli army in the West Bank on Friday, amid clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Five were killed while throwing stones at Israeli forces in several locations across the territory, while a sixth was killed during an attempt to stab an Israeli soldier, the ministry said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Inside India's COVID-19 crisis: Makeshift clinics and constant funeral pyres

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(NEW YORK) -- Newlyweds Ishaan Singh and Paramjyot Kaur wanted to take a honeymoon after their wedding, but as the death toll from COVID-19 continued to rise in India, they felt a sense of duty.

The couple from Punjab aren't medical professionals -- he works in cybersecurity and she is an engineer for IBM -- but they traveled to New Delhi to help run a makeshift hospital out of a wedding venue.

"Day and night, we are open 24/7," Singh told ABC News' Nightline. "We don't charge anything."

"We are just so satisfied that we are helping people," Kaur said. "We are ready to help anyone at any time."

The volunteers have been offering food, water and -- crucially -- scarce oxygen to those who need it as India experiences a devastating COVID-19 surge.

Other makeshift overflow clinics have been popping up in the streets of India, as the country is in the midst of a second COVID-19 wave that is crushing its medical system and overflowing its intensive care units.

In the past day, India reported over 360,000 new COVID-19 cases and over 4,100 new deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Experts believe those numbers are likely underreported, as COVID-19 testing is scarce.

At a crematorium in New Delhi, the funeral pyres have been burning nonstop for the past few weeks, locals said. Dozens of dead bodies have washed up on the banks of the Ganges River in eastern India in recent days, though officials said they could not confirm the cause of death.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation currently projects that India could see 1.5 million deaths from COVID-19 by September.

Dramatically ramping up COVID-19 vaccinations is key to ending the crisis in India, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC's This Week anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

So far, only about 3% of India's population has been fully vaccinated, and residents say they're having trouble getting the shot.

"Every day I have to apply, but no space," Sukhdev Singh told Nightline. "They're totally booked."

For now, medical staff and volunteers are trying to save as many people as they can. Humanitarian aid group Khalsa Aid has received oxygen concentrators from the U.K., China and the U.S. that they're getting to desperate people in need, like Neha Suri. She told Nightline her husband was hospitalized with COVID-19, but had to be discharged when the hospital was unable to provide daily oxygen.

"I really feel very happy that at least I managed to be able to get the oxygen concentrator," Suri said. "Nowadays it's really very difficult. ... I'm really very happy. At least I can save my husband's life."

Newlyweds Singh and Kaur said they are passionate about helping their fellow countrymen during this crisis, despite the risks.

"Everyone is joining hands because this is a need, this is a cause of the country," Kaur said. "So everyone needs to join the hands."

The couple credits their religion for their sense of selfless service.

"I am a Sikh. I am born to die. That's just a word that I use," Singh said. "[Sikhs] have just sacrificed their lives for their humanity. And that's the whole learnings that we have got from our parents, from our religion. And that's what we are following over here. We are not afraid to die."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


In Colombia, years of frustration trigger violent protests following tax proposal

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(NEW YORK) -- Fueled by frustration over recently proposed tax increases that critics say would have disproportionately impacted Colombia's middle and working classes, ongoing protests in the South American country are exposing years of unmet demands, experts tell ABC News.

Violent protests erupted in major cities across the country on April 28, following President Ivan Duque's announcement of tax reforms that he said were "a necessity to keep the social programs going." Duque subsequently withdrew the proposed tax hikes after protests left 42 people dead and hundreds more injured -- but weeks later, demonstrations are continuing with no end in sight as protesters have expanded their demands.

Demands for higher wages, a better health care system, more job stability and more money for public education have prompted strikes and protests for many years, Florida International University professor of politics and international relations Eduardo Gamarra told ABC News.

While the majority of the current demonstrations have been peaceful, some major cities have seen businesses vandalized and several police stations burned amid violent clashes between police and protesters.

In recent days, the city of Cali, which has emerged as an epicenter of the demonstrations, has seen an increase in violence between security forces and protesters, some of them armed. Demonstrators have blocked major highways, disrupting the arrival of food and fuel supplies to the city.

"These protests are not just about the proposed tax reform," Gamarra said. "These demonstrations go a lot further back, and right now the pandemic has exacerbated many of the problems that people are frustrated about."

The issue of police reform in particular has emerged as a vital issue for protesters, Gamarra said.

"Colombia's police force was one of the most trusted in the early part of the century," said Gamarra. "And now, there is an incredible level of distrust of the police."

According to Temblores, a non-governmental organization that tracks allegations of police abuse, there have been more than 1,800 alleged cases of police violence since the marches began.

The protests are taking place as coronavirus infections reach record levels in Colombia, where nearly 80,000 people have died from COVID-19. Over the past week the country has averaged more than 15,000 new cases a day.

Arlene Tickner, a political science professor at Bogota's Rosario University, told ABC News that many of the demands from the protests stem from the issues that were supposed to be addressed with the nation's 2016 peace deal.

The landmark 2016 peace accords with the country's largest guerrilla group -- the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- aimed to "strengthen democratic institutions that were under attack and bring more jobs and opportunity to people," Tickner said. But it's only resulted in empty promises, according to Tickner.

"You have unemployment and inequality which are historically high, as well as increased levels of political violence that have grown during the pandemic, on top of the wide range of social, economic and political grievances," Tickner said. "The unpopular tax reform was just a spark that resulted in the current wave of protests."

While the tax hike was supposed to be a solution to maintain vital social programs like cash support for the unemployed and credit lines for businesses, Tickner told ABC News that the government could have chosen to tax the wealthy instead of implementing a tax hike on working people.

"The government is doing what is easy, which is to tax employees, working people who are struggling," Tickner said.

Last week, after withdrawing the proposed tax reform, President Duque invited representatives from all political parties to participate in a national dialogue.

"I want to announce that we will create a space to listen to citizens and construct solutions oriented toward those goals, where our most profound patriotism, and not political differences, should intercede," Duque said in a video.

But critics say that Duque's call for a national dialogue is just a repeat of the one he called for in 2019, after days of anti-government protests.

"That will not go anywhere. People are fed up with the empty promise that things are going to change," said Sergio Guzmán, director of the political consulting firm Colombia Risk Analysis. "We are at a standstill."

The 2019 protests themselves followed earlier demonstrations against police corruption and abuse, systemic issues that critics say have only increased.

"The poorest sectors of Colombia have the highest rates of violence, and the government has not come up with systemic solutions to address their concerns," said Guzmán. "You have all of these people who are tired and whose lives have been made more difficult."

Tickner told ABC News that the current protests have also been fueled by Duque's relationship with former President Álvaro Uribe. Duque is an acolyte of the former president, a U.S. ally who fought the FARC using brutal tactics that resulted in accusations of human rights abuses.

"He was handpicked by Uribe," Tickner said of Duque. "From the beginning many questioned his fitness to govern, and now I think he has overwhelmingly proven and confirmed those fears."

Guzman told ABC News that young protesters criticize Duque for failing to fulfill campaign promises that were aimed to help poor communities.

"He is the youngest president we've had in a generation, he was supposed to be a president who really connected with the younger generation who care a lot about social and economic issues," Guzman said. "These young people on the streets want much more from their government."

"What we're seeing in these protests is a lot of younger kids who don't have access to education, who don't have jobs, essentially having nothing to lose," Tickner said. "I don't see these protests ending anytime soon and it's very scary."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Prince Harry says he is focused on 'breaking the cycle' as a dad

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(NEW YORK) -- Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, is getting even more personal about his mental health struggles, his tensions with being a royal and his life today in California with his wife Duchess Meghan and their son, Archie.

Harry, who lives with his family in Montecito, California, opened up in an in-depth interview on actor Dax Shepard's popular "Armchair Expert" podcast.

The casual but revealing conversation between Harry, Shepard and podcast co-host Monica Padman marked the first time Harry has given a sit-down interview since he and Meghan spoke with Oprah Winfrey in March.

Harry appeared on "Armchair Expert" to promote a mental health-focused docu-series, The Me You Can't See, on which he partnered with Winfrey.

Here are five revelations from Harry's interview with Shepard and Padman.

1. Harry wanted to leave royal life in his 20s

When Padman asked Prince Harry if he felt like he was in a "cage" while performing his royal duties, Harry said he had thoughts in his 20s of wanting to leave royal life.

"It's the job right? Grin and bear it. Get on with it. I was in my early 20s and I was thinking I don't want this job, I don't want to be here," he said. "I don't want to be doing this. Look what it did to my mom, how am I ever going to settle down and have a wife and family when I know that it's going to happen again?"

"I've seen behind the curtain, I've seen the business model and seen how this whole thing works and I don't want to be part of this," Harry added.

2. Harry is working to 'break the cycle' with his parenting

When asked if he is parenting in an "opposite direction" from the very specific way he was raised as a royal, Harry, who is expecting his second child, a girl, with Meghan, said yes.

"It's very much a case of ... isn't life about breaking the cycle," said Harry. "There's no blame. I don't think we should be pointing the finger or blaming anybody, but certainly when it comes to parenting, if I've experienced some form of pain or suffering because of the pain or suffering that perhaps my father or my parents had suffered, I'm going to make sure that I break that cycle so I don't pass it on."

"There's a lot of genetic pain and suffering that gets passed on anyway, as parents we should be doing the most that we can to try and say, 'You know what, that happened to me, I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen to you,'" he said.

Presumably speaking about his father, Prince Charles, Harry added, "It's really hard to do, but for me it comes down to awareness. I never saw it. I never knew about it, and then suddenly I started to piece it all together and go, 'OK, so this is where he went to school. This is what happened. I know this bit about his life. I also know that's connected to his parents, so that means that he's treating me the way that he was treated, which means, how can I change that for my own kids?'"

"Well, here I am. I've now moved my whole family to the U.S.," he said. "Well, that wasn't the plan, but sometimes you've got to make decisions and put your family first and put your mental health first."

3. Being a royal was like 'living in a zoo'

Harry spoke at length about the British media's fixation on the royal family and what it is like to live under the glare of the media and the public spotlight.

"It's a mix between The Truman Show and being in a zoo," he said, referring to a 1998 Jim Carrey film in which the main character is living on a giant TV set where his every move is recorded.

4. Therapy was life-changing for Harry

Prince Harry has made mental health a part of his platform since 2016, when he and his brother, Prince William, and sister-in-law, Duchess Kate, launched an initiative, Heads Together, to try to destigmatize mental health.

The duke has spoken previously of going to counseling in his 20s at the urging of Prince William, but told Shepard that Duchess Meghan pushed him to therapy as well.

Harry said Meghan saw that he was "hurting" and angry about things he could not control in their lives in the royal family.

"I was like, 'OK, you're in this position of privilege, stop complaining, or stop thinking as though you want something different, because you can't get out. So how are you going to do this differently? How are you going to make your mom proud? How are you going to use this platform to really affect change and be able to give people that confidence to be able to change their own lives?'" he said.

He went on, "And then once I started doing therapy it was like the bubble was burst. I plucked my head out of the sand and gave it a good shake off and I was like, you're in this position of privilege, stop complaining and stop thinking you want something different -- make this different -- because you can't get out. How are you going to do these things differently, how are you going to make your mum proud and use this platform to really affect change?"

5. Harry feels 'a little bit more free' in California

Harry described a life of having to live with his head down to avoid being recognized in public -- and even having to text with Meghan while grocery shopping apart in London to avoid being seen together -- but said he feels "more free" in their new home of Montecito.

"Living here now, I can actually like lift my head, and actually, I feel different," he said. "My shoulders have dropped, so have [Meghan's].

"I can walk around feeling a little bit more free," Harry added. "I get to take Archie on the back of my bicycle ... I never I would never had the chance to do that."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Israeli ground troops carrying out strikes into Gaza Strip, IDF says

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON and CAIRO) -- Israeli air and ground troops have carried out strikes into the Gaza Strip, authorities said, as the latest round of fighting between Israel's military and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, continued.

Israel Defense Forces tanks and artillery operating at the border fired into Gaza, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told ABC News. However, Israeli troops were not operating on the ground in the Palestinian territory, as previously announced by IDF. Conricus said the error was due to a miscommunication between forces operating in Gaza and his media team. There will be a press briefing in the morning to clarify further, he said.

Early Friday, IDF Home Front Command had ordered all Israelis living at the Gaza border to go into their safe rooms and stay there until further notice as well.

In a new statement released at about 1 a.m. local time Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military operation will continue as long as it takes to restore law and order to the cities of Israel.

So far, 103 people, including 27 children and eight women, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since tensions escalated Monday. At least 580 others have been injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

The ministry also said that some of the dead who arrived at Dar Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City were suspected to have been killed by nerve gas. The ministry did not specify who the victims were, but sources told ABC News they were Hamas fighters who were in a military tunnel.

Meanwhile, a total of seven people, including a soldier and a 6-year-old child, have been killed in Israel. An eighth Israeli, an 87-year-old woman, also died after falling while on her way to a bomb shelter, according to the Israeli Emergency Services. More than 150 others have been wounded, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Hamas, which gained a majority in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after battling rival Palestinian forces, began firing a barrage of rockets toward Israeli territory on Monday evening. In response, the Israel Defense Forces unleashed hundreds of airstrikes aimed at what it said were Hamas and other terror targets in the Gaza Strip, a 140-square-mile territory where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a blockade imposed by neighboring Israel and Egypt since Hamas seized power.

The Israel Defense Forces said more than 1,500 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into southern and central Israel since Monday, of which 350 failed and fell on the Palestinian territory. Israel's sophisticated air defense system, known as the Iron Dome, has also intercepted hundreds of rockets, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

So far, Israeli airstrikes have hit over 600 terror targets in the Gaza Strip, according to the Israel Defense Forces, including three high-rise buildings that Israeli officials said were used by Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces said it warned civilians in the buildings to evacuate before striking the targets.

The Israeli airstrikes have killed at least 25 combatants in the Gaza Strip, most of which are affiliated with Hamas but also with Islamic Jihad, a smaller Palestinian militant group. Several senior commanders in Hamas' "general staff" were also "eliminated," according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Islamic Jihad confirmed seven militants had been killed, while Hamas said 13 of its militants had been killed, including a senior commander.

Abu Obeida, a spokesperson for Hamas' military wing, said in a video statement that the decision to attack Israeli cities was "easier for us than drinking water." Meanwhile, Netanyahu has vowed to continue retaliatory attacks.

It's the worst outbreak of violence between Israeli forces and Hamas since a 50-day war in the summer of 2014.

As both sides continue to trade airstrikes and rockets with no signs of backing down, violence between Arabs and Jews has broken out on the streets of Israel. Authorities responded to "wide-scale riots" in various Israeli cities on Wednesday night, according to Israel Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfield. A dozen officers were injured while responding to the incidents and hundreds of people were arrested, Rosenfield said.

Authorities imposed a curfew in Lod, where buildings and cars were set ablaze on Wednesday night. A young Arab resident was shot and killed there on Monday night amid clashes between Arab and Jewish mobs, according to Rosenfield.

There were also several different instances of Arabs attacking Jews, Rosenfeld said. In Acre, rioters torched a famous Jewish-owned seafood restaurant.

An attack on an Arab man near Tel Aviv was televised live by Israel's public broadcaster late Wednesday. The shocking footage shows a mob dragging the man out of his car and beating him until he lay motionless.

Israel’s prime minister condemned the rioting and violent clashes as "unacceptable."

"Nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews," Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday.

"To the citizens of Israel I say that I do not care if your blood is boiling. You cannot take the law into your own hands," he added. "You cannot grab an ordinary Arab citizen and try to lynch him -- just as we cannot watch Arab citizens do this to Jewish citizens."

The escalating violence in Israel has prompted at least three U.S. airlines -- American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines -- to cancel all flights to and from the Middle Eastern country, telling ABC News they are monitoring the situation and will continue to reevaluate.

Hamas warned international airlines from flying to Israel, and said they will target airports.

U.S. President Joe Biden had a telephone call with Netanyahu on Wednesday in which he "condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups" and "conveyed his unwavering support for Israel's security," according to a press release.

"My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later," Biden told ABC News after speaking with Netanyahu. "But Israel has the right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Wednesday that he was deploying Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, to meet with leaders from both sides in the coming days. Amr was expected to arrive in the Middle East on Thursday.

Blinken again condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and repeatedly backed Israel's right to defend itself.

"There is, first, a very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets, in fact, targeting civilians, and Israel’s response, defending itself," Blinken told reporters.

But he also noted that Palestinian children have been killed in the Israeli airstrikes, saying, "Israel has an extra burden in trying to do everything they possibly can to avoid civilian casualties."

"The Palestinian people have the right to safety and security and we have to, I think, all work in that direction," he added.

Despite talking to Netanyahu, Biden has not spoken to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the lack of contact by Biden on Thursday, saying Blinken had spoken to Abbas.

"The secretary of state is an incredibly high ranking member of the administration," she said. “Fourth in line for the presidency, if I'm getting that correct. He’s very close to President Biden, and certainly that sends a clear message about the importance of communicating with all parties in the region."

Israel and the United States both consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The U.S. government has voiced support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would create an independent Israel and Palestine.

Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has raged on for decades, but tensions have heightened in recent weeks over a long-running legal battle on the potential expulsion of Palestinians from their Jerusalem homes.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were displaced from their homes during a war that accompanied Israel's creation in 1948. Some Palestinian refugees were rehoused in east Jerusalem by the Jordanian government in the 1950s -- before Israel captured the city from Jordan during the 1967 war. Now, several Palestinian families are facing possible eviction from land that Jewish settlers claim they lost to Arabs during the 1948 war. Israeli law allows citizens to take back such land but it does not allow Palestinians to do the same.

On Sunday, the Israeli Supreme Court decided to delay a ruling on the case by up to 30 days after the attorney general requested more time to review it.

The recent fighting comes as Muslims mark Eid al-Fitr, the end of of Islam's holy month of Ramadan. The religious holiday is typically a festive time but the celebrations were much more somber this year. Thousands of Palestinian Muslims gathered at the al-Aqsa mosque in east Jerusalem early Thursday to take part in communal Eid prayers. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas has urged people to pray inside their homes or the nearest mosques rather than out in the open.

"The explosions, airstrikes are not stopping," Suhair Zakkout, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza City, told ABC News on Wednesday. "And instead of now celebrating Eid by buying new clothes or buying toys for their children, people rush to the hospital and live their days in pain to lose their loved ones."

Nasser Atta, Guy Davies, Conor Finnegan, Ben Gittleson, Matt Gutman, Luis Martinez, Bruno Nota, Becky Perlow, Joseph Simonetti, Cynthia Smith, Sam Sweeney, Christine Theodorou, Karen Travers and Sami Zayra contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Dealing with COVID catastrophe, India now reporting 'black fungus'

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(NEW YORK) -- Amid the staggering 300,000 to 400,000 COVID-19 infections reported daily over the last week in India, doctors are now reporting a new problem: a growing number of deadly fungal infections among those recovering from coronavirus.

Experts believe these infections, known as mucormycosis -- which had a high prevalence in India, compared to other countries, prior to the current pandemic -- are not caused by COVID-19 itself.

Rather, some doctors in India believe these fungal infections are exacerbated by the use of steroids, a common treatment for COVID-19, which can suppress the immune system.

Mucorales is a fungus found worldwide and most people with working immune systems never know they have been in contact with this mold since the immune system does its job of keeping it at bay.

Unfortunately, people who have a suppressed immune system and those with uncontrolled diabetes are particularly susceptible to this rare fungal infection. Without proper immune defense, this type of fungus can cause life-threatening illness in the body.

It manifests as a black, fungal infection in the sinuses or lungs and can spread from the sinuses to the brain. Other more rare places to have this infection are in the skin, gut, kidney or throughout the body known as disseminated infection.

More than half of people who develop mucormycosis die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's typically treated with anti-fungal medication, either through an IV or by mouth, and the infected tissue may need to be removed surgically.

In case reports published in the scientific journal Mycopathologia, authors named this disease COVID-19 associated mucormycosis, or CAM, and a review of recent literature found that most cases were associated with diabetes, but they also found at least three cases that showed an association with steroid treatments in patients with COVID-19.

Three of the eight cases studied were patients in the United States. India has the second-highest prevalence of diabetes in the world and the United States has the third highest, which may also place these patients at higher risk.

More research about the association of COVID-19, mucormycosis and the use of steroids is needed, but it's a combination of problems that can quickly lead to death if it is not recognized and treated early.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden calls Netanyahu after criticism he was silent on Israeli-Palestinian violence

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(WASHINGTON) — After a spiraling descent into bloodshed in recent days, the U.S. is boosting its diplomatic efforts to halt the violence between Israeli security forces and Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group ruling Gaza.

President Joe Biden called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, vocally backing Israel's "right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory."

That unprecedented barrage of rockets, along with deadly Israeli airstrikes, have killed civilians caught in the crosshairs on both sides, while waves of Arab-Israeli street clashes are now rising within Israel itself -- a new threat of violence that could quickly worsen.

The Biden administration has consistently called on "both sides" to de-escalate, leading to criticism from American conservatives who accused Biden of not standing strongly enough with Israel and from American progressives who said the power dynamic is asymmetrical and Israel's response has been disproportionate.

Wading into those waters now is senior U.S. diplomat Hady Amr, who serves as deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs. Secretary of State Antony Blinken dispatched Amr to the region Wednesday to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials and urge de-escalation.

The death toll in Gaza has risen to 65 Palestinians, including 16 children, while at least 365 have been wounded, including 86 children, according to the Associated Press, citing the local health ministry. On the Israeli side, seven have been killed by rocket fire, including two children, while dozens have been wounded, as Hamas' rockets overwhelm Israel's Iron Dome defense system.

Breaking his silence on the issue, Biden told reporters Wednesday, "My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later."

A White House readout issued afterwards added that Biden "conveyed his unwavering support for Israel's security and for Israel's legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians." The brief statement made no mention of Palestinian civilian deaths or Israeli actions that helped to spark this round of clashes, like the potential evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem or the use of force against Muslims at the Temple Mount.

Earlier in the day, Blinken was more nuanced, condemning the barrage of rocket fire from Hamas, but adding that Israel has an "extra duty" to avoid civilian casualties and that Palestinians have a "right to safety and security."

He said that the U.S. is "deeply engaged across the board," including with Palestinian leadership and that the "most important thing now is for all sides to cease the violence, de-escalate and to try to move to calm."

To that end, he also spoke to Netanyahu Wednesday and "emphasized the need for Israelis and Palestinians to be able to live in safety and security, as well as enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and democracy," his spokesperson said.

Netanyahu thanked Blinken "for the American support of Israel's right to self-defense, which the Secretary reiterated during the call," according to an Israeli readout. The embattled prime minister has so far rejected calls for a ceasefire, saying Hamas must pay a price and vowing to expand the Israeli offensive.

Prior to Biden's call, critics, including Republican lawmakers and his predecessor Donald Trump, accused Biden of pulling back U.S. support for Israel.

"Hamas has watched Biden downgrade our relationship with Israel and then restore funding to the PA and the UN's most corrupt agency without reform. Now, they're testing him. While terrorist rockets rain down on Israeli civilians, Biden is nowhere to be found," tweeted Nikki Haley, Trump's United Nations ambassador.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden has been briefed daily and added Wednesday that senior U.S. officials have had more than 25 "high-level calls and meetings" with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and key regional countries, including Qatar, Jordan and Egypt.

On Tuesday night, Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben Shabbat and to Egyptian officials, according to his spokesperson Emily Horne. Egypt historically has played the role of directly negotiating with Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, and Sullivan and Egyptian officials "discussed steps to restore calm over the coming days and agreed to stay in close touch," according to Horne.

While the two countries have strong security relations, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Tuesday that his government had tried to contact the Israeli Foreign Ministry, but had not received a response. Then on Wednesday, the two foreign ministers spoke.

Shoukry stressed "the need to stop Israeli attacks on Palestinian territories and the importance of working to spare the peoples of the region further escalation and any resorting to military means, stressing Egypt's keenness to stabilize the region on the basis of settling issues by diplomatic means and through negotiations."

While Biden seems reluctant to get involved, convincing Netanyahu to pull back may fall to the U.S. -- starting with Amr, who served in the Obama administration as deputy special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. While he is a senior diplomat, he's also the administration's only top official on this issue right now. There's no U.S. ambassador to Israel, let alone a Biden nominee; no special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian issues, even as Biden has appointed several other envoys; and no U.S. consul general in East Jerusalem, a role that Trump dissolved but historically was the top liaison to Palestinian leadership.

"The Biden administration cannot ignore this conflict. In the first four months of this administration, it's very clear that this issue was not a priority ... but it is irresponsible to step away from engaging in a meaningful way," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal advocacy group. "It leaves the conflict unattended and contributes heavily to the escalating tensions that can explode as they precisely have in the last 48 hours into violence."

The State Department has denied that the administration hasn't been engaged, instead blaming the fact that neither Israeli nor Palestinian leadership has been willing to engage in peace negotiations.

"We're just not in a position to see meaningful progress, and our policy has recognized that," spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.

Price's comments have sparked some anger on the left, including from Democratic lawmakers including Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman and Ilhan Omar.

After he equivocated on issues like the Palestinians' right to defense and the asymmetrical levels of strength between the two sides, Omar, D-Minn., tweeted Monday, "This unsurprising response is devoid of empathy and concern for human suffering. He can't even condemn the killing of children."

Price later cited the early nature of reports and said the administration wouldn't speak until there was confirmation on the ground. But he and Blinken have changed their tone slightly to more vocally defend Palestinian civilians, even as they condemn Hamas' rocket attacks.

Asked about the proportionality of Israel's response Wednesday, Blinken said there was a "very clear and absolute distinction" between Hamas "targeting civilians and Israel's response defending itself." But he added that civilian casualties in Gaza have "a powerful impact, and I think Israel has an extra burden in trying to do everything it possibly can to avoid civilian casualties."

ABC News' Hatem Maher in Cairo and Ben Gittleson and Karen Travers at the White House contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Death toll rises as violence escalates between Israel, Hamas

SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Tensions in the Middle East have risen to new heights as deadly confrontations continued unabated Wednesday between Israel's military and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group ruling the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces said on Twitter early Wednesday that Hamas and other militant groups had fired more than 1,000 rockets into central and southern Israel over the past two days, targeting cities including Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Tel Aviv and the capital, Jerusalem.

In response, the Israel Defense Forces unleashed hundreds of airstrikes aimed at what it said were Hamas and other terror targets in the Gaza Strip, where two million Palestinians have lived under a blockade imposed by neighboring Israel and Egypt since Hamas took control of the 140-square-mile territory in 2007.

The civilian death toll has been increasing on both sides. At least 53 people, including 14 children and three women, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the violence escalated Monday, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Another 320 people have been wounded there, including 86 children and 39 women.

In Israel, at least six people, including three women and a child, have been killed by rocket fire, while 46 others have been injured, according to Israeli emergency services.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that its fighter jets had struck two civilian buildings used by Hamas, one as a weapons storage and another for the group's intelligence unit. The Israel Defense Forces said it warned residents to leave the area before striking the targets.

The strikes killed "a number of senior commanders" who "were a key part of the Hamas 'General Staff' and are considered close to the head of the Hamas military wing," the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Wednesday, without providing the name of those who were killed.

Hamas confirmed that its Gaza City commander Bassem Issa was killed in a strike Wednesday. The armed wing of Hamas said in a statement that Issa was killed "along with a few of his fellow brothers of leaders and holy fighters."

Among the dead was Israel Defense Forces Staff Sgt. Omer Tabib, who was killed by one of Hamas' missiles on Wednesday morning. He's the first Israeli soldier to die in the ongoing violence. Two other soldiers were injured in the missile attack, according to a statement from Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the retaliatory attacks.

"Hamas and Islamic Jihad have paid and I tell you here, they will pay a very heavy price for their aggression. I say here tonight, they signed their death warrants," Netanyahu said in a televised statement Tuesday evening. "We continue to attack with all our might."

Hamas began firing a barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip on Monday evening, and the situation quickly escalated. The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement on its website that at least seven of those rockets were fired toward Jerusalem. Israel's sophisticated air defense system, known as the Iron Dome, has intercepted hundreds of rockets since Monday, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

"We will do what is right to ensure the security of Israel," Nadav Argaman, the head of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security agency, said during a press conference Tuesday.

Hamas’ exiled leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said the group has "defended Jerusalem" and that Israel bears responsibility.

"It's the Israeli occupation that set Jerusalem on fire, and the flames reached Gaza," Haniyeh said during a televised speech Tuesday.

The fighting marks the worst outbreak of violence between Israeli forces and Hamas since a 50-day war in the summer of 2014. Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the conflict is far from over.

"This is just the beginning," Gantz said during a press conference Tuesday. "[We] will restore security and we will do it for the long term."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken to leaders on both sides and called for an end to the violence, according to U.S. Department of State spokesperson Ned Price.

"Israel has the right to defend itself and to respond to rocket attacks. The Palestinian people also have the right to safety and security, just as Israelis do," Price said in prepared remarks at the start of Tuesday's press briefing. "The United States will continue to remain engaged with senior Israeli officials and Palestinian leadership in the days and weeks ahead."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki condemned the ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas and other groups but said the United States also continues to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would create an independent Israel and Palestine. Israel and the United States both consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

"We believe Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, security, dignity and prosperity," Psaki told reporters at a press briefing Tuesday. "And U.S. officials, in recent weeks, have spoken candidly with Israeli officials about how evictions of Palestinian families who have lived for years, sometimes decades, in their homes and of demolitions of these homes work against our common interests in achieving a solution to the conflict."

The violence follows last weekend's clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in east Jerusalem outside the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Hundreds of people were injured after Israeli officers fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinian demonstrators who hurled rocks and chairs. The clashes came as Israelis marked Jerusalem Day last Sunday, a national holiday commemorating when Israel captured the eastern part of the city from Jordan during the 1967 war.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has raged on for decades. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were displaced from their homes in what is now Israel during a war that accompanied the country's creation in 1948. Some Palestinian refugees were rehoused in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem by the Jordanian government in the 1950s -- before Israel took control of the area. Now, those families are facing possible eviction from land that Jewish settlers claim they lost to Arabs during the 1948 war. Israeli law allows citizens to take back such land, but it does not allow Palestinians to do the same.

Tensions have been rising over a prospective court ruling on the evictions, which was delayed on Monday.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


What India's second COVID-19 wave may mean for countries in Africa

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(NEW YORK) -- As India, the second-most populous country in the world, grapples with a devastating second wave of COVID-19 infections that has pushed its health system to the brink of collapse, officials in Africa, the world's second-largest continent, are on high alert.

"What’s happening in India must not happen here," Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization's regional director for Africa, said at a virtual press briefing last Thursday. "If we prepare now, we will not pay the price later."

The more than 414,000 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 recorded in India last Thursday was the highest single-day count by any nation during the pandemic. But the alarming spike is a relatively new phenomenon there. Until late February, India was considered a success story, with experts surmising that declining infections might be due to the South Asian country's warm climate, young inhabitants and high population density. Now, India is the epicenter of the pandemic.

Africa, which has a comparable population size to India, has reported more than 4.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 124,000 deaths from the disease so far, representing just under 3% of the world's cases and less than 4% of the fatalities, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, cases and deaths have been trending downward in Africa since peaking in mid-January. But countries across the continent continue to report sustained transmission and increases in some areas as new, more contagious variants of the virus make inroads, according to the WHO. Meanwhile, African countries are slipping behind the rest of the world in vaccine rollouts, with immunization campaigns heavily dependent on a global vaccine-sharing alliance known as COVAX, whose main supplier is the Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer.

The Serum Institute of India, which makes the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, paused exports in March to battle India's worsening outbreak at home. Some 140 million Africa-bound doses that were supposed to be delivered through COVAX this spring have been delayed for the foreseeable future. Africa CDC data shows that under 2% of the continent's population has received the first or second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine so far -- that’s only about 1% of doses administered worldwide, according to the WHO.

ABC News spoke with experts about three African countries that have had different approaches to COVID-19 and face distinct challenges with their response efforts and vaccination campaigns. All agreed that India's crisis could be a harbinger of what could befall Africa, where many nations have fragile health systems and depend on aid.

"There is major concern that what is going on in India could easily happen in Africa," said Dr. Bertha Serwa Ayi, a consultant in infectious diseases at Essentia Health West in Fargo, North Dakota, who is also a member of the case management technical group of the Africa CDC's task force on COVID-19.

While Ayi acknowledged that "Africa has been a leader" in "COVID-19 management, oversight and control," she said things could take a turn.

"It's like a bus at the edge of a cliff," she added. "Everybody's doing what they can to really hold the fort and make sure Africa doesn't become a situation like what's going on in India. But I think the potential is not lost on anyone."

South Africa: The continent's hardest-hit country trying to fend off a third wave

South Africa doesn't have to look to India as a cautionary tale. The 59-million-strong nation arguably went through an India-like second wave of COVID-19 infections earlier this year. At its January peak, South Africa was reporting more cases per million people on average than India is currently reporting, according to data collected by Our World in Data.

South Africa is also the hardest-hit country in Africa by far, with more than 1.5 million confirmed cases and over 54,000 deaths, accounting for almost 35% of the continent’s infections and nearly 44% of the fatalities, according to Africa CDC data.

"We had a devastating second wave," said Dr. Richard Lessells, an infectious disease expert at Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) in Durban, where he researches the virus variant first identified in South Africa.

Although daily new infections in South Africa have fallen from nearly 22,000 in mid-January to around 2,000, the country -- as well as the greater southern Africa region -- is bracing for a third and potentially more severe wave with the start of winter season in June.

"We are concerned about the South African winter coming in," Moeti told reporters during the WHO press briefing last Thursday.

Lessells said he was less worried about winter and more concerned about complacency among South Africans with regard to public health measures, such as mask wearing and social distancing.

"We get lulled into this strange false sense of security,” he told ABC News. “We go through these devastating waves and then, partly because people don't understand the dynamics of an epidemic and why these waves contract, they think we're through the worst of it."

But while South Africa's second wave rivaled India's in terms of official infections per capita and mortality, India's health system is collapsing to an extent that South Africa's did not. Experts also said the real number of infections and deaths in India are likely far higher than the official reported numbers.

"Of course, eyes are on South Africa," Ayi told ABC News, "but they also have the hospital capacity and laboratory infrastructure to be able to hold things together."

While Lessells described South Africa's health system as "severely strained" during its second wave, pandemic preparedness and planning enabled the country to largely avoid the oxygen shortages India faces.

But health care quality and access isn't equal across South Africa. In addition to disparities between public and private hospitals, urban cities are better equipped to handle outbreaks than rural communities, and a third wave could potentially overwhelm outlying areas with weaker health infrastructure. Solely looking at metropolitan regions might give the impression South Africa is doing well, explained Dr. Jeffrey Mphahlele, a virologist and vice president for research at the South African Medical Research Council in Cape Town.

On the outskirts and in rural areas, "you see a different world of South Africa," Mphahlele said.

While many countries rich enough to buy or develop and manufacture vaccines have embarked on robust immunization campaigns to stem infection rates, South Africa's has barely begun, despite being well-positioned to do so financially and in terms of manufacturing.

In early February, South Africa halted its Oxford/AstraZeneca rollout over concerns the shot was less effective against the B.1.351 variant, the dominant virus strain there, and the government ultimately sold those doses to the Africa Union. Then in late April, the country's rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was temporarily suspended while the United States investigated a link to rare blood clots.

Eschewing the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot means South Africa isn't affected by India’s ban on vaccine exports, but switching immunization plans severely delayed its rollout. Less than 1% of people in South Africa have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Africa CDC data.

For months, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on wealthy countries to share their excess doses with countries that need them. He doubled down on that perspective in his weekly newsletter to the nation on Monday, calling vaccines a global public good that should be available for all, not just the highest bidder.

"A situation in which the populations of advanced, rich countries are safely inoculated while millions in poorer countries die in the queue would be tantamount to vaccine apartheid," Ramaphosa wrote.

Ghana: After early COVID-19 success, vigilance wanes

Ghana was heralded as a success story in Africa and around the world early in the pandemic. It was the first country on the continent to announce a lockdown last year and has since been praised for its aggressive testing, contact tracing and strong leadership. To date, the West African nation of 30 million people has conducted more than 1.1 million COVID-19 tests and has confirmed over 93,000 cases and at least 783 deaths, according to Africa CDC data.

In late February, Ghana became the first country in the world to receive COVID-19 vaccine doses from COVAX. The rollout was launched a week later, with Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo receiving the first shot.

In an interview with CNN last week, Akufo-Addo said his country aims to vaccinate 20 million people -- effectively the entire adult population -- by the end of 2021, but he acknowledged that delays in receiving doses from COVAX "have been a little troublesome."

"The need for us to look to ourselves to find the ways of resolving our problems has been heightened, has been intensified by what has happened in this last year," Akufo-Addo told CNN. "We cannot depend on charity, we cannot depend on the generosity of foreigners."

Experts told ABC News that Ghana is now looking into other sources to acquire more doses, given the hold-up in India, and is also hoping to start manufacturing them.

"What they've done well right from the beginning is leadership engagement," said Ayi, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Health and Allied Sciences and the University of Development Studies’ School of Medicine and Health Sciences as well as a senior lecturer at Accra College of Medicine, all located in Ghana. “The [vaccine] rollout I think was excellent and superb.”

But others argued that the country’s COVID-19 response has been inconsistent. The Ghanian government allowed political rallies to be held during the December general election, in which Akufo-Addo was re-elected for a second term, and Johns Hopkins' data shows the country saw a surge in cases in the weeks after the vote. By the end of January, Ghana reported a record of more than 1,500 confirmed cases in a single day. In February, the Ghanaian parliament was forced to shut down for several weeks due to an outbreak among lawmakers and staff.

"We have been through a mini version of what India’s going through," said Nana Kofi Quakyi, a Ghana-based research fellow in the Department of Health Policy and Management at New York University's School of Global Public Health, where he is also a doctoral candidate.

Although the Ghanaian government has eased restrictions in recent months, including fully reopening schools, some establishments and venues remain closed and there are still restrictions on social gatherings. People are also required to wear face masks in public.

Quakyi, who has been living in Ghana’s capital for the past year but plans to return to New York City soon, said the enforcement and compliance of those measures is questionable as life has largely returned to normal from his viewpoint.

"We haven’t really seen much in the form of additional policy that would actually prevent the spread," he told ABC News. "If you were in Accra right now, you would not believe that there was COVID-19 here. There’s very low mask wearing, there is very little social distancing."

Ayi agreed that the vigilance surrounding mask wearing and social distancing "is gone."

"That needs to come back," she said.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: A surge in infections would be 'catastrophic'

With a population of 87 million in central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has among the lowest COVID-19 infection and death rates on the continent but has conducted fewer than 200,000 tests. So far, the country has reported more than 30,000 confirmed cases and at least 775 deaths, according to Africa CDC data. Experts told ABC News that while the true numbers are likely higher than what's being reported, there's currently no indication of a significant outbreak.

The pandemic hit as Congolese health workers were still in the throes of the country's 10th outbreak of Ebola virus disease, one of the deadliest on record anywhere and the first to occur in an active conflict zone. Although the Democratic Republic of the Congo is now Ebola-free and has a wealth of experience combating infectious diseases, experts said the country's COVID-19 response is insufficiently funded and lacks community engagement.

"The Ebola response got a lot of money. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has not got enough money," said Dr. Deogratious Wonya'rossi, a Congolese public health physician and tropical diseases researcher who has been part of the Ebola response. "On the other hand, the country has a good number of experts who are capable to organize and implement the responses as they are still doing now."

Like many other African nations, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was quick to respond to the pandemic, with the government announcing a state of emergency in March of last year and closing borders, schools, restaurants and places of worship. Those measures helped prevent COVID-19 from spreading, experts said, but overall the poor health care infrastructure makes the country unprepared to deal with a potential surge as the government struggles to scale up medical services.

"If we have a major outbreak coming, it's going to be extremely difficult to handle," said Jean Metenier, senior coordinator for the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo at the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

Moreover, the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout hasn't gone smoothly. First, the Congolese government delayed rolling out 1.7 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine it received from COVAX in early March, after several European nations suspended use of the shots due to a link to rare blood clots. Then, after vaccinations began in late April, the government announced that it would redeploy 1.3 million of those doses to other African countries, including Ghana, which had already used up its initial supply. The government said it wouldn't be able to administer the doses before they expired on June 24 and that some people were simply refusing to get the shot.

"We have seen a surge in terms of vaccine hesitancy, particularly in urban areas where there's high penetration of social media," Dr. Richard Mihigo, immunization and vaccine development program coordinator at the WHO's regional office for Africa, told reporters during the press briefing last Thursday. "We are watching the situation in DRC quite very carefully."

Experts told ABC News that vaccine hesitancy is nothing new in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but has been exacerbated by the bad press surrounding the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot. A recent online survey of more than 4,100 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo found that 24% of respondents were convinced COVID-19 did not exist, with just over 55% indicating they were willing to be vaccinated.

"This is where risk communication at the community level is important," said Tolbert Nyenswah, a senior research associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who was Liberia's deputy minister of health for disease surveillance and epidemic control from 2015 to 2017 during the Ebola outbreak across West Africa.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca shot, which is cheaper than others and can be stored at normal fridge temperatures as opposed to requiring ultra-cold storage, is currently the only COVID-19 vaccine available in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Last month, the AU announced the launch of a partnership to manufacture vaccines at five research centers to be built across the continent within the next 15 years, with a goal of locally producing 60% of all vaccines used in Africa within 20 years -- compared with 1% today. Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, who is the current AU chair, said the initiative "will not just fight against COVID-19 but see the establishment of vaccine production for known illnesses and prepare for future epidemics and pandemics."

Meanwhile, a new virus variant first identified in India has since been detected in at least three African nations, including Uganda, which shares a border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On Monday, the WHO upped its classification of the B.1.617 strain from a "variant of interest" to a "variant of concern," noting that preliminary studies indicate it may be more transmissible than other variants.

"I am very, very worried with the fact that the Indian variant may be at the door of the DRC," Metenier told ABC News.

Nyenswah said it would be "catastrophic" if the Democratic Republic of the Congo saw a surge in COVID-19 infections.

"Amidst the many Ebola outbreaks, internal conflicts and health system challenges," he added, "the authorities there need to think beyond twice before giving up life-saving shots."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


At least nine dead, 21 injured in school shooting in Russia

Alexey Nasyrov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(MOSCOW) -- At least seven children and two adults have been killed and around 20 more injured in a mass shooting at a school in the Russian city of Kazan.

A gunman attacked school no. 175 in the city, about 500 miles east of Moscow, on Tuesday morning while hundreds of children were in classes. Armed with a semi-automatic shotgun and explosives, the attacker forced his way into the building and made his way to classrooms and opened fire on eight graders there, according to police.

Heavily armed police stormed the school and detained the alleged shooter, identified as a 19-year-old man.

Videos from the scene showed terrified children trying to flee the school building, with some jumping out of high windows as the sound of gun shots rang out. Emergency services helped others to climb down ladders. Other videos showed children lying in grass near the school covered in blood.

"It's a great tragedy. We have lost seven children -- four boys, three girls. They died here on the third floor," Tatarstan's president, Rustam Minnikhanov, told reporters standing outside the school following the shooting. He said two female teachers at the school were also killed.

The seven children killed were eighth graders. At least 21 people were hospitalized, 18 of them children, and six are in critical condition, according to regional health authorities. Most of the children are between the ages of 7 and 15.

Children at the school described to Russian media how they locked themselves in their classrooms on the third floor after hearing explosions and gunfire. In several accounts, students said the gunman tried to break down the doors to get to them.

"He sort of started to smash the door," a pupil, identified as Adelya, told the Russian news site Media.Zona. "Then the police came into the corridor. He ran and started shooting, and a bullet hit our door."

Authorities identified the attacker as Ilnaz Galyaviyev, a resident of Kazan and according to local media a former pupil at the school. There were early conflicting reports suggesting two gunmen were present at the attack, but local authorities have since said he acted alone.

Russian media have found a channel on the Telegram messenger purportedly created by the alleged shooter a few days before the attack. In photos posted on the channel, a man poses in a long, dark coat and a mask with the word "God" written in Russian on it. In the posts, the alleged gunman refers to himself as a "god" and threatened mass killings in the near future.

After police said they had detained the shooter, local media posted a video purporting to show Galyaviyev's interrogation by police. In the video, a young man, shirtless and tied by his arms and legs to a cage, screams at an officer that he has realised he "is a god" and that he "hates everyone."

Galyaviyev until last month was a student at a college in Kazan but dropped out in April, the college told the Russian news site, RBC. He graduated from the school four years ago and had been studying programming at the college.

Russian officials said that Galyaviyev obtained a gun license last month, using it to buy the semi-automatic shotgun used in the attack.

Although in recent years there have been a series of deadly attacks at schools by students in Russia, mass school shootings of the sort seen in the United States are rare and this is already one of the most deadly. In 2018, an 18-year-old killed 20 people and injured dozens more before killing himself at a school in Kerch in Crimea.

President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences to the victims on Monday and immediately ordered authorities to tighten up gun regulations.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had ordered the head of Russia's National Guard that oversees gun ownership to develop new rules for the type of weapons civilians are permitted to possess. Peskov said the change was needed to address to assault weapons sometimes being improperly classed as hunting rifles.

Following Putin's order, Russia's National Guard quickly said it would develop new rules in coordination with other government bodies and the head of Russia's parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said it would meet next week to discuss measures for tougher controls, including ensuring stricter background checks. Volodin also said the parliament should discuss whether anonymity on the internet now ought to be restricted.

Tatiana Moskalkova, Russia's human rights ombudswoman, called for the age for purchasing firearms to be raised from 18 to 21, except for those with military experience.

Russia has fairly tough gun laws, requiring potential owners to take classes and pass a series of tests, including medical and psychological examinations, before they can receive a license to buy smoothbore guns, such as shotguns. To buy a rifle requires another five-year waiting period following that.

After the 2018 Kerch school shooting, Putin also ordered the National Guard to tighten firearm rules. But since then, proposed plans -- including to have gun owners inform the guard of their location within three days if they travel with their weapons -- have stalled and little has changed, according to the Russian news sites Meduza and Kommersant.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Queen Elizabeth opens parliament in first major public engagement since Prince Philip's death

Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Queen Elizabeth stepped out Tuesday for her first public engagement outside of Windsor Castle since the death last month of Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years.

The queen opened the United Kingdom's parliament with a speech, performing a ceremonial duty in her role as head of state.

Queen Elizabeth, who turned 95 on April 21, wore a lavender day dress and a hat for her speech, forgoing the full ceremonial dress and crown for this year's state opening, which featured fewer ceremonial elements and attendees due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Imperial State Crown, signifying the queen as Head of State, sat on a table next to the queen as she delivered her speech, which laid out the U.K.'s government's priorities for the coming months, including a post-pandemic recovery effort.

Queen Elizabeth was accompanied at parliament by her son and heir, Prince Charles, and his wife Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall, both of whom sat directly next to the queen.

Prince Charles has accompanied the queen for the last three state openings of parliament. There was no state opening last year due to the pandemic.

The engagement was the first time Charles has been seen publicly with the queen since last month, when the royal family gathered at Windsor Castle for Prince Philip's funeral.

After a two-week period of mourning, Queen Elizabeth officially returned to work on April 27, holding virtual audiences with two incoming ambassadors to the U.K.

Just a few days earlier, the queen celebrated her 95th birthday in private at Windsor Castle, where she has stayed through most of the pandemic. She issued a very personal statement on her birthday, describing a "period of great sadness" for her family.

"I have, on the occasion of my 95th birthday today, received many messages of good wishes, which I very much appreciate," Queen Elizabeth said in the statement. "While as a family we are in a period of great sadness, it has been a comfort to us all to see and to hear the tributes paid to my husband, from those within the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and around the world."

"My family and I would like to thank you all for the support and kindness shown to us in recent days," she said. "We have been deeply touched, and continue to be reminded that Philip had such an extraordinary impact on countless people throughout his life."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Rockets launched at Jerusalem by militant group Hamas, leading to unrest

pawel.gaul/iStock

(JERUSALEM) -- At least seven of the more than 150 rockets launched by militant group Hamas on Monday targeted Jerusalem, according to Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that a line was crossed when rockets were launched from Gaza at Jerusalem.

“Israel will respond with great force. We will not tolerate attacks on our territory, on our capital, on our citizens and on our soldiers. Whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” said an official statement.

Israel retaliated within hours, carrying out airstrikes against a number of Hamas installations in Gaza, according to an announcement made by the Israeli military.

“In response to continuous rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, over the past few hours, the IDF struck a number of terror targets belonging to the Hamas terror organization in the Gaza Strip,” said the IDF in a press release. “Among the targets are two rocket launchers, two military posts and eight terror operatives belonging to the Hamas terror organization in the Gaza strip were struck.”

The Palestinian Health Ministry told ABC News that 20 people were killed in the IDF attack, among them nine children, and at least 65 were wounded.

The rocket attacks from Gaza were in response to clashes earlier on Monday between Palestinians, who were protesting Palestinian housing evictions, and Israeli police near the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem -- known as the third-holiest site in Islam -- located on the Temple Mount.

The Israeli police said in a statement on Twitter that “at the end of the prayer on the Temple Mount, thousands of worshipers began to disturb the order, throwing stones and firing fireworks. Israeli police forces are operating at the scene and so far six policemen have been injured.”

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 522 injured in the clashes with 333 requiring care at hospitals and clinics.

There is growing pressure from the Biden administration to address the new tensions between Israel and Palestinians which marked the first time since 2014 that Hamas has fired rockets towards Jerusalem.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the attacks during a press conference. He said they "need to stop immediately."

Spokesperson Ned Price of the U.S. State Department said Monday that although the U.S. has called for a de-escalation of violence, there is still a possibility that the attacks will continue.

"I don't want to speak to what would happen in the absence of de-escalation, but of course the possibility of additional violence, of extended violence is something we're concerned about," he said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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