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Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin dies at 96

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(Last Updated On: November 30, 2022)

Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who led the country for a decade of rapid economic growth after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, died on Wednesday at the age of 96, Chinese state media reported.

Jiang died in his home city of Shanghai just after noon on Wednesday of leukaemia and multiple organ failure, Xinhua news agency said, publishing a letter to the Chinese people by the ruling Communist Party, parliament, Cabinet and the military, Reuters reported.

“Comrade Jiang Zemin’s death is an incalculable loss to our Party and our military and our people of all ethnic groups,” the letter read, saying its announcement was with “profound grief”.

According to Reuters Jiang’s death comes at a tumultuous time in China, where authorities are grappling with rare widespread street protests among residents fed up with heavy-handed COVID-19 curbs nearly three years into the pandemic.

The zero-COVID policy is a hallmark or President Xi Jinping, who recently secured a third leadership term that cements his place as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong and has taken China in an increasingly authoritarian direction since replacing Jiang’s immediate successor, Hu Jintao.

China is also in the midst of a sharp economic slowdown exacerbated by zero-COVID, read the report.

Numerous users of China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform described the death of Jiang, who remained influential after finally retiring in 2004, as the end of an era.

“I’m very sad, not only for his departure, but also because I really feel that an era is over,” a Henan province-based user wrote.

“As if what has happened wasn’t enough, 2022 tells people in a more brutal way that an era is over,” a Beijing Weibo user posted.

The online pages of state media sites including People’s Daily and Xinhua turned to black and white in mourning, read the report.

Wednesday’s letter described “our beloved Comrade Jiang Zemin” as an outstanding leader of high prestige, a great Marxist, statesman, military strategist and diplomat and a long-tested communist fighter.

Jiang was plucked from obscurity to head China’s ruling Communist Party after the bloody Tiananmen crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989, but broke the country out of its subsequent diplomatic isolation, mending fences with the United States and overseeing an unprecedented economic boom.

He served as president from 1993 to 2003 but held China’s top job, as head of the ruling Communist Party, from 1989 and handed over that role to Hu in 2002. He only gave up the position as head of the military in 2004, which he also assumed in 1989.

According to Reuters when Jiang retired, it was said by sources close to the leadership at the time that everywhere Hu looked he would see the supporters of his predecessor.

Jiang had stacked China’s most powerful leadership body, the Politburo Standing Committee, with his own protégées, many of them from the so-called “Shanghai Gang”.

But in the years after Jiang retired from his final post, the military commission chairmanship in 2004, Hu consolidated his grip, neutralised the Shanghai Gang and successfully anointed Xi as a successor, Reuters reported.

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Israeli airstrike kills two people in Damascus, Syrian state TV says

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(Last Updated On: February 22, 2024)

An Israeli airstrike hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district in Syria’s capital Damascus on Wednesday, killing two people, Syrian state media and a security source said.

A military source cited by Syrian state TV said the strike at about 9:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) wounded a number of other people, identifying the dead as civilians, Reuters reported.

Images published by Syrian state media showed the charred side of a multi-storey building. The security source said the “attack did not achieve its aims”.

The neighbourhood hosts residential buildings, schools and Iranian cultural centres, and lies near a large, heavily-guarded complex used by security agencies. The district was struck in an Israeli attack in February 2023 that killed Iranian military experts.

Witnesses heard several back-to-back explosions. The blasts scared children at a nearby school and ambulances rushed to the area, the witnesses told Reuters.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Iran’s semi-official Student News Network said no Iranian citizens were killed in the strike, read the report.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Reuters witness heard another large blast in the capital that shook the windows of homes. Local Syrian outlet Sham FM said several explosions were heard in the capital without specifying the cause.

Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s nearly 12-year-old conflict. Its support for Damascus and the Lebanese group Hezbollah has drawn regular Israeli air strikes meant to curb Tehran’s extraterritorial military power.

Those strikes have ramped up in line with flaring regional tensions since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, with more than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.

As a result, the Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria and have planned to rely more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their sway there, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this month.

Iran, a backer of Hamas, has sought to stay out of the conflict itself even as it supports groups that have entered the fray from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria – the so-called “Axis of Resistance” that is hostile to Israeli and U.S. interests.

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US military drone shot down near Yemen, US officials say

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(Last Updated On: February 21, 2024)

A U.S. military Mq-9 drone was shot down near Yemen by Iran-backed militants, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday, the second time such a shoot down has taken place in recent months during a near daily tit-for-tat between the group and U.S. forces, Reuters reported.

The Houthis, who have controlled most of Yemen for nearly a decade, have carried out repeated drone and missile strikes since November in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait against commercial and military ships. U.S. and British forces have responded with multiple strikes on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.

One of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said initial information showed that the U.S. drone, made by General Atomics, was hit near Hodeidah on Monday. The official said information could change and did not say if the drone was in international airspace.

The second official said the drone was shot down by a Houthi surface-to-air missile fired from near Hodeida.

The comments by the officials confirm a claim by the Houthis that they had shot down a drone near the port city, read the report.

In November, another Mq-9 was shot down by the Houthis and two drones were brought down by the group in 2019.

The Houthi militants said on Monday they had attacked the Rubymar cargo vessel in the Gulf of Aden, which was at risk of sinking, raising the stakes in their campaign to disrupt global shipping in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.

Despite Western attacks on them in Yemen, the Houthis have vowed to continue targeting ships linked to Israel until attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip stop, Reuters reported.

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Israel opposes ‘unilateral’ imposition of Palestinian state

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(Last Updated On: February 19, 2024)

Israel on Sunday formalised its opposition to what it called the “unilateral recognition” of Palestinian statehood, and said any such agreement must be reached through direct negotiations, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the “declaratory decision” to a vote in cabinet, which unanimously approved the measure, according to a statement.

Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly meeting that the move comes after “recent talk in the international community about an attempt to unilaterally impose on Israel a Palestinian state.”

The war in Gaza that has raged since Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage through Israeli communities is the latest in a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has rumbled on for seven decades and destabilised the Middle East.

Efforts to achieve a two-state solution – a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel – have been stalled since 2014, read the report.

U.S. President Joe Biden has been trying to clinch an even broader deal in the Middle East, that would include Saudi Arabia and other Arab states normalizing ties with Israel, as well as the creation of a Palestinian state.

The formal Israeli statement, according to Netanyahu’s office, reflects the fact that: “Israel rejects outright international dictates regarding a permanent accord with the Palestinians. An accord, should it be reached, will only come through direct negotiations between the sides, without preconditions.”

“Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7th massacre will grant a huge, unprecedented reward to terrorism and prevent any future peace accord,” it said.

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