Negotiators Race to Extend Israel-Hamas Truce

Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at the latest efforts to extend the Israel-Hamas truce, a surge in childhood respiratory illness cases in China, and India’s successful tunnel rescue mission.

Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at the latest efforts to extend the Israel-Hamas truce, a surge in childhood respiratory illness cases in China, and India’s successful tunnel rescue mission.

With the Israel-Hamas hostage deal’s expiration looming early Thursday, negotiators are scrambling to secure another extension to the tenuous six-day truce that has secured the freedom of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and Palestinians imprisoned in Israel while also allowing aid to reach civilians in Gaza.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly urged both parties to extend the agreement on Wednesday, just a day after CIA Director William Burns traveled to Qatar to push for negotiations to expand to include men and military personnel, Hamas’s release of American hostages, and a continued halt in fighting. Blinken, who is currently in Brussels, is also slated to travel to Israel and the West Bank in the coming days.

“We’d like to see the pause extended because what it has enabled first and foremost is hostages being released, coming home, being reunited with their families. It’s also enabled us to surge humanitarian assistance into the people of Gaza who so desperately need it,” Blinken said. “[C]learly that’s something we want, and I believe it’s also something that Israel wants.”

Since the truce took force last Friday, Hamas has released 61 Israeli hostages and 20 foreign nationals, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; Hamas was estimated to be holding around 240 hostages before the deal. Israel, in exchange, has freed 180 imprisoned Palestinians. The Israeli government is estimated to have more than 7,000 Palestinians detained, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society.

Israeli officials have reiterated that the pause in fighting will not “lead to a permanent cease-fire” and have vowed to resume operations after the deal expires. Humanitarian conditions remain grim in Gaza, where World Health Organization Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that disease could threaten more lives than bombings and urged stronger protections for the enclave’s medical infrastructure. About 1.3 million people out of Gaza’s population of 2.2 million people are currently residing in overcrowded shelters without food, water, sanitation, and medication, he said.

“Of the 25 hospitals north of the Wadi Gaza (river) before the conflict began, only three are functioning at the most basic level, but they lack fuel, water and food,” he said, adding that “the remaining health system capacity must be protected, supported and expanded.”

Tunnel rescue mission. After a weekslong rescue mission, Indian authorities have successfully rescued 41 construction workers from a road tunnel in northern India, which had collapsed after a landslide hit. The workers, who were trapped for 17 days, had to receive food, water, and oxygen through a 173-foot pipe while rescuers encountered multiple setbacks. Ultimately, officials turned to “rat-hole miners”—miners specializing in narrow tunnels—to dig through the last stretch of debris.

“I removed the last rock and I could see them,” Munna Qureshi, one of the rat-hole mining experts who assisted in the rescue, told Indian media. “They hugged us, lifted us up and thanked us for taking us out. We worked continuously in the last 24 hours. I can’t express my happiness. I have done it for my country.”

Hospitals under strain. China’s hospitals are facing an overwhelming number of cases of children with respiratory illnesses, with reports of hourslong wait times and queues of hundreds of patients. State media indicates that many hospitals are at full capacity; the Beijing’s Children Hospital, for example, has been at full capacity for the past two months and currently sees more than 9,000 patients a day, according to the Global Times.

World Health Organization (WHO) officials and other infectious disease experts say that the spiking numbers appear to be fueled by children now catching pathogens that they evaded under China’s COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. “This is not an indication of a novel pathogen. This is expected. This is what most countries dealt with a year or two ago,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the acting director of the WHO’s department of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention. Others have pointed to outbreaks of pneumonia associated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Annie Sparrow, an associate professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, argues that the WHO must go further in publicly pressing China about the growth of antibiotic resistant microbes. “Chinese doctors are once again being silenced and not communicating with their counterparts abroad, which suggests another potentially dangerous cover-up may be underway,” she writes.

Finland closes Russia border. Finland has completely sealed its border with Russia after accusing Moscow of engaging in “hybrid warfare” and encouraging migrants to enter the country. Of the 1,000 migrants who have attempted to pass the border without visas or valid documentation since August, Finnish officials said, more than 900 of the cases occurred this month. The border closure is expected to last for at least two weeks; the Kremlin has denied ushering migrants to the border.

“Finland has a profound reason to suspect that the entry (of migrants) is organized by a foreign state. This deals with Russia’s influencing operations and we won’t accept it,” said Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo. “We don’t accept any attempt to undermine our national security. Russia has caused this situation and it can also stop it.”

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere and you spot green and purple flickers of light sweeping the sky, you may not be seeing an aurora, but Steve, a light phenomenon believed to be the result of a flow of charged particles in the upper atmosphere. Compared to standard auroras, Steve materializes in a ribbonlike shape and typically appears for between 20 minutes and an hour. Steve’s name was inspired by the 2006 animated film Over the Hedge, where a group of animals names a towering, unfamiliar hedge “Steve” to soothe their fears of the unknown. The name stuck here, too—and scientists have officially designated Steve as “Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.”

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