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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rebels Shell Syrian Presidential Palace

Three mortars were reported to have landed in the grounds of a presidential palace in the northwest of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Tuesday. State news agency SANA quoted an unnamed government official saying that the bombs had “landed near the southern wall of Tishreen palace, causing only material damage”, as well as blaming “terrorists” for the attack. The opposition Free Syrian Army later claimed responsibility for the shelling. This is the first time that Syrian authorities have reported attacks on a presidential palace and the strike signals that the opposition is now able to hit the government’s seats of power. Meanwhile, European Union member states declared on Monday that they would extend their arms embargo on Syria for another three months, effectively distancing themselves from arming any of the Syrian opposition groups who are fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The Belgian Foreign Minister, Didier Reynders, said the embargo could be lifted if the bloc could be assured of the precise destination of any weapons. “If we must make a change to the embargo, we must be sure that we can control the distribution of weapons and see who are the groups who are going to actually benefit”, he said.

North Korea Threatens South Korea with ‘Final Destruction’

North Korea threatened South Korea with annihilation during a debate at the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, saying its southern neighbour should respect it. “As the saying goes, a new-born puppy knows no fear of a tiger. South Korea’s erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction”, said North Korean diplomat Jon Yong Ryong. He also alluded to the country’s recent nuclear tests, saying they had been a “resolute step for self-defense”, hailing them as “strong counter-actions to a foreign aggressor”. Jon similarly threatened the U.S., saying any hostile approach to North Korea would create a “complicated” situation, prompting “stronger steps in succession”. His comments were immediately rebuffed by diplomats from other nations. British ambassador Joanne Adamson said his language was “completely inappropriate” and that “it cannot be allowed that we have expressions which refer to the possible destruction of UN member states”.

Masked Gunmen Steal US$50 Million in Diamonds at Brussels Airport

Eight masked gunmen passed themselves as policemen and snatched US$50 million worth of diamonds from the cargo hold of a Zürich-bound plane while it was parked at Brussels airport late Monday night. The gang used two black vehicles to approach the Helvetic Airways aircraft and “sped off into the darkness”, according to Anja Bijnens, spokeswoman from the Brussels prosecutor’s office. Passengers on the plane, then still parked at a gate, noticed nothing unusual during the heist, which lasted three minutes. The criminals stepped out of the car, flashed machine guns at airline staff and security guards and calmly took the parcels from the hold. A vehicle was found completely torched near the airport and police revealed they were still looking for clues on Tuesday. The diamonds were mostly uncut and originated in Antwerp, suggesting that the criminals were aware of that exact shipment from its starting point and knew that security procedures at the airport would allow them to carry out the heist without fear of being intercepted.

Patient Infected with New Sars-Like Virus Dies in Birmingham

A patient being treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham for a new respiratory illness similar to the deadly Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) died on Tuesday, according to hospital staff. He is the sixth patient to have died of the new strain of the 12 people around the world known to have been infected with it. It is thought that the patient, who had a weakened immune system, contracted the virus from his father, who had visited the Middle East and Pakistan recently. Another three members of the same family have also tested positive for the virus. The hospital said it was now working with the Health Protection Agency (HPA) to contact and test other people who may have come into immediate contact with family members. Although the virus has now been confirmed to spread among humans, the threat posed by it is still thought to be low. “The risk of infection in contacts in most circumstances is still considered to be low and the risk associated with novel coronavirus to the general UK population remains very low”, said Prof John Watson, head of respiratory diseases at the HPA.

NHS Reforms Could Save 1,600 Children Every Year

Reforms to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) could save up 1,600 childrens’ lives every year, according to Dr Dan Poulter, the Health Minister. “For too long, Britain’s childhood mortality rates have been amongst the worst in Europe when compared to similar countries”, said Dr Poulter. Government figures show that the mortality rate for children aged between 0 and 14 to be amongst the worst in Europe. “I am determined that children and young people should be put at the heart of the new health and social care system. Too often in the past children’s health has been an afterthought”, continued the health minister. Among the government’s plans are to increase the dissemination of data among different units so that health workers can get better information on patients as well as colour coded health maps that will help doctors see localised health trends for conditions such as asthma and diabetes.

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