Kharkiv Ukraine Under Attack as Explosions Tear Through Residential Areas

Matthew 24:6 “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Russia pummels Ukraine’s No. 2 city as convoy nears Kyiv
  • At the same time, a 40-mile convoy of hundreds of Russian tanks and other vehicles advanced on the capital, Kyiv, in what the West feared was a bid to topple Ukraine’s government and install a Kremlin-friendly regime. And Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces pressed their attack on other towns and cities across the country, including the strategic ports of Odesa and Mariupol in the south.
  • In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, with a population of about 1.5 million, at least six people were killed when the region’s Soviet-era administrative building was hit. Explosions tore through residential areas, and a maternity ward was moved to an underground shelter.

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Guatemala Volcano Fuego has increased in activity

Important Takeaways:

  • Fuego volcano (Guatemala): elevated strombolian activity, lava flow has increased
  • The activity at the volcano has been intensifying since 14 February
  • Strombolian activity has continued to pick up both in numbers and intensity. Frequent weak-to-moderate explosions occurred from the summit vent, but from time to time produced intermittent, relatively strong explosions
  • Frequency of eruptions has been detected at the volcano at intervals of 8 to 14 per hour which is more than usual values.
  • Ash emissions reached up to 14,700 ft-15,700 ft

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Guatemala’s Fuego Volcano

Psalms 97:5 “The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.

Important Takeaways:

  • Fuego volcano (Guatemala): continuing lava flow
  • A 100 m long lava flow on the S-SW slope continues to descend into the Ceniza gully.
  • The volcano continues to erupt near-continuous weak-to-moderate strombolian and vulcanian-type explosions at regular intervals of 5 to 8 per hour.
  • Ash plumes reached approx. 15,400 ft (4,700 m) altitude

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Taliban say forces destroy Islamic State cell hours after Kabul blast

By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban government forces destroyed an Islamic State cell in the north of Kabul late on Sunday in a prolonged assault that broke the calm of a normally quiet area of the capital with hours of explosions and gunfire, officials and local residents said.

With Afghanistan’s economy close to collapse and large areas of the country in danger of famine, the presence of an apparently well-armed militant cell in Kabul underlined the daunting scale of the challenge facing the new government.

The Taliban operation came after a bomb attack near a mosque in Kabul earlier on Sunday that was later claimed by Islamic State. That blast killed and wounded a number of civilians in what appeared to be the worst attack in the Afghan capital since the withdrawal of U.S. forces at the end of August.

The local affiliate of Islamic State, known as ISIS-Khorasan after an ancient name for the region, has already claimed to have carried out attacks on Taliban targets and remains unreconciled to the Afghan Islamist movement.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said a special Taliban unit carried out an operation against ISIS elements in Kabul’s 17th district, in the city’s north, destroying their base and killing all those in it.

Local residents said the Taliban forces cordoned off the area before beginning their assault at around 7.30 p.m., before a firefight that lasted several hours, interrupted by at least two blasts as the suspected ISIS fighters detonated explosives.

“For about three hours the clashes were very intense and several powerful explosions also took place,” said Hashmatullah, a local shopkeeper.

One local resident, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said a final blast occurred at around 11.30 p.m. when an explosives-packed car blew up, apparently killing all the ISIS fighters in the building where they were holed up.

He said sporadic gunfire could be heard late into the night and early morning near the compound.

As pickup trucks carried furniture and other items out of the partially destroyed compound on Monday, Taliban soldiers sealed off the area, ushering away bystanders.

LINGERING SECURITY THREATS

The Taliban, who are also fighting the remnants of forces loyal to Ahmad Massoud, an opposition leader from the Panjshir region north of Kabul, have said they have almost complete control of the country.

But Sunday’s violence, and a string of smaller incidents in recent days in areas including Nangarhar on the border with Pakistan and Parwan north of Kabul, have shown that security threats have not disappeared.

Islamic State’s Amaq news agency said on Telegram the group carried out the mosque bombing.

IS has also claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in the eastern city of Jalalabad as well as a suicide attack in late August that killed 13 U.S. soldiers and scores of Afghan civilians who were crowded outside the Kabul airport gates, desperate to secure seats on evacuation flights.

Samiullah, a resident of Kabul who runs a street vendor cart near the mosque, said that, initially, even if the economic situation had worsened since the Taliban takeover, the improved security situation was a consolation.

“We regret that the situation has gone from bad to worse,” he told Reuters close to the mosque premises after being ordered to move away from his usual spot. “The situation is not normal yet. No one is allowed in this area except for the Taliban.”

(Editing by James Mackenzie and Mark Heinrich)

Families given one hour to evacuate as lava from La Palma volcano nears sea

By Borja Suarez and Marco Trujillo

LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Spain (Reuters) -Families rushed to retrieve belongings from their homes and escape the advancing lava on Tuesday, as sirens sounded and helicopters flew overhead in air filled with smoke from an erupting volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma.

One family of three in the town of Los Llanos de Aridane, threatened by the lava running to the coast, hurried to load a Toyota van with mattresses, a fridge, washing machine and bags stuffed with clothes.

Residents in Los Llanos de Aridane were given one hour to pack up and flee, a scene played out over La Palma in the Canary Islands since the volcano erupted on Sunday, forcing 6,000 people to evacuate. At least 166 houses have been destroyed so far.

Regional leader Angel Victor Torres said emergency services were powerless to stop the lava’s “inexorable” advance to the sea and that more homes, churches and agricultural land would be consumed.

While the total damage remains hard to predict, he said it would far exceed the 400 million euro threshold needed to qualify for European Union aid.

Authorities have warned that as it hits the sea, the lava could create a cloud of toxic gases and possibly explosions as the molten rock cools rapidly.

Marine authorities were keeping a two-nautical-mile zone offshore closed as a precaution “to prevent onlookers on boats and prevent the gases from affecting people,” the island council’s chief Mariano Hernandez told Cadena SER radio station.

He urged people to stay away. A road collapse partly hampered the evacuation on Monday.

The lava flow was initially expected to reach the shore on Monday, but it is now moving more slowly. More people had to be evacuated late on Monday and early on Tuesday after a new stream of lava started flowing from another crack on the slope of the Cumbre Viejo volcano.

“The lava on its path to the sea has been a bit capricious and has diverted from its course,” El Paso’s mayor Sergio Rodriguez told state broadcaster TVE.

The volcano started erupting on Sunday, shooting lava hundreds of meters into the air after La Palma, the most northwestern island in the Canaries archipelago, had been rocked by thousands of quakes in the prior days.

No fatalities or injuries have been reported, but drone footage captured two tongues of black lava cutting a devastating swathe through the landscape as they advanced down the volcano’s western flank towards the ocean.

A Reuters witness saw the flow of molten rock slowly engulf a house in the village of Los Campitos, igniting the interior and sending flames through the windows and onto the roof.

As of Tuesday morning, the lava had covered 103 hectares and destroyed 166 houses, according to data released by the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management service.

Emergency authorities have said residents should not fear for their safety if they follow recommendations.

(Reporting by Borja Suarez, Marco Trujillo, Nacho Doce, Inti Landauro, Catarina Demony, Nathan Allen; writing by Clara-Laeila Laudette; Editing by Ingrid Melander, Angus MacSwan and Janet Lawrence)

Children lose parents as thousands flee after Equatorial Guinea blast

By Aaron Ross

(Reuters) – Hospitals have run out of morgue space and are piling bodies into refrigerated shipping containers. Radio and television stations are flooded with calls trying to locate the parents of unaccompanied children. Thousands have fled for the countryside.

Three days after a series of explosions levelled much of Equatorial Guinea’s largest city Bata, killing at least 105 people and injuring more than 600 others, its residents are still coming to grips with the full scale of the tragedy.

Drone footage aired on state television showed block after block of public housing in the coastal city either completely destroyed or close to it, the remnants of their roofs and walls strewn across the neighborhood’s dirt roads.

“There are many children without parents,” said a teacher in Bata, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the authorities in the tightly-controlled central African country. “In the long (term) what do we do with those children?”

The reclusive government blamed the explosions on fires set by farmers living near the military base and the negligent handling of dynamite stocks by the military unit guarding them.

It has decreed three days of national mourning from Wednesday, declared Bata a catastrophe zone, unblocked 10 billion ($18.19 million) CFA francs for the response and appealed for international aid.

Firefighters continued to comb the rubble on Wednesday for bodies as onlookers wept, state television showed. The authorities appealed for donations of blood and basic goods.

A five-year old girl was pulled on Wednesday from the rubble of a house in the military camp where the blast occurred, Equato-Guinean media AhoraEG said.

Officials have been forced to turn to refrigerated containers to store bodies, said the teacher and Alfredo Okenve, a human rights activist who lives in exile in Europe.

Okenve said his information indicated the number of deaths was between 150 and 200, significantly higher than the government’s official toll of 105.

The government’s information ministry did not immediately respond to written questions.

TRAUMATISED

Bata residents are traumatized from the explosions, which lasted for hours on Sunday, and fearful of additional blasts.

The first explosion “was so big that all of us and the people around us were shouting: ‘This is a bomb, this is a bomb!'” said the teacher.

“People were crying, shouting, running, trying to stay somewhere, but it was panic. We started to see police cars and firemen and people bleeding. It was awful.”

The health ministry said in a tweet that it was deploying psychiatrists and psychologists.

The United Nations said on Wednesday that the World Health Organization and children’s agency UNICEF had mobilized teams to control infection and provide logistical support. Spain has sent a first batch of emergency aid.

The former Spanish colony has been run by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Africa’s longest-serving leader, since 1979.

It is the Central African country’s worst tragedy in recent memory, and while the government, charitable organizations and private citizens have kept everyone fed and sheltered for now, most of Equatorial Guinea’s 1.4 million people live in poverty.

The country is also suffering a double economic shock from the coronavirus pandemic and a drop in the price of crude oil, which provides about three-fourths of state revenue.

State media has provided wall-to-wall coverage of the disaster, including the appeals over the lost children, a rarity in a country that human rights activists consider one of Africa’s most repressive and where bad news is often suppressed.

Okenve said the scale of the tragedy had left the government with no choice.

“If there is information coming out, it is because it is impossible to control,” he said.

($1 = 549.9000 Central African CFA franc BEAC)

(Reporting by Aaron Ross in DAKAR; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Explosions hit U.S. coalition supply convoys in Iraq: sources, military

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least two explosions have hit convoys supplying U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq in the last 24 hours, security sources said, the first on Monday evening near the southern border with Kuwait and the second on Tuesday north of Baghdad.

The explosions, which caused no casualties but did some material damage, are the latest in a string of such incidents in recent weeks. An attack in southern Iraq on Sunday hit a convoy carrying supplies to coalition forces, the military said.

Several thousand U.S. forces are still based in Iraq, leading a coalition whose mission is to fight Sunni Muslim Islamic State militants.

Those forces are also a target for Iran-backed Shi’ite militias, which the United States blames for regular rocket attacks on bases hosting the coalition, and on other U.S. targets such as Washington’s embassy in Baghdad.

The militias have vowed to avenge the death of paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed alongside Iranian military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad in January. Political forces aligned with the militias demand a full withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

They also oppose Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who took office in May. He is viewed as being friendly with the United States and has challenged the power of Iran-aligned armed groups in Iraq.

MULTIPLE ATTACKS

Tuesday’s explosion near the Taji military base north of Baghdad caused a fire to a container on one vehicle, the Iraqi military said in a statement. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast.

The explosion on Monday night near the Jraischan border crossing between Iraq and Kuwait targeted a convoy carrying equipment for U.S. forces, three sources from different branches of Iraq’s security services and military said.

The Iraqi military denied that incident took place.

Kuwait’s military on Twitter also denied any attack along its border with Iraq.

Vehicles are regularly loaded with military equipment at the crossing, the security sources said, and cargo is usually loaded or unloaded before entering or exiting Iraq.

Foreign companies are contracted by U.S. forces to provide security in the area, the Iraqi security sources said.

A little known Iraqi Shi’ite militia group by the name of Ashab al-Kahf claimed responsibility for the attack and published a video showing an explosion at a distance. It said it was able to destroy U.S. military equipment and large parts of the crossing.

(Reporting by Aref Mohammed, Baghdad newsroom, John Davison in Geneva; Additional reporting by Lisa Barington in Dubai; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Grant McCool and Gareth Jones)

At embattled Hong Kong university, a dramatic escape

At embattled Hong Kong university, a dramatic escape
By James Pomfret and Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Dozens of Hong Kong protesters staged a dramatic escape from a university campus sealed off by police on Monday by shimmying down plastic hosing from a bridge and fleeing on waiting motorbikes as the police fired projectiles.

Many more anti-government protesters remained trapped inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and two prominent figures were allowed by police onto the campus late on Monday to mediate, a sign that there is a growing risk of bloodshed.

“The situation is getting more and more dangerous,” Jasper Tsang, a pro-Beijing politician who is the former head of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, told Reuters soon after he arrived at the campus.

As he spoke, big explosions were heard and flames flared up at a distant part of the campus. In streets nearby, protesters rained down petrol bombs, burning parked cars and the front of a Standard Chartered Bank branch.

Polytechnic University in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong is at the center of a standoff in the past week that has seen the most intense violence in five months of anti-government demonstrations.

Some of the protesters who escaped on Monday lowered themselves about 10 meters from a bridge they had occupied on the campus to a flyover below. They then sped off on the back of motorcycles which were already waiting or quickly arrived.

A number of them appeared subsequently to have been arrested, a Reuters witness said.

Other protesters, hurling petrol bombs, tried repeatedly to break into the campus but police fired tear gas and water cannon to push them back.

The size of demonstrations has dwindled in recent weeks, but clashes have worsened since early last week, when police shot a protester, a man was set on fire and the city’s financial district was filled with tear gas in the middle of the workday.

The city’s hospital authority reported 116 injuries on Monday, including one female in serious condition.

TIGHTENED CORDON

Earlier on Monday, police tightened their cordon around the Polytechnic University and prevented dozens of people breaking through police lines.

“If the police decide to come in by force, to make their arrests then there will be very strong resistance from the protesters, and we’re afraid we may see bloodshed. This is something that we want to avoid,” Tsang said.

Tsang, who with legal scholar Eric Cheung was the first prominent mediator let onto the campus by police, said there were young children and elderly people trapped inside and that it was a priority to get the children out first.

Early on Tuesday, about 20 students accompanied by Tsang left the campus voluntarily, broadcaster RTHK reported on its livestream.

Police said officers had been deployed “on the periphery” of the campus for a week, appealing to “rioters” to leave.

Witnesses estimated there were more than 300 people still on the campus as of late Monday.

ARRESTS MOUNT

Police say 4,491 people, aged from 11 to 83, have been arrested since protests began in June.

Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in Hong Kong’s promised freedoms when the then British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are responding to excessive use of force by police.

China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula granting Hong Kong autonomy. The city’s police deny accusations of brutality and say they show restraint.

China’s ambassador to London on Monday accused foreign countries including the United States and Britain of interfering in Chinese internal affairs through their reactions to the violent clashes taking place in Hong Kong.

“Some Western countries have publicly supported extreme violent offenders,” Ambassador Liu Xiaoming told a London news conference. He also said Western reporting on Hong Kong was misleading and did not give enough prominence to violence perpetrated by the protesters.

The unrest poses the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. Beijing denies interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and has blamed Western countries for stirring up unrest.

The Hong Kong government invoked a colonial-era emergency law in October banning faced masks commonly used by protesters. The High Court ruled on Monday the ban was unconstitutional and police said they would suspend all such prosecutions.

(Reporting by Marius Zaharia, James Pomfret, Josh Smith, Jessie Pang, Joyce Zhou, Donny Kwok, Anne Marie Roantree, Twinnie Siu, Greg Torode, Kate Lamb, Farah Master, David Lague, Jennifer Hughes and Tom Lasseter in Hong Kong and Phil Stewart in Bangkok; Writing by Greg Torode and Tony Munroe; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel and Timothy Heritage)

Russia rocket accident likely had two explosions, Norway monitor says

FILE PHOTO: A view shows a board on a street of the military garrison located near the village of Nyonoksa in Arkhangelsk Region, Russia October 7, 2018. The board reads: "State Central Naval Range". Picture taken October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Yakovlev

OSLO (Reuters) – An explosion that killed five Russian scientists during a rocket engine test this month was followed by a second blast two hours later, the likely source of a spike in radiation, Norway’s nuclear test-ban monitor said on Friday.

The second explosion was likely from an airborne rocket powered by radioactive fuel, the Norsar agency said – though the governor of Russia’s Arkhangelsk region, where the blast took place, dismissed reports of another blast.

“The aftermath of the incident does not carry any threat,” the governor, Igor Orlov, told the Interfax news agency. “Everything else is yet another round of disinformation.”

Russia’s Ministry of Defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Reuters on Friday.

There has been contradictory information about the Aug. 8 accident near the White Sea in far northern Russia and its consequences.

Russia’s Defence Ministry initially said background radiation remained normal, while the state weather agency said radiation levels had risen.

Russia’s state nuclear agency, Rosatom, said on Aug. 10 the accident involved “isotope power sources” but did not give further details.

Rosatom has acknowledged that five of its workers were killed. Two military personnel were also reported to have been killed.

Norway’s DSA nuclear safety authority said on Aug. 15 it had found tiny amounts of radioactive iodine near Norway’s Arctic border with Russia, although it could not say whether it was linked to the Russian accident.

Norsar’s detection of a second blast was first reported by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on Friday.

“We registered two explosions, of which the last one coincided in time with the reported increase in radiation,” Norsar Chief Executive Anne Stroemmen Lycke told Reuters. She added that this likely came from the rocket’s fuel.

The second explosion was detected only by infrasonic air pressure sensors and not by the seismic monitors that pick up movements in the ground, she added.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik, additional reporting by Tatiana Ustinova and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Editing by Ros Russell and Andrew Heavens)

Tanker attacks in Gulf of Oman fuel security, oil supply fears

An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS

By Lisa Barrington and Rania El Gamal

DUBAI (Reuters) – Attacks on two oil tankers on Thursday in the Gulf of Oman left one ablaze and both adrift, shipping firms said, driving oil prices up 4% over worries about Middle East supplies.

The Front Altair was on fire in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran after an explosion that a source blamed on a magnetic mine. The crew of the Norwegian vessel were picked up by a vessel in the area and passed to an Iranian rescue boat.

A second Japanese-owned tanker was abandoned after being hit by a suspected torpedo, the firm that chartered the ship said. The crew were also picked up.

The attacks were the second in a month near the Strait of Hormuz, a major strategic waterway for world oil supplies.

The United States and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for last month’s attacks using limpet mines on four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a charge Tehran denies.

There were no immediate statements apportioning blame after Thursday’s incidents.

“We need to remember that some 30% of the world’s (seaborne) crude oil passes through the straits. If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk,” said Paolo Amico, chairman of INTERTANKO tanker association.

Tensions have risen since President Donald Trump, who has demanded Tehran curb its military programs and influence in the Middle East, pulled the United States out of a deal between Iran and global powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Thursday’s attacks came as Shinzo Abe – prime minister of U.S. ally Japan, a big importer of Iranian oil until Washington ratcheted up sanctions – was visiting Tehran with a message from Trump. Abe urged all sides not to let tensions escalate.

The Bahrain-based U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet said it was assisting the two tankers on Thursday after receiving distress calls. Britain said it was “deeply concerned” about Thursday’s reported explosions and was working with partners on the issue.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described Thursday’s incidents as “suspicious” on Twitter, noting they occurred during Abe’s Tehran visit. The minister called for regional dialogue.

Oman and the United Arab Emirates, which both have coastlines along the Gulf of Oman, did not immediately issue any public comment.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both majority Sunni Muslim nations with a long-running rivalry with predominantly Shi’ite Iran, have previously said attacks on oil assets in the Gulf pose a risk to global oil supplies and regional security.

An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS

An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS

EXPLOSION

Bernhard Schulte Ship management said the Kokuka Courageous was damaged in a “suspected attack” that breached the hull above the waterline while transporting methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore.

It said the ship was afloat and the crew safe with one minor injury reported.

A shipping broker said the blast that struck the Kokuka Courageous might have been caused by a magnetic mine. “Kokuka Courageous is adrift without any crew on board,” the source said.

Japan’s Kokuka Sangyo, owner of the Kokuka Courageous, said its ship was hit twice over a three-hour period.

Taiwan’s state oil refiner CPC said the Front Altair, owned by Norway’s Frontline, was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo” around 0400 GMT carrying a Taiwan-bound cargo of 75,000 tonnes of petrochemical feedstock naphtha, which Refinitiv Eikon data showed had been picked up from Ruwais in the UAE.

Frontline said its vessel was on fire but afloat, denying a report by the Iranian news agency IRNA that the vessel had sunk.

Front Altair’s 23-member crew abandoned ship after the blast and were picked up by the nearby Hyundai Dubai vessel. The crew was then passed to an Iranian rescue boat, Hyundai Merchant Marine said in a statement.

Iranian search and rescue teams picked up 44 sailors from the two damaged tankers and took them to the Iranian port of Jask, Iran’s IRNA reported.

Thursday’s attacks came a day after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis fired a missile on an airport in Saudi Arabia, injuring 26 people. The Houthis also claimed an armed drone strike last month on Saudi oil pumping stations.

Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei told Abe during his visit to Iran that Tehran would not repeat its “bitter experience” of negotiating with the United States, state media reported.

“I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange, and I do not have any reply for him, now or in future,” the Iranian leader said.

(Reporting by Koustav Samanta and Jessica Jaganathan in Singapore, Liang-Sa Loh and Yimou Lee in Taipei, Terje Solsvik in Oslo, Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul and Jonathan Saul in London; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Jon Boyle and Alison Williams)