Islamic State claims responsibility for church attack in Chechnya

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for an attack on a church in Russia’s Chechnya republic that killed three people, the group’s Amaq news agency said on Sunday.

The group offered no evidence in support of the claim.

Four people attacked the Orthodox church on Saturday, killing two policemen and a churchgoer, Russia’s investigative committee said in a statement. The attackers were killed.

“Islamic State fighters executed an attack on ‘Michael’ Church yesterday in Chechnya’s capital, Grozny,” Amaq said.

Russia, which hosts the soccer World Cup next month, has fought two wars with separatists in the mainly Muslim internal republic since the 1991 Soviet collapse, but such attacks have become relatively rare in Chechnya.

The wider North Caucasus region remains volatile, however, with unemployment and corruption pushing some to embrace radical Islam.

(Reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Dale Hudson)

Accused Texas high school gunman described as bullied loner in a trench coat

A picture shows Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the suspect in the Santa Fe High School shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., in this undated picture obtained from social media, released on May 18, 2018. Courtesy GALVESTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE/via REUTERS

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – The teen accused of killing 10 people in a mass shooting at his Texas high school on Friday was described by fellow students as a quiet loner who played football but kept to himself and was reportedly the victim of some bullying.

The suspect, identified as 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, was a junior at Santa Fe High School near Houston. Classmates remembered he often wore a trench coat, similar to the garment authorities said the assailant used to conceal the two firearms he carried into the school.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters the gunman was armed with a shotgun and a .38 revolver, both of which he had taken from his father. It was not known if the father was aware his son had possession of the guns.

While Abbott said there were few advance warning signs that the suspect had violent tendencies, one ominous social media post was an image of a black T-shirt with the words “Born to Kill” found on the Pagourtzis’ Facebook page.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the Facebook page also bore the image of a trench coat with Nazi insignia. The newspaper said classmates characterized Pagourtzis as unpopular and often the target of bullying.

“He was really quiet and wore like a trench coat every day,” Santa Fe High student Mateo Twilley, 15, told CNN on Friday afternoon. Twilley said he had played football with the suspect.

Another student, who was not identified, told reporters in a local television news interview Pagourtzis “stuck to himself. He never really talked to other people.”

The Houston Chronicle reported that a caption on the suspect’s Instagram page said, “we all die sometime.”

Pagourtzis was being held without bond Friday afternoon at the Galveston County Jail after being charged with capital murder, authorities said.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder in Santa Fe, Texas; Additional reporting by Jon Herkovitz in Austin. Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Tom Brown)

Many feared dead, injured in passenger plane crash in Cuba

Firefighters work in the wreckage of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area of Boyeros, around 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana, shortly after taking off from Havana's main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

By Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta

HAVANA (Reuters) – A Boeing 737 plane crashed on Friday shortly after taking off from Havana’s main airport on a domestic flight, with a number of people feared dead or injured, Reuters witnesses and officials said.

There were at least three possible survivors among the 105 passengers plus nine crew, Cuban state-run media reported, adding that there were five children on board. Earlier reports on state media said there were 104 passengers.

The number of casualties was not immediately known, but Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, visiting the site of the crash, told Agence France Presse: “It appears there is a high number of victims.”

Wreckage was strewn over the area and ambulances and firefighters were at the scene, a Reuters witness said. The fire had been put out, and blackened parts of the fuselage could be seen.

“We heard an explosion and then saw a big cloud of smoke go up,” said Gilberto Menendez, who runs a restaurant near the crash site in the agricultural area of Boyeros, 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana.

A worker at Havana’s Calixto Garcia hospital told Reuters three victims of the accident had arrived so far. One had died from burns and other trauma and the other two were in a serious state.

“She is alive but very burnt and swollen,” said a distressed relative of one of the survivors at the hospital.

The flight was destined for Holguin and was leased by airline Cubana from a small Mexican airline called Damojh or Global, Cuban state media said. Cubana declined to comment.

Holguin in eastern Cuba is home to some of the island’s most pristine beaches, and attracts tourists. The nationality of those on board was not immediately clear. State media said that the crew were foreign, but provided no further details.

Flight tracking websites indicated the flight was CU972, departing Havana at 11 a.m. (1500 GMT).

Boeing Co said in a Twitter post: “We are aware of news reports out of Cuba and are closely monitoring the situation.”

A Damojh representative told Reuters in Mexico: “There is still no information, we are gathering what we can to give correct information. As the day progresses there will be more information.”

The last fatal crash in Cuba was in 2017, the Aviation Safety Network said. It was a military flight that killed all eight personnel aboard. In 2010, a commercial Aero Caribbean plane crashed in central Cuba. All 68 people on board were killed.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta in Havana; additional reporting by Anthony Esposito and Dave Graham in Mexico, Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; editing by Grant McCool)

At least eight dead, explosives found in Texas school shooting: sheriff

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS

By Erwin Seba

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – At least eight people died in a shooting at a Santa Fe, Texas, high school on Friday and police searching the building said they had taken into custody a student suspected of the attack and found explosives in the school building.

The sound of gunshots tore through the air at Santa Fe High School shortly before 8 a.m. CT (1300 GMT) on Friday, witnesses told local media, and live TV images showed lines of students evacuating the building while heavily armed police responded to the scene.

The incident was the latest in a long series of deadly shootings at U.S. schools. Seventeen teens and educators were shot dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, a massacre that stirred the nation’s long-running debate over gun ownership.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said that eight to 10 people, both students and adults, died in the incident at the school about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Houston.

“There is one person, a suspect, in custody and a second possible person of interest that is detained and being questioned,” Gonzalez said at a news conference.

Explosive devices had also been found at the school and off campus, Gonzalez tweeted. “Law enforcement is in the process of rendering them safe. School has been evacuated.”

The suspect is a 17-year-old male, a law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation, told Reuters.

At least nine people were taken to area hospitals for treatment, hospital officials said. The conditions of those people was not immediately clear. Gonzalez said a police officer was also being treated for injuries.

Sophomore Leila Butler told the local ABC affiliate that fire alarms went off at about 7:45 a.m. local time (1245 GMT) and students left their classrooms. She said some students believe they heard shots fired, and that she was sheltering with other students and teachers near campus.

‘WE ALL TOOK OFF’

A male student, who did not identify himself, described fleeing the scene in an interview with CBS affiliate KHOU.

“Three shots that I heard, so we all took off in the back and I tried to get into the trees, I didn’t want to be in sight. I heard four more shots, and then we jumped the fence to somebody’s house,” the student said.

Another sophomore, Dakota Shrader, told Fox 26 TV her 17-year-old girlfriend told her by phone that she was wounded but was recovering in a hospital. “My friend got injured,” said an emotional Shrader. “Her leg, she got shot in the leg.”

Dr. David Marshall, chief nursing officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said that the hospital was treating at least three patients – two adults and one person under 18. He said it was not immediately clear if that child was a student.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the latest school massacre heartbreaking.

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Trump said at the White House.

Days after the Parkland shooting, Trump said that elected officials should be ready to “fight” the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. Early this month he embraced that group, telling its annual meeting in Dallas “your Second Amendment rights are under siege.”

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms.

No major federal gun controls have been imposed since Parkland, though the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people but have not played a role in other major U.S. mass shootings.

(Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in Houston, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)

Power outages linger as U.S. Northeast recovers from deadly storm

Commuters wait as service was temporarily suspended on all Metro North lines at Grand Central Terminal due to storms in Manhattan, New York, May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Herbert Lash

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A violent spring storm that killed at least five people in the northeastern United States downed trees and power lines, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power on Wednesday.

By daybreak, more than 370,000 residents were without power in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, down from more than 600,000 on Tuesday night.

Amtrak and most local commuter railroads in the New York metropolitan area said their services were back to normal on Wednesday. Some schools canceled classes or delayed their openings.

The line of strong thunderstorms with wind gusts of 50 to 80 miles per hour (80 to 129 kilometers per hour) sped eastward across the region Tuesday evening, causing local flooding, scattering debris and dropping hail as large as tennis balls.

Falling trees killed an 11-year-old girl and a woman in separate incidents in Newburgh, New York, police said. Falling trees also killed two people in Connecticut in separate incidents, as well as a person in Pennsylvania, local media reported.

Local news showed footage of trees resting on top of crushed cars and houses, and vehicles submerged in water.

There were more than 100 reports of hail in states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut, the National Weather Service said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in several counties in southeast New York and deployed members of the New York National Guard to assist with the recovery.

Officials in Brookfield, Connecticut, declared a town disaster and told residents to stay inside until they could assess the damage.

“Please be aware that there are hundreds of downed trees, utility poles and electrical lines. AVOID all down trees and utility poles as they may still involve LIVE power lines,” the Brookfield Police Department said on Facebook.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Thomas)

Israel says Hamas curbed Gaza protests after Egyptian warning

Relatives mourn during the funeral of a Palestinian, who was killed during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border, in the central Gaza Strip May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian protests on the Gaza-Israel border have dropped off over the past two days, with Israel on Wednesday pointing to what it said were Egyptian efforts to restore calm after dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire.

Gaza’s dominant Islamist Hamas movement denied that it was under pressure from neighboring Egypt to scale back the six-week-old demonstrations, and said they would continue, although fewer Palestinians were now gathering in protest tents.

Gaza medics said two Palestinians were shot dead during Tuesday’s demonstrations along the 51 km (32 mile) border. On Monday, 60 were killed in a far greater turnout on the day the United States relocated its Israel embassy to Jerusalem.

Pushing back against foreign censure of its army’s actions, Israel has – with Washington’s backing – accused Hamas of using civilians as cover for attacks across the frontier fence and to distract from Gaza’s internal problems. Hamas denies this.

Angered by the U.S. embassy move and the Gaza bloodshed, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and consul to Istanbul, Ankara said on Wednesday. Israel responded to its envoy’s expulsion on Tuesday by expelling Turkey’s Jerusalem consul.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry announced the recall for consultations of its envoys in Romania, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic, citing those EU members’ participation in an official Israeli reception on Sunday for a U.S. delegation that inaugurated the American Embassy in Jerusalem.

There has been little Israeli domestic dissent at the lethal tactics around Gaza, where in the last decade Israel has fought three wars against Hamas, a group sworn to its destruction.

Dubbed the March of Return, the protests were launched on March 30 to demand Palestinian access to family lands or homes lost to Israel during its founding in a 1948 war. Larger crowds have flocked to the border after Muslim prayers on Fridays.

Israel and Egypt, citing security concerns, maintain a de facto blockade on Gaza which has reduced its economy to a state of collapse during more than a decade of Hamas rule and repeated war with Israel.

Two million people live in the narrow strip, most stateless descendants of refugees who fled or were driven out of homes in Israel at the time of its founding. They suffer from what the World Bank says is one of the highest rates of unemployment on earth, and say the blockade makes rebuilding impossible.

Gaza analyst Akram Attallah, pointing to the smaller number of protesters since Monday’s deaths, said: “I can see there is a retreat because of the Israeli bloody response … but Friday will represent an indicator to where things are going.”

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh made a brief visit on Sunday to Egypt, which has sought to act as a broker between the Islamists and other Palestinian factions, as well as Israel.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said an Egyptian intelligence chief, whom he did not name, warned Haniyeh that Cairo “knows and has proof” that Hamas was funding the protests and sending people to the border fence to serve “as living ammunition, women and children instead of shells and rockets”.

HOLDING FAST

The Egyptian official “made unequivocally clear to him (Haniyeh) that if this continues, Israel will respond and take far harsher steps, and Egypt will stand by and will not help,” Katz told Israel Radio in an interview.

“Haniyeh returned to Gaza, Hamas gave an order … and miraculously, this spontaneous protest by a public that could not handle the situation any more dissipated.”

There was no immediate response from Egypt to Katz’s statements, which Hamas dismissed as false.

“There is no mediation. The marches will continue until our people achieve their goals,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

At a news conference at a protest encampment on Wednesday, Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, urged people to take part in mass rallies on Friday.

But the start on Thursday of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours, could limit the scale of the demonstrations.

In a statement issued at the news conference, the factions said the fasting would be taken into account. They said marches would continue through early June.

Organisers say the Gaza protests are civilian actions, noting the absence of Israeli casualties, compared to 107 Palestinian dead and thousands of wounded. Israel disputes this. The army said 14 of those killed on Monday were shot while firing on Israeli troops or trying to blow up the fence.

In Jerusalem, following the U.S. lead, Guatemala opened its embassy in the city on Wednesday. Paraguay is slated to do the same next week.

Most countries keep their embassies in Tel Aviv, however, saying the status of the holy city should be decided in peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, which want to have their own capital there. Those talks have been stalled since 2014.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector captured in the 1967 Middle East, as its capital. Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller, William Maclean; Editing by Peter Graff)

Gazans bury dead after bloodiest day of Israel border protests

Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from Israeli fire and tear gas during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams

GAZA-ISRAEL BORDER (Reuters) – Thousands of Gaza residents turned out on Tuesday for the funerals of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops a day earlier, while on the Gaza-Israel border, Israeli forces prepared to face the expected final day of a Palestinian protest campaign.

Monday’s violence on the border, which took place as the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, was the bloodiest for Palestinians since the 2014 Gaza conflict.

The death toll rose to 60 overnight after an eight-month-old baby died from tear gas that her family said she inhaled at a protest camp on Monday. More than 2,200 Palestinians were also injured by gunfire or tear gas, Palestinian medics said.

Palestinian leaders have called Monday’s events a massacre, and the Israeli tactic of using live fire against the protesters has drawn worldwide concern and condemnation.

The United Nations Security Council was due to meet to discuss the situation.

Israel has said it is acting in self-defense to defend its borders and communities. Its main ally the United States has backed that stance, with both saying that Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the coastal enclave, instigated the violence.

On Tuesday morning, mourners marched through Gaza, waving Palestinian flags and calling for revenge.

“With souls and blood we redeem you martyrs,” they shouted.

There were fears of further bloodshed as a six-week protest campaign was due to reach its climax.

May 15 is traditionally the day Palestinians mark the “Nakba”, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven from their homes in violence culminating in war between the newly created Jewish state and its Arab neighbors in 1948.

The protests, dubbed “The Great March of Return,” began on March 30 and revived calls for refugees to have the right of return to their former lands, which now lie inside Israel.

Israel rejects any right of return, fearing that it would deprive the state of its Jewish majority.

Palestinian medical officials say 105 Gazans have now been killed since the start of the protests and nearly 11,000 people wounded, about 3,500 of them hit by live fire. Israeli officials dispute those numbers. No Israeli casualties have been reported.

More than 2 million people are crammed into the narrow Gaza Strip, more than two thirds of them refugees. Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions on the enclave, deepening economic hardship and raising humanitarian concerns.

SHARPSHOOTERS

On the Israeli side of the border, Israeli sharpshooters took up positions to stop any attempted breach of the fence should demonstrations break out again. Tanks were also deployed.

A senior Israeli commander said that of the 60 Gazans killed on Monday, 14 were carrying out attacks and 14 others were militants.

He also said Palestinians protesters were using hundreds of pipe bombs, grenades and fire-bombs. Militants had opened fire on Israeli troops and tried to set off bombs by the fence.

Many casualties were caused by Palestinians carrying out devices that went off prematurely,” he said.

“We approve every round fired before it is fired. Every target is spotted in advance. We know where the bullet lands and where it is aimed,” said the commander, who spoke on condition that he not be named, in accordance with Israeli regulations.

“However reality on the ground is such that unintended damage is caused,” he said.

In Geneva, the U.N. human rights office condemned what it called the “appalling deadly violence” by Israeli forces.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said Israel had a right to defend its borders according to international law, but lethal force must only be used a last resort, and was not justified by Palestinians approaching the Gaza fence.

The U.N. rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, said Israel’s use of force may amount to a war crime.

YOUNG VICTIM

In Gaza City, hundreds marched in the funeral of eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour, whose body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag.

“Let her stay with me, It is too early for her to go,” her mother cried, pressing the baby’s body to her chest.

Speaking earlier, her grandmother said the child was at one of the tented protest camps and had inhaled tear gas.

“When we got back home, the baby stopped crying and I thought she was asleep. I took her to the children’s hospital and the doctor told me she was martyred (dead),” Heyam Omar said.

Many shops in East Jerusalem were shut throughout the day following a call by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a general strike across the Palestinian Territories. A 70-second siren was sounded in the occupied West Bank in commemoration of the Nakba.

HOLY CITY

Most Gaza protesters stay around tent camps but groups have ventured closer to the border fence, rolling burning tyres and throwing stones. Some have flown kites carrying containers of petrol that spread fires on the Israeli side.

Monday’s protests were fueled by the opening ceremony for the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem following its relocation from Tel Aviv. The move fulfilled a pledge by U.S. President Donald Trump, who in December recognized the contested city as the Israeli capital.

Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel regards all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed, as its “eternal and indivisible capital”.

Most countries say the status of Jerusalem – a sacred city to Jews, Muslims and Christians – should be determined in a final peace settlement and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.

Netanyahu praised Trump’s decisions but Palestinians have said the United States can no longer serve as an honest broker in any peace process. Talks aimed a finding a two-state solution to the conflict have been frozen since 2014.

Trump said on Monday he remained committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. His administration says it has nearly completed a new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan but is undecided on how and when to roll it out.

Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the Gaza violence. Hamas denied instigating it but the White House backed Netanyahu, saying Hamas “intentionally and cynically provoking this response”.

The United States on Monday blocked a Kuwait-drafted U.N. Security Council statement that would have expressed “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians” and called for an independent investigation, U.N. diplomats said.

In the British parliament, junior foreign office minister Alistair Burt said the United States needed to show more understanding about the causes of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas’ role in the violence must be investigated, he added.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell, Writing by Maayan Lubell, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Israeli forces kill 28 in Gaza protests as anger mounts over U.S. Embassy

A female Palestinian demonstrator gestures during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza City May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell

GAZA BORDER (Reuters) – Israeli forces killed at least 28 Palestinians along the Gaza border on Monday, health officials said, as demonstrators streamed to the frontier on the day the United States prepared to open its embassy in Jerusalem.

It was the highest Palestinian single-day death toll since a series of protests dubbed the “Great March of Return” began at the border with Israel on March 30 and since a 2014 Gaza war.

The health officials said 900 Palestinians were wounded, about 450 of them by live bullets.

Tens of thousands gathered at the frontier on Monday, some of them approaching Israel’s border fence – a line Israeli leaders vowed Palestinians would not be allowed to breach. Black smoke from tyres set alight by demonstrators rose in the air.

“Today is the big day when we will cross the fence and tell Israel and the world we will not accept being occupied forever,” said Gaza science teacher Ali, who declined to give his last name.

“Many may get martyred today, so many, but the world will hear our message. Occupation must end,” he said.

A Palestinian demonstrator reacts during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A Palestinian demonstrator reacts during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Later in the day, Israeli leaders and a U.S. delegation including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, were due to attend the opening of the embassy relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“A great day for Israel,” the U.S. president, who stoked Arab anger by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, said in a tweet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in lockstep with Trump over fulfilling a long-standing U.S. promise to move the embassy to the holy city and over the president’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last week, echoed the sentiment.

“What a moving day for the people of Israel and the State of Israel,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.

The 28 Palestinian dead on Monday included a 14-year-old boy, a medic and a man in a wheelchair who had been pictured on social media using a slingshot.

The Israeli military identified three of those killed as armed militants whom it said tried to place explosives near the fence in the southern Gaza Strip.

The latest casualties raised the Palestinian death toll to 73 since the protests started six weeks ago. No Israeli casualties have been reported.

“The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) will act forcefully against any terrorist activity and will operate to prevent attacks against Israelis,” the military said in a statement.

The killings have drawn international criticism, but the United States has echoed Israel in accusing Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement of instigating violence, an allegation it denies.

“LONG OVERDUE”

Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, said on Twitter that “taking the long-overdue step of moving our Embassy is not a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace deal. Rather, it is a necessary condition for it.”

But Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah accused the United States of “blatant violations of international law”.

The Palestinians, who want their own future state with its capital in East Jerusalem, have been outraged by Trump’s shift from previous administrations’ preference for keeping the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv pending progress in peace efforts.

Those talks have been frozen since 2014. Other international powers worry that the U.S. move could also inflame Palestinian unrest in the occupied West Bank, which Israel captured along with East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.

The protests are scheduled to culminate on Tuesday, the day Palestinians mourn as the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe” when, in 1948, hundreds of thousands of them were driven out of their homes or fled the fighting around Israel’s creation.

“Choosing a tragic day in Palestinian history (to open the Jerusalem embassy) shows great insensibility and disrespect for the core principles of the peace process,” Hamdallah wrote.

Most countries say the status of Jerusalem – a sacred city to Jews, Muslims and Christians – should be determined in a final peace settlement and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.

But Guatemala, which received support from Israel in its counter-insurgency campaigns in the 1980s, plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Its ambassador visited the new site, in an office building in the western part of the city, on Monday. Paraguay is to follow suit later this month.

In London, the British government said it had no plans to move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and said it disagreed with the U.S. decision to do so.

The Russian government said it feared the embassy move would increase tensions across the Middle East.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Seventeen deaths reported in Congo as Ebola outbreak confirmed

FILE PHOTO: A health worker sprays a colleague with disinfectant during a training session for Congolese health workers to deal with Ebola virus in Kinshasa October 21, 2014. REUTERS/Media Coulibaly

By Benoit Nyemba and Fiston Mahamba

KINSHASA (Reuters) – At least 17 people have died in an area of northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo where health officials have now confirmed an outbreak of Ebola, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

It is the ninth time Ebola has been recorded in the central African nation, whose eastern Ebola river gave the deadly virus its name when it was discovered there in the 1970s, and comes less than a year after its last outbreak during which eight people were infected, four of whom died.

“Our country is facing another epidemic of the Ebola virus, which constitutes an international public health emergency,” the ministry said in a statement.

“We still dispose of the well trained human resources that were able to rapidly control previous epidemics,” it said.

Ebola is believed to be spread over long distances by bats, which can host the virus without dying, as it infects other animals it shares trees with such as monkeys. It often spreads to humans via infected bushmeat.

Before the outbreak was confirmed, local health officials reported 21 patients showing signs of hemorrhagic fever around the village of Ikoko Impenge, near the town of Bikoro. Seventeen of those later died.

Medical teams supported by the World Health Organization and medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres were dispatched to the zone on Saturday and took five samples from suspected active cases.

Two of those samples tested positive for the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus, the ministry said.

“Since notification of the cases on May 3, no deaths have been reported either among the hospitalized cases or the healthcare personnel,” the statement said.

After Congo’s last Ebola flare-up, authorities there approved the use of a new experimental vaccine but in the end did not deploy it owing to logistical challenges and the relatively minor nature of the outbreak.

The worst Ebola epidemic in history ended in West Africa just two years ago after killing more than 11,300 people and infected some 28,600 as it rolled through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Despite regular outbreaks every few years, death tolls in Congo have been significantly lower.

“Our top priority is to get to Bikoro to work alongside the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and partners to reduce the loss of life and suffering related to this new Ebola virus disease outbreak,” said Dr Peter Salama, WHO Deputy Director-General, Emergency Preparedness and Response.

“Working with partners and responding early and in a coordinated way will be vital to containing this deadly disease.”

Health experts credit an awareness of the disease among the population and local medical staff’s experience treating for past successes containing its spread.

Congo’s vast, remote geography also gives it an advantage, as outbreaks are often localized and relatively easy to isolate.

Ikoko Impenge and Bikoro, however, lie not far from the banks of the Congo River, an essential waterway for transport and commerce.

Further downstream the river flows past Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa and Brazzaville, capital of neighboring Congo Republic – two cities with a combined population of over 12 million people.

(Writing by Tim Cocks and Joe Bavier; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Kenyan rose-farm dam bursts, ‘sea of water’ kills 47

An aerial view of rescue efforts near destroyed houses by flooding water after a dam burst, in Solio town near Nakuru, Kenya May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

By Thomas Mukoya

SOLAI, Kenya (Reuters) – A dam on a commercial flower farm in Kenya’s Rift Valley burst after weeks of torrential rain, unleashing a “sea of water” that careered down a hillside and smashed into two villages, killing at least 47 people.

The walls of the reservoir, on top of a hill in Nakuru county, 190 km (120 miles) northwest of Nairobi, gave way late on Wednesday as nearby residents were sitting down to evening meals.

Kenya is one of the largest suppliers of cut flowers to Europe, and roses from the 3,500-acre Solai farm are exported to the Netherlands and Germany, according to Optimal Connection, its Netherlands-based handling agent.

The floodwaters carved out a dark brown chasm in the hillside and swept away everything in their path – powerlines, homes and buildings, including a primary school.

The bodies of two women were found several kilometers away as excavators and rescue workers armed with shovels picked through rubble and mud searching for survivors and victims.

Local police chief Japheth Kioko said the death toll could climb. “So far it is 47 dead. We are still on the ground,” he told Reuters.

After a severe drought last year, East Africa has been hit by two months of heavy rain, affecting nearly a million people in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda. Bridges have been swept away and roads turned into rivers of mud.

In Solai, Veronica Wanjiku Ngigi, 67, said she was at home brewing tea with her son at around 8 pm (1700 GMT) when his wife rushed in to say the dam had burst and they needed to get to higher ground immediately.

“It was a sea of water. My neighbor was killed when the water smashed through the wall of his house. He was blind so he could not run. They found his body in the morning,” she said. “My other neighbors also died. All our houses have been ruined.”

BOULDERS, ROOTS

Nakuru lies in the heart of Kenya’s fertile Rift Valley, home to thousands of commercial farms that grow everything from French beans to macadamia nuts to cut flowers, nearly all of which are exported to Europe.

The region is dotted with irrigation reservoirs built in the last two decades to meet the demands of the rapidly expanding agricultural sector, the biggest foreign exchange earner for East Africa’s largest economy and a major source of jobs.

Vinoj Kumar, general manager of the Solai farm, blamed the disaster on massive rainfall in a forest above the dam.

“In the past two days the intensity of the rain was high and the water started coming down carrying boulders and roots which damaged the wall,” he told Reuters. “The dam wall cracked and the water escaped.”

Nakuru governor Lee Kinyanjui said 450 homes had been hit by the floodwaters and safety engineers had been sent to inspect three other dams to check for cracks or breaches.

Wanjiku, the survivor, said at least one looked like it was ready to burst. “There is another dam which is also overflowing which is looking risky,” she said. “We are scared.”

One primary school had been closed as a precaution, education officials said. Arriving at the scene, Interior Minister Fred Matiangi pledged central government assistance to those affected.

To date, heavy rains have caused havoc in Kenya, killing 158 people and displacing 299,859, according to the government and Kenya Red Cross. Roads and bridges have been destroyed, causing millions of dollars of damage.

The United Nations UNOCHA disaster agency said 580,000 people had been affected by torrential rain and flooding in neighboring Somalia, while the Somali region of eastern Ethiopia had also taken a hammering, with 160,000 people affected.

The flooding could yet get worse, with heavy rains forecast to continue in the Rift Valley and the Lake Victoria basin over the next few weeks.

(Reporting by Thomas Mukoya, George Obulutsa, Duncan Miriri, Humphrey Malalo and Maggie Fick; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Andrew Heavens)