Sunday, February 04, 2024

Hard cheese for the UK dairy industry

In the lead up to the EU referendum, those who promoted Brexit promised that Britain would see to opening up new markets and new opportunities beyond the EU.

However, nearly nine years after that fateful vote and two years after Britain officially left the block after delays in negotiating a deal with the EU, Britain has failed to make any meaningful free trade agreements with any country outside the bloc and those it has managed to secure pale into insignificance compared to what was offered through being an EU member state.

A particular case in point is the trade deal made with Australia which, even according to former environment secretary George Eustace, has left worse off. Eustice, who helped secure the first post-Brexit deal negotiated from scratch, told a Commons debate that it was "not actually a very good deal for the UK" [Guardian / BBC].

The deal was even mocked on Australian breakfast television.

The deal removes tariffs on £4.3bn of exports, making it cheaper to sell iconic products like cars, Scotch whisky and ceramics into Australia, according to the UK government which called the agreement  'historic'. However, the deal was only forecast to raise Britain's GDP by 0.08% by 2035 [Guardian].   

In the northern hemisphere Britain has failed to make any inroads in terms of making deals. Despite a 'special relationship' with the US, a free trade deal seems as elusive as ever.

The same is true of Canada, a commonwealth country with Britain expected to reestablish stronger ties.

But despite nearly two years of negotiations everything fell flat in January leaving Britain worse off than had it remained part of the EU.

Canada had been pushing for the UK to relax a ban on hormone-treated beef, which its producers say in effect shuts them out of the British market [BBC].

However, the same meat products remain banned in the EU despite having a trade agreement with Canada known as CETA or Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

Britain previously traded under these rules but having left the EU had to negotiate its own agreement.

Under CETA there exists a tariff rate quota of 16,000,000 kilograms for EU cheeses with the likes of France, Italy and the Netherlands benefitting substantially. But after the 1st January 2024 Britain fell out of this arrangement and with no separate deal in place it could prove disastrous for the UK dairy industry.

From the 1st January 2024, for UK cheese to be eligible for export under Canada's WTO quota, UK exporters need to ensure the Canadian importer they are partnering with has access to an import licence for the 'non-EU sources reserve'.  

If UK exporters do not have this, any cheese products they export to Canada will be subject to the full tariffs which amount to 245% [UK Gov].

This could mean tougher trading terms for the UK with a partner that accounted for 1.4% of its total trade in the 12 months to June 2023.

The UK exported over two million kilograms of cheese to Canada in 2022. And a massive slice of that are Coombe Castle products. "Essentially, we're going to fall off the edge of a cliff at the end of this year," Darren Larvin, the managing director of Coombe Castle International, was quoted as saying by CBC last December.

Prior to January 2024 a 320 gram pack of Coombe Castle cheese cost Ca$12.99 [around £7.60]. With a 245% mark up this would push the price up to some Ca$31.82 [£18.65].

Goods trade between the two countries was worth £19.2bn in 2020, according to the UK government, with UK imports from Canada worth £7.3bn and UK exports to Canada worth £11.8bn.

And while overall UK cheese exports to Canada are relatively small, it is nonetheless significant. British cheese exports to Canada were worth £18.7m - or 2.4% of total cheese exports - in 2022, according to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). That translates to Canada importing a little more than two million kilograms of cheese from the UK (its fifth largest supplier), international trade data indicates [BBC].

For some firms the loss of this market could be devastating with some being forced to reduce production and staff. The longer the situation continues the more difficult it will be to reestablish trade links.

Boris Johnson had sold Brexit with priceless opportunities such as being able to sell "more affordable high-quality cheese to Canada" [Daily Mail]. But instead the lies and failed promises have left a sour taste and left many cheese makers cheesed off [Guardian].

But it's no joke for the estimated 7,845 people employed in the British butter & cheese industry. A 2.5% loss in trade with Canada could potentially result in job losses. And while it might be a simplification to say the industry could see a similar cut in jobs, this could translate into around 200 job losses. For firms such as Coombe Castle, which send around a third of its products to Canada, it's an existential crisis.

Overall Britain's cheese exports have shrunk in the last year, decreasing by £-4.11M (-5.65%) from £72.7M to £68.6M [OEC]. The collapse of a potential trade deal with Canada will do nothing to boost confidence.

And it's not just cheese either. The breakdown in talks mean British car firms could also face higher tariffs. It will also mean Britain will miss out on opportunities to secure better terms for digital trade, which makes up four-fifths of the UK's services exports to Canada.

"This was supposed to be done quite quickly because it was just an upgrade of an existing deal," says William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce. "But in the end, it has taken two years to achieve nothing." [Telegraph]

Once again, Britain has found that Brexit was not quite the land of open opportunities, unicorns and sunny uplands that was sold to the British public.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Brexit likely to hit Britain hard in coming days

The pain of Brexit has been a long burn with various transitions coming into effect over time. Should the consequential rules have come into effect the moment the UK left the EU, many people would have realised that Brexit was a mistake. However, the average UK citizen has not seen the direct effects because many of the consequences of becoming a third country have only been implemented over time.

Passport checks & queues

Already one has seen the effects of increased passport checks at borders. As a third country British citizens can only stay in the EU for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Thus all UK passports need to be checked and stamped at entry and exit points. This has resulted in delays at airports and ports. The port of Dover has been particularly badly hit, especially at busy times, with massive queues and delays being experienced by holiday makers. But freight has been even more hard hit with parts of the A20 into Dover becoming an almost daily lorry park with queues sometimes exceeding 20 km.

Some customs checks have already been implemented meaning checks on lorries travelling to and from the EU. But this week sees the introduction of new government policy on the control of EU produce entering the UK, with firms fearing delays, rising costs and the ability of border posts to cope [BBC]. 

Red tape

UK food and farm exports to the EU have required extra red tape, checks and delays for two years, but their competitors on the continent have enjoyed unfettered access to the UK. As of Wednesday, four years on from Brexit day, new rules come into effect meaning  changes for food and plant product imports from the European Union.

In short it means extra, costly paperwork. This will mean further checks on both sides of the channel. This will likely mean further delays in shipping goods between the EU and UK. This in turn may lead to some exporters giving up on the UK as it becomes unviable. For larger exporters, costs may be swallowed up, but for smaller exporters the increased costs and delays may result in them giving up on the UK altogether.

Post-Brexit requirements mean that nurseries now have to secure phytosanitary certificates – health checks – before plants can be shipped, costing tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds each year and sometimes adding a week to delivery times.  In April, many animal and plant products coming from mainland Europe will also have to undergo physical checks at newly installed UK border posts.

From Wednesday, all imported plant and animal products will be categorised as low, medium or high risk. Those seen as medium and high, which includes meat and dairy products, as well as most plants, will now require checks from plant health inspectors or vets before they can be transported.

While the new rules bring a level playing field to both those exporting to the EU and those exporting from the EU into the UK, the change will hit UK consumers hard.

Until now the main effect on exporting requirements has little affected most Britons.

While there have been delays and disruptions to supply chains resulting in some shortages seen in supermarkets, the biggest effect of post-Brexit rules thus far has only affected UK exporters.

The main physical manifestation has been the long queues of lorries seen on the A20 near Dover. But the delays and extra paperwork has also resulted in many smaller UK firms giving up on the EU market.

Cost to business

There are countless tales of firms either going bust or downsizing due to EU exports becoming more difficult or too costly. In August last year the Guardian reported that at least 100 firms had gone to the wall because of post-Brexit red-tape [Guardian].

In May last year it was reported that UK fruit exports to the EU had dropped by more than half since Brexit [Guardian].  

While the pandemic certainly had some effect, it seems clear that Brexit was a compounding factor. Indeed figures published in June showed that Britain was lagging behind all G7 countries [Guardian].

As a third country Britain's fishing industry was immediately hit by Brexit following the transition. The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) came into force in January 2021 and overnight hit mussel farmers and those exporting bivalve molluscs. Most bivalve molluscs, such as mussels and oysters, that have not been purified before export are essentially banned from the EU. This has impacted UK exports which were exempt when the UK was part of the EU.

However, the EU bans the import of live bivalve molluscs from third countries. One of the biggest markets for UK producers of mussels and oysters was France. But the ban resulted in making the farming of these molluscs unsustainable.

Britain represents only a small percentage of the mollusc market for UK producers. Thus, with much of their market essentially closed off, many of these firms have gone out of business [TheFishSite / Guardian]. 

Moules mariniére has been off the menu for Britons for some time now as live mussels have become as rare as hens teeth in supermarkets across the country. There are a few that stock pre packed products, but as anyone who has prepared the dish from scratch, they pale compared to a freshly cooked dish.

Uncertain future

UK producers have already said that the new rules that come into effect this week are impossible to plan for [Guardian].

And with further changes and checks expected to come into force in October, Britain could see some very dark times ahead.

While overall inflation has dropped to around 4%, food inflation remains high at 8% according to the ONS.

Further disruptions to the supply of food from Europe is only likely to impact prices.

Food industry bodies in Europe and the UK are already warning of impending supply chain disruption as Britain introduces new border bureaucracy on EU food and drink and imports for the first time since Brexit according to the Financial Times.

The introduction of complex paperwork to certify all EU products of plant and animal origin entering the UK from 31st January risks fouling up the supply of a number of products, including pork and sugared liquid eggs used in cake and sauces.

But it's not just a few specific food items. The new checks apply to a wide range of imports. In the last week the Independent reported that specialist meats such as Parma hams and Spanish chorizo sausages could begin disappearing from the shelves of UK supermarkets and delicatessens.

Shortages possible  

The Brexit border rules could cut shelf life of fresh food from the EU by a fifth, some experts have suggested with the requirement for importers to give 24 hours' notice of deliveries described as 'unfeasible' by suppliers [Guardian].

Currently, suppliers in the EU do not need to notify the UK government before delivering meat and dairy products, meaning deliveries can arrive in the UK within hours of being dispatched from their farms or processing plants in the EU.

However, under new border rules coming into effect in April, the government requires importers to notify the UK authorities at least a day before they arrive at a border post, which businesses fear will add huge delays to deliveries of perishable goods.

For large businesses the extra red tape may be only a small part of the whole procedure. The costs involved may also be swallowed or spread across their business model as a whole. But for smaller EU exporters these extra costs could prove detrimental.

Rising costs and inflation

The extra costs will, of course, be passed on to UK buyers, supermarkets and ultimately consumers. Thus, the outcome will manifest itself with disrupted supply chains which in turn could well result in shortages on the shelves. In turn the price of goods from the EU could increase.

The costs of extra paperwork has already been estimated to result in a 0.2% increase in inflation over the next two years. The figure might sound small, but in a country where there is already a cost of living crisis with food inflation already the highest in Europe.

The overall price of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose around 26% between December 2022 and December 2023. In the 10 years prior to this, overall food and non-alcoholic beverage prices rose by 9%. Prices in restaurants and cafes rose by 7.7% in the year to December 2023, down from 8.2% in November [ONS]. 

In comparison, the cost of food in the European Union increased 5.87% in December of 2023 over the same month in the previous year. Food Inflation in the European Union averaged 3.63% from 1997 until 2023, reaching an all time high of 19.19% in March of 2023 and a record low of -1.20 percent in June of 2014 [Trading Economics]. 

It would be fair to say that Europe as a whole has experienced higher food prices. But Britain has been harder hit, arguably due to rules imposed by Brexit.

Annual inflation in the EU has been declining whilst food inflation remains high, hitting low-income families across Europe.

Inflation in the euro area has slowed down since its peak of 10.6% (11.5% in the EU) in October 2022 to 2.9% (3.6% in the EU) in October 2023.

However, food inflation remains stubbornly high as consumers continue to grapple with a cost of living crisis [Euronews].

But Britain has seen far greater inflation with few signs of recovery.

Opaque reporting

Unfortunately, there are few media outlets reporting any of this, bar a few reports in the FT, Guardian, Independent and BBC. BBC Newsnight, which has seen its audience drop significantly, did highlight the impending problems just two days before the second anniversary of Britain leaving with a 'deal' [Twitter]. But the warnings are still falling on deaf ears as the country heads towards a general election.

The Tories are still maintaining that there are benefits to having left the EU and proclaiming there are more opportunities to come. The Labour party meanwhile either refuse to discuss the topic or say they will 'make Brexit work'. Even the Liberal Democrats which famously released its 2019 manifesto with the slogan 'Bollocks to Brexit' has gone very quiet on the subject.

Without a doubt, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine has affected the UK economy, but it is Brexit that is the elephant in the room.

Collision course

Like a starship on a trajectory towards the sun someone must eventually make the decision to turn the ship around. The Tory's blind faith of remaining on course will only result in the starship burning up altogether. Labour's belief of simply altering course ever so slightly might just send the starship deeper into space never to be seen again.

Damage has already been done to starship Britain, but by returning to Earth the damage could be repaired.

False promises

Proponents of Brexit claimed that Britain could make deals with countries beyond the EU and forge new free trade deals. Yet all of the deals made thus far have been roll-on deals whilst negotiations to establish new free trade deals have all but broken down.

A much hoped for US free trade deal has been rejected out of hand by both the previous Trump administration and and the current Biden administration. And in the last week negotiations with Canada broke down but like many such stories was little reported [CNN / Guardian / BBC]. 

There was a slight glimmer of light some seven years after that fateful 2016 vote as the DUP in Northern Ireland eventually accepted a post-Brexit deal and agreed to return to Stormont to reestablish power sharing, with Sinn Féin set to nominate its inaugural first minister after Westminster legislated to end checks on goods moving within the UK and imposition of EU law [Guardian].

But while this is a significant shift in Northern Ireland which will surely bring some stability, the new checks to come to the rest of the UK concerning EU imports will bring more instability to an already ailing economy.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Qatar, the elephant in the room in war between Israel & Hamas

Qatar, in recent days, has been praised for helping broker a temporary ceasefire between Hamas and Israel which saw the release of dozens of hostages held by the terror group and over 100 Palestinians held by Israel.

While Qatar's position as a mediator cannot be disputed, the irony is that without Qatar's help Hamas might not even exist in the first place.

More than $1.8 billion has been supplied to Hamas, designated a terrorist organisation by a number of governments around the globe including the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. Indeed Qatar is a key financial backer and ally of the Palestinian militant organisation.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, repeatedly attacking Israel. Hamas was founded in the 1980s and has been opposed to the late Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since its inception. Unlike the PLO, Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist. Its emblem depicts the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and the outline of the territory of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank as a single Palestinian state.

In this regard, and especially since the 7th October terror attacks on Israel, Hamas is seen as an existential threat by Israel.

In 2006, Hamas won the absolute majority in Gaza's general elections. In 2007, it solidified its hold on the coastal enclave through a violent coup. Since then, the West Bank has been controlled by the moderate Fatah party under Mahmoud Abbas, while Gaza has remained under Hamas' control.

But it has cemented its control only through vast sums of money flowing from its allies, the biggest of which is Qatar.

Qatar, which has been pouring money into the region since at least 2009, has insisted the money is not to help Hamas but rather the Palestinian people as a whole. However, given Hamas controls everything from the health ministry to its own military machine, this is a naive statement at best.

Qatar's hosting of a number of Hamas leaders on its own territory also seems to show where the gulf state's allegiance lies.

Moreover, following the Hamas surprise attack on southern Israel on 7th October 2023, and the outbreak of the 2023 Israel–Hamas war, Qatar's hosting of the Hamas political office in Doha has come under greater scrutiny.

Speaking to the media in Doha alongside Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani [pictured], US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "there can be no more business as usual with Hamas."

But this call has largely fallen on deaf ears within the Qatari regime which continues to criticise Israel for what it calls a disproportionate military response to those attacks.

Putting aside Israel's response to the October terror attacks, and the large number of civilians that have been killed, Qatar too, has much to answer for.

So too have countries that have allowed Qatar to build its wealth within their territories.

If Qatar is responsible for funding a terror group, so too surely are nations complicit if they allow Qatar to raise funds on foreign soil.

Yet there appears to a blind eye turned when it comes to Qatar's business interests.

Much of this foreign investment is managed through the Qatar Investment Authority set up by Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani a member of the ruling Al Thani Qatari royal family. It is now headed by his son Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Amongst its main holdings, the QIA have a number of key assets including Harrods as well as significant shares in a number of financial institutions and other companies.

The $1.8 billion reportedly given to Hamas is relatively insignificant compared to the billions invested in and made by the QIA as a whole. But nonetheless no-one has called out the financial links between Qatar and a designated terror group.

It is not only Hamas that Qatar is funding. Qatar has also been accused of indirectly funding other terrorist organisations of allowing terror financiers to operate from within Qatar.

Yet al Thani is welcomed by world leaders without a flinch of concern. Earlier this year the Qatar leader was greeted by the UK PM Rishi Sunak in Downing Street, yet there was no mention of financial ties to Hamas or the funding of terrorism. Indeed it was more focused on further financial deals with Qatar buying more UK assets [No.10]. And even this last week al Thani shook hands with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Dubai at the beginning of COP28 where the main topic of discussion was rising global temperatures [Times of Israel].

India and China have been criticised for not doing enough to temper global climate change which has also been labelled an existential crisis.

But state sponsorship of terror groups is also a global threat. As such  al Thani and others like him need also to be called out for their complicity and funding of terror groups.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Stolen treasure - The Legacy of the British Empire

In the last week the subject of whether the Elgin marbles should be returned to Greece has once again entered the public discussion after the UK PM Rishi Sunak snubbed his Greek counterpart and cancelled a scheduled meeting [Guardian].

Greek claims

In many respects Greece has a valid claim on demanding the return of the Parthenon marbles, and Rishi Sunak's reaction could be regarded as petulant or petty. But where does one draw the line concerning what should be returned to their countries of origin?

What is property?

There has been much philosophical discussion concerning property and ownership throughout history. Proudhon famously suggested that "Property is theft" in his 1840 thesis La propriété, c'est le vol!   Of course it depends on one's position concerning the definition of what property is, as Marx asserted in his critique of Proudhon's thesis.

There are some who would assert that 'possession is nine tenths of the law' . It could be regarded as an oversimplified statement, but the principle is based on the tenet that the possession or property belongs to the person or body holding it unless evidence can be shown to prove otherwise.

So how does the evidence hold up concerning many treasures and artefacts sitting in private collections, museums or in the hands of the British state?

Theft, plunder and spoils of war

Since antiquity nations have taken their plunder after invasions or seizure of foreign lands. Such spoils of war were considered acceptable by many nations until relatively recently. But one might hope that in this age of modernity, nations could become more grown up and begin a process of repatriating the plunder secured through colonialism or war.

Some nations have indeed begun this process of repatriation. Japan, for example, has returned vast swathes of cultural items to South Korea that were plundered during its colonial occupation from 1910 to 1945.

But Britain stands out as being one country unwilling to revisit its colonialist past, make reparations and repatriate stolen items.

Britain's plunder

The Parthenon Marbles are known as the Elgin Marbles since it was Lord Elgin that had secured them from the Ottoman Empire, of which Greece was a part at the time. Greece has since become an independent state, and as such feels it has a legitimate right to call for their return.

The Greek government and supporters of the marbles' return to Greece have argued that they were obtained illegally or unethically, that they are of exceptional cultural importance to Greece, and that their cultural value would be best appreciated in a unified public display with the other major Parthenon antiquities in the Acropolis Museum. The UK government and British Museum have argued that they were obtained legally, that their return would set a precedent which could undermine the collections of the major museums of world culture, and that the British Museum's collection allows them to be better viewed in the context of other major ancient cultures and thus complements the perspective provided by the Acropolis Museum.

Supporters of the British position are partly correct that the Elgin Marbles return could set a precedent. But is it morally acceptable for Britain to hold on to its nefarious gains?

Narendra Modi of India has, for example, demanded the return of the Koh-i-Noor diamond that has found its way into the crown jewels, specifically the state crown.

Nigeria has long called for the repatriation of the Benin bronzes that sit in the British Museum. And Egypt has demanded the return of artefacts plundered since the 18th century including the Rosetta Stone which also sits in the British Museum as well as other looted antiquities including a statue of Ramesses II.

In fact the British Museum is a building overflowing with stolen items or acquired by unethical methods. It would be true to say that the museum would be somewhat sparse should such items be returned. But should not a national museum represent its own culture rather than displaying stolen loot from around the globe?

Representing one's own culture

Museums in China, South Korea and even across parts of Europe are not so much filled with plundered treasures as historical artefacts from their own respective cultures.

British history might not be as culturally rich as some nations. But it has to be asked how Britain might feel should the position be reversed. What if Stonehenge sat in a foreign museum or prominent statues had been taken and now sat in a building half way round the globe.  

How would the British government feel about the Victoria memorial residing somewhere in China, and the palace nearby lay in ruins after being raised by invading Chinese troops? There would undoubtedly be ongoing consternation and anger as well as a demand for its return.

Yet the exact opposite is true. Initially constructed in 1707 the Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, was destroyed by Anglo-French expeditionary forces and treasures, including the famous bronze zodiac heads, were looted partly under instruction of James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin and son of the 7th Earl of Elgin who took the Elgin marbles.

While the looting and sacking of the Old Summer Palace was in retribution and a warning to the Qing Empire not to use kidnapping as a political tactic against Britain, it has to also be questioned why British and other foreign forces were even in China. This was a time when many European countries were colonising various parts of the world, enslaving indigenous people and plundering their lands of treasures. With regards China the British also brought chaos by supplying opium and creating a huge drug addiction problem in China, especially in the south near Canton, now Guangdong.

While China has recovered many of the bronze zodiac heads, including two returned from Britain, five remain unaccounted for. Speculation continues as to where the missing antiquities are.

Nearly a quarter of a century into the new millennium Britain in particular is in the sights of many countries demanding the return of their stolen treasure.

Maybe the British Museum might look a little sparse with only stone age, Saxon, Viking, Roman and later historical finds on display. But at least it would be a 'British' museum rather than it being a museum of stolen treasure.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Sky's "Unhinged" Botting criticised for anti-Israeli bias

Anna Botting, Sky News correspondent, has brought sharp criticism following her interview with Mark Regev, Senior Advisor to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, in the wake of an explosion at the Al-Ahli Baptist hospital in Gaza.

During the interview, Botting inferred that Israel was directly responsible and that Israel had gone too far in its response to the terror attacks on the 7th October 2023.

While there were comments on social media in support of Botting, there was a groundswell of criticism too.

"This is by the far the worst, most biased interview by a professed journalist I've ever seen," one Reddit user wrote, "Using Hamas as her news source, she acts as their mouthpiece in an interview of Mark Regev not designed to elicit facts but to demonize Israel. Kudos to Regev for keeping his cool and highlighting her obscene bias, double standards, and failure to comprehend Israel's right to self defense.

"The look in [the] eyes of the journalist is scary, like she is deranged" a comment said on YouTube where Sky News posted the full video.

"I appreciate that her job is to challenge the narrative and the interviewer, but she took it too far and lost her impartiality," another said, "It is not for her to agree or disagree with the interviewee (on camera and in public, she can agree with whomever she likes in private), but her job is to the ask difficult questions on our behalf that need to be asked when people are being killed."

Many described her as "unhinged", "angy" and "biased", having clearly made up her mind before facts had been established. "I bet she won't be that emotional and screech at any Hamas spokesman about the atrocities they committed," one Twitter user said. Others described her as a Hamas apologist [Twitter].

While it is true to say that many of the Israeli airstrikes in the week of bombardments have resulted in civilian casualties, it has to be said that such instances are 'collateral damage' and not intentional on Israel's part. Hamas on the other hand have been indiscriminate in launching terror attacks against Israel.

In the hours that followed it seemed clear that the tragedy at the hospital was not as a result of an Israeli airstrike. Still photographs showing the damage were not consistent with an Israeli missile with no visible crater on the ground and only minimal damage to the hospital itself.

Video evidence seemed to back up Israeli claims that the blast occurred after a missile fired from Gaza failed and fell short landing in the parking lot of the hospital and created a fireball. Israeli intelligence released an audio tape said to be of a telephone call between two Hamas operatives which appeared to indicate this was indeed the case and that the missile was one fired by Islamic Jihad from a nearby cemetery.

None of this was known shortly after the explosion had occurred. However, Botting clearly jumped the gun and went with the line issued by Palestinian sources that it was an Israeli airstrike. Moreover she, along with many other media outlets accepted the casualty count without question.

It is clear there were casualties at the hospital as a result of the explosion. But the numbers come from Palestinian authorities, that is Hamas, which has everything to gain by inflating those figures. The Gaza Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, has said 471 were killed, but it is difficult to verify the veracity of these numbers, though the figure is well below the 800 that the ministry claimed might die as a result of the 'strike'.

The following day Botting was still referring to the blast at the hospital as an "attack" and another Sky report referred to the incident as a "strike" which precipitated anger in Bierut and the West Bank.

Sky News was not the only channel jumping to conclusions. Al Jazeera and TRT as well as many Arabic news stations were all describing the incident as an Israeli strike soon after the explosion. This has all helped to fuel the fire in a region which has strong anti-Israeli sentiments. Not all outlets jumped to conclusions. The BBC, CNN and Fox News were all cautious in their language, describing the incident as a 'blast' or 'explosion' and clearly citing claims of it being an Israeli strike as being a claim made by Hamas.

On the streets off nearby Jordan crowds gathered Wednesday chanting "All of Jordan is with Hamas". And there has been unrest across the West Bank and in Lebanon.

"I can see Anna [Botting] getting some compulsory time off very soon..." one Twitter user wrote. Whether this happens will all depend on if she makes any more missteps.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, October 13, 2023

Questions over Israeli response to Hamas attack

When Hamas launched its attack into Israel it wasn't just Israelis and Jews that became the target of their onslaught. Some six days on it has become clear that many other nationalities were killed, kidnapped or suffered injury. Victims included Chinese, Thai, British and American citizens, details of which are only just emerging. The attacks have been widely condemned with many saying Israel has a "right to defend itself". But Israel's response to the attacks has been criticised as one of retribution and revenge. With pictures emerging from Gaza showing the destruction from days of aerial bombardment Israel risks losing support and feeding propaganda which will act as a recruiting sergeant for extremists.

Hamas targets

While the vast majority of victims in the Hamas attack were Israeli or Jewish, other nationalities also became victims.

Three Chinese were killed in the Hamas terror attack according to the foreign affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin who spoke in a press briefing on Thursday. "We can confirm that three Chinese nationals were killed in the clashes," he said "Two are missing and several are injured." [Newsweek]

Meanwhile 12 Thai workers were killed and 11 kidnapped with a further 13 injured according to the Thai foreign ministry [BBC]. A video posted on social media also appears to show Hamas terrorists beheading one of the Thai workers with a garden hoe while shouting 'Alah Akbar' [God is great]. The video has been disputed by some on social media and the veracity of it cannot be established.

Children are amongst 17 Britons killed in the assault carried out by Hamas on Saturday 7th October [BBC]. It is not known how many British citizens have been taken hostage although one 26-year-old has been reported as missing after the attack at the Re'im kibbutz.

Some 27 Americans have been reported killed with around 14 unaccounted for [Guardian / The Hill].

At least 1,200 were killed in the assault, around 300 reportedly IDF soldiers. Some 200 are believed held hostage by Hamas, their fate unknown. The youngest is said to be 9-months-old while the oldest is reported to be an 85-year-old grandmother. A further 3,400 were injured in the assault [Wikipedia].

Defence or revenge?

It is clear, for anyone with eyes, that the Hamas attack was indiscriminate. And while accounts of the debauchery and bestial nature of the attacks on women, children and babies have been disputed, the fact is Hamas clearly targeted civilians and killed them in cold blood.

However, Israel has lost the moral ground in many respects by initiating a large-scale air assault on the Gaza region.

It is well known that Hamas fighters embed themselves in civilian areas and as such any air assault would undoubtedly result in civilian casualties. Taking out water and electricity supplies, as well as preventing humanitarian supplies from entering the region, also leaves Israel open to criticism.

Netanyahu has said Israel's objective is to weed out and destroy Hamas once and for all. But by killing civilians and babies in large scale airstrikes may only give Hamas and similar groups fuel for their anti-Israeli propaganda.

Of course, Israel could not have sat down and done nothing. But perhaps a better solution would have been a ground offensive, backed up with air support. There would undoubtedly be IDF casualties in such an assault but Israel would have maintained the moral high ground in such a venture especially if run in tandem with placing displaced citizens in a safe area behind enemy lines as they moved south and provided them with humanitarian supplies. Following a full sweep of the territory, which would have likely taken many weeks, Israel could then have initiated either a peacekeeping operation giving way to UN peacekeepers overtime. A gradual withdrawal could then be made as the situation became stable. This would not happen overnight and would require establishment of moderate political leaders in the region who would be acceptable to, not only Israel, but also the population in the Gaza strip itself.

The current reality on the ground seems to be heading in a far different direction. Israel's military has called on civilians to leave Gaza city and head south in what has been widely perceived as a signal that a ground offensive is imminent. Hamas meanwhile have reportedly ordered citizens to remain in their homes. Even if free to leave, many would not have the means to escape. Few people would have vehicles and a journey on foot would be arduous even though the strip is only some 40 km long.

There is much speculation as to how intensive the ground assault will be. Some commentators say it will be fraught. Ben Wedeman, CNN's international correspondent, suggested it could be a "bloodbath".

Israel cannot sit back and do nothing, especially given the nature of the attack launched by Hamas on unarmed civilians. But its military response also needs to be measured and targeted or it may only serve to fuel the fire and feed Islamist propaganda.

As Mahatma Gandhi is often attributed as saying, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind"

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Hamas barbarism "worst since the Holocaust”

Netanyahu has called the atrocities left in the wake of the attack into Israeli territory on Saturday 7th October as being "the worst since the Holocaust".

The statement might sound exaggerated. But as details emerge it is clear that the Hamas assault was horrific beyond imagination.

In one incident, Hamas terrorists stormed into a music festival where people had gathered to have fun over the weekend. In the early hours of Saturday morning the peace was shattered at the Supernova music festival as Hamas gunmen fired indiscriminately. Survivors described the carnage that ensued.

One attendee at the festival said the first sign that something was wrong was when a siren went off at around dawn, warning of rockets. "Suddenly out of nowhere they [the terrorists] come inside with gunfire, opening fire in every direction," Ortel told Israel's Channel 12

"Fifty terrorists arrived in vans, dressed in military uniforms," she said, "They fired bursts, and we reached a point where everyone stopped their vehicles and started running. I went into a tree, a bush like this, and they just started spraying people. I saw masses of wounded people thrown around."

Parents received panicked phone calls from sons and daughters telling of the horror they were experiencing. For many it was the last they would hear from their children.

As the IDF arrived they found a slaughterhouse of more than 260 bodies strewn across the desert.

Further details emerged in the coming hours that some of the festival goers had suffered worse at the hans of the terrorists with reports that some women had been raped, murdered and then had their partially naked bodies paraded back through Gaza surrounded by jubilant crowds [Daily Mail]. 

Some of the reports cannot be entirely verified. However it is clear that Hamas terrorists were indiscriminate in their killing and brutalising of the innocent revellers [BBC].

Some were also taken into Gaza alive to be used as bargaining chips or as human shields.

Further atrocities were discovered at a Kibbutz in Kfar Aza where Hamas terrorists killed occupants including children and babies with reports from the IDF saying a number had been decapitated.

"It's hard to even explain exactly just the mass casualties that happened right here," visibly distraught i24 News correspondent Nicole Zedek said during a broadcast from Kibbutz Kfar Aza near Sderot about a quarter-mile from the Gaza Strip [Twitter].

"Babies with their heads cut off, that's what [the soldiers] said. Gunned down. Families gunned down, completely gunned down in their beds," Zedek said of the "sheer horror."

"This is nothing that anyone would have even imagined," she added. [i24 / CNN / NYPost / BBC].

Many have dismissed the veracity of the reports saying that the claims had not been confirmed by the Israeli authorities and were based only on a single i24 TV news report. However in the hours to come IDF and government officials later confirmed that children and babies had indeed been beheaded in the attack.

More than 150 are believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas, the youngest only 9 months old and the oldest believed to be an 85 year old grandmother. Amongst them are American citizens [AJC].

A day later and Israel began their onslaught against Gaza while tackling a few remaining pockets of terrorists still fighting on Israeli soil.

In the days that followed Gaza was bombarded with hundreds of missile strikes. The strikes have of course displaced thousands, left hundreds dead and destroyed a large number of buildings.

Israel has defended its course of action saying it is attempting to specifically target Hamas but that the terror group deliberately embed themselves amongst civilians.

Civilians have undoubtedly died in these strikes. Amongst them 11 UN aid relief workers, it was reported Tuesday.

It is the destruction in Gaza that Hamas and its protagonists are capitalising on, using the images to label Israel the aggressor and fueling the rhetoric.

But even before Israel had even launched its major counter offensive there were scenes of people celebrating the Hamas assault. As Sydney Opera House was lit up in the colours of the Israeli flag in solidarity, many pro-Palestinians gathered nearby chanting "Gas the Jews" [Reuters]. 

It wasn't the only example of anti-Semitism observed following the Hamas terror attack. Similar scenes were seen in Toronto, Canada [CBC]. In one demonstration a woman was seen screaming at Jews "Khaybar, Khaybar", a chant referring to the 7th century slaughter of over 100 Jews who refused to convert to Islam and often used as a Hamas war cry [TwitterWikipedia].

In London hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered outside the Israeli embassy on Monday lighting flares and shouting "Free Palestine" and "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" a slogan commonly featured in pro-Palestinian campaigns and chanted at demonstrations.

It is expected that the IDF will soon move into Gaza on foot with tanks and artillery. The buildup of military hardware over three days seems to indicate it is imminent. The intention, from government statements, appears to be with an objective of illuminating Hamas in its entirety. This would require an entire sweep of the territory from the border to the sea.

It is unclear what the plan is. But what is clear is that the conflict has only just begun with risks of escalation all too real with Hezbollah already launching attacks from the north.
Israel's resolve nonetheless is crystal clear. Mark Regev, former Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom, told Sky News that "this war will finish on our terms."

tvnewswatch, London, UK