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European powers condemn Israel’s settlement approvals

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EU ministers say pushing ahead with more settlements violates international law and further imperils the viability of a two-state solution.

European powers on Friday condemned Israel’s decision to approve thousands more settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, calling it a “counterproductive” move that undermines regional peace efforts.

“The expansion of settlements violates international law and further imperils the viability of a two-state solution to bring about a just and lasting peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said a joint statement from the foreign ministers of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.

“As we have emphasised directly with the government of Israel, this step furthermore undermines efforts to rebuild trust between the parties with a view to resuming dialogue,” they said, urging an immediate halt in settlement construction.

This week, Israel approved the construction of more than 3,000 settler homes across the occupied West Bank, ending an eight-month lull in settlement expansion.

Under international law, settlements are considered illegal. Palestinian officials and much of the international community view them as the main obstacle to a viable two-state solution.

The expansion of settlements violates international law and further imperils the viability of a two-state solution to bring about a just and lasting peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Joint statement from the foreign ministers of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain

The latest approvals raised the number of settlement homes to be advanced this year to more than 12,150, according to Peace Now, the settlement watchdog group.

“These approvals make 2020 the highest year on record in terms of units in settlement plans promoted since Peace Now began recording in 2012,” the watchdog said in a statement.

‘Betrayal’

The European ministers said pushing ahead with more settlements would be a “counterproductive move in light of the positive developments of normalisation agreements reached between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain”.

The UAE and Bahrain in mid-September set aside decades of enmity with Israel to sign a US-brokered deal to normalise ties.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged Saudi Arabia to recognise Israel, in what would be a strategic boost for the country.

But Riyadh said the focus should remain on the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks before any formal rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Western powers had hoped the deals would bring regional stability and give a boost to hopes for peace.

But the Palestinians have branded the shift by the Gulf nations as “betrayal”.

Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said Israel had exploited improving relations in the Gulf and “blind support from the Trump administration”.

Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as part of a future independent state. They say the growing illegal Israeli settler population, approaching 500,000 in the West Bank, has made it increasingly difficult to achieve their dream of independence.

A string of US administrations, along with the rest of the international community, opposed Israeli settlement construction. But Trump, surrounded by a team of advisers with close ties to the settler movement, has taken a different approach.

In contrast to its predecessors, the Trump administration has not criticised or condemned new settlement announcements, and in a landmark decision last year, Pompeo said the US does not consider settlements to be illegal.

The Trump administration also moved its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, drawing sharp criticism from Palestinians who say Washington is no longer an honest broker in peace negotiations.

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Sports

In Pictures: Khabib Nurmagomedov, the undefeated MMA champion

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MMA world lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his shock retirement from the sport on Saturday after revealing he promised his mother his clash with Justin Gaethje would be his last fight.

The Russian, who won by a second-round technical knockout, was fighting for the first time since the death of his father Abdulmanap, who was also his coach, in July.

“I’m the UFC undisputed, undefeated champion with a 13-0 record (in UFC), and 29-0 in all of my pro MMA career,” he said after his win in Abu Dhabi.

“Today I want to say this is my last fight. No way am I coming here without my father.

“When UFC comes to me about Justin I spoke with my mother for three days. She didn’t want me to fight without father and I said this is my last fight – and I have given her my word.

“Thank you, coach, thank you, guys. Today is my last fight in the UFC.”

Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, 57, passed away after COVID-19 related complications in the summer.

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Seychelles opposition candidate wins presidential election

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Ramkalawan, running for the presidency for the sixth time, won 54.9 percent of valid votes cast, poll body says.

Seychelles opposition candidate Wavel Ramkalawan has won the archipelago’s presidential election with 54.9 percent of valid votes cast, upsetting incumbent President Danny Faure.

“I declare… Ramkalawan as the elected candidate,” the electoral commission chairman Danny Lucas said on Sunday.

Voters on the main islands of Seychelles cast their ballot on Saturday in presidential and parliamentary elections spanning three days.

More than 74,000 registered to take part in the polls.

The opposition, narrowly defeated in a presidential election in 2015 and buoyed by a landmark victory in a parliamentary poll a year later, won its first presidential poll in the 40 years since Seychelles gained independence from Britain.

Ramkalawan, an Anglican priest and leader of the Seychelles Democratic Alliance, was running for the presidency for the sixth time. He lost the 2015 poll by 193 votes to James Michel in an unprecedented second round of voting.

The campaign took place mainly over social media, with rallies banned due to the coronavirus.

Seychelles has recorded only 149 cases, mostly imported, but the pandemic has been a burning campaign issue as restrictions on global travel bottom out the tourism industry – a major earner for Seychelles and employer for many of its 98,000 people.

Visitor numbers have collapsed since March in the archipelago nation of 115 islands, normally a popular destination for honeymooners and paradise-seekers drawn by its fine sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

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Thousands of seals found dead at breeding colony in Namibia

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Cause of mass die-off unknown but scientists suspect pollutants, bacterial infection, or malnutrition.

An estimated 7,000 Cape fur seals have been discovered dead at a breeding colony in central Namibia.

Conservationist Naude Dreyer of the charity Ocean Conservation Namibia (OCN) began noticing dead seals on the sandy beaches of Pelican Point colony – a tourist destination known for its colony of seals and schools of dolphins – near Walvis Bay city in September.

In the first two weeks of October, he found large numbers of seal foetuses at the colony.

Tess Gridley from the Namibian Dolphin Project estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 female seals had miscarried young with more still being found.

Last week, there was a spike in the number of dead adult females, Dreyer said.

“What we have been observing is less freshly dead seal pups and a lot of dead female adults,” he said.

Fur seals normally give birth between mid-November and mid-December.

The cause of the mass die-off is yet to be established but scientists suspect anything from pollutants or bacterial infection to malnutrition.

Some of the dead females found were “thin-looking, emaciated, with very little fat reserves”, said Gridley.

In 1994, some 10,000 seals died and 15,000 foetuses were aborted in a mass die-off that was linked to starvation suspected to have resulted from a shortage of fish as well as from a bacterial infection at another breeding colony, the Cape Cross, some 116km (72 miles) north of the central tourist town Swakopmund.

Annely Haiphene, executive director in the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources,  told AFP news agency she suspected the seals died from “lack of food” but will wait for the outcome of the tests.

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