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Pakistan plane crash: ‘All I could see was fire’

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One of the survivors of Friday's plane crash in the Pakistani city of Karachi has described his ordeal, saying all he could see "was fire".

Passenger Muhammad Zubair was one of at least two passengers who survived after the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Airbus A320 came down in a residential area.

Health authorities in Sindh province said 97 deaths had been confirmed.

The cause of the crash is not yet known.

But one civil aviation official told Reuters the plane may have been unable to lower its undercarriage.

Images posted on social media appeared to show scorch marks under both engines, with no undercarriage visible on approach.

The crash came days after Pakistan allowed commercial flights to resume after the country's coronavirus lockdown was eased.

How did Muhammad Zubair escape?

Flight PK8303, an Airbus A320 carrying 91 passengers and eight crew – including many families travelling ahead of Sunday's Eid holiday – had travelled from Lahore.

It was attempting to land at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport at about 14:30 local time (09:30 GMT) when it came down.

Mr Zubair, who suffered only minor injuries, said the plane attempted one landing and then crashed 10-15 minutes later.

"No-one was aware that the plane was about to crash; they were flying the plane in a smooth manner," he said.

He lost consciousness following the crash. When he came to, he said, "I could hear screams from all directions. Kids and adults. All I could see was fire. I couldn't see any people – just hear their screams".

"I opened my seatbelt and saw some light – I went towards the light. I had to jump down about 10ft (3m) to get to safety," he added.

Why did the aircraft crash?

The plane was only just short of the runway perimeter when it struck houses in the Model Colony residential area. TV footage showed rescue crews combing through debris strewn across the streets of the densely populated zone. A number of cars were set on fire.

Eyewitness Mohammed Uzair Khan told the BBC he had heard a massive sound and went outside his home. "Almost four houses were completely collapsed, there was so much fire and smoke," he said. "They are almost my neighbours, I can't tell you what a horrible thing it was."

Purported audio of the conversation between air traffic control and a pilot was published by Pakistani media. The pilot is heard saying the plane had "lost engines". An air traffic controller asks whether it is going to carry out a "belly landing", to which the pilot replies "mayday, mayday, mayday".

Investigators will try to retrieve the so-called black box recorders to help determine the cause. A committee of investigation has already been set up.

PIA said the plane had joined the fleet in 2014 and passed its annual airworthiness inspection last November.

What do we know about the casualties?

According to local authorities, 97 deaths have been confirmed, although it is unclear how many of the dead were passengers and how many residents on the ground. Nineteen of the dead have been identified.

Zafar Masud, president of the Bank of Punjab, was the other passenger who survived the crash, a proviRead More – Source

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Kylie Moore-Gilbert: Lecturer released by Iran ‘in prisoner swap’

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A British-Australian academic serving a 10-year sentence in Iran for espionage has been freed in exchange for three jailed Iranians, Iranian media say.

The Australian government confirmed Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s release but did not give details.

Dr Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Middle East politics at Melbourne University, had been detained in Iran since September 2018.

She was tried in secret and strongly denied all the charges against her.

According to Iranian state media, she was exchanged for an Iranian businessman and two Iranian citizens “who had been detained abroad”. They have not yet been named.

News of the exchange first came on Wednesday in a statement on the website of the Young Journalist Club, a news website affiliated to state television in Iran.

“An Iranian businessman and two Iranian citizens who were detained abroad on baseless charges were exchanged for a dual national spy named Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who worked for the Zionist regime,” it said.

Video purporting to show the exchange was published by state broadcaster IRIB news and the Tasnim website.

The footage, which had no commentary, showed Dr Moore-Gilbert wearing a grey hijab and being driven away in a mini-van. Three men are seen being met by officials. One is in a wheelchair.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she was “extremely pleased and relieved” at the release of Dr Moore-Gilbert which she said “was achieved through diplomatic engagement with the Iranian government”. She made no reference to any exchange of prisoners.

“The Australian government has consistently rejected the grounds on which the Iranian government arrested, detained and convicted Dr Moore-Gilbert. We continue to do so,” she said in a statement.

Senator Payne said Dr Moore-Gilbert would “soon be reunited with her family” but did not specify when she would be returning to Australia.

“No doubt, as she recovers, she will draw on the same strength and determination that helped her get through her period of detention. I also commend the endurance, trust and resilience of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family, friends and university colleagues throughout this period,” the minister added.

Dr Moore-Gilbert had been travelling on an Australian passport when she was detained at Tehran airport in 2018 as she tried to leave following a conference.

In letters smuggled out of Tehran’s Evin prison earlier this year, the Cambridge-educated academic said she had “never been a spy” and feared for her mental health. She said she had rejected an offer from Iran to become a spy.

“I am not a spy. I have never been a spy, and I have no interest to work for a spying organisation in any country,” she wrote.

Concerns for her wellbeing escalated in August when news emerged that she had been transferred to Qarchak, a notorious prison in the desert.

She was visited shortly afterwards by Australia’s ambassador to Iran, Lyndall Sachs, who reported that she was “well”.

Before being moved to Qarchak, Dr Moore-Gilbert had spent almost two years sleeping on the floor of a cell at Evin prison, according to a friend.

She had been in solitary confinement and on several hunger strikes, and was said to have been beaten for trying to comfort new prisoners.

Iran has detained a number of foreign nationals and Iranian dual citizens in recent years, many of them on spying charges. Human rights groups have accused Tehran of using the cases as leverage to try to gain concessions from other countries.

British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed on spying charges in 2016. She has always maintained her innocence.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, welcomed reports of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release.

“Nazanin and I are really happy for Kylie and her family,” he told the BBC. “They have been through so much, borne with such dignity. And it is an early Christmas present for us all, that one more of us is out and on their way home, one more family can begin to heal.”

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said news of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release was “an enormous relief”.

“There may now be renewed grounds for hoping that UK-Iranian dual-nationals like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori will also be released from their unjust jail terms in Iran in the coming days or weeks,” she said.

Anoosheh Ashoori, a retired civil engineer from London, was jailed for 10 years in July 2019 after being convicted of spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-55077744

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Afghanistan war: 26,000 Afghan children killed or maimed since 2005

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An average of five children have been killed or wounded every day for the past 14 years in war-torn Afghanistan, a charity has found.

Data from the UN showed at least 26,025 children were killed or maimed from 2005 to 2019, said Save the Children.

The charity has urged donor nations to protect the future of Afghan children ahead of a key meeting in Geneva.

Violence has been rising in Afghanistan amid stalled peace talks and US troop withdrawals.

Afghanistan is among the 11 most dangerous nations in the world for children, according to Save the Children.

In 2019 it accounted for the greatest number of killing and maiming violations of all the global conflicts covered in the charity’s report, released on Friday, with 874 Afghan children killed and 2,275 maimed.

More than two-thirds of those killed and maimed last year were boys, it said, “as a result of ground engagements between pro- and anti-government forces or of improvised explosive devices in both suicide and non-suicide attacks”.

The report found that schools have routinely been attacked in the ongoing conflict that pits the Afghan government, supported by US troops, against the Taliban and other insurgents.

Save the Children said that between 2017 and 2019 there were more than 300 attacks on schools.

“Imagine living with the constant fear that today might be the day that your child is killed in a suicide attack or an airstrike. This is the grim reality for tens of thousands of Afghan parents whose children have been killed or injured,” said Chris Nyamandi, Save the Children’s country director in Afghanistan, in a statement.

Ahead of the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, a meeting of international donors that is starting in Geneva on Monday, the charity urged donor nations to safeguard the future of Afghan children with increased humanitarian funding.

It also called on the UK government to commit itself and its allies to avoid using explosive weapons in populated areas.

Afghanistan has seen decades of violent conflict that has left tens of thousands of civilians dead.

US forces have been in the country since 2001 in an operation to oust the Taliban after the deadly 9/11 attacks in New York.

The Taliban was removed from power but later regrouped and now controls more territory than at any time since the start of America’s longest war.

In February the US started withdrawing its troops after signing a landmark agreement with the insurgents. But violence in the country has risen again as the Taliban steps up its offensives amid stalled negotiations with the Afghan government.

On the weekend a deadly rocket attack in Kabul killed at least eight people and wounded more than 30.

Last year a BBC investigation found that unrelenting violence affected almost the entire country, documenting daily casualties in the month of August 2019.

Many observers have warned that the Afghan army is not strong enough to fight the insurgency alone after foreign troops leave.

But last week the US announced further cuts, saying it would withdraw 2,000 troops from Afghanistan by mid-January, leaving some 2,500 in the country.

For 13 years, between 2001 and 2014, the UK was involved in the conflict in Afghanistan against the Taliban and fighters from al-Qaeda. The last UK combat troops left Afghanistan in October 2014.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-55039535

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Lebanon inmates break doors and die in car crash after jail-break

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Five prisoners have died when their getaway car hit a tree after a mass jail-break in Lebanon.

A total of 69 prisoners managed to break down their cell doors at the jail near Beirut in the early hours.

Fifteen prisoners were caught, state news agency NNA said. One was returned by his mother.

The security forces have been conducting a search of the area, and local people have been warned to be on the alert.

The deadly accident happened when six prisoners seized a vehicle upon fleeing the facility in Baabda district.

“A white Dacia car collided with a tree, and it was found that a number of escaped prisoners were on board after they took it from its driver,” the news agency reported.

Five died and another was injured in the crash, it said.
Authorities have launched an investigation into the jail-break.

A prosecutor has said she would not rule out some sort of collusion between the prisoners and their guards.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-55027643

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