New Zealand Drops ‘COVID Zero’ Goal After Delta Outbreak

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 at the Parliament in Wellington on June 8, 2020.  (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP)

 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted Monday that New Zealand’s widely praised “Covid zero” strategy had failed to halt a stubborn outbreak in Auckland and said a new approach was needed.

The hardline elimination policy had largely protected the country from the pandemic, with residents enjoying a near-normal domestic life alongside tight restrictions on international borders.

But an August outbreak prompted a seven-week lockdown in its main population centre that has failed to curb infection rates.

Ardern said the highly transmissible Delta variant had proved a “game-changer” that could not be eliminated.

“Even with the long-term restrictions we’ve had, we patently haven’t reached zero,” she added.

Ardern said she would not immediately dump the elimination strategy but lockdown restrictions in Auckland would be eased slightly, even though new case numbers have not fallen.

She added that the change — a major shift to her previous goal of completely stamping out the virus — was possible because vaccination rates had increased dramatically.

“Elimination was important because we didn’t have vaccines, now we do, so we can begin to change the way we do things,” she told reporters.

Auckland will remain in lockdown for now but the government will conduct weekly reviews to time the reintroduction of freedoms.

City residents can meet outdoors in groups of up to 10 from Wednesday and steps such as reopening shops and schools will be considered in the coming weeks.

The rest of the country was allowed out of lockdown in early September.

Before the Auckland outbreak, New Zealand’s elimination strategy was widely lauded by bodies such as the World Health Organisation, with just 27 deaths in a population of five million.

Opposition leader Judith Collins said Ardern had offered only a “vague wishlist” that failed to outline a coherent plan to replace the “Covid zero” approach.

AFP

Protester Throws Stones At Canada’s Trudeau At Campaign Stop

Canada’s Liberal Party Leader and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on August 31, 2021 in Ottawa, Canada. – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party appears to be ceding popularity to its Conservative rivals, according to polls published August 28, 2021, with early elections only weeks away. (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP)

 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seeking a third term in office in snap elections later this month, has repeatedly faced off against angry protesters on the campaign trail. And now, one has even thrown stones at him.

The incident happened on Monday as the Liberal Party leader was leaving an event at a microbrewery in London, a city southwest of Toronto in Ontario province. Someone in the crowd threw what appeared to be a handful of gravel at the prime minister, TV images showed.

Trudeau, members of his security detail and journalists were reportedly struck. No one was injured.

The incident drew condemnation from Trudeau’s main rival, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, and New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh.

Trudeau — who has slipped in the polls and is now in a statistical dead heat with O’Toole — has faced off on several recent occasions with what he described as “anti-vaxxer mobs” angry with his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Protesters enraged over proposed mandatory coronavirus vaccines and other crisis measures have shouted racial and misogynist slurs at his entourage.

Last week, he was forced to cancel an event over security concerns.

“Yes, there is a small fringe element in this country that is angry, that doesn’t believe in science, that is lashing out with racist, misogynistic attacks,” Trudeau said at a campaign stop.

“But Canadians, the vast majority of Canadians, are not represented by them, and I know will not allow those voices, those special interest groups, those protesters — I don’t even want to call them protesters, those anti-vaxxer mobs — to dictate how this country gets through this pandemic.”

AFP

Central African Republic PM Resigns

Prime Minister of the Central African Republic Firmin Ngrebada gives an interview on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg on June 4, 2021.
PHOTO: Olga MALTSEVA / AFP

 

The Prime Minister of the Central African Republic, Firmin Ngrebada, announced on Thursday that his government had tendered its resignation.

Ngrebada wrote on Twitter that he had “presented (his) resignation to the President,” Faustin Archange Touadera.

But presidential spokesman Albert Yaloke Mokpeme told AFP that he may be asked to stay and form a new government.

“We will know within a few hours if the president keeps the prime minister on,” Mokpeme said.

READ ALSO: Twelve Killed In Myanmar Military Plane Crash

A former chief of staff to Touadera, Ngrebada had been in post since early 2019.

Central African Republic is the second least-developed country in the world according to the UN and suffers from the aftermath of a brutal civil conflict that erupted in 2013.

Touadera was re-elected in December on a turnout of fewer than one in three voters.

The ballot was hampered by armed groups that at the time controlled around two-thirds of the country, and rebels mounted an offensive in the runup to polling day.

Since then, the army, backed by UN peacekeepers, Rwandan special forces, and Russian paramilitaries, has wrested much of the territory from rebel control.

AFP

Top Court Upholds Canada’s Federal Carbon Tax

A file photo of a court gavel.
A file photo of a court gavel.

 

The Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday upheld a national carbon tax that is the centrepiece of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate plan, rejecting a constitutional challenge by several provinces.

The federal government imposed the levy in 2019 in order to meet its obligations under the 2015 Paris climate agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030, from 2005 levels.

Initially set at Can$20 (US$16) per tonne of emissions, the carbon pricing scheme — which applies to a range of fuels and sources of CO2 emissions — is to incrementally rise to Can$170 per tonne by the end of the decade. This would be equivalent to about 28 cents per liter of gasoline.

“Addressing climate change requires collective national and international action… because the harmful effects of GHGs (greenhouse gases) are, by their very nature, not confined by borders,” the court said in its decision.

It found that the federal parliament “has jurisdiction to enact this law as a matter of national concern under the peace, order and good government clause of the constitution.”

READ ALSO: EU Regulator Calls In Experts Over AstraZeneca Jab

Oil-rich Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces, as well as Ontario, rejected the federal backstop on their own carbon pricing schemes that don’t measure up to the federal minimum price on carbon.

Federal opposition leader Erin O’Toole, meanwhile, vowed this week to get rid of the national carbon tax if his Tories unseat Trudeau’s Liberals in the next election.

Ottawa argued in court that climate change is a national threat requiring a federal response, but the provinces pushed back at the feds’ intrusion on their jurisdiction over the environment.

The court noted that provinces left to regulate emissions on their own risked failing to address this “existential threat.” It said it could take just one of the 10 provinces to straggle for nationwide efforts to collapse, threatening “Canada as a whole.”

As such, federal intrusion on provincial jurisdiction in this specific case is justified, it concluded.

The most recent report presented b
y the Canadian government showed that Canada’s CO2 emissions increased by two percent between 2017 and 2018.

AFP

Croatia PM Receives AstraZeneca Jab To Dismiss Fears

A file photo of Andrej Plenkovic. Credit: [email protected] Plenkovic

 

Croatia’s prime minister publicly received his first dose of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 jab on Wednesday to quell fears over its safety, as the country battles an infection surge.

Andrej Plenkovic, who had the disease in November, is trying to ease concerns from Croatians who have been rejecting the vaccine after fears were raised of a link to rare blood clotting disorders.

More than a dozen mostly European countries briefly suspended its use earlier this month, with most resuming rollouts after the EU’s drug regulator deemed it safe.

Yet the controversy threatens to rollback growing support for vaccination in Croatia just at the moment when infections are on the rise.

A survey showed on Sunday that 65 percent of Croatians either wanted to get a Covid jab or had already received one, compared with a poll in December that suggested less than a half would get the vaccine.

A quarter of respondents told the latest poll they were against vaccination and the remaining 10 percent were undecided.

READ ALSO: Second French Minister Hospitalised With COVID-19

Plenkovic received the injection at the government’s premises along with his health minister and parliamentary speaker, who both also contracted Covid-19 earlier.

“This is a signal of trust in the vaccine,” Health Minister Vili Beros told reporters after the vaccination.

The move should encourage all other Croatians to get vaccinated, “jointly stamp out the epidemic and return to normal life”, he said.

Other ministers were vaccinated in January.

The European Union country of 4.2 million people has so far vaccinated more than 300,000.

Since the start of the pandemic, Covid-19 has claimed more than 5,800 lives.

AFP

Netanyahu Eyes Vaccine Win As Israel Heads For Fourth Vote

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to the COVID-19 vaccination facility in Jerusalem on January 6, 2021. (Photo by Marc Israel SELLEM / POOL / AFP)

 

When Israel this month holds its fourth election in less than two years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hope goodwill from a world-beating Covid vaccination campaign can finally secure him an elusive majority government.

The last time Israelis went to the polls just a year ago, they delivered a result that had already become familiar: neither the right-wing Netanyahu nor his centrist challenger Benny Gantz had enough support for a parliamentary majority.

The world, and Israeli politics, have since been upended by the pandemic. Just weeks after the last election, Israel entered the first of three coronavirus lockdowns.

In May, Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving premier, and Gantz formed a unity government, declaring that the public health threat required political stability.

But their coalition, which had been set to last three years, collapsed in December when Netanyahu’s refusal to approve a 2021 budget forced new elections, to be held on March 23.

Netanyahu, a wily political veteran, is now hoping he can sneak over the line thanks to the inoculation drive.

The 71-year-old also hopes for a boost from having clinched historic normalisation deals with four Arab states — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — agreements he claims mark a new era in the Middle East.

But despite Netanyahu’s apparent successes, polls point to another indecisive result, with the premier so far lacking a clear path to form a government.

– ‘Vaccine nation’ –

Israel, a country of about nine million people, has given the two recommended jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to around four million residents, an inoculation pace envied by many nations.

Netanyahu has been happy to take the credit for boldly reaching out early to drug-makers with approved vaccines.

“Do you know how many presidents and prime ministers call Pfizer and Moderna? They don’t answer. But when it’s me, they take the call,” he said days ago.

“I convinced them that Israel would be a model country to roll out the vaccine: who else will do that? Definitely not (Yair) Lapid, (Naftali) Bennett and Gideon (Saar),” he proclaimed, referring to his main election challengers.

Israel secured a large vaccine stock from Pfizer because its highly digitised medical system enabled it to offer the company fast, precious data on the product’s impact.

Netanyahu has repeatedly visited vaccination centres and adopted the phrase “Vaccine Nation”, a play on the “Start-up Nation” tag Israel acquired because of its burgeoning high-tech sector.

But some voters also blame Netanyahu for the painful lockdowns.

His political allies, ultra-Orthodox Jews, have flouted restrictions — often with a muted police response — fuelling transmission while many other citizens were following the rules.

– Right-wing pitch –

As the vaccine edges Israel out of the pandemic, its political landscape is shifting.

Gantz’s supporters punished him for entering a Netanyahu-led government and his fractured Blue and White party may not even get enough votes to qualify for parliament.

Netanyahu’s former partner, Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party, has emerged as his main challenger, polls show.

And a former prominent member of Netanyahu’s Likud, Gideon Saar, has formed his own party to run against the premier.

Seeking to make up any lost ground, Netanyahu has tried to appeal to Arab voters, despite having disparaged them in past campaigns and backing a 2018 law that downgraded Arabic’s status as an official language.

For all that has changed since the last election, a single question for voters has again dominated this year’s campaign: are you for Netanyahu or against him?

The electorate is “divided between those who want Netanyahu to continue to another term in office and those who hope to see him finally head home”, the head of the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank, Yohanan Plesner, told AFP.

Seeking to shore up his right-wing support in the campaign’s final days, Netanyahu on Sunday visited Kfar Etzion, a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Settlers, who live in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law, are also being courted by Netanyahu’s right-wing rivals, Saar and Bennett.

Netanyahu recalled visiting Kfar Etzion in its early days, some 50 years ago, and lauded the “wonderful pioneering activity” of his audience.

He warned voters that straying from Likud would be a “terrible mistake” that could produce a left-wing government.

“Vote Likud,” he told them. “We will create a strong, stable, right wing government.”

AFP

Biden, Trudeau Go Online For US-Canada Bilateral

US President Joe Biden speaks about lives lost to Covid after death toll passed 500,000, in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC, February 22, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

 

President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will lay out a “roadmap” for rebuilding US-Canada relations Tuesday during their first bilateral meeting, a senior official said, although the scrapped Keystone pipeline could present a hurdle.

Following the turbulence of Donald Trump’s presidency, Biden would have hoped to use his well-honed skills of personal connection while meeting face-to-face with the leader of the key ally to the north.

However, the meeting will occur virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving the neighboring states to build on their common values from afar instead of in person, a senior US administration official told reporters on the eve of Biden’s first bilateral event as president.

“I think the biggest deliverable from the trip, or from the meeting, is going to be essentially… a roadmap to reinvigorate US-Canada collaboration,” the official said Monday.

Announcements on “next steps” will be made in multiple areas such as diplomacy, transportation or infrastructure, and battling Covid-19, the official said.

Biden and Trudeau will address several mutual priorities, including tackling climate change, revving up the North American economy, the Arctic, and threats to democracy in Myanmar and Venezuela.

“By being on the same line on several subjects, like climate change or economic revival, we can do more together,” Trudeau’s office said, offering similar broad brush strokes.

But the sides will also wade into the thorny issue of China’s “unfair economic practices,” its human rights record and Beijing’s continued detention of two Canadian nationals, according to the senior US official.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were arrested in China in 2018 in what was seen as likely retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou that year on a US warrant.

“Certainly we expect the prime minister to raise it, and the president is ready to discuss it,” the official said.

The official would not be drawn on how US-Canada ties might have been damaged during the four-year Trump administration, opting instead to highlight the various “shared interests” between the two countries.

One sticking point that is likely to come up: Biden’s decision to cancel the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project fiercely opposed by environmentalists but backed by Ottawa.

Biden rescinded the permit by executive order on his first day in office, fulfilling a campaign commitment, and “the decision will not be reconsidered,” the official said.

The summit begins with a 45-minute closed-door bilateral meeting with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, along with their Canadian counterparts.

It will then be expanded to a broader bilateral discussion.

Japan To Start COVID-19 Vaccines Despite Syringe Shortage

File photo: A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, on December 8, 2020. Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP

 

Japan will start coronavirus vaccinations next week, its prime minister said Wednesday, but it is scrambling to secure suitable syringes so doses won’t go to waste.

The country has reached deals with three major drug firms to buy enough vaccine doses for its population of 126 million.

But it has not yet announced a detailed roll-out plan for the jabs, less than six months before the pandemic-postponed Olympics begin.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is likely to become the first jab approved for use in Japan in the coming days, following domestic clinical trials required by the country’s health authorities.

“When we have confirmed the vaccine’s efficacy and safety, we will start vaccination by the middle of next week,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.

Japan is trying to secure enough special syringes that can extract the full six doses from each vial of Pfizer vaccine.

More commonly used syringes can only draw five doses — meaning the last one needs to be discarded.

The syringe problem could force the country to forgo enough Pfizer vaccine doses for up to 12 million people, local media estimated.

“At first, we will use the syringes that can draw six doses, but as we vaccinate many people, these will become scarce,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said on Tuesday.

READ ALSO: Prince Charles Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

“We are working hard to secure the syringes. We are asking medical equipment manufacturers to increase their production,” he told parliament.

Around 10,000 medical workers will be the first people vaccinated in Japan, with officials hoping to expand the rollout to the elderly from April.

Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association, said that a lack of information about the vaccine campaign is causing confusion among medical workers.

But he said at a Wednesday press conference that medics are committed to the vaccination programme, which he called “the most enormous undertaking, at a scale we have never experienced before”.

The jabs “will let us be on the offensive, rather than just on defence”, he added.

New Zealand Suspends Myanmar Political, Military Ties After Coup

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference about the COVID-19 coronavirus at Parliament in Wellington on June 8, 2020. – New Zealand has no active COVID-19 cases after the country’s final patient was given the all clear and released from isolation, health authorities said on June 8. (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP)

 

New Zealand announced the suspension of high-level military and political contacts with Myanmar Tuesday, the first major international move to isolate the country’s ruling junta following a coup.

Unveiling the measures, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for the international community to “strongly condemn what we’re seeing happen in Myanmar”.

“After years of working hard to build a democracy in Myanmar, I think every New Zealander would be devastated to see what we’ve seen in recent days led by the military,” she told reporters.

“Our strong message is we will do what we can from here in New Zealand.”

Ardern said the measures would include travel bans on senior military figures.

Myanmar’s military last week detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and dozens of other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, ending a decade of civilian rule.

Ardern said New Zealand wanted the UN Human Rights Council to hold a special session to discuss developments in Myanmar.

She added that New Zealand’s aid programmes in Myanmar, worth about NZ$42 million ($30.5 million), would continue with safeguards that they did not benefit, or come under the control of, the military junta.

“We’re being very cautious with whatever aid and development work we do there that we are not propping up that regime,” she said.

Ardern conceded New Zealand had limited leverage on Myanmar’s military but said Suu Kyi had personally thanked her during past meetings for Wellington’s help during the country’s transition to democracy.

“While it may seem New Zealand’s position on this may not seem particularly relevant, one of the last occasions when I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Aung San Suu Kyi, she specifically mentioned some of our representatives from New Zealand in Myanmar,” Ardern said.

“They were well regarded and well respected and I think it played a really constructive role in that critical time for Myanmar and their transition.”

The junta proclaimed a one-year state of emergency last week, promising to hold fresh elections after that, without offering any precise timeframe.

In doing so they ended Myanmar’s 10-year experiment with democracy after close to 50 years of military rule.

The generals justified the coup by claiming fraud in November’s elections, which the NLD won by a landslide.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta dismissed the allegations of fraud.

“We do not recognise the legitimacy of the military-led government and we call on the military to immediately release all detained political leaders and restore civilian rule,” she said in a statement.

France Imposes 6pm Nationwide COVID-19 Curfew

CHARLES PLATIAU / POOL / AFP

 

The French government will impose a daily nationwide curfew at 6:00 pm starting Saturday to fight the spread of Covid-19, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.

The measure will remain in force for at least two weeks, Castex told a news conference.

Up to now, most of France has been under an 8:00 pm curfew, with some parts of the country, especially in the hard-hit east, already under the stricter 6:00 pm curfew.

Castex said a much-feared infection surge following the year-end holidays had not happened, but said a new lockdown could be imposed “without delay” if the health situation were to deteriorate badly.

The situation in France is “under control”, he said, but still “fragile”.

Schools will remain open, but indoor sports activities have again been banned for now.

Castex also said that travellers arriving in France from non-European Union destinations would have to present a negative Covid test less than 72 hours old, and would have to self-isolate for seven days. They would then have to take a second test.

Estonian PM Resigns Over Corruption Probe

Former Estonian prime minister Juri Ratas speaks to the parliament in Tallinn after resigning, on January 13, 2021. – Ratas resigned but, denied any wrongdoing after a corruption probe was opened into his ruling Center Party and its links with an Estonian businessman. (Photo by RAIGO PAJULA / AFP)

 

Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas resigned on Wednesday after his Centre Party came under investigation for corruption, raising the prospect of a new ruling coalition in the Baltic eurozone nation.

Elections are unlikely and President Kersti Kaljulaid said she would ask the leader of the opposition liberal Reform Party, Kaja Kallas, to form a government.

Kallas, who would be Estonia’s first female prime minister, would still require approval by parliament.

The outgoing government, which stays in office until a new one is found, includes the far-right EKRE party.

One of the suspects in the investigation is an adviser to Finance Minister Martin Helme from EKRE.

Ratas announced his resignation on Facebook after an hours-long meeting of his party’s board in the night.

He said he had not made “any malicious or knowingly wrong decisions” but wanted to “shed light” on the case.

READ ALSO: Biden Names Samantha Power As US Aid Chief, Boosts Role

The investigation centres on a property company called Porto Franco which received a large state loan and struck a lucrative deal with city authorities in the capital Tallinn, whose mayor is also from the party.

Hillar Teder, a businessman and the father of the company’s owner, donated large sums to the Centre Party.

– Far-right out? –

Political analyst Rein Toomla from the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies said it was “quite possible” that Ratas would stay on as a minister in a Kallas cabinet.

He said any future participation in the government by EKRE, which is also anti-EU, was “highly unlikely”.

The resignation could also scupper plans for a controversial referendum on same-sex marriage that the coalition had been planning to hold this spring.

New elections would only take place if no candidate for prime minister can command a parliamentary majority.

Estonia last went to the polls in 2019.

The Reform Party came first in those elections but failed to clinch a deal for a majority coalition.

Instead, the Centre Party forged a coalition with EKRE and the right-wing Isamaa conservatives.

Toomla said a grand coalition between Reform, Centre, Isamaa and the Social Democrats was “the most sensible option in the current complicated situation”.

Such an alliance “would ensure the biggest support for the government” in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic and to steer an economic recovery, he said.

The Centre and Reform parties have alternated in government over the nearly three decades since Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union.

Both strongly support Estonia’s EU and NATO membership, which they see as a buffer against Soviet-era master Russia.

They have favoured austerity to keep spending in check, giving the country one of the eurozone’s lowest debt-to-GDP ratios.

AFP

Netanyahu Orders New Israeli Settlement In West Bank

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to the COVID-19 vaccination facility in Jerusalem on January 6, 2021. (Photo by Marc Israel SELLEM / POOL / AFP)

 

Israel’s prime minister on Monday directed authorities to approve construction of 800 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank days before President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel administration leaves office.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has directed that plans be advanced for the construction of about 800 units in Judea and Samaria,” a statement from the premier’s office said, using biblical terms for the West Bank.

President-elect Joe Biden, who will be sworn in next week, has indicated that his administration will restore US policy opposing settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

Trump’s administration gave unprecedented US support to settler groups, highlighted by a declaration from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2019 that Washington no longer viewed settlements as being in violation of international law.

READ ALSO: Cyprus Leader Ready To Attend UN Meet On Ending Deadlock

Pompeo in November also became the first top US diplomat to visit a settlement in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.

Netanyahu is facing re-election on March 23, Israel’s fourth vote in just under two years.

A series of recent of polls indicate the veteran prime minister is facing a strong right-wing challenge from pro-settler candidate Gideon Saar, who defected from Netanyahu’s Likud party last month to run against the premier.

Netanyahu is widely expected to make a series of plays for right-wing votes, including by bolstering his pro-settlement credentials, before the vote, according to Israeli political analysts.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office said that 100 of the new units were to be built in the Tal Menashe settlement, where French-Israeli Esther Horgen was murdered last month.

Israel’s security services have said the settler was murdered by Palestinian Mohammed Cabha, claiming he had political motives for her killing related to the occupation.

Netanyahu’s order to advance settlement construction is not final, with the process having to clear several bureaucratic phases and possible legal challenges from anti-occupation groups before any construction begins.

There are currently some 450,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, living amid an estimated 2.8 million Palestinians.

All Jewish settlements in the West Bank are regarded as illegal by much of the international community.