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Caught Between U.S. Policies and Instability at Home, Haitian Migrants in Tijuana Are in a State of Limbo

Caught Between U.S. Policies and Instability at Home, Haitian Migrants in Tijuana Are in a State of Limbo


Sainte Helene’s son has been missing for about a year and a half. She avoids eye contact as she recounts the story, cradling her arms with her back hunched forward. A Haitian community leader named John helps translate from Haitian Creole to Spanish while we sit in the home she’s made for herself in Little Haiti, a tiny village in the remote hills of Tijuana, Mexico.

Sainte Helene says she fled Haiti in 2007 because of the instability and violence she encountered in her home country. She and her son originally found themselves in Venezuela, where she gave birth to a second son. After the country unraveled into political and economic instability, the family of three decided to travel north with a group of other migrants in late 2019, to Tijuana, where Sainte Helene knew other Haitians had fled. By the time they arrived in Panama, Sainte Helene realized the family was traveling too slowly to keep up with the group because she was carrying a young child. She allowed her eldest son, 14 years old at the time in December of 2019, to travel ahead of her with a group of others. She says she lost sight of him after a few hours while they climbed over a steep Panamanian mountain. Sainte Helene and her youngest child arrived in Tijuana in August of 2020. To her terror, she has not been able to locate or make contact with her eldest son.
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“In my dreams he’s back with me,” Sainte Helene says. This day of our interview, April 25, also happens to be her birthday. Sainte Helene is now 43. She agreed to an interview with TIME on the condition that her last name be withheld for fear of her safety in Tijuana.

“I feel terrible all of the time, I’m always thinking about my son,” Sainte Helene says. “I don’t know if he died along the way, or if he made it to Tijuana, or maybe he even made it to the U.S.”

After about 15 minutes, Sainte Helene tired of sharing her story and got up from her seat to continue cooking dinner for the dozen or so other Haitian migrants who live here in Little Haiti. It’s a fenced off community of concrete homes in Tijuana just a few yards from a church that is sheltering hundreds of mostly Central American migrants arriving to the border. Though the population in Little Haiti has started to decline in recent months as migrants have spread to other parts of Tijuana and the U.S.-Mexico border the Haitian community in Tijuana has grown in recent years as Haitians have increasingly settled in the U.S. and South America after more than a decade of political instability and natural disasters. An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Haitians have found themselves in Tijuana at some point since around 2015, according to the Haitian Bridge Alliance (HBA), a Southern California nonprofit that advocates for Haitian migrants in the U.S. and Mexico.

The community in Tijuana has come together in part because Black migrants in Mexico, Central America and South America have experienced frequent and pervasive racism. Here, there is some safety in numbers. Two signs greet you on the road into Little Haiti: one is a banner to let you know where you are—”Little Haiti” it reads in English, followed by “City of God,” in Spanish. The second sign is written in Spanish: “If you don’t live here, you cannot come in.”

Haitan Migrants In Mexico
John Fredricks—NurPhoto/Getty ImagesHaitian migrants live in “Little Haiti” in Tijuana, Mexico. May 27th, 2019 in Tijuana, Mexico.

While Haitian migrants have found themselves in many countries—such as the U.S., Canada, Brazil and the Dominican Republic—those who have found themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border are in a distressing state of limbo because of current U.S. immigration policies. Had they been in the U.S. in May, they would have been eligible to apply for Temporary Protected Status that would allow them to live and work in the country for 18 months. But living in Mexico, if they’re caught trying to illegally enter the U.S. or make a claim for asylum, they risk being expelled back to Haiti under Title 42, a Trump-era health measure that began in March 2020 and has remained in place under the Biden Administration. (Most people who are expelled are Central Americans who try to enter through Mexico, and are sent back to Mexico.) By HBA’s estimates, the Biden Administration has in a few months expelled more Haitians back to Haiti than during the entirety Trump Administration. According to research by HBA, which analyzed deportation flights to Haiti in partnership with the Quixote Center and the UndocuBlack Network, over 1,200 people had been expelled to Haiti between Feb. 1 and March 25 of 2021.

“U.S. policy has kept Haitian people from accessing the asylum process,” says Guerline Jozef, director of HBA. “From metering, to Title 42…the lives of these people were put in limbo due to U.S. policy and the lives of these people continue in limbo today as we speak.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not immediately return TIME’s request for comment.

Decades of instability

In the last decade, Haiti has suffered through natural disaster, political turmoil, economic decline, rising gang violence and outbreaks of disease ranging from cholera to COVID-19. Earlier this month, the already reeling country was shaken when Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated and the country’s leaders engaged in a contentious power struggle, culminating in Moïse-appointed Ariel Henry taking the reigns on Prime Minister to form a new government.

Read more: Why Is a Florida-Based Pastor Under Arrest for the Assassination of Haiti’s President?

Haiti has become a predominately migrant-sending country, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a nonpartisan research institution, meaning more people emigrate from Haiti than immigrate to it. In 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of people—the Haitian government estimates as many as 300,000 were killed, though some estimates are smaller—setting in motion a mass migration to other parts of Latin America and the U.S. In preparation for the World Cup in 2014, thousands of Haitians were welcomed in Brazil to work, but found themselves unemployed and struggling when the World Cup was over. Throughout Latin America, Haitians and other Black migrants have faced nativism, racism and discrimination, blamed for everything from violence to natural disaster, according to MPI. Many have since journeyed north, to the U.S.-Mexico border, hoping to find a home in the U.S. Tijuana became a major port of entry for Haitian migrants around 2015, according to Jozef, who is also a Haitian immigrant herself, living in California.

At first, many were able to find humanitarian relief in the U.S., Jozef says, but in August of 2016 that humanitarian relief became harder to attain, and then came the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, such as “metering,” the Migrant Protection Protocols and Title 42, that created barriers to entry, forcing thousands to remain in Tijuana in a state of uncertainty.

Cadilis, 65, has lived in Little Haiti for a little over a year. He left his home country seven years ago, he says, because even when he did find work, he would immediately be robbed by gangs. Now, because he is a single adult in Tijuana, it may be even more challenging to enter the U.S. as the Biden Administration prioritizes families for relief from Title 42. “It’s hard isn’t it?” he says, as John interprets. “It’s really complicated to enter since I don’t have children, I don’t have family, I’m alone. The politics right now makes it complicated…Right now, it’s not possible. But it’s not that I don’t want to [move to the U.S.], it’s that I can’t.”

For its part, the U.S. has been trying to discourage Haitians from entering as well. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a statement, urging both Haitians and Cubans not to journey to the U.S. for refuge via boat. “The time is never right to attempt migration by sea,” Mayorkas said on July 13. “Allow me to be clear: if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.”

‘I couldn’t take it anymore, so I came up to Mexico.’

Deeper into Tijuana, nearly 5 miles from Little Haiti, another group of about 30 Haitian migrants have been living together in a small home along with two small children. Several people from the home gather in a circle in the front patio, seated in plastic chairs, to listen to Jozef speak in Haitian Creole about their options, their likelihood of being able to make a claim for asylum in the U.S., and warnings of misinformation that spreads among migrant communities. Jozef invites anyone interested to sit down with her for a one-on-one conversation. One at a time they go inside, while a few others take turns pulling up a seat next to me to share their story. After years in Mexico, many of them have picked up Spanish, and we communicate without a translator as best as we can.

Read more: The Best Way for the World to Help Haiti in This Moment of Crisis

Amgello, 30, says he left Haiti because of the violence and lack of stable income. He traveled to Chile first. “In Chile I found it to be really racist,” Amgello says. “It was hard to find a job, and the people made it hard to live there. They would call Haitians ugly names. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I came up to Mexico.” His ultimate goal is to get his mother and young siblings out of Haiti, whether that means having them join him in Tijuana, or finding a way for them to migrate to the U.S. What he’d love, he says, is if his little sister in Haiti can get an education in the U.S.

“Most refugees and asylum seekers just by nature are vulnerable when they are in places that they’re unfamiliar with. But I think for Black immigrants it’s xenophobia, as well as very, very real anti-Blackness and prejudices they face” says Haddy Gassama, policy and advocacy director at the UndocuBlack Network, a U.S.-based organization that advocates on behalf of Black immigrants. “It’s not just that this country [Mexico] isn’t convenient, it’s literally that people’s lives are at risk every day that they’re along the southern border.”

Fretzner, 32, has been in Mexico for four years, after first migrating to Brazil from Haiti. He tells me his wife and child are still in Haiti, and he has worked out the paperwork to get them to Tijuana, now it’s just down to saving the money to afford to bring them. “And then after that we’ll figure out a plan for the U.S.,” he says. “What’s important first is that they’re with me and out of Haiti.”

Fretzner and Amgello say they have found it easier in Mexico than other parts of Latin America. They’ve been able to find work—though that work is paid poorly and under the table because they’ve struggled to obtain work visas—to send back home to their loved ones in Haiti. They’ve also been able to find a stable home, which can be a challenge for Black migrants who struggle to find a landlord willing to rent to them. “I’m still grateful for Mexico,” Fretzner says. “I came here without family, but I’ve gained a family and found love.” Though he’d ultimately want to rejoin family in the U.S., “I live for my beloved Mexico too,” he adds with a laugh. They say they don’t go out after dark, however, because they know how dangerous it can be for a Black man to wonder the streets of Tijuana.

An uncertain future

Guillermo Arias—AFP/Getty ImagesView of “Little Haiti,” a neighborhood of some 40 houses, built for refugee families near the Embajadores de Jesus church, in the suburbs of Tijuana, Mexico on March 11, 2018.

While Sainte Helene boiled chicken in Little Haiti, Remy, 52, who left Haiti three years ago and has lived in Tijuana for two years, gave his pal a shave outside the door. Remy has family in the U.S. waiting for him, he says, but sees no pathway to enter the U.S. “If I got the chance, I’d absolutely go [to the U.S.], because Mexico is still really hard to live in,” he says in Haitian Creole (John translates to Spanish), while his friend stares at me annoyed that I’m distracting from his shave. Remy left Haiti because of the instability, and because he was scared to walk the streets, even for work, he says, “you can go out and sell something, earn a little bit of money, and then you get jumped.” In Mexico, although he doesn’t have papers, he can work under the table to get himself by. Remy’s wife and son remain in Haiti, but he hasn’t been able to save enough money to bring them to Mexico. The community here in Little Haiti often depend on goods provided by HBA or other aid organizations.

While Remy and I talk, a father and his young son read through a children’s book and an Alice in Wonderland coloring book written in Haitian Creole. A woman hangs clothes to dry along the wires that stretch from home to home—she and her husband have been in Tijuana for four years. The community here used to be much larger, says Jozef, but many have given up on Tijuana and have moved to other parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read more: Shelters From Reynosa to Tijuana Are at Capacity and Scrambling for Resources as the U.S. Continues to Expel Migrants

Later, at the home for Haitians about five miles away from Little Haiti, I’m preparing to leave Tijuana as the sun begins to set. I’m pulled aside by another Haitian man. “Can you talk to me too?” he asks politely, and introduces himself as Sergio. “I’d like to share my story.”

We stood to the side, and he told me he and his wife live together in the house. They left Haiti in February 2018 because of the violence and lack of job opportunities, but left their children behind with relatives. They also have family in Miami and Brooklyn. Their hope was to save enough money to get their children out of Haiti, but work can be hard to come by in Tijuana he says. “There are so many Haitians here, but not enough work,” he says. “If after a few months we can’t figure out a way to earn, we’ll probably give up and go somewhere new.”


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Taliban take over Afghanistan: What we know and what’s next

Taliban take over Afghanistan: What we know and what’s next
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport on Aug. 16, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban have seized power in Afghanistan two weeks before the US was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war.

The insurgents stormed across the country, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the US and its allies melted away.

Here is a look at what happened and what comes next:


The Taliban, a militant group that ran the country in the late 1990s, have again taken control.

The US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the insurgents from power, but they never left.

After they blitzed across the country in recent days, the Western-backed government that has run the country for 20 years collapsed.

Afghans, fearing for the future, are racing to the airport, one of the last routes out of the country.


They are worried that the country could descend into chaos or the Taliban could carry out revenge attacks against those who worked with the Americans or the government.

Many also fear the Taliban will reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that they relied when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

Back then, women were barred from attending school or working outside the home. They had to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside.

The Taliban banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.

The Taliban have sought to present themselves as a more moderate force in recent years and say they will not exact revenge, but many Afghans are skeptical of those promises.


Probably because US troops are set to withdraw by the end of the month.

The US has been trying to get out of Afghanistan, its longest war, for several years now.

American troops ousted the Taliban in a matter of months when they invaded to root out Al-Qaeda, which orchestrated the 9/11 attacks while being harboured by the Taliban.

But it proved more difficult to hold territory and rebuild a nation battered by repeated wars.

As the US focus shifted to Iraq, the Taliban began to regroup and in recent years took over much of the Afghan countryside.

Last year, then-President Donald Trump announced a plan to pull out and signed a deal with the Taliban that limited US military action against them.

President Joe Biden then announced that the last troops would leave by the end of August.

As the final deadline drew close, the Taliban began a lightning offensive, overrunning city after city.


The short answer? Corruption.

The US and its NATO allies spent billions of dollars over two decades to train and equip Afghan security forces.

But the Western-backed government was rife with corruption. Commanders exaggerated the number of soldiers to siphon off resources, and troops in the field often lacked ammunition, supplies or even food.

Their morale further eroded when it became clear the US was on its way out. As the Taliban rapidly advanced in recent days entire units surrendered after brief battles, and Kabul and some nearby provinces fell without a fight.


He fled.

President Ashraf Ghani hunkered down and made few public statements as the Taliban swept across the country.

On Sunday, as they reached the capital, he left Afghanistan, saying he had chosen to leave to avoid further bloodshed.

It’s not clear where he went.


The Fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces in 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War.

It became an enduring symbol of defeat after thousands of Americans and their Vietnamese allies were airlifted out of the city on helicopters.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has rejected any comparisons to Afghanistan, saying: “This is manifestly not Saigon.”


It’s not clear.

The Taliban say they want to form an “inclusive, Islamic government” with other factions. They are holding negotiations with senior politicians, including leaders in the former government.

They have pledged to enforce Islamic law but say they will provide a secure environment for the return of normal life after decades of war.

But many Afghans distrust the Taliban and fear that their rule will be violent and oppressive.

One sign that worries people is that they want to rename the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is what they called it the last time they ruled.


Many fear it could mean a severe rollback of rights.

Afghan women have made major gains since the overthrow of the Taliban.

Many are worried they will once again be confined to their homes.

The Taliban have said they are no longer opposed to women attending school but have not set out a clear policy on women’s rights.

Afghanistan remains an overwhelmingly conservative country, especially outside major cities, and the status of women often varied, even under Taliban rule.


That is anyone’s guess, but American military officials are worried.

In the peace deal signed with the United States last year, the Taliban pledged to fight terrorism and prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base for attacks.

But the US has little leverage to enforce that.

Technological advances over the last 20 years allow the United States to target suspected militants in countries like Yemen and Somalia where it does not have a permanent troop presence.

The Taliban paid a heavy price for their role in the Sep 11 attacks and likely hope to avoid a repeat as they seek to consolidate their rule.

But earlier this year, the Pentagon’s top leaders said an extremist group like Al-Qaeda may be able to regenerate in Afghanistan, and officials are now warning that such groups could grow much faster than expected.

Afghanistan is also home to an Islamic State group affiliate that has carried out a wave of horrific attacks targeting its Shiite minority in recent years. The Taliban have condemned such attacks and the two groups have fought each other over territory, but it remains to be seen whether a Taliban government will be willing or able to suppress IS. AP

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Malala Yousafzai ‘Deeply Worried About Women, Minorities’ As Taliban Takes Kabul

Malala Yousafzai ‘Deeply Worried About Women, Minorities’ As Taliban Takes Kabul

The activist, who survived a Taliban attack, called for urgent humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

Activist Malala Yousafzai voiced grave concerns for women, minorities and human rights activists after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.

Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan when she was 15, said on Sunday she was watching on in complete shock as Taliban forces advanced into Kabul after executing a near-complete takeover of the country in a little over a week.

“I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates,” she said. “Global, regional and local powers must call for an immediate ceasefire, provide urgent humanitarian aid and protect. refugees and civilians.”

Yousafzai was targeted by extremists in 2012 after she spoke out publicly about the right to education for girls and women. She was shot on her school bus. She survived, went on to continue her advocacy from the UK, and in 2014, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, U.S. Embassy staff were evacuated and several other western missions worked to withdraw personnel. It comes months after the Biden administration announced the withdrawal of a decades-long U.S. military presence in the country.

Many fear the insurgents will roll back decades of gains by women and ethnic minorities, reimposing the brutal rule that all but eliminated women’s rights, the Associated Press reported. AP

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Video Shows Afghans Clinging To U.S. Military Plane As It Takes Off In Kabul

Video Shows Afghans Clinging To U.S. Military Plane As It Takes Off In Kabul

Seven people were reportedly killed during the chaos, including individuals who fell from a departing American transport jet.

Stunning video taken Monday at the Kabul airport shows people clinging to a U.S. military transport plane during takeoff, as well as others appearing to plunge to their death from the sky, in a disturbing scene that reportedly ended with several people dead.

The U.S. military suspended evacuation flights from the Afghan capital later on Monday due to the swarms of people blocking the airport’s tarmac, a spokesperson for the German foreign ministry told reporters.

“I understand there is no air traffic at the moment because a large number of desperate people are crowding the tarmac,” the spokesperson told journalists in Berlin, according to Reuters.

The chaos ended with seven people dead, including those who fell from a departing American military transport jet, The Associated Press reported, citing senior U.S. military officials.

Disturbing videos posted to social media appear to capture some of the deaths, and seem to show bodies falling from a plane shortly after takeoff. The authenticity of these videos has not been independently confirmed by HuffPost.

The Taliban has meanwhile attempted to reassure Afghans, saying in a statement that “life, property and honor” will be respected. But many Afghans fear that the Islamic militants will roll back basic democratic and human rights, particularly for women, journalists and nongovernment organization workers.

“Everyone is worried,” a former government employee who is hiding in Kabul told Reuters. “They’re not targeting people yet but they will, that’s the reality. Maybe in two or three weeks. That’s why people are fighting to get out now.” AP/REUTERS

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What is the Relationship Between the Taliban and ISIS?

What is the Relationship Between the Taliban and ISIS?
Taliban fighters stand guard in a vehicle along the roadside in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war. (AFP)

Who are the two groups?

The Taliban and Isis are both Sunni Islamist extremist groups seeking to form authoritarian states under strict Sharia law and prepared to use violence to achieve their aim.

The two forces are actually enemies, however, who have fought bitterly since 2015 when Isis formed the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) in Afghanistan at a time when it was first seeking to extend its geographical reach beyond Iraq and Syria.

The Taliban first came to prominence in 1994 during the Afghan Civil War, its ranks composed largely of students – from which the group derives its name in Pashto – many of whom had been mujahideen resistance fighters who had battled occupation by the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

A Deobandi fundamentalist Islamist movement originating in the Pashtun areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan and in northern Pakistan, the Taliban was led by Mullah Mohammed Omar and conquered first the province of Herat and then the whole country by September 1996, overthrowing the Burhanuddin Rabbani regime, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and making Kandahar the capital.

Its tyrannical rule, marked by the massacre of opponents, the denial of UN food supplies to starving citizens and the oppression of women, was brought to an abrupt end by US-led coalition forces in December 2001 in retaliation for Osama Bin Laden’s devastating al-Qaeda terror strike on the World Trade Center in New York City, which killed 2,996 people and left 25,000 injured.

Since then, Taliban fighters have regrouped as an insurgency and continued to battle to retake Afghanistan from US peacekeeping forces ever since.

Isis meanwhile was first formed by Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 1999 before rising to global prominence when it drove Iraqi forces out of key cities in the west of the country in 2014 – having declared itself a worldwide caliphate – and later conquered swathes of eastern Syria before ultimately surrendering Mosul and Raqqa in 2017 when international forces intervened.

It established the ISKP in the Nangarhar Province of eastern Afghanistan in January 2015, actively recruiting defectors from the Taliban, in particular those who were disconttented with their own leadership’s lack of success on the battlefield.

How have their respective factions interacted?

The formation of ISKP prompted Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour to write a letter to his Isis counterpart, Abu Bakr al-

More battles erupted in April 2017 when ISKP captured three drug dealers selling opium to raise funds for the Taliban in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan and again in May 2017 when 22 militants were killed in clashes between the two sides along the Iranian border.

The Taliban launched an offensive to clear Isis out of Jowzjan the following summer, with the the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan joining in on the latter’s side, as up to 7,000 people were displaced from their homes.

That July’s conflict ended in a significant defeat for ISKP, who suffered further setbacks in skirmishes the following year before being almost entirely eradicated by the US and the Afghan military in late 2019, although the Council for Foreign Relations estimates that there are still 2,200 members of ISKP still active in Afghanistan.

In February 2020, the Donald Trump administration signed its dubious peace accord with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which saw the latter group pledge to keep other Islamist extremists, including Isis, out of the country.

Why are we asking this now?

Afghanistan is again in a state of turmoil after the Taliban recaptured the capital city of Kabul on Sunday, declaring the country an Islamic Emirate once more after president Ashraf Ghani abandoned the presidential palace and fled to Tajikistan.

The operation followed swiftly on from the withdrawal of American troops from the country last month at the order of US president Joe Biden, their exit coming almost 20 years after the US military drove the same faction out of Kabul at the outset of George W Bush’s War on Terror in response to 9/11.

Biden expressed his determination not to hand the responsibility for policing Afghanistan on to a fifth commander-in-chief following the completion of his own tenure in the White House and trusted in the Afghan military, in whom the US had invested almost $1trn over two decades, to keep the Taliban at bay.

“The fact of the matter is we’ve seen that that force has been unable to defend the country… and that has happened more quickly than we anticipated,” US secretary of state Anthony Blinken lamented on Sunday.

Amid the chaotic scenes in Kabul as people fled for the airports was the alarming sight of 5,000 escaped prisoners walking free from the Pul-e-Charki prison on Bagram air base, occupied by the Americans until recently, with alleged Isis and al-Qaeda fighters present among their number.

Speaking on NPR’s All Things Considered last week, former US defence secretary Leon Panetta gave this blunt assessment of the disaster unfolding: “The Taliban are terrorists, and they’re going to support terrorists. If they take control of Afghanistan, there is no question in my mind that they will provide a safe haven for al-Qaeda, for Isis and for terrorism in general. And that constitutes, frankly, a national security threat to the United States.”

Baghdadi, calling on him to abandon his recruitment drive of the disaffected and arguing that any war for their comparable cause in Afghanistan should be carried out under Taliban leadership.

Fighting duly broke out between the two sides that June 2015 and between two separate factions of the Taliban in the Zabul Province that November over whether or not to join forces with ISIS. INDEPENDENT




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1/3 of Israel’s Older Population Has Received COVID-19 Booster Shot as Delta Cases Rise

1/3 of Israel’s Older Population Has Received COVID-19 Booster Shot as Delta Cases Rise
An Israeli medical worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine during a campaign by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality to encourage the vaccination of teenagers on July 5 in Tel Aviv. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Over one-third of Israel’s older population has received a COVID-19 booster shot, as the country rushes to administer additional vaccine doses to counter the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that over 420,000 Israelis older than 60 have so far received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. According to government statistics, that number is expected to exceed half a million by the end of the day, the Associated Press reported.

Israel began rolling out COVID-19 booster shots to its older population last weekend, after health officials reported new data indicating a decline in vaccine protection over time. The country had previously offered a third dose of the vaccine to some people with compromised immune systems, such as individuals with cancer.

The latest rollout comes as hospitalizations and daily case counts continue to rise due to the delta variant. Last week, Israel began recording an average of more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases a day, with 250 people in serious condition. That marks its worst outbreak since April, according to Agence France-Presse.

On Saturday, the country recorded 4,211 new cases and 19 new deaths. In response to the latest outbreak, the government recently moved to reinstated its mask mandate for indoor settings and is now weighing more restrictions.

Israel quickly became a world leader in vaccinating against the virus during its initial public campaign. By Sunday, nearly 60 percent of the country’s 9.3 million population has been fully vaccinated, with more eligible people now rushing to receive a third vaccine dose.

Israel booster shot
Over one-third of Israel’s older population has received a COVID-19 booster shot, as the country rushes to administer additional vaccine doses to counter the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. In this photo, Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accompanies his mother Myrna Bennett as she receives her third COVID-19 vaccine shot, at a Maccabi Healthcare Services clinic in the northern city of Haifa on August 3, 2021. POOL / AFP/Getty Images

While most vaccine makers and researchers agree that booster shots will be needed to provide additional protection against the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) last week called for a moratorium on the use of third doses until the end of September in order to address inequalities in global vaccine distribution.

In response to the moratorium, Bennett said Thursday that Israel was doing the world a “great service” by administering the booster shots.

“Israel is going ahead here with something that dramatically contributes to global knowledge,” he said in a Facebook broadcast. “Without us, the world wouldn’t know the exact efficacy levels of the booster shots, wouldn’t know the dates, how much they affect infections, how they affect severe illness,” he added.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve of the use of coronavirus vaccine boosters for the American public. However, data from the CDC indicates that an increasing number of Americans are using dishonest means to receive a third jab.

Moderna has estimated that a COVID-19 vaccine booster could ready for use in the U.S. by the winter, and Pfizer is said to be preparing a booster shot for FDA approval soon.

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Israel attacks Hamas sites in Gaza in response to fire balloons

Israel attacks Hamas sites in Gaza in response to fire balloons
The Israeli military said its air raids were in 'response to continual launches of incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel throughout the day' [File: Jack Guez/AFP]

Palestinians say the balloons aim to pressure Israel to ease restrictions on the coastal enclave that were tightened in May.

Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip on Saturday in response to incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave, Israel’s military said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage from the attack that targeted what the Israeli military said was a rocket launching site and a compound belonging to Hamas, the political group that governs Gaza.

Hamas had no immediate comment.

A social media post by New Press publication, showed streaks of lights coming from Gaza, as shots were fired targeting Israeli planes in retaliation of the attack.

New Press also reported that three sites were targeted by Israel including Beit Hanoun and Jabalya.

Since a May 21 ceasefire ended 11 days of Israel-Hamas fighting, Palestinians in Gaza have sporadically launched balloons laden with incendiary material across the border, causing fires that have burned fields in Israel.

The incendiary balloons have been used previously in response to the tightening of Israel’s blockade on the coastal enclave, after new restrictions were issued during Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in May.

Balloon launches had mostly ebbed after Israel eased some restrictions on Gaza.

But on Friday, balloons were again launched from Gaza, causing at least four brush fires in areas near the Israel-Gaza frontier.

The Israeli military said its air raids were in “response to continual launches of incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel throughout the day”.

The blazes along the Gaza frontier broke out on Friday as Israel separately traded fire over its northern border with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, in a third day of cross-border salvoes amid wider regional tensions with Iran.

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