With visit, Hamas makes overture to Syria
DAMASCUS, Syria -- Two senior officials from the Palestinian militant Hamas group visited Syria's capital Wednesday in the first such visit since the faction was forced to leave the war-torn country a decade ago over backing armed opposition fighters.
The visit appears to be a first step toward full reconciliation between Hamas and the Syrian government and follows a monthslong mediation by Iran and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group -- both key backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Over the years, Tehran and the Iran-backed Hezbollah have maintained their relations with Hamas, despite Assad's rift with the Palestinian militants.
Before the rift, Hamas had long kept a political base in Syria, receiving Damascus' support in its campaign against Israel. Hamas' powerful leadership-in-exile remained in Syria even after the group took power in the Gaza Strip in 2007.
But when Syria tipped into civil war, Hamas broke with Assad and sided with the rebels fighting to oust him. The rebels are largely Sunni Muslims, like Hamas, and scenes of Sunni civilian deaths raised an outcry across the region against Assad, who belongs to the Alawites, a minority Shiite sect in Syria.
"The new rapprochement is a belated recognition on the part of Hamas that all roads to continuing Iranian assistance lead to Damascus," said Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations and Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics. "Hamas bit the bullet. Assad's political gain is Hamas' moral loss."
WHO: Use 1 cholera dose amid shortage
GENEVA -- The World Health Organization and its partners are recommending that countries temporarily switch to using a single dose of the cholera vaccine instead of two due to a supply shortage as outbreaks of the water-borne disease surge globally.
In a statement on Wednesday, the U.N. agency and partners that include UNICEF and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said one dose of vaccine has proven effective in stopping outbreaks "even though evidence on the exact duration of protection is limited" and appears to be lower in children.
WHO and partner agencies manage a stockpile of cholera vaccines that are dispensed free to countries that need them.
"This last-resort decision is a way to avoid making the impossible choice of sending doses to one country over another," said Dr. Daniela Garone, international medical coordinator at Doctors Without Borders, one of WHO's partners in managing the global cholera vaccine stockpile.
Uganda readying to try Ebola vaccine
KAMPALA, Uganda -- Experimental Ebola vaccines will be deployed in Uganda in about "two weeks," a World Health Organization official said Wednesday, as the East African country carried out tough preventive measures that include a lockdown in the Ebola-hit areas.
Potentially hundreds of thousands of trial vaccine doses will buttress a response effort that still must focus on tracing Ebola contacts and community engagement, Dr. Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the WHO representative in Uganda, told The Associated Press.
Vaccines developed by the U.S.-based Sabin Vaccine Institute and Oxford University "are ready to be shipped" to Uganda, which is finalizing protocols for the study before the National Drug Authority issues import permits, he said.
The Sudan strain of Ebola, for which there's no proven vaccine, is circulating in Uganda. Ebola, which manifests as a viral hemorrhagic fever, has infected at least 60 people and killed 24.
The Oxford vaccine is being produced by the Serum Institute of India, which has indicated it can eventually make hundreds of thousands of doses available, according to Yonas, who is closely following Uganda's Ebola response.
Koreas continue live-fire drills, tensions
SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea fired about 100 more artillery shells toward the sea Wednesday in response to South Korean live-firing drills at border areas as the rivals accuse each other of dialing up tensions on the Korean Peninsula with weapons tests.
The drills conducted by both sides come amid heightened animosities over recent North Korean missile tests that it calls simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets.
South Korea's military detected the artillery being fired from a western North Korean coastal town, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. On Tuesday night, North Korea fired about 100 shells off its west coast and 150 rounds off its east coast, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said earlier.
Both days, the North Korean shells landed in the northern parts of the maritime buffer zones the two Koreas created off their eastern and western coasts as part of agreements they made in 2018 to reduce tensions, according to the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
North Korea also fired hundreds of shells at the buffer zones Friday in its most significant direct violation of the 2018 agreement.