The square in front of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris has been closed to the public after tests again revealed high concentrations of toxic lead particles, the Paris police department said Tuesday.
The fire that ravaged the 13th-century monument two years ago melted some 300 tonnes of lead panelling in the roof, spewing the metal across large swathes of the city.
Exposure risks prompted authorities to forbid access to several areas and even some schools during extensive clean-up operations, with blood tests urged for children and pregnant women.
The square was reopened a few weeks after the fire, with officials promising regular testing of the site.
"Results from the most recent tests showed lead dust concentrations higher than the normal levels for Paris at certain points in the square," the police department said in a statement.
It will reopen after a new cleaning operation and "all readings are back to sufficiently low levels", it said.
While the spire collapsed and much of the roof was destroyed on the evening of April 15, 2019, the efforts of firefighters ensured the great medieval edifice survived the blaze.
But the lead risks delayed work on clearing debris and launching the restoration effort for the gothic landmark, which President Emmanuel Macron wants open for visitors in time for Paris's hosting of the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the blaze, but they have said an accident, possibly caused by a short circuit or discarded cigarette butt, remains the most likely explanation.
© 2021 AFP
Israeli airstrikes in the center of the occupied Gaza Strip on Monday caused severe damage to the territory's lone coronavirus testing lab and the offices of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, an attack that was immediately condemned as a war crime.
"The international community must hold the occupation accountable for its heinous and ongoing crimes against medical personnel and health institutions."
—Dr. Yousef Abu al-Rish, Palestinian Ministry of Health
Citing eyewitnesses to the bombing, Middle East Eye reported that Israeli war planes hit the six-story Ghazi al-Shwwa building with "at least three missiles, completely destroying the upper floors."
MEE noted that the bombing damaged "dozens of adjacent buildings, including Gaza's main coronavirus laboratory, an orphanage, a female high school, and the Palestinian Ministry of Health offices."
"If the Ministry of Health is not safe, then there is no safe place in the Gaza Strip," said Abu Hamed Abufoul, an eyewitness to the airstrikes. "This is a war crime and the world cannot remain silent."
Speaking in front of the impacted buildings on Monday, Dr. Yousef Abu al-Rish—the undersecretary of Gaza's health ministry—said the Israeli attack rendered the testing facility inoperable, badly wounded several health workers, and disrupted the territory's ability to administer Covid-19 vaccines, compounding the difficulties caused by Israel's blockade.
"Targeting the Ministry of Health building, al-Remal Clinic, and the medical staff is a heinous crime aimed at preventing the ministry from continuing its humanitarian work in saving the lives of the wounded and providing health care to citizens," al-Rish said. "The international community must hold the occupation accountable for its heinous and ongoing crimes against medical personnel and health institutions."
"Horrifying," MSNBC's Mehdi Hasan tweeted in response to the bombing. "It was bad enough when Palestinians in Gaza weren't able to get vaccinated, but now to reportedly lose their only coronavirus testing lab is... beyond words."
The airstrikes came shortly after Israeli bombs killed two of Gaza's senior doctors, including one of the officials leading the besieged territory's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
As the Washington Post reported last week, Israel's latest assault—which has thus far killed more than 200 people and injured at least 1,300 in the occupied coastal strip—began as coronavirus infections and deaths in Gaza had started to decline after reaching record highs in April.
"The horrendous attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure that we are witnessing in Gaza are inexcusable and intolerable."
—Ely Sok, Médecins Sans Frontières
"The violence has had an immediate effect: Medical facilities, triaging the flood of new injuries, have for the most part paused coronavirus testing and vaccinations," the Post noted. "And a crop of hospitalized Covid-19 patients who were nearing recovery were released over the past two days to make room for the growing number of war wounded."
On Sunday, a wave of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City that killed 42 people also damaged a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic that treats trauma and burn wounds, prompting outrage from the organization's staff.
Ely Sok, MSF's head of mission for the occupied Palestinian territories, said in a statement Monday that "the horrendous attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure that we are witnessing in Gaza are inexcusable and intolerable."
"The number of wounded and displaced people is mounting while additional humanitarian personnel and supplies still cannot enter Gaza," said Sok. "The local health authority is reporting being 24 hours away from running out of blood bags, meaning they cannot transfuse patients with blood, a key intervention in caring for war-wounded."
"Israel needs to stop these attacks in the heart of Gaza, as we have seen time and again that they kill civilians no matter how 'targeted' they are, as in such a densely populated place it is not possible to limit the effects of the bombing," Sok continued. "Safe access for humanitarian staff and supplies also needs to be urgently arranged."
During a Monday call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who has pledged to keep up the bombardment of Gaza indefinitely—U.S. President Joe Biden expressed support for a cease-fire amid growing pressure from the international community. A day earlier, the U.S. single-handedly blocked the release of a United Nations Security Council statement demanding an immediate cease-fire.
"Finally!" U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted in response to Biden's new position. "Our delay in supporting a cease-fire has caused the slaughter of children and destruction of lives. Now Biden has to push for an end to the occupation."
The murder trial of notorious US real estate scion Robert Durst, who is accused of killing his best friend to prevent her talking to police about his wife's disappearance, resumed in Los Angeles Monday after a 14-month delay.
Durst, a multi-millionaire who was the subject of explosive HBO documentary "The Jinx," has pleaded not guilty to the charge that he shot Susan Berman in the back of the head in 2000 at her Beverly Hills home.
The trial was halted after just two days of testimony last year due to the spread of Covid-19 in California, and Durst's lawyer Monday complained about obstacles created by the long delay and continuing impact of the pandemic on courtrooms, as well as 78-year-old Durst's health.
Dismissing an emergency motion to postpone again, Judge Mark Windham said the defense "has had at least five years to prepare for every contingency in this case."
Durst -- who did not attend on Monday morning -- is an estranged member of one of New York's wealthiest and most powerful real estate dynasties.
Prosecutors allege he murdered Berman, a crime writer, in December 2000 to prevent her from being questioned by New York police over the disappearance of his wife Kathleen in 1982.
Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, had acted as a spokeswoman for Durst after he became a suspect in Kathleen's disappearance.
Durst was never charged in his wife's case, but was arrested in March 2015 in a New Orleans hotel room in connection with Berman's murder, hours before the final episode of the HBO documentary "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst" aired.
In the documentary's stunning finale, Durst is heard muttering to himself, "There it is, you're caught" and "Killed them all, of course" -- apparently unaware that a microphone remained switched on while he used the restroom.
The series also delved into the 2001 death of Durst's neighbor in Texas, who was found dismembered. Durst admitted dismembering the neighbor but claimed the killing was self-defense, and was acquitted.
The HBO filmmakers confronted Durst with a letter he once sent to Berman in handwriting similar to a cryptic note received by police locating Berman's body.
When the trial opened last year, Durst's defense team said their client had written the note to police after finding Berman's body and panicking, but argued this did not mean he killed her.
The trial in Los Angeles is expected to last several months, but Judge Windham on Monday granted a separate hearing on Durst's health for the coming weeks, and began speaking with jurors to ensure they can continue.
Durst's attorney listed "a myriad of conditions" afflicting Durst including cancer, breathing difficulties, anemia, spinal disease and neurological problems.
The judge said there is "no evidence that Mr. Durst is mentally incompetent," and delaying trials due to chronic ailments would essentially make some defendants "immune from criminal prosecution."
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