Devastation in Gaza

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EVEN TAKING into account John Prescott’s penchant for exaggeration, any dispassionate observer viewing the pictures of devastation in Gaza and reading of the death toll among Palestinian civilians will feel inclined to agree with the former Deputy Prime Minister’s conclusion that Israel’s response to Hamas missile attacks is “brutally disproportionate”.

It is impossible to criticise Israel, however, without first criticising Hamas, the Islamic organisation whose military rule in Gaza – from which Israel withdrew nine years ago – has resulted in a near constant rain of rockets on the Jewish state. Indeed, it is entirely down to the effectiveness of Israel’s state-of-the-art defences that there are no pictures of devastated Israeli towns and no burgeoning Israeli casualty rate.

It is also important to point out that Hamas’s missile batteries are almost always sited in densely populated areas and that, the more carnage that ensues from Israeli attacks, the greater the propaganda value to Hamas’s cause.

That very point, however, illustrates how Israel had lost the propaganda war even before it started its latest assault. And as for its wider war aims, unless Israel intends to take out every single Hamas missile site, shedding even more civilian blood in the process, it is impossible to see this scenario ending in anything other than the usual way – a tenuous truce which will hold only until carnage breaks out again.

Of course, if Barack Obama were not giving the impression that foreign affairs were somehow beneath him, or if traditional power-brokers such as Egypt were not preoccupied with their own internal conflicts, there might be hope for some wider negotiations. As things stand, however, and as long as Hamas remains in power, it is impossible to see any light at the end of this dismal tunnel.

Bradford’s cancer breakthrough

IT IS now more than half-a-century since Bradford played a pioneering role in the use of chemotherapy, but it is testament to the legacy of that work that the city now stands at the forefront of a new development in the enduring war on cancer.

As a result of a new blood test, developed by researchers at Bradford University, doctors will be able to identify those suffering from diseases such as melanoma, colon cancer and lung cancer and put them on a fast track to much earlier treatment.

Although the full effectiveness of this test is still being evaluated, there is no doubt that it marks a major breakthrough, not merely in the treatment of cancer sufferers but also in saving those who do not have the disease from unnecessary and often unpleasant hospital tests, thereby also saving the health service a considerable amount of time and money.

At a time when medical advances are frequently cited as a reason why the NHS must constantly deal with higher demand and ever higher costs, here is evidence that is not always the case and that the ever advancing march of science, a cost-saver as well as a life-saver, must always be encouraged.

Motorists driven to distraction

FEW MOTORISTS will be surprised by the findings of the latest RAC survey, showing parking charges steadily increasing in towns and cities, while the amount of parking available continues to shrink.

For many drivers, these findings are a daily reality which results not in increased use of frequently inadequate public transport – the aim frequently touted as the justification for council parking policies – but in congestion, confusion, regular recourse to out-of-town retail parks and the continued economic decline of town centres.

Local authorities might come closer to winning the public-relations battle if they could convince motorists that money paid in parking charges and fines was all spent on road improvements and new car parks.

But the reality is that, no matter how many times the Local Government Association insists parking revenue goes to support parking services, motorists refuse to believe that this means anything other than paying for more traffic wardens and increasing the wages of parking managers in the town hall.

Nor is the mood of drivers likely to improve unless they see tangible evidence of more parking spaces being created and these survey findings suggest that the opposite is the case.

This issue is about far more than placating angry motorists, however. Much more important is the need to make town and city centres inviting and rewarding places to visit and to ensure that access to them is simple and cheap. The issue of parking is only part of this huge task. But it is a very important part.