3 US troops killed, 35 injured in drone attack in Jordan

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 29th January 2024

Three US Army soldiers were killed and at least 35 others were injured in a drone attack on a small US outpost in Jordan. At least another 34 personnel were being evaluated for possible traumatic brain injury, a US official told Reuters.

The incident marks the first instance of US troops being killed by enemy fire in the Middle East since the start of the Gaza war. The attack targeted Tower 22 in Jordan, near the Syrian border, escalating an already-precarious situation in the region. According to US officials, the drone was launched by Iran-backed militants and seemed to originate from Syria.

US President Joe Biden vowed to hold those responsible to account. As of last Friday, over 158 attacks had been reported on US and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria. It remains unclear why air defences failed to intercept the drone in this particular incident.

GOP hawks press Biden to target Iran directly

Analysts said the US now needs to be seen to do more to protect the lives of its servicemen and women. The President’s critics are already exploiting this crisis to accuse him again of being “soft on Iran”. President Biden is facing calls from congressional hawks to escalate attacks on Iran-linked targets, including within Iran itself, in response to the deaths of the three US service members in a drone attack in Jordan.

“The head of the snake is Iran,” Republican Senator Don Bacon, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and former Air Force brigadier general, told Axios. Heeding those calls would risk significantly expanding and drawing the US further into an already growing regional conflict that has sprung up as a result of the Israel-Hamas war.

“This brazen attack on the United States is yet another horrible and tragic consequence of the weakness and surrender of Joe Biden,” Donald Trump wrote on his social network Truth, stating that with him as President there would have been no war in Ukraine, the attack of Hamas on Israel, and this attack.” He warned that now, instead, “we are on the brink of the third world war”.

Photo: Kent Nishimura / AFP

“Significant gaps” remain in hostage deal talks

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday confirmed that a four-way meeting between the US, Israel, Qatar, and Egypt took place “in Europe” to discuss a potential deal to free all Israeli hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a two-month ceasefire. However, while the discussions were “constructive”, Netanyahu’s office added, “there are still significant gaps that the sides will discuss this week in additional meetings.”

CIA Director Bill Burns discussed the contours of the emerging agreement in France with David Barnea, the head of the Mossad intelligence agency, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel. Israel also sent Ronen Bar, the head of the Shin Ben security service, as well as IDF hostage envoy Nitzan Alon, to the summit.

Two senior US officials told The Associated Press on Saturday that American negotiators were making progress on the agreement. The officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations, told the AP that emerging terms of the yet-to-be-sealed deal would play out over two phases. The New York Times also reported on Saturday that progress had been made.

While the proposed deal would not end the war, US officials are hopeful that such an agreement could lay the groundwork for a durable resolution to the conflict. Netanyahu has faced increasing pressure from the families of many hostages, who are demanding a deal to win their loved ones’ release. Weekly rallies in Tel Aviv have called for a deal, including one held on Saturday night.

Photo: Leo Correa / Associated Press

12 Israeli ministers at conference on Gaza colonisation

Thousands of religious nationalists have gathered in Jerusalem to participate in a conference for the Jewish colonisation of Gaza: a demonstration which, according to the settlers’ radio channel Canale 7, was attended by 12 ministers – including Likud ministers Miki Zohar, Haim Katz, and May Golan – and 15 of the 120 deputies.

“Gaza,” said one of the speakers, “is part of the Land of Israel. Where the Jewish plow digs its furrow, there passes our border.” On the podium there is a large map showing the Jewish settlements removed from Gaza in 2005 by Ariel Sharon and those that the nationalists would like to build now.

Minister for National Security (and leader of the far-right ‘Jewish Power’ party) Itamar Ben Gvir expressed himself in favour of the “voluntary emigration” of Palestinians from Gaza. “We must encourage them,” he said, amid applause from the audience, “that they leave here. We must return to Gush Katif (the Jewish settlement area in the south of the Gaza strip evacuated by Sharon) and to the north of the West Bank. We must do it because this is the Torah, this is morality, this is historical justice, and this is what is appropriate to do.”

Participating in the conference are, among others, Rabbis Dov Lior and Elyakim Levanon, two historical leaders of the settler movement.

Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Guterres urges continued support for UNRWA

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on donor states to “guarantee the continuity” of the operations of the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA). The plea came after multiple countries paused their funding for the organisation following Israeli allegations that some of the agency’s staff were involved in the attacks on Israel carried out by Hamas militants on 7th October.

“While I understand their concerns – I was myself horrified by these accusations – I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” Guterres said in a statement. He also vowed that “any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”

Israel released what it called “firm evidence” showing that a dozen of the organisation’s employees in Gaza participated in the massacre of 1,200 Israeli citizens by Hamas members on 7th October .

Israel’s UN envoy locks horns with Guterres

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, fired back at Guterres’ call for countries to renew their funding for UNRWA. “The UN Secretary-General has proven once again that the security of the citizens of Israel is not really important for him,” Erdan said. “After years in which he ignored the evidence presented to him personally about UNRWA’s support and involvement in incitement and terrorism, and before he conducted a comprehensive investigation to locate all Hamas terrorists in UNRWA, he called to fund an organisation that is deeply contaminated with terrorism.”

Erdan said every country that continues to fund the agency before a comprehensive investigation can be conducted should be aware that the money may be used for terrorism. He also said the aid transferred to UNRWA could reach Hamas terrorists instead of the people who need it in Gaza. “I call on all donor states to suspend their support and demand an in-depth investigation that will investigate the involvement of all UNRWA employees in terror,” the ambassador said.

Still, not all countries are on board: in a statement on Sunday, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Espen Barth Eide, said his country would continue funding UNRWA. “The people of Gaza urgently need humanitarian assistance and must not pay the price for the actions of others,” Eide added.

Photo: EPA-EFE/PETER FOLEY

11 nations now suspend funds to UNRWA

Japan and France have became the latest two countries to suspend funding for the embattled agency. They joined Germany, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, the United States, Australia, and Canada.

“These decisions threaten our ongoing humanitarian work across the region, including and especially in the Gaza Strip,” the organisation’s head, Philippe Lazzarini, said on Saturday. He added that two million people in Gaza depend on aid from the UNRWA and that this operation is now “collapsing”. The UN agency employs around 13,000 people in the besieged territory and has been the main source of humanitarian aid for Gaza’s population.

Photo: UNRWA

Pope calls for an end to wars, urges respect for civilians

Pope Francis has again urged respect for civilians in conflict areas and said people were tired of wars, which he called a “disaster for the peoples and a defeat for humanity”. At his weekly Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square, the Pope said humanitarian aid must be allowed to flow in Myanmar and said the population must be respected also in the Middle East, hit by the war between Israel and Hamas. He also mentioned the suffering of people in Ukraine. Francis also said he learned “with relief” that a group of people, including six nuns, had been freed in Haiti after nearly a week in captivity. Last week, he had called for their release.

Photo: Vatican Media handout via Reuters

Stubb wins first round of Finnish presidential election

Former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb won the first round of Finland’s presidential election on Sunday, official data showed as 99 per cent of votes were counted. Stubb will face runner-up former Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto in a runoff next month. According to election officials, Stubb won 27.1 per cent of votes, while Haavisto secured 25.8 per cent. Initial voter turnout was 74.9 per cent. While the President’s powers are limited, the head of state helps direct foreign and security policy in collaboration with the government. The president also acts as supreme commander of Finland’s armed forces and represents the country at NATO meetings.

Photo: Markku Ulander / Associated Press

AfD loses run-off in first vote since mass-deportation story

Christian Herrgott of the conservative CDU beat out far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) candidate Uwe Thrum in a regional run-off election in the eastern German state of Thuringia on Sunday. The vote was viewed by political observers as a barometer for the AfD’s popularity at a time when damaging headlines may have dented its alarming nationwide momentum.

AfD candidate Thrum had led the race safely before the Correctiv report was released — he had dominated the general election two weeks ago with 45.7 per cent of the vote compared to Herrgott’s 33.3 per cent — but only gained 47.6 per cent of the vote to Herrgott’s 52.4 per cent on Sunday.

The vote was the first since Correctiv, an investigative journalism outfit, published a report outlining a November meeting in which AfD politicians and far-right extremists discussed plans for the mass deportation of foreigners and unassimilated German citizens should they come to power. The story sparked outrage and led to numerous rallies across the country in which more than one million people turned out to demonstrate against right-wing extremism and for democracy.

Protesters throw soup at Mona Lisa

Two female activists threw soup at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre on Sunday in a protest over food security and protections for farmers. The Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, which is fortified behind armoured glass, was not damaged.

“What’s the most important thing?” the women shouted in French to a crowd of onlookers after tossing soup at the painting. “Art, or the right to healthy and sustainable food? Our farming system is sick,” they said. “Our farmers are dying at work.”

Videos and photos of the incident that went viral Sunday morning showed the protective barrier of the Mona Lisa covered in streaks of orange soup. Members of the Louvre’s security entered the Salle des Etats, where the painting is displayed, and video footage showed them blocking the women with black screens before removing them from the area. Paris police made two arrests following the incident, according to the Associated Press.

Florence Pugh reveals awkward fact about Oppenheimer sex scene

Florence Pugh has revealed a behind-the-scenes Oppenheimer fact “no one” knows about. The 28-year-old actress opened up about an uncomfortable moment that occurred while shooting a sex scene for the film during a panel discussion with her co-stars Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt.

Recalling one of the controversial sex scenes between her character Jean Tatlock and Murphy’s J. Robert Oppenheimer, the British actress said they were left idle and completely naked on-set after a technical difficulty saw a camera stop working. “In the middle of our sex scene, the camera broke. No one knows this, but it did. Our camera broke when we were both naked, and it was not ideal timing. Cillian and I are in this room together. It’s a closed set, so we’re both holding our bodies like this,” the actress said while demonstrating holding her hands over her body to conceal herself.

Oppenheimer came under criticism for including sex scenes, with some countries choosing to censor Pugh’s naked body. A screenshot of a certain scene began circulating on social media after the movie’s July release in which Pugh, who originally sat topless in a hotel room chair while she and the physicist have a conversation about their affair, instead appears to be wearing a CGI-created black dress. This censored version was released in places such as the Middle East and India. According to Variety, it is not unusual for films to receive edits in more conservative countries. If they don’t receive edits, they risk being banned from the market, as seen with recent Disney films West Side Story and Eternals, when Disney refused to edit out the LGBTQIA+ characters for Middle Eastern audiences.

This development comes after news that Oppenheimer has been nominated for a total of 13 Academy Awards, including a nod for Emily Blunt, who landed her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Murphy also received his first nomination for Best Actor.

Tennis: Sinner rallies from 2 sets down to win the Australian Open final

Jannik Sinner rallied from two sets down to take the Australian Open final from Daniil Medvedev 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 on Sunday and clinch his first Grand Slam title. The 22-year-old Sinner was playing in a major final for the first time and got there by ending Novak Djokovic’s long domination of the tournament in a semifinal upset. He’s the first Italian to win the Australian Open title.

For 2021 US Open champion Medvedev, the loss was his fifth in six major finals. The third-seeded Medvedev set a record with his fourth five-set match of the tournament and time on court at a major in the Open era, surpassing Carlos Alcaraz’s 23:40 at the 2022 US Open. Medvedev lost back-to-back finals to Djokovic in 2021 and to Rafael Nadal – after holding a two-set lead – the following year. He won three five-set matches to reach the championship match this time and had two comebacks from two sets down. Sinner only dropped one set through six rounds – in a third-set tiebreaker against Djokovic – until his five-set comeback win on Sunday.

On Saturday, Aryna Sabalenka claimed back-to-back Australian Open titles with a straight-sets victory over Qinwen Zheng in Melbourne. The World No 2 sealed a dominant tournament defence with a 6-3 6-2 victory against the 12th seed Zheng, who was playing in a grand slam final for the first time. Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden won the Men’s Doubles final defeating Italy’s Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori in straight sets 7-6, 7-5 in a thrilling encounter. The winners of the 2024 women’s doubles final were Hsieh Su-wei and Elise Mertens. They defeated Lyudmyla Kichenok and Jeļena Ostapenko in the final with a score of 6-1, 7-5.

Former China football head goes on trial

The former head of China’s top sporting body, Chen Xuyuan, is to stand trial for bribery today, Beijing’s state media said, as an anti-corruption drive sweeps up once-major players in the sport. As president of the China Football Association, Chen was placed under investigation last February for “serious violations of discipline and the law”. He was indicted in September for corruption, confessing in the TV documentary to having accepted large sums from those wishing to get in his good graces. This month he appeared in a televised documentary in which former Chinese national football team coach Li Tie said he paid Chen two million yuan (€128,400) in bribes to secure the top job.

Main photo: KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP via Getty Images

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