“Deal on ceasefire, hostage release” – Israeli media

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Friday, 26th January 2024

Israel and Hamas have reached a basic understanding on most of the terms of the agreement regarding the ceasefire and the release of hostages, according to the influential Israaeli daily Haaretz, citing a source familiar with the negotiations. It writes that the agreement is expected to last 35 days, during which all the Israeli hostages would be released. In exchange, Israel would release Palestinian prisoners and provide humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. According to the source, the only unresolved question is whether a full ceasefire will be declared in the agreement – a Hamas demand that Israel rejects. The Haaretz source added that the criteria for the release of Palestinian prisoners has already been determined, but their identity is still in question. He added that “there may be other small changes in the scheme, but the main problem to be resolved concerns the absolute ceasefire that Hamas insists on”.

20 dead, 150 injured as Israelis fire on crowd waiting for food

Meanwhile, Hamas accuses the Israeli military of indescriminately firing on a crowd waiting for humanitarian aid in Gaza City, “causing a massacre”, with at least 20 dead and 150 injured.

“We are checking,” was the first cautious response filtered out by the army, which has been accused several times in this conflict of not doing enough to protect civilians. A World Health Organisation official described the food situation as “absolutely horrific” and humanitarian workers said rare deliveries of aid were mobbed by desperate people who were visibly starving, with sunken eyes.

Witnesses interviewed by foreign journalists on site assured that they had been targeted by the Israelis, while numerous victims were taken to Al Shifa and Al Ahli hospitals. CNN also referred to a video in which dozens of people could be seen fleeing, with the sound of gunshots in the distance, in the same area where the Israeli attack allegedly occurred. Israel neither confirmed nor denied, other than the army’s indication that the allegations were taking place.

The US has had reason to express “concern”, with the White House reminding Israel that it “retains the responsibility to protect civilians, including humanitarian personnel and sites”. The Jewish state, however, has returned to lashing out against the UN, in particular the WHO, accusing it of “ignoring the evidence” that the militiamen use the hospitals of the Strip “for terrorist purposes”.

Photo: Abed Zagout/Anadolu via Getty Images

Israelis, Palestinians continue to protest

Protests by the population, both Israeli and Palestinian, also continue. In Khan Yunis hundreds of people marched with white flags calling for peace and displaying empty water tanks. Hamas is also in the crosshairs because it would profit from international aid. On the Israeli side, at the Kerem Shalom crossing, the transit of humanitarian convoys was blocked for the second consecutive day by the hostages’ families, who are demanding the release of their relatives. Most of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million population is now squeezed into Khan Younis and towns just north and south of it, after being driven out of Gaza’s northern half earlier in Israel’s military campaign, now in its fourth month.

Photo: Eli Katzoff/Times of Israel

CIA Chief to try to reach agreements

Precisely to break this impasse, Joe Biden has decided to entrust the dossier into the hands of William Burns, the head of the CIA. According to Washington Post, he will, in the next few days, meet the heads of Israeli and Egyptian intelligence and the prime minister of Qatar. For the head of American intelligence, the road promises to be uphill, because relations between Israel and the Arab countries most involved in mediation appear frosty, as demonstrated by the recent tensions between Benjamin Netanyahu and the Doha government.

Photo: Bonnie Cash/UPI

Top UN court to rule on landmark Israel-Gaza genocide case

The International Court of Justice hands down an initial decision later today in a case against Israel over alleged genocide in Gaza – a landmark ruling closely watched in the Middle East and around the world. The court could order Israel to stop its military campaign in Gaza or to facilitate humanitarian aid. The court will not, however, pass judgement on whether or not Israel is actually committing genocide in Gaza. At this stage, the ICJ will hand down emergency orders before considering the wider accusation of genocidal acts in Gaza, a process that will likely take years.

Hamas has already made it known that it will respect a possible truce, but only if Israel does too. Israel, meanwhile, displayed confidence: “We expect the Court to reject the false accusations.” However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already suggested he does not feel bound by the court, saying “no one will stop us – not The Hague, not the Axis of Evil, and no one else”.

The ICJ’s rulings are binding on all parties, but it has no mechanism to enforce them. Sometimes they are completely ignored – the court has ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine, for example.

Photo: Remko de Waal / ANP/AFP

Russia, Ukraine argue over warning about PoW flight

Ukrainian military intelligence had been given a 15-minute warning before a Russian military transport plane carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war entered an area where it was shot down, killing all on board, a senior Russian MP says. Moscow accuses Kyiv of shooting down the Ilyushin Il-76 plane in Russia’s Belgorod region, killing 74 people on board, including 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers en route to be exchanged for Russian PoWs. Russia said on Thursday the plane was struck by a Ukrainian-made surface-to-air missile.

Ukraine denied it was given a warning. It has neither confirmed nor denied that its forces downed the plane but has challenged details of Moscow’s account and called for an international investigation. The UN Security Council met on Thursday at the request of Russia to discuss the incident. The UN is not in a position to verify the circumstances of the crash, UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the Council. “What is clear is that the incident took place in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ongoing war,” she said. “To avoid further escalation, we urge all concerned to refrain from actions, rhetoric, or allegations that could further fuel the already dangerous conflict.”

Photo: Russian Investigative Authority/Handout via Reuters

Erdogan approves ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has approved the ratification of Sweden’s membership in NATO. Erdogan published the law two days after the Turkish parliament passed the Bill to approve Sweden’s bid to join the Western military alliance.

The Turkish parliament voted on the Bill after a debate on Tuesday night. A total of 346 lawmakers participated in the voting, with 287 votes in favour, 55 against, and four abstentions. Turkey’s green light leaves Hungary as the last holdout in an accession process that Sweden and Finland, which had adhered to decades of military non-alignment, began in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago.

Finland became the 31st nation of the alliance last April. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on Thursday he was ready to meet his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán to help pave the way for Budapest’s quick approval of the bid. NATO membership applications require unanimous ratifications by all alliance members.

Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman

EU opens dialogue on future of farming

Agri-food actors have been summoned to Brussels by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to help forge a new long-term vision for agriculture amid mounting protests from farmers across the continent. The strategic dialogue for the future of agriculture was announced in von der Leyen’s annual State of the Union address to cope with increasing polarisation in the agriculture and food policy debate. The initiative comes at a moment of stalemate in the implementation of the EU’s flagship food policy ‘Farm to Fork’ and while struggling farmers are taking to the streets throughout Europe claiming to be neglected by policymakers. “I think we all sense that there is an increasing division and polarisation when it comes to topics related to agriculture,” von der Leyen said at the kick-off meeting of the dialogue in Brussels on Thursday.

French farmers’ protests edge closer to Paris

In the first big challenge for new prime minister Gabriel Attal, French farmers have blocked roads, dumped produce, and sprayed a local prefecture building with manure as protests over rising costs and red tape moved closer to Paris. Vegetables were strewn across highways and tractors blocked traffic outside major French cities on Thursday as farmers took to the barricades, made of bales of hay, in protest at cheap imports, rising costs and red tape. Crates of tomatoes, cabbages and cauliflowers that farmers said had been imported from neighbouring countries were dumped on the highway linking Marseille and Lyon, while dozens of tractors led a “go-slow” during rush-hour on the southwestern edge of Paris. “We are getting progressively closer to Paris,” one farmer told broadcaster BFM TV.

With European Parliament elections approaching, President Macron is wary that farmers are a growing constituency for the far right, which has accused the government of backing European regulations that hurt farmers, such as rules on mandatory fallow land. “Emmanuel Macron addresses farmers with a hand on their shoulder and then knifes them in the back in Brussels,” said Marine Le Pen, whose far-right National Rally party is polling strongly. “The farmers’ worst enemies can be found in this government”, she said.

Trump denies E. Jean Carroll’s sexual abuse claims

Donald Trump’s testimony in the writer E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case ended almost immediately after it began, with the former US president standing by his earlier testimony that Carroll’s claim that he raped her was a hoax and the judge admonishing him for interrupting the proceedings.

“100 per cent yes,” Trump told his lawyer Alina Habba in federal court in Manhattan, when asked if his comments in an October 2022 deposition in Carroll’s case were accurate. Earlier on Thursday, Carroll’s lawyers played videotaped excerpts from the deposition, in which Trump called the former Elle magazine advice columnist “mentally sick” and a “whack job”, and threatened to sue her. “It’s a false accusation, never happened, never would happen,” Trump said in the deposition. Carroll, 80, is seeking at least $10 million over Trump’s June 2019 denials, when he was President, that he had raped her in the mid-1990s in a department store dressing room in Manhattan. Trump, 77, accused Carroll of making up the rape to boost sales of her memoir.

Trump spent only four minutes on the witness stand after US District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who has overseen both trials, said he would not allow “do-overs by disappointed litigants” and let Trump revisit the first jury’s findings. Kaplan said those findings were binding in the current trial. Kaplan struck most of what Trump said on the witness stand from the record. Asked if he had intended to harm Carroll, Trump said he had “wanted to defend myself, my family, and frankly the Presidency,” but the judge instructed jurors to disregard this comment. “You are interrupting these proceedings,” he admonished him. The trial has lasted four days, and closing arguments are expected today.

Courtroom sketch: Elizabeth Williams via AP

Alabama executes a man with nitrogen gas

Alabama executed a convicted murderer with nitrogen gas on Thursday, putting him to death with a first-of-its-kind method that once again put the US at the forefront of the debate over capital punishment. The state said the method would be humane, but critics called it cruel and experimental.

Officials said Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, was pronounced dead at 8.25pm at an Alabama prison after breathing pure nitrogen gas through a face mask to cause oxygen deprivation. It marked the first time that a new execution method has been used in the United States since lethal injection, now the most commonly used method, was introduced in 1982. The state had previously attempted to execute Smith, who was convicted of a 1988 murder-for-hire, in 2022, but the lethal injection was called off at the last minute because authorities couldn’t connect an IV line.

Meeting McCartney “was like meeting Jesus Christ” – Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy Osbourne has recalled meeting Paul McCartney, saying that coming face-to-face with the Beatles icon “was like meeting Jesus Christ”. In the latest episode of The Osbournes Podcast, Ozzy remembered his first meeting with Macca, saying: “I’m a big Beatle fan and when I first met Paul McCartney, it was like meeting Jesus Christ. He was a very nice man. And when I got a Grammy, he followed up with my producer to congratulate me. That was very, very special.”

In a 2020 New Musical Express cover feature, Osbourne discussed how he knew he wanted to be a musician when he heard The Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’ as a 15-year-old. “My dad knew I was an avid, f*king freaked-out Beatles fan,” he said. “I loved them. They were the reason why.”

In more recent news, Ozzy’s wife and manager Sharon Osbourne recently revealed that the Black Sabbath icon is planning “two more shows to say goodbye” before he fully retires from performing live.

Photo: Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect

Main photo: Israel Defense Forces

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