Australia, Canada, NZ urge ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ in Gaza

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Friday, 16th February 2024

Australia, Canada, New Zealand urge ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ in Gaza

The leaders of Australia, Canada and New Zealand joined growing calls for Israel to back off from a planned ground offensive in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, urging a “humanitarian ceasefire”, while expressing hope for a long-term end to hostilities. A joint statement by the three Commonwealth nations appeared to align with US efforts to secure a humanitarian pause to the fighting that would see the release of hostages and could eventually lead to an end to the war in Gaza sparked by the Hamas’ devastating October 7 onslaught against southern Israel. The premiers also called on Hamas to abandon the fighting and release some 134 hostages it holds in Gaza. “Any ceasefire cannot be one sided,” the statement read.

Urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “not to go down this path”, the statement from Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon amplified a chorus of international calls for Israel to rethink taking Rafah – a move it said would be “catastrophic,” and growing global backing for a ceasefire. “An immediate humanitarian ceasefire is urgently needed. Hostages must be released. The need for humanitarian assistance in Gaza has never been greater. Rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian relief must be provided to civilians,” the statement read. It added,  “A sustainable ceasefire is necessary to finding a path towards securing lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Israel urges UN Court to reject new South African request

Israel on Thursday urged the United Nations’ highest court to reject an urgent South African request to consider whether Israel’s military operations targeting Rafah breach provisional orders the court handed down last month in a case alleging genocide. South Africa asked the International Court of Justice to decide whether Israel’s strikes on Rafah, and its intention to launch a ground offensive on the city where 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering, breaches both the UN Genocide Convention and preliminary orders handed down by the Court last month in a case accusing Israel of genocide. In a three-page submission, Israel labeled the new South African request “highly peculiar and improper”. It goes on to say the request is “evidence of a renewed and cynical effort by South Africa to use provisional measures as a sword, rather than a shield, and to manipulate the Court to protect South Africa’s longtime ally, Hamas – a genocidal terrorist organisation – from Israel’s inherent right and obligation to defend itself” and seek to free the more than 130 hostages still being held by Hamas. Israel strongly denies committing genocide in Gaza and says it does all it can to spare civilians and is targeting only Hamas militants. It says Hamas’ tactic of embedding in civilian areas makes it difficult to avoid civilian casualties.

Israel tells the US: ‘Not the time for gifts’ to Palestinians

In the wake of a Washington Post report that the US and Arab allies are preparing to present a plan that includes a firm timeline for a Palestinian state, Israel says that it is not the time to be discussing plans for the “day after” Hamas. The Times of Israel quotes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Office spokesman Avi Hyman saying in a briefing: “Here in Israel, we are still in the aftermath of the October 7 massacre. Now is not the time to be speaking about gifts for the Palestinian people, at a time when the Palestinian Authority themselves have yet to even condemn the October 7 massacre. Now is the time for victory, total victory over Hamas,” he insists, adding, “All discussions of the day after Hamas will be had the day after Hamas.”

Abbas says PA ready to take responsibility for Gaza ‘immediately’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says the PA is prepared to fulfill its responsibilities towards the Gaza Strip “immediately upon cessation of aggression” against his people. “We have been, and continue to be, responsible for Gaza, and we will remain so,” he adds in an interview with the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Commenting on reports that the US administration may be close to a plan to establish a Palestinian state, Abbas says: “We’ve had several meetings with top US officials, including [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken, [National Security Advisor Jake] Sullivan and [CIA Director William] Burns, and they’ve assured us of their commitment to the two-state solution and supporting peace efforts based on international law.” Abbas claims, however, that US support for Israel hinders tangible progress towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. “What matters most is action on the ground, not just words,” he says.

‘Catastrophic situation’ at Gaza’s Nasser Hospital

There have been scenes of chaos and panic at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis as Israeli forces stormed the medical facility in the southern Gaza Strip and Palestinians tried to evacuate. The Israeli army has besieged the facility for weeks, isolating thousands of patients, medical staff and displaced families – many of whom remain trapped inside. Al Jazeera reports verified video footage showed those who tried to flee on Thursday came under attack after leaving the hospital. Gaza Ministry of Health spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said Israeli troops were forcing 95 medics, 191 patients and 165 displaced people into an old building at the medical centre under “harsh conditions” without water, food or milk for the children. “Fuel is set to run out in the next 24 hours, which directly threatens the lives of patients, including six on respirators in intensive care and three children in incubators,” al-Qudra said in a statement. The Israeli army accused Hamas of using the medical compound to hold captives – a claim denied by Hamas. The Ministry of Health in Gaza said at least 28,663 people have been killed in Israel’s attacks since October 7, and at least 68,395 have been wounded.

Israelis have still not found any hostages in the hospital

Israeli Army spokesman Daniel Hagari said the ongoing operation at the Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis has so fasr not yielded any results regarding the discovery of the hostages of hostages’ bodies. “So far, we have arrested dozens of terrorists in the hospital area and found weapons, including grenades and mortars. We do not enter hospitals without reason but, as we have demonstrated since the beginning of the war, we have revealed how Hamas uses them to terrorism.”

‘Egypt builds mega-fence for displaced Palestinian’ – WSJ

Egypt is building a mega fence closed by high walls in the Sinai desert, in case there were to be an exodus of displaced Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. Cairo officials told the Wall Street Journal that Egypt would try to limit the number of refugees well below the area’s capacity to around between 50,000 and 60,000. For weeks, Egypt has tried to strengthen security along the border to keep the Palestinians away, deploying soldiers and tanks. However, Cairo authorities deny that they are building the structure.

Hundreds of Palestinians working on wall with Gaza

Hundreds of Palestinian workers from the West Bank are working in Israel to help build a new barrier along the border with the Gaza Strip, despite the Israeli Security Cabinet banning them from doing so, the Ynet news site reports, quoting testimonies from Israeli soldiers deployed in the area. Ynet says Palestinian workers are engaged in engineering work on breaches in the fence, which was damaged in dozens of places at the start of the war against Hamas. The Israeli Defence Ministry responded to the reports by stating that only four Palestinians were working on the project, specifying that it hired contractors “in accordance with safety guidelines, classification and sensitivity of the work” and that the workers come from a group of Palestinian workers “approved to work on essential projects” for Israel.

Kremlin dismisses US warning about Russian nuclear capability in space

Russia has downplayed US concern about Russian nuclear capability in space, calling it a “malicious fabrication” and a trick by the White House aimed at getting the US Congress to support aid for Ukraine to counter Russia. The United States has told Congress and allies in Europe about new intelligence related to Russian nuclear capabilities that could pose an international threat. US officials said the issue was a Russian anti-satellite weapon that was in development, not an immediate threat. National security spokesperson John Kirby said there was “no immediate threat to anyone’s safety”. In Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described the claims as a ruse by Washington “to force Congress to vote on the aid bill by hook or by crook”. In remarks carried by Russian news agencies, Peskov is quoted as sayng: “Let’s see what ruse the White House will use.”

Russian arms production worries Europe’s war planners

Russia has presided over a massive ramping up of industrial production over the last two years that has outstripped what many western defence planners expected when Vladimir Putin launched his invasion. The Guardian reports total defence spending has risen to an estimated 7.5 per cent of Russia’s GDP, supply chains have been redesigned to secure many key inputs and evade sanctions, and factories producing ammunition, vehicles and equipment are running around the clock, often on mandatory 12-hour shifts with double overtime, in order to sustain the Russian war machine for the foreseeable future. The transformation has put defence at the centre of Russia’s economy. Putin claimed this month that 520,000 new jobs had been created in the military-industrial complex, which now employs an estimated 3.5 million Russians, or 2.5 per cent of the population. Machinists and welders in Russian factories producing war equipment are now making more money than many white-collar managers and lawyers, according to a Moscow Times analysis of Russian labour data. Putin yesterday visited Uralvagonzavod, the country’s largest producer of main battle tanks, where workers boasted that it had been among the first to establish round the clock production. The Russian leader promised funding to help train an additional 1,500 qualified employees for the plant.

FBI mole who accused Biden indicted

US special prosecutor David Weiss has accused a former FBI informant of lying about the affairs of the US president and his son, Hunter. The Washington Post reports that according to the indictment, mole Alexander Smirnov provided false information in June 2020, in particular that the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid Joe and Hunter Biden five million US dollars each in 2015 and 2016.

European Commission cuts EU growth forecast

The European Commission has downgraded its growth forecast to 0.9 per cent for the EU and 0.8 per cent for the euro area. Yet while inflation rates are expected to decline more than previously predicted, challenges remain. Euronews reports that following a narrow escape from recession in late 2023, the European Union’s economy has entered 2024 with less vigour than anticipated, as confirmed by the European Commission in its latest Winter Economic Forecast. The Commission highlights that a gradual resurgence is on the horizon for the latter half of 2024, bolstered by diminishing inflationary pressures, an expected increase in real wages, and a robust labour market stimulating consumer spending.

UK economy slips into technical recession

The United Kingdom slipped into a technical recession in the second half of last year after its economy registered two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth, official figures have shown. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement on Thursday that Britain’s GDP shrank by 0.3 per cent in the last three months of 2023, after contracting 0.1 per cent in the third quarter. A technical recession is commonly defined as back-to-back quarters of contracting GDP. Sterling weakened moderately against the US dollar and the euro shortly after the GDP data release.

Greece legalises same-sex marriage despite church opposition

Greece on Thursday became the first Orthodox Christian country to legalise same-sex civil marriage, despite opposition from the influential, socially conservative Greek Church. A cross-party majority of 176 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament voted late Thursday in favour of the landmark Bill drafted by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ centre-right government. Another 76 rejected the reform while two abstained from the vote and 46 were not present in the House. Mitsotakis tweeted after the vote that Greece “is proud to become the 16th (European Union) country to legislate marriage equality. This is a milestone for human rights, reflecting today’s Greece – a progressive, and democratic country, passionately committed to European values,” he wrote.

Trump hush money case will proceed – New York judge

Donald Trump’s hush money trial will go ahead as scheduled after a judge on Thursday threw out his request to dismiss the criminal charges. Justice Juan Merchan set a trial date of March 25 for the case, which relates to money that the former US president allegedly paid to porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. “Given all the information I have before me, we are moving ahead to jury selection on March 25,” the judge said. Trump repeated unfounded claims that the case brought against him is politically motivated.

Maddy McCann suspect goes on trial for separate sex attacks

Christian Brueckner, the man who remains the prime suspect in the disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCaan, goes on trial today in Braunschweig, Germany, to face five separate claims he raped three women and twice sexually molested children in Portugal, including close to Praia de Luz where Maddy vanished in 2007. The 47-year-old, who is already serving a seven-year prison sentence in Germany for the rape of an elderly tourist in the Algarve who was attacked in her holiday apartment, denies all the charges against him as well as any involvement in Madeleine’s disappearance. In his first comments on the case, Brueckner branded his trial as “ridiculous” and also remorselessly ridiculed cops saying “I hope (they) will find some answers to (their) questions soon.”

Court says Breivik’s prison isolation not ‘inhumane’

Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik will remain in isolation in prison after he lost his legal attempt to end the conditions imposed on him by the state. The neo-Nazi, who killed 77 people in a bombing and shooting rampage in 2011, sued the Norwegian state in January, arguing his prison conditions amounted to “inhumane” punishment under the European Convention on Human Rights. Serving a prison sentence for killing 77 people in 2011, Breivik, who changed his name to Fjotolf Hansen, is serving a 21-year sentence, the maximum penalty at the time of his offences, which may be extended for as long as he is deemed a threat to society. He has been held in isolation since 2012 for his crimes, which include killing eight people with a car bomb in Oslo and gunning down 69 others, most of them teenagers, on Utoya island, on July 22, 2011 – the deadliest violence in Norway since World War II.

New York sues TikTok, Facebook and YouTube

New York City is suing TikTok, Facebook and YouTube for harming the mental health of children and teens. According to the Meta lawsuit, Snap, ByteDance and Google knowingly built and marketed their platforms to”attract, capture and addict young people”. The initiative recalls the lawsuit filed in 2022 in California. New York mayor, Eric Adams, had anticipated the lawsuit at the end of January.

Main photo: Said Khatib/AFP

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