Biden, Netanyahu discuss hostages, ceasefire

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

President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday primarily discussed the release of hostages in Gaza, a source familiar with their phone call told The Associated Press. A White House readout of the call earlier Sunday said Biden had reiterated his “clear position” on a potential Israeli invasion of Rafah. While that was part of the call, which lasted just under an hour, the source said the focus was mostly on the talks to release hostages held by Hamas. The two leaders discussed the videos released last week of two Americans held hostage as well as Biden’s rare joint statement with leaders from 17 other countries, urging Hamas to accept the terms of the ceasefire and hostage deal, the source said.

The White House also highlighted the two leaders’ conversation about humanitarian assistance. “The President and the Prime Minister also discussed increases in the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Gaza including through preparations to open new northern crossings starting this week,” according to the readout. The White House added, “The President stressed the need for this progress to be sustained and enhanced in full coordination with humanitarian organisations.

The leaders discussed Rafah and the President reiterated his clear position.” The Biden administration has made clear to its Israeli counterparts that it wants to see a clear and actionable plan on how they would protect civilians in Rafah. Israel has told its US counterparts that it won’t launch an invasion where more than one million people are sheltering in the Gaza Strip’s southernmost city until the Biden administration can share its concerns, White House National Security communications adviser John Kirby told ABC on Sunday. Kirby said the US is still working on reaching an agreement that would include a temporary ceasefire and the release of hostages. “If we’re able to get this hostage deal in place, then that gives us six weeks of peace. It gives us no fighting for six weeks, and that includes no fighting in Rafah. And what we’re hoping is that after six weeks of a temporary ceasefire, we can maybe get something more enduring in place. We want to see an end to the conflict as soon as possible,” he added.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be in the region this week to discuss with leaders the ceasefire and hostage talks between Israel and Hamas that remain stalled despite months of mediation by Qatar and Egypt. Diplomatic efforts increased on Sunday to reach a long sought-after truce and hostage-release deal in Gaza, as Israel carried out further air strikes and shelling on the war-battered territory.

No major problems with proposed agreement, say Hamas

A senior Hamas official told AFP that the Palestinian group “has no major problems” with Israel and Egypt’s latest proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza. “The atmosphere is positive, unless there are new obstacles from Israel. There are no major problems in the comments and requests that Hamas will present regarding the contents” of the proposal, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on the eve of the meeting in Cairo with Egypt and Qatar in which a response is expected of Hamas.

‘Only US can halt Israel’s attack on Rafah’ – Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday only the United States could stop Israel attacking the border city of Rafah in Gaza, adding that the assault, which he expects within days, could force much of the Palestinian population to flee the enclave. “We call on the United States of America to ask Israel to not carry on the Rafah attack. America is the only country able to prevent Israel from committing this crime,” Abbas told a special meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Israel, which has threatened for weeks to launch an all-out assault on the neighbourhood saying its goal is to destroy Hamas’ remaining battalions there, stepped up airstrikes on Rafah last week. Western countries, including Israel’s closest ally the United States, have pleaded with it to hold back from attacking the southern city, which abuts the Egyptian border and is sheltering more than a million Palestinians who fled Israel’s seven-month long assault on much of the rest of Gaza.

“What will happen in the coming few days is what Israel will do with attacking Rafah because all the Palestinians from Gaza are gathered there,” Abbas said, adding that only a “small strike” on Rafah would force the Palestinian population to flee the Gaza strip. “The biggest catastrophe in the Palestinian people’s history would then happen.” Abbas reiterated that he rejects the displacement of Palestinians into Jordan and Egypt and said he is concerned that once Israel completes its operations in Gaza, it will then attempt to force the Palestinian population out of the West Bank and into Jordan.

Fights break out between pro-Israel, pro-Palestine protesters at UCLA

Protesters occupying a pro-Palestine encampment and pro-Israel counterprotesters clashed at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on Sunday as college demonstrations continue nationwide. Fights began between isolated members of the two groups before a counterprotest demonstration by the Israeli American Council, the Daily Bruin reported. Thousands gathered at the centre of UCLA’s campus on Sunday, backing both sides of the protest. A small number of counterprotesters attempted to breach barriers erected by the university to separate the two protest groups in the early morning, the Bruin reported. Pro-Palestine protesters later breached the same barriers, resulting in small skirmishes. Mary Osako, UCLA vice chancellor and spokesperson, denounced the clashes. “UCLA has a long history of being a place of peaceful protest, and we are heartbroken about the violence that broke out.”

The protests remained largely peaceful on Sunday, on both sides, the Bruin reported. No arrests were reported from the skirmishes. Sunday’s protests continued a national movement of college students taking over campus public spaces to protest the Biden administration’s response to the Israel-Hamas war and urge their colleges to divest from Israeli interests. Hundreds of students have been arrested across the country, and the students have taken the political spotlight. The protests have not changed the policy of the Biden administration, which has largely denounced the demonstrations as antisemitic. GOP leaders, including Johnson, have called on Biden to use the National Guard to quell the movements, which he has declined.

World Central Kitchen to resume Gaza activities

The World Central Kitchen, the humanitarian organisation whose seven workers were killed by IDF fire in Gaza following mistaken identification, has announced that it has resumed its activities in the Strip after four weeks. “The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains disastrous,” said Erin Gore, CEO of WCK, “and we are restarting our business with the same energy, dignity and attention to feeding as many people as possible”.

Ukrainians say situation has ‘worsened’

The situation in Ukraine has ‘worsened’, the commander-in-chief of the Kiev armed forces, Oleksandr Syrsky, said Sunday, stating that the Russian army has achieved “tactical successes”. “The situation at the front has worsened,” Oleksandr Syrsky said in a Facebook post, adding that Russia was “attacking along the entire front line” and had achieved “tactical successes in some areas”. Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskii’s comments came as Kyiv’s outnumbered troops fell back to new positions west of three villages on the eastern front, where Russia has concentrated significant forces in several locations. His statement reflected Ukraine’s deteriorating position in the east, which Kyiv hopes it can stabilise once it takes delivery of United States weapons under a $61bn aid package approved in the US this week.

Ukraine working on the security agreement with the US

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Zelensky said this in his evening message on Sunday that Ukraine and the United States were working on a bilateral security agreement – and that they were already working on a specific text. “Our goal is to make this agreement the strongest of all.” He said, adding, “We are discussing the concrete foundations of security and cooperation to set specific levels of support for this year and for the next 10 years. This includes military, financial, political support and joint production of weapons.” In his message, picked up by Ukrinfom, Zelensky concluded: “The agreement should be truly exemplary and reflect the strength of the American leadership. I am grateful to both our team and that of the American side for the progress made in preparing the agreement.” Kiev has already signed bilateral security agreements with several Western countries, including Italy.

61% of voters say Biden’s presidency is a failure

A CNN poll has found that 61 per cent of the American electorate believe that the Biden presidency has so far been ‘a failure’ against 39 per cent who favour it. For 55 per cen t, however, Trump’s presidency was a success. The poll also found that Trump maintains his lead over Joe Biden by 49 per cent of the vote, against 43 per cent.

Meloni to contest EU Parliamentary elections

Italian Prime Minoister Giorgia Meloni has announced her candidacy for the European elections, saying “the time has come to raise the stakes”. From the stage of the Fratelli d’Italia programmatic conference in Pescara, the Italian prime minister announced that she would run. On stage, Meloni recalled the previous European electoral challenges, of 2014 when the party did not reach the quorum of four per cent and those of 2019 when it reached 6.5 per cent. “In six years we have increased by two per cent, in the last three we have reached 26.5 percent,” said Meloni. “I don’t remember this story as a rhetorical exercise of self-satisfaction and self-celebration, I say it to remind myself and all of us that what we have earned is not something we have acquired forever, we must continue to deserve it.” added Meloni. “Let’s change the EU too! We will also defend our excellence, our borders, our identity in the EU.” Meloni then claimed she put Italy back at the centre of Europe and international politics, managing to bring the Pope to the next G7 in Puglia for the first time, and then attacked the opposition, criticising the symbols for the electoral elections of the Democratic Party and also of the 5 Star Movement, the latter inserted the word peace in the logo.

Pope greets artists and inmates at Venice Biennale

Pope Francis travelled to Venice to see the Holy See’s pavilion for this year’s Venice Biennale – a first for a pope, and has given the 60th edition of the world’s longest running international art exhibit reason. The Vatican chose to stage its pavilion inside Venice’s women’s prison, and through a deal with the Italian Justice Ministry, invited inmates to work alongside the artists. The result is a multimedia exhibit “With My Eyes” that is open to the public by reservation only and under strict security conditions. The Vatican exhibit has turned the convent-prison into one of the must-see attractions of this year’s Biennale, an unusual art world darling that greets visitors at the entrance with Maurizio Cattelan’s wall mural of two giant filthy feet. The work, titled “Father” recalls Caravaggio’s dirty feet or the feet that Francis washes each year in a Holy Thursday ritual that he routinely performs on prisoners. The inmates donated to Bergoglio products that they make in the prison laboratories, including natural soaps and a new white skullcap, which the Pope immediately put on.

At least 4 killed in Oklahoma tornado outbreak

At least four people are dead, including an infant, after a tornado outbreak in Oklahoma overnight, as severe storms threaten more twisters, heavy rain and large hail from Missouri to Texas Sunday. Multiple large and extremely dangerous tornadoes were reported on the ground simultaneously overnight across parts of Oklahoma, according to the National Weather Service. Two deaths occurred in Holdenville, and the third near Marietta on I-35, according to Keli Cain, public affairs director for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. A fourth death happened in the hard-hit town of Sulphur in Murray County, Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt said at a Sunday news conference.  “It seems like every business downtown has been destroyed now here in Sulphur,” Stitt said. “It’s definitely the most damage since I’ve been governor that I’ve seen.” Stitt added around 30 people were injured in Sulphur and their conditions are unknown. He issued an emergency disaster declaration and will be touring storm damage in Sulphur and Holdenville, the governor shared in a video message.

Schools closed as Asia swelters in extreme heatwave

South and Southeast Asia braced for more extreme heat on Sunday as authorities across the region issued health warnings and residents fled to parks and air-conditioned malls for relief. A wave of exceptionally hot weather has blasted the region over the past week, sending the mercury as high as 45OC and forcing thousands of schools to tell students to stay home. The Philippines announced on Sunday the suspension of in-person classes at all public schools for two days after a record-shattering day of heat in the capital Manila. In Thailand, where at least 30 people have died of heatstroke so far this year, the meteorological department warned of “severe conditions” after temperatures in a northern province exceeded 44.1OC yesterday. And in Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and India, forecasters warned that temperatures could exceed 40OC in the coming days as people endured searing heat and stifling humidity. Meanwile, millions of students returned to their reopened schools across Bangladesh Sunday despite a lingering heatwave that prompted a nationwide classroom shutdown order last weekend.

Prince Harry due in London for Invictus Games

Prince Harry will return to UK to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his Invictus Games in May, before joining his wife Meghan on a visit to Nigeria, his spokesperson said on Sunday. Harry, the youngest son of King Charles, lives in the United States with Meghan and their two children after he gave up working as a member of the royal family in 2020. He has only returned to  UK on a few occasions since his departure from royal life, arriving for major events such as the funeral of Queen Elizabeth in 2022 and his father’s coronation in May 2023.  Harry was last seen in UK in February this year for a brief meeting with his father after the monarch announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

His spokesperson said Harry would attend a service at St Paul’s Cathedral in London on May 8 to celebrate the Invictus Games, the international sporting event that he founded for military personnel wounded in action. Harry served as a military helicopter pilot in Afghanistan and Invictus organisers said the service was designed to mark “a decade of changing lives and saving lives through sport”. It will include readings by Harry and the British actor Damian Lewis. Wounded veterans and members of the Invictus community will also attend.

‘EU states lack charging points for electric cars’

Electric car charging stations have not kept pace with the increasing number of electric cars on the road, European automakers said on Monday. A report by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) said electric vehicle (EV) sales had grown three times faster than the number of EV charging points installed in its 27 nations since 2017. ACEA said the EU will need 8.8 million charging by 2030, which would mean installing 22,000 points every week – eight times the current rate. The report added that EV infrastructure was key in motivating more people to buy electric cars, all of which is vital in achieving the EU target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

Photo: Getty

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