“Convincing” information that hostages were raped

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Tuesday, 5th March 2024

A United Nations team has found “clear and convincing” information that hostages in Gaza were sexually abused, Pramila Patten, the UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, told reporters on Monday. There are “reasonable grounds” to believe the sexual violence is ongoing, she added. According to Patten, the team also found “reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, occurred” during Hamas’ 7th October attack in Israel, in what is the most definitive finding by the global organisation on sexual assault allegations in the aftermath of the attack.

The UN team, which was led by Patten, visited Israel between 29th January and 14th February for a mission “aimed at gathering, analysing, and verifying information on conflict-related sexual violence” during 7th October and its aftermath, according to a 24-page report. The team also went to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank where stakeholders alleged “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment … including the increased use of various forms of sexual violence, namely invasive body searches; threats of rape; and prolonged forced nudity” on Palestinians in detention, the UN report wrote.

Patten stressed on Monday that the mission “was neither intended nor mandated to be investigative in nature”, adding that the team had 33 meetings with Israeli institutions. In Israel it interviewed 34 people, including survivors and witnesses to the 7th October attack, and released hostages, as well as reviewed 50 hours of footage of the attacks.

The reports, which called for a full investigation, comes nearly five months after the 7th October attacks, which left about 1,200 people dead and some 250 others taken hostage with 132 still missing. Israel’s war against Hamas has since laid waste to the Gaza Strip, killing more than 30,534 and wounding 72,000 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people face starvation.

Meanwile, Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), told the UN General Assembly that dismantling UNRWA would mean sacrificing “an entire generation of children”. “Dismantling UNRWA is short-sighted,” he said, adding that “in doing so, we will sacrifice an entire generation of children, sowing the seeds of hatred, resentment, and future conflict.” Lazzarini also said Gazans detained by Israeli forces were returning “completely traumatised” upon release and reporting abuses while in captivity. Detainees reported being subjected to a “broad range of ill-treatment” including threats of electrocution, being photographed naked, sleep deprivation, and having dogs used to intimidate them, Lazzarini later told a media briefing.

Security Council reiterates call for safe aid delivery to Gaza

The UN Security Council has underscored the need to protect civilians in Gaza in the wake of the deadly incident at an aid convoy on Thursday. Members issued a statement expressing their deep concern over reports that “more than 100 individuals lost their lives, with several hundred others sustaining injuries, including gunshot wounds…in an incident involving Israeli forces at a large gathering surrounding a humanitarian assistance convoy southwest of Gaza City.” They noted that an Israeli investigation is underway. The Council stressed the need to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, adding that all parties to conflicts must comply with their obligations under international law. Parties were urged to refrain from depriving civilians in Gaza of basic services and humanitarian assistance. The Council expressed grave concern that the entire population, more than two million people, could face alarming levels of acute food insecurity. They urged Israel to keep border crossings open for humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, to facilitate the opening of additional crossings to meet humanitarian needs at scale, and to support the rapid and safe delivery of relief items to people across the enclave.

US Vice-President hosts Israeli war Cabinet member

Vice President Kamala Harris expressed “deep concern” over the situation in Gaza during talks on Monday with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz at the White House, her office said. Gantz, a member of Israel’s wartime Cabinet who went to Washington in defiance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the Biden administration intensifies its efforts to push more humanitarian aid into war-battered Gaza. White House officials said Gantz, a centrist political rival of Netanyahu, requested the meeting and that the Democratic administration believed it was important that Harris sit down with the prominent Israeli official despite Netanyahu’s objections. Netanyahu gave Gantz a “tough talk” about the visit – underscoring a widening crack within Israel’s wartime leadership. President Biden, Harris and other senior administration officials have become increasingly blunt about their dissatisfaction with the mounting death toll in Gaza and the suffering of innocent Palestinians as the war nears the five-month mark. Although Gantz holds many of the same hardline views as Netanyahu, he has been seen as more open to compromise on critical issues, including the increased delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Libyans fire live bullets as 77 migrants rescued in the Med

Libyan coastguard fired live bullets as the crew of the Humanity 1 rescue ship picked up 77 migrants from several boats drifting in the central Mediterranean, according to the Berlin-based organisation SOS Humanity which operates the vessel. The Libyan coastguard arrived on the scene during the attempt to get the people on board smaller rescue boats before bringing them aboard the Humanity 1, it said. The organisation reported chaotic scenes, saying people jumped into the water, with one person said to have drowned. Several minors were among those rescued, in the operation, which “was massively disrupted and jeopardized by the Libyan coastguard”. The civil rescue group said it was devastated following the incident adding it had informed all relevant authorities. “Threatening crew members of rescue ships and endangering the lives of vulnerable people is a gross violation of international law,” it said in a statement. The Humanity 1 then continued on its way to the harbour in the southern Italian city of Bari to bring the people ashore.

Americans in 15 states vote in Super Tuesday

Voters in 15 Ameerican states and one US territory are called upon to vote today in what is known as Super Tuesday to choose candidates for president – the biggest day so far in the 2024 race for the White House. It should offer the world a glimpse of Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s strengths and potential weaknesses as the two bitter rivals hurtle towards a rematch in November’s general election. Nominating contests will be held in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and the US territory of American Samoa. The Republican contest will be in all of these 15 states, while the Democrats will vote in the same states except Alaska. They will hold caucuses, too, in American Samoa. We’ll also get the results of the Democratic contest in Iowa, which has been ongoing by post for several weeks. About one-third of total delegates – 865 Republican and at least 1,420 Democratic – are up for grabs on Super Tuesday. The Trump campaign has projected he will win at least 773 delegates on the day and clinch the nomination later in March. He currently has an estimated 244 delegates, while his Republican rival, Nikki Haley, has 43. A minimum of 1,215 delegates are needed to win the Republican nomination, while 1,968 is the magic number for the Democrats.

Trump clinches North Dakota caucuses

Donald Trump won the North Dakota Republican presidential caucuses on Monday, adding to his string of victories heading into Super Tuesday. The former president finished first in voting conducted at 12 caucus sites, ahead of former Nikki Haley. The result puts Trump back on the winning track, which was briefly interrupted on Sunday when Haley notched her first victory of the campaign in the District of Columbia’s primary.

Trump tells Biden: “fight your fight yourself

Former US President Trump spoke from Mar-a-Lago just hours after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in his favour, keeping him on the 2024 primary ballot in Colorado, thanking the high court for its unifying decision and looking ahead to its pending ruling on his presidential immunity appeal. He also blamed President Biden for his legal challenges, and claimed he is using judges and prosecutors to influence the election. The Supreme Court sided unanimously with Trump in his challenge to Colorado’s attempt to kick him off the 2024 primary ballot. The high court ruled in favour of Trump’s arguments in the case, which will impact the status of efforts in several other states to remove the likely GOP nominee from their respective ballots. Trump touted his poll numbers, saying he is “beating President Biden in almost every poll.”

Trump urges judge not to impose gag order in NY criminal case

Lawyers for Donald Trump asked a court yesterday to reject a prosecution request for a gag order at his March 25 criminal trial over hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels, arguing it would infringe on his right to free speech. “President Trump’s political opponents have, and will continue to, attack him based on this case,” his lawyers wrote. “The voters have the right to listen to President Trump’s unfettered responses.” They said the order sought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office would prevent Trump, the Republican frontrunner to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden, from speaking on a campaign issue in the run-up to the November 5 US presidential election. Gag orders restricting defendants from speaking publicly about certain aspects of legal proceedings may be imposed to try to prevent intimidation of witnesses or jurors, or to protect court staff from threats. Bragg’s office last year charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up his lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Daniels shortly before the 2016 election to keep her silent about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied any such relationship.

China’s leaders to set growth goals as economic woes mount

China is set to unveil some of its lowest growth targets in decades when top Communist Party officials begin an annual meeting, as the world’s second largest economy faces dire headwinds. A year after the anointing of President Xi Jinping for a historic third term, the National People’s Congress (NPC) will focus on a litany of economic and security challenges during the week-long conclave. Last year, with the awarding of his latest five-year term, Xi cemented his place as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. But 12 months on and all focus will be on the dire state of China’s economy, which last year posted some of its lowest growth in decades. The country continues to grapple with a prolonged property sector crisis, record youth unemployment and a global slowdown that is hammering demand for Chinese goods. Armed police and security personnel are ubiquitous on Beijing’s streets this week as thousands of delegates descend on the capital for the “Two Sessions”, a carefully choreographed week-long gathering of the NPC and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). This week’s meetings are not expected to see the unveiling of big-ticket bailouts that experts say are needed to get the economy back on track. Much of its major decisions will have been made weeks before, in closed-door meetings of the Communist Party, far from the international media’s cameras. The first of the “Two Sessions” kicked off on Monday afternoon. The 3,000-member NPC, in turn, began meetings rhis morning at 9am (2am Malta time) and hold daily sessions until next Monday.

EU agreement on packaging regulation

The EU Council and the European Parliament have reached a provisional agreement on the proposed regulation on packaging and packaging waste. The regulation, recalls the current Belgian presidency, confirms the request for a reduction in packaging waste of 5 per cent by 2030, 10 per cent in 2035 and 15 per cent by 2040, as foreseen in the initial proposal of the European Commission. Some formats of single-use plastic packaging will be banned from 2030, such as packaging for fresh unprocessed fruit and vegetables, packaging for food and drinks filled and consumed in bars and restaurants, individual portions (such as condiments, sauces, cream, sugar), and miniatures for toiletries in hotels. The regulation aims to reduce waste caused by packaging, making it more sustainable, while guaranteeing the highest standards of waste management.

Apple slapped with 1.8billion antitrust fine

The European Union on Monday slapped tech giant Apple with over €1.8 billion in fines for alleged antitrust violations. The move stems from Apple’s alleged abuse of its dominant market position in distributing music streaming apps to iPhone and iPad users through its App Store. Apple enforced restrictions on app developers, preventing them from informing iOS users about alternative and cheaper music subscription services available outside the App Store – a practice deemed illegal under EU antitrust regulations, the statement said. The Commission’s investigation revealed that Apple’s conduct persisted for nearly a decade, potentially leading to higher prices for music streaming subscriptions for iOS users due to the high commission fees imposed on developers, which were then passed on to consumers.

Former Twitter executives sue Elon Musk for $128 million

Former top Twitter executives, including Parag Agrawal, have sued Elon Musk, claiming the Tesla CEO had withheld $128 million in severance payments after the billionaire took over the social media company in 2022 and dismissed them, according to The New York Times. After paying $44 billion to acquire Twitter, Musk sacked the company’s chief executive, Parag Agrawal; chief financial officer, Ned Segal; head of legal and policy, Vijaya Gadde; and general counsel, Sean Edgett. Twitter was later renamed as X by Musk. The lawsuit, which was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday, claimed that because the executives’ contracts stated they would receive severance payments if Twitter was taken private by Musk in October 2022, they were entitled to the payments. Agrawal’s offer letter for the position said that he would get a $1 million annual salary in addition to $12.5 million in shares, The New York Times reported. According to a Twitter securities filing, Agrawal was entitled to a so-called golden parachute payment of $60 million in the case of an involuntary termination. According to the document, Segal would receive $46 million and Gadde would receive $21 million in the identical circumstances.

France makes abortion a constitutional right

French lawmakers have approved a historic Bill that would enshrine a woman’s right to an abortion in the constitution. No other country in the world has granted that level of protection to the right to end pregnancy. A joint session of parliament at the Palace of Versailles ended on Monday with the lawmakers endorsing the Bill. After the vote, French President Emmanuel Macron said France was sending a “universal message” by defending abortion rights. The National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, overwhelmingly approved making abortion a “guaranteed freedom” in the constitution. The country’s upper house, the Senate, did the same last Wednesday. A congress of both houses met at Versailles, where the lawmakers eventually gave it the three-fifths supermajority needed for a constitutional change.

Photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

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