EU agreement on Stability Pact reform

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 10th February 2024

EU Council and the European Parliament have reached a provisional political agreement on the proposed reform of the EU’s economic governance framework – commonly known as the Stability Part. The main objective of the reform is to ensure sound and sustainable public finances, while promoting sustainable and inclusive growth in all member states through reforms and investment. Belgian Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem said the new rules will significantly improve the existing framework and ensure effective and applicable rules for all EU countries. They will safeguard balanced and sustainable public finances, strengthen the focus on structural reforms, and foster investments, growth and job creation throughout the EU, the economy of which is facing renewed challenges with the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequences of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Against the backdrop of higher debt levels, interest rates and new common investment and reform goals, the EU is reforming the stability and growth pact and how the pact’s effectiveness could be further improved. By September 20, EU member-states will have to present the first national plans outlining expenditure, reforms and investments on the basis of the reform of the Pact.

Egyptians strengthen Rafah crossing security

Egyptian sources and eyewitnesses have revealed that new Egyptian security forces have arrived at the Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip to further protect their border, where, just a couple of kilometers away, almost two million Palestinians are crowded together and being pushed south by Israeli bombings. The sources, quoted by Ansa, added that around 40 police and security vehicles moved from Al-Arish to Rafah to secure the border, raise the fence separating it from Gaza and reinforce it with barbed wire to prevent any attempts to cross the border.  An official source in the North Sinai governorate, however, pointed out that the strengthening of security at the border had been continuous since October 7, with Egypt always saying it wants to reject any attempt to displace Palestinians across the border, towards Egyptian territory – an initiative which, according to Cairo, would only serve to set aside the Palestinian question and the two-state solution.

Israel attacks hospital in Khan Yunis

Al Jazeera says several people died and others were injured after Israeli tanks and artillery shells targeted the upper floors of the Nasser medical complex in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. The Arab broadcaster adds that in the meantime the toll from the Israeli bombings carried out last night on the southern city of Rafah has risen to at least 15 deaths: in addition to the 11 victims previously reported by the Palestinian agency Wafa, Al Jazeera reports another four dead and several injured for an attack on a residential building in the eastern neighborhood of al-Geneina. The death toll in the Gaza Strip since October 7 stands at more than 27,840 dead and 67,300 injured, according to the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Netanyahu wants to ‘eliminate’ four Hamas battalions in Rafah

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underlined the need to “eliminate” four Hamas battalions in Rafah, stating, “It is not possible to achieve the war objectives of eliminating Hamas and at the same time leave four of its battalions in Rafah.” According to his office, Netanyahu said, “It is clear that a powerful operation in Rafah forces the eviction of civilians from the combat zones”. He explained that a “double plan” was needed: one for the elimination of the Hamas battalions, the other for the evacuation of the civilian population.

‘Catastrophic consequences’ from mass evacuation in Rafah – HRW

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned about the repercussions of forcibly evacuating displaced Palestinians in Rafah as Israel plans a military escalation in the southern Gaza city. HRW’s statement comes after Netanyahu directed the Israeli forces to plan for the evacuation of the more than 1.3 million displaced Palestinians, who are believed to be in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, adding the Israeli military would “soon go into Rafah, Hamas’s last bastion”.

“Forcing the over one million displaced Palestinians in Rafah to again evacuate without a safe place to go would be unlawful and would have catastrophic consequences,” HRW said. “There is nowhere safe to go in Gaza. The international community should take action to prevent further atrocities.” HRW said the Israeli military has a responsibility to protect civilians whether they evacuate or not. “Civilians who do not evacuate following warnings are still fully protected by international humanitarian law,” HRW said. “Many civilians may be unable to heed a warning to evacuate for reasons of health, disability, fear, or lack of any place else to go.”

Netanyahu’s directive comes as the US State Department said a military operation in Rafah “without serious planning” for civilians “would be a disaster.”

Meanwhile, the UN’s main relief agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said that half of its requests to deliver aid since the start of 2024 have been denied. The head of the agency added that people are “on the verge of famine”. UN investigators said Friday that an Israeli undercover operation on a hospital in the occupied West Bank last month may amount to a war crime. “Killing a defenseless injured patient who is being treated in a hospital amounts to a war crime,” the experts said in a statement Friday. “By disguising themselves as seemingly harmless, protected medical personnel and civilians, the Israeli forces also prima facie committed the war crime of perfidy, which is prohibited in all circumstances,” they continued. 

UN extremely worried about Israel’s military plans in Rafah

The United Nations is “extremely worried about the fate of civilians in Rafah”, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said Friday as Israel began drawing up an evacuation plan for the estimated 1.3 million Palestinians living in the southern Gaza city. Speaking at his daily news briefing, Dujarric said people “need to be protected”, but added that the UN also “does not want to see any forced mass displacement of people, which is by definition against their will”. UN Humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths also issued a statement Friday urging for the protection of civilians. “There’s nowhere left to go in Gaza,” Griffiths said. “Civilians must be protected and their essential needs, including shelter, food and health, must be met.” Griffiths added that Rafah’s population of over one million people “have endured unthinkable suffering” and have been moving for months.

Israeli parliament speaker cancels meeting with UN chief

The speaker of the Israeli parliament on Friday cancelled a meeting scheduled with UN Secretary-General António Guterres because of the UN leader’s call for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza. “I intended to try and convince, as well as hand [the UN Secretary General] a book we prepared in the Knesset, documenting [October 7] with still images,” Amir Ohana said in a statement. “But yesterday he again called on the State of Israel to stop fighting, criticising it ‘even if Hamas uses human shields’. “ Guterres said Thursday the level of destruction and number of people killed in Gaza show that “there is something wrong in the way the military operations are being conducted.”

Abbas condemns Israel’s military plan for Rafah

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday condemned Netanyahu’s plans for a military escalation in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah. A statement issued by the Palestinian Authority’s presidential office said the real aim of Netanyahu’s dual proposal to evacuate people from the overcrowded city of Rafah is to displace the Palestinian people from their land. The presidency denounced the potential forcible displacement of Palestinians from Rafah as a “real threat” and “dangerous prelude” to implementing Israeli policies aimed at displacing Palestinians from their land.

Malnutrition threatens 700,000 children in Sudan, UN says

UNICEF warned on Friday of the risk of malnutrition looming over war-torn Sudan’s children, amid a shortage of aid reaching the country. James Elder, spokesperson for UNICEF, told a press conference in Geneva that tens of thousands of malnourished children could die this year.  Elder said that over 700,000 children are likely to suffer “from the deadliest form of malnutrition this year”, due to the past 300 days of fighting. “UNICEF won’t be able to treat more than 300,000 of those without improved access and without additional support,” Elder said. “In that case, tens of thousands would likely die.” He identified severe acute malnutrition as the most dangerous form, saying it was threatening 3.5 million children. This form of malnutrition makes a child 10 times more likely to die from diseases like cholera and malaria. The UN agency is appealing for €778.68 million to help just over 7.5 million children in Sudan this year. Elder deplored the lack of funds collected in previous appeals.

Special counsel report on Biden ‘politically motivated’ – White House

The White House and some Democrats tried to discredit a document that characterised US President Joe Biden as elderly and forgetful. The New York Times reports White House officials on Friday called the special counsel’s report into Biden’s handling of classified material ‘politically motivated’. Vice President Kamala Harris suggested the report was more of a political attack than an unbiased legal document. Ian Sams, a spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office, said it was “inappropriate” and “troubling” . The statements are part of an effort to rebuff the report by Robert K. Hur, the special counsel appointed to investigate how classified material from Biden’s time as vice president had ended up in his garage in Delaware and an office in Washington. The report, which was released on Thursday, found that “no criminal charges are warranted” – a conclusion that was immediately overshadowed by the characterisation of the president’s memory. The report said Biden, 81, was a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” and had “diminished faculties in advancing age”.

Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif both claim wins

Former Pakistani prime ministers and bitter rivals Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have both declared victory in elections marred by delayed results and militant attacks, throwing the country into further political turmoil. Sharif’s party won the most seats by a single party in Thursday’s election, but supporters of imprisoned Khan, who ran as independents instead of as a single bloc after his party was barred from the polls, won the most seats overall. Reuters reports Sharif said his party would talk to other groups to form a coalition government as it had failed to win a clear majority on its own. Sharif’s announcement came after more than three-quarters of the 265 seats had declared results, more than 24 hours after polling ended on Thursday.

The results showed independents, most of them backed by Khan, had won the most seats – 98 of the 245 counted. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won 69 while the Pakistan People’s Party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto, got 51. The rest were won by small parties and other independents.

“Pakistan Muslim League is the single-largest party in the country today after the elections and it is our duty to bring this country out of the whirlpool,” Sharif told a crowd of supporters gathered outside his home in the eastern city of Lahore. Sharif is considered by analysts to be favoured by the country’s military establishment.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party released an audio-visual message created using artificial intelligence and shared on his X social media account. In the message, Khan, 71, rejected Sharif’s claim to victory, congratulated his supporters and called on them to “now show the strength of protecting your vote”. Khan, who has been behind bars since August, aid, “You kept my trust, and your massive turnout has stunned everyone,”

Georgia parliament approves West sceptic as new PM

Georgia’s parliament has confirmed former ruling party leader Irakli Kobakhidze – known for his anti-Western rhetoric – as the Black Sea nation’s next prime minister. Lawmakers approved Kobakhidze as the new premier by 84 votes to 10, after his predecessor resigned to steer the ruling party in upcoming parliamentary elections. Kobakhidze’s nomination is likely to raise eyebrows in the West over his claims that European countries and the United States are trying to drag Georgia into the Russia-Ukraine war. But addressing lawmakers ahead of Thursday’s vote, he presented his future cabinet’s programme dubbed “For the Construction of the European State”, saying that Georgia’s long-held ambitions to join NATO and the European Union would be his government’s priority.

World record for matchstick Eiffel Tower after U-turn

A model of the Eiffel Tower has been officially deemed the world’s tallest matchstick building a day after being ruled out by Guinness World Records (GWR). The 7.19m (23ft) tower had been disqualified on Wednesday for being made out of the wrong type of matches. GWR said on Thursday it was too harsh at first and congratulated model-enthusiast Richard Plaud on his record. Plaud, 47, said this week had been an “emotional rollercoaster”. It took him eight years to build the model, which is made out of 706,900 matches and 23kg of glue.

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