EU concerned by “domino effect” of Israel-Hamas war

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 4th February 2024

The European Union on Saturday expressed deep concern over reports that the Israeli military intends to take its battle against Hamas to the town of Rafah at Gaza’s border with Egypt where more than a million people have escaped the fighting.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that the conflict is likely to spread throughout the region unless a ceasefire is agreed between Israel and Hamas, after US airstrikes hit dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Speaking in Brussels, where he was chairing informal talks among EU foreign ministers, Borrell said around a million Palestinians “have been displaced progressively against the Egyptian border. They claimed they were safe zones, but in fact what we see is that the bombing affecting the civilian population continues and it is creating a very dire situation.” Borrell said that the Israel-Hamas war had created “a domino effect” with conflict also erupting in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and in the Red Sea area. “We are living a critical situation in the Middle East, in the whole region,” he said. “As long as the war in Gaza continues, it is very difficult to believe that the situation in the Red Sea will improve, because one thing is related with the other.” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, warned of “a real risk of spillover of the conflict”, saying: “It’s a huge concern. We ask for restraint, and we ask for dialogue and diplomacy. It’s the only way we can calm down the situation in the Middle East,” she said. According to Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said, since the beginning of the war, Israel has attacked more than 50 Hezbollah sites in Syria and more than 3,400 Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, adding that more than 200 “terrorists and commanders” had been killed.

Meanwhile, legislation providing US$17.6 billion (€927 billion) in new military assistance to Israel as it wages war against Hamas was unveiled yesterday in the US House of Representatives. The funding bill, offered by a House Appropriations panel, could come to a vote in the full House sometime next week, Speaker Mike Johnson said in a letter to members.

Pro-Palestine supporters march through London

More than 10,000 pro-Palestine supporters have marched in central London calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Demonstrators carried banners which read “End the killing” that were accompanied by harrowing images of the bloodshed since the conflicted erupted. Other banners declared “Free the children”, “Freedom to Palestine” and “Boycott Israel”. The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said on Saturday that 107 people were killed over the past 24 hours, bringing the wartime total to 27,238, with more than 66,000 people have been wounded.

18 die during as 125 US missiles were droped on Syria

At least 18 people have been killed during US missile strikes on Syria, after the US bombed targets there and in Iraq to avenge the killings of three US soldiers. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed were members of ‘Iran-backed groups’, after four sites were targeted in Syria. There have not yet been updates on Iraqi death totals. The Pentagon unleashed its first wave of bombs on Iranian-backed militias on Friday because the clear skies provided an accurate target, with 85 targets being hit in Iraq and Syria during the course of a 30-minute raid. Seven separate facilities – four in Syria and three in Iraq – were struck by the B1 bombers, which flew directly from the United States.

US, UK hit 30 Houthi targets in Yemen

The United States and Britain have struck at least 30 Houthi targets in Yemen. A joint statement from the two countries specifies that “dozens of Houthi targets” have been hit, underlining that the objective of the attacks is “to restore peace and stability”. Rebel-affiliated media said the Yemeni capital “Sanaa was targeted by American-British raids.” According to Al-Massirah television, “the attacks targeted areas south of the capital” of Yemen. Earlier, the United States Central Command announced that it had intercepted and destroyed six anti-ship missiles in areas under Houthi control. The Central Command, Centcom, said this action “will protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer”.

Thousands crowd central Berlin to protest far right

Thousands of people gathered in the heart of Berlin, near the Reichstag (parliament) building, not far from the chancellery, the iconic Brandenburg Gate and central train station to take a stand against right-wing extremism. On a rainy, cold Saturday, protesters also gathered in other parts of Germany to stand up against right-wing extremism. Around 30,000 people took to the streets in Freiburg and Dresden, and some 25,000 in Nuremberg and Augsburg, as well as in many other cities. Many protesters carried placards targeting Germany’s AfD party. The rally in Berlin, attended by 300,000 demonstrators, was the latest in series of similar protests over the past few weeks. It was the largest protest since mid-January, when nationwide protests kicked off a wave of rallies against the far right after a report published by media outlet ‘Correctiv’ on January 10 revealed that party members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) had met right-wing extremists, some Christian Democrats (CDU) and business people in November 2023 to discuss plans for mass deportations from Germany. Since then, millions have taken to the streets in Germany to take a stand against right-wing extremism. And more protests are set to follow today, Sunday. Special attention is also being paid to eastern Germany, where smaller towns will see some of largest protest since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Another large rally is due to be held in Berlin on June – the day before the European parliamentary elections.

Tractors converge on Rome as farmers protest across Europe

A convoy of tractors was poised to descend on Rome on Saturday as farmer protests caused disruptions across Europe but petered out in their French epicentre following government concessions. Farmers have expressed anger at what they say are “excessively restrictive regulations on agriculture” and “unfair competition, among other grievances”. The movement erupted in France last month and spread to Germany, Belgium, Poland, Romania, Greece, the Netherlands and Malta in protests that have seen motorways blocked and cities swamped by tractor convoys. Around 150 tractors massed in Orte, around one hour north of Rome, as protesters demanding better pay and conditions announced their imminent arrival in the Italian capital. Over 100 agricultural vehicles invaded the square in front of the Orte motorway toll booth, in the province of Viterbo, with moments of tension with the police when some demonstrators placed huge bales of hay in the middle of the road, attempting to block traffic again: a foiled attempt by a massive cordon of police forces. In the same hours, other groups pushed their vehicles as far as Formello, north of the capital, and Valmontone. “Italian agriculture has woken up, it’s historic and the people here are proving it. For the first time in their history, farmers are united under the same flag, that of Italy,” said protester Felice Antonio Monfeli. The demonstrators have demanded a hearing with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government.

Around 2,000 Greek farmers protested in the country’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki on Saturday to demand aid increases, a day after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced further support measures. Some farmers threw spoiled chestnuts and apples, a result of the natural disasters that hit these areas. “We have no food, we cannot put our lives in discount. We want to stay on our land and not become migrants,” Kostas Tzelas, president of the Rural Associations of Karditsa, told AFP.

In Germany, hundreds of farmers on tractors disrupted access to Frankfurt airport, the country’s busiest, in opposition to a reform of diesel taxation, police said. A Hesse farmers’ association estimated vehicle numbers at around 1,000, before the protest ended in the early afternoon. A protest on the Dutch-Belgian border that had shut down a main motorway was winding down on Saturday, with traffic resuming in the evening, according to the Belga news agency. Farmer discontent has also affected non-EU Switzerland, where around 30 tractors paraded in Geneva on Saturday in the country’s first such protest since the movement started elsewhere in Europe.

In France, security forces cleared the few remaining blockades of motorways on Saturday after the main agricultural union called for them to be lifted following government announcements. At its peak, the movement rocked new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s government, forcing it to pause a plan to reduce pesticides and insecticides and offer an aid package of 400 million euros. Romanian farmers and hauliers also announced the end of their road-blocking mobilisation on Saturday following an agreement with the government.

Maltese farmers on Friday drove some 12km in tractors and heavy vehicles to Valletta in protest against EU policies that are threatening their livelihood. Prime Minister Robert Abela spent some time discussing matters with the farmers, listening to their complaints.

The EU is scrambling to address concerns ahead of European Parliament elections this year. The European Commission on Thursday promised measures to defend the “legitimate interests” of EU farmers, notably the criticised administrative burdens of the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy.

Biden wins South Carolina Democratic primary

President Joe Biden has won the South Carolina Democratic primary, NBC News projects. The state party will proportionally award 55 delegates for Democrats. The party’s primary candidates need 1,968 total delegates nationwide to secure the party’s nomination. Biden’s win was widely expected, given his sizable lead in polls going into Election Day. The president also has a track record of success in Democratic primaries in the Palmetto State: his 2020 victory in that year’s primary helped pave his way to the nomination. Results are still coming in, but the eventual tally will offer the Biden campaign and the Democratic party, their first ballot box measure of how well the president is faring among key Democratic party constituencies. It will also offer his campaign tailwind as he heads into the next contest in Nevada on Tuesday, where 36 delegates are up for grabs. The president has a campaign event scheduled in Las Vegas today, Sunday. South Carolina holds open primaries, which means any voter registered in the state is permitted to vote in either party’s primary. According to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, former Trump now holds the narrowest of leads (45 per cent) over Biden (44) in a hypothetical general-election matchup. The Republican presidential primary will be held on February 24, and pit the state’s former governor Nikki Haley against Trump.

‘Trump is destructive, a danger to the country’ – Biden

Meanwhile, before leaving for Los Angeles Biden attacked Republican hopeful Donald Trump more harshly than usual. “The guy I’m going to run against isn’t for anything – he’s against everything!” the president said as he spoke to his supporters. “These elections are a mission. We cannot lose them, for the good of our country”, he added. Biden also claimed his success in New Hampshire: “I wasn’t on the ballot and I got 64 per cent.” After his South Carolina win, Biden warned the country, “There are extreme and dangerous voices at work in the country – led by Donald Trump – who are determined to divide our nation and take us backward.”

Wives of Russian soldiers turn on Putin during Moscow protests

Some 20 journalists were detained by police in central Moscow on Saturday at a rally of Russian soldiers’ wives calling for their men to be returned from the front in Ukraine. Independent Russian news outlet SOTA reported that 27 people were taken from the demonstration and transported to the nearest police station, as women laid red carnations at the tomb of the unknown soldier in the shadow of the Kremlin’s walls. Most were later released. The demonstration was the ninth and largest of similar weekly gatherings organised by The Way Home, which urged “wives, mothers, sisters and children” of reservists from across Russia to come to Moscow to “demonstrate (their) unity”. The latest protests come just weeks before Russia’s upcoming presidential election, scheduled on March 15 through 17, where Putin is all but certain to win.

90 Catholic figures sign scathing letter against Pope Francis

A group of 90 Catholic clergymen, scholars and authors have published a joint letter to “all Cardinals and Bishops of the Catholic Church”, urging them to oppose a Vatican document approved by Pope Francis that allows priests to bless same-sex unions for the first time. Newsweek reports the Catholic conservatives say that ‘Fiducia Supplicans’, a Vatican doctrine released on December 18 and signed by the Pope, would lead to the blessing of “objectively sinful” relationships. They add that the cardinals and bishops should “forbid immediately the application of this document in your diocese” and “ask directly the Pope to urgently withdraw this unfortunate document, which is in contradiction with both Scripture and the universal and uninterrupted tradition of the Church”. The ‘Fiducia Supplicans’ permits the blessing of those couples not considered to be married, according to the Catholic Church, including those that are same sex. This has proven deeply controversial within the global church, winning praise from reformers, while infuriating conservatives and being openly opposed by the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar. Among those who have spoken out against ‘Fiducia Supplicans’ is Bishop Joseph Strickland, an American hardliner who was removed from his Diocese of Tyler, which covers eastern Texas, in November. Speaking to ‘LifeSiteNews’, Strickland said: “We really simply need to be a united voice saying “No, we will not respond to this, we will not incorporate this into the life of the church because we simply must say no.” During a private meeting last August, Pope Francis spoke out against what he described as a “very strong, organised, reactionary attitude” contained within the Catholic church in the United States, which he condemned as “backward”. 

Main photo: AP/Omar Havan

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