“Hostage deal would defer planned Rafah operation”

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 28th April 2024.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Saturday said that if a hostage deal is reached with Hamas, Israel would suspend a planned military operation in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. “If we reach a hostage swap deal (with Hamas), we will suspend operations in Rafah,” Katz told Israeli broadcaster Channel 12. Earlier, the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, released a video in which two hostages held in Gaza could be seen demanding the Israeli government to make a deal to secure their release. Meanwhile, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid told the same broadcaster: “If the choice is between continuing the war on Gaza and reaching a hostage swap deal, we must choose to make a deal.” In response to the video, families of the hostages said in a statement: “Israel must choose between (invading) Rafah or a deal (with Hamas),” the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

Hamas ignited the war with a shock incursion into southern Israel in which militants killed 1,170 people, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures. Hamas is believed to still be holding 129 hostages out of the 253 it took on October 7. The Hamas attack resulted in Israel’s retaliatory military campaign to destroy Hamas that has since killed 34,500 people, mostly women and children, and wounded 77,293, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. Israel believes 134 Israelis are being held in Gaza, while it is holding some 9,000 Palestinians in its jails.

The conflict has pushed 85 per cent of Gaza’s population into internal displacement amid acute shortages of food, clean water, and medicine, while 60 per cent of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed. Israel is accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice. An interim ruling in January ordered Tel Aviv to ensure its forces do not commit acts of genocide, and guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians in Gaza. A previous deal in November saw the release of 81 Israelis and 24 foreigners in exchange for 240 Palestinians, including 71 women and 169 children. The US, Qatar and Egypt have tried to broker an agreement to release the remaining Israeli captives.

Large protests outside annual White House correspondents’ dinner

An election-year roast of President Joe Biden before journalists, celebrities and politicians at the annual White House correspondents’ dinner Saturday butted up against growing public discord over the Israel-Hamas war, with large protests outside the event condemning both Biden’s handling of the conflict and the Western news’ media coverage of it. In previous years, Biden, like most of his predecessors, has used the glitzy annual White House Correspondents’ Association gala to needle media coverage of his administration and jab at political rivals, notably Republican rival Donald Trump. With hundreds of protesters rallying against the war in Gaza outside the event and concerns over the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the perils for journalists covering the conflict, the war hung over this year’s event. ‘‘Shame on you!’’ protesters draped in the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh cloth shouted, running after men in tuxedos and suits and women in long dresses, as guests and other participants hurried inside. Chants accused US journalists of undercovering the war and misrepresenting it. ‘‘Western media we see you, and all the horrors that you hide,’’ crowds chanted at one point. Other protesters lay sprawled motionless on the pavement, next to mock-ups of flak vests with ‘‘press’’ insignia. Ralliers cried ‘‘Free, free Palestine”. They cheered when at one point someone inside the Washington Hilton, where the dinner has been held for decades, unfurled a Palestinian flag from a top-floor hotel window.

Over 100 detained at pro-Palestinian US campus protest

US police have detained over 100 people at a pro-Palestinian protest, Northeastern University said on Saturday. The event in Boston, in the northeastern US state of Massachusetts, is the latest in a series of rallies at campuses across the US. Several of those protests have been interrupted by police. In a different protest on Thursday, 93 people were arrested for trespassing at the University of Southern California (USC). On Friday, the interim president of the University of Pennsylvania, J. Larry Jameson, called for an encampment of protesters on his campus to be dismantled. Boston officers took action after protesters had “crossed the line” in using “anti-Semitic slurs” including calls to kill Jewish people, the university said in a social media post. “What began as a student demonstration two days ago was infiltrated by professional organisers with no affiliation to Northeastern,” the statement said.

A leading student group behind the protests, the Huskies for a Free Palestine, disputed the university’s account and said “Zionist” counterprotesters actually shouted the antisemitic slogan which was then used to justify police deployment. In a statement, the organisation claimed that no student protesters “repeated the disgusting hate speech”. Protesters are demanding a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

Russia launches dozens of missiles at Ukrainian power facilities

Russia launched a fresh barrage of missiles at Ukraine early Saturday with the goal of targeting energy infrastructure, according to Ukrainian officials. President Zelenskyy wrote on X, that “34 Russian missiles targeted Ukraine. We managed to intercept a portion of them,” while reiterating his call to receive more air defence systems from allies. Ukrainian private energy firm DTEK said four of its thermal power plants had been damaged and “energy workers are trying to eliminate the consequences of the attack”. Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko said on Facebook that energy plants were struck in at least three regions of Ukraine, where one worker was wounded in the Russian assault.

A psychiatric hospital in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv was hit by a Russian missile. Ukrainian Regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov said a 53-year-old woman was hurt in the attack, which damaged the hospital building along with local power lines. Utility workers were deployed to clean the rubble.

Scholz says there will be ‘no NATO soldiers in this war’

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz once again rejected the idea of supplying Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine and vowed, “There will be no German soldiers and there will be no NATO soldiers in this war.” Scholz told a gathering of his centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD)  in the northern German city of Lüneburg, “Taurus is a cruise missile that can fly as far as 500 kilometers if you do it correctly. There are weapons that can only be delivered if you retain control over everything that is done with them,” Scholz said, while adding that Taurus is a precise and effective weapon. The German chancellor suggested that Germany would have to still operate the targeting systems of the Taurus missiles even in case they did up in Ukraine. “We will not act inside Ukraine with German soldiers and also outside the country, with war actions such as choosing targets and the like.”  Scholz believes that the delivery of the weapons could risk escalation and draw Germany into the conflict. The opposition conservative Christian Democratic Union has criticised Scholz for not sending the Taurus weapons, arguing that the Scholz government is not doing everything it can to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.   

‘We need hope’ says German chancellor at EU election campaign

German Chancellor Scholz ‘s centre-left Social Democrats, SPD, launched their official campaign for the June 9 European Parliament election with a rally in Hamburg, under the mantra “we need hope”. Scholz tried to alleviate German voters’ fears their country could be drawn into Ukraine’s war with Russia if it’s too proactive in its military support for the eastern European country. The chancellor reiterated Germany would continue to stand by Ukraine’s side under his leadership as the second-largest arms supplier after the US, but would avoid a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party, AfD, officially kicked off its campaign for the elections at an event in the southwestern town of Donaueschingen. The party’s top candidate in the elections, Maximilian Krah, cancelled plans to speak after an assistant was arrested on suspicion of spying for China earlier this week. Krah’s party has been polling strongly in Germany in recent months as discontent is high with Scholz’s three-party coalition government. It has long been criticised as having Russia-friendly positions.

Polish Conservatives warn against ‘Brussels elites’

Poland’s long-standing Conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) politicians warned against the so-called ‘Brusels elites’ as it kicked off the European election campaign at its party congress in Warsaw on Saturday, saying Europe must be defended. Party leader Jarosław Kaczyński declared his rejection of the European Green Deal. He argued that the Green Deal harms Polish agriculture and practically leads to its liquidation. It means not only higher energy prices, but higher prices overall – especially for transport. Freedom has many aspects, one of which is the freedom to travel, which depends on the price of airline tickets, Kaczyński explained. He presented the former Vice-President of the European Parliament Jacek Emil Saryusz-Wolski as a candidate for the post of Polish EU Commissioner. “We must take back Brussels – reclaim Europe as a community of states and nations,” said Saryusz-Wolski.

Italy summons Russian ambassador over heating firm takeover

Russia’s ambassador to Italy was summoned on Saturday after Moscow announced it was putting a subsidiary of Italian heating firm Ariston Thermo Group under the “temporary management” of Gazprom. “The government requests clarification on the matter of the nationalisation of the Ariston Thermo Group,” Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on X. Tajani said he had spoken to Ariston’s top managers and Rome “stands alongside businesses, ready to protect them in all international markets”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin placed the Russian subsidiaries of Italian water heating company Ariston and German appliance maker BSH Hausgeraete under JSC Gazprom Household Systems, according to a decree published on Friday. The EU criticised the move on Saturday, saying it showed Moscow’s disregard for international law. “These measures, targeting legitimate economic activities, are yet another proof of Russia’s disregard for international law and rules,” a spokesperson for the EU’s diplomatic service said in a statement. “The European Union calls on Russia to reverse these measures and seek acceptable solutions with European companies targeted by them,” the statement said.

Tory MP defects to Labour

Conservative MP Dan Poulter has defected to the Labour Party, opposition leader Keir Starmer confirmed Saturday, dealing another blow to embattled prime minister Rishi Sunak. Poulter, a former health minister, told the Observer that he was switching parties and called on Sunak to call a general election “as soon as possible”. Poulter said he was motivated by the troubles facing the National Health service (NHS). “It is abundantly clear to me that the Labour Party alone has the will and the trust to restore and reform the NHS,” he told the Observer in comments published on the website of its sister paper, The Guardian.

Thousands of Sanchez supporters rally, urge PM not to quit

Supporters of Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Saturday gathered in their thousands urging him not to step down from office. On Wednesday the Socialist premier said that he was considering the possibility of resigning after a court opened a fraud investigation into his wife into accusations by a right-wing legal platform that she used her position to influence business deals. He said he would suspend all public duties until he announces his decision on Monday. “I need to stop and think whether I should continue to head the government or whether I should give up this honour,” he wrote in a four-page letter.

At a meeting of the party’s federal committee, Deputy Prime Minister Maria Jesus Montero said: “Prime Minister, stay, Pedro, stay. We are with you.” Outside, the Socialist party supporters played music and waved flags, also calling for Sanchez to stay put. Spain’s conservative opposition have slammed the prime minister’s actions, accusing Sanchez of being irresponsible for putting the country on hold while he considers his next step. Alberto Nunez Feijoo, the leader of the People’s Party, told a meeting in Tarragona in Catalonia, “Spain does not have a problem, the one who has a judicial problem is Sanchez, his government, his party and his circle.  Let them solve it.”

20 soldiers killed in Cambodia army base blast

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Manet on Saturday said 20 soldiers were killed in an ammunition blast at a military base in Kampong Speu province, west of the capital Phnom Penh. “I am deeply shocked to receive the news of the ammunition explosion incident,” Hun Manet said in a statement on Facebook and expressed his “deepest condolences” to the families of those killed. Cambodia’s military said a “warehouse ammunition explosion” had destroyed a truck fully loaded with weaponry. Four buildings have been destroyed. The exact cause of the blast remains unclear. Pictures circulating on social media showed damaged buildings, including houses with holes in their roofs, and smoke still rising.

Iraq criminalises same-sex relationships with 15 years in prison

Iraq’s parliament passed a law criminalising same-sex relationships with a maximum 15-year prison sentence on Saturday, in a move it said aimed to uphold religious values but was condemned by rights advocates world-wide as the latest attack on the LGBT community in Iraq. The law aims to “protect Iraqi society from moral depravity and the calls for homosexuality that have overtaken the world,” according to a copy of the law seen by news agency Reuters. It was backed mainly by conservative Shi’ite Muslim parties who form the largest coalition in mainly Muslim Iraq’s parliament. The Law on Combating Prostitution and Homosexuality bans same-sex relations with at least 10 years and a maximum of 15 years in prison, and mandates at least seven years in prison for anybody who promotes homosexuality or prostitution. It also imposes between one and three years in prison for anyone who changes their “biological gender” or wilfully dresses in an effeminate manner.

Harvey Weinstein hospitalised

Disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer has said his client had been taken to hospital following his return to a jail in New York City. Attorney Arthur Aidala said Weinstein was moved to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan after his arrival on Friday to city jails. “They examined him and sent him to Bellevue. It seems like he needs a lot of help, physically,” Mr Aidala said. “He’s got a lot of problems. He’s getting all kinds of tests. He’s somewhat of a train wreck health-wise.” Frank Dwyer, a spokesperson with the New York City Department of Correction, said in an e-mail that Weinstein remains in custody at Bellevue.

Record price for Titanic passenger’s gold watch

A pocket watch that belonged to the wealthiest passenger aboard the Titanic sold for £1.175 million (€1.38 million) at auction Saturday, smashing a pre-sale estimate. Henry Aldridge & Son, the auction house that sold the watch, had predicted it would sell for between £100,000 and £150,000. The auction for John Jacob Astor IV’s 14-carat gold Waltham pocket watch had a starting bid of £60,000. It was sold to an American buyer. The watch, engraved with the initials JJA, was found with Astor’s body when it was recovered several days after the Titanic sank in April 1912. He was also found with a diamond ring, gold and diamond cufflinks, £225 in English notes, and $2,440.

Photo: AFP

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