Hot mic: Biden frustrated with Netanyahu

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 9th March 2024

US President Joe Biden’s growing frustration with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to mount, with the Democrat captured on a hot mic saying that he and the Israeli leader will need to have a “come to Jesus meeting”, which is an American expression for having a blunt conversation. The comments by Biden came as he spoke with Senator Michael Bennet, on the floor of the House chamber following Thursday night’s State of the Union address. In the exchange, Bennet urges the president to keep pressing Netanyahu on growing humanitarian concerns in Gaza. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg were also part of the brief conversation. Biden then responds using Netanyahu’s nickname, saying, “I told him, Bibi, and don’t repeat this, but you and I are going to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting.” An aide to the president then speaks quietly into the president’s ear, appearing to alert Biden that microphones remained on as he worked the room. “I’m on a hot mic here,” Biden says after being alerted. “Good. That’s good.” On Friday, when asked, in the wake of the recorded comments, if Netanyahu needed to do more to let in relief to the besieged Palestinian territory amid UN warnings of looming famine, Biden remarked, “Yes he does.”

Massive humanitarian crisis in Gaza deepens

A widening humanitarian crisis across Gaza and tight Israeli control of aid trucks have left virtually the entire population desperately short of food, according to the United Nations. Officials have been warning for months that Israel’s siege and invasion were pushing the Palestinian territory into complete starvation. In his State of the Union address on Thursday, Biden called on the Israelis to do more to alleviate the suffering even as they try to eliminate Hamas. The president announced in his speech that the US military would help establish a temporary pier aimed at boosting the amount of aid getting into the besieged territory. Last week, the US military began air-dropping aid into Gaza, which was criticised for being delusive due to its insufficient scale compared to the hundreds of thousands starved Palestinians.

Cyprus-Gaza humanitarian corridor to open soonvon der Leyen

A sea corridor to take urgently needed humanitarian aid to Gaza from Cyprus will open in the coming days, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday from the Cypriot port of Larnaca. “We are launching this Cyprus maritime corridor together, the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States,” von der Leyen said after a visit to inspect facilities in Cyprus alongside Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides. A test run could possibly take place over the weekend, Cypriot officials, granted anonymity to discuss diplomatic negotiations, told Politico. The trial run will see a vessel belonging to the Spanish charity Open Arms ferrying food aid collected by the US charity World Central Kitchen. The deliveries by sea “will be complex,” the EU, Cyprus, the US, Britain, the UAE and others said in a joint statement on Friday. “Our nations will continue to assess and adjust our efforts to ensure we deliver aid as effectively as possible,” they said. The hope is that the aid can help alleviate the dire humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, where, according to the United Nations, the population is suffering from “catastrophic hunger” after more than five months of conflict. More than 30,000 people in Gaza have been killed since Israel launched its war against Hamas in response to the group’s terrorist attack that left about 1,200 people dead. Critics have accused Israel of not letting enough food and medicine into Gaza to alleviate the suffering of the 2.2 million Palestinians who live there – a charge Israeli leaders have consistently denied.

‘Israeli road splitting Gaza has reached the Med coast’ – CNN

A road being built by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the 6.5-kilometer-wide strip – known as “the Netzarim Corridor” – dividing the north of the enclave from the south, has reached the Mediterranean coast, satellite imagery shows. The road will be used for the movement of troops and logistical equipment as well as providing an “operational foothold” in the area, according to the IDF. It’s part of a security plan to control the territory for months and possibly years to come, Israeli officials have said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a plan, obtained by CNN, to his security cabinet on February 23 for a post-Hamas future for Gaza, including the “complete demilitarisation” of the enclave, and the overhaul of its security, civil administration and education systems. Palestinians living in Gaza fear Israel’s post-war security plans will further restrict their freedom of movement.

Trump posts $91.6m bond for defamation judgment in Carroll Case

Donald Trump on Friday posted a $91.6 million bond in a defamation case he recently lost to the writer E. Jean Carroll, staving off a potential legal and financial disaster just days before a deadline to secure the deal. The bond, provided by an outside insurance company, will prevent Ms. Carroll from collecting the judgment while Trump appeals. A federal jury awarded Carroll $83.3 million in January, and Trump recently asked that the judgment be paused. The judge presiding over the case, Lewis A. Kaplan, denied Trump’s request for a preliminary reprieve, putting pressure on Trump to either come up with the money himself or secure help from an outside company. With a Monday deadline looming, Trump secured the bond, which is higher than the $83.3 million judgment because the former president is also responsible for interest. The bond is a promise from the company offering it – Federal Insurance Company, an arm of the insurance giant Chubb – to cover Trump’s judgment if he loses his appeal and fails to pay. In a court filing Friday morning, Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, asked Judge Kaplan to approve the bond as “adequate and sufficient” to block Carroll from collecting the award before Trump’s appeal is decided. In a statement, Habba said she was “highly confident” that an appeals court “will overturn this egregious judgment”, citing “numerous prejudicial errors” made at trial.

Erdogan offers to host peace summit between Ukraine and Russia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered to host a peace summit between Ukraine and Russia during a visit from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Erdogan, who has repeatedly discussed brokering a peace deal, said at a news conference in Istanbul following his meeting with Zelenskyy that he hoped Russia would be on board with Turkey’s offer. Despite Turkey’s offer, Ukraine remains firm in its stance not to engage directly with Russia in peace talks. Zelenskyy has repeatedly asserted that the initiative for peace negotiations must come from the invaded country. He outlined a 10-point plan as a basis for negotiations, which includes food security, restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, withdrawal of Russian troops, release of prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for aggression, and security guarantees for Ukraine. Zelenskyy emphasised that any peace proposals must align with this plan, seeking a “fair peace” for Ukraine.

Commissioner Breton lashes out against EPP, raising ethical questions

Commissioner for Internal Market of the European Union, Thierry Breton, in a short but explosive message, denounced the centre-right group for failing to deliver an overwhelming endorsement to Ursula von der Leyen as lead candidate. At the end of the EPP congress in Bucharest on Thursday, von der Leyen received 400 votes in favour and 89 against. In total, 737 delegates had voting rights and 591 registered to vote, according to the party. “Despite her qualities, Ursula von der Leyen (was) outvoted by her own party,” Breton said in a post on X. “The real question now: ‘Is it possible to (re) entrust the management of Europe to the EPP for five more years, or 25 years in a row?’ The EPP itself does not seem to believe in its candidate,” he also wrote. The critical post, which is completely unrelated to Breton’s portfolio, immediately raised ethical questions, as it appeared to run counter to the Commission’s internal guidelines for participation in the elections, adopted in mid-January. The updated rules allow Commissioners to take part in campaigns for the June elections without taking unpaid leave, as President von der Leyen and Commissioner Nicolas Schmit are doing for the EPP and the Party of European Socialists (PES), respectively.

Ireland votes on ‘women in the home’ referendum

As the world marked International Women’s Day, Ireland voted on a pair of referendum questions about how its constitution should refer to the role of women, who is responsible for providing care, and how to define a family. But what at first seemed like a simple decision about updating outdated language in the 1937 constitution has become fraught, and it’s not at all clear which way the country will vote. While there is widespread support for removing an outdated “women in the home” clause, there is concern over proposed replacement language. Meanwhile, a second referendum question, which proposes expanding the definition of a family to include couples in “durable relationships”, is facing opposition from both the left and right. Results are expected midday Saturday.

‘30 million women suffered female genital mutilation in last 8 years’

More than 230 million women and girls around the world have undergone female genital mutilation, according to a UNICEF report released on Friday. Over the last eight years, the UN children’s agency estimated that around 30 million people have endured the procedure, which UNICEF describes as the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. Around 144 million women and girls have been through female genital mutilation in Africa alone, followed by Asia and the Middle East with 80 million and six million respectively, according to the UNICEF report. Somalia is the country where the practice is most prevalent, with 99 per cent of the female population between the ages of 15 and 49 having suffered the procedure.

Greeks approve ending state monopoly on university education,

Greek lawmakers approved sweeping reforms early Saturday that will end the state monopoly on university education, breaking what powerful left-wing student groups have long regarded as a major taboo. The vote in the 300-seat parliament was 159 foir and 129 against. Hours before the vote, which began Friday evening and ended after midnight, protesters attacked police outside parliament with petrol bombs and firecrackers as some 18,000 people demonstrated in central Athens against the proposed legislation. Police charged a few dozen violent demonstrators and fired tear gas. A police statement said nine members of the public and seven officers were injured, while three suspected rioters were arrested. Friday’s rally followed weeks of demonstrations that included scores of university building occupations by students. Nevertheless, opinion polls indicate that most Greeks agree with the creation of privately-run universities.’

UN Security Council Calls for Peace in Sudan During Ramadan

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution Friday calling for a Ramadan cease-fire in Sudan, where the UN secretary-general warned this week that the humanitarian crisis has reached “colossal proportions. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 14 council members in favour, none against and Russia abstaining. The Muslim holy month starts early next week and lasts about 30 days. “This follows the call of the secretary-general and the African Union,” British Deputy Ambassador James Kariuki, whose delegation drafted the text, said. “We urge the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces to act on this united international call for peace and to silence the guns.” US. envoy Robert Wood condemned atrocities committed by both sides in the nearly year-old war. “This tragedy has gone on too long,” he said. “We must unite to prevent and stop the flow of weapons that is fueling this conflict.”

Brazilian NGOs report ‘39 killed by police’ to the UN

The Office of the Public Defender, the NGO Conectas and other Brazilian associations have reported to the United Nations Human Rights Council irregularities in an operation conducted by the military police in the favelas of the coastal areas of the Brazilian state of São Paulo, asking for its disbandment. The ‘Summer’ plan, launched in December to coincide with the high tourist season, this year, unlike in the past, has recorded 39 deaths. In particular, according to reports from health workers in the city of Santos, the police declared people killed during the operation still alive upon arrival at the hospital, to avoid forensic examinations. The governor of São Paulo defended the work of the military police, speaking of a job carried out “with professionalism”. “Now we are restoring order,” he declared. The São Paulo Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation. Between January and February three military police officers were killed in less than two weeks during the same operation.

Argentinian government considers sending soldiers to Rosario

In Argentina, a sequence of murders with a clear mafia origin in the last 48 hours in the city of Rosario has led President Javier Milei’s government to consider sending the army. Two taxi drivers and a bus driver were killed in the space of a few hours and without an apparent motive. The Minister of Security, Patricia Bullrich, said that it was “a typical mafia revenge” carried out by the criminal groups that infest the city, now nicknamed the “Argentine Chicago”. According to Bullrich, the revenge of crime would be a response to the massive deployment of federal police officers known as Operation Flag, and also to the tightening of the prison regime for bosses, decided by the local government. Recently the governor of the province of Santa Fe, Maximiliano Pullaro, had published on social media a photo of a group of undressed and shaved prisoners, sitting on the ground one on top of the other, and surrounded by armed agents – an image that recalls those deliberately circulated by the government of El Salvador during the presidency of Nayib Bukele, who boasts of having defeated the Salvadoran criminal gangs, known as ‘maras’, thanks to a very harsh policy of fighting crime.

Violent diarrhea bug continues to slam the Northeastern US

A stomach bug that causes violent diarrhea and vomiting is still surging throughout the country, particularly the northeast, health officials have announced. The latest CDC data update shows that 16.5 per cent of tests given to hospitalised patients in the northeast came back positive for norovirus at the beginning of March – nearly a three per cent increase from a month earlier. This is up from just four per cent in November, when the outbreak started. Cases are also rising throughout the rest of the US, with 15 per cent of swabs now detecting the virus compared to nine per cent in November. Norovirus is the most common foodborne illness in the US, affecting about 21 million people every year. The high contagiousness can lead to widespread outbreaks, affecting schools, healthcare facilities, and food service establishments.

US school expels pupils over AI fake nudes of classmates

A school in the California city of Beverly Hills has expelled five students after fake, AI-generated nudes of their classmates were shared online. The images, in which students’ faces were superimposed onto nude bodies, came to the attention of Beverly Vista Middle School officials in late February. At a meeting this week, the Beverly Hills Unified School District’s board voted to remove the five students who were the “most egregiously involved” in the creation and distribution of the material, according to ‘The Los Angeles Times’. The children and their families did not contest the decision to expel them. While the students were disciplined within 24 hours of the school finding out, officials avoided taking further action until a full investigation was completed. District Superintendent Michael Bregy said in a letter to parents that 16 students were involved, all in the eighth grade.

Photo: Jim WATSON / AFP

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