Ireland, Spain urge EU to pressure Israel over Gaza

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 15th February 2024

Ireland and Spain have sent a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, urging her to “undertake an urgent review” of whether Israel is meeting its human rights obligations in Gaza. “Given the critical situation in Rafah, Ireland and Spain have just requested the European Commission to urgently review whether Israel is complying with its obligations to respect human rights in Gaza,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on social media. In the letter, Sanchez and Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the EU-Israel Association Agreement “makes respect for human rights and democratic principles an essential element of the relationship”. The European Commission should propose “appropriate measures” if Israel is found to be in breach of these obligations. The European Commission confirmed it had received the letter and would “look into it”.

Netanyahu pledges “powerful” Rafah action

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed his commitment to follow through with a military operation in Rafah, southern Gaza. “We will fight until complete victory and this includes a powerful action in Rafah as well, after we allow the civilians population to leave the battle zones,” Netanyahu wrote in a post on X. Western countries have expressed concern about such an operation because of the more than 1.4 million Palestinians sheltering there. Israel launched extensive military operations earlier in the war against Hamas in Gaza City in the north and Khan Yunis in the south. Rafah lies on the very southern part of Gaza, next to the Egyptian border.

Abbas urges Hamas to avoid “catastrophic event

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has urged the militant group Hamas to conclude a Gaza cease-fire deal quickly to avoid “dire consequences”, official Palestinian news agency Wafa reports. “We call on the Hamas movement to quickly complete a prisoner deal, to spare our Palestinian people from the calamity of another catastrophic event with dire consequences,” Abbas said. The Palestinian leader said the situation was “no less dangerous than the Nakba of 1948”, referring to the war accompanying the creation of Israel that saw 760,000 Palestinians flee or be forced to leave their homes.

Israeli delegation leaves Cairo talks

Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian negotiators in Cairo failed to reach a deal to achieve a cease-fire in the Gaza war and to exchange more hostages, but are set to continue talks, according to media reports. The Israeli delegation was on its way back from Cairo,  The Times of Israel was told. Egyptian state-owned television channel Al Qahera, citing a senior Egyptian official, said the talks would continue for another three days. US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby called the negotiations “constructive and moving in the right direction.” However, he told reporters at the White House: “Nothing is done until it is all done!”

Russian parliament to vote on suspending Moscow’s participation in OSCE

Russia’s parliament will vote on February 21 on suspending the country’s participation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), according to Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin. The OSCE  counts Ukraine, the US and Russia among its 57-members. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the organisation has been largely paralysed by Moscow’s ongoing use of the effective veto each country has. “It’s time for us to say goodbye to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly,” Volodin said at a meeting of the Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, according to a statement on the Duma’s website. “The organisation absolutely lacks independence, is politicised, and it dances to the tune of Washington. But the worst thing in this situation is that we also pay money, and we are one of the largest payers.” Both chambers of the Russian parliament, the Duma and the Federation Council, will vote simultaneously on suspending participation and on stopping Moscow’s payments to the OSCE, Volodin said. The Duma may also consider the possibility of Russia leaving other international organisations. OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Maltese Foreign Affairs Minister Ian Borg, addressed the inaugural Permanent Council meeting in Vienna, on 25th January.

Germany to hit NATO budget goal for first time since Cold War

Germany will meet NATO’s defence spending target of two per cent of its gross domestic product for the first time since the early 1990’s, according to a Defence Ministry spokesman and NATO forecast. German news agency DPA put the figure of the German government’s reported allocation for defence spending at €68.58 billion in the current year which it said would be 2.01 per cent of Germany’s GDP. Last year, Germany spent 1.57 per cent of its GDP on defence – well short of the two per cent target. This Monday, however, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged to meet the two per cent spending commitment while on a visit to Rheinmetall’s future arms factory site.

Trump responds to Putin’s comments about Joe Biden

Former US President Donald Trump, often accused of cosying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he took it as a ‘compliment’ after the foreign leader claimed his country would prefer President Joe Biden win America’s 2024 presidential election. “Now that’s a compliment,” Trump told supporters during a campaign rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, 10 days ahead of his Palmetto State primary clash with former Governor Nikki Haley. Trump said without evidence that Putin would prefer Biden because he’s not as harsh against Russia in the wake of the country’s bloody invasion of Ukraine. “I got along good with him, but he doesn’t want to have me,” Trump said. The former president spoke shortly after Putin told Russian state television he would like to see Biden as US president, rather than Trump, because he’s “more experienced and predictable”.

Japan unexpectedly slips into recession, Germany leads to third place

Japan has unexpectedly fallen into a recession after its economy shrank for two quarters in a row in face of continue weak internal consumption. In the period between October and December, Japan’s GDP recorded a contraction of 0.1 per cent, from minus 0.7 per cent of the previous quarter, and well below the expectations of analysts, which provided for an increase of 0.4 per cent. Based on present data, Germany ousted Japan to become the third world economy behind the United States and China

NATO allies talk Ukraine after Trump threat

Defence ministers from NATO member states are meeting in Brussels to talk about their support for Ukraine, together with their commitment to spend at least two per cent of gross domestic product on military and security needs. The meeting is officially a US-coordinated gathering of Ukraine-supporting allies rather than NATO itself, although an official NATO ministerial meeting takes place today. The talks at NATO headquarters have been overshadowed by comments from former US President Donald Trump. Allies have agreed since 2006 that they should spend two per cent of GDP on defence. However, only a few met this target before Russia extended its invasion of Crimea and the Donbas to the whole of Ukraine in February 2022. Russia’s invasion saw several NATO member states, most notably Europe’s largest economy Germany, reaffirm their commitments. The delegates will also discuss Swedish accession to NATO, which is being delayed by the Hungarian parliament failng to ratify the decision.

“‘Unprecedented” 11 per cent increase in defence spending — NATO Chief

News of Germany hitting the two per cent spending target came as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg praised an “unprecedented” 11 per cent increase in defence spending in the 31-nation alliance. “This year I expect 18 allies to spend two per cent of their GDP on defence. That is another record number,” Stoltenberg said during a pre-ministerial news conference in Brussels. He said that this represented a six-fold increase from 2014, when only three allies met the target. NATO’s European states would invest a combined total of $380-billion (€350 billion) in defence this year, Stoltenberg added. In 2023, eleven allies are expected to have met the two per cent target according to prior NATO estimates – Poland, the US, Greece, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, Romania, Hungary, Latvia, Britain and Slovakia. The surge in defense spending comes as Russia’s war in Ukraine has seen Western allies ramp up spending on military aid. The US welcomed the fact that 18 NATO member countries will achieve the target of two per cent of GDP in military expenses in 2024.

Russia, China clash with US, UK over attacks on Yemen’s Houthis

Russia and China, at the UN, on Wednesday accused the United States and Britain of illegally attacking military sites used by Yemen’s Houthi rebels to launch missiles at commercial vessels in the Red Sea, disrupting global shipping. US deputy ambassador Robert Wood and UK Ambassador Barbara Woodward countered that the Houthi attacks are illegal, and their “proportionate and legal action” against the Yemen rebels are being taken in self-defence. Woodward said the Houthi attacks are “driving up the costs of global shipping, including the costs of food supplies and humanitarian aid in the region”. But Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky and China’s UN envoy Zhang Jun argued that the UN Security Council never authorised military action against Yemen. The clashes came at a council meeting where UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said promising efforts to restore peace to Yemen have been slowed by rising regional tensions linked to the war in Gaza and “in particular the military escalation in the Red Sea”.

One dead, 22 injured in shooting at Chiefs Super Bowl parade

Kansas City Police said one person is dead, and 22 others were injured by gunfire after a shooting near the Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory rally at Union Station on Wednesday. Nine children are among the 22 injured by gunfire. In total, 11 children were injured, and they range in age from 6 to 15, according to Children’s Mercy Hospital. None of the children are in critical condition. They are all expected to recover, the hospital said. During a news conference Wednesday evening, Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said three people were detained. At least one weapon was also recovered by police. Graves said eight of the wounded were considered immediately life-threatening patients, seven others also had life-threatening injuries and six sustained minor injuries. All were transported immediately to Children’s Mercy Hospital, Truman Medical and Saint Luke’s. After shots rang out, shocked fans scrambled to flee to safety as police worked to clear Union Station in an ugly end to what had been a joyous victory parade.

President Biden has once again urged Congress to take action against gun violence, following the shooting during the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City. “Together with Jill, I pray for those killed and injured, that our country will find the resolve to end this senseless epidemic of gun violence that is tearing us apart,” Biden said in a White House statement. “Today’s events should touch us, shock us and push us to act”, he added, inviting Americans to “make their voices heard in Congress so we can finally act to ban assault weapons, limit magazines to high capacity, strengthen criminal background checks, and keep guns out of the hands of those who have no right to own or handle them”.

Prabowo Subianto claims victory in Indonesia elections

Former general Prabowo Subianto claimed victory in Indonesia’s presidential election yesterday as preliminary results put him well ahead of his two rivals to lead Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. Polls had long shown the fiery defence minister to be the favourite after he pledged to carry on the agenda of popular outgoing leader Joko Widodo, who is accused of inappropriately backing his campaign and whose son is Subianto’s running mate. “All counts, all pollsters… showed figures that Prabowo-Gibran won in one round,” he told cheering supporters in central Jakarta, referring to his vice presidential pick Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who stood beside him. “This victory should be a victory for all Indonesians.”

Court halves Sarkozy’s sentence for illegal campaign financing

The Paris Court of Appeals halved a one-year prison sentence for former president Nicolas Sarkozy over illegal campaign financing on Wednesday, ruling only half the time would be spent behind bars. Nicolas Sarkozy has been sentenced to one year in prison by the Court of Appeal in Paris, of which 6 months are suspended. The suspended part of the sentence means he might serve them by wearing an electronic tag instead of going to prison. Sarkozy was accused of overspending on his 2012 presidential campaign, and then hiring PR firm Bygmalion to cover it up. He was accused of spending €43 million, almost double the imposed limit of €22.5 million.

“Working is duty,” French PM tells rail workers ahead of holiday strike

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal on Wednesday warned train controllers against disrupting travel during school holidays as ticket inspectors geared up to strike this weekend. “The French know that going on strike is a right,” Attal said, while adding pointedly that “working is a duty”. Every time rail workers strike during holidays the image of the SNCF rail company “takes a hit”, he said, lamenting what he said was becoming a “kind of habit”. Train controllers plan to strike on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Christophe Fanichet, SNCF’s passengers division chief told broadcaster Franceinfo the action meant that one out of two trains would be cancelled between Friday and Sunday. Fanichet condemned the strike as “incomprehensible”.

2 air traffic controllers call in sick – and flights across Australia are delayed

There have been chaotic scenes at airports across Australia with travellers missing connections or experiencing long delays – all because two workers called in sick. The absent Sydney control tower staff left a gap that couldn’t be filled, forcing Airservices Australia to request a ground delay programme, sparking nationwide chaos. Many Qantas and Virgin Australia flights were affected with passengers experiencing delays of over an hour, while some had their flights cancelled. The government agency responsible for staff, Airservices Australia, confirmed it was forced to reduce flights by about 50 per cent. The reduction meant its usual 50 take off and landings an hour were cut to just 26 an hour. Qantas flights experienced an average delay of 72 minutes, while Virgin Australia flights were delayed by more than 90 minutes. Furious Liberal Senator Bridget McKenzie in a parliament senate committee asked how “two people don’t show up for work and the entire country is shut down”. Airservices Australia chief executive Jason Harfield  told at the senate that not one of the 948 air controllers across the country could fill in for the two ill workers. It was also revealed flight delays directly attributable to Airservices had worsened since the Covid pandemic, when 140 experienced air traffic controllers had the option of early retirement.

World demand for LNG jumps 50% by 2040 – Shell

British energy group Shell on Wednesday forecast that world demand for liquefied natural gas would jump more than 50 per cent by 2040, fuelled by China dumping coal. “Demand for natural gas has already peaked in some regions but continues to rise globally, with LNG demand expected to reach around between 625- and 685 million tonnes a year in 2040, according to the latest industry estimates,” Shell said in a report. Global trade in LNG reached 404 million tonnes last year, up from 397 million tonnes in 2022. Global LNG demand would grow beyond that date, “driven by industrial demand in China and economic development in South Asia and Southeast Asia”, the energy major added. While LNG is cleaner than coal, it also produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. But industry and many governments argue that LNG is a “bridge fuel” between coal and renewables such as wind and solar.

Main photo: REUTERS/ Dylan Martinez

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