Iran and the US “on full alert”

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 6th April 2024

Two Iranian officials quoted by The New York Times say Iran has put its military forces on “full high alert”. The officials say Iran has made a decision to directly attack Israel in retaliation for an alleged Israeli strike on Monday that killed a top Iranian commander in Syria and several other Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members, and in order to create deterrence.

“Iran will undoubtedly respond to the Israeli attack against the Iranian consulate in Damascus,” the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah, said in a televised speech. “Only (Ayotallah) Khamenei can decide how, when and where Iran’s response to Israel will be,” Nasrallah added, referring to the Iranian leader. “The attack on the (Iranian Damascus) consulate constitutes a turning point in the ongoing war and the region has entered a new phase,” Nasrallah said.

Meanwhile, a US official says the United States is also on high alert and actively preparing for a “significant” attack that could come as soon as within the next week by Iran targeting Israeli or American assets in the region in response to Monday’s Israeli strike in Damascus that killed top Iranian commanders, a senior administration official tells CNN. Senior US officials currently believe that an attack by Iran is “inevitable” – a view shared by their Israeli counterparts, that official said.

The two governments are furiously working to get in position ahead of what is to come, as they anticipate that Iran’s attack could unfold in a number of different ways – and that both US and Israeli assets and personnel are at risk of being targeted. A forthcoming Iranian attack was a major topic of discussion on President Joe Biden’s phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday. As of Friday, the two governments did not know when or how Iran planned to strike back, the official said. A direct strike on Israel by Iran is one of the worst-case scenarios that the Biden administration is bracing for, as it would guarantee rapid escalation of an already-tumultuous situation in the Middle East. Such a strike could lead to the Israel-Hamas war broadening into a wider, regional conflict – something Biden has long sought to avoid.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, speaking at a meeting of the security cabinet soon after his phone call with US President Biden, relates to the threats emanating from Iran. The Times of Israel quotes him saying: “Iran has been acting against us for years – directly and via proxies. And, therefore, Israel acts against Iran and its proxies – defensively and offensively.” He added: “We will know how to defend ourselves, and we will act according to the simple principle: that those who harm us or plan to harm us, we will harm.”

Israel disciplines officers over aid workers’ deaths

The Israeli military announced Friday that two officers had been removed from their posts and three senior commanders reprimanded for their role in the drone strikes that killed seven aid workers in the Gaza Strip earlier this week. In line with military protocol, the army’s findings will also be sent to the military prosecutors for them to assess over the coming weeks whether anyone should face criminal charges for their role in the Monday attack. In the meantime, the military is assessing whether to move the two officers – a reserve colonel and a major – who were stripped of their posts to other roles or to fire them from the military.

“The real test is results” – Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States was looking for “results” in response to news that Israel would open up more routes for aid to flow into Gaza. The Israeli decision to allow aid to enter through new routes came after President Biden made it clear in a call with the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Thursday that US support for Israel would depend on its next steps to alleviate a humanitarian crisis in the enclave. Israel has been under rising pressure from US officials and humanitarian agencies to increase the number of crossings into Gaza for aid as the United Nations warns that a famine is looming. Hours later, the Israeli government announced additional aid routes, including through the port of Ashdod and the Erez crossing, a checkpoint between Israel and northern Gaza. “I asked them to do what they’re doing,” Mr. Biden told reporters on Friday. The New York Times says that, however, the Israeli statement offered few details, and it was not immediately clear when those new routes would open – or how much aid could pass through them. In addition, moving aid through the Erez border crossing into northern Gaza is likely to present logistical hurdles, since most aid has been stored in Egypt, on the opposite side of the coastal enclave.

Biden urges Egypt, Qatar to turn up the pressure on Hamas

President Biden has sent messages to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar urging them to increase pressure on Hamas to make a deal with Israel that would result in a temporary cease-fire in Gaza and the release of hostages held there, a senior administration official said on Friday. The messages to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, came as American and Israeli negotiators converge in Cairo this weekend for the next round of talks aimed at defusing the war that has consumed the Middle East for nearly six months.

UN calls for a halt to arms transfers to Israel

The United Nations’ top human rights body adopted a resolution on Friday that calls for all countries to stop supplying arms to Israel and puts its key allies under international scrutiny for possible violations of international humanitarian law. The resolution, adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday, called on countries to halt supplies of arms and munitions to Israel “in order to prevent further violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights”.

EU chief plunged into controversy over top job pick

Four EU Commissioners and a number of MEPs have challeneged the decision to appoint German MEP Marcus Pieper as EU envoy for Small and Medium-Siżed Enterprises. The four commissioners – Spain’s Josep Borrell, France’s Thierry Breton, Luxembourg’s Nicolas Schmit and Paolo Gentiloni of Italy – wrote a letter to Ursula von der Leyen, asking her to discuss the recruitment process. MEPs from the Socialists, Liberal and Greens also criticised the decision and also asked for the selection to be rescinded. According to media reports, Pieper was deemed less qualified than two other candidates, including a liberal Czech MEP. The European Commission has defended the appointment, saying the usual procedures were followed. The stages of the selection process will not be made public, a spokesperson said, but President von der Leyen “has full confidence that the process took place in full compliance with procedures”.

Russians hit Ukrainian army south of Donetsk

The Russian armed forces have hit the Ukrainian army south of Dometsk, a spokesperson for the Russian Defece Ministry told new agency Tass, specifying that “an attempt by the Ukrainian armed forces to strengthen their forward positions was foiled” and that an attack by the Kiev military was repelled. The Russian army reportedly struck the Ukrainian National Guard near Uglesborochnaya and Staromayorsky, eliminating around 155 soldiers in the last 24 hours and hitting some assets such as a tank, an anti-tank gun and six drones.

EU’s most threatening criminal networks enter legal economy

A bleak picture has emerged from a report published Friday by the EU crime agency, Europol, which has identified 821 particularly-threatening criminal networks with more than 25,000 members across the bloc. According to the agency, 86 per cent of those networks can infiltrate the legal economy to hide their activities and launder their criminal profits. Europol cites families from Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta organised crime syndicate, one of the world’s most powerful, extensive and wealthy drug-trafficking groups. Their profits from drug and arms trafficking as well as tax defrauding are invested throughout Europe in real estate, supermarkets, hotels and other commercial activities, it said. Another characteristic of these networks is the borderless nature of their structure, with 112 nationalities represented among their members, the report added. “However, looking at the locations of their core activities, the vast majority maintain a strong geographical focus and do not extend their core activities too broadly,” Europol said. As for their activities, drug trafficking and corruption are the main concern for EU officials. As record amounts of cocaine are being seized in Europe and drug-related violent crime is becoming increasingly visible in many EU countries such as Belgium and France, drug trafficking is standing out as the key activity, the report said. Europol said the data will be shared with law enforcement agencies in EU member countries, which should help better target criminals.

Luxury cars, watches seized over alleged $650 million Covid-19 fraud

The Italian financial police has said that it has arrested 22 people and seized assets worth more than €600 million in connection with alleged fraud linked to the European Union’s post-pandemic recovery fund, CNN reported on Friday. Following the arrests from Italy, Austria, Romania and Slovakia and an investigation by the EU prosecutor, eight people were detained, 14 were placed under house arrest and two others were barred from practising their profession. The assets that were seized during dozens of raids on homes and offices included Lamborghinis, Porsches, Rolexes, Cartier jewellery, cryptocurrencies, luxury villas and other items. The investigation has increased fears that both the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) and Italy’s own building schemes are proving a boon for fraudsters. Italy has received almost €102 billion from the EU Covid recovery funds, with over €90 billion more expected by 2026. Police said the suspects were using a series of front companies to present fictitious projects and thereby get tradeable tax credits from the state. “In 2021, the group applied for non-repayable grants, apparently to aid small- and medium-sized ventures. However, they afterwards made up false balance sheets to show the companies as active and profitable, despite their non-activity or fictitious nature,” according to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Molotov cocktails against northern Germany synagogue

On Friday afternoon, unknown persons threw an “incendiary device” against a door of the synagogue in Oldenburg, in northern Germany, but no one was injured, reports the Geran Dpa agency, citing a police spokesperson who did not provide further details. Guards from a nearby cultural centre immediately noticed the fire and put out the flames but the door of the synagogue was damaged, the agency adds. The police are looking for those responsible.

“Suspected Russian spies expelled from NATO” – Stoltenberg

“We have expelled Russian personnel from NATO headquarters,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with Bild. “In fact they were carrying out activities that were not diplomatic, but intelligence. We are taking measures to make it more difficult for Russian intelligence services to carry out illegal activities between NATO countries or within them,” he added.

Earthquake, aftershocks rattle NYC and beyond

New York City and its surrounding area were hit by a significant earthquake and multiple aftershocks Friday, including a powerful aftershock Friday evening. A 4.0 magnitude aftershock hit 37 miles west New York City near Gladstone, N.J. around 6 p.m. Friday. It struck 9.7 kilometers deep and was felt as far away as Long Island, where there were reports of houses shaking.  New York Governor Kathy Hochul said there were no immediate reports of significant damage after the 4.0 aftershock Friday evening, which came on the heels of Friday morning’s 4.8 magnitude earthquake – one of the largest quakes to hit the region in a century. The quake hit at approximately 10:23 a.m., startling everyone. It struck 4.7 kilometers below the surface and was centred in Readington Township, New Jersey, about 40 miles west of New York City, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Walls rattled and shelves shook throughout the area. Videos captured various views of the moment the earthquake hit.

The magnitude 4.8 earthquake near Tewksbury was the most significant to impact North Jersey since 1884, when an August 10 earthquake somewhere near Jamaica Bay toppled chimneys and moved houses off their foundations as far as Rahway. Other than that quake, there were only three earthquakes in modern history that caused damage in the state: 1737 (New York City), 1783 (west of New York City) and 1927 (New Jersey coast near Asbury Park), according to New Jersey Office of Emergency Management records. However, as with Friday’s quake, objects falling from shelves and building damage such as chimney collapse were thought to be the extent of the impact. New Jersey has yet to record a fatality due to an earthquake, according to state records.

Trump Media stock sinks to post-merger low

Shares of Truth Social owner Trump Media & Technology Group tumbled 12 per cent on Friday, sinking to their lowest level since the company went public last week, CNN reports. The selloff has erased nearly $2 billion from the value of former President Donald Trump’s stake in the company this week. Trump Media shares surged to as high as $79.38 on March 26, the day trading began on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “DJT.” Since then, the Truth Social owner’s share price has plunged by 49 pġer cent to the closing price of $40.49 on Friday. Trump Media’s shares have lost about a third of their value this week. Despite this week’s losses, Trump Media shares have still spiked by more than 130% so far this year.

American Cancer Society warns a “tidal wave” of tumours is coming

A tidal wave of cancer cases is expected to sweep the globe by 2050, jumping 77 per cent between now and then, a new study says. Some 20 million cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2022, but that number is projected to balloon to more than 35 million cases by 2050, thanks in part to rising obesity rates and junk food diets. Cancer death rates have trended downward in recent years, but as the population grows and skews older, deaths are likely to increase as well. In 2022, 9.7 million people died of cancer. The increase is partly fuelled by a mystery rise in cancers among young people that is affecting dozens of nations worldwide.  The leading types of cancer cases were lung cancer, breast cancer in women, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and stomach cancer.

“Drunk” cruise ship passenger jumps overboard

A 20-year-old man reportedly said ‘I’ll fix this right now’ before jumping overboard from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in front of his horrified family. The 18-storey ‘Liberty of the Seas’ was travelling between Cuba and the Bahamas’ Grand Inagua Island when the shocking incident happened. Witnesses told the New York Post the man’s father and brother watched as he went overboard. The onlooker said it appeared to be an impulsive decision. Passenger Bryan Sims told The Post he had been hanging out with the man, who was ‘pretty drunk’ in the hot tub until 3.30am. ‘As we were walking from the hot tub back to the elevators, his dad and brother were walking towards us,’ he said. ‘His dad was fussing at him for being drunk, I guess.’ The man reportedly said to his dad ‘I’ll fix this right now’ before he jumped.  Witness Deborah Morisson told The Post the family was ‘horrified.’ A spokesman for the US Coast Guard said on Friday morning they still consider it a rescue operation.

Photo: Reuters

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