Israel closes crossing as 3 soldiers killed in rocket attack

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 6th May 2024.

Israel has closed the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza after Hamas fired rockets from within the strip – killing three Israeli soldiers and injuring several others. Israel said its fighter jets later struck the source. Hamas said it had been targeting Israeli soldiers in the area. Israel’s Channel 12 TV said 10 people were wounded, three seriously. It was unclear how long the crossing would be closed. Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant claimed Hamas wasn’t serious about a deal and warned of “a powerful operation in the very near future in Rafah and other places across all of Gaza”.

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, called for an independent investigation and “accountability for the blatant disregard of humanitarian workers.” He also said Israel this week denied him entry to Gaza for a second time. The crossing is one of the few routes to get humanitarian aid, including food and medical supplies, into Gaza.

Mediators in the Egypt have held two days of talks aimed at securing a deal for a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of hostages held by Hamas. In a statement, Hamas said the latest round had ended on Sunday and that its delegation would now travel from Cairo to Qatar to consult with the group’s leadership. The latest round of Gaza cease-fire talks ended in Cairo after “in-depth and serious discussions”, the Hamas militant group said Sunday, reiterating key demands that Israel again rejected. Analysts say that after signs of progress, the outlook now appeared dim.

Israel didn’t send a delegation to the talks mediated by Egypt and Qatar, and Defence Minister Gallant said that “we see signs that Hamas does not intend to go to any agreement”. Egyptian state media reported that the Hamas delegation went for discussions in Qatar, where the group has a political office, and will return to Cairo for further negotiations tomorrow, Tuesday.

Times of Israel reports CIA chief Bill Burns is traveling to Doha for an emergency meeting with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Thani regarding the ongoing negotiations, an official briefed on the talks says. “Burns is on his way to Doha for an emergency meeting with the Qatari prime minister aimed at exerting maximum pressure on Israel and Hamas to continue negotiating,” the source adds. His visit comes as the talks are “near collapse,” the official added.

Another threat to talks came as Israel ordered the local offices of Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite news network to close, accusing it of broadcasting anti-Israel incitement. The ban did not appear to affect the channel’s operations in Gaza or the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure from hard-liners in his government, continued to lower expectations for a cease-fire deal, calling the key Hamas demands “extreme” – including the withdrawal of Israel forces from Gaza and an end to the war. That would equal surrender after the Hamas attack on October 7 that triggered the fighting, Netanyahu said. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in a statement earlier said the militant group was serious and positive about the negotiations and that stopping Israeli aggression in Gaza was the main priority. But Israel’s government again vowed to press on with a military operation in Rafah, the southernmost Gaza city on the border with Egypt where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents now seek shelter from Israeli attacks. Rafah is a key entry point for aid.

US tells Qatar to evict Hamas, if…

The United States has told Qatar that it should expel Hamas if the group continues to reject a cease-fire with Israel, an agreement the Biden administration deems vital to easing the upheaval gripping the Middle East, a US official told The Washington Post. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered the message to Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in April, according to the official, who like others interviewed for this report spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.

‘Biden blocked ammunition shipment to Israel’

The Biden administration last week blocked a shipment of US ammunition to Israel, Axios writes, quoting two senior Israeli officials. This is the first time since October 7 and the move appears to have raised serious concerns in the Israeli government. Biden is facing harsh criticism at home from those who oppose his unconditional support for Israel. In February the White House asked for guarantees that US weapons would be used by the Israeli army in Gaza in accordance with international law. Israel provided a signed letter of assurances in March.

‘Anti-Semitism on the rise’

2023 saw an unprecedented increase “of tens of percentage points” in anti-Semitic phenomena in the world, especially after October 7, reports the ‘2023 Report on Anti-Semitism’ by Tel Aviv University’s Anti Defamation League (ADL). After the October 7 Hamas attack, the world – it explained – saw “the worst wave of episodes since the end of World War II”. According to the Report, in New York, the city with the largest Jewish population in the world, the ADL recorded 7,523 incidents in 2023 compared to 3,697 in 2022 (and according to a broader definition applied, it recorded 8,873); the number of assaults increased from 111 in 2022 to 161 in 2023 and of vandalism from 1,288 to 2,106. Other countries also saw dramatic increases in the number of antisemitic attacks: in France, the number of incidents increased from 436 in 2022 to 1,676 in 2023 (the number of physical assaults increased from 43 to 85); in the UK from 1,662 to 4,103 (physical assaults from 136 to 266); in Argentina from 427 to 598; in Germany from 2,639 to 3,614; in Brazil from 432 to 1,774; in South Africa from 68 to 207; in Mexico from 21 to 78; in the Netherlands from 69 to 154; in Italy from 241 to 454; and in Austria from 719 to 1,147. Australia recorded 622 antisemitic incidents in October and November 2023, in comparison to 79 during the same period in 2022.

China’s Xi visits Europe

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in France on a state visit hosted by Emmanuel Macron where the French leader will seek to push his counterpart on issues ranging from Ukraine to trade. Xi’s arrival for the visit marking 60 years of diplomatic relations between France and China heralded the start of his first European trip since 2019, which will also see him visit Serbia and Hungary. But Xi’s choice of France as the sole major European power to visit indicates the relative warmth in Sino-French relations since Macron made his state visit to China in April 2023 and acknowledges the French leader’s stature as a European Union powerbroker. The leader of the one-party Communist state of more than 1.4 billion people, accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan, was welcomed under umbrellas at a drizzly Paris Orly airport by Prime Minister Gabriel Attal.

Xi is to hold a day of talks in Paris today, Monday, also including EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, followed by a state banquet hosted by Macron at the Elysee. Tuesday will see Macron take Xi to the Pyrenees mountains, an area he used to visit as a boy, for a day of less public and more intimate talks.

Quoted on arrival in Paris by the Xinhua state news agency, Xi said the development of China-France relations had “injected stability and positive energy into the turbulent world” and China was ready to “enhance political mutual trust, build strategic consensus and deepen exchanges” during the visit.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping last visited the European Union in 2019, the world was a simpler place. No one had heard of Covid-19, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine was far off and Brussels and Beijing were eyeing a trade and investment deal. Relations are far frostier now: the deal is on ice after an exchange of sanctions, and an increasingly hawkish EU has brewed a list of new laws to decrease dependence on China. France has imposed successive rounds of sanctions on Moscow through the EU since 2022, while China has fostered closer relations with Russia. “The Chinese government has always maintained an objective, neutral and balanced stance and does not favour any party,” Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France, told Chinese media earlier this week. The French government source said Macron will “encourage China, as one of Russia’s main partners, to use the levers at its disposal to change Moscow’s calculation and contribute to a resolution of the conflict.”

EU-China trade remains a sticking point

Xi’s time in France will also see him sign new business deals, including reported plans for fresh Chinese orders with French aviation giant Airbus. The EU and China are among each other’s biggest trading partners – but European imports significantly outweigh exports to China, and Brussels has often alleged unfair market access. Last year, the EU opened a probe into Chinese electric vehicle subsidies, slammed by Beijing as “naked protectionism”.

After France, Xi heads to Serbia, a visit to coincide with the 25th anniversary of US bombs hitting the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade as part of NATO’s aerial campaign to stop the then-Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovar Albanians. Washington apologised for the incident, calling it an accident, and paid compensation for the Chinese nationals killed. But many in China still believe the embassy was targeted deliberately.

Officially an EU membership candidate, Serbia and other Western Balkan nations sit in a geopolitical hot spot where different powers are competing for influence. Though the EU is Serbia’s top economic partner, some €10.3 billion in Chinese investments flowed into the country from 2009 to 2021, according to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

Xi will wrap up his Europe trip in Hungary, the EU member most often at odds with Brussels. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has said the two states have “deepened political mutual trust” in recent years. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Chinese media outlet The Global Times on Tuesday that the EU’s probe into Chinese electric vehicle subsidies was “really dangerous and harmful,” and that his country will be “very much engaged” in improving EU-China ties.

‘Russia preparing sabotage in Europe’ – Financial Times

European intelligence agencies have warned their governments that Russia is preparing “violent acts of sabotage across the continent”, without worrying about possible civilian casualties, the Financial Times (FT) writes in its online edition. According to the sources, “Russia has already begun to move actively, secretly prepare bomb and arson attacks to damage infrastructure on European territory, directly and indirectly, apparently without worrying about causing civilian casualties,” the newspaper writes.

Protests in Berlin, Dresden after attack on EU lawmaker

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the streets of Berlin and Dresden on Sunday to protest right-wing extremism and political violence following Friday’s attack on the Social Democrat (SPD) lawmaker Matthias Ecke, a member of the European Parliament. Ecke was assaulted in Dresden while hanging up posters ahead of June’s European parliamentary elections. He was beaten so severely that he required emergency surgery and remains hospitalised. “It is very clear that this willingness to use violence did not occur in a vacuum,” said SPD co-chair Saskia Esken before the Sunday demonstrations. Police said roughly 1,000 people gathered in front of Berlin’s famous Brandenburg Gate to voice support for democracy and stand against right-wing extremism. In Dresden, police and organisers estimated the number of participants to be around 3,000. Addressing the crowd in Dresden, Esken said far-right parties sowing discontent and contempt for democracy were to blame for a recent spate of incidents involving verbal and physical attacks on politicians.

Polls open in Panama presidential election

Panamanians began voting Sunday in an election that has been consumed by unfolding drama surrounding the country’s former president, even though he is not on the ballot paper. Eager for change after months of political turmoil and protests, Panamanians are weighing promises of economic prosperity and migratory crackdowns against a corruption scandal. The presidential race remained in uncertain waters until Friday morning, when Panama’s Supreme Court ruled that leading presidential contender José Raúl Mulino was permitted to run. It said he was eligible despite allegations that his candidacy wasn’t legitimate because he wasn’t elected in a primary. Mulino joined the race late, replacing former President Ricardo Martinelli

Eight candidates are looking to replace the centre-left President Laurentino Cortizo, who by law is limited to one consecutive term. Mulino, a conservative lawyer, is leading in opinion polls with around 37 per cent support. Only three of Mulino’s seven rivals have come close to 15 per cent support, but the share of voters who say they are still undecided is even greater. Voters will only vote in a single round and whoever gains a simple majority will become the new president. Polls show that voters’ main concerns are the high cost of living, access to drinking water and crime.

Floods in southern Brazil kill at least 75, 103 are missing

Massive floods in Brazil’s southern Rio Grande do Sul state have killed at least 75 people over the last seven days, and another 103 were reported missing, local authorities said Sunday. At least 155 people were injured, while damage from the rains forced more than 88,000 people from their homes. Approximately 16,000 took refuge in schools, gymnasia and other temporary shelters. The floods left a wake of devastation, including landslides, washed-out roads and collapsed bridges across the state. Operators reported electricity and communications cuts. More than 800,000 people are without a water supply, according to the civil defence agency, which cited figures from water company. The Guaiba river reached a record level of 5.33 metres on Sunday morning.

Bernard Hill: Titanic, The Lord of the Rings actor dies aged 79

Actor Bernard Hill, best known for his roles in Titanic and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has died aged 79. Hill’s agent, Lou Coulson, told the PA news agency that he died in the early hours of Sunday. The actor played Captain Edward Smith in the Oscar-winning 1997 epic romance Titanic, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. He also portrayed Theoden, King of Rohan, in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy directed by Sir Peter Jackson. Hill joined the Lord Of The Rings cast for the second film in the trilogy, 2002’s The Two Towers, which won two Academy Awards for best sound editing and best visual effects. He returned to the franchise for 2003’s The Return Of The King, which picked up 11 Oscars, including best picture and best director for Sir Peter. Hill also starred in drama series Boys From The Blackstuff, and the 2015 BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall. The BBC described him as an “incredible talent” who “blazed a trail across the screen” during his career.

Norris beats Verstappen in Miami for first F1 win

McLaren’s Lando Norris beat Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with help from the safety car to take his maiden Formula 1 victory at the Miami Grand Prix. Norris jumped to the front because he was able to make his pit stop when a safety car was deployed at about half distance while others had already stopped. Verstappen was unable to keep pace with Norris when the race restarted with 27 laps to go, and the Briton stretched ahead, while the world champion had to settle for second ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

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