Israel strikes eastern Rafah as ceasefire talks fail

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Friday, 10th May 2024.

Israeli forces bombarded areas of Rafah Thursday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed US President Joe Biden’s threat to withhold weapons from Israel if it assaults the southern Gaza city. “If we must, we shall fight with our fingernails,” Netanyahu said in a video statement. “But we have much more than our fingernails.”

A senior Israeli official said late yesterday that the latest round of indirect negotiations in Cairo to halt hostilities in Gaza had ended and Israel would proceed with its operation in Rafah and other parts of the Gaza Strip as planned. Israel has submitted to mediators its reservations about a Hamas proposal for a hostage release deal, the official said. More than 80,000 people have fled Rafah since Monday, the UN says, as Israeli tanks reportedly mass close to built-up areas amid constant bombardment. Palestinian armed groups said they were targeting Israeli troops to the east.

In Gaza, Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad said their fighters fired anti-tank rockets and mortars at Israeli tanks massed on the eastern outskirts of the city. Residents and medics in Rafah, the biggest urban area in Gaza not yet overrun by Israeli ground forces, said an Israeli attack near a mosque killed at least three people and wounded others in the eastern neighbourhood. Video footage from the scene showed the minaret lying in the rubble and two bodies wrapped in blankets.

An Israeli air strike on two houses in the Sabra neighbourhood of Rafah killed at least 12 people including women and children. Among the dead was a senior commander of the militant Al-Mujahedeen Brigade, and his family, and the family of another group leader, medics and relatives, the group said. Israel says Hamas are hiding in Rafah. Israel’s assault on Gaza has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians and wounded nearly 80,000, most of them civilians, the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said.

‘The ball is now in Israel’s court’ – Hamas

The ball is entirely in Israel’s court with a view to a truce agreement in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas said today after the departure of its delegation from Egypt where the talks are taking place. “The negotiating delegation left Cairo in the direction of Doha. The occupation rejected the proposal put forward by the mediators and accepted by us. As a result, the ball is now completely in Israel’s court,” Hamas said in a letter sent to other Palestinian factions. Representatives of both sides left Cairo “after two days of negotiations” aimed at achieving a truce in the war that has been underway in the Gaza Strip for seven months, the Arab media Al-Qahera News reported last night. The efforts of Egypt and other mediating countries such as Qatar and the United States “continue to bring the two sides’ points of view closer together”, added the broadcaster, citing a Cairo source.

‘Biden has abandoned Israel’ – Trump

“What Biden is doing towards Israel is shameful. If any Jew voted for Joe Biden he should be ashamed of himself,” Donald Trump declared before entering the trial room for the porn star case, commenting on the US President’s decision to condition American arms supplies to Israel’s military conduct. “He completely abandoned Israel and no one can believe it. I guess he feels good because he did it as a political decision. But you have to make the right decision, not a political decision,” he added.

Stormy Daniels completes testimony

Stormy Daniels held her ground Thursday during an aggressive cross-examination by Donald Trump’s attorney in the former president’s criminal trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments to Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump attorney Susan Necheles continually accused Daniels of changing and profiting from her story of “supposedly” having sex with Trump in a Lake Tahoe hotel room in July 2006, 18 months after Trump, had married his third wife, former First Lady Melania Trump, and four months after she gave birth to their son, Barron.

The case revolves around the $130,000 Daniels received in October 2016 to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) brokered by then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who paid Daniels himself but was reimbursed by Trump in 2017, according to prosecution evidence and testimony, in payments disguised as a monthly legal retainer. Necheles pressed Daniels about the NDA to buy her silence in the closing weeks of the campaign, which had just suffered a serious blow due to the release of the Access Hollywood tape revealing Trump talking cavalierly about grabbing women by their genitals. “I never asked for money from President Trump,” Daniels testified. “I never asked for money from anyone in particular. I asked for money to tell my story.”

Zelensky removes his security chief

Ukraine’s President Zelensky has fired his head of State Security, Serghei Rud, who is also responsible for the personal protection of the President, according to Ukrainian media. On May 7, Kiev announced the arrest of two senior officials of the SBU security service involved in a Russian plot to kill Zelensky.

Era-defining elections loom as EU celebrates Europe Day

As the EU institutions marked the bloc’s founding with Europe Day on Thursday, the union is also preparing for its future as it heads to the European elections, scheduled for between June 6 and 9. The bloc’s achievements were celebrated in member state capitals yestrday, May 9 – the anniversary of a historic speech by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, which led to the foundation of the economic and political union.

Citizens were invited to visit EU institutions to celebrate the occasion, with European Parliament buildings in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg opening their doors to the public. The celebrations came as the union continued preparing for one of the most important elections in its history. The June elections will be held in times of continuous crises on the continent, facing war in Ukraine, climate emergencies, and fundamental questions about the reach and purpose of the bloc itself. The 27-nation union of 450 million people will choose 720 MEPs to serve them over the next five years.

The results of the European election will also indicate whether the continental political drift will match the rightward swing seen across the globe, from Argentina to Indonesia and Slovakia. “It will be an existential fight,” said Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister and outgoing free-market liberal member of parliament. “Extreme right-wing parties are clearly influenced by Russia, by China. They don’t really want to strengthen Europe. They are a recipe for a weak Europe. And a weak Europe will be destroyed,” he said.

Italian MEP Nicola Procaccini (Brothers of Italy, ECR) said the current composition of the European Parliament swings too far to the left, but he believes “moving to the right” is possible. “The centre right movements are going forward,” Procaccini said. The geopolitical developments in recent years have additionally prompted discussions among the European member states to re-evaluate defence efforts.

2 far-right AfD politicians attacked in Stuttgart

Police in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg said two politicians were attacked in the city of Stuttgart on Wednesday evening. The two, who were identified as state lawmakers from the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), suffered slight injuries, police said. The incident is the latest attack on politicians in Germany, following days of violence against multiple left-leaning and Greens politicians. The two state parliamentarians were standing at an information booth that the AfD had set up at an event marking the 75th anniversary of the German constitution, known as the Basic Law. According to the police, suspected opponents of the AfD blocked the information stand and held up banners. Members of the parliamentary group were verbally and physically “attacked”. Police said two women, aged 19 and 23, were under investigation over the incident, while officers were still looking for other suspected perpetrators. The AfD called on the state’s interior minister, Thomas Strobl, to take action against left-wing extremism.

Wednesday’s attack came a day after Berlin’s center-left economy minister, Franziska Giffey, was attacked at a library in the German capital. In another incident on Tuesday, a 47-year-old Green party politician in the eastern city of Dresden was threatened and spat upon as she hung up campaign posters.

Pope declares 2025 Holy Year

Pope Francis on Thursday used the Feast of Ascension to preside over the reading of a papal bull at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, declaring 2025 a Holy Year for Catholics around the world. The event, which happens every 25 years, will begin on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2024; and continue through Epiphany, on January 6, 2026.

In the official edict, Francis proclaimed that the theme of the celebration would be “hope”, and called on wealthy nations to forgive debts owed them by poorer ones, suggesting they “acknowledge the gravity of so many of their past decisions and determine to forgive the debts of countries that will never be able to pay them”. He also pointed to the, “ecological debt connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time.”

The tradition of the Holy Year, which was begun by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300, begins with the pope throwing open the Holy Door at St Peter’s Basilica and inviting pilgrims to visit the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul. The Jubilee involves indulgences for the forgiveness of sins and requires pilgrims to visit four of the city’s major cathedrals (St Peter’s, St John Lateran, St Mary Major, and St Paul Outside the Walls). Though Francis declared an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in 2016, the last major Holy Year, the Great Jubilee, was held in 2000, in which Pope John Paul II led the Roman Catholic Church into the third millennium.

UK Labour vows new powers to counter migrant smuggling gangs

The Brutish Labour Party will use new counter-terrorism powers to tackle people-smuggling gangs bringing migrants across the Channel in small boats, Sir Keir Starmer is set to announce later today. In a speech on the Kent coast, the Labour leader will set out his party’s plans to tackle the small boats crisis if it wins the general election. Sir Keir is expected to say Labour will “replace gimmicks with graft”, scrapping the government’s Rwanda scheme and using some of the money saved to fund a new “elite Border Security Command” led by a former police, military or intelligence chief. Attacking the government’s approach as “rank incompetence”, he is expected to dismiss the Rwanda scheme as being unable to provide an effective deterrent and accuse the Conservatives of operating a “Travelodge amnesty” by housing migrants in hotels rather than processing their claims.

North Macedonia elects first woman president as centre-left crumbles

While North Macedonia marked a historic milestone on Wednesday by electing its first female president, the ruling centre-left suffered an unprecedented loss in both presidential and parliamentary polls. Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, a 70-year-old law professor supported by the nationalist conservatives, won with nearly 65 per cent of the vote in the presidential runoff. Reflecting on her win, Siljanovska-Davkova emphasised the importance of this milestone for women and pledged to advocate for reform alongside them. Meanwhile, Stevo Pendarovski conceded defeat after securing just over 29 per cent of the vote. Siljanovska-Davkova gathered support from the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party, which banked on public dissatisfaction with the slow pace of EU integration and economic stagnation. In the parliamentary race, VMRO-DPMNE and its coalition led with nearly 43 per cent of the vote, while the long-standing SDSM-led coalition struggled to maintain second place. SDSM leader Dimitar Kovachevski acknowledged his party’s defeat and announced his resignation, clearing the path for new leadership. The election campaign focused on North Macedonia’s EU accession progress, rule of law, corruption, poverty alleviation, and economic growth.

France to offer free fertility checks to combat falling birth rate

President Emmanuel Macron has announced a sweeping series of measures to address what he called a ‘scourge’ of infertility in his country. These include an offer of a free ‘fertility check-up’ to all 18 to 25-year-olds, both male and female. In an interview with magazine Elle, he also mentioned a ‘campaign’ to help women preserve their fertility if they want to have children later in life, like egg freezing, as well as a national research project into infertility.  

Macron’s campaign, which he hinted at in January when he called for a ‘demographic rearmament’, comes despite France having one of the highest birth rates in Western Europe.  France’s fertility rate, a national measure of the average number of live births per woman, stands at 1.8, according to the latest UN-backed data but below what scientists call the ‘fertility replacement level’ of 2.1 – the amount needed for a population to replace one generation with the next. Macron hasn’t set a specific goal for his plan to boost France’s birth rates, instead stating he wanted the nation to have a ‘dynamic birth rate’.

He also told Elle that if French people were able to have as many children as they wanted, the nation’s birth rate would 2.3, but he didn’t state this was the objective of his campaign. France’s fertility rate of 1.8 is the lowest the country has recorded since shortly after the end of WWII. In 1950 the figure stood at an average of three live births per woman. Experts have been warning about the global threat of underpopulation for years. Earlier this year scientists warned 75 per cent of countries would face this demographic problem by 2050. Three in four countries face the threat of ‘underpopulation’ by 2050 because of the world’s plummeting birth rates, shock research warned today.

Israeli contestant advances to Eurovision final despite protests

Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Sweden on Thursday to oppose the participation of the Israeli contestant, 20-year-old Eden Golan, in the semifinals of the massively popular Eurovision Song Contest. Protesters in Malmo, Sweden could be seen waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Boycott Israel!” Later in the day, some Israeli supporters also came out to wave flags in support of the country’s participation. Several Israeli fans were shown waving flags in the crowd after Golan’s performance. Controversy has surrounded the song “Hurricane”, with many demanding she be excluded from the competition over Israel’s war in Gaza. However, Golan was one of 10 contestants to advance to the finals, which will be held tomorrow, Saturday. Golan received boos during her dress rehearsal for the competition on Wednesday, according to the BBC, but got applause when she performed on the show last night. There were no outward signs of protest during the show and Golan offered a loud “Thank you” at the end of her performance. The other countries to qualify for the final were Latvia, Austria, Netherlands, Norway, Greece, Estonia, Switzerland, Georgia and Armenia. They will be joined in the finals on Saturday by Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the “big five” – Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom – as well as last year’s winner Sweden.

Malta’s Sarah Bonnici will not be performing at the Eurovision Song Contest final after her song “Loop” failed to make it through the semi-final. The last time Malta made it to the Eurovision final was in 2021.

Photo: Getty Images

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