Israel targeted aid workers “systematically, car by car”

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 4th April 2024

Celebrity chef Jose Andres, founder of World Central Kitchen (WCK) charity group, has revealed a chilling account of the Israeli attack that killed seven of his food aid workers in Gaza, saying the assault targeted his team, “systematically, car by car”. Speaking via video to Reuters on Wednesday, Andres said the global charity group that provides meals in the wake of disasters had clear communication with the Israeli military, which he said knew his aid workers’ movements. “This was not just a bad luck situation where ‘oops’ we dropped the bomb in the wrong place,” Andres said. “This was over a 1.5/1.8 kilometres, with a very defined humanitarian convoy that had signs in the top, in the roof, a very colourful logo that we are obviously very proud of,” he said. It’s “very clear who we are and what we do.” Andres said the Israeli military was aware of the convoy’s whereabouts.

He called for investigations of the incident by the US government and by the home country of every aid worker that was killed: Jacob Flickinger, a dual US-Canadian citizen, died alongside his colleagues Saifeddin Issam Ayab Abutaha of Palestine, Lalzawmi Frankcom of Australia, Damian Soból of Poland and UK citizens John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby, on Tuesday when the convoy they were riding in was struck. The aid workers were killed when their convoy was hit shortly after they oversaw the unloading of 100 tonnes of food brought to Gaza by sea. “They were targeting us in a deconflicting zone, in an area controlled by IDF [Israeli military]. They knowing that it was our teams moving on that road … with three cars,” Andres said.

Investigative report accuses Israel of purposefully targeting aid workers

A Tuesday report from the Netherlands-based investigative journalism outlet Bellingcat suggests that Israeli military forces did not accidentally strike and destroy a convoy of foreign aid workers. Nick Waters, a former British army officer, and open-source analyst, wrote in the Bellingcat report that in order for the vehicles to sustain the kind of damage they did, they would have needed to be struck by some kind of precision munition – one that could track its target in real-time at that. It would have also been a “low-yield” category of weapon as the damage to the vehicles is consistent with that kind of munition. Waters notes that the vehicles would have needed to be intentionally and accurately struck in order to receive the damage they did.

“Israel not interested in negotiations” – Hamas to Al Jazeera

A Hamas leadership source has told Al Jazeera, “Israel is still ‘intransigent’ in talks to secure a truce in Gaza and a prisoner exchange. The Israelis reject the ceasefire, the withdrawal from the Strip, the return of displaced persons and a real exchange of prisoners.” The source added: “Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu still poses obstacles to an agreement and is not interested in the release of the Israeli hostages. He is trying to buy time, to absorb the anger of the families of the prisoners and to show false interest in continuing negotiations.”

Pope on Gaza conflict: “Without justice, there is no peace

Pope Francis has deplored the recent killing of humanitarian workers in the Gaza Strip, with the Holy Father renewing his appeal for an immediate cease-fire amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.  During his general audience on Wednesday, the pope buttressed his plea with a catechesis focused on the virtue of justice, noting that it is the building block for a well-ordered society premised upon the rule of law. “I express deep regret for the volunteers killed while distributing food aid in Gaza,” the pope said to the 25,000 gathered in St Peter’s Square on an overcast Wednesday morning. Pope Francis on Wednesday reiterated his regular call for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip so that the “exhausted and suffering civilian population be allowed access to humanitarian aid.”

Israel war cabinet member Gantz calls for September elections

Israel war cabinet member Benny Gantz called for national elections in September on Wednesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faces pressure at home and abroad over the war in Gaza. “We must agree on a date for elections in September, towards a year to the war if you will,” Gantz said in a televised briefing. “Setting such a date will allow us to continue the military effort while signalling to the citizens of Israel that we will soon renew their trust in us.” Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in recent days demanding new elections. Many have criticised Netanyahu and expressed anger at his government’s handling of the 134 Israeli hostages still held in Gaza six months into the war. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has repeatedly ruled out early elections, which opinion polls suggest he would lose, saying that to go to the polls in the middle of a war would only reward Hamas, the Islamist movement that ruled Gaza. His Likud party on Wednesday said Gantz must “stop engaging in petty politics” during the war. “Elections now will bring about paralysis, division, harm to the fighting in Rafah and a fatal blow to the chances of a hostage deal,” Likud said. Gantz, a former army general, joined Netanyahu’s government in the early days of the war as a gesture of political unity during the crisis. Polls suggest his party would come top in any election and he would be favourite to take over as premier. Netanyahu has pledged to bring the hostages home, as well as destroy Hamas, though it is unclear how Israel would be able to do so and experts doubt that is even possible. Israel’s unrelenting air, ground and sea assault has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities, and led to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Schumer says Gantz’s call for elections is the right thing to do

“When a senior member of the war cabinet calls for early elections and over 70 per cent of the Israeli population agrees according to a poll, then you know it is the right thing to do,” the leader of the Democrats in the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, said referring to the call of the Israeli centrist leader and war cabinet minister, Benny Gantz. Schumer in March had suggested early elections in Israel and defined Prime Minister Netanyahu as “an obstacle to peace”.

Israel beefs up air defences, calls up troops as Iran strike looms

The Israeli Defence Force said on Wednesday that it bolstered its air defence array and had called up reservists, as the country girded for a potential Iranian response to the strike in Syria earlier this week, in which several high-ranking Iranian military officials were killed. Both Iran and its proxy Hezbollah have vowed that Israel will not go unpunished for the Monday attack on a consular building next to Iran’s embassy in Damascus, which killed Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ most senior official in Syria, along with his deputy, five other IRGC officers, and at least one member of the Hezbollah group. A Channel 12 news report reflecting Israeli speculation on a possible reprisal pointed to the possibility that Iran could respond by directly launching missiles from its own territory rather than through any of its proxy groups, which includes militias in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. Hebrew-language media reports said the decision to beef up air defences and call up troops came following a threat assessment.

US indicates opposition to Palestinian bid for statehood status

Times of Israel quotes US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller indicating that the Biden administration opposes the renewed Palestinian bid to obtain full-member state status at the United Nations. “We have always made clear that, while we support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state… that is something that should be done through direct negotiations through the parties – something we are pursuing at this time – and not at the United Nations,” Miller says during a press briefing. US opposition to the initiative in the UN Security Council would all but block it, given that Washington has veto power.

Estonia backs Rutte for top NATO role

Estonia has joined the US, UK, Germany and France to support the nomination of the Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte for the top NATO job. Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas expressed support for Rutte and said for a strong NATO, “We need to be clear-eyed on Russia, boost deterrence and defence spending, back Ukraine’s membership, and geographic balance. I have discussed this in depth with @markrutte and he commits to these priorities. Estonia can back him for NATO’s Secretary General,” she wrote on X. Rutte, 57, needs the endorsement of all 31 NATO allies before he can be nominated to replace Jens Stoltenberg, who is expected to step down in October after 10 years at the helm. NATO allies agreed last July to extend Stoltenberg’s mandate for another year until October 1, 2024.

US man who lead attack during Capitol riot gets 7 years

A Washington state man who used a megaphone to orchestrate a mob’s attack on police officers guarding the US Capitol was sentenced on Wednesday to more than seven years and three months’ jail. US District Judge Royce Lamberth said videos captured Taylor James Johnatakis playing a leadership role during the Januiary 6, 2021, riot. Johnatakis led other rioters on a charge against a police line, “barked commands” over his megaphone and shouted step-by-step directions for overpowering officers, the judge said. “In any angry mob, there are leaders and there are followers. Mr. Johnatakis was a leader. He knew what he was doing that day,” the judge said before sentencing him to jail. Prosecutors recommended a nine-year prison sentence for Johnatakis, a self-employed installer of septic systems.

Trump loses bid to delay hush money trial

A New York judge has denied Donald Trump’s bid to delay his April 15 trial on charges stemming from hush money paid to a porn star until the US Supreme Court reviews claim to presidential immunity in a separate criminal case. The court is scheduled to hear the former US president’s arguments that he is immune from federal prosecution for trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat on April 25. His defence lawyers in the New York case in March asked Justice Juan Merchan to delay the trial until that review was complete, arguing it was relevant because prosecutors were seeking to present evidence of statements Trump made while he was president from 2017 to 2021. In a court ruling on Wednesday, Merchan said Trump had waited too long to raise the issue. “Defendant had myriad opportunities to raise the claim of presidential immunity well before March 7, 2024,” Merchan wrote. Trump has pleaded not guilty in each of the four criminal indictments he faces.

Trump leads Biden in battleground US states – WSJ poll

Republican Donald Trump leads President Joe Biden in six battleground states in the 2024 US presidential election, according to a Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday that cited concerns about the economy and Biden’s performance. Trump garnered a lead of between two and eight percentage points among voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina on a ballot that included third-party and independent candidates, the Journal said. The results were similar in a one-on-one matchup with Biden, it said. In Wisconsin, a seventh state where the contest is expected to be close, Biden was ahead by three points on a multiple candidate ballot and tied in a head-to-head contest with Trump, the Journal said. The Biden re-election campaign is grappling with voter concerns about the US economy despite job growth, healthy spending and better-than-expected GDP increases – an issue that has vexed economists and Democratic political strategists.

UK Conservatives set for heavy election defeat – new poll

Britain’s Conservative Party is set to slide to a heavy defeat at a national election expected this year, according to an opinion poll published on Wednesday which showed the opposition Labour Party winning more than 400 seats. Reuters reports the YouGov model, which predicts results in individual parliamentary seats based on estimated vote share, projected that Sunak’s Conservatives would win just 155 seats and Labour would win 403 seats. Britain’s parliament has 650 seats. Polls have consistently given Labour a double digit lead over the Conservatives, ahead of an election which Sunak has said he expects to call in the second half of the year.

Five alleged Rupnik victims file complaints

Five complaints from alleged victims of former Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik were filed Wednesday morning at the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith where an investigation is underway. Last October, with a sensational decision, it was Pope Francis himself who reopened the case of the former Slovenian Jesuit and well-known mosaic artist, providing a special exception to the rules on prescription. The testimonies of alleged abuse suffered were filed by the lawyer of the women victims, Laura Sgrò. These are two already known, and three others not yet known. As recently as February 21, two former sisters of the now-dissolved Loyola Community in Slovenia – Italian Gloria Branciani, 59, and Slovenian-born Marjiam Kovač – accused Rupnik of subjecting them to spiritual, psychological, and sexual abuse. They shared their stories at a crowded news conference in the Rome offices of the trade union for Italian journalists. They were joined by their high-profile lawyer, Laura Sgrò

Ordained a priest in 1985, Rupnik has been a prolific artist in the Church over the last several decades, with his work prominently featured in such sites as the shrine in Lourdes, the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater Chapel, the St John Paul II National Shrine and the Ta’Pinu Church in Gozo. Calls to remove his artwork from places of worship have been mounting around the world. Rupnik has been at the centre of a nearly six-year-long scandal centred on his alleged abuse of over 20 religious sisters spanning across three decades.

Laicised Spanish bishop emeritus marries in the Church

After obtaining a dispensation from Pope Francis, the bishop emeritus of Solsona in Spain, Xavier Novell, has entered into a canonical marriage with psychologist and author Silvia Caballol. Caballol announced the marriage on Instagram, saying: “Xavier and I have finally been able to get married in the Church, thanks to the mercy of the Holy Father who has granted him laicization. It has been a long road, but we have been able to regularise our canonical situation: to get married as we wanted to and be able to receive Communion again,” Caballol announced. “I don’t think our love nor the Church deserves to be hidden. Nor do I believe that the cover-up that accompanied my husband’s resignation [as diocesan bishop] two and a half years ago was entirely correct,” she added.

In August 2021, Pope Francis accepted his resignation. According to the Diocese of Solsona, Novell resigned for “strictly personal reasons”. In September 2021, articles began appearing in the press reporting that Novell, then 52, had moved to Manresa to live with Caballol, who was 38 at the time. In April 2022, Caballol gave birth to twins fathered by Novell. She has three other children from a previous marriage.

Rubiales detained at Madrid airport in corruption investigation

Luis Rubiales, former president of Spain’s football federation, was arrested on his arrival in Madrid from the Dominican Republic. He is being investigated by a court in Madrid for alleged crimes of business corruption, unfair administration, money laundering and membership of a criminal organisation, according to Spanish press reports. Rubiales denies any wrongdoing. Rubiales was previously taken to court over allegations of sexual assault and coercion after he forcibly kissed and held the hands of Spanish World Cup-winning star Jenni Hermoso.

Photo: AFP

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