Israel “will not pay any price” for hostages

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 21st February 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said that the Jewish state “will not pay any price” for the return of the hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which therefore cannot happen “at any cost”, according to reports in the Israeli media. Asked about the 134 prisoners still in the Palestinian enclave, Smotrich told broadcaster Kan that their return was “very important” but that they could not be released “at any cost” and that the way to free them was to increase military pressure. on the Gaza Strip and defeat Hamas. Smotrich’s words sparked outrage from opposition leader Yair Lapid and the families of the hostages, but shortly afterwards Netanyahu’s office published a statement echoing the minister’s position: “There is a lot of pressure on Israel, both at home and abroad, to stop the war before achieving all our objectives, including an agreement for the release of hostages at any cost,”said the prime minister, adding, “We are not willing to pay any price: certainly not the delusional cost that Hamas demands of us, which would mean defeat for the State of Israel.”

Abbas urges Hamas to seal agreement with Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday called on Hamas, a rival of the PA, to make haste in agreeing to a deal with Israel in order to save the Gaza Strip from Israel’s military offensive. “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, no less dangerous than the Nakba of 1948,” Abbas said in a statement carried by the official Palestinian outlet Wafa. The Nakba, or “catastrophe,” is an Arabic term referring to the displacement of Arabs during the establishment of the State of Israel and the War of Independence. Abbas also expressed his hopes that a deal would save the Gazan city of Rafah from Israeli attack, which WHO warned on Wednesday would cause an “unfathomable catastrophe” and push the enclave’s health system closer to the brink of collapse.

Hamas leader Haniyeh in Cairo for talks

Ismail Haniyeh, the top political leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, arrived in Cairo on Tuesday for talks with Egyptian officials. Haniyeh is accompanied by delegation from the group for talks on the political situation and conditions on the ground amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Egypt, alongside Qatar and the US, has been working to secure a new truce that could pause the fighting and lead to the release of more hostages.

US casts third veto of UN action

The US on Tuesday again vetoed a UN Security Council draft resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. Thirteen council members voted in favour of the text, while the UK abstained. The resolution would not “achieve the goal of a sustainable peace and may in fact run counter to it,” US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council after the vote concluded. The draft resolution by Algeria, the Arab representative on the council, demanded an immediate cease-fire and called for Israel and Hamas militants to “scrupulously comply” with international law especially the protection of civilians and reject the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians. The US proposed a draft resolution instead, calling for a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable” which falls short of the wishes of most other Security Council members who want an immediate cease-fire. In the draft counter-resolution, the US also warned against a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians displaced by the war have sought refuge. The Palestinian UN envoy, Riyad Mansour, criticised the US veto, stating it sends a message allowing Israel to continue actions without consequences. Hamas said in a statement “The American position is the green light for the occupation to commit more massacres.”

Second Gaza hospital evacuation completed amid fighting

The World Health Organisation has completed a second evacuation mission from Gaza’s Nasser Hospital but voiced concern for nearly 150 patients and medics who remain at the site amid continuing fighting. The Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest, stopped working last week after a week-long Israeli siege followed by a raid, the UN agency said. WHO staff and other aid groups have so far evacuated 32 critical patients including injured children, but the agency is concerned for those left behind with supplies dwindling. The site has no electricity or running water and medical waste and garbage are “creating a breeding ground for disease,” it added. Israel says Hamas uses hospitals for cover, a claim they deny and say Israel’s allegations serve as a pretext to destroy the healthcare system.

Members of MSF staff killed in Israeli raid

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says two family members of its staff were killed in an Israeli bombardment that hit a shelter near Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, last night. In a post on its X account, the humanitarian NGO explains that the raid targeted a shelter located in the village of Al Mawasi. In addition to the two victims, six injuries were also reported. “We are horrified by what has happened,” writes MSF. The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had transferred the dead and wounded from the attack to a hospital in Rafah. Palestinian news agency Wafa had earlier reported that at least 14 people had died last night in a series of Israeli shellings in Khan Yunis and Rafah.

Navalny’s mother appeals to Putin to release her son’s body

The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appealed Tuesday to President Vladimir Putin to intervene and turn her son’s body over to her so she can bury him with dignity. Lyudmila Navalnaya, who has been trying to get his body since Saturday, appeared in a video outside the Arctic penal colony where Navalny died on Friday. Russian authorities have said the cause of Navalny’s death is still unknown and refused to release his body for the next two weeks as the preliminary inquest continues, his team said. Despite the risk of arrest, people have continued to lay flowers at memorials in Russia to Putin’s most vocal critic. In a further sign of the crackdown on his followers, his widow’s account on X, formerly Twitter, was briefly shut down on Tuesday. The social platform gave no explanation as to why her account was temporarily suspended.

EU agreement on the new air quality directive

EU Council presidency and the European Parliament’s representatives Tuesday reached a provisional political agreement on a proposal to set EU air quality standards to be attained with the aim of achieving a zero-pollution objective, thus contributing to a toxic-free environment in the EU by 2050. Announcing the deal, the rotating presidency of Belgium said it also seeks to bring EU air quality standards in line with WHO recommendations. The agreement still needs to be confirmed by both institutions before going through the formal adoption procedure. With the new rules, the co-legislators agreed to set out enhanced EU air quality standards for 2030 in the form of limit and target values that would be regularly reviewed. The revised directive covers a host of air-polluting substances, including fine particles and particulate matter, and establishes specific standards for each one of them. The provisional agreement provides member states with the possibility to request, by 31 January 2029 and for specific reasons and under strict conditions, a postponement of the deadline for attaining the air quality limit values.

World needs ‘trillions’ for climate action, says COP28 president

The world needs “trillions” of dollars to spur on the green transition and tackle global warming, the head of last year’s COP28 climate talks said Tuesday, warning that political momentum can evaporate without clear action. COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber hailed progress made at UN negotiations last year in Dubai, where countries agreed to triple global renewables capacity this decade and “transition away” from polluting fossil fuels. But the deal lacked important details, including on funding, putting the onus on this year’s COP29 meeting in Azerbaijan. With impacts accelerating as global heat records are smashed, experts say that funding agreed this year will also play an important role in encouraging governments to toughen up their decarbonisation targets. Jaber said finance was “the key enabler of positive change at the speed and scale” needed. “We need finance at every level,” he said, at an event in Paris organised by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Countries are expected this year to hammer out a new target for the amount of annual support rich nations will provide to poorer ones for their energy transitions and adaptation to climate impacts from 2025.

Polish farmers block Ukraine’s border to protest non-EU imports

Polish farmers blocked border crossings with Ukraine, burned tyres and spilled grain from train wagons on Tuesday as they intensified a nationwide protest against the import of Ukrainian foods and European Union environmental policies. Devastated by competition from non-EU countries imports, farmers from Spain to Italy and from Belgium to Malta have been protesting, worried also by EU plans to place limits on the use of chemicals and on greenhouse gas emissions that would result in a reduction in production and income. Polish farmers held protests in more than 180 places, blocking access routes to border crossings with Ukraine. They drove tractors across junctions and highway entrances and exits near cities including Warsaw, Poznan and Wroclaw The protests are a growing source of tensions between Ukraine and neighbours across its Western border who support its efforts to fight off Russia’s invasion but are facing pressure from farmers who say Ukrainian grain and other food imports are damaging their livelihoods by creating a glut on the market that pushes down prices.

Australia aims for “biggest navy” since WWII

Australia announced Tuesday it will more than double the Royal Australian Navy surface combatant fleet, spending A$11.1 billion (roughly €6.7 billion) over the next decade. The plan will see Australia increase its current fleet of combat-ready warships from 11 to 26 alongside 25 minor war vessels to contribute to civil maritime security operations. “It is the largest fleet that we will have since the end of the Second World War,” said Defence Minister Richard Marles. Canberra has for years been looking to build up its naval defence capabilities in face of a massive build-up of firepower by rivals China and Russia.

Pakistan’s largest parties to form coalition government

Two major Pakistan political parties said on Tuesday that they had reached a formal agreement to form a coalition government, ending 10 days of intense negotiations after an inconclusive national election did not return a clear majority. The agreement between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif ends days of uncertainty and negotiations after the February 8 elections produced a hung national assembly. Bhutto Zardari confirmed at a late night news conference in Islamabad that former premier Shehbaz Sharif, who was seated beside him, would be the coalition’s candidate for prime minister. He added that his father, Asif Ali Zardari, will be the alliance’s candidate for the country’s president. Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz, said the two parties had the numbers to form a government, and also had the support of other smaller parties. PML-N is the largest party, with 79 seats, and PPP is second with 54. They, along with four other smaller parties, have a comfortable majority in the legislature of 264 seats.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe completes purchase of Manchester United stake

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has become part owner of Manchester United after his deal to purchase a stake in the club was completed. The billionaire’s 27.7 per cent share in the club, worth a reported £1.25billion, grants his company, Ineos, control of football operations at the club. He bought the share in the Old Trafford club in a long and drawn-out process. The investment from Trawlers Ltd, a company wholly owned by Ratcliffe, received Premier League and Football Association approval and was officially confirmed on Tuesday night.

German legend Brehme dies aged 63

Former Inter and Germany left-back Brehme, a Serie A and UEFA Cup winner with the Nerazzurri and a World Cup champion for Germany at Italia 90, died on Tuesday morning. According to Gazzetta, Brehme suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. He was aged 63. Inter paid tribute to their ex-defender on social media: “A magnificent player, a true Interista. Ciao Andy, forever a legend,” wrote the Nerazzurri on X. Brehme joined the Nerazzurri from Bayern Munich in 1988 and played 155 games with the Serie A giants, including 119 under legendary Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni. Beside from a Serie A title in 1988-89 and a UEFA Cup in 1990-91, Brehme also won a Supercoppa Italiana in 1989 with the Nerazzurri. He left the Stadio Meazza in 1992 to join Real Zaragoza in Spain and ended his career at FC Kaiserslautern, retiring in 1998. A former Germany international, Brehme won the World Cup in 1990, lifting the trophy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome after beating Diego Maradona’s Argentina.

Photo: Reuters

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