French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday appointed Gabriel Attal, a youthful, media-savvy former government spokesman and Minister of Education after sacking Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne after 20 months on the job. Attal, 34, is France’s youngest-ever prime minister. He is also the first openly gay man to serve in the post.
The move signals a shift for Macron, who has had a bruising second term since his 2022 re-election. After pushing through deeply unpopular pension reforms, as well as a tough immigration law that split his coalition, tapping Attal suggests Macron is moving to a milder phase of his presidency. In the final three years of Macron’s term, experts say Attal will lead an effort to re-invigorate faith in France’s institutions by focusing on education and social issues.
If Attal succeeds, he could give former PM Edouard Philippe a run for his money as the leading centrist candidate for the 2027 presidential election. But he has a more immediate task at hand: fending off the challenge from the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen ahead of June’s European Parliament elections. Le Pen’s campaign, run by a 28-year-old political phenomenom Jordan Bardella, currently leads Macron’s party by 10 points.
Blinken gets “UN assessment mission in northern Gaza”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken emerged from a series of meetings with high-level Israeli officials on Tuesday with an agreement to launch a United Nations-led assessment mission that will pave the way for civilians displaced by warfare in northern Gaza to eventually return home – a significant step toward restoring a sense of normalcy in the besieged enclave.
“As Israel’s campaign moves to a lower intensity phase in northern Gaza, and as the IDF scales down its forces there, we agreed today on a plan for the UN to carry out an assessment mission,” Blinken said during a news conference in Tel Aviv. “It will determine what needs to be done to allow displaced Palestinians to return safely to homes in the north. Now, this is not going to happen overnight,” he said, adding: “There are serious security, infrastructure, and humanitarian challenges. But the mission will start a process that evaluates these obstacles and how they can be overcome.”
Blinken also forcefully defended Israel from allegations of genocide brought by South Africa before the International Court of Justice, claiming the case “distracts the world” from vital efforts tied to the conflict. “Moreover, the charge of genocide is meritless,” Blinken asserted. “It’s particularly galling given that those who are attacking Israel – Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, as well as their supporter, Iran – continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.” But Blinken did publicly express some criticism of the Israeli government, particularly right-wing officials’ opposition to the creation of an independent Palestinian state – urging them from the podium to “stop taking steps that undercut Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves effectively”. However, in a possible sign of discord during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Blinken, the Prime Minister’s Office did not release a readout of the meeting, which it typically does.
And while Blinken was making his case, in a bid to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from developing into a wider, regional conflict, fierce fighting raged on in Gaza, and Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told him Israel’s operations in southern Gaza would “intensify and continue until Hamas leadership is detected”. Despite mounting international criticism and rising pressure, Israel has made it clear that it will not give up on its goal of destroying Hamas and the fighting is poised to continue for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains dire, with the UN recently warning that a famine could be on the horizon. The death toll in the enclave has surpassed 23,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Like Blinken, Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock also visited the region this week and reiterated Berlin’s support for a two-state solution to the conflict. But Netanyahu’s far-right government is openly hostile to Palestinian statehood, with some officials going as far as to support the permanent displacement of Gazans.
American rabbis protest at the UNSC
American rabbis stormed the UN Security Council and the General Assembly chambers to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Jewish activists from “Rabbis for Cease Fire” held banners calling on US President Joe Biden to “stop vetoing peace”. Thirty-six rabbis, arriving from seven American states, sang, prayed, and recited excerpts from the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and held a “Yizkor”, a prayer to remember the victims of the conflict. The rabbis were escorted out by security personnel.
China tells US: “No compromise on Taiwan”
China “will never compromise or back down on the Taiwan issue”, Beijing’s military delegation told its US counterpart in talks held at the Pentagon on Monday and Tuesday, during the first visit of its kind to Washington in four years. The delegation, according to a note released today by the Chinese Ministry of Defence, urged the United States to “stop arming Taiwan”. During the same meetings, Beijing has called on the US to “reduce military deployment, and stop provocative actions in the South China Sea and support for violations and provocations by individual countries” in the area.
Lloyd Austin has prostate cancer
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, whose recent hospitalisation was made public late, causing a controversy, is being treated for prostate cancer, explain doctors quoted by the US Ministry of Defenc. It was recognised at the beginning of December and he was operated upon the 22nd December. “His cancer was diagnosed early and his prognosis is excellent,” they assured in a statement. Joe Biden was only informed on Tuesday, a White House spokesperson reports.
US storms cancel over a thousand flights
More than a thousand domestic and international flights in the United States were canceled as severe weather hit the country from coast to coast, with snow, wind, and rain from the Northwest to the Northeast and Midwest, and some tornadoes in the South. Chicago O’Hare International Airport had the most cancellations, 70, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking website. The capital’s Ronald Reagan National Airport had about 45 cancelled flights, followed by Newark Liberty International Airport and then La Guardia Airport, both with just over 40.
“Our mistake, won’t happen again” – Boeing CEO
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun on Tuesday addressed Friday’s mid-air panel blowout from an Alaska Airlines jet, acknowledging the planemaker made a mistake and telling staff it would work with regulators to make sure it “can never happen again”. The statements were Boeing’s first public acknowledgement of error since the incident left the 737 MAX 9 plane with a gaping hole. Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, the two US carriers that use the temporarily-grounded planes, have found loose parts on similar aircraft, raising fears such an incident could have happened again. Calhoun also said the company would “ensure every next airplane that moves into the sky is in fact safe”. Boeing shares fell 1.4% on Tuesday as United cancelled 225 daily flights, or 8% of its total, while Alaska cancelled 109, or 18%. Similar cancellations were expected today, Wednesday.
Armed men break into Ecuador live TV studio
Masked men broke onto the set of a public television channel in Ecuador waving guns and explosives during a live broadcast on Tuesday, and the President issued a decree declaring that the country had entered an “internal armed conflict”. The men, armed with pistols and what looked like sticks of dynamite, entered the set of the TC Television network in the port city of Guayaquil during a news programme that was airing live in thousands of homes across the nation and shouted that they had bombs. As a result of President Daniel Noboa’s decision to declare a state of “internal armed conflict”, the country’s Ministry of Health has ordered the suspension of all outpatient services, hospitalisations, and scheduled surgeries until a later date, underlining that only emergency services in hospitals will be guaranteed in the country. The measure follows the widespread violence carried out by criminal drug trafficking organisations which are said to be behind a series of other attacks that have shaken the South American country recently. They follow the apparent escapes from prison of two of Ecuador’s most powerful drug gang leaders.
“Giuffrè paid £12k to have sex with Prince Andrew” claim
Virginia Giuffrè claimed she was paid £12,000 by Jeffrey Epstein to have sex with Prince Andrew, court documents have revealed. Giuffrè’s 2016 deposition was among the latest documents to be released on Tuesday. It featured her claims that paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein paid her $15,000 (£11,800) to have sex with Prince Andrew, who stepped down from public life after the furore over his friendship with Epstein, and paid millions to settle a civil sexual assault case with Ms Giuffrè, a woman he claimed never to have met. He was cast out of the working monarchy and no longer uses his HRH style after Ms Giuffrè, who was trafficked by Epstein, accused him of sexually assaulting her when she was 17. Andrew strenuously denies any wrongdoing. Ms Giuffrè went on to describe how she was trafficked to the south of France by Epstein and disgraced British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell to another world leader who was a “prince”. She said she did not know his name.
Epstein was found dead in his cell at a federal jail in Manhattan, New York, in August 2019 while he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges. His death was ruled a suicide. Maxwell has been imprisoned since July 2020 despite attempts by her defence counsel to have her released on bail. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison at the federal court in the Southern District of New York in June 2022.
Main photo: Reuters