Ministers storm out of Israeli cabinet over wartime budget

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 15th January 2024

Sunday’s Israeli cabinet meeting quickly descended into acrimony, with Cabinet members trading insults and Education Minister Yoav Kisch, of the premier’s own Likud party, storming out of the room in rage. “I am not interested in hearing from either you or your people,” Kisch snapped at Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during the discussion, according to Channel 12 news. Responding to Netanyahu’s attempt to calm down the situation, Kisch declared he was “not interested” and walked out, followed by Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar. Following his clash with Kisch, Smotrich also reportedly criticised recently-appointed Energy Minister Eli Cohen for asking “questions out of a lack of understanding”.

“We must all share in the burden,” Netanyahu told the cabinet at the beginning of their meeting on Sunday afternoon, arguing that the ongoing war against Hamas required both “adaptations” and an increase in the deficit in order to “conduct the war in the coming year and complete it”. “We will also submit compensation and grants for reservists, the families of reservists, and the self-employed; they deserve a whole range of benefits. We are also submitting an increased budget for rebuilding the communities and the kibbutzim, and, of course, for returning the evacuees,” he stated. “We are doing everything to bring every hostage home; these efforts continue continuously.”

The Finance Ministry’s current proposal calls for an overall budget increase of New Shekel (NIS) 68.4 billion (€16.7 million) alongside an across-the-board spending cut of three per cent from all government ministries, as well as a reduction of NIS 2.5 billion (€611.5 million) out of NIS 8 billion (€2 million) in coalition funds – discretionary funds earmarked for pet projects and ministers. The war with the Hamas is reportedly costing Israel at least one billion shekels (€0.25 million) per day. Israel has spent billions of shekels on arms procurement and payments for IDF reservists, housing evacuees, and measures to bolster civilian security arrangements inside Israel. Among these initiatives are NIS 18 billion (€4.4 billion) outline to rehabilitate and develop Gaza border communities and a NIS 9 billion (€2.2 billion) wartime assistance programme for the hundreds of thousands of IDF reserve soldiers mobilised in the wake of Hamas’s attack on 7th October. An Israeli cabinet meeting will convene this morning to discuss changes to the country’s 2024 budget, reports the Hebrew-language newspaper Maariv.

Israel can’t end war without sealing southern Gaza corridor – Netanyahu

The Gaza Strip buffer zone along the Egyptian border known as the Philadelphia Corridor must be sealed to prevent arms smuggling, but no operational decision has been taken as to the best way to do so, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. The Jerusalem Post quotes him saying: “We cannot end the war without sealing this breach,” he said, because otherwise “we will eliminate Hamas, we will demilitarise Gaza” only to have arms flow back in through this southern breach. He spoke about the corridor during a Saturday night press conference, hours after The Wall Street Journal reported that the IDF was planning a military operation near Egypt’s border with Gaza to seize control of that corridor. Israel had controlled the small 14-kilometre corridor under terms set out by the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, but it left that buffer zone area when it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.  Egypt maintains a crossing with Gaza at Rafah, but Hamas has built tunnels underneath that area to smuggle weapons into the Strip. Netanyahu repeated his pledge to continue the war against Hamas in Gaza until the terror group was destroyed and the remaining 136 hostages there were freed.

Photo: CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP via Getty Images

Herzog heckled by protesters

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog sought to draw international awareness to hostages held by Hamas in Gaza on Sunday, addressing a 24-hour rally in Tel Aviv marking 100 days since their kidnapping, as those in the audience screamed “Now! Now!” and booed, practically drowning him out, in an apparent protest of authorities’ failure to secure the hostages’ release thus far. The Times of Israel reports the 24 hours of events at what has been dubbed “Hostages Square” in central Tel Aviv winded down Sunday evening, after a day of speeches from international figures, freed hostages, and relatives of the 136 hostages still held in Gaza, while business went on strike nationwide for 100 minutes, and in Europe, Israel supporters flooded streets calling to “Bring them home”. The crowd chanted and booed so loudly that Herzog requested they pause to allow him to address the rest of the world. Switching to English, Herzog said: “I call upon the entire family of nations to do your part. This isn’t just our battle. It is a battle for the entire world. Stand with life and liberty. Stand with freedom and democracy, against barbarism and hate. Stand with our hostages. And help bring them home!” he said.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday across the world – from Portugal to Turkey, the UK and Pakistan, from Framce to Germany and the US – to mark 100 days since Israel’s war in Gaza began..

Hamas has said many hostages were “probably killed recently” and blamed Israel. The fate of many Israeli prisoners has become “unknown in recent weeks”, said al Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida, quoted by Al Jazeera Online, adding that “many of them were most likely killed due to Israeli shelling… The others are in danger and the enemy is responsible for their fate.”

Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90

Israel, Palestine invited to net week’s EU’s Foreign Affairs Council

Israel and Palestine are among five nations – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan – and the Arab League that have been invited to the European Union Foreign Affairs Council which meets next Monday, January 22 in Brussels. The announcement was made by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell on his blog, after returning home from a tour of the Middle East.  According to Borrell, “it is urgent that Europe is involved in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in close collaboration with our regional partners”.

Photo: AFP/ VNA

‘The 5 richest men double their fortunes’ – Oxfam

Since 2020, the five richest men in the world (Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison and Warren Buffett) have more than doubled their fortunes – from $405 billion to $869 billion – at a rate of $14 million a year, while five billion poorer people have seen their condition overall unchanged. ‘Inequality: power at the service of the few’, the new Oxfam report, predicts that at current rates, within a decade we could have the first trillionaire in the history of humanity, but it will take over two centuries (230 years) to end poverty.

US military shots down Houthi missile fired at warship

The US Central Command, which is responsible for US forces in the Middle East, says it has shot down a Houthi anti-ship cruise missile fired from Yemen towards the USS Laboon warship in the Red Sea. It added that there were no injuries sustained in the attack. The US and the UK launched air strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen on Friday in retaliation for the Iran-backed group’s attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea. Houthi leadership has promised to continue targeting ships in the vital international shipping lane until Israeli attacks on Gaza stop and the siege of the Palestinian enclave ends.

Al-Masirah TV, operated by the Iran-backed military group, earlkier reported that US and UK fighter jets hit Jadaa mountain in Al-Lahayah district in the Red Sea province of Hodeida in a new strike Sunday evening. It said fighter jets and surveillance drones were still hovering over the Hodeida region.

Photo: AP

AI to impact 60% of advanced economy jobs, says IMF chief

Artificial intelligence (AI) will impact 60 per cent of jobs in advanced economies, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told AFP, shortly before departing for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Advanced economies, some emerging markets, are going to see 60 per cent of their jobs impacted,” she said in an interview in Washington, citing an International Monetary Fund report published Sunday on the topic. “And then it goes down to 40 per cent, for emerging markets, 26 per cent for low-income countries,” she added, quoting the IMF report, which notes that overall, almost 40 per cent of global employment is exposed to AI. The IMF report notes that half of the jobs impacted by AI will be negatively affected, while the rest may actually benefit from enhanced productivity gains due to AI. “Your job may disappear altogether – not good – or artificial intelligence may enhance your job, so you actually will be more productive and your income level may go up,” Georgieva told AFP.

Under the theme ‘Rebuilding Trust’, the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum opens today, drawing 1,600 business leaders (including 800 CEOs); 60 heads of state and government (including France’s Emmanuel Macron, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Vietnamese prime minister Phạm Minh Chính); 150 notable disruptors across industries, and 200 social entrepreneurs and young leaders involved in various WEF programmes. Trade, climate change, and AI all figure prominently on the agenda, which includes more than 200 sessions that will be livestreamed from the WEF’s website.

On Sunday, as a prelude to today’s meeting, Ukraine and Switzerland galvanised support for a peace plan for Ukraine. However, no concrete steps forward were agreed. Russia and China weren’t at the table. Top level representatives from the Ukraine government said that talks on a peace plan were “open and constructive”. The national security adviser meeting in Davos built on three previous talks held in Copenhagen, Jeddah, and Malta on a peace formula presented by Ukrainian President Zelensky in late 2022.

Photo: Shutterstock

Kiev shoots down Russian A-50 military aircraft

Ukrainian forces struck two Russian military aircraft over the Sea of Azov last night, shooting down an A-50 and damaging an Il-22, local media say, citing Kiev army sources. The A-50 was shot down shortly after entering service over the Zaporizhzhia region, while the Il-22 was hit while flying over Kherson. The A-50 is an early warning and air control aircraft used in particular to detect defence systems and to coordinate fighter aircraft targets. According to Kiev forces, Russia has only eight of these aircraft. Considered an area of fundamental importance in a theatre of war, its destruction would be particularly noteworthy. Deputy Chairman of the National Security Committee of the Ukrainian Parliament Yuriy Mysiagin said on Telegram that the Russian A-50 was destroyed, but confirmation from military officials was still lacking.

‘Resignation? A possibility… but not now’ – Pope

“I am still alive!” With these words, Pope Francis, in the interview with Fabio Fazio on ‘Che Tempo Che Fa’, responded to the host who asked him how he was. As for the possible resignation “it is not a thought nor a concern nor a desire but a possibility open to all Popes. But at the moment it is not at the centre of my thoughts… as long as I feel like serving I will continue”. If the condition changes “we will have to think about it”, he added.

Turning to the Israeli-Hames war, the Pontiff said, “Every day I call the parish of Gaza and they tell me the terrible things that are happening. How many dead Arabs and how many dead Israelis, two peoples called to be brothers now self-destructing each other”. “The trade that gives the most, he said, is the arms trade. Many times wars continue” or become more extensive “to sell more weapons” or “test new weapons”.

In response to Fazio’s question whether he sometimes felt alone due to the decisions taken, such as the recent one on gay blessings, Francis replied: “There is a price of loneliness that you have to pay, sometimes decisions are not accepted” but “most of the time decisions are not accepted because they are not known”. Regarding gay couples, the Pope said that the Church must “bless everyone, the Lord blesses everyone, all those who come, the Lord blesses everyone” but then “people must see the path that the Lord shows them… we must help them find that path, not condemn them from the beginning”.

Photo: Nove press office

Iowa voters prepare to head to polls

Voters venture into subzero temperatures today to kick off the Republican presidential nomination race with the Iowa caucuses – the first major test of whether runaway frontrunner Donald Trump is as much of a sure thing as he appears. With a commanding lead in polls, the former president is expected to win the Midwestern state’s first-in-the-nation vote easily as he bids to be the Republican standard bearer against President Joe Biden in November. But Iowans may have to contend with the coldest conditions in the modern era of presidential election campaigns, with blizzards and a potential wind chill of -32OC forecast.

Haley supporters say they would vote for Biden over Trump

Just under half of likely Iowa GOP caucusgoers who support former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley indicated that they would make a crossover to the Democratic Party, saying that they would rather vote for President Biden over former President Trump. A new poll released just a day before the Iowa caucus found that 43 per cent of Haley backers in the state said they would vote for Biden if Trump is the GOP nominee while 23 per cent say they would vote for the former president. Nineteen per cent said they would vote for Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Overall, 71 per cent of likely GOP caucusgoers said they would vote for Trump in 2024 while only 11 per cent said they would vote for Biden.

Frederik X is proclaimed new king of Denmark

Denmark’s prime minister proclaimed Frederik X as king on Sunday after his mother Queen Margrethe II formally signed her abdication, with massive crowds turning out to rejoice in the throne passing from a beloved monarch to her popular son. Margrethe, 83, is the first Danish monarch to voluntarily relinquish the throne in nearly 900 years. Many thousands of people gathered outside the palace where the royal succession took place, the mood jubilant as the Nordic nation experienced its first royal succession in more than a half-century, and one not caused by the death of a monarch. Margrethe signed her abdication during a meeting with the government at the Christiansborg Palace, which now houses the Parliament, the prime minister’s office and the Supreme Court. Denmark’s monarchy is the oldest in Europe and one of the oldest in the world. Today the royal family’s duties are largely ceremonial.

Photo: MARTIN MEISSNER / AP

Six arrested over plot to disrupt LSE

Six people have been arrested over plans to “disrupt” the London Stock Exchange, the Metropolitan Police said on Sunday. It was alleged that activists from the Palestine Action group were planning to prevent the building from opening for trading today. The Express, which carried out an investigation into the group’s activities and initially tipped off police, reported that the plot would kickstart a planned “week of chaos”.

Photo: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Iceland volcano erupts for second time

A volcano erupted in southwestern Iceland on Sunday morning, sending semi-molten rock spewing into a nearby settlement and setting at least one home on fire. The community was evacuated overnight, Iceland’s RUV television reported. It is the second major eruption by the volcano in less than a month, and comes after a swarm of earthquakes near the town of Grindavik, a town of 3,800 people about 50 kilometers southwest of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. Iceland, which sits above a volcanic hot spot in the North Atlantic, averages an eruption every four to five years. The most disruptive in recent times was the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which spewed huge clouds of ash into the atmosphere and led to widespread airspace closures over Europe.

Photo: Halldor KOLBEINS / AFP

Main photo: Haim Zach/GPO

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