No UN consensus on full membership for Palestine

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 13th April 2024.

A UN Security Council committee has failed to agree on a common response to a renewed bid by the State of Palestine for full United Nations membership. Deutsche Welle quotes Malta’s permanent representative to the UN, Vanessa Frazier, who currently chairs the committee, saying after a meeting in New York that two-thirds of the members were in favour of the application while five were against. It is considered unlikely that the committee will then recommend that the Security Council vote on the application. However, a resolution to that effect could be introduced at any time by any member state of the Security Council.

The Palestinians, who have observer status at the world body since 2012, have lobbied for years to gain full membership, which would amount to recognition of Palestinian statehood. Algeria, which represents Arab nations on the Council, plans to introduce a resolution next week, according to diplomatic sources. However, such a resolution would most likely fail as the United States, Israel’s closest ally in the Security Council, would likely veto it. To succeed, at least nine of the 15 members of the Security Council would have to vote in favour of the resolution, with none of the five permanent Council members – China, France, Russia, Britain, and the United States – voting against. If successful, the resolution would then go to the UN General Assembly for a vote. A two-thirds majority would be required for passage.

Belgium investigating Russians suspected of paying EU lawmakers

The Belgian federal prosecutor has opened an investigation into EU lawmakers accused of receiving payments for spreading pro-Russian propaganda. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told reporters on Friday that Belgium’s intelligence services had confirmed the “existence of a pro-Russian interference network with activities in several European countries” which is “subject to prosecution” in the country. A recent investigation led by Czech authorities revealed lawmakers sitting in the European Parliament in Brussels had received cash from a Moscow-backed influence operation to “promote” its propaganda in the bloc. “The cash payments did not take place in Belgium, but the interference does,” De Croo said. “As Belgium is the seat of the EU institutions, we have a responsibility to uphold every citizen’s right to a free and safe vote,” he added.

The investigation comes just over two months before EU voters head to the polls to elect 720 members to the European Parliament, and amid mounting fears Kremlin proxies could be using information manipulation to skew the democratic vote. Three of the major factions of the European Parliament – the centre-left Socialists and Democrats, the centrist Renew Europe and the Greens – have called for a swift investigation, and the parliament’s press services have confirmed to Euronews they are “looking into” the allegations. While De Croo was unable to specify how many EU lawmakers could face prosecution, Czech media citing intelligence officials have said the allegations involve politicians from Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary. The Czech investigation resulted in the sanctioning of two individuals and news company Voice of Europe, through which investigators say the Russian operation had been channelled.

Biden’s message to Iran about retaliatory strike on Israel: ‘Don’t’

President Joe Biden told reporters Friday afternoon he expects an Iranian strike on Israel to occur “sooner rather than later” amid urgent concerns that Iran was about to retaliate for the bombing of its consulate in Damascu, earlier this month. Asked for his message to Iran in the tense moment, Biden was blunt, saying simply, “Don’t!” “Would the US respond?” ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Mary Bruce asked repeatedly as the president walked away after the end of an unrelated event. He paused, thought for a moment and then returned to the lectern. “We are devoted to the defence of Israel. We will support Israel. We will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed,” he said.

Biden’s comments came as other high-level US officials worked urgently behind the scenes to pressure Iran to back down from its threat to launch a retaliatory strike – the latest challenge facing the Biden administration as it tries to avert an all-out regional war in the Middle East. At the same time, the US was moving troops and other assets to the Middle East as Iran readied a large number of missiles and drones for a potential strike against Israel, according to US officials. Iran has readied more than a hundred cruise missiles for a possible strike.The deployment of American troops was intended to try to deter Iran from launching a large-scale attack and protecting US troops in the region. According to one US defence official, the assets being moved to the region include both “ships and aircraft”. Two US Navy destroyers already deployed in the eastern Mediterranean are equipped with the Aegis combat system, which can protect troops in the region from ballistic defence missiles. Some 3,400 US troops are in Iraq and Syria with tens of thousands more US personnel in the Middle East region.

Earlier Friday, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the administration was monitoring the situation “very, very closely”, and that while its top priority was ensuring Israel is able to defend itself from a potential Iranian attack, the US was also “doing everything we can to protect our people and our facilities”.

In a sign of how seriously the US views the risk of escalation, the Pentagon confirmed on Thursday that Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the commander of US Central Command, had “moved up” a previously scheduled trip to Israel to meet with senior Israeli military leaders “due to recent developments”. Although the US does not have direct diplomatic ties to Iran, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had been working the phones with his counterparts in countries that do – encouraging them to use their influence to dissuade Iran from taking military action in response to the consulate bombing. In his conversations with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, Blinken made clear “that escalation is not in anyone’s interest and that countries should urge Iran not to escalate,” according to Miller. US officials previously told ABC News that the administration believes Iran could retaliate against Israel in the coming days – potentially using drones and missiles to attack “regional assets” – and that information about the threat has been shared with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

‘US see Iran move military assets’ – CNN

American observers have noted that Iran is moving “military assets” ahead of an attack on Israel, say informed sources as quoted by CNN. The United States “will attempt to intercept any weapons launched against Israel if it is possible to do so,” two officials also said. US Navy forces in the Red Sea have in recent months intercepted several long-range missiles launched by the Houthis in Yemen towards Israel and US forces in Iraq and Syria are potentially capable of blocking drones and rockets aimed at northern Israel, depending on the position from which they are launched. Just yesterday, General Erik Kurilla, commander of the US Central Command, had a meeting with the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Forces, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi.

‘We are ready at any time for any scenario’ – Halevi

“We are strongly prepared in attack and defence against any threat,” reiterated Army Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi. Assessing the current situation, he is quoted as saying, “We are at war and have been at a high level of preparedness for about six months. The IDF continues to closely monitor what is happening in Iran and in various areas, constantly preparing to face existing and potential threats in coordination with the United States military. Our forces are prepared and ready at any time and in any scenario.”

Islamic Jihad launches 8 rockets from Gaza onto Sderot

At least eight rockets were launched yesterday evening from the Gaza Strip against the southern Israeli city of Sderot. Local media reports say the attack was claimed by the al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Sources add that at the moment there was no news of damage to people or things and that some of the rockets were intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome defence system.

‘Settler attack in West Bank leaves one dead’ – Wafa

One Palestinian was killed and 18 others were injured in an attack by Israeli settlers in the West Bank village of al-Mughayir, acording to the Palestinian agency Wafa, which adds that the Israelis set fire to houses and bombed trucks. Dozens of Israeli settlers rampaged through the Palestinian village in search of a missing 14-year-old Israeli boy from a farm near the Malachei Shalom outpost, according to rights group Yesh Din. Videos posted to X showed dark clouds of smoke billowing from burning cars as gunshots rang out. Israel’s military said it was looking into reports of the incident.

Israel opens new aid truck crossing into Gaza

Israel opened a new crossing for aid trucks into northern Gaza as its efforts to ramp up aid to the besieged enclave came under criticism from a top United Nations official. Tel Aviv, facing mounting US pressure to improve the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, has pledged this week to dramatically increase aid to the Strip. The military said that trucks carrying food passed the newly-opened northern crossing on Thursday. It said the aid was inspected at its Kerem Shalom crossing near the Egyptian border before being transported inside Israel to the crossing. The new system aims to provide an alternative to the risky and difficult task of transporting aid across Gaza from north to south. Israel plans to open its southern Ashdod port for additional aid shipments in the coming days. Currently, most aid enters through land routes from neighbouring Egypt. However, according to the UN, the surge of aid is not being felt in Gaza because difficulties persist in distributing the aid. “It’s very easy for Israel to say, ‘We’ve sent you 1,000 trucks so please deliver them inside Gaza,’” said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories. The UN has warned that distributing aid within Gaza is perilous and plagued by lengthy delays at inspection checkpoints. McGoldrick said delivering aid to the northern part of the territory, where famine is imminent, is especially challenging, with only one or two roads to the north open at any time. Several aid organizations have suspended their convoys north after an Israeli strike on a World Central Kitchen aid mission killed seven aid workers.

‘2022 draft document as a basis for future Ukraine peace talks’

A draft Russia-Ukraine agreement negotiated in 2022 could serve as a starting point for prospective talks to end the fighting in Ukraine, the Kremlin said on Friday. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the draft document that was discussed in Istanbul in March 2022 could be “the basis for starting negotiations”. At the same time, he noted that the possible future talks would need to take into account the “new realities”.

Peskov’s statement followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments on Thursday, in which he mocked prospective Ukraine peace talks that Switzerland is set to host in June, warning that Moscow will not accept any enforced peace plans. Switzerland’s government said it will host a high-level international conference in June to chart a path toward peace in Ukraine after more than two years of fighting. It also expressed hope that Russia might join in the peace process someday. Putin on Thursday said Russia hadn’t been invited to join June’s talks, while pointing at Swiss recognition that a peace process can’t happen without Russia. Moscow has dismissed Ukrainian President Zelensky’s peace formula calling for Moscow to withdraw troops, pay compensation to Ukraine and face an international tribunal for its action.

Putin wants to restart central Zaporizhzhia plant – WSJ

Russian President Vladimir Putin has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the Kremlin intends to restart the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, currently under Russian occupation, according to The Wall Street Journal, which underlines the further increase in the risk of an accident in Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Russia’s goal would be to bring at least one reactor back into service by the 40th anniversary of the plant’s connection to the Soviet Union’s power grid in December. The intention to restart the plant was announced by Putin in a meeting with IAEA head Rafael Grossi.

Kuleba talks to Tajani about air defense systems

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has written on X he had spoken to Italian Foreign Minister with Antonio Tajani and they discussed concrete steps on how Italy, as the country chairing the G7, can take an active role in researching air defence systems and making coordinated decisions on their delivery to Ukraine”. He also thanked Italy for its constant support for Ukraine.

Europe should contribute more to aid to Ukraine – Trump

Donald Trump has stated that he was examining with Republicans in the US Congress the possibility of providing aid to Ukraine “in the form of loans and not grants of billions and billions of dollars”. During a news conference in Florida with speaker Mike Johnson, the tycoon also said that “Europe must contribute more because it is more affected by the war” in Ukraine.

Starmer would push nuclear button if UK was under attack

Sir Keir Starmer has said he would be willing to push the nuclear button if Britain was under attack, should he be elected in as prime minister. In an exclusive interview with ITV News, the Labour Party leader said a nuclear deterrence “only works if there is a preparedness to use it”. In a dramatic shift from his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, whose ambition was to see a nuclear-free world, and some Labour frontbenchers who previously voted to scrap Trident, Sir Keir on Friday outlined plans to use the UK’s nuclear deterrent as the “bedrock” of his plans to keep Britain safe. Sir Keir also announced he would be willing to ramp up defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP when the economy allows, and focus on increasing jobs and skills in the sector. The leader of the opposition said “the only way to have a safer world is to have an effective [nuclear] deterrent”, adding: “It’s the single most important part of our armoury to protect our country, and that’s why I’m so committed to it.

Pope to visit Indonesia, PNG, East Timor, Singapore in September

Pope Francis will visit Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in September, the Vatican announced Friday – an ambitious trip that could test the 87-year-old’s increasingly fragile health. Running from September 2 to 13, the trip covering around 30,000 kilometres is the longest for the Argentine Pontiff since he became head of the worldwide Catholic Church in 2013. “He will visit Jakarta from 3 to 6 September, Port Moresby and Vanimo from 6 to 9 September, Dili from 9 to 11 September and Singapore from 11 to 13 September,” the Vatican said in a statement. The visit has been on the cards for months, but Pope Francis’ health issues had raised questions on whether it would go ahead.

Italy: 3½ years jail requested for Lucarelli jr for sexual violence

Milan prosecutor Alessia Menegazzo on Friday asked for five sentences of 3½ years jail for 23-year-old Livorno footballers Mattia Lucarelli and Federico Apolloni, and for three of their friends accused of sexual violence against a 22-year-old American student. The attack, according to the investigation conducted by the Flying Squad, occurred on the night between 26 and 27 March 2022 in Milan. Apolloni and Lucarelli jr were arrested and placed under house arrest in January 2023, and then, in June of the same year, they were released again.

Photo: Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, and China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun, centre left, speak with ambassadors of Arab countries before a Security Council meeting and vote on a resolution on Israel and Gaza conflict at UN Headquarters, 25th March 2024. Malta’s UN Ambassador Vanessa Frazier (centre) and Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador is cente right. (AP/Craig Ruttle via The Times of Israel)

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