Police search EP offices over suspected Russian interference

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 30th May 2024.

Brussels and French police carried out a series of simultaneous raids at European Parliament offices in Brussels and Strasbourg as well as at the home of a parliamentary staffer in the Belgian neighbourhood of Schaerbeek on Wednesday morning. Dutch EU lawmaker Marcel de Graaff confirmed on social media platform X that the staffer in question was his parliamentary assistant, Guillaume Pradoura, but distanced himself from the accusations.

“I have no involvement whatsoever in any so-called Russian disinformation operation. I have my own political beliefs and I proclaim them. That is my job as a MEP,” de Graaff claimed.

Graaff was elected to the European Parliament in 2014 for the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) – now set to enter government in the Netherlands – but defected to join Forum for Democracy (FV) in 2022. He was forced out of his European political family Identity and Democracy (ID) in October 2022 over pro-Russian statements in relation to the invasion of Ukraine.

His aide Pradoura was expelled from Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National in 2019 over an anti-Semitic picture, and previously worked as an aide to embattled German MEP Maximilian Krah, who is also embroiled in an investigation into Chinese espionage.

The searches are part of a sprawling probe into a Russian influence operation suspected to have paid sitting MEPs to spread pro-Kremlin propaganda from the heart of EU institutions in Brussels. The Belgian Prosecutor, which ordered Wednesday’s searches, said there were “indications” that the parliament staffer in question played a “significant role” in the Russian propaganda operation, confirming that the raid is linked to a case involving “interference, passive corruption and membership of a criminal organisation”.

Asked for an official statement by Euronews, the European Parliament’s press services said: “We can’t comment on ongoing investigations. When and if requested to, the European Parliament fully cooperates with law enforcement and judicial authorities to assist the course of justice and will continue to do so. It is this context that access to an office was provided,” the statement adds.

Israel says war on Gaza likely to last another seven months

Israel’s national security adviser says the continuing war on Gaza is likely to last through the end of the year. In an interview with Israel’s Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday, Tzachi Hanegbi said “we are expecting another seven months of fighting” to destroy the military and governing capabilities of Hamas and the smaller Palestinian Islamic Jihad group.

His remarks came as Israel finds itself increasingly isolated on the world stage nearly eight months into the assault, with even the United States and other close allies expressing outrage over the civilian death toll. Hanegbi defended Israel’s ongoing operations in Rafah, on Gaza’s border with Egypt, saying the frontier had become a “smuggling kingdom” since 2007, when Hamas began governing Gaza. “Every rocket, every explosive device, every shot fired at Israel is because that border was breached,” he said.

Israel seizes ‘Philadelphi Corridor’ along Gaza-Egypt border

Israel’s occupation forces have claimed to have taken the control of a vital Gaza-Egypt corridor as their ground invasion in the border city of Rafah intensified. An Israeli military spokesman on Wednesday claimed without proof that about 20 tunnels were found in the area of the corridor, a claim rejected by Egypt which accused Israel of using allegations of tunnels under the border as cover for its Rafah invasion.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israeli forces had taken “operational control” of the strategic, 14-km Philadelphi Corridor along the Gaza-Egypt border and “discovered around 20 tunnels”. The corridor had served as a buffer between Gaza and Egypt since Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

“Israel is using these allegations to justify continuing the operation on the Palestinian city of Rafah and prolonging the war for political purposes,” a high-level Egyptian source said, quoted by state-linked Al-Qahera News. Egypt has said that any increase in Israeli troops in the strategic Philadelphi Corridor would violate the countries’ 1979 peace accord. It already has complained about Israel taking over the Rafah border crossing. The corridor is part of a larger demilitarised zone along both sides of the entire Israel-Egypt border. At the time of the accord, Israeli troops controlled Gaza, until Israel withdrew its troops in 2005.

UNRWA ordered to evacuate Jerusalem premises

The Israel Land Authority has informed UNRWA that it must vacate its East Jerusalem premises within 30 days, following the approval of a demand from Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf to evict the UN agency for Palestinian refugees from any state land it is currently occupying. Times of Israel says that in a letter to UNRWA, the ILA writes that it owes them a sum of NIS 27,125,280 (€6,784,776.38) for operating on land belonging to Israel without consent for the last seven years. In addition, it instructs UNRWA that it is “required to immediately stop any illegal use, destroy everything you have built in violation of the law, vacate the land of any people or items and return it to the Authority within 30 days from the date of this letter”.

Ynet reports that for several years, the ILA has turned a blind eye to UNRWA’s violation of the terms under which the land was leased to it, but has now decided to enforce the terms of the lease in light of tensions over the war in Gaza and the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees in the October 7 massacre carried out by Hamas in southern Israel.

US calls Algeria’s proposed UN resolution ‘not helpful’

The United States said Wednesday a proposed UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and halt to Israel’s military operation in the southern city of Rafah “is not going to be helpful”. Algeria, the Arab representative on the council, circulated the draft resolution Tuesday evening to its 15 members after emergency council consultations on the escalating Israeli operation in Rafah. US deputy ambassador Robert Wood told reporters ahead of yesterday’s monthly Mideast meeting that “another resolution is not necessarily going to change anything on the ground”. He said the US is focused on getting an agreement on a temporary pause in the fighting and the release of some 125 hostages taken during Hamas’ October 7 invasion of southern Israel, and then working on a long-term end to the seven-month war.

Palestinian deputy ambassador Majed Bamya told the council meeting that adopting the resolution would be an important step “to force Israel to halt its military offensive and to withdraw its occupation forces, and to ensure an immediate cease-fire”.

The draft resolution demands compliance with previous council resolutions that call for the opening of all border crossings and humanitarian access to Gaza’s 2.3 million people who need food and other aid. It also demands that the cease-fire be respected by all parties and calls for the release of all hostages.

US to boycott UN tribute to Iran’s Raisi

The United States will boycott today’s United Nations tribute to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed on May 19 in a helicopter crash, a US official said. The 193-member UN General Assembly traditionally meets to pay tribute to any world leader who was a sitting head of state at the time of their death. The tribute will feature speeches about Raisi.

“We won’t attend this event in any capacity,” a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. The US boycott has not previously been reported. “The United Nations should be standing with the people of Iran, not memorialising their decades-long oppressor,” said the US official. “Raisi was involved in numerous, horrific human rights abuses, including the extrajudicial killings of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.”

The UN Security Council stood at the beginning of an unrelated meeting for a moment of silence on May 20 to remember the victims of the helicopter crash. Deputy US Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood reluctantly stood with his 14 counterparts.

UK junior doctors call five-day strike just before election

Junior doctors in England are to stage a five-day strike in the lead-up to the election in their long-running pay dispute with the government. British Medical Association members will walk out on 27 June – a week before election day. The union said it was taking action as there had been no credible new offer after fresh talks started in mid-May. But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the timing of the strike “makes it look incredibly political”. The BMA has asked for a 35 per cent pay rise to make up for what it says is 15 years of below-inflation pay rises. Junior doctors received a pay rise averaging nearly nine per cent in the last financial year. The BMA walked out of talks last year during which an extra three per cent pay rise on top was discussed. This will be the eleventh walkout by junior doctors in this dispute after their first strike in March 2023. The last one took place in February.

South Africa counts votes following ‘crucial’ election

Votes are being counted across South Africa as the electorate voted Wednesday in an election seen as their country’s most important since apartheid ended 30 years ago. The election was held on one day and polls closed after 14 hours of voting at more than 23,000 stations across the country’s nine provinces. The BBC says the first results will start to trickle in this morning and final results are expected over the weekend. A record 70 parties and 11 independents were running, with South Africans voting for a new parliament and nine provincial legislatures.

South Africa’s election chief has hinted at an exceptional turnout at polling stations on Wednesday. “Evidently we are in for a higher turnout than we had in 2019,” Sy Mamabolo, head of South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission, told a news conference yesterday evening.

At stake is the three-decade dominance of the African National Congress, which led South Africa out of apartheid’s brutal white minority rule and to democracy in 1994. It is now the target of a new generation of discontent in a country of 62 million people – half of whom are estimated to be living in poverty. After casting his vote, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that he had no doubt his ANC would win again with “a firm majority”.

After winning six successive national elections, several opinion polls have put the ANC’s support at less than 50 per cent before this vote – an unprecedented drop. It might lose its majority in Parliament for the first time, although it’s widely expected to hold the most seats. The ANC won 57.5 per cent of the vote in the last national election in 2019, its worst result to date and down from a high of nearly 70 per cent in 2004. That loss of support has been attributed to the widespread poverty, but also ANC corruption scandals.

Jurors in Trump’s trial end first day of deliberations

After listening to 20 days of testimony and a long day of closing arguments, the jury has begun deliberating the fate of Donald Trump in the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president. The jury of seven men and five women who live in Manhattan received the case Wednesday morning after listening for 75 minutes to instructions by New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan. “The people have a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Merchan told the jury. “The defendant is not required to prove he is not guilty. The defendant is not required to prove anything.”

The jury went home on Wednesday after three-and-a-half hours deliberating and requesting read backs of four sections of trial testimony, as well as some of the judge’s instructions. Those read backs will occur this morning.

North Korea fires multiple short-range ballistic missiles

North Korea fired a salvo of short-range ballistic missiles early this morning, Thursday, Seoul’s military said, hours after Pyongyang sent hundreds of trash-filled balloons across the border to punish South Korea.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it had detected the launch of “what are suspected to be around 10 short-range ballistic missiles”, fired into waters east of the Korean peninsula. The missiles flew around 350km, JCS said, adding that it was analysing the specifics alongside the United States and Japan. The launch was a “provocation that seriously threatens peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”, it added.

On Wednesday, Pyongyang sent balloons full of trash, toilet paper and suspected animal faeces into the South, with Seoul’s military slamming Pyongyang for their “low class” actions. The North had warned over the weekend that it would shower border areas in “mounds of wastepaper and filth” to punish Seoul.

Delhi posts national record temperature of 52.3OC

Temperatures in India’s capital city Delhi soared to 52.3OC on Wednesday, setting a new national record amid an ongoing heatwave. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) warned of “severe heat-wave conditions” after recording the record temperature in the Delhi suburb of Mungeshpur on Wednesday afternoon. Issuing a red alert for several parts of northwest India, authorities said the temperatures were over nine degrees higher than expected. If found to be accurate, the temperature will not only have surpassed 50°C for the first time in Delhi since records began, but will also have smashed the previous national record of 51°C – recorded in Phalodi, a desert region in the arid western state of Rajasthan, in 2016 – by over one degree. In May 2022, parts of Delhi hit 49.2°C, Indian media reported at the time.

Person dead after falling into jet plane engine

A person has died after falling into a running aircraft engine at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, police say. Dutch military police are investigating the incident, which happened on Wednesday and involved a person ending up in the engine of a KLM airlines Embraer jet plane which was about to take off on a flight for Denmark. Investigations into the circumstances of the incident are ongoing. All passengers and crew onboard the plane were safely removed and were being supported. “Our thoughts go out to the [deceased’s] relatives, and we care for the passengers and colleagues who saw this,” the airport said in a statement. “We are currently taking care of the passengers and employees who witnessed the incident at Schiphol.”

Olympiakos become first Greek side to lift European trophy

Ayoub El Kaabi struck four minutes from the end of extra time as Olympiakos beat Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final to become the first Greek side to win a European trophy. The Moroccan striker, hero of Olympiakos’ run to the final, stooped low to head in Santiago Hezze’s cross and spark pandemonium in the AEK Arena in Athens. A lengthy VAR check confirmed El Kaabi’s eleventh goal of the competition and their place in Greek footballing history. It is a second year of dramatic heartbreak for Fiorentina after the Italian side were beaten by West Ham in last season’s final thanks to Jarrod Bowen’s late goal.

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