“Russia to invade Europe? Utter nonsense.” – Putin

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 28th March 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called Western accusations that Russia is planning to invade Europe as  “utter nonsense”.

TASS news agency quotes him as saying, in a meeting with pilots of the Russian Air Force in the western Tver region: “As for the accusation that we are planning to invade Europe after Ukraine, this is complete nonsense intended solely to intimidate the population into paying more money. This narrative takes place in a context of economic crisis and deterioration of living standards. They need to justify themselves, so they are intimidating their population with a potential Russian threat while trying to expand their dictatorship to the entire world.”

President Putin also warned that if F-16 warplanes are used by Ukraine against Russia, the aircraft would be hit by Moscow’s forces even if they were at NATO airfields. “If they are used by airports of third countries, they will be a legitimate target for us: no matter where they are,” Putin said at the same meeting with Russian Air Force pilots. The Russian president then warned that Russia will take into account the fact that F-16s can carry nuclear weapons. “We must take this into account when planning combat operations,” Putin said. He then assured that the possible supply of F-16s to Ukraine “will not change the situation on the battlefield” since Russia “will destroy them as it is already doing with Western tanks and other weapons”.

Netanyahu now seeking to reschedule trip to Washington

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has reached out to the White House, asking to reschedule a meeting regarding a potential Israeli operation in Rafah, which the premier cancelled earlier this week, a US official tells The Times of Israel. The US official says the sides are working on a new date for the inter-agency meeting that was supposed to be held on Wednesday with Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanedgbi. The US official notes that top Biden officials Jake Sullivan, Antony Blinken, Lloyd Austin and William Burns held “constructive” meetings with visiting Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and that Rafah was a key topic of discussion. The US maintains that a Rafah offensive will not advance Israel’s war aims because it will lead to even more civilian casualties, cut off the delivery of humanitarian aid, further isolate Israel internationally and harm Israel’s long-term security. Responding to the American official’s comments, Netanyahu’s office releases a statement saying “the prime minister did not approve the departure of the delegation to Washington,” while not directly denying that talks on the trip are taking place. An Israeli official also tells The Times of Israel that the reports about talks to reschedule the trip are “not wrong,” and that it would be Dermer and Hanegbi who would travel, “whenever the trip is finalised.” 

Earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu defended cancelling the trip to Washington as a protest of the Biden administration’s decision to allow the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate Gaza ceasefire and hostage release. Hosting Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida at his Jerusalem office on Wednesday, Netanyahu said he thought the US decision not to veto the resolution was “very, very bad”, adding that the cancellation was a message to Hamas that Israel would not bow to international pressure regarding the war in Gaza.

Ireland to intervene in South Africa genocide case against Israel

Ireland said on Wednesday it would intervene in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, in the strongest signal to date of Dublin’s concern about Israeli operations in Gaza since October 7. Announcing the move, Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said that while it was for the World Court to decide whether genocide is being committed, he wanted to be clear that Hamas’ October 7 attack and what is happening in Gaza now “represents the blatant violation of international humanitarian law on a mass scale: The taking of hostages. The purposeful withholding of humanitarian assistance to civilians. The targeting of civilians and of civilian infrastructure. The indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The use of civilian objects for military purposes. The collective punishment of an entire population,” Martin said in a statement, adding, “The list goes on. It has to stop. The view of the international community is clear. Enough is enough.” Martin did not say what form the intervention would take or outline any proposal Ireland plans to put forward.

UN expert defiant amid threats after Israel ‘genocide’ finding

A UN expert who determined that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza on Wednesday said that she had faced threats over her work but insisted it only made her more determined to push ahead. Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the rights situation in the Palestinian territories, said this week there were reasonable grounds to believe Israel was committing “genocide” against Palestinians in Gaza. Israel, which has long been highly critical of Albanese and her mandate, denounced her report as an “obscene inversion of reality”, while pro-Israeli groups have called for her to step down. The US State Department on Wednesday accused the expert of having a “history of anti-Semitic comments”, and reiterated Washington’s belief that “allegations of genocide are unfounded”.

Asked about the blowback at a news conference in Geneva, Albanese acknowledged that “it has been a difficult time”. The independent expert said she had “been attacked since the very beginning of my mandate”. Israel last month announced a visa ban on Albanese.

Strikes by IDF, Hezbollah kill several in Lebanon, Israel

Strikes by Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters killed people on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border on Wednesday as tensions and fear of a wider conflict continue. An overnight strike on the southern Lebanese village of Hebbariye killed at least seven people. On Wednesday, Hezbollah fired a salvo of rockets at the Israeli border town of Kiryat Shmona, killing at least one individual. Israel is then reported to have bombed two other Lebanese border villages later on Wednesday evening, killing at least nine more people. Lebanese State-run news agency NNA reported that the overnight strike hit a medical centre belonging to the Sunni militant group al-Jamaa al-Islamiya. It said four of its seven medical staff were killed and four civilians wounded. Israel’s military claimed that it hit a military facility, killing only militants. Hezbollah’s response to what it called a “massacre” in Hebbariye involved firing “dozens of rockets” across the border. The barrage struck buildings in Kiryat Shmona. Rescue workers later found a 25-year-old dead at the scene.

Israel bombs Gaza, fights Hamas around hospitals

Israeli forces pounded besieged Gaza on Wednesday and fought Hamas around several hospitals, despite a UN Security Council demand for a ceasefire. In heavy overnight bombardment, Israeli strikes again hit Gaza City and Rafah, where a fireball lit up the sky. Palestinian news agency Wafa reports that 11 civilians were killed and others were injured in an Israeli airstrike on the Dhair family’s home in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah. “An Israeli fighter plane,” according to Wafa, “also targeted a house belonging to the al-Hamayda family in Rafah, causing several injuries among its residents.” Israeli forces have battled militants in and around three Gaza hospitals, raising fears for patients, medical staff and displaced people inside them. Fighting has raged since last week around Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest, and more recently near two hospitals in the main southern city of Khan Yunis, Al-Amal and Nasser.

“Your appeals for peace give us hope” – Abbas to the Pope

The President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas wrote yesterday to Pope Francis thanking him for his “repeated calls to stop Israel’s war” in the Gaza Strip. In a telegram of greetings to the Pontiff and “to all believers” on the occasion of Easter, Abbas underlined how “this holy occasion coincides with the sacred month of Ramadan and many of the inhabitants of the earth share the joy of these two religious anniversaries”. “When our oppressed people repeatedly see the appeals of His Holiness Pope Francis to stop this brutal war, they are filled with hope that he will be able to assert his rights,” Abbas said in the text quoted by Arab media.

Hamas calls for “March for Palestine

Hamas has published an appeal by Mohammed Deif, the commander of the Qassam Brigades, in which he calls on the Arab and Palestinian masses to “start a march for Palestine”. “Start now, not tomorrow, towards Palestine, he said in the recording released on Telegram, “and do not let restrictions, borders or regulations deprive you of the honour of participating in the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.”

95 people still missing after Moscow attack

As many as 95 people are still missing after last week’s attack near Moscow when gunmen sprayed concertgoers with automatic weapons and set the venue on fire, a Russian news outlet reported on Wednesday. The official toll from the attack on Crocus City Hall now stands at 140 dead and 182 wounded. But the Baza news service, which has good contacts in Russian security and law enforcement, said 95 more people appeared in lists compiled by the emergency services based on appeals from people about missing relatives. “These lists include people with whom relatives have not been able to get in touch since the terrorist attack, but who are not on the lists of wounded and dead,” Baza said. “Some of these people died, but have not yet been identified.” Russian investigators said the attack was carried out by four shooters using Kalashnikov automatic weapons. More than 500 rounds were found at the scene.

Thai parliament passes same-sex marriage bill

Thailand’s parliament passed a same-sex marriage Bill on Wednesday, paving the way for the kingdom to become the first Southeast Asian nation to recognise LGBTQ marriage equality. The Bill passed by 399 to 10 votes in the lower house, although it must still be approved by the Senate before it is endorsed by the king, and then published in the Royal Gazette. On the news, one representative brought a huge rainbow flag into the chamber. “Today society has proved to us that they care about LGBT rights,” Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat, a member of the progressive ‘Move Forward Party’ which has pushed for LGBTQ+ rights, told AFP.

Two bodies found as Baltimore bridge collapse moves to salvage

The bodies of two construction workers were found in the cold waters of Baltimore harbour Wednesday, trapped in their red pick-up truck after a giant cargo ship slammed into the bridge they had been filling potholes on, causing a thunderous collapse. Announcing the grim discovery, Maryland police said sonar shows what they believe are more vehicles trapped within the concrete and twisted steel debris of the bridge.

The ship issued a Mayday call moments before the collision, prompting police to rush to stop traffic on the bridge, likely saving lives. But there was no chance to evacuate the eight workers filling potholes on the road directly above the oncoming ship. The two victims, aged 35 and 26, were found in 25 feet of water. Two others were pulled from the water alive in the moments after the collapse early Tuesday. One was uninjured, while the second was released from hospital Wednesday. Four more workers are presumed dead, vanished into the swirling currents and crumpled tangle of wrecked girders and pylons. Warning that it was not safe for divers to try to penetrate the wreckage, police said that they were shifting to a salvage operation, removing the superstructure and then sending divers back in to recover the rest of the bodies.

Baltimore bridge collapse means Carnival Cruises loses $10 million

Carnival Cruise Line has warned that its 2024 earnings could take up to a $10 million hit as a result of the Baltimore bridge collapse, which has halted the cruise line’s ability to access its Maryland port. Carnival chief Josh Weinstein told investors during the company’s first-quarter earnings call on Wednesday that its ships will temporarily dock in Norfolk, Virginia, “which should help to minimise operational changes,” The Wall Street Journal earlier reported. ‘The Carnival Legend’ ship set sail Sunday for a seven-day Bahamas cruise – two days before the bridge crumbled. Instead of returning to Baltimore this weekend, Carnival Legend will end its trip in Norfolk, “and guests will be provided complimentary bus service back to Baltimore,” the company said in a statement. The next seven-day voyage, scheduled for March 31, will also operate out of Carnival’s Virginia port.

Trump assails judge and daughter after gag order

Donald Trump lashed out Wednesday at the New York judge who put him under a gag order ahead of his April 15 hush-money criminal trial, making a fallacious claim about his daughter and urging him to step aside from the case. In a social media post, the former president suggested, without evidence, that Judge Juan M. Merchan was kowtowing to his daughter’s interests as a Democratic political consultant. He also made a claim, later repudiated by court officials, that she had posted a social media photo showing Trump behind bars. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, who is facing four criminal indictments and a civil lawsuit, complained on his Truth Social platform that the gag order issued Tuesday was “illegal, un-American, unConstitutional”. He said that Merchan, a veteran Manhattan jurist, was “wrongfully attempting to deprive me of my First Amendment Right to speak out against the Weaponization of Law Enforcement” by Democratic rivals. Trump claimed that Merchan’s daughter, Loren Merchan, whose firm has worked on campaigns for President Joe Biden and other Democrats, had recently posted a photo on social media depicting her “obvious goal” of seeing him jailed.

Canada clocks fastest population growth in 66 years in 2023

Canada’s population touched a record high of 40.77 million in 2023, largely driven by temporary immigration, Statistics Canada said Wednesday. Reuters reports the country added 1.27 million people in 2023, up 3.2 per cent from the previous year,  marking the highest growth since 1957. The influx of immigrants has been blamed for a housing shortage that has pushed up house prices and sent affordability to new lows, hurting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval ratings. Some 2,661,784 non-permanent residents were living in Canada on January 1, 2024,  data showed. Among them, 2,332,886 were permit holders and their family members living with them, and 328,898 were asylum claimants with or without work or study permits.

Prosecutors seek 2½-year jail term over World Cup kiss

Spanish prosecutors want the former head of the country’s football federation to be jailed for two-and-a-half years, after he kissed a female footballer against her will at Spain’s World Cup victory. Luis Rubiales is facing charges of sexual assault and coercion after he grabbed Jenni Hermoso and kissed her on the mouth last August. Ms Hermoso and her teammates said the kiss was unwanted and demeaning. Mr Rubiales was forced to resign, but has denied any wrongdoing. According to a court document seen by Reuters, prosecutor Marta Durantez charged Mr Rubiales with one count of sexual assault and one of coercion for his alleged actions in the aftermath of the kiss. The charges carry prison terms of one year and 18 months respectively. Ms Durantez also accused the former coach of the women’s national team, Jorge Vilda, the team’s current sporting director, Albert Luque, and the federation’s head of marketing, Ruben Rivera, of coercing Ms Hermoso into saying the kiss was consensual. The indictment said they harassed her through “constant and repeated acts of pressure”, including through her friends and family.

Photo: Mikhail Metzel / Press Service of the President of the Russian Federation / TASS

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