Security Council backs Biden’s ceasefire proposal for Gaza

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Tuesday, 11th June 2024.

The United Nations Security Council on Monday backed a proposal outlined by President Joe Biden for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and urged the Palestinian militants to accept the deal aimed at ending the eight-month-long war.

Hamas welcomed the adoption of the US-drafted resolution and said in a statement that it is ready to cooperate with mediators over implementing the principles of the plan “that are consistent with the demands of our people and resistance”.

Russia abstained from the UN vote, while the remaining 14 Security Council members voted in favour of the resolution supporting a three-phase ceasefire plan laid out by Biden on May 31 that he described as an Israeli initiative. “Today we voted for peace,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council after the vote.

The resolution welcomes the new ceasefire proposal, states that Israel has accepted it, calls on Hamas to agree to it and “urges both parties to fully implement its terms without delay and without conditions”.

Algeria, the only Arab member of the council, supported the resolution because “we believe it can represent a step forward toward an immediate and lasting ceasefire,” Algeria’s UN Ambassador Amar Bendjama told the council. “It offers a glimmer of hope to the Palestinians,” he said. “It’s time to halt the killing.”

The resolution also goes into detail about the proposal, and spells out that “if the negotiations take longer than six weeks for phase one, the ceasefire will still continue as long as negotiations continue”.

However, it did not contain enough detail for Moscow. Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia asked what Israel had specifically agreed to and said the Security Council should not be signing up to agreements with “vague parameters”. “We did not wish to block the resolution simply because it, as much as we understand, is supported by the Arab world,” Nebenzia told the council.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan was present for the vote, but did not address the council. Instead, senior Israeli UN diplomat Reut Shapir Ben Naftaly told the body that Israel’s goals in Gaza had always been clear. “Israel is committed to these goals – to free all the hostages, to destroy Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and to ensure that Gaza does not pose a threat to Israel in the future,” she said. “It is Hamas that is preventing this war from ending. Hamas and Hamas alone.”

Last March, the Council demanded an immediate ceasefire and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas.

For months, negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar have been trying to mediate a ceasefire. Hamas says it wants a permanent end to the war in the Gaza Strip and Israeli withdrawal from the enclave of 2.3 million people.

Israel is retaliating against Hamas, which rules Gaza, over an October 7 attack by its militants. More than 1,200 people were killed and over 250 taken hostage by Hamas on October 7, according to Israeli tallies. More than 100 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza. Israel launched an air, ground and sea assault on the Palestinian territory, killing more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.

‘Israeli troops came in aid truck to free hostages’ – Red Crescent

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said yesterday that Israeli troops used an aid truck to infiltrate central Gaza’s Nuseirat camp when they rescued four Israeli hostages on Saturday. The Red Cross’s local Palestinian branch said in a statement that it warned “of the danger of the occupation forces’ use, on Saturday, of such a vehicle to infiltrate the camp”, adding, “The occupation forces deceived people by disguising themselves under the cover of aid that civilians desperately need amid their suffering from severe food insecurity. This endangers the safety of relief teams.”

Such a precedent raises the possibility of humanitarian aid workers being perceived with suspicion in the future, Nebal Farsakh, a spokeswoman for PRCS, told AFP.

Asked about the Red Crescent’s statement yesterday, the Israeli army referred AFP to a June 8 tweet in which spokesman Avichay Adraee dismissed the allegations that forces entered Nuseirat in aid trucks as “lies”. Four hostages held in Gaza since October 7 were released during the military operation in Nuseirat refugee camp on Saturday. Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry said at least 274 Palestinians were killed and 698 wounded during the military operation in Nuseirat camp on Saturday.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, said in a statement yesterday that the flow of casualties from the rescue operation “has greatly overwhelmed the limited capacities of hospitals” in the area.

Israeli forces have disguised themselves as civilian aid workers to reach targets in the past too. In January, undercover agents, some dressed as medics, shot dead three Palestinian militants in Ibn Sina hospital in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, with the army saying they belonged to a “Hamas terrorist cell”.

Von der Leyen hails win over political ‘extremes’

The German head of the EU’s executive body, Ursula von der Leyen, had reason to celebrate on Monday after her centre-right bloc in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP), gained seats. “We had a strong win as European People’s Party. This shows that you can withstand the pressure from the extremes and be successful while being in charge of the responsibility of the European Union,” she said.

To keep her position as the European Commission president for another term, she needs the support of EU national leaders, as well as majority support in the parliament. This may prove tricky after the major gains made by far-right parties – and parties that have said they would withhold their support if she relied on the far right. The parties that supported von der Leyen during the previous parliament – the centre-right, the centre-left and the liberals – won 402 seats in the 720-member chamber.

“In these turbulent times, we need stability, we need accountability and we need continuity,” she said, noting that, over the past five years, those parties had “worked together well and constructively in a spirit of trust”.

According to Reuters, US government officials are keeping a close watch on the aftermath of the European Parliament election that saw far-right parties gain seats in France and Germany, wary of the impact on international alliances. The US does not expect any major foreign policy changes from the European Union, including on Ukraine, one American official said on Monday, adding that Washington expects Ursula von der Leyen will be able to stay on as EU president.

Germany rules out snap election after AfD gains

The German government has said there are no plans for a snap election after all three parties in the governing coalition performed poorly in the EU parliamentary elections on Sunday. German voters turned out in record numbers on Sunday, with 64.8 per cent of eligible voters participating. The far-right AfD gained the most votes in Germany’s eastern federal states.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), has also had to face up to the clear drubbing of his coalition government with the environmentalist Greens and neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP). The SPD is calling it a “bitter defeat” after the party’s worst outcome ever in a national election, with 13.9 per cent. There were also long faces among the Greens, who dropped to 11.9 per cent. The FDP came in at 5.2 per cent.

Scholz said on Monday evening that the European election results were “bad for all three governing parties” and warned that there could be no return to “business as usual”. Speaking to reporters in Berlin, Scholz said: “We have to do our work and ensure that our country makes progress and becomes more modern, ensuring that support grows so that we can present results and have the trust of citizens at the next federal elections.”

After the SPD won just 13.9 per cent of the vote, its worst result in a nationwide democratic election in more than 130 years, Scholz warned that the policies of the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which came second at 15.9 per cent, must not become normalised. “We should never get used to that,” he said. “The task must always be to push them back again.”

Macron urges French voters to make ‘right choice’

President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that he was confident French voters would make the “right choice” in snap elections he called after the far right crushed his centrist alliance in Sunday’s EU ballot.

His surprise move came after mainstream centrist parties kept an overall majority in the European Parliament in Sunday’s elections, but the far right notched up a string of high-profile victories in Italy, Austria and France. Analysts say Macron has taken the risky gamble of dissolving the national parliament in a bid to keep the far-right National Rally (RN) out of power when his second term ends in 2027. “I am confident in the capacity of the French people to make the right choice for themselves and for future generations,” Macron wrote on X on Monday.

His announcement of elections for a new National Assembly on June 30, with a second round on July 7, has sparked widespread alarm, even from within the ranks of his party.

Amid shouts and anti-Le Pen slogans, thousands of young people marched in the avenues around the Place de la République, in the heart of Paris, to protest against the far right and call for a union of the French left in view of the early political elections.

Meanwhile, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist, described the prospect of elections just weeks before the start of the Paris Olympics as “extremely unsettling”. But International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach played down any direct impact on the event.

Uncertainty around the election also sapped market confidence, with Paris’ benchmark stock market index, CAC 40, closing 1.35 per cent lower and the interest rate on French government debt gaining 10 basis points, to 3.22 per cent. In a televised address late Sunday, Macron warned of the danger of “the rise of nationalists and demagogues” for France and its place in Europe.

Portuguese Socialists claim EU victory

The Portuguese Socialist Party (PS) has claimed victory in the EU election after it won 32.1 per cent of the vote, just beating its main rivals, the conservative Democratic Alliance (AD), with 31.3 per cent. The far-right populist party Chega won 9.8 per cent, marking its debut in EU elections. The party was founded in 2019 and has risen in popularity in Portugal, one of the European countries to go the longest without having a far-right party in parliament.

The EU vote result mirrors the results of the parliamentary election held in Portugal in March that saw the DA marginally beat the PS but without an overall majority, leaving the centre-right and centre-left to form a coalition government in an attempt to hold off the far right.

Turnout in Croatia lowest across the bloc

Just 21.3 per cent of eligible voters in Croatia turned out to vote in the European Parliament election, according to data published by the EU. This put Croatia, which has a history of low turnouts for EU elections, at the bottom of the list for turnout across the bloc. Doing slightly better were Lithuania and Bulgaria, with 28.9 per cent and 31.8 per cent of their respective electorates casting their votes.

Voters in Belgium and Luxembourg were much more eager to cast their ballots, with turnout reaching 89.2 per cent and 82.3 per cent, respectively.

Although behind its neighbours, Germany also saw a record turnout for the EU election, with 64.8 per cent of voters participating on Sunday.

The Malta Electoral Commission announced early Sunday a turnout of 72.8 per cent.

Ukraine Recovery Conference head resigns in bitter row with Kyiv

As Berlin is gearing up to host the next session of the Ukraine Recovery Conference, scheduled for today, Tuesday, and Wednesday, tensions escalated surrounding the event on Monday when conference chairman Mustafa Nayyem announced his resignation. He quoted “systemic obstacles” as the reason for his departure, saying they prevented him from effectively performing his duties. In a Facebook post, he targeted the Ukrainian government, particularly lamenting budget cuts and bureaucratic “nightmares”. The Ukrainian government didn’t immediately respond to Nayyem’s statements.

The final straw, he said, came when Kyiv cancelled his trip to the conference in Berlin. Nonetheless, he claimed he was proud of what the initiative had achieved so far.

The Ukraine Recovery Conference brings together heads of government and heads of state with the goal of rallying international support for the reconstruction and modernisation of the war-torn country. Following the conference, the Ukraine Peace Summit is set to take place in Switzerland on Saturday and Sunday. Russia will not participate.

Canada rocked by treason allegations

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday ceded to opposition pressure to expand a public inquiry into election interference to also probe allegations of treason against some lawmakers for secretly working with foreign governments. Legislators have been pressing Trudeau’s Liberal government to name names following the revelations made last week in a heavily redacted national security committee report.

It also claimed that China and India meddled in Canadian party leadership campaigns, including that of Trudeau’s main rival, Tory leader Pierre Poilievre.

MPs are expected today to pass an opposition motion calling for an independent inquiry that is already looking into foreign interference in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 elections to scrutinise possibl treason too. The opposition motion is non-binding on the government. In the House of Commons earlier, opposition parties urged transparency.

Aircraft carrying Malawi’s vice president disappears from radar

A military plane carrying Malawi’s vice president and nine others went missing Monday while on a short trip from the capital to a mountainous region in the country’s north and a search is underway, the president’s office said. The plane carrying 51-year-old Vice President Saulos Chilima left the southern African nation’s capital, Lilongwe but disappeared from radar. Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera ordered a search operation and cancelled a trip to the Bahamas. Malawi’s The Times media group reported that search teams involving soldiers, police officers and others were scouring one of those forested areas near Mzuzu for signs of the plane.

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