“Trump puts allies at risk” – NATO leader

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 12th February 2024

The head of the NATO military alliance warned on Sunday that Donald Trump was putting the safety of US troops and their allies at risk after the Republican presidential front-runner said Russia should be able to do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO members who don’t meet their defence spending targets. “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the US, and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement. Speaking on Saturday at a rally in Conway, South Carolina, Trump recalled how, as President, he had told an unidentified NATO member that he would “encourage” Russia to do as it wishes in cases of NATO allies who are “delinquent”.  In 2014, NATO allies pledged to move toward spending two per cent of GDP on defence by 2024. According to NATO estimates, in early 2023, ten of its 30 member states at the time were close to or above the two per cent mark, while 13 were spending 1.5 per cent or less. Stoltenberg said he expected that, “regardless of who wins the presidential election, the US will remain a strong and committed NATO ally”.

Trump’s NATO comments draw scorn

US President Joe Biden was one of the foremost top Western officials who also criticised Trump for his outburst. Biden on Sunday hit out at Donald Trump’s threat to abandon NATO member states to Russian attacks if they don’t spend enough on defence, calling the disgraced ex-President’s remarks “appalling and dangerous”. Trump’s remarks caused deep concern in Poland, where anxieties are high over the war Russia is waging just across the Polish border in Ukraine. Polish Defence Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said: “Nato’s motto ‘one for all, all for one’ is a concrete commitment. Undermining the credibility of allied countries means weakening the entire Nato,” he wrote on social media platform X. “No election campaign is an excuse for playing with the security of the Alliance.” Germany’s foreign ministry posted the message ‘One for all and all for one’ with the hashtag #StrongerTogether on its English language X account following Trump’s comments. EU Council President Charles Michel said: “Reckless statements on #Nato’s security and Art 5 solidarity serve only Putin’s interest.”

Photo: WSJ

Majority believe Biden too old for another term, poll reveals

An overwhelming majority of 86 per cent of Americans think President Joe Biden, 81, is too old to serve another term, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll. That figure includes 59 per cent of Americans who think both he and former President Donald Trump are too old and 27 per cent who think only Biden is too old. Sixty-two per cent of Americans think Trump, who is 77, is too old to serve as President. There is a large difference in how partisans view their respective nominees – 73 per cent of Democrats think Biden is too old to serve but only 35 per cent of Republicans think Trump is too old to serve. Ninety-one percent of independents think Biden is too old to serve, and 71 per cent say the same about Trump. Concerns about both candidates’ ages have increased since September, when an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 74 per cent of Americans thought Biden – the oldest commander-in-chief in US history – was too old to serve another term as President, and 49 per cent said the same about Trump. The new poll comes on the heels of last week’s report from special counsel Robert Hur, which recommended that Biden should not face charges over his handling of classified documents while out of office but did cast doubt on his mental fitness. Vice President Kamala Harris called the report “politically motivated”.

Milei’s hug with the Pope: “I can’t believe it”

The one-sided criticisms, and even insults, of the past months dissolved into a warm handshake and an affectionate, almost fraternal embrace. “It was very strong, I can’t believe it,” comments Argentinian President Javier Milei to his intimate circle of the out-of-protocol embrace with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Basilica before the mass with the canonisation rite of Maria Antonia of St Joseph de Paz y Figueroa, better known as “Mama Antula”, the first saint of the Latin American country. A further greeting between the two was then repeated at the conclusion of the ceremony, together with the rest of the official delegation.

Words and images immediately relaunched by the Argentine media which were also followed by the inevitable post on social media by the ultra-liberal leader accompanied by a “muchas gracias!” in capital letters. In this way, Milei receives a first gesture from the Pontiff while awaiting the private audience this morning and perhaps also the announcement of a visit to Argentina in the second half of this year. In Rome later today, Milei will also meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Photo: VATICAN POOL/GETTY IMAGES

“Biden is close to breaking with Netanyahu over Gaza”

US President Joe Biden and his advisers “are closer” than ever since the war in Gaza began “to a break with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, no longer considered a productive partner who can be influenced even in private”, reports The Washington Post, citing some sources according to whom “frustration with Netanyahu has pushed some of Biden’s advisers to put pressure on the President to be more critical in public about the Israeli prime minister for his military operation in Gaza”. Biden has so far resisted taking his frustration with Netanyahu to the public.

Iran demands Israel is expelled from UN

Iran marked 45 years since its Islamic revolution with a ceremony yesterday in which President Ebrahim Raisi condemned Israel over the Gaza war and demanded it be expelled from the UN. Iran has presented itself as one of the main supporters of Hamas in the war triggered by its October storming of southern Israel. Support for the Palestinian cause and harsh criticism of the US – often dubbed the “Great Satan” in Iran – and Israel dominated ceremonies marking the anniversary. In Tehran, Raisi accused the “Zionist entity”, Iran’s term for Israel, of committing “genocide” in Gaza with the support of the US and other Western countries. Supporters chanted “Down with the United States”, “Down with Israel”, and “Down with the United Kingdom” at the square, where Iranian-made missiles and other military hardware were on display. Raisi demanded that the “bombing of Gaza should be stopped as soon as possible” and asked about Israel: “How can a regime that has violated 400 statements and resolutions of international organisations adhere to UN covenants? We believe that one of the important steps that should be taken is the expulsion of the Zionist regime from the UN.”

Photo: AP/Vahid Salemi

Israel to provide a “safe passage” for civilians in Rafah – Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed his forces would provide a “safe passage” for civilians in Rafah as his army prepared for a new offensive on the city in southern Gaza. “Victory is within reach. We’re going to do it. We’re going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions and Rafah, which is the last bastion, but we’re going to do it,” Netanyahu told ABC News. “We’re going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave,” he said. “We are working out a detailed plan to do so,” Netanyahu added. “We’re not, we’re not cavalier about this.”

Palestinians have sought refuge in Rafah as Israel pounded the rest of the enclave following the 7th October attack by the Palestinian resistance group, Hamas. The ensuing Israeli bombardment has killed 28,176 Palestinian people and injured 67, 784. The Israeli strikes have caused mass destruction and shortages of necessities. The Israeli offensive has left 85 per cent of Gaza’s population internally displaced amid acute shortages of food, clean water, and medicine, while 60 per cent of the enclave’s infrastructure was damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.

Photo: Mohammed ABED

Israeli hostages freed as 60 Palestinians killed in Rafah

Two Israeli hostages were rescued overnight from the southern Gaza city of Rafah in a special operation, the Israeli military said Monday. Their rescue comes 128 days after they were taken captive. The men are in good medical condition and have been transferred to Sheba Medical Centre in Israel, the IDF said. The hostages – Fernando Simon Marman (60) and Louis Har (70) – were kidnapped by Hamas in the 7th October raid on Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak,

The news of the hostage release comes as Rafah was being pounded by Israeli attacks. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said on Monday that more than 60 people had been killed and dozens wounded by recent airstrikes and that the city was experiencing “intense targeting”. Israel attacked Rafah despite aid agencies’ pleas that an assault on Rafah would be catastrophic. Heavy bombing caused widespread panic in Rafah as many people were asleep when the strikes started, said residents contacted by Reuters. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah. Israeli planes, tanks, and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents. The Israeli military said on Monday it had conducted a “series of strikes” on southern Gaza that have now “concluded”, without providing further details. Before previous assaults on Gaza cities, Israel’s military has ordered civilians to leave without preparing any specific evacuation plan.

Israel’s Rafah offensive will blow up hostage talks – Hamas

As Israel gears for a ground offensive in Rafah, Hamas has given an ultimatum that if it proceed with the strikes then hostage exchange negotiations would “blow up”. Any Israeli ground offensive in Rafah would blow up the hostage exchange negotiations, Hamas-run Aqsa television channel quoted a senior Hamas leader saying. Many nations have expressed concerns over Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah. “We warn of the serious repercussions of the continuation of the occupation in its indiscriminate aggression in the Gaza Strip and its plans to storm Rafah,” the Omani foreign ministry said in a statement. “We appeal to the international community to take concrete measures to dissuade Israel from its arrogance and push it to cease fire and open the crossings,” it said. Reportedly, there are about 130 Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip captured by Hamas.

Photo: Fatima Shbair/AP

Egypt threatens to suspend key peace treaty

Egypt is threatening to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if Israeli troops are sent into the densely populated Gaza border town of Rafah, and says fighting there could force the closure of the territory’s main aid supply route, two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat said on Sunday. The threat to suspend the Camp David accords, a cornerstone of regional stability for nearly a half-century, came after Prime Minister Netanyahu said sending troops into Rafah was necessary to win the four-month-old war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The stand-off between Israel and Egypt, two close US allies, comes as aid groups warn that an offensive in Rafah would worsen the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, where around 80 per cent of residents have fled their homes and where the UN says a quarter of the population faces starvation. Egypt fears a mass influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who may never be allowed to return. It has denied Israeli allegations that Hamas still operates smuggling tunnels beneath the border, saying Egyptian forces have full control on their side. But Egyptian officials fear that if the border is breached, the military would be unable to stop a tide of people fleeing into the Sinai Peninsula. The United Nations says Rafah, which is normally home to less than 300,000 people, now hosts 1.4 million more who fled fighting elsewhere and is severely overcrowded.

Photo: Reuters

Imran Khan allies take lead in Pakistan election final tally

Allies of imprisoned Pakistani former prime minister Imran Khan won more seats in national elections than the political parties who ousted him from power nearly two years ago, according to a final tally of results published on Sunday. People from the PTI ran as independent candidates because of moves by the Election Commission and Supreme Court to cripple their party’s participation. The final tally, however, showed that independent candidates secured 101 out of 266 seats in the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament. The Pakistan Muslim League-N party, or PML-N, led by three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, secured the second biggest number of seats at 75. The Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP, led by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, came in third with 54 seats. One result has been withheld and another vote was postponed because of a candidate’s death. The campaign to kick Khan out of office in 2022 was led by the PML-N and the PPP. No party has won a majority to form a government, so Pakistan will have a coalition. The new parliament chooses the country’s next prime minister.

Photo: Fareed Khan/Associated Press

King Charles attends church for the first time since his cancer diagnosis

King Charles III has been seen in public for the first time since retreating to Sandringham for his cancer treatment. He waved at cameras as he and Queen Camilla walked to church – as they do every Sunday when they are in Norfolk – for the 11 o’clock service at St Mary Magdelene Church close to Sandringham House. He looked cheerful despite his difficult circumstances. It’s not known if he’ll need to travel to London for doctors to be able to administer his treatment. This weekend, King Charles spoke of his “most heartfelt thanks” following the good wishes he has received from around the world.

Nigeria win Africa Cup with late goal

Cancer survivor Sebastien Haller inspired hosts Ivory Coast to their third Africa Cup of Nations title with a late winner to seal a 2-1 comeback victory over Nigeria in Abidjan. Five of the last six host nations to reach the final had been crowned AFCON champions, but the Ivory Coast’s appearance in this edition at one point looked unlikely, their 4-0 group-stage defeat to Equatorial Guinea leading to the mid-tournament sacking of Jean-Louis Gasset. The Elephants, who under caretaker boss Emerse Fae earned the nickname ‘the Zombies’ after resurrecting their campaign, recovered to reach the final but fell behind in the showpiece when Nigeria captain William Troost-Ekong headed in a 38th-minute opener against the run of play. However, that was cancelled out by Franck Kessie in the second half midway through the second half as the Ivory Coast drew level. And, with less than 10 minutes remaining, Haller, who in July 2022 was diagnosed with testicular cancer and returned to action with Borussia Dortmund just over a year ago, found the finishing touch to send the 60,000-seat Alassane Ouattara Stadium into raptures.

Photo: Getty Images

Marathon world record holder killed in car accident

Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum, holder of the marathon world record, died last night in a car accident, together with his coach, The Guardian reports. The 24-year-old, who won the London Marathon in April before setting the world record in Chicago in October, lost control of his car while driving in Kaptagat, southwestern Kenya, at 11pm local time ( 9.00 pm in Malta). His coach, Gervais Hakizimana, also died in the accident, while a third person was rushed to hospital.

Photo: ALEX DAVIDSON/GETTY 

Main photo: AP/Francisco Seco, File

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