UN General Assembly approves Palestine’s membership bid

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 11h May 2024.

The United Nations General Assembly on Friday approved a resolution that would grant new “rights and privileges” to Palestine by a vote of 143 to nine with 25 abstentions. The vote also recognises Palestine’s right to become the 194th member of the body.

This second part means that a Palestinian membership bid will be forwarded to the UN Security Council to “reconsider the matter favourably.” A Palestinian bid submitted to the Security Council last month was vetoed by the United States despite widespread support in the General Assembly. The US is expected to repeat its veto. US Deputy UN Ambassador Robert Wood confirmed this position, saying the Biden administration opposes the current resolution.

The nine countries that voted against were the US, Israel, Hungary, Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Palau, Nauru, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea, while those that abstained were Albania, Bulgaria, Austria, Canada, Croatia, Fiji, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Marshall Island, Holland, North Macedonia, Moldova, Paraguay, Romania, Vanuatu, Malawi, the Principality of Monaco, Ukraine, Great Britain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Should Palestine become a full member it would effectively acknowledge Palestinian statehood, something that Israel, a close US ally, has fought to keep from happening. Palestine has been a non-voting observer to the UN since 2012.

Some EU countries could recognise Palestine on 21st May

Spain, Ireland and other like-minded EU member states could recognise the State of Palestine on May 21, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, has said. In an interview on Spanish national radio RNE, Borrell was asked to confirm reports in Irish media that Spain, Ireland and a handful of other EU member states could formally recognise the State of Palestine on May 21. Borrell confirmed the plans, adding that the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, had told him that  May 21 was the proposed date. Borrell had been attending an event to celebrate Europe Day in Madrid along with Albares.

Irish diplomatic sources have confirmed to Euronews that a group of European countries was proposing to recognise a Palestinian state during the month of May, with the 21st a possible date, but not set in stone. The source added that the date could shift to allow other countries, including non-EU country Norway, to move in tandem. Borrell also mentioned Slovenia as one of the countries that could join the joint recognition after the government in Ljubljana passed a decree on recognising the Palestinian state earlier on Thursday. The EU’s top diplomat also added that Belgium could soon follow suit, as it was delaying the recognition while waiting for more countries to get on board. Malta could also join, having backed a declaration of intent during a March summit of the European Council.

‘Gaza ceasefire efforts back at square one’ – Hamas

The Palestinian group Hamas said yesterday that efforts to find a Gaza Strip truce deal were back at square one after Israel effectively spurned a plan from international mediators, and the White House said it was trying to keep the sides engaged “if only virtually”. Hamas said in a statement it would consult with other Palestinian factions on its strategy for talks to halt seven months of war triggered by its deadly October 7 attack on Israel.

Hours earlier, the United Nations warned that aid for Gaza could grind to a halt in days after Israel seized control this week of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, a vital route for supplies to the devastated Palestinian enclave. Despite heavy US pressure, Israel has said it will proceed with an assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million displaced people have sought refuge and Israeli forces say Hamas are dug in. Israel’s plan for an all-out assault on Rafah has ignited one of the biggest rifts in generations with its main ally, the US. Washington held up a weapons shipment over fears of massive civilian casualties.

France tells Israel: Cease Rafah operation

France has asked Israel to cease “without delay” the military operation in Rafah which risks creating a “catastrophic situation” for the population of the Gaza Strip, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement published on X. “We urge the Israeli authorities to cease the military operation without delay and to resume the path to negotiations, the only possible way to achieve the immediate release of the hostages and obtain a lasting ceasefire”, reads the note. “Such an operation risks causing a catastrophic situation for the civilian populations of Gaza who have already been displaced on several occasions”.

US says Israel’s use of weapons may have violated international law

The Biden administration yesterday said Israel’s use of US-supplied weapons may have violated international humanitarian law during its military operation in Gaza, a major step up in criticism of its key ally. But the administration also said that due to the chaos of the war in Gaza it could not verify specific instances where use of those weapons might have violated international law, falling short of making a definitive assessment on the issue. Because of that, the administration ruled that it still finds Israel’s assurances that its use of US weapons in its war against Hamas credible.

Strong solar storm hits Earth

An unusually strong solar storm hitting Earth could produce northern lights in the US this weekend and potentially disrupt power and communications. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a rare severe geomagnetic storm warning when a solar outburst reached Earth on Friday afternoon, hours sooner than anticipated. The effects were due to last through the weekend and possibly into next week.

NOAA alerted operators of power plants and spacecraft in orbit to take precautions, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “For most people here on planet Earth, they won’t have to do anything,” said Rob Steenburgh, a scientist with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Centre.  The storm could produce northern lights as far south in the US as Alabama and Northern California, which experts stressed would be “the gift from space weather – the aurora”. The most intense solar storm in recorded history, in 1859, prompted auroras in central America and possibly even Hawaii. “We are not anticipating that” but it could come close, said NOAA.

Weber supports Macron’s call for European nuclear deterrent

A French plan to offer a nuclear umbrella to Europe has met with support from Manfred Weber, the German MEP who heads the European People’s Party, playing into the domestic political debate ahead of June EU elections. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the prospect that a second Donald Trump presidency might weaken the transatlantic alliance, has raised the salience of having a homegrown alternative to NATO.

In a TV clip on Thursday, Weber suggested he favoured plans put forward by French President Emmanuel Macron, and criticised left-wing Chancellor Olaf Scholz for his failure to engage. “This is an offer of France which we must talk about,” Weber said on a panel hosted by Bavarian TV station BR24, after Macron proposed to extend security guarantees based on nuclear deterrence, adding: “I am disappointed that Olaf Scholz, the federal government, is voiceless, that there is absolutely no answer for this proposal.” Macron “is broadening the conception of France’s national security from a purely territorial concept into a European one,” Weber said. “He is ready to say: the security order of France is attacked when Lithuania is attacked.”

In a wide-ranging speech on European policy in late April, Macron said France’s nuclear deterrent was an “indispensable element of the defence of the European continent”. Fears over Europe’s ability to defend itself were raised after Trump suggested he wouldn’t leap to the rescue of allies who didn’t spend enough on their militaries, undermining the treaty commitments that underpin NATO. France is the only remaining nuclear power within the EU, though it isn’t immediately clear what role Brussels, or MEPs such as Weber, might play in developing the idea.

The European Commission is attempting to coordinate military production by its members to help arm Ukraine, and its President Ursula von der Leyen has said she’ll make defence a central plank of a hoped-for second term in office. But the EU also includes neutral members such as Ireland, Austria and Malta, and is precluded under its founding treaties from buying weapons directly. In February, Scholz – a Socialist who leads a coalition that also includes the green and liberal parties – told German newspaper the Süddeutsche Zeitung: “I don’t think much of this debate” concerning a European nuclear guarantee, citing NATO membership and the country’s decision not to seek its own atomic weapons. Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered tests of tactical nuclear weapons, in an apparent warning to Ukraine’s allies to back off.

Putin reappoints Mishustin as Russia’s prime minister

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday reappointed Mikhail Mishustin as the country’s prime minister after the previous stint on the job during which the low-key technocrat has shown a distinct lack of political ambitions. In line with Russian law, Mishustin, 58, who held the job for the past four years, submitted his Cabinet’s resignation on Tuesday when Putin began his fifth presidential term at a glittering Kremlin inauguration. Mishustin’s reappointment was widely expected by political observers, who noted that Putin has appreciated his skills and low political profile. Mishustin, the former head of Russia’s tax service, has steered clear of political statements and avoided media interviews during his previous tenure. The speaker of the parliament’s lower house, Vyacheslav Volodin, announced that Putin has submitted Mishustin’s candidacy to the State Duma, which will hold a session later Friday to consider it.

Russians win over 4 villages in Kharkiv

Russian troops have captured four border villages in the Kharkiv region, according to Ukrainska Pravda, quoting sources from Ukrainian military circles. The villages are the settlements of Streleche, Krasne, Pylna and Borysivka… and Moscow is trying to advance in the direction of Vovchansk. At the same time, the newspaper did not exclude this could have been a diversionary maneouver by the Russians. According to the portal, clashes in the settlement area continue in any case and Russian forces are also trying to continue assault operations on the Streleche-Krasne and Pletenivka-Gatishche routes.

Meanwhile, Ukraine vowed yesterday to quash a surprise Russian ground offensive, after troops launched a major cross-border assault in the Kharkiv region, looking to chalk up fresh battlefield gains with Ukraine on the back foot. Russian forces made small advances in the border zone it was pushed back from nearly two years ago. President Zelensky said a “fierce battle” was underway for control of the area. Civilians were told to flee and heavy fighting was reported as Ukraine’s outgunned army rushed in reinforcements to defend the region, which has been mostly under Ukrainian control since September 2022.

Politico quotes sources saying the United States is about to announce a new $400 million aid package for Ukraine.

Trump’s son Barron, 18, pulls out of political debut

Donald Trump’s youngest son Barron, 18, yesterday stepped back from his planned political debut, withdrawing as a delegate at the Republican Party convention in July. Barron, who has been largely shielded from the public eye, made global headlines this week when it appeared he would be the latest member of the Trump family to enter the political arena. But a statement from the office of his mother Melania Trump, the former president’s third wife, soon put a stop to the convention plan. “While Barron is honoured to have been chosen as a delegate by the Florida Republican Party, he regretfully declines to participate due to prior commitments,” it said. The convention in Milwaukee will see Trump’s official crowning as the Republican challenger to Democratic President Joe Biden, with delegates from each state designating their candidate for the November election. Barron would have appeared alongside his siblings Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Tiffany Trump as part of the Florida delegation. Barron lived in the White House as a child when his father was president, but has been fiercely protected from public view.

‘Have more babies’ Pope tells Italians

Pope Francis is stepping up his campaign to urge Italians to have children, calling for long-term policies to help families and warning that the country’s demographic crisis was threatening the future. “The number of births is the first indicator of the hope of a people,” Francis told an annual gathering of pro-family groups on Friday. “Without children and young people, a country loses its desire for the future.”

Italy’s birth rate, already one of the lowest in the world, has been falling steadily for about 15 years and reached a record low last year with just 379,000 babies born. With the Vatican’s strong backing, the right-wing government led by Giorgia Meloni has mounted a campaign to encourage at least 500,000 births annually by 2033, reaching a rate that experts say is necessary to prevent the economy from collapsing under the weight of an ageing population. Italy’s falling birth rate is a crisis that’s only getting worse. The pope called for long-term political strategies and policies to encourage couples to have children, including an end to precarious work contracts and impediments to buying homes, as well as ensuring that women aren’t forced have to choose between motherhood and a career. “The problem of our world is not children being born: it is selfishness, consumerism and individualism which make people sated, lonely and unhappy,” Francis said. He is expected to continue emphasising demographics during the upcoming 2025 Holy Year, which will feature hope as its main theme. In a Jubilee decree issued on Thursday, Francis called for a new social covenant among Christians to encourage couples to be open to having children.

Italian PD suggests EU make contraceptives freely available

“The European Parliament’s vote in favour of introducing the right to abortion into the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is a very important symbolic step,” the Italian Democratic Party writes in a draft of its electoral manifesto. “We want a Europe where menstrual cycle products and contraceptives are freely available. Where individuals can freely define their sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity”, an EU “that recognises and supports the family – all families, including single-parent and same-parent families – as communities and unions of affection.”

Seven dead as bus falls into St Petersburg river

Seven people have died after a bus crashed and fell into a river in the Russian city of St Petersburg, according to local officials. The accident took place on the Potseluev Bridge over the Moika River in the historic city centre on Friday afternoon. Footage shows the bus swerving into oncoming traffic, colliding with two cars before breaking through the bridge barrier and falling into the water and sinking within seconds. The driver of the bus has been detained and a criminal investigation into the cause of the crash has been launched, authorities said. Some 20 people were reportedly on board at the time of the incident.

Photo: Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP

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