UN says nine killed at Gaza UN shelter as fighting rages

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 25th January 2024

At least nine people were killed and 75 injured when a UN facility sheltering civilians was struck in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency says. UNRWA said two tank shells hit its Khan Younis Training Centre during fighting in the city’s western outskirts. The Khan Younis Training Centre is one of the largest UNRWA shelters, with between 30,000 and 40,000 people said to be living inside its grounds. Its commissioner condemned the “blatant disregard of basic rules of war”.

Israel’s military said it had ruled out that the incident was the result of an air or artillery strike by its forces. It added that it was reviewing Israeli operations nearby and examining the possibility that it was “Hamas fire”. Israeli troops have been battling Hamas fighters as they advance into western Khan Younis, a day after the military said it had completely encircled the city. The Israel Defence Forces said on Wednesday that it continues to operate in Khan Younis for “several days”. The United States has deplored the attack that targeted the UNRWA shelter in Khan Yunis and called for the organisation’s sites to be protected internationally.

Khan Younistwo main hospitals encircled

Clashes and bombardment around Khan Younis’s two main hospitals have left thousands of patients, staff, and others unable to leave. Palestinian health officials and medics have reported Israeli tanks and drones firing at people trying to flee the vicinity of the Al-Amal and Nasser hospitals. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said Israeli forces were “surrounding” the organisation’s headquarters and the Al-Amal Hospital, while the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Israeli forces are also around the Nasser medical complex, cutting off crucial medical, food, and fuel supplies.

Israeli protesters hold up aid to Gaza

A queue of trucks carrying aid supplies, some of them flying Egyptian flags, were stopped for hours at the Kerem Shalom crossing Wednesday as hundreds of Israeli protesters blocked their entry into Gaza. The demonstrators carried Israeli flags and chanted against “aiding the enemy”, in the largest rally to date against the government-approved transfer of fuel and humanitarian aid to Gaza since the outbreak of the war with Hamas.

Only nine out of the 60 trucks that arrived at the border crossing made it through, according to Ynet. The remaining 51 returned to Egypt after a six-hour wait, it said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended the decision to allow aid into Gaza. “The humanitarian aid is vital for ensuring international support,” he said at a news conference in November. “Without it, even our good friends would have trouble supporting us over time.”

‘Anti-European’ populists on track for big gains in EU elections’ – report

Populist “anti-European” parties are heading for big gains in June’s European elections that could shift the European Parliament’s balance sharply to the right and jeopardise key pillars of the EU’s agenda, including climate action, suggests a European Council on Foreign Relations report, as quoted by The Guardian.

Polling in all 27 EU member states, combined with modelling of how national parties performed in past European parliament elections, shows radical right parties are on course to finish first in nine countries including Austria, France, and Poland. Projected second- or third-place finishes in another nine countries, including Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Sweden, could for the first time produce a majority right-wing coalition of Christian Democrats, conservatives and radical right MEPs in the EP.

The projections showed the mainstream political groups in the parliament – the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the centrist Renew Europe (RE), and Greens (G/EFA) – all losing MEPs. The more radical Left Group and particularly the populist right, including the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) and far-right Identity and Democracy (ID), are set to emerge as the main victors, with a real possibility of entering a majority coalition for the first time.

The analysis should “serve as a wake-up call for European policymakers about what is at stake” in the election, said the political scientists Simon Hix and Kevin Cunningham, who co-authored the report. They said the implications of the vote were far-reaching, arguing the next European Parliament could block laws on Europe’s green deal and take a harder line on other areas of EU sovereignty including migration, enlargement, and support for Ukraine. The possible return of Donald Trump in the US and a right-leaning, inward-focused coalition in the European Parliament could result in a rejection of “strategic inter-dependence and … international partnerships in defence of European interests and values”, they warned.

EU unveils economic security plans with eye to China

The European Union on Wednesday announced a number of measures it hopes would help keep sensitive technology and key infrastructure out of the hands of global rivals, notably China.  The proposed rules will require more rigorous screening of investments from abroad, tighter controls on exports and more restrictions on who can participate in researching key technologies. Facing “profound geo-political turmoil and fast technological shifts”, the EU has to reduce security risks from trade and investment, EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said in a statement. Although the plan does not mention any specific country, the initiatives come as the EU focuses on “de-risking” its economic relations with China, the bloc’s most important trading partner.

Photo: DPA International

UN Security Council to meet over Russian plane crash

The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting this afternoon at the request of Moscow, which has accused Kiev of shooting down a Russian military transport plane near the border with Ukraine on Wednesday. All 74 people aboard were killed, including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war headed to be exchanged.

Russian officials and lawmakers were quick to express outrage and questioned whether there should be further prisoner exchanges. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia wanted to discuss the circumstances of the plane crash and said the full facts were still being verified. The Russian military said its radar registered the launch of two missiles from Ukraine’s Kharkiv region which borders the Belgorod region.

Ukrainska Pravda says Ukraine will insist on an international investigation and quotes President Zelenskyy saying that it was necessary to establish all the facts and conduct an investigation into the downing of the Russian aircraft.

Russian warning to countries preparing for war

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has issued a warning to countries preparing for a potential war with Russia. Speaking at a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on Wednesday, Lavrov commented on the calls by many Western nations that have anticipated a potential conflict with Russia in the coming years, saying that he hoped “that those who warn about the need to prepare for war with Russia still have the instinct of self-preservation”.

Newsweek says Lavrov appeared to be referring to warnings from several NATO members that the growing tensions surrounding the war in Ukraine could boil over into other parts of eastern Europe. US President Joe Biden has warned that if the US is unable to continue supporting Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion, Washington and the West risk being pulled into the war with Moscow directly. “We have no desire, no need, neither military, nor political, nor economic, to attack anyone anywhere,” Lavrov said on Wednesday, according to a report in Russian newspaper Pravda.

Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Orbán says Hungary will approve Sweden’s NATO bid

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said his country was committed to ratifying Sweden’s bid to join NATO after Turkey opted to approve its accession to the western military alliance, leaving Budapest as the sole holdout. The Financial Times reports that, after talking by telephone with NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday, Orbán said on social media platform X that he “reaffirmed” Hungarian support for Sweden’s membership. He said he would “continue to urge” the Hungarian parliament to ratify Sweden’s entry “as soon as possible”.

Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

Trump enraged by Nikki Haley’s decision to stay in the presidential race

Former President Donald Trump is openly seething about Nikki Haley’s decision to stay in the race following her defeat in New Hampshire, a state that the former South Carolina governor clearly needed to win. “Could somebody please explain to Nikki Haley that she lost – and lost really badly?” Trump wrote on Truth Social early on Wednesday morning. “She also lost Iowa, BIG, last week.”

At his election night party, Trump was even nastier. “You must really hate her,” Trump said to South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the former 2024 contender who backed the former president over Haley, who appointed him to the Senate seat he now holds. By taking such a swipe at Haley in front of a fellow South Carolinian, Trump is looking to severely undermine her before the state’s 24th February primary.

Photo: AP/Matt Rourke

US intercepts Houthi missiles fired at US-owned container ship

A US destroyer intercepted ballistic missiles fired by Houthis at a US-owned container ship in the Red Sea on Wednesday. A US official told Fox News the Iranian-backed Houthis fired three anti-ship ballistic missiles at the US-flagged and US-owned M/V ‘Maersk Detroit’ Commercial Container ship transiting the Gulf of Aden in the Southern Red Sea. The missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. Destroyer USS Gravely intercepted two of the missiles while the third splashed down into the sea, the official said. The US container ship is continuing its transit and, according to initial reports, there were no injuries and no damage to the ship, the official said.

Photo: Getty

‘Social media is a danger to public health’

New York Mayor Eric Adams has labelled social media a “public health hazard” and an “environmental toxin”, saying young people must be protected from the ‘harms’ they suffer from online activity. In a speech delivered at the Hostos Centre for the Arts & Culture in the Bronx, Adams said: “Companies like TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook are fuelling a mental health crisis by designing their platforms with dangerous and addictive features.” He added: “We are the first major American city to speak out against the dangers of social media. Just like with tobacco and guns, we are treating social media like other public health risks and making sure tech companies take responsibility seriously for their products.” Declaring that teen mental health problems are on the rise, the New York mayor called on state and federal lawmakers to “do more to curb some alleged predatory practices by social networks”.

Germans launch longest railway strike ever

Operators for train passengers in Germany went on strike on Wednesday, announcing they wouldn’t be back to work for six days. They’re protesting their working conditions and pay – causing major disruptions to most long-distance and commuter train services throughout the country. The German Train Drivers’ Union, which has about 40,000 members that include train drivers and other rail network employees, said it refused a pay offer the Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s publicly funded railway operator, presented last week. The union put forth a fresh proposal as a starting point for further negotiations with DB on Wednesday. However, the rail operator rejected the proposal, dismissing it as a “repetition of well-known maximum demands”.

Photo: Michael Probst/Associated Press

Billionaire Lewis pleads guilty to insider trading

UK billionaire Joe Lewis, whose family trust owns Tottenham Hotspur FC, has pleaded guilty to insider trading in a US court. Lewis, 86, was accused of passing information about companies he invested in to his friends, including girlfriends. US authorities say that the fraud netted millions of dollars in profit. Lewis pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and two counts of securities fraud and will be sentenced in March.

Photo: Reuters

Saudi Arabia to get first alcohol shop

Saudi Arabia has said it would open a shop in Riyadh selling alcohol to a select band of non-Muslim expatriates – the first to open in more than 70 years. The clientele will be limited to diplomatic staff, who have for years imported booze in sealed official diplomatic pouches. The new store will be located in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter west of the city centre, according to a document seen by the AFP and Reuters. Saudi officials said the shop would counter “the illicit trade of alcohol”. Prohibition has been law since 1952, after one of King Abdulaziz’s sons drunkenly shot dead a British diplomat.

French boy left alone in cold flat for two years

A nine-year-old boy in France was abandoned for two years in an unheated apartment, living alone and scrounging food from neighbours. His mother, who left him in 2020 to fend for himself, has been sentenced to a six-month prison term, to be served at her home. Her son lived alone in their council flat that had no electricity or hot water, and even managed to get himself to school, where teachers suspected nothing because he was a good pupil. According to the Charente Libre newspaper, he mostly lived off cakes and cold tinned food, occasionally pilfering tomatoes from a neighbouring balcony. The school did not raise the alarm because he appeared normal and clean and earned good marks.

Photo: Renaud Joubert

Mother made to pay full entrance fee to the cinema for 40-day old-baby

A mother carrying a 40-day-old baby was made to pay a full cinema entrance ticket for the newborn – €9 – on the premise that it was “for the baby’s safety”. L’Eco di Bergamo quotes the baby’s mother, 36-year-old Alessia Masaracchia, saying that, to say the least, she was surprised and explained that she had him with her because she often had to breastfeed him. Useless were her pleas that the baby was calm, did not cry and it did not disturb the audience. Furthermore, the newborn obviously remained in his mother’s arms the entire time and did not occupy any seat.

The mother was baffled because such young children are generally guaranteed free entry. On their part, the cinema managers have still not explained why Alessia was asked to pay the full fee for her child. The story sparked a lively discussion among readers, many of whom heavily criticised the mother rather than the behaviour of the cinema managers. In fact, many have wondered whether it was appropriate to take such a young baby to the cinema, where the noises and sounds are particularly loud and therefore potentially harmful to a newborn.

Photo: ANSA

Main photo: Fatima Shbair/AP

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