US Senate releases aid proposal for Israel, Ukraine, border

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 5th February 2024

US Senators on Sunday released the details of a $118.2 billion bi-partisan aid proposal for Ukraine, Israel, and the southern US border, after months of painstaking, closed-door negotiations. The long-awaited Bill requests $60.1 billion for Ukraine aid, $14.1 billion for Israel, and $20.2 billion to improve security at the US border. It also includes smaller pockets of funding for humanitarian assistance in war-torn regions and defence operations in the Red Sea and Taiwan.

President Joe Biden initially proposed a more than $105 billion aid package in October. The Senate’s new deal roughly matches the funding proportions Biden had requested for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. The central difference in the new proposal is over $13 billion more in border security funding, which was a major point of contention in the months-long Senate talks.

Gallant warns Hezbollah as Isreali air force hammers group’s sites

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday warned Hezbollah that Israel has many offensive tools it could employ in Lebanon, as the army carried out a series of strikes on sites operated by the group in southern Lebanon throughout the day. “We have not yet begun to activate all our units and all our special abilities. We have many elements ready,” Gallant said during a tour of Tel Nof airbase in central Israel. “The clear-cut instruction I gave the Air Force is to point the noses of our aircraft northward… we are prepared.” The targets hit by fighter jets in Blida and Mays al-Jabal on Sunday included a rocket launching position manned by Hezbollah operatives, and an observation post. A tank also shelled a Hezbollah cell in Blida. The IDF said troops also shelled the sources of rocket fire from Lebanon against north communities on Sunday.

Photo: Ariel Hermoni/ Israeli Defense Ministry

Israel “will not agree to every deal, and not at any price” – Netanyahu

Speaking at the beginning of the weekly Cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to put the toppling of Hamas as his main war aim, according to The Times of Israel. “I want to be clear about our policy – the essential goal is first of all the elimination of Hamas,” he says. He then lays out three conditions for that to happen: the destruction of the remaining Hamas battalions, 17 out of 24 of which have been defeated; mopping-up operations, which he says the IDF is doing through raids in the northern and central Strip; and the neutralisation of Hamas’s tunnel network, “which demands more time”.

Netanyahu emphasises that Israel will not end the war until all its aims are accomplished – “the elimination of Hamas, bringing back all our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza will never again represent a threat to Israel”. Turning to a potential hostage deal, Netanyahu says that “we will not agree to every deal, and not at any price”. He says reports in the press about agreeing to free large numbers of terrorists are not true.

UNRWA chief defies Israeli calls to quit

The head of the struggling UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, said he would stay in his post as long as possible, defying Israeli demands for his resignation following allegations that a dozen of his Gazan staff took part in Hamas’s devastating 7th October attack on Israel. The allegations – still  not proven – have prompted the US and 14 other donors to suspend about $440 million of funding to the agency and brought intense scrutiny of its work at a time when it is providing vital aid to nearly two million Palestinians in the besieged Gaza strip.

Lazzarini told the Financial Times he would continue as UNRWA’s commissioner general as long as he believed he was able to “support the people” and was “conveying the voice for the Palestinian refugees”. Lazzarini plans to travel to oil-rich Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait, in a bid to secure emergency funding. Speaking from Jordan, he described the decisions by donors to cut funding to the agency as “rash”, “irrational”, and driven by domestic considerations because of the polarising impact of the Israel-Hamas war.

Photo: AP

Iran issues warning to US

Iranian officials warned the US on Sunday about possibly targeting two cargo ships in the Middle East that are suspected of being spy ships for the country. The warning was issued after forces from the US and the UK launched an airstrike offensive against Houthi rebels located in Yemen. The Associated Press reported that the statement from Iran referred to the Behshad and Saviz ships, which are both registered commercial cargo ships with a company based in Tehran, which the US Treasury sanctioned as a front for the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. The statement also appeared to show Tehran’s increasing uneasiness with the US strike in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, which targeted militias backed by the Islamic Republic.

Photo: Samantha Drummee/US Ministry of Defence via AP

Houthis vow “escalation” after US, UK strikes

Meanwhile, Houthi rebels vowed “escalation” in reaction to US and UK strikes launched in Yemen on Sunday. A spokesman for the Iran-backed group vowed to continue its campaign of disrupting regional trade “no matter the sacrifices it costs us”. The US and the UK launched a series of attacks on Houthi targets in Yemen this weekend in reaction to a lethal drone attack on a US base in Jordan last week.

“The US-British coalition’s bombing of a number of Yemeni provinces will not change our position, and we affirm that our military operations against Israel will continue until the crimes of genocide in Gaza are stopped and the siege on its residents is lifted, no matter the sacrifices it costs us,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed al-Bukhaiti wrote on X. Tensions in the region have skyrocketed since three US soldiers were killed in the attack in Jordan.

Photo: Reuters

Grammys: Taylor Swift wins 4th album of the year, makes history

Taylor Swift made history as she was awarded album of the year at Sunday’s 2024 Grammy Awards show in Los Angeles for her album Midnights, making her the only artist to ever win album of the year four times. Midnights, Fearless, 1989, and Folklore have all won the achievement. The pop star also won best pop vocal album and surprised the audience during her acceptance speech by announcing she would be releasing her next album, The Tortured Poets Department, on 19th April.

Elsewhere, Miley Cyrus won two awards – her first Grammy – for Flowers, her chart-topping single. She took home the first televised trophy, which was for best pop solo performance, and then won one of the big four – record of the year. Billie Eilish won song of the year for What Was I Made For? from the Barbie soundtrack and Victoria Monet won best new artist, while best country album went to Lainey Wilson for Bell Bottom Country. Just as important as the awards at the Grammys are the performances: Joni Mitchell, performing at the Grammys for the first time in her glittering career, brought many in the audience to tears with a majestic rendition of Both Sides Now. Billy Joel performed Turn the Lights Back On, his first new song in 17 years, while U2 appeared from The Sphere in Las Vegas with a performance of Atomic City.

Photo: VALERIE MACON/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Sunak hails “special opportunity” as he visits Northern Ireland

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has hailed a “special opportunity” for Northern Ireland as he began a visit marking the return of power-sharing government. Sunak said Northern Ireland politicians can now “focus on delivery for families and businesses”. Devolved government returned in Northern Ireland for the first time in two years on Saturday. Sunak is today, Monday, due to attend Stormont as is Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. He will meet ministers including First Minister Michelle O’Neill, who made history by becoming the first nationalist to hold the role, and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly.

Power sharing returned after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) ended its boycott over post-Brexit trade rules. Speaking on Sunday when visiting volunteers and crew at the Air Ambulance charity, Sunak said the restoration of devolved government was “a fantastic cause for optimism” as “everyone is committed to making it work”.

Photo: BBC

Flash flood warning issued for downtown Los Angeles

A flash flood warning has been issued for eastern Los Angeles County, including downtown Los Angeles, according to the National Weather Service. More than half a million California power customers face outages as an intense atmospheric river lashes the state with heavy rain and strong winds. Forecasters warn that potentially life-threatening flooding and mudslides will follow. A flash flood warning is in effect for parts of the southern and central coast, where officials warned of one of the “most dramatic weather days in recent memory”. More than a month’s worth of rain could fall by the time the bulk of the storm has passed on Tuesday. Local law enforcement reported numerous flooded roads, vehicles submerged, rock and mud slides, and quickly rising levels of area rivers,” the weather service said.

Over 100 dead in Chile’s forest fires

At least 112 people have died in the huge forest fires that broke out in central Chile on Friday. At least 1,600 people have been left without homes. Officials have extended curfews in cities most heavily affected by the blazes, burning with the highest intensity around the city of Viña del Mar, where a botanical garden founded in 1931 was destroyed by the flames.  Flames and smoke on the eastern edge of the city have trapped some people in their homes. Officials said 200 people have been reported missing in Viña del Mar and the surrounding area. The city of 300,000 people is a popular beach resort. The fires broke out during a week of record high temperatures in central Chile. Over the past two months, the El Niño weather pattern has caused droughts and high temperatures in western South America that have also increased the risk of forest fires.

Photo: Reuters

El Salvador’s President wins re-election

El Salvador’s bitcoin-friendly President Nayib Bukele is on his way to another five-year term, according to exit polls which show him with an overwhelming lead shortly after voting ended on Sunday evening. The result was widely expected as Bukele, who served since 2019 as president, enjoyed great popularity in the country and led in pre-election polling by a large margin. He said he had won the presidential election with more than 85 per cent of the votes and a minimum of 58 of 60 deputies in the Assembly. In 2021, El Salvador became the first nation to adopt the largest cryptocurrency as legal tender. The move, while widely applauded by bitcoin enthusiasts, drew criticism from international organisations such as the IMF.

Photo: Marvin Recinos/AFP

Russian sets a new record for the most time in space

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko has broken the world record for the most cumulative time spent in space, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos reports. The 59-year-old has now spent more than 878 days and 12 hours in space, surpassing fellow Russian Gennady Padalka, who set the previous record of 878 days, 11 hours, 29 minutes, and 48 seconds in 2015. Kononenko has made five journeys to the International Space Station, dating back to 2008. Speaking with Russian state news agency TASS, the engineer said. “I fly into space to do what I love, not to set records. I’ve dreamt of and aspired to become a cosmonaut since I was a child. That interest – the opportunity to fly into space, to live and work in orbit – motivates me to continue flying.” Kononenko’s current trip to the ISS began on September 15, 2023, when he launched alongside NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara and Roscosmos compatriot Nikolai Chub. By the end of this expedition, the cosmonaut is expected to become the first person to accumulate 1,000 days in space. The International Space Station is one of the few areas in which the United States and Russia still cooperate closely following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

Parisians vote in favour of tripling parking costs for SUVs

Parisians have voted to triple parking costs for sports utility vehicles (SUVs), as the city aims to tackle air pollution and climate breakdown by targeting rich drivers in heavy, large and polluting cars. In a referendum on Sunday, which was closely watched by other European capitals, 54.6 per cent voted in favour of special parking fees for SUVs, according to provisional results. However, the turnout – at about 5.7 per cent of Paris’s registered voters – was lower than green campaigners had hoped for.

Photo: Michel Euler/AP

New York for FIFA World Cup 2026 Final

The opening match of the 2026 World Cup will be played on June 11 in Mexico City while New York will host the final match of the tournament, FIFA announced Sunday. The more than 100 games will take place at 16 locations: Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Guadalajara, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Miami, Monterrey, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver. The quarterfinal games will take place in Kansas City, Missouri; Boston, Los Angeles and Miami. The semi-finals will be played in Atlanta and Dallas while the match for third place will take place in Miami. This is Canada’s first time hosting the World Cup and Mexico’s third.

Photo: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

Main photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images via AFP

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