World leaders meet to discuss Ukraine peace roadmap

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 16th June 2024.

Dozens of world leaders – including Malta’s President Miriam Spiteri Debono –  converged on a Swiss resort Saturday to discuss how to bring peace to war-ravaged Ukraine, though any hopes of a real breakthrough were muted by the absence of Russia. A draft joint statement, released at the end of the first day of the Peace Summit, reads, “Achieving peace requires involvement and dialogue between all parties.”

Three years into the war, the combatants remain as far apart as they’ve ever been, with Kyiv sticking to its demands that Russia leave all Ukrainian territory it has seized and Moscow pressing on with its grinding offensive that has already taken large swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine. Despite Russia’s absence from the summit, Ukrainian President Zelensky predicted at the outset that the talks would lead to history being made.

“We have succeeded in bringing back to the world the idea that joint efforts can stop war and establish a just peace,” he said at a news conference alongside Swiss President Viola Amherd. During a press briefing later with US Vice President Kamala Harris, Zelensky said the summit could lay the groundwork for an eventual end to the conflict. “At the first peace summit, we must determine how to achieve a just peace, so that at the second, we can already settle on a real end to the war.”

The Swiss hosts said more than 50 heads of state and government would attend the gathering at the Burgenstock resort overlooking Lake Lucerne. Some 100 delegations, including European bodies and the United Nations, were also expected.

The conference was attended by presidents or prime ministers from countries as far afield as Britain, Ecuador and Kenya, whereas other nations such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia sent their foreign ministers. Meanwhile, some key developing countries such as India, South Africa and Brazil, which was only observing the event, sent lower-level officials. China, which backs Russia, joined scores of countries that sat out the event. Beijing has said any peace process would require the participation of Russia and Ukraine, and has floated its own ideas for peace.

Who would and wouldn’t show up was a point of intrigue about a meeting that critics said would be pointless without the presence of Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Although his country didn’t attend, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday took the rare step of laying out his terms for ending the war. But his proposals didn’t include any new demands, and Kyiv blasted them as “manipulative, absurd and offensive to common sense”. Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni on Saturday dismissed Putin’s offer as “propaganda”.

Myriam Spiteri Debono, President of Malta, arriving at the Summit on Peace for Ukraine. Photo: Swiss Federal Dep. of Foreign Affairs / Flickr.

Last month, China and Brazil agreed to six common understandings on a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis, asking other countries to endorse them and play a role in promoting peace talks. The six points include an agreement to support an international peace conference held at a proper time that is recognised by both Russia and Ukraine, with equal participation of all parties as well as fair discussion of all peace plans.

Russian troops who control vast swaths of eastern and southern Ukraine have made territorial gains in recent months. When talk of a Swiss-hosted peace summit began last summer, Ukrainian forces had recently regained large tracts of territory, notably near the southern city of Kherson and the northern city of Kharkiv.

Against the battlefield backdrop and diplomatic strategising, summit organisers have presented three agenda items: nuclear safety, including at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia power plant; humanitarian assistance and a prisoner of war exchange; and global food security, which has been disrupted at times due to impeded shipments through the Black Sea.

That to-do list, which includes some of the least controversial issues, is well short of the proposals and hopes laid out by Zelensky in a 10-point peace formula in late 2022. That plan called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied Ukrainian territory, the cessation of hostilities and the restoration of Ukraine’s original borders with Russia, including Russia’s withdrawal from occupied Crimea.

Putin, meanwhile, wants any peace deal to be built around a draft agreement negotiated in the early phases of the war that included provisions for Ukraine’s neutral status and limits on its armed forces, while delaying talks about Russian-occupied areas. Ukraine’s push to join NATO over the years has rankled Moscow.

‘50,000 Gaza children require urgent treatment for malnutrition’ – UN

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) says more than 50,000 children in the Gaza Strip require immediate medical treatment for acute malnutrition. In a statement on Saturday, the agency noted “with continued restrictions to humanitarian access, people in Gaza continue to face desperate levels of hunger. UNRWA teams work tirelessly to reach families with aid, but the situation is catastrophic”.

UNICEF spokesperson James Elder also described how difficult it is to not only get aid into Gaza, but also to distribute it across the war-battered coastal enclave. “More aid workers have been killed in this war than any war since the advent of the UN,” he told Al Jazeera.

On Wednesday, UNICEF had a mission to drive a truck full of nutritional and medical supplies for 10,000 children, Elder said. Their task was to deliver the aid, which was pre-approved by Israeli authorities, from Deir el-Balah to Gaza City, a 40km round trip. “It took 13 hours and we spent eight of those around checkpoints, arguing around paperwork – ‘was it a truck or a van’,” he said. “The reality is this truck was denied access. Those 10,000 children did not get that aid … Israel as the occupying power has the legal responsibility to facilitate that aid.”

The UN’s World Food Programme Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau spent two days assessing the plight of Palestinians this week, saying the challenges are “like nothing I have ever seen”.

“The situation in southern Gaza is quickly deteriorating. One million people in southern Gaza are trapped without clean water or sanitation in a highly-congested area along the beach in the burning summer heat. We drove through rivers of sewage,” said Skau.

On Friday, the United States imposed sanctions on a “violent extremist” Israeli group for blocking and damaging humanitarian aid convoys to Gaza. The Group of Seven leaders also stressed UN agencies must work unhindered in Gaza.

Thousands of Israelis demand hostage swap deal, Netanyahu’s resignation

Thousands of Israelis protested on Saturday in several areas in the country, demanding a hostage swap deal with Palestinian factions and dismissal of the government led by Premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that thousands of Israelis in several areas – including Tel Aviv, Netanya, Haifa and the Qiryat Tivon junction – called for the release of hostages in Gaza, the holding of early elections, and the dismissal of the Netanyahu government. In a video statement issued late on Saturday, Netanyahu said there was no alternative but to stick to the goals of the war to defeat Hamas and bring the hostages back.

Twelve people, including a photographer from the Haaretz newspaper, had been arrested for violations of public order in last night’s demonstration. Former minister Benny Gantz also took part in a demonstration in Sha’ar HaNegev, in the south of the country, less than a week after resigning from the government. Protesters also gathered outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.

Although surveys show solid support among the Israeli public for continuing the war against Hamas, the protests underscore the divisions in Israeli society that have reopened following a period of unity at the start of the war.

The Islamic Jihad armed wing al-Quds Brigades said on Saturday Israel could only regain its hostages in Gaza if it ended the war and pulled out forces from the enclave. A spokesman for al-Quds Brigades made the remarks in a video posted on Telegram. Islamic Jihad is a smaller ally of Hamas, which led a rampage in southern Israel on October 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. More than 100 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza, although at least 40 have been declared dead in absentia by Israeli authorities.

Nearly 37,300 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by the Israeli forces since October last year, most of them women and children, and almost 85,200 others injured in Israel’s military campaign to eliminate Hamas, according to the Gaza health ministry. More than eight months into the Israeli onslaught, vast tracts of Gaza lay in ruins amid a crippling blockade of food, clean water, and medicine.

Eight Israeli soldiers killed

Eight Israeli soldiers have been killed in the southern Gaza Strip, the military says, as forces continued to push in and around the southern city of Rafah and strikes hit several areas of Gaza, killing at least 19 Palestinians.

Earlier, the armed wing of Hamas said fighters had ambushed an armoured personnel carrier, killing and wounding a number of Israeli soldiers, in the Tel al-Sultan area in the west of Rafah, where Israeli forces have been advancing for weeks. Israeli tanks advanced in Tel al-Sultan and shells landed in the coastal area, where thousands of Palestinians, many of them displaced several times already, have sought refuge.

In Israeli air strikes on two houses in Gaza City suburbs, residents said at least 15 people were killed. Four others were killed in separate attacks in the south, medics said.

The Israeli military on Saturday said its forces in Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, close to the border with Egypt, had captured large quantities of weapons both above ground and concealed in the extensive tunnel network built by Hamas. It said militants had on Friday fired five rockets from the humanitarian area in central Gaza. It said two had fallen in open areas in Israel and three fell short in Gaza.

Despite growing international pressure for a ceasefire, an agreement to halt the fighting still appears distant more than eight months since the start of the war in October. Israel is accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice, whose latest ruling ordered Tel Aviv to immediately halt its operation in Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians had sought refuge from the war before it was invaded on May 6.

UK conservatives head for election wipeout, polls predict

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party is headed for a historic wipe out in the July 4 general election, according to three new polls published in today’s national newspapers.

An MRP poll by Survation published in The Times predicts the Labour opposition will win a 262-seat majority in Parliament, with the Conservatives cut to just 72 seats. Opinium’s survey for The Observer showed Labour with a 17-point lead, and Savanta predicted “electoral extinction” for Sunak’s party in a poll for The Sunday Telegraph.

The figures suggest the Conservatives are headed for their worst defeat since the party was formed two centuries ago, with less than half the seats they had after a rout in 1906. “Our research suggests that this election could be nothing short of electoral extinction for the Conservative Party,” said Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta.

Survation’s MRP work showed Labour could take 443 seats in Parliament, compared to 83 for the Conservatives, 53 for the Lib-Dems, and the right-wing Reform party has a “possibility” of gaining 12 seats, including a narrow win for its leader Nigel Farage. Savanta’s research suggested Labour has a 25-point lead, the biggest since Liz Truss’s brief term as prime minister in 2022.

Biden, Trump agree rules for June 27 debate

President Joe Biden and Donald Trump will face off in a 90-minute debate with mutable microphones, broadcaster CNN said Saturday, as it laid ground rules for the first in-person clash between the pair ahead of November’s election.

The rules for the June 27 debate, which will have two hosts and no studio audience, were agreed by the Biden and Trump campaigns, according to CNN. Candidates will only be given a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water. It said the debate, hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, will last 90 minutes.

Biden and Trump agreed in May to two televised election debates, with the second hosted by channel ABC on September 10.

Princess of Wales makes first public appearance since cancer diagnosis

Kate Middleton waved to the crowd from Buckingham Palace’s balcony, in her first public appearance since her cancer diagnosis earlier this year. She had  announced on Friday she would attend the King’s Birthday Parade, also known as the Trooping of the Colour, after making progress in her treatment. She disclosed in March that she was undergoing chemotherapy for an unspecified form of cancer.

“I am making good progress, but as anyone going through chemotherapy will know, there are good days and bad days,” the royal said in a statement, adding that she faced “a few more months” of treatment. Kate has not made any public appearances since December.

The 42-year-old princess travelled in horse-drawn carriage from Buckingham Palace down the Mall with her three children. Bystanders cheered as they caught a glimpse of Kate, dressed in a white dress and wide-brimmed hat. She then watched the ceremony from a building overlooking Horse Guards Parade, a ceremonial parade ground in central London.

Prince William rode on horseback for the ceremony in which troops in full dress uniform parade past the king with their regimental flag.

King Charles, who also is being treated for an undisclosed form of cancer, travelled in a carriage with Queen Camilla, rather than on horseback.

Football: Millwall goalkeeper Sarkic dies aged 26

Millwall goalkeeper Matija Sarkic has died at the age of 26. The young shot-stopper reportedly fell ill in the town of Budva in Montenegro on Saturday morning and died shortly afterwards.

Sarkic, a Montenegro international, joined the Championship club from Wolves in August 2023 and made 33 appearances last season. He last played for his country in a 2-0 friendly defeat by Belgium on 5 June. The Montenegro Football Association said, “His untimely death has caused great pain to the Sarkic family.” Millwall said they were “completely devastated”.

Euro2024Saturday’s results: Group A: Hungary v Switzerland 1-3; Group B: Spain v Croatia 3-0 and Italy v Albania 1-2. Today’s prgramme: Group D: Poland v Netherlands 3 pm;  Group C: Slovenia v Denmark 6pm and Serbia v England (9pm).

Main photo: AP

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