Spain PM urges Israel to end ‘indiscriminate killing’ in Gaza

Spain PM urges Israel to end ‘indiscriminate killing’ in Gaza
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez reiterated he ‘stood with Israel’ in ‘its response to the terrorist attack’ carried out by Hamas in October. (AFP)
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Updated 15 November 2023
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Spain PM urges Israel to end ‘indiscriminate killing’ in Gaza

Spain PM urges Israel to end ‘indiscriminate killing’ in Gaza
  • Socialist premier’s sharpest criticism of Israel since since war against Hamas broke out over a month ago

MADRID: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday urged Israel to end the “indiscriminate killing of Palestinians” in Gaza, in his sharpest criticism of Israel since war against Hamas broke out over a month ago.
The Socialist premier reiterated he “stood with Israel” in “its response to the terrorist attack” carried out by Hamas in October, and promised his new government would “work in Europe and in Spain to recognize the Palestinian state.”


State Department official reaffirms US commitment to humanitarian aid for Gazans

State Department official reaffirms US commitment to humanitarian aid for Gazans
Updated 9 sec ago
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State Department official reaffirms US commitment to humanitarian aid for Gazans

State Department official reaffirms US commitment to humanitarian aid for Gazans
  • Efforts also continue in Washington to prevent regional expansion of conflict by Iran and its proxies, says Assistant Secretary for Near east Affairs Barbara A. Leaf
  • The Biden administration is also looking into the circumstances surrounding the discovery this week of mass graves in Gaza, she adds

CHICAGO: The US is working to speed up the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, all of whom are at risk of malnutrition or famine, a leading official from State Department said on Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary for Near east Affairs Barbara A. Leaf also said that efforts continue in Washington to deter Iran and its proxies from attempting to provoke any regional expansion of the conflict, amid concerns about escalations in violence in Iraq, Lebanon, Europe and Yemen.

President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken remain committed to securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians through direct negotiations, Leaf said, and to using all available means to provide the population of Gaza with aid, including the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

The Biden administration is also examining the circumstances surrounding the discovery this week of mass graves in Gaza, she added. Officials are “making inquiries and trying to learn, ourselves” but she had no additional information to share at this time.

Regarding the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, Leaf said: “One hundred percent of the population in Gaza is at risk of famine and malnutrition. Deconfliction (a military term for efforts to reduce the risk of friendly fire or the targeting of noncombatants) coordination remains a major issue for humanitarian workers and exports.

“We are pushing to accelerate the delivery of assistance on all fronts by air, land and sea. We urge Israel, and continue to urge Israel, to improve deconfliction and take tangible steps to allow the entry of more aid, and distribution of that aid, throughout Gaza. We also believe the UN, including UNRWA, is indispensable for that effort.

“We are committed to advancing enduring peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, including through practical time-bound and irreversible steps to work toward establishing a Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel.”

Leaf declined to comment on how funding would be directed to help address the “extreme” humanitarian needs in Gaza but acknowledged that the US Congress and several other major donor countries had suspended funding for UNRWA following allegations in January by the Israeli government that 12 of the agency’s workers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel.

A report published this week following an independent inquiry into UNRWA’s mechanisms for ensuring the neutrality of its workers stated that Israeli authorities have not provided any evidence to back up their claims. Some countries have resumed their funding of the agency but the US has not.

“The Congress has ruled out the US providing assistance directly to UNRWA,” said Leaf. “There are many other avenues, channels and organizations by which we can assist the Palestinian people.

“We do recognize that the functions that UNRWA carries out are indispensable and that there is no ready replacement for UNRWA in carrying out those responsibilities, or for the staff that puts their lives at risk every day to carry out those functions. We are certainly encouraging all of our donor partners to look to these needs in a coordinated way.”

Leaf defended the decision of the Biden administration last week to veto a Security Council resolution calling for recognition of Palestine as full member state of the UN, on the grounds that the resolution “makes no sense” because Palestine does not have identifiable borders. She added that Biden “stands firmly behind the very legitimate quest of the Palestinians for a state of their own” but “peace must come through direct negotiations with Israel.”

The goal of the Biden administration is to “reunify” the West Bank and Gaza Strip under the leadership of a reformed Palestinian Authority, Leaf said, paving the way for a two-state solution through negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

“The West Bank and Gaza must be reunified under the Palestinian Authority,” she added. “A revitalized PA is essential to delivering results for the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and Gaza, and establishing the conditions for stability.”

Commenting of the wider regional situation, Leaf condemned the escalation of violent attacks by Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.

She described Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea over the past few months as “outrageous” and said they represent “recklessness and inhumanity on the part of the Houthis in targeting commercial vessels, some military vessels, but commercial vessels that have absolutely nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza. It really moots the notion that these attacks are in some way going to support the Palestinian cause. They do not. What they do is put innocent civilians in harm’s way.”

Leaf also condemned the Iranian missile strikes that targeted Israel last week but did not mention the Israeli missile strikes that killed 12 people at an Iranian consulate building beside the nation’s main embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus, the week before.


Myanmar rebel group withdraws troops from key town on Thai border

Myanmar rebel group withdraws troops from key town on Thai border
Updated 24 April 2024
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Myanmar rebel group withdraws troops from key town on Thai border

Myanmar rebel group withdraws troops from key town on Thai border

MYANMAR: A Myanmar rebel group has withdrawn its troops from a town along the Thai border following a counteroffensive by soldiers of the ruling junta from whom the resistance fighters had wrested the key trading post this month, an official said on Wednesday.

The Karen National Union made a “temporary retreat” from the town of Myawaddy, a spokesperson said, after the return of junta soldiers to the vital strategic area that is a conduit for annual foreign trade of more than $1 billion.

“KNLA troops will ... destroy the junta troops and their back-up troops who marched to Myawaddy,” said Saw Taw Nee, referring to the group’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, one of Myanmar’s oldest ethnic fighting forces.

He did not say what its next move would be, however.

Fighting had flared as recently as Saturday in Myawaddy, forcing 3,000 civilians to flee in a single day as rebels fought to flush out stranded Myanmar government troops holed up at a border bridge crossing.

On Wednesday, Thailand said the fighting had eased and it hoped to re-open its border crossing as trade had been hit. It said most civilians had returned and 650 remained.

“The situation has improved significantly,” spokesperson Nikorndej Balankura told a briefing. “Nevertheless, we are closely monitoring the situation, which is highly uncertain and can change.”

Thailand has received reports that negotiations may be starting between rival groups on the Myanmar side, Nikorndej said, without elaborating.

He added that Thailand had proposed to Laos, the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, that it could host a meeting seeking to end the Myanmar crisis.


Ukraine uses long-range missiles secretly provided by US to hit Russian-held areas, officials say

Ukraine uses long-range missiles secretly provided by US to hit Russian-held areas, officials say
Updated 24 April 2024
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Ukraine uses long-range missiles secretly provided by US to hit Russian-held areas, officials say

Ukraine uses long-range missiles secretly provided by US to hit Russian-held areas, officials say
  • The new missiles give Ukraine nearly double the striking distance up to 300 kilometers
  • The two US officials would not provide the exact number of missiles given last month or in the latest aid package, which totals about $1 billion

WASHINGTON: Ukraine for the first time has begun using long-range ballistic missiles provided secretly by the United States, bombing a Russian military airfield in Crimea last week and Russian forces in another occupied area overnight, American officials said Wednesday.
Long sought by Ukrainian leaders, the new missiles give Ukraine nearly double the striking distance — up to 300 kilometers (190 miles) — that it had with the mid-range version of the weapon that it received from the US last October. One of the officials said the US is providing more of these missiles in a new military aid package signed by President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
Biden approved delivery of the long-range Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, in February, and then in March the US included a “significant” number of them in a $300 million aid package announced, one official said.
The two US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the delivery before it became public, would not provide the exact number of missiles given last month or in the latest aid package, which totals about $1 billion.
Ukraine has been forced to ration its weapons and is facing increasing Russian attacks. Ukraine had been begging for the long-range system because the missiles provide a critical ability to strike Russian targets that are farther away, allowing Ukrainian forces to stay safely out of range.
Information about the delivery was kept so quiet that lawmakers and others in recent days have been demanding that the US send the weapons — not knowing they were already in Ukraine.
For months, the US resisted sending Ukraine the long-range missiles out of concern that Kyiv could use them to hit deep into Russian territory, enraging Moscow and escalating the conflict. That was a key reason the administration sent the mid-range version, with a range of about 160 kilometers (roughly 100 miles), in October instead.
Adm. Christopher Grady, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that the White House and military planners looked carefully at the risks of providing long-range fires to Ukraine and determined that the time was right to provide them now.
He told The Associated Press in an interview that long-range weapons will help Ukraine take out Russian logistics nodes and troop concentrations that are not on the front lines. Grady declined to identify what specific weapons were being provided but said they will be “very disruptive if used properly, and I’m confident they will be.”
Like many of the other sophisticated weapons systems provided to Ukraine, the administration weighed whether their use would risk further escalating the conflict. The administration is continuing to make clear that the weapons cannot be used to hit targets in Russia — only those inside Ukrainian territory, according to one of the US officials.
“I think the time is right, and the boss (Biden) made the decision the time is right to provide these based on where the fight is right now,” Grady said Wednesday. “I think it was a very well considered decision, and we really wrung it out — but again, any time you introduce a new system, any change — into a battlefield, you have to think through the escalatory nature of it.”
Ukrainian officials haven’t publicly acknowledged the receipt or use of long-range ATACMS. But in thanking Congress for passing the new aid bill Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted on the social platform X that “Ukraine’s long-range capabilities, artillery and air defense are extremely important tools for the quick restoration of a just peace.”
One of the US officials said the Biden administration warned Russia last year that if Moscow acquired and used long-range ballistic missiles in Ukraine, Washington would provide the same capability to Kyiv.
Russia got some of those weapons from North Korea and has used them on the battlefield in Ukraine, said the official, prompting the Biden administration to greenlight the new long-range missiles.
The US had refused to confirm that the long-range missiles were given to Ukraine until they were actually used on the battlefield and Kyiv leaders approved the public release. One official said the weapons were used early last week to strike the airfield in Dzhankoi, a city in Crimea, a peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. They were used again overnight east of the occupied city of Berdyansk.
Videos on social media last week showed the explosions at the military airfield, but officials at the time would not confirm it was the ATACMS.
Ukraine’s first use of the weapon came as political gridlock in Congress had delayed approval of a $95 billion foreign aid package for months, including funding for Ukraine, Israel and other allies. Facing acute shortages of artillery and air defense systems, Ukraine has been rationing its munitions as US funding was delayed.
With the war now in its third year, Russia used the delay in US weapons deliveries and its own edge in firepower and personnel to step up attacks across eastern Ukraine. It has increasingly used satellite-guided gliding bombs — dropped from planes from a safe distance — to pummel Ukrainian forces beset by a shortage of troops and ammunition.
The mid-range missiles provided last year, and some of the long-range ones sent more recently, carry cluster munitions that open in the air when fired, releasing hundreds of bomblets rather than a single warhead. Others sent recently have a single warhead.
One critical factor in the March decision to send the weapons was the US Army’s ability to begin replacing the older ATACMS. The Army is now buying the Precision Strike Missile, so is more comfortable taking ATACMS off the shelves to provide to Ukraine, the official said.


Anger among Ukrainians in Poland as Kyiv halts passport renewals

Anger among Ukrainians in Poland as Kyiv halts passport renewals
Updated 24 April 2024
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Anger among Ukrainians in Poland as Kyiv halts passport renewals

Anger among Ukrainians in Poland as Kyiv halts passport renewals
  • “Staying abroad does not relieve a citizen of his or her duties to the homeland,” Kuleba posted on social media
  • The agency issuing passports to Ukrainian residents in Warsaw blamed a “technical error” for the problems, not the new directive from Kyiv

WARSAW: Hundreds of Ukrainians crammed up against a closed passport office in Warsaw on Wednesday, furious over Kyiv’s suspension of consular services for fighting-aged men in a bid to force them to return home and bolster troop numbers.
Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday that they were “temporarily” blocking men aged 18 to 60 from accessing consular services, after Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said they were letting compatriots fight in their place on the front lines.
“Staying abroad does not relieve a citizen of his or her duties to the homeland,” Kuleba posted on social media.
The move is seen as part of Kyiv’s efforts to reinforce its army as soldiers struggle to hold positions against Russia.
But in Poland, which hosts hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians — both refugees from the conflict and those who were already living in the country when Russia invaded — there was anger among those who felt they were being unfairly targeted.
“This is a fight against people who are fleeing the army,” said Maksym, a 38-year-old truck driver, one of dozens of people who had come hoping to collect a new passport they had applied for — so far unsuccessfully.
“We are not asked on what grounds we went abroad... Why am I a draft dodger if I went abroad legally?” he told AFP.
Some said they had spent the whole night queueing up.
The agency issuing passports to Ukrainian residents in Warsaw blamed a “technical error” for the problems, not the new directive from Kyiv.
A heated argument broke out at the passport office when women accused a group of men of blocking the entrance and stopping other people who wanted to submit applications.
Pavlo Lyashenko, a 35-year-old entrepreneur standing nearby as the scene unfolded, told AFP that “The state has put me in a situation in which I have no way out.”
He said he had received a text message saying his passport was ready, but believed it was now being withheld from him.
“The doors are blocked. They are afraid that if I come inside, I will not leave until I receive my passport. I know it’s there,” Lyashenko said.
As the crowds swelled through the morning, the agency called in the Polish police as a precaution. Officers spoke with those queueing up, but did not otherwise intervene.
Diana Petrenko, deputy director of the Warsaw passport office, insisted that technical issues were to blame.
“Unfortunately, the documents are not issued due to technical reasons,” she told AFP, refusing to elaborate on the nature of the alleged glitch.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said Tuesday that the suspension applied only to new applications and that any requests submitted before then would be honored.
Lyashenko, the entrepreneur, who said he had left Ukraine long before the start of the war, said he worried he could end up in a legal grey zone, abroad but without a valid passport.
“I think that our state is simply driving people to the point that we will all need to do this,” he said.
Although there are some exceptions, most Ukrainian men have been barred from leaving the country since Russia invaded in February 2022 — meaning that many who will now be unable to submit new passport applications had already been living away for years.
According to Ukrainian media, hundreds of thousands of working-age men have sought refuge in EU countries since the start of the war.
The consular service suspensions, which come as Kyiv scrambles to recruit troops, is widely seen as an attempt to force fighting-age men back to Ukraine.
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government also recently passed a new mobilization law designed to help lift army numbers, and lowered the age limit for mobilization to 25 from 27.
The mobilization law, due to come into force mid-May, also toughens penalties against draft dodgers and forces men to keep their military registration up to date.
The foreign ministry said the suspension of consular services was a temporary measure needed to “resolve technical issues” linked with the implementation of the new law.
Bogdan, a Ukrainian truck driver who declined to give his full name, said he was stuck waiting for a second day straight at the Warsaw passport office.
“I drove 700 kilometers (435 miles) to get my passport because I received a text message that I could pick it up,” the 27-year-old said.
“No one gives the passport. What are our next steps?” he said. “What do we have to do to simply be given our documents that we paid for?“


A Russian deputy defense minister is ordered jailed pending trial on bribery charges

A Russian deputy defense minister is ordered jailed pending trial on bribery charges
Updated 24 April 2024
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A Russian deputy defense minister is ordered jailed pending trial on bribery charges

A Russian deputy defense minister is ordered jailed pending trial on bribery charges
  • Timur Ivanov, one of 12 deputy defense ministers, appeared in Moscow’s Basmany court Wednesday wearing his military uniform
  • The committee gave no further information, apart from saying Ivanov is suspected of taking an especially large bribe — an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison

MOSCOW: A Russian deputy defense minister in charge of military construction projects and accused of living a lavish lifestyle was ordered jailed Wednesday pending an investigation and trial on charges of bribery, court officials said in a statement.
Timur Ivanov, one of 12 deputy defense ministers, appeared in Moscow’s Basmany court Wednesday wearing his military uniform. The ally of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was arrested Tuesday evening, Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.
The committee gave no further information, apart from saying Ivanov is suspected of taking an especially large bribe — an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The Kremlin rejected some Russian media reports that Ivanov was suspected of treason.
Ivanov, 48, was sanctioned by both the United States and European Union in 2022 after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
According to a court statement, investigators told the judge that Ivanov had conspired with third parties to receive a bribe in the form of unspecified property services “during contracting and subcontracting work for the needs of the Ministry of Defense.”
An acquaintance of Ivanov’s, identified as Sergei Borodin, also was arrested and ordered jailed pending an investigation and trial on the same charges, court officials said. Both men are to remain in custody until at least June 23.
According to the Defense Ministry’s website, Ivanov was appointed in 2016 by a presidential decree. He oversaw property management, housing and medical support for the military, as well as construction projects.
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin were informed of Ivanov’s arrest, which comes as Moscow’s war in Ukraine grinds through its third year.
Peskov dismissed Russian media reports that the corruption allegations against Ivanov were intended to obscure additional allegations of high treason.
Independent Russian news outlet reported that the bribery charges were intended to hide more serious charges of treason and avoid scandal, citing two unidentified sources close to the Federal Security Service, or FSB.
Peskov described the reports as speculation. “There are a lot of rumors. We need to rely on official information,” he told journalists.
Ivanov’s lawyer also denied any other charges, telling RIA Novosti that he faced only bribery allegations.
Before his arrest, Ivanov was seen attending a meeting with Shoigu and other military brass.
Russian media reported that he oversaw some of the construction in Mariupol — a Ukrainian port city that was devastated by bombardment and occupied by Russian forces early in the war.
Zvezda, the official TV channel of the Russian military, reported in summer 2022 that the ministry was building an entire residential block in Mariupol and showed Ivanov inspecting construction sites and newly erected residential buildings.
That same year, the team of the late Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, alleged Ivanov and his family had been enjoying luxurious trips abroad, lavish parties and owning elite real estate. The activists also alleged that Ivanov’s wife, Svetlana, divorced him in 2022 to avoid sanctions and continued living a lavish lifestyle.
Commenting on Ivanov’s case, Navalny’s ally Maria Pevchikh said on social platform X: “It’s a good day today.”
The prosecution of high-level officials for corruption remains relatively rare in Russia.
The most recent arrest in April 2023 saw former Deputy Culture Minister Olga Yarilova charged with embezzling more than 200 million rubles ($2.2 million). Yarilova, who held her post between 2018 and 2022, is on trial and facing a seven-year jail term.
Former Economics Minister Alexei Ulyukayev received an eight-year prison sentence in 2017 for accepting a $2 million bribe from one of Putin’s top associates. The high-profile trial was widely seen as part of infighting between Kremlin clans. Ulyukayev, now 68, was granted early release from prison in May 2022.