Sanchez says Israel is a ‘friend’ of Spain

In this handout photograph released by La Moncloa on October 23, 2023 Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (L) shakes hands with Israeli Ambassador to Spain Rodica Radian-Gordon prior to holding a meeting at La Moncloa in Madrid. (AFP)
In this handout photograph released by La Moncloa on October 23, 2023 Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (L) shakes hands with Israeli Ambassador to Spain Rodica Radian-Gordon prior to holding a meeting at La Moncloa in Madrid. (AFP)
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Updated 02 December 2023
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Sanchez says Israel is a ‘friend’ of Spain

Sanchez says Israel is a ‘friend’ of Spain
  • “I reaffirmed that Spain considers the death of civilians in Gaza unbearable and that Israel must respect international humanitarian law,” Sanchez added

MADRID: Israel is “a friend of Spain,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Friday, a day after Israel recalled its envoy to Madrid over “outrageous remarks” he made regarding the country’s military campaign in Gaza.
The Socialist premier, one of the most critical voices within the European Union regarding Israel, at the same time stood by his position regarding Israel’s campaign, which has sparked tension between Madrid and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in recent days.
In a message posted on X, formerly Twitter, Sanchez said he had “reiterated that Israel is a partner and friend of Spain” in a telephone conversation with Israeli former defense minister and current war cabinet member, Benny Gantz.
“Once again, I condemned the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7,” he said, before adding “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
“But I reaffirmed that Spain considers the death of civilians in Gaza unbearable and that Israel must respect international humanitarian law,” Sanchez added.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said Thursday he was recalling the country’s envoy to Spain for consultations in Jerusalem “because of the outrageous remarks by the Spanish prime minister, who again repeated baseless claims.”
Speaking to Spanish public television on Thursday, Sanchez said he had “serious doubts” that Israel is complying with international humanitarian law in its military campaign in Gaza given the “images we are seeing and the growing number of people dying, especially boys and girls.”
Israel has also recalled its ambassadors from Turkiye and South Africa following remarks by those countries’ leaders over the war in Gaza.
Hamas broke through Gaza’s militarised border with Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and seizing around 240 Israeli and foreign hostages, according to Israeli officials.
Israel has vowed to “crush” Hamas in response and unleashed a withering military campaign that Gaza’s Hamas government says has killed more than 15,000 people in the coastal territory.
 

 


France becomes the only country to explicitly guarantee abortion as a constitutional right

France becomes the only country to explicitly guarantee abortion as a constitutional right
Updated 5 sec ago
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France becomes the only country to explicitly guarantee abortion as a constitutional right

France becomes the only country to explicitly guarantee abortion as a constitutional right
PARIS: French lawmakers on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill to enshrine abortion rights in France's constitution, making it the only country to explicitly guarantee a woman’s right to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy
The historic move was proposed by President Emmanuel Macron as a way to prevent the kind of rollback of abortion rights seen in the United States in recent years, and the vote during a special joint session of France's parliament drew a long standing ovation among lawmakers.
The measure was approved in a 780-72 vote in the Palace of Versailles. Abortion enjoys wide support in France across most of the political spectrum, and has been legal since 1975.
Many female legislators in the hall smiled broadly as they cheered. While a small group of protesters stood outside the joint session, there were jubilant scenes of celebrations all over France as women’s rights activists hailed the measure promised by Macron within hours of the Dobbs ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022.
The U.S. decision has reverberated across Europe’s political landscape, forcing the issue back into public debate in some countries at a time when far-right nationalist parties are gaining influence.
Both houses of France's parliament, the National Assembly and Senate, had separately adopted a bill to amend Article 34 of the French Constitution, but the amendment needed final confirmation by a three-fifths majority in the special joint session. The measure specifies that “the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed.”
The French measure is seen as going a step further than was the case in the former Yugoslavia, whose 1974 constitution said that “a person is free to decide on having children.” Yugoslavia dissolved in the early 1990s, and all its successor states have adopted similar measures in their constitutions that legally enable women to have an abortion, though they do not explicitly guarantee it.
In the lead-up to the vote, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal addressed the more than 900 lawmakers gathered for the joint session in Versailles, and called on them to make France a leader in women's rights and set an example for countries around the world.
“We have a moral debt to women,” Attal said. He paid tribute to Simone Veil, a prominent legislator, former health minister and key feminist who in 1975 championed the bill that decriminalized abortion in France.
“We have a chance to change history,” Attal said in a moving and determined speech. “Make Simone Veil proud," he said to a standing ovation.
None of France’s major political parties have questioned the right to abortion, including Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party and the conservative Republicans.
Le Pen, who won a record number of seats in the National Assembly two years ago, said on Monday that her party planned to vote in favor of the bill but added that “there is no need to make this a historic day.”
A recent poll showed support for abortion rights among the French public at more than 80%, consistent with previous surveys. The same poll also showed that a solid majority of people are in favor of enshrining it in the constitution.
A group of about 200 anti-abortion protesters gathered soberly in Versailles ahead of the vote, some holding a banner reading: ‘’I too was an embryo.''
A larger crowd of women's rights activists gathered at Trocadero Plaza overlooking the Eiffel Tower, letting out a collective cry of joy as the vote results came in. Others celebrated around France even before the joint parliamentary session began.
Sarah Durocher, a leader in the Family Planning movement, said Monday's vote is “a victory for feminists and a defeat for the anti-choice activists.”
“We increased the level of protection to this fundamental right,” said Anne-Cécile Mailfert of the Women’s Foundation. “It’s a guarantee for women today and in the future to have the right to abort in France.”
The government argued in its introduction to the bill that the right to abortion is threatened in the United States, where the Supreme Court in 2022 overturned a 50-year-old ruling that used to guarantee it.
“Unfortunately, this event is not isolated: In many countries, even in Europe, there are currents of opinion that seek to hinder at any cost the freedom of women to terminate their pregnancy if they wish,” the introduction to the French legislation says.
“It may not be an issue in France, where a majority of people support abortion,” said Mathilde Philip-Gay, a law professor and a specialist in French and American constitutional law. “But those same people may one day vote for a far-right government, and what happened in the U.S. can happen elsewhere in Europe, including in France.”
Inscribing abortion into the French Constitution "will make it harder for abortion opponents of the future to challenge these rights, but it won't prevent them from doing it in the long run, with the right political strategy,” Philip-Gay added.
"It only takes a moment for everything we thought that we have achieved to fade away,” said Yael Braun-Pivet, the first female president of the French parliament, in her address to the joint session.
Amending the constitution is a laborious process and a rare event in France. Since it was enacted in 1958, the French Constitution has been amended 17 times.
The justice minister said the new amendment will be formally inscribed into the Constitution at a public ceremony at Vendome Plaza in Paris on Friday — International Women's Day.

’Uncommitted’ protest over Biden’s Israel support heads to Minnesota

’Uncommitted’ protest over Biden’s Israel support heads to Minnesota
Updated 38 min 35 sec ago
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’Uncommitted’ protest over Biden’s Israel support heads to Minnesota

’Uncommitted’ protest over Biden’s Israel support heads to Minnesota
  • Hussein, who estimates the Midwestern state has about 250,000 Muslims, said the effort in the Minnesota Democratic primary aims to get at least 10,000 votes checking the “uncommitted” option instead of backing Biden

MINNEAPOLIS: The “uncommitted” movement to pressure US President Joe Biden to change his policy on Israel has landed in Minnesota, where activists hope a coalition of progressive Democrats and Muslim Americans will fuel a strong protest vote on Super Tuesday.
Minnesota is not a battleground state, given Democrats’ historic strength there, so any uncommitted vote won’t carry the same impact as Michigan’s unexpectedly large protest last week, which won two delegates for the Democratic National Convention in August.
Still the vote is being closely watched as a gauge of Biden’s strength within his own party.
“This will be another protest vote against Biden with the aim of stopping the war,” said Jaylani Hussein, co-chair of the Abandon Biden movement in Minnesota, one of several groups pushing the vote with phone banks, texting campaigns, and events in mosques and other community centers.
Hussein, who estimates the Midwestern state has about 250,000 Muslims, said the effort in the Minnesota Democratic primary aims to get at least 10,000 votes checking the “uncommitted” option instead of backing Biden, but the numbers could end up being higher.
Some organizers tried to lower expectations Monday.
“The Michigan effort was months in the making...we don’t have that in Minnesota, the organizers on the ground don’t have the kind of grassroots muscle,” said an uncommitted organizer, who did not wish to be named.
The uncommitted movement is asking Biden to back a permanent ceasefire and halt aid to Israel. Biden’s early and strong support of Israel and his refusal to condition military aid on not killing innocent people or destroying infrastructure has sparked outrage in key parts of his coalition that could affect his chances of reelection against likely Republican rival Donald Trump.
Biden, 81, faces low general approval ratings and concern about his age, as does Trump, 77. If Trump is reelected, he is expected to be a strong supporter of Israel and its right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Michigan results, where Biden won 81 percent of the vote, shows his “core group of supporters are still behind him,” said an official from the Biden campaign — which expects to see the same result from Minnesota.
“None of this means we will ignore the Arab American and Muslim American population,” the official said. “We will not. We are not taking anyone for granted.”
The sharpest US comment on the war to date came from Vice President Kamala Harris, who on Sunday called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and urged Hamas to accept a deal to release hostages in return for a six-week cessation of hostilities. The vice president’s comments “show the pressure the Biden campaign is under and that they are starting to feel that pressure,” said Wa’el Alzayat, chief executive of Emgage Action, the political arm of a Muslim outreach group worked on the uncommitted vote in Michigan and is doing the same in Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
Organizers are also targeting California, Georgia, North Carolina, Vermont and other states.
Even with a protest vote, Biden is expected to sweep Democratic primaries in Minnesota and more than a dozen other states on March 5, also known as Super Tuesday, and secure the Democratic nomination in the coming weeks.
Minnesota hasn’t backed a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972, though Trump came within 1.5 percentage points of winning in 2016. Biden won the state with over 233,000 votes in 2020.
’COMPARE HIM TO THE ALTERNATIVE’
Biden campaign and many Democratic Party officials believe disaffected Democrats will ultimately support Biden in November when faced with the prospect of Trump.
Democrats, overall, support Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict by 61 percent, February polling by Harvard-Harris shows, although a Reuters/Ipsos February poll show 56 percent of Democrats prefer a president who doesn’t support military aid to Israel.
Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota branch of the Democratic party, formally known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party, told reporters, “this is an existential election” and he anticipates Biden will have near-unanimous support in the state.
“I respect people’s feelings and differences of opinion on a whole host of issues. But as Joe Biden says, ‘don’t compare him to the Almighty, compare him to the alternative,’ and I think that’s the reality here,” Martin said.

 


White House defends Harris meeting with Israeli Cabinet official despite Netanyahu’s concerns

White House defends Harris meeting with Israeli Cabinet official despite Netanyahu’s concerns
Updated 05 March 2024
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White House defends Harris meeting with Israeli Cabinet official despite Netanyahu’s concerns

White House defends Harris meeting with Israeli Cabinet official despite Netanyahu’s concerns
  • Israel has essentially agreed to the deal, according to a senior Biden administration official, and the White House has emphasized that the onus is on Hamas to come on board

WASHINGTON: Vice President Kamala Harris and other top Biden administration officials were holding talks on Monday with a member of Israel’s wartime Cabinet who came to Washington in defiance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
White House officials said Benny Gantz, a centrist political rival of Netanyahu, requested the meeting and the Democratic administration believed it was important to meet with the prominent Israeli official despite Netanyahu’s objections.
The meeting comes as President Joe Biden, Harris and other senior administration officials have become increasingly blunt about their dissatisfaction with the mounting death toll in Gaza and suffering of innocent Palestinians as the war nears the five-month mark.
“We’re going to discuss a number of things in terms of the priorities that certainly we have, which includes getting a hostage deal done, getting aid in and then getting that six-week ceasefire,” Harris told reporters before her meeting with Gantz.
The US on Saturday carried out the first of what is expected to be ongoing aidrops of humanitarian aid into Gaza.
The moment is reflective of the increasingly awkward dynamics in the US-Israel relationship, with the US forced to fly badly needed aid past its close ally as it looks to ramp up badly needed assistance for civilians in Gaza. The first airdrop occurred just days after more than 100 Palestinians were killed as they were trying to get food from an Israel-organized convoy.
The White House agreed to the meeting with Gantz even as an official from Netanyahu’s nationalist Likud party said Gantz did not have approval from the prime minister for his meetings in Washington. Netanyahu gave Gantz a “tough talk” about the visit — underscoring a widening crack within Israel’s wartime leadership.
“We have been dealing with all members of the war Cabinet, including Mr. Gantz,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said. “We see this as a natural outgrowth of those discussions. We’re not going to turn away that sort of opportunity.”
In addition to his talks with Harris, Gantz is meeting on Monday with National Security Council Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk and Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser. Gantz was also scheduled to meet on Monday with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. And he will meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday.
Gantz just before the start of his White House meetings told a reporter with Israel’s public broadcaster Kan: “There will be an open and honest conversation between two friendly and important countries and partners.”
Biden is at Camp David, the presidential retreat just outside Washington, until Tuesday.
Over the weekend, Harris issued a forceful call for a temporary ceasefire deal in Gaza, which administration officials say would halt fighting for at least six weeks, and also increased pressure on Israel not to impede the aid that workers were trying to get into the region. The White House has been advocating for that framework deal for weeks.
Israel has essentially agreed to the deal, according to a senior Biden administration official, and the White House has emphasized that the onus is on Hamas to come on board.
Biden faces mounting political pressure at home over his administration’s handling of the Israeli-Hamas war, which was triggered when militants in Gaza launched an attack, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 people hostage.
In last week’s Michigan presidential primary, more than 100,000 Democratic primary voters cast ballots for “uncommitted.” Biden still easily won the state’s primary, but the coordinated push by voters on the left who are dissatisfied with the president’s unwavering support for Israel as its military operations in Gaza have left more than 30,000 Palestinians dead. The vote totals raise concerns for Democrats in a state Biden won by only 154,000 votes in 2020.
Gantz, who polls show could be a formidable candidate for prime minister if a vote were held today, is viewed as a political moderate. But he has remained vague about his view of Palestinian statehood — something that Biden sees as essential to forging a lasting peace once the conflict ends but that Netanyahu adamantly opposes.
It is also assumed that when the heavy fighting subsides, Gantz will leave the government, which would increase pressure for early elections.
Since Gantz joined Netanyahu’s three-minister war Cabinet in October, US officials have found him to be easier to deal with than either Netanyahu or Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Although Gantz holds many of the same hard-line views as Netanyahu and Gallant, he has been seen as more open to compromise on critical issues, including the increased delivery of humanitarian assistance that will be a prime topic of discussion in the meetings in Washington this week.
Until now, calls for elections have been muted due to the war, but analysts think that when Gantz leaves the government, it will send a signal to the Israeli public that the need for national unity has passed and efforts to oust Netanyahu’s government can begin in earnest.
For his part while in Washington, Gantz aims to strengthen ties with the US, bolster support for Israel’s war and push for the release of Israeli hostages, according to a second Israeli official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t allowed to publicly discuss the disputes within the Israeli government. Gantz is scheduled to head to London for meetings after his US visit.
It remains to be seen if Gantz while in Washington will diverge from Netanyahu’s stances on Palestinian statehood or carrying out an expanded operation in the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah. The Biden administration has repeatedly warned Israel against a Rafah operation without a plan to protect civilians.
“I don’t doubt there are some administration officials who believe just by meeting with Gantz they are undermining Netanyahu,” said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative Washington think tank. “But if Gantz carries the government’s line on key issues of disagreement, these meetings are net-negative for the White House while helpful back home for Gantz.”
 

 


US Internet subsidy program set to run out of money in May

Ethernet cables used for internet connection. (REUTERS)
Ethernet cables used for internet connection. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 March 2024
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US Internet subsidy program set to run out of money in May

Ethernet cables used for internet connection. (REUTERS)
  • Congress previously allocated $17 billion to help lower-income families and people impacted by COVID-19 gain Internet access through a $30 per month voucher to use toward Internet service

WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission on Monday said a government broadband Internet subsidy program used by 23 million American households will run out of money in May and be shuttered without action by Congress.
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel told lawmakers in a letter that April is the last month participants will get the full subsidy, with partial subsidies expected in May. Congress previously allocated $17 billion to help lower-income families and people impacted by COVID-19 gain Internet access through a $30 per month voucher to use toward Internet service.
 

 


UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers

UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers
Updated 05 March 2024
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UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers

UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers
  • Report exposes official's inappropriate guessing game to reveal foster care placements to children
  • Report that found basic checks to ensure unaccompanied children were safe in these hotels were not carried out

LONDON: Charities and campaigners have called for a public inquiry into the treatment of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK, the BBC reported on Monday.

At one point, the Home Office contracted seven hotels to provide temporary accommodation for children while foster care placements were being arranged with local authorities. According to a recently published official report, however, basic checks to ensure unaccompanied children were being kept safe in these hotels were not carried out.

The report, by the former chief inspector of borders, David Neal, and published by the Home Office last week, also revealed a particularly disturbing practice in which a team leader would have children take part in a guessing game to find out who had received a place in foster care.

Inspectors described the practice as “insensitive in the extreme and undoubtedly upsetting to the children.” They noted that it was not widely adopted but nor was it internally questioned when it was.

Eighteen organizations, including the Refugee Council and the British Association of Social Workers, have now signed an open letter in which they highlight this “appalling revelation” that some children were forced to play a game to guess which of them had been allocated a foster home. They described the wider findings of the report as “disturbing, distressing and dystopian.”

The letter also said that hundreds of unaccompanied children who have gone missing from hotels have yet to be found, and that children incorrectly assessed as being of adult age were forced to share bedrooms with grown-up strangers.

The signatories called for an extensive independent investigation into the treatment of asylum seekers aged 17 and younger.

“In our work with refugee children, we repeatedly see how they are being failed... There is a culture of callous disregard for children’s basic right to dignity,” they said in their letter.

“We urgently need to see a fundamental change towards an asylum system that is fair, humane and protects those who are some of the most vulnerable children in the country.”

The Home Office said the welfare of the children was of “utmost priority.” A full investigation into the “inappropriate behavior” of the worker responsible for the guessing game has been launched, it added, and he was removed from his position as soon as his actions were revealed. It also said hotels are no longer used to house child refugees, the BBC reported.

The report was based on inspections of two hotels in Kent that took place in September 2023.

It stated: “Inspectors found that two years on from when the Home Office first moved children into hotels, it was still grappling with the challenges of managing an operation that was only ever envisaged to provide a short-term solution.”