State Department official reaffirms US commitment to humanitarian aid for Gazans

State Department official reaffirms US commitment to humanitarian aid for Gazans
People walk through rubble past damaged buildings with humanitarian aid packages collected from a drop over the northern Gaza Strip on April 23, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 25 April 2024
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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.


Biden pledges not to pardon son or commute sentence

Biden pledges not to pardon son or commute sentence
Updated 12 sec ago
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Biden pledges not to pardon son or commute sentence

Biden pledges not to pardon son or commute sentence
  • “I said I’d abide by the jury decision. I will do that. I will not pardon him,” the president told reporters at a G7 summit press conference in Italy
  • The verdict came as Biden faces a tough re-election battle against Donald Trump, who himself recently became the first former president to become a convicted felon

SAVELLETRI, Italy: US President Joe Biden said Thursday that he would not pardon his son Hunter or commute any sentence following Hunter’s conviction on charges of lying about his drug addiction while buying a handgun.

“No,” Biden replied when reporters at a G7 summit press conference in Italy asked if he would commute any sentence that 54-year-old Hunter faces.
“I’m extremely proud of my son Hunter. He has overcome an addiction, he’s one of the brightest, most decent men I know,” Biden said.
“I said I’d abide by the jury decision. I will do that. I will not pardon him,” he said.
In the historic first criminal prosecution of a sitting US president’s child, a jury on Tuesday found Hunter Biden guilty on three felony counts stemming from his 2018 purchase of a handgun while addicted to crack cocaine.

Hunter Biden (C) walks with his son and wife a Delaware airport after meeting with his father, US President Joe Biden, on June 11, 2024, just aftera jury found the younger Biden guilty on Tuesday of federal gun charges. (AFP)

He could face up to 25 years in prison, though as a first-time offender jail time is unlikely. A date was not set for sentencing but it is expected to take place in the next few months.
Biden said in a statement after the verdict that he loved his sole surviving son — his eldest son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015 — and would respect the jury’s conclusion.
But his comments in Italy on Thursday were his first public statement on the verdict.
The day before his Italy trip, Biden, 81, changed his schedule to fly to Wilmington, Delaware, the family hometown where the trial was held.
Hunter Biden was waiting on the tarmac when Marine One landed and was given a warm hug by his father before they left in a motorcade.
The verdict came as Biden faces a tough re-election battle against Donald Trump, who himself recently became the first former president to become a convicted felon.
Trump was found guilty by a New York jury of breaching election law by lying about hush money payments to a porn star.
 


Argentine monthly inflation lowest in 2.5 years

Argentine monthly inflation lowest in 2.5 years
Updated 8 min 4 sec ago
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Argentine monthly inflation lowest in 2.5 years

Argentine monthly inflation lowest in 2.5 years

BUENOS AIRES: Monthly inflation in economically troubled Argentina came in at 4.2 percent in May, the lowest in two-and-a-half years, mainly due to a drop in consumption, the INDEC statistics agency said Thursday.

For the first five months of 2024, the rate came in at 71.9 percent, and year-on-year at 276.4 percent — down from 289.4 percent registered in April but still at record high levels.

The rate fell for the fifth successive month in May.

In December, when budget-slashing President Javier Milei took office, inflation leapt by 25.5 percent, provoked by his devaluation of the peso by more than 50 percent.

Self-declared “anarcho-capitalist” Milei has vowed to halt Argentina’s economic decline and reduce the budget deficit to zero.

He has slashed public spending, cut the cabinet in half, done away with 50,000 public jobs, suspended new public works contracts and ripped away fuel and transport subsidies.

In April, Milei hailed the South American country’s first quarterly budget surplus since 2008.

Economy Minister Luis Caputo on Thursday celebrated the May data as indicating a “deepening of the ongoing disinflation process.”

Critics say Milei’s few wins have come at the cost of the poor and working classes, and were unlikely to last.

Economist Hernan Letcher of the CEPA economics think tank told AFP the inflation drop was explained, in large part, by a “significant fall in consumption.”

“We consultants expect that the process of reducing the rate of inflation will not continue in June,” he said.

“The market expectation survey shows that a level in the order of five percent will be maintained until the end of the year.”

Consumer consumption, manufacturing and construction have slumped under Milei’s peso devaluation and budget cuts, with a 5.3 percent contraction in economic activity in the first quarter.

The International Monetary Fund expects the Argentine economy to contract by 2.8 percent this year, after a 1.6-percent decline in 2023.

The government this week reported a 16-percent increase in real wages in the private sector in April and a recovery of purchasing power that is the “most significant since 2009.”

It is a relative figure, however, in a country where informal employment accounted for more than 45 percent of the work force even before the impact of Milei’s austerity measures started hitting home.

Poverty in the South American country now stands at 55.5 percent, according to the Pontifical Catholic University’s Social Debt Monitor.

Last month, Argentina introduced a 10,000-peso banknote, worth the equivalent of about $11 — five times the face value of the previous biggest 2,000-peso bill.

Thursday’s inflation data came hours after a first victory for Milei in the Senate, which approved a modified version of his economic liberalization package.

Milei’s bill, which makes provision for privatization of state-owned companies and weakens labor protections, have raised the ire of workers and leftists, who fought running battles with police outside Congress on Wednesday.

The draft legislation must still be given a final green light by the lower house Chamber of Deputies.


‘Alarm bells ringing’: Dembele calls on France stars to vote in key elections

‘Alarm bells ringing’: Dembele calls on France stars to vote in key elections
Updated 13 June 2024
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‘Alarm bells ringing’: Dembele calls on France stars to vote in key elections

‘Alarm bells ringing’: Dembele calls on France stars to vote in key elections
  • Ousmane Dembele: ‘We need to mobilize to get out and vote’
  • FFF planning player proxy vote if still involved in Euro 2024

PADERBORN, Germany: France star Ousmane Dembele admitted on Thursday the political situation in the country had “set alarm bells ringing” and said he and his teammates intended to vote in upcoming legislative elections even if they are still involved at Euro 2024 in Germany.
“We need to mobilize to get out and vote,” Dembele told reporters at the French team’s training base in western Germany where they are preparing for their opening European Championship game against Austria on Monday.
“I think the situation in France has set alarm bells ringing. Everyone needs to rally round and come together to vote.”
President Emmanuel Macron has called elections for the lower house National Assembly with the first round set for June 30 and the second round on July 7.
He announced the snap poll last Sunday in response to the results of the EU elections, in which far-right parties — including the top-scoring National Rally (RN) — managed to take almost 40 percent of the vote in France.
“I was watching the news not long ago and I saw that one in every two people in France doesn’t vote, so everyone needs to vote in the legislative elections,” added Dembele, the former Barcelona winger now playing back in France for Paris Saint-Germain.
The French squad will still be in Germany at the time of the election, provided they make it beyond the group stage.
The first round of the election is set to take place the same weekend as the last 16 of Euro 2024, while the second round comes just after the quarter-finals.
However, Dembele said the French Football Federation was planning to help players set up a proxy vote if they remained in Germany at the time.


Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi

Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi
Updated 13 June 2024
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Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi

Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi
  • Pope Francis is the first pope to participate in G7 discussions
  • Pope will have a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will meet with the leaders of the United States, Ukraine, France and India, among others, on the sidelines of the Group of 7 (G7) summit in Italy, the Vatican said on Thursday.

Francis, who in January warned against the “perverse” dangers of artificial intelligence, is due to take part in leaders’ talks on the new technology on Friday.

He is the first pope to participate in G7 discussions.

Issuing a program for his one-day appearance, the Vatican said Francis would have a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden, a fellow Catholic.

The Vatican said he would also have one-on-one meetings with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, France’s Emmanuel Macron, India’s Narendra Modi, Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Turkiye’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kenya’s William Ruto,

Algeria’s Abdelmadjid Tebboune, and the head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva.

Francis and Biden met at the Vatican in 2021 and the president said the pope told him he was a “good Catholic” who can receive communion even as conservative US bishops wanted to deny it because of Biden’s support for abortion rights.

The two men also spoke in October last year about the crisis in the Middle East after Hamas’ attack on Israel.

Biden has spoken movingly of his respect for the pope, praising his empathy and calling him a “decent man.” They stay in touch, Biden has said.


Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti

Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti
Updated 13 June 2024
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Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti

Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti
  • Pro-Palestinian demonstrators barricaded the multistory Student Services Building
  • The university posted a “protest action alert” on its website

LOS ANGELES: A takeover of a building at California State University, Los Angeles, by demonstrators protesting Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, leaving the facility trashed and covered with graffiti, TV news reports showed.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators barricaded the multistory Student Services Building on Wednesday and workers inside were told to shelter in place, but it was empty by Thursday morning, said university spokesperson Erik Frost Hollins.
“What I can tell you, at the moment, is that the building is clear of employees and protesters and the building is secure,” said Frost Hollins, who did not immediately offer details on what occurred overnight.
The university posted a “protest action alert” on its website announcing that all main campus classes and operations would be remote until further notice and asking people to stay away.
Images from the scene showed graffiti on the building, furniture blocking doorways and overturned golf carts, picnic tables and umbrellas barricading the plaza out front.
The CSULA Gaza Solidarity Encampment, a group that has camped near the campus gym for about 40 days, sent an email indicating that members were staging a sit-in in the building, Hollins said.