Chants of ‘shame on you’ greet guests at White House correspondents’ dinner shadowed by war in Gaza

Chants of ‘shame on you’ greet guests at White House correspondents’ dinner shadowed by war in Gaza
A protester kneels near vests representing bulletproof press vests, symbolic of journalists who were killed while covering Israel' war on Gaza near the annual White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) Dinner in Washington, US, April 27, 2024. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 28 April 2024
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Chants of ‘shame on you’ greet guests at White House correspondents’ dinner shadowed by war in Gaza

Chants of ‘shame on you’ greet guests at White House correspondents’ dinner shadowed by war in Gaza
  • “Western media we see you, and all the horrors that you hide,” crowds chanted at one point

WASHINGTON: The war in Gaza spurred large protests outside a glitzy roast with President Joe Biden, journalists, politicians and celebrities Saturday but went all but unmentioned by participants inside, with Biden instead using the annual White House correspondents’ dinner to make both jokes and grim warnings about Republican rival Donald Trump’s fight to reclaim the U.S. presidency.
An evening normally devoted to presidents, journalists and comedians taking outrageous pokes at political scandals and each other often seemed this year to illustrate the difficulty of putting aside the coming presidential election and the troubles in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Biden opened his roast with a direct but joking focus on Trump, calling him “sleepy Don,” in reference to a nickname Trump had given the president previously.
Despite being similar in age, Biden said, the two presidential hopefuls have little else in common. “My vice president actually endorses me,” Biden said. Former Trump Vice President Mike Pence has refused to endorse Trump’s reelection bid.
But the president quickly segued to a grim speech about what he believes is at stake this election, saying that another Trump administration would be even more harmful to America than his first term.
“We have to take this serious — eight years ago we could have written it off as ‘Trump talk’ but not after January 6,” Biden told the audience, referring to the supporters of Trump who stormed the Capitol after Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election.
Trump did not attend Saturday's dinner and never attended the annual banquet as president. In 2011, he sat in the audience, and glowered through a roasting by then-President Barack Obama of Trump's reality-television celebrity status. Obama's sarcasm then was so scalding that many political watchers linked it to Trump's subsequent decision to run for president in 2016.
Biden’s speech, which lasted around 10 minutes, made no mention of the ongoing war or the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
One of the few mentions came from Kelly O’Donnell, president of the correspondents’ association, who briefly noted some 100 journalists killed in Israel's 6-month-old war against Hamas in Gaza. In an evening dedicated in large part to journalism, O’Donnell cited journalists who have been detained across the world, including Americans Evan Gershkovich in Russia and Austin Tice, who is believed to be held in Syria. Families of both men were in attendance as they have been at previous dinners.
To get inside Saturday's dinner, some guests had to hurry through hundreds of protesters outraged over the mounting humanitarian disaster for Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They condemned Biden for his support of Israel's military campaign and Western news outlets for what they said was undercoverage and misrepresentation of the conflict.
“Shame on you!” protesters draped in the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh cloth shouted, running after men in tuxedos and suits and women in long dresses holding clutch purses as guests hurried inside for the dinner.
“Western media we see you, and all the horrors that you hide,” crowds chanted at one point.
Other protesters lay sprawled motionless on the pavement, next to mock-ups of flak vests with “press” insignia.
Ralliers cried “Free, free Palestine." They cheered when at one point someone inside the Washington Hilton — where the dinner has been held for decades — unfurled a Palestinian flag from a top-floor hotel window.
Criticism of the Biden administration's support for Israel's military offensive in Gaza has spread through American college campuses, with students pitching encampments and withstanding police sweeps in an effort to force their universities to divest from Israel. Counterprotests back Israel's offensive and complain of antisemitism.
Biden’s motorcade Saturday took an alternate route from the White House to the Washington Hilton than in previous years, largely avoiding the crowds of demonstrators.
Saturday's event drew nearly 3,000 people. Celebrities included Academy Award winner Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Scarlett Johansson, Jon Hamm and Chris Pine.
Both the president and comedian Colin Jost, who spoke after Biden, made jabs at the age of both the candidates for president. “I’m not saying both candidates are old. But you know Jimmy Carter is out there thinking, ‘maybe I can win this thing,’” Jost said. “He’s only 99.”
Law enforcement, including the Secret Service, instituted extra street closures and other measures to ensure what Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said would be the “highest levels of safety and security for attendees.”
Protest organizers said they aimed to bring attention to the high numbers of Palestinian and other Arab journalists killed by Israel's military since the war began in October.
More than two dozen journalists in Gaza wrote a letter last week calling on their colleagues in Washington to boycott the dinner altogether.
“The toll exacted on us for merely fulfilling our journalistic duties is staggering," the letter stated. “We are subjected to detentions, interrogations, and torture by the Israeli military, all for the ‘crime’ of journalistic integrity.”
One organizer complained that the White House Correspondents' Association — which represents the hundreds of journalists who cover the president — largely has been silent since the first weeks of the war about the killings of Palestinian journalists. WHCA did not respond to a request for comment.
According to a preliminary investigation released Friday by the Committee to Protect Journalists, nearly 100 journalists have been killed covering the war in Gaza. Israel has defended its actions, saying it has been targeting militants.
“Since the Israel-Gaza war began, journalists have been paying the highest price — their lives — to defend our right to the truth. Each time a journalist dies or is injured, we lose a fragment of that truth,” CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna said in a statement.
Sandra Tamari, executive director of Adalah Justice Project, a U.S.-based Palestinian advocacy group that helped organize the letter from journalists in Gaza, said “it is shameful for the media to dine and laugh with President Biden while he enables the Israeli devastation and starvation of Palestinians in Gaza."
In addition, Adalah Justice Project started an email campaign targeting 12 media executives at various news outlets — including The Associated Press — expected to attend the dinner who previously signed onto a letter calling for the protection of journalists in Gaza.
“How can you still go when your colleagues in Gaza asked you not to?" a demonstrator asked guests heading in. "You are complicit.”
___ Associated Press writers Mike Balsamo, Aamer Madhani, Fatima Hussein and Tom Strong contributed to this report.


UN sees tripling of children killed in conflict in one year

Updated 19 sec ago
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UN sees tripling of children killed in conflict in one year

UN sees tripling of children killed in conflict in one year
Warring parties were increasingly “pushing beyond boundaries of what is acceptable — and legal,” UN rights chief Volker Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva
“Children shot at. Hospitals bombed. Heavy artillery launched on entire communities. All along with hateful, divisive, and dehumanizing rhetoric“

GENEVA: Global conflicts killed three times as many children and twice as many women in 2023 than in the previous year, as overall civilian fatalities swelled 72 percent, the UN said Tuesday.
Warring parties were increasingly “pushing beyond boundaries of what is acceptable — and legal,” United Nations rights chief Volker Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
They are showing “utter contempt for the other, trampling human rights at their core,” he said. “Killings and injuries of civilians have become a daily occurrence. Destruction of vital infrastructure a daily occurrence.”
“Children shot at. Hospitals bombed. Heavy artillery launched on entire communities. All along with hateful, divisive, and dehumanizing rhetoric.”
The UN rights chief said his office had gathered data indicating that last year, “the number of civilian deaths in armed conflict soared by 72 percent.”
“Horrifyingly, the data indicates that the proportion of women killed in 2023 doubled and that of children tripled, compared to the year prior,” he said.
In the Gaza Strip, Turk said he was “appalled by the disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law by parties to the conflict” and “unconscionable death and suffering.”
Since the war erupted after Hamas’s unprecedented attack inside Israel on October 7, he said “more than 120,000 people in Gaza, overwhelmingly women and children, have been killed or injured ... as a result of the intensive Israeli offensives.”
“Since Israel escalated its operations into Rafah in early May, almost one million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced yet again, while aid delivery and humanitarian access deteriorated further,” he said.
Turk also pointed to a range of other conflicts, including in Ukraine, the Democratic republic of Congo and Syria.
And in Sudan, in the grips of a more than year-long civil war, he warned the country “is being destroyed in front of our eyes by two warring parties and affiliated groups ... (who have) flagrantly cast aside the rights of their own people.”
Such devastation comes as funding to help the growing numbers of people in need is dwindling.
“As of the end of May 2024, the gap between humanitarian funding requirements and available resources stands at $40.8 billion,” Turk said.
“Appeals are funded at an average of 16.1 percent only,” he said.
“Contrast this with the almost $2.5 trillion in global military expenditure in 2023, a 6.8 percent increase in real terms from 2022,” Turk said, stressing that “this was the steepest year-on-year increase since 2009.”
“In addition to inflicting unbearable human suffering, war comes with a hefty price tag,” he said.

French court rules against Israeli ban from arms expo: lawyer

French court rules against Israeli ban from arms expo: lawyer
Updated 12 min 25 sec ago
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French court rules against Israeli ban from arms expo: lawyer

French court rules against Israeli ban from arms expo: lawyer
  • The decision by Coges Events to ban 74 Israeli exhibitors from Eurosatory was “discriminatory“

PARIS: A French court on Tuesday ordered organizers of a defense trade show to suspend a ban on Israeli firms, the lawyer for the Franco-Israeli chamber of commerce told AFP.
The Paris Commerce Tribunal said the decision by Coges Events to ban 74 Israeli exhibitors from Eurosatory was “discriminatory,” said the lawyer, Patrick Klugman.


Indonesian hospital resumes limited operations in north Gaza

Indonesian hospital resumes limited operations in north Gaza
Updated 19 min ago
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Indonesian hospital resumes limited operations in north Gaza

Indonesian hospital resumes limited operations in north Gaza
  • Indonesia Hospital was one of the first targets hit by Israeli attacks last year
  • Facility is still unable to perform major surgeries due to lack of equipment

JAKARTA: The Indonesia Hospital in Gaza has resumed limited operations, the nongovernmental organization that funded it said on Tuesday, months after the facility was severely damaged by a deadly Israeli siege and attacks.

The hospital in northern Gaza, a four-story building located near the Jabalia refugee camp, was built from donations organized by the Jakarta-based Medical Emergency Rescue Committee. 

It was one of the first targets hit by Israeli air raids in October and one of the last to remain operational until late last year. But Israeli bombardments forced staff and thousands of people seeking shelter on the hospital’s premises to move to Gaza’s south. 

“Praise be to God, the hospital has resumed operations under limited capacity,” MER-C Chairman Dr. Sarbini Murad told Arab News. 

“The Indonesia Hospital is relying on solar energy, but even solar is limited. Most of the medical equipment is damaged. The staff are making the most of what’s available because the most important thing is that the hospital can function to help the isolated residents of northern Gaza.” 

According to Murad, the medical facility began to resume some services last month and is now able to take in patients, although doctors still cannot perform major surgeries. 

“If a permanent ceasefire is implemented, hopefully (MER-C) can go there and begin repairing the hospital,” Murad said, adding that the facility may be the only one providing medical aid in north Gaza. 

For months, Palestinians in northern Gaza have been isolated from the rest of the besieged enclave and hit hardest by hunger as Israeli forces denied aid convoys entry to the area. 

In early November, the Israeli military said that Gaza-based militant group Hamas was using the Indonesia Hospital “to hide an underground command and control center.” 

The claim was immediately refuted by MER-C, which said that it was a “precondition to attack” the medical facility.

A few weeks later, Israeli tanks and snipers indeed laid siege to the hospital, severely damaging the building and destroying its equipment, as they turned it into a new base for their attacks.


Afghans spend Eid in poverty after fleeing Pakistan

Afghans spend Eid in poverty after fleeing Pakistan
Updated 18 June 2024
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Afghans spend Eid in poverty after fleeing Pakistan

Afghans spend Eid in poverty after fleeing Pakistan
  • Pakistan forcibly deported thousands of Afghans last year who were allegedly living in country without legal documents
  • War-ravaged Afghanistan deals with refugees returning as it reels from humanitarian, climate and economic crises

MOYE MUBARAK, Afghanistan: Seven months since fleeing Pakistan out of fear of deportation, Jan Mohammad marked the Eid Al-Adha holiday on Monday struggling to feed his family, still living in a tent in Afghanistan in the border province of Nangarhar.

“We are spending Eid as if we were in prison,” the 30-year-old father of six told AFP.

“We have absolutely no money. We are still grateful to Allah that we are alive but sometimes we regret that as well. We can’t do anything. This year, and this Eid, we became fully bankrupt.”

He and his family crossed from Pakistan at the end of last year, not long after a deadline set by Islamabad for Afghans without legal right to stay in the country to leave.

Hundreds of thousands Afghans have hurriedly packed up their belongings to start fresh in their homeland, a place many of them had never seen before, in the months since the November 1, 2023 deadline.

But months later, many have still not found their feet.

Mohammad and his family were living in a tent encampment in the Moye Mubarak area of Nangarhar with other recently returned Afghan families.

He worked as a trainer at a sports club in Pakistan but is now jobless, unable to provide sufficient food for his family, let alone take part in Eid Al-Adha traditions of buying new clothes or a sheep for the ritual sacrifice or gathering with extended family and friends.

“My children don’t have proper food to eat or clothes to wear (for Eid), or shoes, while the children in the nearby villages have good clothes and shoes. My children want the same things. It is very difficult but we are helpless,” Mohammad said.

“It breaks my heart, I sit in a corner at home and cry.”

In a nearby tent, Sang Bibi is also holding on by a thread. Where other families were buying new clothes for Eid, she and her six children can rarely wash and beg for hand-me-downs to wear.

“We even beg for the clothes of dead,” the 60-year-old widow, the sole breadwinner for her family, told AFP.

“We have been in a terrible situation these past two Eids,” she said, referring to Eid Al-Fitr, which fell at the end of the holy month of Ramadan in April this year.

The influx of returnees into Afghanistan from both Pakistan and Iran came as the war-ravaged country grapples with economic, climate and humanitarian crises.

UN refugee agency UNHCR said last year that Afghans make up the third-largest group of displaced people globally, with around eight million Afghans living across 103 countries as of 2023.

The Taliban government, which took power almost three years ago, provided some support for the returnees, but struggled to cope with the surge.

“We want the government to help us by providing shelter,” said Sana Gul, who has lived in a tent with her husband and their two daughters since coming from Pakistan.

In the days ahead of Eid, markets were bustling with shoppers buying sweets and food for the holiday, with many families sharing meat with poorer relations during the holiday.

But having spent years, if not their whole lives, abroad, fleeing Afghanistan’s successive conflicts, many returnees have few networks to support them.

“We don’t even have bread to eat,” said Gul’s husband Safar.


Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’

Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’
Updated 18 June 2024
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Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’

Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’
  • Manila's national task force on the West Philippine Sea later said the Chinese vessels had "engaged in dangerous manoeuvres, including ramming and towing"
  • This month, Manila accused Chinese boats of illegally seizing food and medicine airdropped to the Philippine outpost in the area

Manila: The Philippines said Tuesday one of its navy personnel was severely injured after the China Coast Guard rammed a Philippine vessel near Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.
"A Philippine Navy personnel sustained severe injury after the CCG's (China Coast Guard's) intentional high-speed ramming during the rotation and resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre (LS57) on June 17," a military statement said.
The shoal, which hosts a tiny Philippine garrison stationed on a deliberately beached old warship, has been a focus of escalating confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months as Beijing steps up efforts to push its claims to the disputed area.
Shortly after the incident, the Chinese coast guard reported that a Philippine resupply ship in the area had "ignored many solemn warnings from the Chinese side".
It "approached the... Chinese vessel in an unprofessional way, resulting in a collision", Beijing said, accusing the ship of having "illegally broken into the sea near Ren'ai Reef".
"The Chinese Coast Guard took control measures against the Philippine ship in accordance with the law," it added.
But the Philippine armed forces called China's version of events "misleading", decrying "the illegal presence and actions of Chinese vessels within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone".
Manila's national task force on the West Philippine Sea later said the Chinese vessels had "engaged in dangerous manoeuvres, including ramming and towing".
"Their actions put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats," it said.
In an update, the Philippine military on Tuesday made its first casualty report from the incident, adding that the injured navy personnel "has been safely evacuated and received prompt medical treatment".
It gave no details on the sailor's injury and also did not comment on news reports that a sailor had lost a finger and that Chinese personnel also boarded a Philippine vessel and seized several guns and inflatable boats.
The Second Thomas Shoal lies about 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometres from China's nearest major landmass, Hainan island.
Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines and an international ruling that its stance has no legal basis.
It deploys coast guard and other boats to patrol the waters and has turned several reefs into militarised artificial islands.
It has in recent months stepped up moves against Philippine vessels in the area around Second Thomas Shoal.
This month, Manila accused Chinese boats of illegally seizing food and medicine airdropped to the Philippine outpost in the area.
It was the first time supplies had been seized, the military said.
Chinese personnel on the boats later dumped the items in the water, Philippine Navy spokesman for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said.
It was not clear if they belonged to the Chinese coast guard or navy, the military said.
China in response insisted the Sierra Madre was illegally grounded on the reef and urged the Philippines to "stop making trouble".