Ukraine inches closer to EU dream after decade of war

Ukraine inches closer to EU dream after decade of war
The European Union agreed Friday, June 21, 2024, to start membership negotiations with embattled Ukraine and Moldova, another step in the nations’ long journey to move closer to the West and mute Russia’s influence. (AP)
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Updated 24 June 2024
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Ukraine inches closer to EU dream after decade of war

Ukraine inches closer to EU dream after decade of war
  • EU to launch accession talks with Ukraine on Tuesday
  • Start will cap Kyiv’s long campaign for closer ties

KYIV: A veteran of Ukraine’s 2014 revolution who is now fighting Russian forces, Yehor Sobolev knows the price of Kyiv’s decade-long drive to join the European Union as well as anyone.
Having backed tough reforms as a lawmaker after the pro-democracy uprising 10 years ago, he says he will look on proudly from the front as formal accession talks open on Tuesday.
“We Ukrainians know how to fulfil our dreams,” said the 47-year-old deputy commander of a special army unit.
The launch of talks, though largely ceremonial, is an important step for a nation that has spilled blood and pushed through the reforms required in its pursuit of EU membership.
“Ukraine is returning to Europe, where it has belonged for centuries, as a full-fledged member of the European community,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday.
Kyiv filed its request to join the EU days after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. It sees membership as validation of its fight to embrace European values.
It now faces a lengthy path to accession, and needs to overhaul a bureaucracy still riddled with vestiges of Soviet days.
The task will be complicated by the war with Russia that has no end in sight, with Ukrainian towns and cities under constant threat of Russian air strikes that have killed many civilians as well as soldiers, forced millions from their homes and damaged critical and energy infrastructure.
In many ways, Sobolev’s story is a picture of Ukraine’s trajectory over the past decade.
He was a prominent figure in the Maidan revolution that toppled a Russia-backed leader after protests triggered by him breaking a promise to develop closer ties with the EU.
Sobolev later worked on legislation that formed the foundation of Ukraine’s anti-corruption infrastructure, central to securing financial aid and backing for Kyiv’s integration with the EU.
He also co-authored a law aimed at erasing traces of Ukraine’s Soviet legacy and Russian influence by paving the way for the renaming of thousands of streets, towns and cities, and the removal of monuments.
In 2021, Sobolev donned a uniform and rose from a rank-and-file Ukrainian soldier to officer, as Russia broadened a war that Kyiv says began in 2014 after Moscow seized the Crimea peninsula and fueled an insurgency in the east.
“The top corrupt officials that we dealt with on the Maidan are the same kinds of leaders of the ‘Russian world’ like (President Vladimir) Putin,” he said.
“So for me it’s one war.”

LONG ROAD AHEAD
The accession talks are expected to start at a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday, days before Hungary, which has closer ties to Russia than other member states, takes over the EU’s six-month rotating presidency.
Ukraine cleared initial hurdles to accession in December by showing progress in fighting corruption and rebuilding its judiciary, among other areas the EU considers fundamental.
Now it must map out a more detailed plan to achieve lasting results that will be measured by a range of benchmarks, said Leonid Litra of the New Europe Center, a think tank in Kyiv.
It will later move on to fields ranging from agriculture and taxation to tackling climate change.
“If you want to have a merit-based and predictable process, you need to get a very clear to-do list,” he said.
Sobolev, a father of four, knows the road ahead will not be easy, citing old mentalities that are still firmly rooted in some parts of government.
But Ukrainians are likely become “much more serious students” of good governance as the prospect of joining the 27-nation bloc comes closer into focus, he said.
“In this sense, war forces a society to grow up,” he said.


Brazil slams ‘endless massacre’ in Gaza after bombings

Brazil slams ‘endless massacre’ in Gaza after bombings
Updated 20 sec ago
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Brazil slams ‘endless massacre’ in Gaza after bombings

Brazil slams ‘endless massacre’ in Gaza after bombings
  • Brazil in May withdrew its ambassador from Israel over the conflict, ratcheting up tensions after he earlier accused the country’s government of genocide

RIO DE JANEIRO: The government of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Sunday denounced Israeli strikes on southern Gaza, urging the world not to “remain silent in the face of this endless massacre.”
“The most recent bombing in the Gaza Strip, which claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent people, is unacceptable,” read a statement from the presidency.
The health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said at least 92 people were killed and 300 wounded in a Saturday strike on Al-Mawasi, an Israeli-designated “safe zone” on the Mediterranean coast.
The civil defense agency said another 20 were killed in an Israeli strike on a makeshift mosque at Al-Shati refugee camp in the territory’s north.
On Sunday, 15 were killed in a Gaza school sheltering those displaced by the war, according to the civil defense agency.
“It is appalling that they continue to collectively punish the Palestinian people. Tens of thousands have already died in successive attacks since last year, many of them in delimited humanitarian zones that should be protected,” said the statement.
“We, the political leaders of the democratic world, cannot remain silent in the face of this endless massacre.”
Hamas on Sunday decided to withdraw from Gaza ceasefire negotiations in the wake of the bombings.
Brazil in May withdrew its ambassador from Israel over the conflict, ratcheting up tensions after he earlier accused the country’s government of genocide.
Israel reacted furiously, declaring the Brazilian leader persona non grata.
The war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 42 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 38,584 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.


What the attempt on Donald Trump’s life means for US politics, foreign policy and the Middle East

What the attempt on Donald Trump’s life means for US politics, foreign policy and the Middle East
Updated 2 min 19 sec ago
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What the attempt on Donald Trump’s life means for US politics, foreign policy and the Middle East

What the attempt on Donald Trump’s life means for US politics, foreign policy and the Middle East
  • Presumptive Republican presidential nominee survived assassination bid at a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday
  • Analysts say the attack may generate sympathy and votes for Trump, put Democrats further at a disadvantage

LONDON/ATLANTA: Saudi Arabia led the Arab world’s condemnation on Sunday of the assassination attempt on the life of former US president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump, stressing its rejection of violence, sending condolences to the deceased, and wishing a speedy recovery for those injured.

The Kingdom affirmed its “complete solidarity with the US, the former US president and his family.”

The day before, the world was left in shock when Trump was shot during a campaign rally in Butler County, Pennsylvania.

Donald Trump is escorted by Secret Service agents away from the stage as his right ear bleeds after being hit by an assassin's bullet on Saturday in Butler, Pennsylvania. (AP)

The bullets wounded Trump in his right ear, killing a spectator and critically injuring two others. The former president was escorted off stage by a group of secret service agents while pumping his fist and shouting, “Fight! Fight!”

The shooter, who had positioned himself on a nearby rooftop, was reportedly killed by police snipers. But in that brief moment when he nearly assassinated the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Crooks succeeded in damaging the political future of Biden, placed the Democratic Party in a difficult dilemma, and possibly sowed the seeds of further political polarization.

World leaders immediately condemned the shooting. The leaders of dozens of countries and the UN denounced the assassination attempt and political violence overall.

Leaders from across the Arab world joined in these condemnations. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the “extremist and criminal act,” and Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs labeled the attack as “a direct assault on democratic values.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi denounced the attack and hoped that the election campaigns would continue in a peaceful manner.Qatar’s foreign ministry also condemned the attack, stressing “the need to pursue dialogue and peaceful means and avoid political violence and hatred to overcome differences at all levels.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also condemned the shooting in a message from Ramallah.

Arab Americans from the left and right of the political spectrum spoke out against the failed assassination attempt.

“There is a lot we don’t know. But what we do know is that violent rhetoric can give rise to violent behavior. We need to take action and that violence is never the way to resolve political differences,” Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington, told Arab News earlier on Sunday.

Current US president Joe Biden, who is also Trump’s opponent in the upcoming elections, posted on X that “There’s no place for this kind of violence in America. We must unite as one nation to condemn it.”

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP)

Multiple replies to Biden’s post accused him of stirring anti-Trump rhetoric, with many going so far as to blame him for the shooting.

Some are questioning how the shooter, whom the FBI have identified as 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks of Pennsylvania, managed to carry out his attempt on Trump’s life in the presence of secret service agents and police snipers.

“There are serious questions that have to be answered on how the gunman was allowed an unobstructed line of shot, from a nearby rooftop, under 200 meters from the stage on which the former president was standing,” Oubai Shahbandar, a defense analyst and former Pentagon Middle East adviser, told Arab News from Washington, D.C.

Little is known about the shooter. State voter records show him as a registered Republican, though he had previously donated to a liberal political action committee as a teenager. Nothing is known about Crooks’ motives, and so far, law enforcement and Crooks’ own family have been silent on the subject.

Regardless of the motivations behind the shooting, many political analysts now believe that the assassination attempt will likely bolster Trump’s chances of winning the upcoming election.

“The image of President Trump, wiping the blood streaking across his face away, while defiantly raising his fist in the air and yelling ‘fight! fight!’ and the crowd roaring back ‘USA!’, is nothing short of historic. This will no doubt resonate with voters who contrast it with Biden’s apparent lethargy,” Shahbandar said.

Biden’s chances were already dampened by the June 27 presidential debate, where he was perceived widely to have performed very poorly. Biden appeared to ramble and struggle to speak at certain points, failing to match Trump’s energy and focus. A New York Times/Siena College poll found that after the debate, Trump led Biden 49 to 41 percent among registered voters.

“The assassination attempt targeting President Trump in fact struck the political future and the candidacy of President Biden and his campaign. The Democrats will be in a very difficult position moving forward. President Trump will garner a lot of sympathy,” Firas Maksad, senior director for strategic outreach at the Middle East Institute, told Arab News from Washington, D.C.

“It will be very difficult for the Democrats to continue to rely on attacking President Trump personally in their campaign. I also think that President Biden is mortally wounded. They will either have to replace him. If they are unsuccessful in doing so, they are heading to almost certain political defeat in the polls in November.”

According to Zach D. Huff, a Middle East expert and Republican political consultant who assisted President Trump’s 2020 re-election effort in Nevada, “Joe Biden’s loss is a given.”

“Regional powers now have time to try to factor in the impact of President Trump’s nearly guaranteed win,” he told Arab News from Dubai.

The impact of the assassination attempt may have ramifications far beyond Pennsylvania, or even the US.

Shahbandar, the defense analyst, said that “by all objective measures, the likelihood of a Trump return to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is now incredibly high. And that will likely be met with wide support among senior leadership in the Middle East who are eager to engage a team they are well familiar with.”

Huff believes America’s rivals such as Iran and China will be “left guessing what Trump will do to repel their influence.”

“Hamas and Hezbollah could feel pressure to conclude their best possible deal while Biden is around, before Trump wins. They are unlikely to seek an escalation that could easily last into the next US administration,” he said.

As for Biden’s attempts to bring about a Saudi Arabia-Israel normalization, Huff said “the window has already closed, with no time left for the US Senate to ratify an agreement,” adding: “Saudi Arabia will probably find better terms under Trump and may feel less pressure to normalize ties with regional adversaries.”

The history of Trump’s approach to US relations Middle East countries is a checkered one, sometimes focusing on diplomacy and deals and, at other times, focusing on military force.

His first foreign trip in office in May 2017 was to Saudi Arabia, and he maintained warm relations with the Kingdom throughout his term.

In 2020, he facilitated the signing of the Abraham Accords, a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and the UAE and Israel and Bahrain. Morocco and Sudan followed suit the next year.

Trump faced criticism, however, for some of his Middle East policy decisions. In 2017 the then-president ordered a series of “precision” strikes on a Syrian airbase, drawing the ire of Russia and Iran. The decision was taken in retaliation for a chemical attack by the Syrian regime in which dozens of civilians were killed.

Children greet a US soldier atop a Bradley Fighting Vehicle as US troops patrol in the Syrian town of al-Jawadiyah, in the northeastern Hasakeh province, near the border with Turkey, on Dec.17, 2020. (AFP)

Just two years later, in October 2019, Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, where they had been supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

This decision was strongly condemned in a 354-60 vote in the US House of Representatives, as just days after the withdrawal, a Turkish incursion into the region led to the deaths of hundreds and displacement of 300,000 civilians.

Fighters and veterans from the Kurdish women's protection units (YPJ) and the people's protection units (YPG) march in front of the UN headquarters in the northern Kurdish Syrian city of Qamishli during a protest against Turkish threats in the Kurdish region, on October 8, 2019. (AFP)

Huff highlighted Trump’s 2024 policy platform, which calls for peace in the Middle East, support for Israel, and the rebuilding of “our alliance network in the region to ensure a future of peace, stability, and prosperity.”

“A key question is how far that alliance network will reach,” he said.

“Will it include the Kurds, who hold the line against Iran, and who prevent a return of Daesh? Could it include Qatar and Turkey?”

Going forward, two US lawmakers intend to introduce bipartisan legislation providing President Biden, Trump and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. with enhanced Security Service protection.

The new law could give Donald Trump, Joe Biden and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy Jr enhanced Secret Service protection. “Anything less would be a disservice to our democracy,” Congressmen Ritchie Torres and Mike Lawler said on Sunday.
 

 


Former fire chief who died at Trump rally used his body to shield family from gunfire

Former fire chief who died at Trump rally used his body to shield family from gunfire
Updated 14 July 2024
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Former fire chief who died at Trump rally used his body to shield family from gunfire

Former fire chief who died at Trump rally used his body to shield family from gunfire
  • At least two other people were injured during the attempt to kill Trump at Saturday’s rally in Butler, Pennsylvania

BUFFALO TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania: The former fire chief who was killed at a Pennsylvania rally for Donald Trump spent his final moments diving in front of his family to protect them from gunfire that rang out Saturday during an assassination attempt against the former president.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro confirmed Sunday that Corey Comperatore, 50, had died a “hero,” using his body as a shield to protect both his wife and daughter from the bullets.
“His wife shared with me that he dove on his family to protect them,” Shapiro said.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden extended their “deepest condolences” to Comperatore’s family.
“He was a father. He was protecting his family from the bullets that were being fired and he lost his life, God love him. We’re also praying for the full recovery of those who were injured,” Biden said.
At least two other people were injured during the attempt to kill Trump at Saturday’s rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. Those two have been identified as David Dutch, 57, of New Kensington, Pennsylvania and James Copenhaver, 74, of Moon Township, Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania State Police. Both were listed in stable condition as of Sunday.
Separately, Texas US Rep. Ronny Jackson said in a statement Sunday that his nephew was injured but “thankfully his injury was not serious.”
“My family was sitting in the front, near where the President was speaking,” Jackson said. “They heard shots ringing out — my nephew then realized he had blood on his neck and something had grazed and cut his neck. He was treated by the providers in the medical tent.”
The Secret Service said it killed the suspected shooter, who attacked from an elevated position outside the rally venue.
The former president was showing off a chart of border-crossing numbers when at least five shots were fired. Trump was seen holding his ear and got down on the ground. Agents quickly created a shield around him. When he stood, his face bloodied, he pumped his fist to cheering supporters
Randy Reamer, president of the Buffalo Township volunteer fire company, called Comperatore “a stand-up guy” and “a true brother of the fire service.” He said Comperatore served as chief of the company for about three years but was also a life member, meaning he had served for more than 20 years.
“Just a great all-around guy, always willing to help someone out,” Reamer said of Comperatore. “He definitely stood up for what he believed in, never backed down to anyone. … He was a really good guy.”
A crew was power-washing the front of the Buffalo Township Volunteer Fire Company on Sunday with plans to install memorial drapery to honor the slain former chief.
Assistant Chief Ricky Heasley of Sarver, who knew him for more than a decade, remembered him as very outgoing and full of life.
“He never had a bad word,” Heasley said.
A GoFundMe launched to support Comperatore’s family had already surpassed more than $180,000 in donations as of Sunday.


China, Russia start joint naval drills

China, Russia start joint naval drills
Updated 14 July 2024
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China, Russia start joint naval drills

China, Russia start joint naval drills
  • The joint drills came on the heels of China’s latest tensions with NATO allies last week

BEIJING: China and Russia’s naval forces on Sunday kicked off a joint exercise at a military port in southern China, official news agency Xinhua reported, days after NATO allies called Beijing a “decisive enabler” of the war in Ukraine.
The Chinese Defense Ministry said in a brief statement forces from both sides recently patrolled the western and northern Pacific Ocean and that the operation had nothing to do with international and regional situations and didn’t target any third party.

FASTFACT

The exercise aimed to demonstrate the capabilities of the navies in addressing security threats and preserving peace and stability globally and regionally.

The exercise, which began in Guangdong province on Sunday and is expected to last until mid-July, aimed to demonstrate the capabilities of the navies in addressing security threats and preserving peace and stability globally and regionally, state broadcaster CCTV reported Saturday, adding it would include anti-missile exercises, sea strikes and air defense.
Xinhua News Agency reported the Chinese and Russian naval forces carried out on-map military simulation and tactical coordination exercises after the opening ceremony in the city of Zhanjiang.
The joint drills came on the heels of China’s latest tensions with NATO allies last week.
The sternly worded final communiqué, approved by the 32 NATO members at their summit in Washington, made clear that China is becoming a focus of the military alliance, calling Beijing a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The European and North American members and their partners in the Indo-Pacific increasingly see shared security concerns coming from Russia and its Asian supporters, especially China.
In response, China accused NATO of seeking security at the expense of others and told the alliance not to bring the same “chaos” to Asia. Its Foreign Ministry maintained that China has a fair and objective stance on the war in Ukraine.

 


Niger says ‘large number’ of prison escapees caught, 3 killed

Niger says ‘large number’ of prison escapees caught, 3 killed
Updated 14 July 2024
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Niger says ‘large number’ of prison escapees caught, 3 killed

Niger says ‘large number’ of prison escapees caught, 3 killed
  • Authorities had ordered a curfew after the escape without specifying the number of fugitives

NIAMEY: Niger has recaptured “a large number” of detainees who escaped from a high-security prison near the capital Niamey, the army said, adding that three of the “dozens” of escapees had been killed.
The jailbreak occurred on Thursday at the Koutoukale Prison that houses many insurgents who have targeted the West African nation for years.
In a statement, the army said a mutiny broke out at the prison, with “several dozens of inmates taking advantage of the situation to escape.”
“Thanks to a rapid and efficient response ... A large number of the fugitives were caught,” it said, without providing details.
It added that three “armed terrorists” were killed and that searches were underway “to find the remaining escapees” in a populated area around the Niger River.
Authorities had ordered a curfew after the escape without specifying the number of fugitives.
Koutoukale Prison is in the Tillaberi region, a vast and unstable border area of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso that is prone to attacks by rebels linked to the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda groups.
Niger is ruled by a military junta that seized power in a July 2023 coup, citing a worsening security situation as justification for the power grab.
The army also said that six soldiers were killed in a jihadist attack Wednesday in the neighboring Tahoua region.
It said “22 terrorists” had been killed in subsequent operations in Tillaberi between Thursday and Saturday.