The New York Times 2024-02-02 16:25:29


Widening Mideast Crisis: Israel Suggests Military Could Advance on Southern Area Crowded With Civilians

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Gaza City Feb. 2, 6:18 p.m.

Israel’s defense minister signals the army could push toward Gaza’s southernmost point.

Israel’s defense minister has signaled that Israeli ground forces could advance on Rafah — one of the last southern Gaza cities that Israeli ground forces have not yet reached — raising concerns in a corner of the enclave where hundreds of thousands of people have crowded for shelter from the war.

“We are completing the mission in Khan Younis, and we will reach Rafah as well, and eliminate every terrorist there who threatens to harm us,” the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said during a visit to troops in Khan Younis, according to footage distributed by his office late Thursday.

It was not clear whether Mr. Gallant’s comments reflected an immediate military objective or were intended more as a signal of resolve both to the Israeli public and to Hamas as Israel awaits the armed group’s response to a proposed initial framework for a cease-fire and release of more Israeli hostages from Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel will continue fighting Hamas in Gaza until “complete victory,” even as he faces rising domestic pressure to make a deal to free the hostages and international calls to ease the fighting and limit harm to civilians.

Thousands of Palestinians have fled south in recent days to escape the fighting in Khan Younis and central Gaza, many with just the clothes they were wearing. The United Nations has described dire conditions in Khan Younis, where Israel has engaged in intense urban fighting as it says it is trying to kill or capture Hamas leaders it believes are hiding in and beneath the city in an extensive network of tunnels.

Roughly half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have crammed into the area surrounding Rafah, a city at the enclave’s southern border where about 200,000 lived before the war, the United Nations said on Friday.

Israel’s stated goal of toppling Hamas’s rule in Gaza would most likely require at least some of its forces to enter Rafah to attack the group’s network there.

If Israel were to advance on Rafah, it is not clear how it would provide for the safety of civilians, many of whom have fled multiple times as Israel has called for evacuations of areas it intended to target.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the agency was deeply concerned about escalating combat in Khan Younis and the rise in displaced Gazans fleeing for Rafah.

“Rafah is a pressure cooker of despair, and we fear for what comes next,” Mr. Laerke told journalists in Geneva on Friday.

Severe constraints on deliveries of supplies like food, water and medicine, and escalating levels of disease have increased the sense of desperation, Mr. Laerke said. “Every week we think it can’t get any worse,” he added. “Well, go figure, it gets worse.”

Mr. Netanyahu has said that Israel must take control of a strip of land along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt to defeat Hamas. The move could effectively cut Egypt off from Gaza, potentially weakening Egypt’s regional role and bringing the fighting directly to its border.

Egyptian officials have said that Israeli military control of the land corridor would violate agreements between the two sides.

“It must be strictly emphasized that any Israeli move in this direction will lead to a serious threat to Egyptian-Israeli relations,” Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian government spokesman, said in late January.

How closely does Iran controls the militias it backs? It depends.

Iran projects its military power through dozens of armed groups across the Middle East, but how much does it control their actions?

That question has taken on new urgency as the United States considers its next steps after an attack by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia on an American base in northwest Jordan. The attack on Sunday killed three soldiers and injured dozens of others.

Iranian-backed groups have varying histories and relationships with Tehran, but all share Iran’s desire for the U.S. military to leave the region, and for Israel’s power to be reduced. Iranian rhetoric, echoed by its allied groups, often goes further, calling for the elimination of the Israeli state.

Like Iran, most of the allied groups follow the Shiite branch of Islam. The exception is Hamas, whose members are predominantly Sunni Muslims.

Iran has provided weapons, training, financing and other support to the groups, particularly to those in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, according to evidence obtained through weapons seizures, after-action forensics, foreign asset tracing and intelligence gathering. Some training is outsourced to Hezbollah in Lebanon, according to U.S. and international experts.

More recently, Iran has also been enabling the militias to obtain some weapons parts on their own, and to manufacture or retrofit some weapons themselves, according to officials in the Middle East and the U.S. In addition, most of the groups, like Hamas, have their own extensive money-making enterprises, which include both legal activities like construction and illegal ventures like kidnapping and drug smuggling.

Despite its support for the militias, Iran does not necessarily control where and when they attack Western and Israeli targets, according to many Middle Eastern and European experts, as well as U.S. intelligence officials. It does influence the groups and at least in some cases seems able to halt strikes. Each militia, however, also has its own agenda, depending on its home country.

The Houthi movement, for example, had battlefield success in Yemen’s civil war and controls part of the country. But now, unable to feed their people or create jobs, they are showing strength and prowess to their domestic audience by taking on major powers, attacking shipping headed to and from the Suez Canal, and drawing retaliatory strikes by the United States and its allies.

That has allowed the Houthis to claim the mantle of solidarity with Palestinians, and also aligns the group with Iran’s goal of poking at Israel and its chief ally, the United States.

By contrast, Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has the longest-standing ties to Iran, is part of the Lebanese government. Its decisions about when and how much to attack Israel take into account the risks of Israeli reprisals on Lebanese civilians. A 2020 U.S. Department of State report estimated that Iran’s support for Hezbollah was $700 million annually at that time.

Weapons provided to the groups run the gamut from light arms to rockets, ballistic and cruise missiles — and an array of increasingly sophisticated drones, said Michael Knights of the Washington Institute, who has tracked the proxies for many years.

Iran has been providing smaller direct cash subsidies to its proxies in recent years, in part, experts say, because it is financially squeezed by U.S. and international sanctions.

In addition to direct aid, some of the groups have received in-kind funding like oil, which can be sold or, as in the case of the Houthis, thousands of AK-47s that can also be put on the market, according to a November report from the United Nations.

One Yemeni political analyst, Hisham al-Omeisy, speaking of the Houthis, said: “They’re very well backed by the Iranians, but they’re not puppets on a string. They’re not Iran’s stooges.”

Much the same could be said of other groups.

Iran itself sends different messages about the militias to different audiences, said Mohammed al-Sulami, who runs Rasanah, an Iran-focused research organization based in Saudi Arabia, which has long sparred with Iran for regional influence.

When speaking to domestic and Middle Eastern audiences, Iran tends to portray what it calls the “Axis of Resistance” as being under its leadership and control, and part of its regional strategy. But when addressing Western audiences, Iran often contends that while the groups share similar views, the Islamic Republic is not directing them, Mr. al-Sulami said.

“Iran is very smart in using this gray zone to maneuver,” he said.

Vivian Nereim contributed reporting from Saudi Arabia,

Some far-right Israelis denounce the U.S. sanctions, while some Arabs say they’re not enough.

Among Israeli and Palestinian leaders, reactions to Biden administration sanctions against West Bank settlers fell predictably along ethnic and ideological lines. Far-right Jewish nationalists denounced the penalties as unjust as Arabs said they did not go far enough.

The sanctions announced on Thursday came in response to violence by Jewish settler extremists, which has increased sharply in recent months.

“4 settlers?! Pathetic,” Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli Parliament, wrote on X. “What about the Government who adopt them?”

At the other end of the spectrum, settler leaders as well as ultranationalist lawmakers, including Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, both cabinet members in the governing coalition, insisted that it was the settlers, not the Palestinians they live near, who were victims.

“The ‘settler violence’ campaign is an anti-Semitic lie spread by Israel’s enemies,” Mr. Smotrich wrote on X, though such violence has been amply documented.

Yossi Dagan, who leads a regional settler council in the northern West Bank, said in a statement that he expected the Biden administration to take similar steps against the Arab residents who threw stones at settlers, and who, he claimed, routinely “try to murder Jews.” He focused on the small number of Israelis placed under sanctions relative to the hundreds of thousands of settlers, though many more have been implicated in the violence.

Mouin Dmeidi, the mayor of the Palestinian town of Huwara — which was devastated by a mass settler attack last February — praised the action from Washington and said he hoped other countries would follow suit. “This is the first time in a long time that we’ve seen an American decision that helps us Palestinians,” Mr. Dmeidi said in a phone interview.

Much of the world considers the settlements on land Israel conquered in the 1967 war to be illegal, and settlers — who refer to the land by the Biblical names Judea and Samaria — generally support Israel’s annexation of some or all of the West Bank and oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

To Palestinians, the settlements are nothing less than land grabs that carve up the West Bank in a way that leaves both present-day life for many Arabs and a hoped-for future state untenable.

They say that extremist settlers have been emboldened by the current government, the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israel’s history, which has placed people like Mr. Ben-Gvir and Mr. Smotrich, who were once considered part of the right’s extreme fringe, in powerful positions.

At the highest official levels on both sides, the response to the sanctions was relatively muted.

A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said: “The vast majority of residents in Judea and Samaria are law-abiding citizens, many of whom are fighting these days as conscripts and in the reserves for the defense of Israel. Israel acts against lawbreakers everywhere, so there is no need for exceptional steps in this matter.”

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision, saying it advanced “the interests of peace in the region.”

The mostly centrist Israeli opposition was largely silent about the sanctions, avoiding a politically touchy subject. Settlers and their supporters are a powerful force in Israeli politics, gaining strength as successive governments expanded and encouraged settlements.

The opposition’s leaders have wanted to keep the focus on the war in the Gaza Strip against Hamas, and on the government failures that preceded it.

Who are the four Israelis placed under U.S. sanctions?

President Biden imposed financial sanctions on Thursday against four Israelis accused of escalating violence against civilians, intimidating civilians or destroying property in the West Bank.

In a statement, the State Department said, “The United States has consistently opposed actions that undermine stability in the West Bank and the prospects of peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Here’s what we know about the four men, who range in age from 21 to 32.

David Chai Chasdai, 29

Mr. Chasdai led a riot on the Palestinian town of Huwara, the State Department said, which resulted in the death of a Palestinian civilian. The New York Times reported on a rampage in Huwara and neighboring villages on Feb. 26, 2023, that started after two settlers were shot and killed. Israeli settlers burned and vandalized homes, businesses and vehicles, and one Palestinian was killed.

Reached by phone on Friday, Mr. Chasdai’s mother, Dafna Chasdai, dismissed the impact of the sanctions, saying that the family does not have relatives in the United States and that the “whole thing is a joke.”

After the Huwara violence, Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, signed an administrative detention warrant — a policy of indefinite imprisonment without trial that Israel almost exclusively uses against Palestinians — for Mr. Chasdai, according to the Israeli news media. A few days later, a court shortened his detention by a month.

He was sentenced to six months in jail in 2016 for planning to carry out an attack, when he and another person were found outside Beit Iksa, a Palestinian village, with fuel bottles and a club.

In 2013, Mr. Chasdai was detained for assaulting a taxi driver, according to an Israeli legal database. He was represented in court by Itamar Ben-Gvir, a lawyer and politician who now serves as Israel’s minister of national security. The court decided not to extend Mr. Chasdai’s detention, as requested by the police, citing a lack of evidence.

Yinon Levi, 31

The State Department said that Mr. Levi was from Meitarim Farm, an illegal Israeli settlement in the southern West Bank, and that he had led settler groups “that assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, threatened them with additional violence if they did not leave their homes, burned their fields and destroyed their property.”

The Israeli Supreme Court is hearing a case brought by Palestinians living near Hebron that alleges that on Oct. 16, Mr. Levi, accompanied by Israeli soldiers, entered the Palestinian village of Susiya on a tractor and participated in the destruction of olive trees, crops and water wells, prompting residents to flee the village.

The petitioners say the demolitions were unauthorized, and they filed the suit asking for immediate steps to halt evictions of Palestinians. The Supreme Court has ordered Israel’s military and police to respond by Monday with information on the investigative actions it has taken to stop such evictions and to provide details on steps taken against suspects, including Mr. Levi.

Mr. Levi’s wife, Sapir Levi, declined to comment on Friday.

Einan Tanjil, 21

Mr. Tanjil was described by the State Department as being involved with “assaulting Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists by attacking them with stones and clubs, resulting in injuries that required medical treatment.” He could not immediately be reached for comment.

He was charged in 2021 with assaulting an Israeli activist, Neta Ben Porat, a high-tech sector worker and mother of three, according to a Facebook post by Mehazkim, an Israeli center-left political page.

The post said that Mr. Tanjil had been charged with hitting her in the head and legs with a club when she and other Israeli activists were helping Palestinian farmers harvest olives near Surif, a Palestinian town in the West Bank.

Shalom Zicherman, 32

Mr. Zicherman assaulted Israeli activists and their vehicles in the West Bank, the State Department said, citing video evidence. He cornered at least two of the activists and injured them both, the statement added.

Mr. Zicherman threw stones at the vehicle of Israeli left-wing activists outside the Palestinian area of Masfar Yata, wounding one of them and breaking the car’s window, according to a video filmed by an activist.

A lawyer for Mr. Zicherman said he would not comment on the sanctions.

Belgium summons Israel’s ambassador after its development office in Gaza is ‘destroyed.’

Belgium’s foreign minister said late Thursday that the offices of the country’s development agency in Gaza had been “bombarded and destroyed” and that the Israeli ambassador was being summoned to explain.

The foreign minister, Hadja Lahbib, did not say directly that Israel was responsible for the offices’ destruction, but she said that the Israeli ambassador had been called in to “clarify everything.”

“Targeting civilian buildings is unacceptable,” she said in a post on social media. Israel’s foreign ministry confirmed the Israeli ambassador had been summoned and said the matter was “being looked into.”

Since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that Israel says left about 1,200 people dead, the Israeli military has been pummeling Gaza from the air and via a ground invasion. Strikes have left large parts of Gaza a wasteland, with the United Nations reporting damage to about 60 percent of the buildings there.

The Israeli military has claimed that the damage is primarily the fault of Hamas, saying that the militant group’s facilities are near civilian infrastructure and that its fighters frequently operate from residential blocks.

Belgium’s development agency, Enabel, supports educational, economic and other initiatives in Gaza and the West Bank, according to its website. It has been working in the Palestinian territories since 1997.

The I.M.F. warns of broader economic damage the longer the war endures.

A protracted war in Gaza could have spillover effects that could weigh on the economies of the broader Middle East and further disrupt global trade flows, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, said on Thursday.

“It is not negligible, but it is not yet a major, major risk,” Ms. Georgieva said, adding that her primary concerns are the affect of the conflict on Lebanon and Egypt and the prospect of the conflict widening. “The longer it goes, the higher the risk of spillovers.”

The I.M.F. upgraded its outlook for global growth this week but pointed to the possibility of an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East as a potential risk to the global economy that could drive up energy prices and fuel more inflation. Thus far the impact of the war on the global economy has been limited, but the I.M.F. noted both a decline in tourism in the region and the sharp drop in cargo traveling through the Suez Canal following a spate of attacks by the Houthis, an armed Yemeni group that is backed by Iran.

“It just adds anxiety that is with us as long as the conflict is with us,” Ms. Georgieva said.

The International Monetary Fund is a global financial institution created in the aftermath of World War II that monitors and works to stabilize troubled national economies.

Ms. Georgieva said that cargo traveling through the Suez Canal was down more than 40 percent so far this year, noting that it takes cargo ships additional time to reroute around the Cape of Good Hope. She said those shipping disruptions had been compounded by a drought in the area of the Panama Canal, which has caused cargo delays there.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the conflict, energy prices have remained relatively stable in recent months, and the I.M.F. continues to expect the oil prices to decline this year and in 2025, the institution said in a report this week.

Iran has slowed down production of enriched uranium, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog says.

In another indication that Iran may be seeking to de-escalate its confrontation with the United States, United Nations nuclear inspectors are seeing some signs that Tehran is lifting its foot, if just a bit, on the acceleration of its nuclear program.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview that Iran was still adding to its supply of uranium enriched to 60 percent purity — which can rapidly be further enriched to the level needed to produce nuclear weapons. But the surge in production that began just after the Israeli military action in Gaza in response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack appears to have abated, he said.

“There is a bit of a slowing down,” Mr. Grossi said, adding, “They are still adding to the stockpile but more slowly.”

Mr. Grossi has been engaged in years of jousting with Iran over the restrictions it has placed on inspectors, and its dismantling of cameras and other sensors at key locations in the country’s now vast — and dispersed — nuclear fuel production program.

Divining Iran’s intentions from its enriched uranium production is difficult, but over the years the rate has been more closely linked to the level of tension in Iran’s relationships with the United States and Israel than it has been with the technical necessities of production.

In recent days, after a drone attack linked to an Iran-allied group killed three American service members in Jordan, Tehran has repeatedly signaled that it does not want a direct confrontation with the United States.

On Tuesday, the Iran-backed militia that appears responsible for the drone attack, Kata’ib Hezbollah, or Brigades of the Party of God, said it was giving in to pressure from Iran and Iraq to cease targeting American forces. The militia is the largest and most established of the Iran-linked groups operating in Iraq.

It is not clear precisely when the slowdown in uranium production began, but it appears Iran has grown concerned that its nuclear enrichment program could become a major military target. Israel has regularly run exercises to simulate bombing it, and the United States engaged in actions for more than 15 years to sabotage the program.

Iran has denied that its goal is to produce a nuclear weapon, and so far intelligence officials have said there is no evidence it is racing to produce one.

Iranian authorities appear to have carefully calibrated their enrichment activities to stay just below the threshold of weapons-grade material. That is usually defined as uranium enriched to 90 percent purity, but it is possible to build weapons with fuel enriched somewhat below that level.

Last November, the I.A.E.A. reported that the country had 128 kilograms of 60 percent enriched uranium. Starting in June, Iran reduced its production dramatically, in what appeared to be a quiet signal to the United States. But production surged in December, and only recently slowed again.

None of these variations affect the larger picture: Iran now has more uranium that is close to bomb grade than it has in years, after a 2015 nuclear agreement forced it to give up 97 percent of its stockpile. President Trump withdrew from that accord in 2018, triggering the current buildup. In addition, Iran has begun to build underground facilities that are harder to bomb.

Cobblers are in demand as shoes become scarce in Gaza.

As displaced Gazans move from place to place to flee the war, their shoes have taken a beating, and some people have even been walking barefoot. Fixing shoes is cheaper and simpler than buying anything new, putting cobblers’ work in high demand.

But without equipment or electricity, cobblers have been working by hand, setting up makeshift stalls on the street in Rafah, in southern Gaza, with only needles, thread and some basic tools.

In the West Bank, Palestinians Struggle to Adjust to a New Reality

Yara Bayoumy and

Reporting from multiple cities in the West Bank

At one of the main checkpoints between the West Bank and Jerusalem, only two of four lanes were open recently and the hours of operation were shortened to 12 hours a day.

What You Can Still Complain About in Russia: A Cat Thrown From a Train

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The tragedy gripped Russia for days. Federal lawmakers convened a special committee and an investigation was launched, as hundreds of volunteers searched for the victim in subzero temperatures, and state news media ran live updates on the fallout.

Eventually, the victim — Twix the cat — was found dead.

A national outcry over the demise of a pet who was mistakenly thrown from a long-distance train by an attendant has highlighted both the limits of and the demand for an emotional outlet in wartime Russia.

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Cleaning Latrines by Hand: ‘How Could Any Human Do That?’

When he came to fully realize exactly what his parents and older brother did for a living, and what it likely meant for his own future, Bezwada Wilson says he was so angry he contemplated suicide.

His family members, and his broader community, were manual scavengers, tasked with cleaning by hand human excrement from dry latrines at a government-run gold mine in southern India.

While his parents had tried hard to hide from their youngest child the nature of their work as long as they could — telling Mr. Bezwada they were sweepers — as a student Mr. Bezwada knew his classmates viewed him with cruel condescension. He just didn’t know the reason.

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Pigeon Collared as a Possible Chinese Spy Is Freed After 8 Months

Suspicion of foreign espionage, cursive messages in ancient Chinese, a sensitive microchip — and a suspect that could not be stopped at the border.

Ravindar Patil, the assistant Mumbai police sub-inspector assigned to the case, was scratching his head for answers. But first, he had to find a place to lock up the unusual captive.

So he turned to a veterinary hospital in the Indian metropolis, asking it to retrieve a list of “very confidential and necessary” information about the suspect — a black pigeon caught lurking at a port where international vessels dock.

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China and the U.S. Are Talking, but Their Détente Has Limits

China and the United States are back at the negotiating table. Whether they can agree on much is another matter.

In Bangkok, China’s top diplomat last week discussed North Korea and Iran with President Biden’s national security adviser. Days later, in Beijing, officials restarted long-stalled talks on curbing the flow of fentanyl to the United States. And the White House says Mr. Biden plans to speak by phone with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in the spring.

The developments point to a tentative détente struck by Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi at a summit near San Francisco in November — and both the potential and the limitations of that thaw in relations. Even as the world’s two superpowers are working to manage frictions, the diplomacy has also exposed the chasm at the heart of the tensions: how to define the relationship.

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El Salvador’s Strongman Is Set to Ride a Landslide Past Checks and Balances

Reporting from Soyapango, El Salvador

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El Salvador’s government has jailed thousands of innocent people, suspended key civil liberties indefinitely and flooded the streets with soldiers. Now the president overseeing it all, Nayib Bukele, is being accused of violating the constitution by seeking re-election.

Fire From Explosion of Gas-Laden Vehicle Kills at Least 3 in Nairobi

A vehicle loaded with gas exploded and set off an inferno that burned homes and warehouses in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, early Friday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 270, with the death toll expected to rise.

Many residents were likely inside their homes when the fire reached their houses late in the night in the city’s Embakasi neighborhood, said Isaac Mwaura, a government spokesman.

The truck explosion ignited a huge fireball, and a flying gas cylinder set off a fire that burned down the Oriental Godown, a warehouse that handles garments and textiles, Mr. Mwaura said. Several other vehicles and businesses were damaged by the inferno, which started around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday.

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Malaysia Reduces Sentence of Najib Razak, Disgraced Ex-Prime Minister

The authorities in Malaysia have halved the sentence of Najib Razak, a former prime minister convicted of stealing millions of dollars from a government fund, a move that has triggered outrage in the country.

The leniency for Mr. Najib comes after weeks of speculation in Malaysia that he might be pardoned by King Sultan Abdullah, whose tenure under Malaysia’s unique rotational monarchy ended on Tuesday. But many analysts had said it was unlikely that Mr. Najib, who has served only 17 months of his term, would receive any form of clemency because he is still facing three continuing criminal cases related to what is known as the 1MDB scandal.

On Friday, Malaysia’s Pardons Board said that Mr. Najib, who began a 12-year sentence in 2022, will instead be released in August 2028 and his fine reduced to $11 million, a quarter of the previous fine. But according to Malaysian law, he could be released even earlier, in August 2026, if he applies for parole after serving half of his term.

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How a Game of Good Cop-Bad Cop Sealed the E.U. Ukraine Fund Deal

Some European leaders jested they’d send Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary their hotel bills for the extra nights they had to spend in Brussels to convince him to support funding for Ukraine.

Others, less jokingly, relayed to him he was facing the risk of a legal suspension from E.U. proceedings. And a few offered a friendly, sympathetic ear over late-night drinks as he complained about what he sees as a European bureaucracy stacked against him out of ideological animus.

By Thursday morning, just one hour into an emergency European Union summit meeting, this carefully coordinated, behind-the-scenes pressure had forced Mr. Orban to fold. After weeks of standing in the way as the only holdout among 27 leaders, he finally agreed to a landmark fund for Ukraine worth 50 billion euros, or $54 billion.

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Russia’s New Threats to Exiles: Seized Assets and Forced Returns

In Bangkok this week, members of an antiwar Russian-language rock group were fighting deportation to Russia, detained in what supporters described as a cramped, hot, 80-person immigration holding cell.

On Wednesday in Moscow, the lower house of Parliament passed a law that will allow the Russian government to seize the property of Russians living abroad who, in the words of the legislature’s chairman, “besmirch our country.”

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Iran Tries to Avoid War With U.S. After Stoking Mideast Conflicts

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Iran’s Supreme National Security Council held an emergency meeting this week, deeply worried that the United States would retaliate after an Iran-aligned militia in Iraq killed three American soldiers and wounded more than 40 others in Jordan.

The council, including the president, foreign minister, chiefs of the armed forces and two aides to the country’s supreme leader, debated how to respond to a range of possibilities, from a U.S. attack on Iran, itself, to strikes against the proxy militias that Iran backs in the region, according to three Iranians with knowledge of the council’s deliberations who were not authorized to speak publicly.

They relayed the plans developed at the Monday meeting to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the people familiar with the discussion said, and he responded with clear orders: avoid a direct war with the United States and distance Iran from the actions of proxies who had killed Americans — but prepare to hit back if the United States struck Iran.

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Over 800 Officials in U.S. and Europe Sign Letter Protesting Israel Policies

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More than 800 officials in the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union released a public letter of dissent on Friday against their governments’ support of Israel in its war in Gaza.

The letter is the first instance of officials in allied nations across the Atlantic coming together to openly criticize their governments over the war, say current and former officials who are organizing or supporting the effort.

The officials say that it is their duty as civil servants to help improve policy and to work in their nations’ interests, and that they are speaking up because they believe their governments need to change direction on the war. The signers say they have raised concerns through internal channels but have been ignored.

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Netanyahu’s Bind: Compromising in Gaza or Holding On to Power at Home

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is fighting two parallel battles, one in Gaza and another at home — and neither is going according to plan.

In Gaza, Mr. Netanyahu is leading a military campaign to defeat Hamas and free the remaining Israeli hostages captured during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. At home, he is fighting to secure both his short-term political survival and his long-term legacy.

On both fronts, he is struggling.

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For New Moms in Seoul, 3 Weeks of Pampering and Sleep at a Joriwon

Four mothers sat quietly in the nursing room around midnight, breastfeeding their newborn babies. As one mother nodded off, her eyelids heavy after giving birth less than two weeks earlier, a nurse came in and whisked her baby away. The exhausted new mom returned to her private room to sleep.

Sleep is just one of the luxuries provided by South Korea’s postpartum care centers.

The country may have the world’s lowest birthrate, but it is also home to perhaps some of its best postpartum care. At centers like St. Park, a small, boutique postpartum center, or joriwon, in Seoul, new moms are pampered for a few weeks after giving birth and treated to hotel-like accommodations.

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London’s Highline Will Echo Its New York Inspiration, With Local Notes

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The derelict rail bridge stretches across a busy north London street, green foliage peeking out of the gaps between the beams overhead, where bright blue paint flakes from rusting steel.

Farther east, the railway’s grand Victorian-era arches span a small slice of park wedged between two streets, where tents belonging to homeless people, a discarded mattress and broken bottles are scattered about.

While the elevated train line and some of the areas it cuts through may look neglected now, if all goes according to plan, it will become the site of the Camden Highline, a planned public park that aims to turn this disused stretch of the city into a thriving green space.


Map locates the proposed Camden Highline in Camden Town in north central London. It also locates the town of King’s Cross, east of Camden Town.

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An Italian Town Full of the Elderly Wants to Feel Young Again

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As the traveling brass band ended San Giovanni Lipioni’s annual holiday concert with a rendition of Wham’s “Last Christmas,” the gray-haired villagers seated in the old church of the central Italian hill town gazed dotingly at the few young children clapping to the music.

“Today there is a little movement,” Cesarina Falasco, 73, said from the back pew. “It’s lovely. It’s different.”

San Giovanni Lipioni used to be known — if at all — for the discovery in its countryside of a third-century B.C. Samnite bronze head, a rare Waldensian Evangelical community and an ancient annual pageant with pagan roots that venerates a circular cane garlanded in wild cyclamen flowers. (“It represents the female genital organ,” said a tourism official, Mattia Rossi.)


Map locates the the town of San Giovanni Lipioni in the Abruzzo region of Italy, as well as the town of San Salvo, also in Abruzzo. It also locates the region of Molise, south of Abruzzo, and the cities of Bologna, and Ribordone in northern Italy.

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New Utopian Enclave? Or a Testament to Inequality?

Simon Romero and

Reporting from Guatemala City

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Try going for a stroll in much of Guatemala City: It is a pedestrian’s nightmare.

Motorcycles speed down crowded sidewalks. Rifle-grasping guards squint at each passerby, sizing up potential assailants. Smoke-belching buses barrel through stop signs.

But tucked within the chaotic capital’s crazy-quilt sprawl, there is a dreamlike haven where none of that exists.

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‘Frozen Garlic!’ Taiwan Likes Its Democracy Loud and Proud

Chris Buckley and

Chris Buckley and Amy Chang Chien visited rallies in several cities and counties in Taiwan and interviewed dozens of voters, politicians and performers. It was fun.

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Huang Chen-yu strode onto an outdoor stage in a southern Taiwanese county, whooping and hollering as she roused the crowd of 20,000 into a joyous frenzy — to welcome a succession of politicians in matching jackets.

Taiwan is in the final days of its presidential election contest, and the big campaign rallies, with M.C.s like Ms. Huang, are boisterous, flashy spectacles — as if a variety show and a disco crashed into a candidate’s town hall meeting.

At the high point of the rally, the Democratic Progressive Party’s presidential candidate, Lai Ching-te, was introduced to the crowd in Chiayi, a county in southern Taiwan. Ms. Huang roared in Taiwanese, “Frozen garlic!”

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A Child of Another War Who Makes Music for Ukrainians

When the owner of an underground club in Kyiv reached out to Western musicians to play in Ukraine, long before the war, there were not so many takers.

But an American from Boston, Mirza Ramic, accepted the invitation, spawning a lasting friendship with the club’s owner, Taras Khimchak.

“I kept coming back,” Mr. Ramic, 40, said in an interview at the club, Mezzanine, where he was preparing for a performance during a recent tour of Ukraine.

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A Woman Who Shows Age Is No Barrier to Talk Show Stardom

Pushing a walker through a television studio in central Tokyo earlier this week, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi slowly climbed three steps onto a sound stage with the help of an assistant who settled her into a creamy beige Empire armchair.

A stylist removed the custom-made sturdy boots on her feet and slipped on a pair of high-heeled mules. A makeup artist brushed her cheeks and touched up her blazing red lipstick. A hairdresser tamed a few stray wisps from her trademark onion-shaped hairstyle as another assistant ran a lint roller over her embroidered black jacket. With that, Ms. Kuroyanagi, 90, was ready to record the 12,193rd episode of her show.

As one of Japan’s best-known entertainers for seven decades, Ms. Kuroyanagi has interviewed guests on her talk show, “Tetsuko’s Room,” since 1976, earning a Guinness World Record last fall for most episodes hosted by the same presenter. Generations of Japanese celebrities across film, television, music, theater and sports have visited Ms. Kuroyanagi’s couch, along with American stars like Meryl Streep and Lady Gaga; Prince Philip of England; and Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the Soviet Union. Ms. Kuroyanagi said Gorbachev remains one of her all-time favorite guests.

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They Thought They Knew Death, but That Didn’t Prepare Them for Oct. 7

At 76, David Weissenstern has collected the remains of the dead for most of his adult life. But after the Oct. 7 attacks, in which Hamas-led fighters killed about 1,200 people along Israel’s border with Gaza, he can no longer stand the smell of grilled meat. The odor, he says, reminds him too much of burned human flesh.

His son Duby Weissenstern, 48, has lost track of time after working successive days and nights to recover those killed on Oct. 7. He now marks time in relation to that date.

And his son-in-law Israel Ganot, 32, now gags at the smell of food that has turned rotten. He was in the second wave of recovery workers who reached bodies that had been trapped under rubble for weeks.

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The Year in People: Our 12 Favorite Saturday Profiles of 2023

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A teenager jailed in Egypt, determined to bear witness to the abuses he suffered during years of detention. A proponent of peace in Colombia, shadowed by death threats. A father in India, fighting his own patriarchal impulses to give his two daughters a better life.

With reports from six continents and 34 countries, the Saturday Profile in 2023 revealed people making a difference, mostly under the radar. Every week, our correspondents often sought out not the famous nor the powerful, but the unheralded with stories worth hearing.

A Muslim cleric in Ukraine, now a medic on the front lines of the war. An anticorruption whistle-blower in Bangkok, with (he’d be the first to admit) a disreputable past. A scientist and hair salon owner in Paris, dedicated to styling curly hair.

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For Archbishop of Canterbury, Heading Anglican Church Is ‘High-Wire Act’

When the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, welcomed friends to sing Christmas carols at his London residence last week, his remarks ran, as they often do, to his coronation of King Charles III in May.

The vaulted chamber in which his guests were gathered, he told them, had been used to rehearse the ceremony twice a week over four months. Members of his staff were assigned to play Charles and other royals in a rotating cast. “I always played the archbishop,” he said dryly.

Then he ran through the script a few times with the actual king. “We practiced putting it on and screwing it down,” Archbishop Welby said later of the 17th-century St. Edward’s Crown. “It’s a wobbly old thing.”

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Russian Skaters Stripped of Olympic Gold, Setting Up New Fight for Medals

International skating’s governing body on Tuesday sought to put an end to a two-year-old controversy by revising the disputed results of a marquee figure skating competition at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. But in stripping Russia of its victory in the team event, awarding the gold medal to the United States and denying Canada the bronze it had been expecting, the sport may have only set the stage for yet another protracted legal fight.

The revised finishes were announced by the skating body, the International Skating Union, one day after the teenage Russian star Kamila Valieva was banned for four years for doping. Disqualifying Valieva, a 15-year-old prodigy who had led Russia to an apparent victory, had the most immediate effect on the Olympic team standings: elevating the U.S. to gold and Japan to silver, while, surprisingly, dropping Russia just enough that it could still claim the bronze.

Within hours, Russia’s Olympic committee, already furious about Valieva’s ban, announced that it would appeal any outcome that denied it the team gold. Canadian officials quickly threatened to appeal the ruling as well. That left skating officials and the International Olympic Committee, which had chosen not to award medals in the team event until Valieva’s doping case was resolved, wondering how they could at last arrange a “dignified Olympic medal ceremony” for an ugly dispute that appeared nowhere near its end.

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FIFA Convictions Are Imperiled by Questions of U.S. Overreach

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Nearly a decade after police officers marched world soccer officials out of a luxury hotel in Zurich at dawn, revealing a corruption scandal that shook the world’s most popular sport, the case is at risk of falling apart.

The dramatic turnabout comes over questions of whether American prosecutors overreached by applying U.S. law to a group of people, many of them foreign nationals, who defrauded foreign organizations as they carried out bribery schemes across the world.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year limited a law that was key to the case. Then in September, a federal judge, citing that, threw out the convictions of two defendants linked to soccer corruption. Now, several former soccer officials, including some who paid millions of dollars in penalties and served time in prison, are arguing that the bribery schemes for which they were convicted are no longer considered a crime in the United States.

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Depardieu Sexual Assault Suit Dropped Over Statute of Limitations

A sexual assault lawsuit filed against Gérard Depardieu by a French actress has been dropped because it was past the statute of limitations, prosecutors in Paris said on Monday, but the French actor is still under investigation in a separate case.

In the lawsuit that was dropped, the actress Hélène Darras had accused Depardieu of groping her on the set of “Disco,” a comedy released in 2008. Her suit had been filed in September but was made public only last month, shortly before she appeared in a France 2 television documentary alongside three other women who also accused Depardieu of inappropriate comments or sexual misconduct.

The documentary, which showed Depardieu making crude sexual and sexist comments during a 2018 trip to North Korea, set off a fierce debate in France that prompted President Emmanuel Macron and dozens of actors, directors and other celebrities to defend Depardieu, splitting the French movie industry.

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An Olympic Dream Falters Amid Track’s Shifting Rules

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Maximila Imali, a top Kenyan sprinter, did not lose her eligibility to compete in the Paris Olympics because she cheated. She did not fail a doping test. She broke no rules.

Instead, she is set to miss this year’s Summer Games because she was born with a rare genetic variant that results in naturally elevated levels of testosterone. And last March, track and field’s global governing body ruled that Ms. Imali’s biology gave her an unfair advantage in all events against other women, effectively barring her from international competition.

As a result, Ms. Imali, 27, finds her Olympic dream in peril and her career and her livelihood in limbo.

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Luis Rubiales, Ex-Chief of Spanish Soccer, to Face Trial Over World Cup Kiss

Luis Rubiales, Spain’s onetime soccer chief, is due to be tried over his nonconsensual kiss of a star player during the Women’s World Cup medal ceremony last summer after a judge recommended on Thursday that he face a court’s judgment in a high-profile case that has upended the sport in Spain.

The judge also recommended that Mr. Rubiales and three officials with the Royal Spanish Football Federation, soccer’s governing body in the country — including Jorge Vilda, who was fired as the women’s team coach in the wake of the incident — be tried on charges of coercion for exerting pressure on the player, Jennifer Hermoso, to show support for Mr. Rubiales in the immediate aftermath of the kiss.

The judge concluded that the kiss by Mr. Rubiales, after the Women’s World Cup final in Sydney, Australia, “was nonconsensual and was a unilateral and surprise act.” The judge also found that even if the kiss was more celebratory than sexual in nature, Mr. Rubiales’s behavior was within the bounds of the “intimacy of sexual relations” and he should be held to account.

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Surgen detalles sobre personal de la ONU acusado de ayudar a Hamás en un ataque

A uno se le acusa de secuestrar a una mujer. Otro habría repartido munición. Un tercero fue descrito como participante en la masacre de un kibutz en la que murieron 97 personas. Y se dice que todos eran empleados de la agencia de ayuda de Naciones Unidas que escolariza, alberga y alimenta a cientos de miles de palestinos en la Franja de Gaza.

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Las denuncias figuran en un expediente proporcionado al gobierno de Estados Unidos en el que se detallan las acusaciones de Israel contra una decena de empleados del Organismo de Obras Públicas y Socorro de las Naciones Unidas que, según afirma, desempeñaron un papel en los atentados de Hamás contra Israel del 7 de octubre o durante sus repercusiones.

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El abrumador trabajo de verificar datos en Medio Oriente

Tiffany Hsu y

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En las frenéticas primeras horas del 7 de octubre, entre el llanto de las sirenas y noticias de tiroteos a lo largo de la frontera sur de Israel, Achiya Schatz se apresuró con su niño pequeño y su esposa, que estaba embarazada, a resguardarse en un refugio antibombas cerca de Tel Aviv.

No se quedó mucho tiempo.

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Una inesperada amenaza a la estabilidad de Haití: un grupo ambiental armado

En Haití, debido al incremento en el número de asesinatos y secuestros, ahora hasta los policías abandonan el país.

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En vista de que no hay un presidente electo en el poder y la percepción generalizada sobre el primer ministro es que es ilegítimo, ahora se escuchan clamores que piden la destitución del gobierno por parte de un grupo inesperado: una brigada de oficiales armados cuya supuesta tarea es proteger áreas expuestas a peligros ambientales.

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Propuestas de alto al fuego y negociación de rehenes entre Israel y Hamás: lo que hay que saber

El director de la CIA está preparado para dar un nuevo impulso a las negociaciones sobre la liberación de rehenes en Gaza y un alto al fuego prolongado, según funcionarios estadounidenses, quienes dijeron que el director de la agencia se reunirá con altos funcionarios israelíes, egipcios y cataríes en Europa.

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Los funcionarios esperan zanjar las discrepancias entre Israel y Hamás, especialmente en dos cuestiones: la duración de cualquier pausa en los combates y el destino de los líderes de Hamás en Gaza, según funcionarios informados sobre las conversaciones.

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Israel sopesa liberar rehenes o destruir a Hamás

Tras más de cien días de guerra, el avance limitado de Israel para desmantelar a Hamás ha generado dudas en el alto mando militar sobre la viabilidad a corto plazo de alcanzar los principales objetivos bélicos del país: erradicar a Hamás y liberar también a los rehenes israelíes que aún permanecen en la Franja de Gaza.

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A estas alturas de la guerra, Israel ha establecido el control sobre una parte de Gaza menor de lo que había previsto en un principio en los planes de combate desde el comienzo de la invasión, que fueron revisados por The New York Times. Ese ritmo más lento de lo previsto ha llevado a algunos mandos a expresar en privado su frustración por la estrategia del gobierno civil para Gaza y los ha llevado a concluir que la libertad de los más de 100 rehenes israelíes que aún permanecen en Gaza solo puede conseguirse por medios diplomáticos y no militares.

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