The New York Times 2024-02-03 09:07:24

Middle East Crisis: U.S. Strikes Over 85 Targets at 7 Sites in Iraq and Syria Against Iran’s Forces and Proxies


Helene CooperEric Schmitt and

Here is the latest news on the U.S. strikes.

The United States carried out a series of retaliatory military strikes on Friday against Iranian forces and the militias Iran backed, in a sharp escalation in the Middle East that the Biden administration had sought to avoid since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out nearly four months ago.

“This past Sunday, three American soldiers were killed in Jordan by a drone launched by militant groups backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps,” President Biden said in a statement. “Our response began today.”

The strikes hit more than 85 targets at seven sites in Syria and Iraq, U.S. officials said, identifying them as command and control operations, intelligence centers, weapons facilities and bunkers used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and affiliated militia groups. All were linked to specific attacks against U.S. troops in the region, according to John F. Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, and were chosen to avoid civilian casualties.

The military action sought to reduce the operational capabilities of the targeted forces and to send them a message of deterrence. Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, which has devastated Gaza and inflamed the Middle East, Iran and its allied militias have launched more than 160 attacks on U.S. troops in the region and have also struck at commercial ships in the Red Sea.

Here are additional developments:

  • At least 18 members of Iran-backed groups have been reported killed in Syria from the strikes, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group. There was no immediate information on deaths in Iraq.

  • The strikes used more than 125 precision-guided munitions, according to a statement by United States Central Command. The strikes took 30 minutes, officials said, and were largely conducted by two American B-1B bombers, which departed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, early Friday for a more than 6,000-mile flight. Using U.S.-based bombers allowed commanders in the region to keep their land- and carrier-based strike aircraft in reserve for follow-up strikes, one official said.

  • Mr. Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, said on Friday night that the Iraqi government had been notified before the strikes and that he did not know if any Iranians or militia members were killed or wounded in the attack.

  • Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims, the director of the military’s Joint Staff, said that in daylight hours on Saturday military analysts would closely examine the targets struck. But he added that the Pentagon was confident the bombers had hit “exactly what they meant to hit.”

  • Israel’s defense minister has signaled that Israeli ground forces could advance on Rafah — one of the last southern Gazan cities that they 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.

  • Iran said that an Israeli strike in Syria early Friday morning had killed one of its military officers in the southern district of Damascus. Iranian media said the officer, Saeed Alidadi, was a member of the Revolutionary Guards Corps who had been deployed to Syria as a military adviser.

The U.S. strikes targeted 26 sites in Syria connected with the Iranian-backed militias, including bases and grain silos, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group with researchers in the country.

While there was confusion before the strikes among the Iranian-backed militias of what they expected to be targeted, leaders took precautions and traveled to Damascus and Homs provinces and told other leaders and members of armed groups affiliated with them to remain in their homes, the monitoring group said.

U.S. airstrikes in eastern Syria near the Iraq border killed civilians, as well as soldiers, and wounded others, according to Syrian state media. The strikes also caused significant damage to private and public property. The Syrian defense ministry called the attack a “blatant air aggression,” state media reported.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said at least 18 members of Iran-backed groups had been reported killed in Syria from the U.S. strikes, the first reports of deaths in the overnight attacks. U.S. officials said four sites had been targeted in Syria and three in Iraq. There was no immediate information on deaths in Iraq.

The sun is rising in Iraq and Syria, where U.S. bombers carried out strikes on seven locations overnight. U.S. officials said military analysts would be able to confirm in daylight what they said had been successful strikes against facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and affiliated militia groups. The strikes were carried out in the cover of dark around midnight local time, over about 30 minutes.

Speaker Mike Johnson criticized the Biden administration for waiting a week to retaliate after the deaths of U.S. troops and for warning of the American response ahead of Friday’s strikes. “The public handwringing and excessive signaling undercuts our ability to put a decisive end to the barrage of attacks endured over the past few months,” he wrote in a statement.

The Times verified two videos filmed in Al Qaim, Iraq, showing a series of fires and explosions close to the Syrian border. The flames appear to have caused secondary explosions at the site.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Prince Faisal bin Farhan, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, around the time the U.S. military carried out the strikes against militias. Blinken wrote online that the two talked about the U.S. secretary’s “upcoming trip to the region and efforts to advance regional peace and security.” The Saudi Foreign Ministry said the two discussed international and regional issues, and in particular “the developments in the Gaza Strip and its surroundings.”

Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he endorsed the strikes ordered by President Biden.

“This was a strong, proportional response,” he said in a statement. “In fact, the 85 targets struck tonight mark a greater number than the prior administration. Iran’s proxy forces in Syria and Iraq have been dealt a significant blow, and Iranian-linked militias around the Middle East should understand that they, too, will be held accountable.”

Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for Iraq’s military, said that the U.S. strikes on Iraq were “unacceptable.”

“These strikes constitute a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, an undermining of the efforts of the Iraqi government, and a threat that will drag Iraq and the region into unforeseen consequences,” he said in statement on Friday.

Just before the strikes, the U.S. hit Iran with sanctions and criminal charges.

In the hours before the United States carried out strikes against Iran-backed militants on Friday, Washington hit Tehran with more familiar weapons: sanctions and criminal charges.

The Biden administration imposed sanctions on officers and officials of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iran’s premier military force, for threatening the integrity of water utilities and for helping manufacture Iranian drones. And it unsealed charges against nine people for selling oil to finance the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

The timing seemed designed to pressure the Revolutionary Guards and its most elite unit, the Quds Force, at a moment of extraordinary tension in the Middle East. Although the sanctions have been brewing for some time and the charges were filed earlier under seal, the region has been in turmoil for months.

The actions are part of a coordinated governmentwide effort to disrupt Iran’s efforts to use illicit oil sales to fund terrorism, and to push back on the country’s increasingly capable offensive cyberoperations. In the 15 years since the United States mounted a major cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the country has trained a generation of hackers and struck back at Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States, among others. Two American officials said the United States conducted cyberoperations against Iranian targets on Friday but declined to provide details.

The effects of sanctions and indictments are hard to measure. Few Iranian officers or officials keep assets in Western banks or travel to the United States, meaning the sanctions may have little practical effect. While the indictments and sanctions have a psychological element, demonstrating to Iranians and their business associates around the world that Western intelligence agencies are often tracking their movements and their transactions, actual arrests and trials are infrequent.

“The reason that we bring these cases is, we know that the money Iran obtains from the illicit sale of oil is used to fund its malign activities around the world,” Matthew G. Olsen, who heads the national security division of the Justice Department, said on Friday. “The threats posed by Iran and the destabilizing effects of its actions have only come into sharper relief since the attacks of Oct. 7,” the day of the Hamas attack on Israel that killed roughly 1,200 people.

There has been a spate of action against Iran in the past week, culminating with Friday’s strikes on Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq. The airstrikes were in retaliation for a drone attack last Sunday that killed three U.S. service members at a base in Jordan.

On Monday, the Justice Department unsealed charges in Minnesota against an Iranian man accused of hiring a member of the Hells Angels to kill Iranian dissidents living in Maryland. On Wednesday, four Chinese citizens were indicted in Washington, accused of trying to smuggle and export technology used in military equipment and weapons for groups associated with the Revolutionary Guards, part of a constant effort to evade the West’s many prohibitions on selling technology that could be used in weapons systems or surveillance.

The sanctions related to the water utilities involved hacks on what are called “logic controllers,” which are made by an Israeli company, Unitronics, and run the pumps and valves in the water systems. Getting at the controllers is a way of reminding the United States and other countries that their critical infrastructure is vulnerable.

“The United States, in coordination with the private sector and other affected countries, quickly remediated the incidents with minimal impacts,” the Treasury Department said. But it was hardly the only attack of that kind to come from Iran: Ransomware attacks have emanated from Iranian hackers, including one against Boston Children’s Hospital three years ago, and even a major Las Vegas casino.

The sanctions were against a series of officials of the Revolutionary Guards’ “electronic warfare and cyber defense organization,” including its leader, Hamid Reza Lashgarian.

Another set of sanctions, issued by the State Department, focused on four companies that the United States said were supplying materials and technology to Iran’s drone and missile programs. The drones have been of particular concern because Russia is using them in large numbers against Ukraine.

The most sweeping move came from the Justice Department, which unsealed charges against nine people from Iran, Turkey, China and Oman related to efforts to smuggle and sell Iranian oil in violation of U.S. laws.

The legal action came as tensions between the United States and Iran deepen. Attacks like the one that killed three Americans are funded by illicit Iranian oil sales, officials said. And the intensity has increased since Oct. 7, with more than 160 attacks against U.S. military forces in Iraq, Syria and Jordan by Iran-backed militias.

“Today’s cases are part of the department’s ongoing efforts to cut off the flow of black-market Iranian oil that funds the regime’s malign activity, threatening the United States and our interests around the world,” Mr. Olsen said.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

Kirby said all the facilities targeted were carefully chosen to send a message that the attacks on American bases need to stop. The signal is to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps “and these proxy groups: the attacks have to stop,” Kirby said.

“This is a first set of responses,” Kirby said. “I am not going to talk to any future responses.”

General Sims declined to provide details of timing on any future strikes, but he said that the aircraft involved in the initial salvo had left “harm’s ways.”

Kirby reiterated that the U.S. did not seek a conflict with Iran, but was targeting officials with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who had worked with militias in Iran and Syria. “We are not looking for a war with Iran.”

Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims II, the director of the Joint Staff, said the Pentagon felt confident that the military had hit “exactly what they meant to hit.” Secondary explosions showed that the Air Force planes hit the ammunition points they were targeting, he said.

The targets included facilities holding ammunition and munitions that had been used against American bases in the region.

John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the Iraqi government was informed of the strikes ahead of the operations announced Friday night in Washington. Kirby said the strikes began Friday, and would continue in the following days.

American officials said that the strikes hit seven facilities, three in Iraq and four in Syria. Air Force planes dropped 125 precision-guided missiles fired over 30 minutes on the targets.

Officials said that the timing of the strike was based on when the weather was clear. While the military can strike when there is cloud cover, a clear evening allows a higher degree of confidence in the strikes.

The aircraft included B-1B bombers flying from the United States. Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims II, the director of the Joint Staff, said that using aircraft flying from the U.S. gave the military flexibility.

Al Manar, a Hezbollah-owned Lebanese broadcaster, reported blackouts in Deir al-Zour Province in Syria after U.S. strikes there. The outlet also broadcast videos of large explosions in the area.

The response to attacks on U.S. forces “will continue at times and places of our choosing,” President Biden warned in a statement. “The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”

The initial round of U.S. strikes hit targets in Iraq and Syria but not inside Iran. This may reduce the possibility of a direct military confrontation between Washington and Tehran. Iranian officials have said this week that they do not want a war with the United States and would only retaliate if Iran were targeted.

Who were the three soldiers killed in the drone attack that prompted U.S. retaliatory strikes?

Three U.S. soldiers who were killed on Sunday in a drone attack on a military outpost in Jordan had been serving on a team trained to deploy at short notice to build roads, landing fields and protective earthen berms for U.S. forces.

The soldiers, two of them women in their early 20s who had become friends, were assigned to the 718th Engineer Company, based at Fort Moore, Ga. Their remains were returned to the United States on Friday, in a solemn ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware attended by a silent President Biden.

The Pentagon has identified the three as Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, of Carrollton, Ga.; Sgt. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, of Waycross, Ga.; and Sgt. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, of Savannah, Ga. They died when the drone struck container units that served as their living quarters, according to the Pentagon.

Here are a few details of the three.

Sgt. William Jerome Rivers

Sergeant Rivers grew up in Willingboro, N.J., northwest of Philadelphia. He enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2011 as an internal electrician. In 2018, he spent eight months deployed in Iraq. In 2023, he joined the 718th Engineering Company at Fort Moore, Ga.

He arrived at Tower 22, a logistics supply base in Jordan, near the Syrian border, last October. His work there involved maintaining the base’s electrical systems, repairing short circuits and faulty equipment.

He won a string of medals for participating in 12 years of U.S. military campaigns. Mr. Rivers’s wife, Darlene Lewis Rivers, declined an interview request, saying she had just seen her husband’s body.

Sgt. Kennedy Ladon Sanders

Sergeant Sanders volunteered for the Army Reserves in 2019, and deployed from Fort Moore to Tower 22 in Jordan last October. There she worked on road maintenance, driving heavy machinery to spread asphalt and grade roads.

She was from Waycross, a town in the southeastern part of Georgia where the median household income is half the national average. She lettered in three sports in high school and tried but did not finish college. She then worked at a series of low-paying jobs, and enlisted after speaking to a friend who had joined the Marines.

She was proud of her service, and visited schools to talk to students in Waycross in uniform.

While deployed, she would shop online for rare pairs of Nike Dunks and have them delivered home. Her mother, Oneida Oliver-Sanders, would unbox the sneakers for her on FaceTime.

She enjoyed listening to hip-hop with Sgt. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, a friend she met in basic training. Two days after the attack, both were posthumously promoted to the sergeant rank.

Sgt. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett

Sergeant Moffett always wanted an Army career, modeled after her mother’s. She participated in R.O.T.C. through high school, and enlisted in the Army immediately after graduating, her mother, Francine Moffett, told an Atlanta TV news station, WXIA.

Like Sergeant Sanders, Sergeant Moffett worked at the outpost in Jordan operating heavy equipment. She drove bulldozers and backhoes around the small base built along a sandy berm known as Tower 22.

Francine Moffett last spoke to her daughter the night before the drone attack, checking that she had received a care package sent from home with the strawberry shortcake and sunflower seeds that the Sergeant Moffett had requested, according to the WXIA report.

The package also contained a real estate book. Sergeant Moffett aimed to become a real estate agent, but only after completing one more Army tour.

“She wanted to become a sergeant,” Mrs. Moffett said.

Mick Mulroy, a former Pentagon official in the Trump administration, said the U.S. strikes appeared to be focused on Iranian supply lines running through Iraq and Syria. Mulroy said he believed it is unlikely many Iranian soldiers would have been killed because Iran had time to move its personnel out of harm’s way.

Around the same time the United States military launched new strikes in the Middle East, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken posted online about his plan to visit the region. “I am returning to the Middle East this coming week to continue working with our partners on how to achieve durable peace in the region, with lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” he wrote on Friday. He flies out on Sunday.

The Tasnim News agency, a media organization affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, is reporting there was a major attack in the Anbar province on a headquarters of the Hashed Shaabi militia, a group that is part of the Iraqi armed forces but also has close ties to Iran.

The United States did not hit any targets in Iran, trying to send a message of deterrence while carefully controlling escalation. Both the White House and Tehran have made clear that they do not want a direct conflict. But as the killing of three U.S. soldiers in Jordan last Sunday shows, any military action comes with the chance of miscalculation and escalation.

Iranian media are reporting that U.S. strikes have hit bases for the militia group Kata’ib Hezbollah in Akashat, in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province. Videos published by Iranian outlets showed large explosions.

In the coming days, as the U.S. military and intelligence agencies do assessments, we will learn more about the damage to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. U.S. officials have said in recent days many Iranian commanders working with local militias have moved to avoid the American bombing campaign.

A security official in Al Qaim, Iraq, said that the strikes had targeted weapons warehouses and the headquarters of Axis of Resistance groups. Mosques in the area were warning people to stay in their homes.

The sites struck on Friday will be followed by others in the days to come, U.S. officials said. The U.S. may expand its targeting, to other facilities and other militia groups, in the coming days, one official said.

The Pentagon’s Central Command said the strikes targeted not just the militias affiliated with Iran, but also Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. It said in a statement that the U.S. military struck more than 85 targets in various locations with more than 125 precision munitions.

The targets of the U.S. attacks “included command and control operations centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities,” Central Command said.

Iran says an Israeli strike in Syria has killed a member of the Revolutionary Guards.

Iran said on Friday that an Israeli strike early in the morning in the southern district of Damascus had killed one of its military officers in Syria, the latest in a series of recent attacks on Iranian forces.

Iranian media said the slain officer, Saeed Alidadi, was a member of the Revolutionary Guards Corps who had been deployed to Syria as a military adviser. Since late December, at least four other officers in the Quds Forces, the external branch of the Guards that operates in Syria, have been killed in strikes associated with Israel.

Israel did not publicly take responsibility for the strike or comment on it.

A middle eastern defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Israel had killed Mr. Alidadi as part of a wider campaign against Iranians helping militias that have fought Israel on multiple fronts.

Mr. Alidadi was a technical expert who specialized in electronic engineering for missiles and drones, according to a person affiliated with the Guards.

The entire region has been on edge in anticipation of U.S. strikes in retaliation for the killing of three American soldiers in a drone attack at a remote base in Jordan last week. The Biden administration blamed the attack on a network of Iran-linked militias in Iraq, and on Friday the United States launched a series of attacks on military bases in Iraq and Syria that are affiliated with various proxy groups backed by Iran.

Iranian officials had warned all week that if U.S. struck targets inside Iran or killed any of its military personnel, Iran would strike back, though they have stressed they are not seeking a war with America. President Ibrahim Raisi was the latest to voice that position on Friday.

“If an oppressive and bullying power wants to bully, the Islamic Republic will deliver a stern answer,” Mr. Raisi said at a speech in the southern city of Minab.

Iran had taken steps this week to lessen tensions with the United States, in an apparent effort to reduce the likelihood of a strike on its territory or on regional interests it considers vital. At the same time, it has placed its forces on the highest level of alert and has identified a list of American targets to attack if its territory is violated, according to two people familiar with Tehran’s military planning.

On Friday, all Iranian military bases in Iraq and Syria were evacuated and senior commanders of the Guards were placed “out of reach” to protect them, according to an Iranian member of the Guards in Lebanon who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

At the same time, the Iranian intelligence ministry issued a statement claiming it had arrested a network of Israeli spies in Iran. In addition, the statement said Iran had discovered the identities of Iranian spies in 28 countries and planned to work with local authorities to detain them. The Iranian claims could not be confirmed, and the ministry did not offer details on the identities or whereabouts of the accused spies.

Iran routinely labels dissidents, journalists and activists as spies for foreign intelligence agencies and has a track record of kidnapping and killing its opponents abroad.

In Damascus, a funeral procession was held for Mr. Alidadi at a Shia shrine called Seydeh Zeinab, which is considered a holy site, according to photos and reports on Iranian media affiliated with the Guards. His coffin was draped in the flag of Iran, adorned with white flowers, and a banner with his picture and the word, “the martyr of Al Aqsa” a reference to Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, which it named the “Al Aqsa Flood.”

Iran’s official state news agency is reporting at least 10 people have been killed so far in U.S. strikes in Syria, including three Iraqis. The report cites Syrian and Iraqi sources. The attacks were reportedly intense near the towns of Al Mayadeen and Deir al-Zour in Syria.

What are U.S. troops doing in the Middle East?

When a drone attack killed three U.S. soldiers at a base in Jordan on Jan. 28, many Americans were left wondering why, years after the U.S. ended its combat mission in Iraq, are the country’s soldiers still in the region?

Where are U.S. forces in the region?

Roughly 40,000 American troops are stationed across the Middle East, mostly in countries with close ties to the United States. There are far fewer in the region now compared with when the United States was trying to oust the Islamic State from Iraq, or during the preceding years of war.

There were more than 160,000 American troops in Iraq alone in 2007, during the war that followed the U.S. invasion. Now there are only about 2,500 U.S. troops there, stationed at installations like Al Asad Air Base in Iraq’s western desert, to support Iraq’s military.

There are currently about 900 U.S. troops stationed in Syria, where they support Kurdish forces and work to enforce U.S. sanctions against Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based group backed by Iran.

Some of those troops are deployed at the Tanf garrison in southeastern Syria, which is served by a border outpost in Jordan, Tower 22. About 350 Army and Air Force personnel are stationed at Tower 22, the site where the three American soldiers were killed in the drone strike.

Most of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East is in countries with longstanding relationships with Washington. At an air base in Azraq, Jordan, the United States has about 2,000 troops, as well as Special Operations forces and military trainers. There are about 13,500 U.S. forces based in Kuwait, and thousands more in countries including Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Qatar, which helped build an air base used by U.S. Central Command.

Why are so many troops there?

Before the war in Gaza began, the U.S. military presence in the Middle East had been shrinking. In the aftermath of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Biden administration had turned to focus elsewhere, like supporting Ukraine against Russia and potential threats from China.

But American troops have remained in the region in part, U.S. officials say, to project U.S. power — such as deterring Iran from direct war with an American ally, Israel — and to prevent a resurgence of groups like the Islamic State, which emerged from the insurgency and civil war of post-invasion Iraq.

By 2015, the Islamic State controlled several cities in Iraq and Syria, including Mosul and Raqqa, as well as a large chunk of territory along the border between the two countries. A military coalition led by the United States, including forces in Syria and Iraq, defeated it. But although the U.S. military declared its combat mission over in 2021, troops remained to help Iraq battle the group’s remnants, and experts warn that regional instability could provide an opportunity for it to grow again.

Are U.S. forces in the region in danger?

Since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, there have been more than 160 attacks by militias backed by Iran against U.S. forces in Syria, Iraq and Jordan, according to the Pentagon.

The attack on the Tower 22 outpost was the first one known to be lethal, but dozens of service members have been injured. Those include 34 who were wounded at the Jordan base when the drone crashed into the base’s living quarters, and 19 U.S. soldiers who suffered traumatic brain injuries in October attacks in Iraq on Al Asad Air Base and Al Tanf.

President Biden has retaliated with attacks on Iran-aligned militants, hitting groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. But top American and Iranian officials have also sought to avoid triggering a direct war, even as they have blamed the other side for stoking regional conflict.

“While we are not seeking war, we are also neither afraid nor running away from war,” Gen. Hossein Salami, the commander in chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, said on Wednesday.

U.S. conducts retaliatory strikes against Iranian proxies as the war deepens.

The United States on Friday carried out a series of military strikes against Iranian forces and the militias they support in seven sites in Syria and Iraq, marking a sharp escalation of the war in the Middle East that the Biden administration has for four months sought to avoid.

The airstrikes, targeting command and control operations, intelligence centers, weapons facilities and bunkers used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and affiliated militia groups, made good on President Biden’s promise to respond to a drone attack in Jordan on Sunday that killed three American soldiers and injured at least 40 more service members.

The military action also sought to send a message to Iran and the militias it backs that continued attacks on U.S. troops in the region and commercial ships in the Red Sea would draw a response.

The strikes hit more than 85 targets at different locations using more than 125 precision-guided munitions, according to a statement by U.S. Central Command.

“This past Sunday, three American soldiers were killed in Jordan by a drone launched by militant groups backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps,” President Biden said in a statement. “Our response began today.”

Mr. Biden approved the strikes earlier in the week. He even telegraphed that they were coming when he told reporters on Tuesday that he had made a decision on the response to the drone attack on a remote outpost in Jordan. Middle East analysts said that many Revolutionary Guards trainers, fearful that they could be hit, returned to Iran this week while militia leaders are in hiding.

But U.S. officials made it clear that Friday night’s attacks were to be followed by more over the next days, weeks and perhaps even months. Two American officials said the United States also conducted cyberoperations against Iranian targets on Friday but declined to provide details.

The American response, Mr. Biden said in his statement Friday, “will continue at times and places of our choosing.”

“The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world,” he said. “But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”

American bombers hit targets at four sites in Syria and three sites in Iraq in a 30-minute attack, U.S. officials said. John F. Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, told reporters Friday night that the Iraqi government had been notified before the strikes.

Mr. Kirby said the targets at each site were picked because they were linked to specific attacks against American troops in the region, and to avoid civilian casualties. He said he did not know if any Iranians or militia members were killed or wounded in the attack.

The point of the strikes, Mr. Kirby said, was about “taking away capability” of the militias to continue to strike American troops. “This wasn’t just a message-sending routine tonight.”

By avoiding targets in Iran, the White House and Central Command are trying to send a message of deterrence while controlling escalation. It is clear from statements from the White House, and from Tehran, that neither the United States nor Iran wants a wider war. But, as the strike in Jordan showed, with any military action comes the chance of miscalculation.

The Biden administration carried out what officials called a “tiered” response — striking multiple targets from the air. The Pentagon deployed two American B-1B bombers, which departed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, early Friday and made the more than 6,000-mile flight to deliver their payload of munitions from the skies over Iraq and Syria.

Sending B1-B bombers from American soil carried several advantages, officials said. The B-1Bs can carry dozens of precision munitions, allowing commanders in the region to keep their land- and carrier-based strike aircraft in reserve for follow-up strikes, a U.S. official said. Mideast countries housing American attack aircraft are increasingly reluctant to have their bases used for offensive strikes in Iraq, Syria and Yemen to avoid being perceived as supporting Israel. Striking sites in the Mideast with aircraft launched from the United States and refueled midair is a muscular show of global reach and capability, the official said.

“The beauty of the American bomber is we can strike anywhere in the world at a time of our choosing,” Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims, the director of the military’s Joint Staff, told reporters Friday night.

Officials said that the strike was timed for clear weather. While the military can strike when there is cloud cover, a clear evening allows a higher degree of confidence.

General Sims said that once it was daylight in Iraq and Syria on Saturday, military analysts would closely examine the targets struck. But he said the Pentagon felt confident the bombers had hit “exactly what they meant to hit.” Secondary explosions showed that the Air Force planes hit the ammunition depots they were targeting, he said.

In a statement later Friday, the spokesman for Iraq’s Armed Forces, Maj. Gen. Yahya Rasool, called the American action in Iraq “unacceptable” and “a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”

With Friday’s strikes, the administration moved to a new phase in its efforts to manage the widening conflict, which was set off on Oct. 7 when the militant group Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people.

Israel’s retaliation since then has killed more than 26,000 people, most of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Mr. Biden and his top aides have been reluctant to take steps that could draw the United States into a wider war in an already hugely unstable region. “That’s not what I’m looking for,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, similarly, said on Wednesday that Tehran was “not looking for war,” either. And Kata’ib Hezbollah, one of the groups that U.S. officials say may have been responsible for the attack, made the surprising announcement on Tuesday that it was suspending military operations in Iraq, where it operates. But the Revolutionary Guards Corps leader also warned that Iran was prepared to respond if attacked.

With the latest strikes, that possibility is inching closer. Administration officials said Mr. Biden had little choice but to hit back after the strike in Jordan killed the three American soldiers, especially since their deaths came amid a steady stream of attacks from Iran-backed groups like the Houthis in Yemen and Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq. And now experts say there is a real fear that Iran could be drawn further into the fray.

Mr. Biden has been under pressure from Republicans at home to respond forcefully to the attacks in Jordan. But critics on Capitol Hill said on Friday that the president’s warnings of impending strikes allowed Iranian and militia commanders and advisers to flee.

“The Biden administration spent nearly a week foolishly telegraphing U.S. intentions to our adversaries, giving them time to relocate and hide,” said Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

The U.S. strikes on Friday may be just the beginning of an extended series of attacks intended to damage or destroy Iran-backed militias’ ability to launch missiles, drones and attack drones at American troops in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. The militias have conducted at least 166 such attacks since Oct. 7, according to the Pentagon.

Mr. Kirby signaled that strategy when he said on Tuesday that it was “very possible” that the United States would carry out “not just a single action, but potentially multiple actions, over a period of time.”

The B-1B bombers were in the air on Friday when Mr. Biden attended the dignified transfer of the three soldiers killed in Jordan: Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, Specialist Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, and Specialist Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23. Their remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Friday. The Army Reserve said this week that it had posthumously promoted Specialists Moffett and Sanders to sergeant, and Sergeant Rivers to staff sergeant.

How closely does Iran control 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.

After Iraq-based militants struck a U.S. base in Jordan on Sunday, the group the Pentagon suggested was responsible, Kata’ib Hezbollah, whose leadership and troops are close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, announced it was temporarily standing down at the behest of Iran and the Iraqi government.

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,

Lights! Camera! Modi! It’s a One-Man Show on Indian Television.

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The people streaming into the holy town came on an intimate quest: to be among the first to seek the blessings of a beloved god they said was returning home after 500 years.

These Hindu devotees took leaves of absence from work. They ate with fellow pilgrims, slept in the cold and sipped tea at roadside joints as they waited to see the dazzling new temple devoted to the deity Ram. Early in the morning, as a soft devotional melody played from speakers strung to electric poles, they took purifying dips in a river.

But it was another, smaller group, camped on the riverbank in Ayodhya, that made sure the moment was as much about India’s powerful prime minister, Narendra Modi, as it was about Lord Ram.

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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.

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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He Cracked Down on Gangs and Rights. Now He’s Set to Win a Landslide.

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.

Israel Signals Its Military Will Move Into a Gazan City Turned Refuge

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Israel’s defense minister has signaled that ground forces will advance toward the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, which has become a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians pushed from their homes by nearly 13 weeks of war.

Rafah, which has also been a gateway for humanitarian aid, is a sprawl of tents and makeshift shelters crammed against the border with Egypt. About half of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents have piled into and around the city, where about 200,000 people lived before the war, the United Nations said on Friday.

The city is one of the last in southern Gaza that Israeli ground forces, which have been fighting house-to-house battles in nearby Khan Younis, have not yet reached.

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What Withholding Funds to UNRWA Means for Gaza

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The main United Nations agency that provides food and services to Palestinians in the beleaguered Gaza Strip warned this week that it could soon run out of money after at least a dozen countries temporarily suspended funding amid accusations that some agency employees participated in the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel.

The agency, known as UNWRA, receives hundreds of millions of dollars annually to aid Palestinians in Gaza, and it provides needed services in which the Hamas government has shown little interest, including operating schools and maintaining health clinics. Since the start of the war, UNRWA has coordinated the distribution of relief to Gazans suffering from displacement, hunger and illness.

“Withdrawing funds from UNRWA is perilous and would result in the collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza,” U.N. officials said in a statement on Wednesday.

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What to Know About the Return of Power-Sharing in Northern Ireland

After two years of political gridlock, Northern Ireland is set to finally have a functioning government again. Elected representatives will meet in the Assembly building on the outskirts of Belfast on Saturday and revive the power-sharing government that rules the territory.

There will be one significant change since the last time they gathered: The first minister role will be held for the first time by a Sinn Fein politician, Michelle O’Neill, a significant moment in the history of Northern Ireland.

Here’s what to know.

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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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U.N. Court to Rule on Whether Ukraine Committed Genocide

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The top court of the United Nations ruled on Friday that it would take up the question of whether Ukraine committed genocide in its Donetsk and Luhansk regions, an accusation at the heart of Russia’s argument for its 2022 full-scale invasion.

The ruling came in a case brought by Ukraine to the International Court of Justice. The court said that Ukraine’s claim that there was no credible evidence that Kyiv was “responsible for committing genocide” in its Donetsk and Luhansk regions was admissible and that it would examine that claim on its merits.

The case, which will likely take many months to complete, will give a legal answer to one of the central allegations made by Russia against Ukraine — that Kyiv has been committing genocide against Russian speakers in the country’s east.

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Pigeon Was Cleared of Being a Chinese Spy, but Served 8 Months Anyway

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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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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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.


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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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.

Depardieu, 75, has denied any wrongdoing, and he has not been convicted in connection with any of the accusations against him.

On Monday, the Paris prosecutor’s office said that Darras’s suit was dropped in late December because the statute of limitations had run out on the alleged assault, an outcome that was widely expected — including by the actress herself. She told Agence France-Presse in December that she still “wanted to respond to the defense that plays down our allegations by saying they’re ‘just’ witness accounts.”

In France, adult victims of sexual assault have six years after an alleged crime to file a lawsuit.

Another lawsuit, filed in Spain by Ruth Baza, a Spanish journalist who has accused Depardieu of kissing and groping her without her consent when she was in Paris in 1995, could face a similar fate.

Depardieu has been charged with rape and sexual assault in a case involving Charlotte Arnould, a French actress who says he sexually assaulted her in Paris in 2018, when she was 22. That investigation is continuing, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.

While allegations of Depardieu’s sexual misconduct had been growing for years, criticism of the actor resurfaced recently after the France 2 documentary.

Darras was one of 13 women — actresses, makeup artists and production staff — who in April had told Mediapart, an investigative news website, that Depardieu had made inappropriate sexual comments or gestures during film shoots over the years.

In the France 2 documentary, and in interviews with Mediapart and other outlets, Darras said that in 2007, on the set of “Disco,” Depardieu had groped her repeatedly in between takes, touching her hips and buttocks, and had propositioned her, even after she refused.

Darras, who was 26 at the time, had said that no one on set had reacted to the groping because Depardieu was treated like a “king,” and that she had been afraid to speak out because she was just starting her career and was worried about being blacklisted.

In a news conference this month, Macron — who had condemned what he called a “manhunt” against Depardieu — said he had “no regrets about defending the presumption of innocence for a public figure.”

But, he added: “If I have one regret, at that moment, it’s that I didn’t say enough about the importance of the voice of women who are victims of this violence, and how essential this fight is for me.”

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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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Elecciones en El Salvador: se proyecta un triunfo demoledor de Bukele

Reportando desde Soyapango, El Salvador

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El gobierno de El Salvador ha encarcelado a miles de personas inocentes, suspendido libertades civiles cruciales de manera indefinida e inundado las calles de soldados. Ahora, el presidente detrás de todo esto, Nayib Bukele, está siendo acusado de violar la Constitución al buscar la reelección.

E incluso su compañero de fórmula para la vicepresidencia admite que su objetivo es estar “eliminando” lo que él considera la democracia rota del pasado.

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

Pero las encuestas muestran que la mayoría de los salvadoreños apoyan a Bukele, a menudo no a pesar de sus tácticas autoritarias, sino debido a ellas.

En las elecciones de este domingo, se espera que los votantes le den a Bukele y su partido, Nuevas Ideas, una victoria contundente, lo que consolidaría el control del presidente milénial sobre todos los sectores del gobierno.

La razón principal, dicen los analistas, es que el líder de 42 años ha logrado una hazaña que parecía imposible: diezmar a las brutales pandillas que habían convertido a El Salvador en uno de los lugares más violentos del mundo.

“Unos le llaman dictadura”, dijo Sebastián Morales Rivera, un pescador que vive en una localidad que solía ser bastión de una pandilla. “Pero yo prefiero vivir bajo la dictadura de un hombre que le sirva la mente y no bajo la dictadura de un montón de maniácos psicópatas”.

Durante más de dos décadas, la guerra entre pandillas aterrorizó a El Salvador, lo que afectó a la economía, provocó la muerte de civiles a voluntad y causó una ola de migración a Estados Unidos.

Los dos partidos que gobernaron el país hicieron poco para controlar el derramamiento de sangre, y posicionaron presidentes que se enriquecieron mientras sus compatriotas salvadoreños eran presas de los criminales.

Bukele, un milénial con gorra hacia atrás que prometía un cambio, llegó al poder en 2019 por votantes indignados con el establishment político. Y si bien las medidas estrictas que siguieron han restringido las libertades, también produjo los resultados que muchos habían anhelado.

“A esta gente que dice se está desmantelando la democracia. Mi respuesta es sí. No la estamos desmantelando, la estamos eliminando, la estamos sustituyendo por algo nuevo”, dijo Félix Ulloa, quien se está postulando para la reelección como vicepresidente junto con Bukele.

El sistema democrático que existió durante años en El Salvador, dijo Ulloa, solo benefició a políticos corruptos y dejó al país con decenas de miles de personas asesinadas. “Eso era podrido, eso era corrupto, eso era sanguinario”, afirmó.

Con un triunfo en las urnas el domingo, Bukele se uniría a una clase de líderes mundiales que han ganado repetidas elecciones incluso cuando se les acusa de socavar las bases de la democracia.

Los líderes de India, Turquía y Hungría, por ejemplo, han obtenido varios mandatos en las urnas y han sido acusados de tener tendencias autoritarias. En Estados Unidos, Donald Trump se está acercando a la nominación republicana a la presidencia, mientras enfrenta un proceso judicial por organizar una insurrección.

Con cada victoria, afirmaron los analistas, estos carismáticos líderes autoritarios están obligando a sus países a considerar una pregunta cada vez más urgente: ¿cuánto le importa realmente a los votantes el sistema de controles y equilibrios, el cual solía considerarse la base de la sociedad liberal?

En ninguna parte se pregunta eso de manera más abierta que en El Salvador, donde Bukele disfruta del respaldo de alrededor del 80 por ciento de la población, según muestran las encuestas, y muchos parecen no tener problemas con darle el control total sobre el país si eso les garantiza seguridad.

Bukele necesita “el control de todos, porque no todos son de la mente que él tiene”, dijo Morales, quién aseveró que lo reelegiría “tres veces” de ser necesario.

La Constitución de El Salvador prohíbe a los presidentes buscar un mandato consecutivo, según los juristas. Pero en 2021, el partido de Bukele, que tiene una mayoría calificada en la legislatura, remplazó a los principales jueces de la Corte Suprema, quienes luego reinterpretaron la Constitución para permitirle postularse de nuevo.

“Esta ya no es una república constitucional”, dijo Noah Bullock, director ejecutivo de Cristosal, una organización salvadoreña defensora de derechos humanos. “Es un régimen autoritario de facto”.

Algunos defensores de los derechos humanos se preguntan si Bukele podría encontrar una manera de permanecer en el cargo a largo plazo. Bukele aseguró en Twitter Spaces que no buscaba una “reelección indefinida” y señaló que “la norma actual no lo permite”.

Pero Ulloa afirmó que la gran mayoría del país en realidad quiere que Bukele sea presidente “para toda la vida”.

Tras una explosión de violencia en la primavera de 2022, el gobierno impuso un estado de excepción y lanzó una campaña de detenciones masivas sin el debido proceso.

Unas 75.000 personas han sido encarceladas, incluidas 7000 que finalmente fueron liberadas y miles más que no son miembros de pandillas pero siguen tras las rejas, según organizaciones defensoras de derechos humanos. El gobierno construyó una megaprisión para albergarlos a todos.

Cristosal y Human Rights Watch informaron que los reclusos estaban siendo torturados y privados de alimentos. Sus destinos se decidieron en juicios masivos con jueces cuyas identidades se mantuvieron en secreto. “Esos son crímenes contra la humanidad”, aseveró Bullock.

Pero el estado de excepción, que ha durado casi dos años, transformó el país. La cantidad de asesinatos se desplomó. Según informes, los pagos por extorsión han disminuido notablemente.

Las detenciones de salvadoreños que cruzaban la frontera de Estados Unidos disminuyeron en aproximadamente un tercio durante el último año fiscal —cuando la migración en general aumentó—, una disminución que los expertos atribuyen en parte a la nueva sensación de seguridad en las calles.

Muchos considerarían a Irma Mancía de Olmedo una víctima del nuevo Estado policial.

Su hijo, Mario Olmedo Mancía, fue detenido por las autoridades la mañana de un viernes de abril de 2022, cuando salió de su casa para cortarse el cabello. Su familia no ha sabido nada de él desde entonces.

“No sé ni como está ni nada”, dijo entre lágrimas Mancía de Olmedo.

Mancía de Olmedo afirmó que Mario no estaba involucrado con pandillas y tiene documentos que demuestran que trabajaba en un centro de llamadas.

Pero incluso en medio de su dolor, la mujer de 56 años no siente más que admiración por Bukele.

“Él ha hecho todo lo que ha podido para mejorar mi país”, dijo. “Que algunos, pues, estamos sufriendo las consecuencias. Todo pasa”.

Durante años, Mancía de Olmedo nunca se había atrevido a visitar a su madre, la cual vivía en un barrio controlado por la pandilla MS-13. Ahora la visita con regularidad.

Todavía hay focos de resistencia contra Bukele, en particular entre familias que afirman que sus parientes fueron encarcelados de manera injusta. Además, quedan dudas sobre si el gobierno está realmente comprometido a perseguir a los líderes de las pandillas.

Funcionarios estadounidenses afirmaron que antes de las medidas enérgicas, el gobierno de Bukele negoció con los líderes de las pandillas una reducción de los homicidios a cambio de beneficios en las prisiones. Altos funcionarios salvadoreños, según el Departamento de Justicia, ayudaron a un líder de la MS-13 a escapar del país, a pesar de que Estados Unidos había solicitado su extradición.

Bukele ha negado haber hecho tratos con pandillas y la acusación no ha tenido ningún impacto perceptible en su enorme popularidad.

Bukele, expublicista, no pasa mucho tiempo recorriendo el país ni realizando mítines: es una estrella en Facebook, TikTok y X, donde sus mensajes llegan a millones.

La mayoría de los salvadoreños piensa que la Asamblea Legislativa no debería interponerse en el camino de Bukele, porque solo él puede solucionar los problemas del país, según una investigación del Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública de la Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas.

“El carisma que se ha instaurado entre la población salvadoreña es sumamente determinante para no solo evaluar su gestión, sino también como factor para interpretar la realidad que está viviendo el país”, dijo Laura Andrade, directora del instituto.

Bukele se está vendiendo como una “figura mesiánica, esa figura salvadora que rescata este pueblo que ha sido violentado por sus otros gobernantes”, afirmó.

No solo los salvadoreños están comprando ese discurso. Bukele se ha ganado admiradores en todo el hemisferio occidental, especialmente en países violentos como Ecuador, donde el presidente recientemente elegido ha prometido construir cárceles como las de Bukele.

La oposición de El Salvador está hecha añicos, y sus cinco candidatos apenas aparecen en las encuestas. Mientras tanto, la campaña del partido gobernante, Nuevas Ideas, consiste principalmente en prometer a la gente más de Bukele y en avivar el miedo a perder todo lo que les ha dado.

La amenaza ha funcionado. Muchos de los que viven en los barrios que alguna vez fueron zonas de guerra afirmaron que creen que poner a cargo a otra persona que no sea Bukele podría poner en riesgo su seguridad.

“Van a liberar a los presos”, dijo Morales. “Toditos los políticos son manejables”.

Gabriel Labrador colaboró con el reportaje desde San Salvador.

Natalie Kitroeff es la jefa de la corresponsalía del Times para México, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Más de Natalie Kitroeff

La censura china busca acallar a las voces que critican sus políticas económicas

Daisuke Wakabayashi y

Reportando desde Seúl

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La principal agencia de inteligencia de China emitió el mes pasado una ominosa advertencia sobre una amenaza creciente para la seguridad nacional del país: los chinos que critican la economía.

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

En una serie de publicaciones en su cuenta oficial de WeChat, el Ministerio de Seguridad del Estado pidió a los ciudadanos que comprendieran la visión económica del presidente Xi Jinping y no se dejaran influir por quienes buscan “denigrar la economía de China” mediante “falsas narrativas”. Las autoridades del ministerio dijeron que, para combatir ese riesgo, los organismos de seguridad se centrarán en “reforzar la propaganda económica y la orientación de la opinión pública”.

China intensifica su represión mientras lucha por recuperar el dinamismo y el rápido crecimiento económico del pasado. Pekín ha censurado y ha tratado de intimidar a economistas prestigiosos, analistas financieros, bancos de inversión y personas influyentes en las redes sociales por sus valoraciones críticas de la economía y las políticas del gobierno. Además, se están suprimiendo los artículos periodísticos sobre personas que pasan apuros económicos o sobre el bajo nivel de vida de los trabajadores inmigrantes.

China ha seguido dando unas perspectivas positivas para la economía, señalando que el año pasado superó su previsión de crecimiento económico del 5 por ciento sin recurrir a medidas de estímulo arriesgadas y costosas. Sin embargo, más allá de las cifras, su industria financiera batalla por contener enormes cantidades de deuda de los gobiernos locales, su mercado bursátil se tambalea y su sector inmobiliario está en crisis. El lunes se ordenó la liquidación de China Evergrande, una promotora inmobiliaria ambiciosa que estaba acuciada por una deuda de más de 300.000 millones de dólares.

El alcance de la nueva campaña de información es mayor que el de la labor habitual de los censores gubernamentales, quienes siempre han vigilado de cerca las conversaciones sobre economía en internet. Ahora sus esfuerzos se extienden a los comentarios económicos generales que se permitían en el pasado. La implicación de las agencias de seguridad también evidencia cómo los intereses empresariales y económicos entran en la visión cada vez más grande de Xi acerca de lo que constituye una amenaza para la seguridad nacional.

En noviembre, el Ministerio de Seguridad del Estado, autodenominándose como “firmes guardianes de la seguridad financiera”, afirmó que otros países utilizaban las finanzas como arma en los juegos geopolíticos.

“Algunas personas con segundas intenciones intentan crear problemas y sacar provecho del caos”, escribió el ministerio. “No se trata solo del ‘mercado del oso’ y ‘los vendedores en corto’. Estos agoreros del mercado intentan sacudir la confianza inversora de la comunidad internacional en China y desencadenar una agitación financiera interna en nuestro país”.

En el último año, China ha fijado su atención en las empresas consultoras y asesoras con vínculos en el extranjero mediante redadas, detenciones y arrestos. Estas empresas, que ayudaban a las compañías a evaluar las inversiones en el país, se han convertido en un daño colateral en la campaña de Xi para reforzar la seguridad nacional. Estos esfuerzos por frenar el flujo de información, restringir la publicación de datos económicos desfavorables y limitar el discurso financiero crítico solo parecen aumentar la preocupación de los inversores y las empresas extranjeras sobre el estado real de la economía china.

“En mi opinión, cuanto más suprime el gobierno la información negativa sobre la economía, menos confianza tiene la gente en la situación económica real”, dijo Xiao Qiang, investigador científico de la Escuela de Información de la Universidad de California en Berkeley.

Las nuevas inversiones extranjeras en China cayeron un 8 por ciento en 2023, su nivel más bajo en tres años. El índice chino CSI 300, que sigue a las mayores empresas cotizadas en Shanghái y Shenzhen, cayó un 12 por ciento el año pasado, frente a una subida del 24 por ciento del S&P 500. El índice chino ha bajado otro 5 por ciento este año, hasta mínimos de casi cinco años.

El primer ministro Li Qiang pidió el lunes medidas más eficaces para estabilizar el mercado bursátil, en un contexto de informaciones sobre un posible paquete de rescate del mercado de valores.

Xiao, el investigador académico, dijo que en la segunda mitad de 2023 empezó a notar que los censores chinos retiraban con más rapidez muchos artículos de noticias financieras. Entre ellos: un artículo de diciembre en el sitio de noticias financieras Yicai que citaba una investigación según la cual 964 millones de chinos ganaban menos de 280 dólares mensuales.

Este mes, también se retiró de internet un documental de NetEase News sobre trabajadores inmigrantes que soportaban un nivel de vida extremadamente bajo. Los resultados de la búsqueda del documental titulado Working Like This for 30 Years, también se restringieron en Weibo, un sitio de redes sociales similar a X.

Desde junio, Weibo ha restringido que decenas de cuentas publiquen después de que, según dijo, “publicaran comentarios que hablaban mal de la economía” o “distorsionaran” o “desprestigiaran” las políticas económica, financiera e inmobiliaria de China.

En noviembre, Weibo advirtió a los usuarios que no fueran “maliciosamente pesimistas” sobre la economía ni difundieran sentimientos negativos. El mes pasado, la empresa dijo que esperaba que los usuarios ayudaran a “incrementar la confianza” en el desarrollo de la economía.

Otros servicios de redes sociales también están tomando medidas para censurar el discurso negativo sobre la economía. Douyin, la versión china de TikTok, tiene normas específicas que prohíben la “malinterpretación maliciosa de las políticas relacionadas con el sector inmobiliario”.

A Liu Jipeng, decano de la Universidad China de Ciencias Políticas y Derecho de Pekín, se le prohibió publicar o añadir nuevos seguidores en Douyin y Weibo el mes pasado, después de que dijera en una entrevista que no era el momento adecuado para invertir dinero en acciones. También escribió en Weibo, donde tiene más de 500.000 seguidores, que a la gente le resultaba difícil invertir con seguridad porque había muchas instituciones poco éticas. Su cuenta de Douyin, en la que tiene más de 700.000 seguidores, tiene un aviso que dice que el usuario “tiene prohibido ser seguido debido a una violación de las normas de la comunidad”.

Los bancos y las sociedades de valores también están sometidos a un intenso escrutinio por el contenido de sus estudios económicos. En junio, la Oficina Reguladora de Valores de Shenzhen advirtió a China Merchants Securities, una agencia de valores con sede en Shenzhen, sobre un informe “elaborado descuidadamente” un año antes, en el que se advertía que las acciones nacionales seguirían bajo presión debido a la economía.

En julio, Goldman Sachs provocó una venta masiva de acciones bancarias chinas después de que uno de sus informes de investigación calificara con la etiqueta de “venta” a tres grandes prestamistas y advirtiera que los bancos podrían tener dificultades para mantener los dividendos por las pérdidas derivadas de la deuda de los gobiernos locales. Securities Times, un periódico financiero estatal, contratacó diciendo que el informe se basaba en una “interpretación errónea de los hechos” y que “no es aconsejable malinterpretar los fundamentos de los bancos chinos”.

Un economista de una sociedad de valores extranjera dijo que un funcionario del gobierno chino le había pedido recientemente que fuera “más reflexivo” al redactar informes de investigación, especialmente si el contenido podía interpretarse de manera negativa. El economista pidió no ser identificado por temor a represalias.

Incluso un comentario que antes era aceptable se ha vuelto problemático a la luz de los actuales retos económicos de China.

En una entrevista de 2012, un año antes de que Xi asumiera el poder, Wu Jinglian, un famoso economista chino, advirtió que el país se encontraba en un punto de inflexión. Afirmó que China podía avanzar con una economía de mercado regida por la ley, o podía dejarse influir por quienes buscaban una agenda alternativa de fuerte implicación gubernamental.

Wu dijo en la entrevista que los problemas sociales de China “son fundamentalmente el resultado de unas reformas económicas incompletas, un grave retraso en las reformas políticas y una intensificación del poder administrativo para reprimir e interferir en las actividades económicas privadas legítimas”.

La entrevista se volvió a publicar el año pasado con motivo del 45 aniversario de la apertura de la economía china. Fue ampliamente compartida y es considerada como un reproche a la política económica de Xi —que ha impulsado un mayor control estatal a expensas de las reformas del mercado— antes de que fuera retirada de WeChat.

Pero la campaña de presión se ha intensificado tanto que está convirtiendo en críticos a quienes suelen defender las políticas de Pekín. Hu Xijin, influyente comentarista y exredactor jefe de Global Times, periódico del Partido Comunista, escribió en Weibo que la labor de las personas influyentes era “ayudar constructivamente” al gobierno a identificar los problemas, “en vez de encubrirlos activamente y crear una opinión pública que no es real”.

Daisuke Wakabayashi es corresponsal de negocios en Asia para el Times, con sede en Seúl. @daiwaka

Claire Fu cubre noticias en China continental para The New York Times en Seúl. @fu_claire

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.

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

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.

La ONU dijo el viernes que había despedido a varios empleados tras ser informada de las acusaciones. Pero poco se sabía de las acusaciones hasta que el informe fue examinado el domingo por The New York Times.

Estas acusaciones son las que han llevado a ocho países, entre ellos Estados Unidos, a suspender el pago de parte de la ayuda a la UNRWA, como se conoce al organismo, mientras la guerra sume a los palestinos de Gaza en una situación desesperada. Más de 26.000 personas han muerto allí y casi dos millones han sido desplazadas, según funcionarios gazatíes y de la ONU.

Los trabajadores de la UNRWA han sido acusados de ayudar a Hamás a organizar el ataque que desencadenó la guerra en Gaza, o de prestarle ayuda en los días posteriores. Según las autoridades israelíes, ese día murieron unas 1200 personas en Israel y unas 240 fueron secuestradas y trasladadas a Gaza.

El domingo, el secretario general de la ONU, António Guterres, se describió a sí mismo como “horrorizado por estas acusaciones” y señaló que nueve de los 12 empleados acusados habían sido despedidos. Pero Guterres imploró a las naciones que habían suspendido sus pagos de ayuda que lo reconsideraran. La UNRWA es uno de los mayores empleadores de Gaza, con una plantilla de 13.000 personas, en su mayoría palestinas.

Al preguntársele el domingo por las acusaciones de Israel, la UNRWA dijo que dos de los 12 empleados habían muerto, pero que no podía proporcionar más información en tanto que la Oficina de Servicios de Supervisión Interna de la ONU seguía investigando.

Dos funcionarios de países occidentales confirmaron, bajo condición de anonimato, que habían sido informados del contenido del informe en los últimos días, pero dijeron que no habían podido verificar los detalles. Si bien Estados Unidos todavía no ha corroborado por sí mismo las afirmaciones israelíes, los funcionarios estadounidenses afirman que las consideraron lo bastante creíbles como para justificar la suspensión de la ayuda.

El Times verificó la identidad de uno de los 12 empleados, un encargado de almacén, en cuyo perfil de las redes sociales figura como empleado del OOPS y aparece vistiendo ropa con logotipos de la ONU.

El informe israelí, presentado a funcionarios de EE. UU. el viernes, enumera los nombres y puestos de trabajo de los empleados de la UNRWA y las acusaciones contra ellos.

El informe decía que los agentes de inteligencia israelíes habían establecido los movimientos de seis de los hombres dentro de Israel el 7 de octubre basándose en la localización de sus celulares; otros habían sido vigilados mientras hacían llamadas telefónicas dentro de Gaza durante las cuales, según los israelíes, hablaban de su participación en el atentado contra Hamás.

Otros tres recibieron mensajes de texto en los que se les ordenaba presentarse en los puntos de reunión el 7 de octubre, y a uno se le dijo que llevara granadas propulsadas por cohetes almacenadas en su casa, según el informe.

Los israelíes describieron a 10 de los empleados como integrantes de Hamás, el grupo militante que controlaba Gaza en el momento del atentado del 7 de octubre. Se dijo que otro estaba afiliado a la Yihad Islámica, otro grupo militante.

Sin embargo, se dice que siete de los acusados también eran profesores en escuelas de la UNRWA, e instruían a los alumnos en asignaturas como matemáticas y árabe. Otros dos trabajaban en las escuelas en otros cargos. Los tres restantes fueron descritos como un empleado, un trabajador social y el encargado del almacén.

Las acusaciones más detalladas del informe se referían a un consejero escolar de Jan Yunis, en el sur de Gaza, a quien se acusa de colaborar con su hijo para secuestrar a una mujer de Israel.

Un trabajador social de Nuseirat, en el centro de Gaza, está acusado de ayudar a llevar a Gaza el cadáver de un soldado israelí muerto, así como de distribuir munición y coordinar vehículos el día del atentado.

Las acusaciones israelíes se producen en un contexto de fricciones con la UNRWA que duran décadas. Desde 1949, la agencia se ocupa de las familias de palestinos que huyeron o se vieron obligados a abandonar sus hogares durante las guerras que rodearon la creación del Estado de Israel.

La organización proporciona ayuda vital a más de cinco millones de refugiados palestinos dispersos por Medio Oriente, cuyo futuro y estatus nunca se han resuelto a pesar de años de negociaciones.

Pero según sus críticos, entre ellos muchos israelíes, la agencia es un obstáculo para la resolución del conflicto. Su mera existencia, dicen, impide que los refugiados palestinos se integren en nuevas comunidades y aviva sus sueños de regresar algún día a lo que ahora es Israel, un objetivo que Israel dice que nunca permitirá. Y en Gaza, argumenta Israel, la UNRWA ha caído bajo la influencia de Hamás, una afirmación que la agencia rechaza.

No es la primera vez que Estados Unidos recorta dinero a la agencia de la ONU. El gobierno de Donald Trump suspendió la ayuda como parte de sus esfuerzos por presionar a los dirigentes palestinos para que dejaran de exigir que se permitiera a los refugiados regresar a Israel.

Pero la actual amenaza a su financiación se considera la más grave de su historia porque llega en un momento de crisis para Gaza.

En medio de las advertencias de hambruna, el colapso del sistema de salud y el desplazamiento masivo de la población palestina, la labor de la UNRWA se considera más importante que nunca. Ayuda a coordinar la distribución de los suministros de ayuda que —por escasos que sean— llegan cada día al sur de Gaza, y sus escuelas dan cobijo a más de un millón de gazatíes, según las estadísticas de la agencia.

Las suspensiones de financiación pueden hacerse sentir rápidamente. A diferencia de otras agencias de la ONU, la UNRWA no tiene una reserva financiera estratégica. El domingo, Guterres dijo que podría ser necesario reducir los servicios a partir de febrero.

Un día antes, el comisario general de la agencia, Philippe Lazzarini, advirtió de una catástrofe inminente.

“Sería inmensamente irresponsable sancionar a una agencia y a toda una comunidad a la que sirve por acusaciones de actos delictivos contra algunos individuos, especialmente en un momento de guerra, desplazamientos y crisis políticas en la región”, afirmó.

“Las vidas de los habitantes de Gaza dependen de este apoyo, al igual que la estabilidad regional”, dijo Lazzarini.

El viernes, el Departamento de Estado de EE. UU. reconoció el papel humanitario fundamental que desempeña la UNRWA, pero dijo que suspendía su financiamiento mientras evaluaba tanto las acusaciones como la respuesta de la agencia a las mismas.

Los propios funcionarios israelíes expresaron preocupación el domingo por si sus acusaciones podrían al final dificultar su propia posición, según tres funcionarios implicados en el debate. Un colapso en la prestación de servicios a Gaza podría obligar a Israel a asumir un papel más importante en la gestión de la distribución de la ayuda, un papel que no desea.

Los informes sobre las acusaciones contra los trabajadores humanitarios se produjeron el mismo día en que la Corte Internacional de Justicia emitió una sentencia provisional sobre las acusaciones de genocidio formuladas contra Israel por Sudáfrica. El tribunal ordenó a Israel que tomara medidas para impedir actos de genocidio por parte de sus fuerzas en Gaza y que permitiera la entrada de más ayuda en el territorio.

Colaboraron con reportería Johnatan Reiss, Julian E. Barnes, Gabby Sobelman y Myra Noveck.

Ronen Bergman es reportero de The New York Times Magazine y vive en Tel Aviv. Su libro más reciente es Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, publicado por Random House. Más de Ronen Bergman

Patrick Kingsley es el jefe de la corresponsalía en Jerusalén, que abarca Israel y los territorios ocupados. Ha reportado desde más de 40 países, escrito dos libros y antes cubrió migración y Medio Oriente para The Guardian. Más de Patrick Kingsley

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.

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

Los primeros informes del ataque de Hamás ya se estaban mezclando con rumores, inundando las redes sociales y grupos de chat privados, convirtiéndose en una masa cargada de emoción y en gran medida no verificada. Schatz, uno de los investigadores de desinformación y verificadores de datos más conocidos en Israel, se apresuró a volver a su computadora en casa, sabiendo que tenía poco tiempo para detener la propagación de las falsas afirmaciones.

De alguna manera, ya era demasiado tarde.

Desde el ataque inicial, los vigilantes de desinformación en la región han sido abrumados por narrativas infundadas, medios manipulados y teorías de conspiración. El contenido se ha difundido en enormes volúmenes a gran velocidad: fragmentos de videojuegos y reportajes antiguos haciéndose pasar por imágenes actuales, intentos de desacreditar fotos auténticas como generadas artificialmente, traducciones inexactas y acusaciones falsas distribuidas en múltiples idiomas.

En la niebla de la guerra, los rumores y las mentiras son especialmente peligrosos, pues son capaces de adoptar la apariencia de hechos y afectar decisiones. Los verificadores de datos y analistas de la desinformación están destinados a ser parte de la defensa, y ofrecer una evaluación clara de la evidencia disponible.

Sin embargo, el trabajo es difícil incluso para los profesionales experimentados, quienes enfrentaron resistencia mientras luchaban contra narrativas falsas y engañosas a través de múltiples elecciones y una pandemia. En Medio Oriente, donde los sitios web de verificación de datos y la investigación de la desinformación son relativamente recientes y a menudo están mal financiados, los desafíos se han multiplicado.

“No tienes muchas organizaciones de verificación de datos establecidas con larga trayectoria en la región, y eso lo hace más difícil”, dijo Angie Drobnic Holan, directora de la Red Internacional de Verificación de Datos, que apoya a los verificadores en todo el mundo. “En el campo, es un área nueva que necesita desarrollo”.

Muchos verificadores de datos israelíes y palestinos han apenas ingresado en este campo en los últimos años. En los últimos meses han realizado un trabajo valioso, a veces sin pago, intentando extraer los datos de una zona de combate, dijo Holan. Su proximidad al conflicto los hace estar profundamente comprometidos con la verdad y mejor equipados para entender las sutilezas culturales que la moldean.

También los expone a ser acusados de tener un sesgo. La neutralidad puede ser difícil en una región donde las diferencias políticas y religiosas han sido acaloradamente disputadas durante generaciones, y aún más durante una guerra tan polarizadora como esta.

Otra dificultad es que el acceso a información confiable es irregular, especialmente en Gaza, donde los bombardeos intensos y los cortes de energía interrumpen los esfuerzos para verificar las afirmaciones. El acoso y las amenazas han aumentado. Su salud mental se encuentra en un estado muy frágil: los verificadores de datos enfrentan trastorno de estrés postraumático causado por la exposición continua a imágenes violentas y gráficas; algunos están de luto por colegas y familiares que han sido asesinados.

La carga emocional pesa fuertemente sobre Baker Mohammad Abdulhaq, periodista y verificador de datos en Nablus, una ciudad palestina en Cisjordania a menos de 80 kilómetros de Jerusalén. Hace ocho años, fundó una iniciativa de verificación de datos llamada Observatorio Tahaqaq, que se traduce como “verificación”. Entre el 7 de octubre y el 25 de diciembre, él y su equipo de nueve verificadores de datos publicaron un promedio de casi dos informes al día, casi cuatro veces más que su tasa en septiembre.

Llevar a cabo su investigación ha sido un proceso arduo, a veces requiriéndoles “presenciar escenas duras en Gaza de niños y mujeres asesinados como resultado de ataques aéreos israelíes”, dijo Abdulhaq por correo electrónico.

“También nos comunicamos directamente con sus familias, y recolectamos testimonios desgarradores de aquellos que sufren, lo que genera una presión psicológica significativa”, dijo.

La principal audiencia del Observatorio Tahaqaq es palestina, y la mayoría de sus informes están escritos en árabe. Muchos no son favorecedores para Israel: Abdulhaq y su equipo han evaluado afirmaciones inexactas sobre intercambios de prisioneros y preocupaciones de que Israel usó fósforo blanco contra civiles. Tahaqaq, dijo, fue objeto de 179 ciberataques que intentaron desactivar el sitio web el 23 de octubre después de escribir sobre la mortal explosión en el Hospital Árabe al-Ahli en Ciudad de Gaza.

Abdulhaq afirmó que tuvo interacciones angustiantes con las autoridades israelíes antes del 7 de octubre, incluyendo una detención de varias semanas en 2018 en una cárcel israelí tras regresar de una conferencia sobre asuntos palestinos en Líbano y recibir un premio de medios en El Cairo. Dijo que fue interrogado sobre sus actividades periodísticas, y luego fue liberado sin cargos.

Sin embargo, tales experiencias han tenido un efecto limitado en su verificación de datos, dijo.

Tahaqaq también ha examinado afirmaciones falsas y engañosas de cuentas palestinas y de otros países árabes, incluyendo un video mal traducido para sugerir que un oficial israelí se lamentaba de la dificultad de luchar contra Hamás cuando en realidad estaba discutiendo la precisión y profesionalismo de sus tropas. Otro video que pretendía mostrar a un niño palestino cuya familia entera había sido asesinada por ataques aéreos israelíes documentaba en realidad a un chico que había sobrevivido a inundaciones en Tayikistán durante el verano.

El Observatorio Tahaqaq comenzó en 2015 como parte de la tesis de maestría de Abdulhaq sobre la verificación de datos. Se quedó sin dinero dos años después, y luego resurgió en 2020 para informar sobre afirmaciones acerca de la COVID-19. Ahora, el grupo depende del tiempo donado por sus verificadores y de la asistencia financiera ocasional a través de la Red Árabe de Verificadores de Datos.

La red, un proyecto de tres años dirigido por la organización de medios Reporteros Árabes de Periodismo de Investigación, incluye a más de 250 verificadores de datos de Egipto, Irak, Yemen y otros lugares. Saja Mortada, la periodista libanesa a cargo de la organización, dijo que la guerra entre Israel y Hamás ha sido la crisis más complicada de monitorear en un año que también incluyó afirmaciones relacionadas con la guerra en Sudán, los terremotos en Siria y Marruecos y las tormentas en Libia.

“El miedo y la incertidumbre pueden hacer que la información falsa se propague con rapidez, ya que la gente podría creer y compartir fácilmente cosas que coinciden con lo que temen o ya piensan”, dijo.

Las señales de advertencia de tal oleada de desinformación fueron evidentes de inmediato para Schatz, el investigador israelí, el 7 de octubre.

“Estaba en shock, como todos los demás, pero me di cuenta de que es precisamente en ese estado de shock que las peores cosas se materializan y se vuelven virales en internet”, dijo.

Su organización, FakeReporter, depende de un equipo de 14 personas para investigar y verificar conspiraciones y rumores que circulan en las redes sociales. Es conocido por descubrir una campaña de desinformación iraní en 2021 que utilizó grupos de WhatsApp para sembrar confusión entre los israelíes. Ese otoño, la organización también descubrió grupos de WhatsApp formados por extremistas israelíes para intentar ataques contra ciudadanos palestinos. Los hallazgos de FakeReporter han sido citados en publicaciones israelíes de izquierda y de derecha.

Schatz llegó a la investigación de la desinformación a través del activismo político. Se unió a otros reservistas israelíes en un grupo que protestaba por la ocupación militar del país de los territorios palestinos y, en 2020, participó junto con miles de otros israelíes en manifestaciones contra la corrupción gubernamental.

Comenzó a notar afirmaciones extrañas sobre los manifestantes que aparecían en los grupos de WhatsApp que se usaban para planificar y llevar a cabo las protestas. Vio como cuentas que usaban una sintaxis extraña se unían al grupo y rápidamente difundían afirmaciones falsas de que los manifestantes estaban siendo pagados o reunidos intencionalmente en grandes multitudes para propagar la COVID-19. Los rumores de que el gobierno israelí estaba desplegando bots en línea para plantar desinformación habían circulado durante mucho tiempo, dijo, pero no se habían estudiado mucho.

“Las tácticas eran tan manipuladoras, que parecía que algo más grande estaba sucediendo”, afirmó. Con el tiempo, rastreó algunos de los mensajes engañosos sobre los manifestantes hasta llegar a cuentas de bots.

Más tarde ese año, Schatz inició FakeReporter con cinco amigos. El proyecto pidió a los activistas israelíes que reportaran cuentas extrañas o engañosas de redes sociales y mensajes de WhatsApp; miles de mensajes inundaron el sistema. Después de un año de trabajo a tiempo completo sin paga, el grupo comenzó a recurrir a subvenciones y donaciones para ayudar a financiar sus esfuerzos.

Schatz dijo que reportar sobre la desinformación requiere que las personas dejen de lado su postura política. Su equipo recibe afirmaciones para analizar de israelíes de todo el espectro político, y el grupo recientemente comenzó también a aceptar informes en árabe. Durante el primer mes de la guerra, el grupo desmintió imágenes que pretendían mostrar niños israelíes encerrados en jaulas en Gaza. (Las imágenes eran de años atrás, y no se sabía con certeza cuál era su origen). También desmintieron afirmaciones de que Israel había fabricado, o utilizado inteligencia artificial, para fingir las muertes de sus propios civiles en el festival de música Nova.

“Trabajamos arduamente para adherirnos a lo que sabemos o no sabemos y dejar de lado nuestras opiniones políticas”, dijo Schatz. “Especialmente ahora, en tiempos de guerra, tenemos que trabajar con cuidado para no dejar que nuestras opiniones nublen lo que es fáctico y lo que no lo es”.

Tiffany Hsu cubre casos de información errónea y desinformación y sus orígenes, movimientos y consecuencias. Ha sido periodista por más de dos décadas. Más de Tiffany Hsu

Sheera Frenkel es una reportera afincada en la bahía de San Francisco que cubre el impacto de la tecnología en la vida cotidiana, centrándose en las redes sociales, como Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Telegram y WhatsApp. Más de Sheera Frenkel