The New York Times 2024-02-04 00:33:16

U.S. Strikes Test Iran’s Will to Escalate

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As Iran and the United States assessed the damage done by American airstrikes in Syria and Iraq on Friday, the initiative suddenly shifted to Tehran and its pending decision whether to respond or to take the hit and de-escalate.

The expectation in Washington and among its allies is that the Iranians will choose the latter course, seeing no benefit in getting into a shooting war with a far larger power, with all the risks that implies. But it is not yet clear whether the varied proxy forces that have conducted scores of attacks on American bases and ships — and that rely on Iran for money, arms and intelligence — will conclude that their interests, too, are served by backing off.

The Houthis, an Iran-backed rebel group that controls parts of Yemen, have continued to attack ships in the Red Sea despite a series of American strikes, including one on Saturday, meant to deter them.

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Germany Braces for Decades of Confrontation With Russia

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has begun warning Germans that they should prepare for decades of confrontation with Russia — and that they must speedily rebuild the country’s military in case Vladimir V. Putin does not plan to stop at the border with Ukraine.

Russia’s military, he has said in a series of recent interviews with German news media, is fully occupied with Ukraine. But if there is a truce, and Mr. Putin, Russia’s president, has a few years to reset, he thinks the Russian leader will consider testing NATO’s unity.

“Nobody knows how or whether this will last,” Mr. Pistorius said of the current war, arguing for a rapid buildup in the size of the German military and a restocking of its arsenal.

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Northern Ireland Has a Sinn Fein Leader. It’s a Landmark Moment.

As Michelle O’Neill walked down the marble staircase in Northern Ireland’s Parliament building on Saturday, she appeared confident and calm. She smiled briefly as applause erupted from supporters, but her otherwise serious gaze conveyed the gravity of the moment.

The political party she represents, Sinn Fein, was shaped by the decades-long, bloody struggle of Irish nationalists in the territory who dreamed of reuniting with the Republic of Ireland and undoing the 1921 partition that has kept Northern Ireland under British rule.

Now, for the first time, a Sinn Fein politician holds Northern Ireland’s top political office, a landmark moment for the party and for the broader region as a power-sharing government is restored. The first minister role had previously always been held by a unionist politician committed to remaining part of the United Kingdom.

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Senegal’s President Calls Off a National Election. His Critics Call It a Coup.

Senegal’s president has canceled the election for his replacement three weeks before voting was set to take place, saying that a dispute between the legislative and judicial arms of government needed to be resolved first.

Speaking on Saturday afternoon from the presidential palace in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, his words live-streamed on his social media platforms, President Macky Sall said that he was repealing the decree convening the electoral body, effectively postponing elections indefinitely.

But his opponents said he was essentially carrying out a coup d’état, and accused him of treason.

“For the first time in its history, Senegal has just suffered a coup d’état,” Ousmane Diallo, a researcher with Amnesty International, posted on X. In an interview, he said that the dispute Mr. Sall cited as the reason for the postponement was “a manufactured crisis, a crisis created in a week to stop the electoral process.”

After the country’s constitutional council published lists of approved candidates for the election, some of them were found to have been approved despite holding dual nationality, something presidential candidates are not allowed in Senegal.

One was Karim Wade, the son of President Sall’s predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade. The younger Mr. Wade, whose mother is from France, had renounced his French citizenship in order to run, but may have done so only after the constitutional court rejected him as a presidential candidate. After he was blocked from running, his party accused two of the court’s judges of corruption, and it appears that these allegations form the basis of President Sall’s decision to cancel the election.

In his speech on Saturday Mr. Sall portrayed it as a dispute between the national assembly, which launched an inquiry into the allegations, and the constitutional court, saying things had reached a crisis point. The situation, he said, “could seriously damage the credibility of the election” in a country that “cannot afford a new crisis.”

Mr. Sall had spent years refusing to confirm whether he would try for a third term in office. Senegal’s Constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms. But in 2016, when Mr. Sall was four years into his first term, voters changed the Constitution to reduce terms to five years from seven, which he argued reset the clock, allowing him to run a third time.

But last July, he said he would not run again, and later named the prime minister, Amadou Ba, as the governing party candidate for the 2024 election.

He gave no new date for an election in his address to the nation on Saturday, but said he was still committed to staying out of the race himself.

“My solemn commitment not to run in the presidential election remains unchanged,” he said in his live-streamed address, before the camera cut to shots of the golden lions outside the presidential palace, and the Senegalese flag embossed with the president’s initials fluttering in slow motion.

Half an hour after the president’s address on Saturday, three young men jumped off a bus in Ouakam, a neighborhood in Dakar, and bought cups of spiced coffee as they discussed the news of the canceled election. One said that Mr. Sall was just testing people, to see if they would take to the streets.

“This is the biggest coup d’état ever,” said another, Abdou Lahat, sipping his Touba coffee.

Despite a warning from the U.S. embassy that violent protests could break out, most residents of Senegal’s capital, Dakar, merely continued with their day on Saturday. But many were unhappy.

“We want to change all these people,” said Fatou Diouf, a young woman selling fabric in a Dakar market on Saturday afternoon, referring to the country’s leaders.

Koumba Sakho, a 28-year-old who works in a bakery in the city center, agreed. “The Senegalese will no longer accept anyone being imposed on them,” she said.

In the wake of the announcement of the canceled election, experts scrambled to assess the legality of the president’s move.

One said that by canceling the decree convening the electoral body when he did, the president was violating the constitution and the electoral code. Another said only the constitutional court could postpone the election, and then only if one of the candidates died.

A presidential candidate, Thierno Sall, accused the president of treason.

“Macky Sall knows that his candidate, Amadou Ba, cannot win the presidential election,” he said in a statement. “He is afraid of the consequences of his actions during all his years at the head of our country.”

Senegal has, so far, been spared the military coups that have recently convulsed other former French colonies that neighbor it in the arid Sahel region just south of the Sahara. But the president’s critics on Saturday accused him of carrying out a constitutional coup.

“This is a Louis Bonaparte 1851-style coup,” said Ndongo Samba Sylla, an economist, referring to Napoleon’s nephew, an elected president of France who, when his term expired, declared himself emperor.

The day before Mr. Sall’s announcement, Mr. Sylla sat in a café on Dakar’s palm-lined coastal road, the Corniche, expressing fear that Senegal’s leaders were about to destroy its institutions.

Long lauded as a regional model of democracy, Senegal’s electoral process was in fact “a system to cheat,” Mr. Sylla said, reflecting a dynamic mirrored across Francophone Africa: aging presidents who are unpopular with their youthful electorates, with charges continually brought against potential opponents.

“Senegal is not democratic, for me,” he said. “Democracy is about political equality. We don’t have that.”

Like the countries now led by juntas, Senegal has experienced a wave of youth discontent, with widespread demonstrations against a government that many see as repressive, out of touch, in cahoots with France, and unable to create sufficient opportunities for young people, who dominate the country demographically.

These problems have led many young Senegalese to turn to a politician who portrayed himself as a savior from the country’s elites, from France and from economic hardship: 49-year-old Ousmane Sonko.

Mr. Sonko, who is in jail and barred from standing in the election, his party dissolved, has variously been charged with calling for insurrection, with defamation of the country’s tourism minister and with rape. He was acquitted of rape, but convicted of “corrupting youth” for acting immorally toward the young massage therapist who accused him of raping her.

His legal battles have only seemed to fuel Mr. Sonko’s popularity, sending thousands into the streets, bashing pots and pans throughout the country in his support and in defiance of the government.

At least 16 people were killed in the demonstrations, according to Human Rights Watch.

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Mideast Crisis : U.S. and U.K. Launch Heavy Strikes on Houthi Sites in Yemen

Current time in:

Jerusalem Feb. 4, 3:19 a.m.

The U.S. and Britain carry out strikes on 13 Houthi sites in Yemen.

The United States and Britain carried out large-scale military strikes on Saturday against multiple sites in Yemen controlled by Houthi militants, according to a statement from the two countries and six supporting allies, as the Biden administration continued its reprisal campaign in the Middle East targeting Iran-backed militias.

The attacks against 36 Houthi targets at 13 sites in northern Yemen came barely 24 hours after the United States carried out a series of military strikes against Iranian forces and the militias they support at seven sites in Syria and Iraq. American and British warplanes hit deeply buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defense systems, and radars, the statement said. Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand provided support, which officials said included intelligence and logistics assistance.

“These precision strikes are intended to disrupt and degrade the capabilities that the Houthis use to threaten global trade and the lives of innocent mariners, and are in response to a series of illegal, dangerous, and destabilizing Houthi actions since previous coalition strikes,” the statement said, referring to major attacks by the United States and Britain last month.

The Houthis have been launching attacks at vessels in the Red Sea, claiming to do so in protest of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza against Hamas.

“Our military operations against the Zionist entity will continue until the aggression against Gaza stops, no matter what sacrifices it demands from us,” a senior Houthi official said in response to the latest attacks. “We will meet escalation with escalation.”

While the Biden administration maintains that it is not looking to widen the war in the region, the strikes over the past two days mark an escalation.

In scope, the strikes in Yemen were roughly the size of U.S. and British attacks on Jan. 22, but smaller than the salvos on Jan. 11, officials said.

The strikes on Saturday came after a back-and-forth exchange of more limited attacks in the previous 36 hours between the Houthis and U.S. forces in the Red Sea and nearby waters.

At about 10:30 a.m. local time on Friday, the destroyer Carney shot down a drone flying over the Gulf of Aden. Six hours later, the United States attacked four Houthi attack drones that the military’s Central Command said were about to launch and threaten merchant ships in the Red Sea. Three hours after that, U.S. forces struck cruise missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen after determining they presented a threat to vessels in the region, Central Command said in another release. And about five hours after that, the destroyer Laboon and FA-18 attack planes shot down seven drones flying over the Red Sea.

Then on Saturday night, before the planned strikes, the United States hit six Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles as they were being prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea, Central Command said.

So far, the Biden administration has been trying to chip away at the Houthis’ ability to menace merchant ships and military vessels without killing large numbers of Houthi fighters and commanders, which could potentially unleash even more mayhem into a widening war.

However, the U.S.-led strikes have so far failed to deter the Houthis from attacking shipping lanes to and from the Suez Canal that are critical for global trade.

The American-led air and naval strikes began in response to dozens of Houthi drone and missile attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea since November. The United States and several allies had repeatedly warned the Houthis of serious consequences if the salvos did not stop.

Iran says the U.S. has made a ‘strategic mistake’ that will destabilize the region.

Iran on Saturday condemned the U.S. airstrikes on sites in Iraq and Syria linked to its military and militias it supports but refrained from threatening to retaliate.

The foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, said the attacks followed decades of American efforts “to resolve issues by relying on force and the military,” according to Iranian media. Mr. Amir Abdollahian made the comments at a meeting with a visiting U.N. official in Tehran.

Earlier, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, Nasser Kanaani, had called the strikes “another strategic mistake by the American government” and had predicted they would destabilize the region.

Iran’s closest regional ally, Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militia, said in a statement that the strikes showed the United States wanted to expand the conflict rather than contain it. He added that the attacks would only make Iraq and Syria more resolved to “liberate their countries from American occupation.”

Iran finances and arms a network of militias across the region, known collectively as the Axis of Resistance, that oppose American and Israeli influence in the region.

Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group for Shia militia aligned with Iran, carried out the drone attack on a U.S. base in Jordan that killed three American soldiers, according to U.S. intelligence.

The United States has accused one of the members of the umbrella group, Kata’ib Hezbollah, of being behind the lethal drone attack in Jordan. After the United States said it would retaliate, Kata’ib Hezbollah announced last week that it was suspending attacks on American bases and asserted its decisions were independent of Iran.

On Saturday, other armed Iraqi groups took a more defiant stance. One of them, Harakat al-Nujaba, which is considered a close ally of Iran’s with advanced military capabilities, said in a statement that the “Islamic Resistance will respond with what is appropriate at the time and place we want, and this is not the end.”

After U.S. strikes on Syria and Iraq, the next move belongs to Tehran.

As Iran and the United States assessed the damage done by American airstrikes on 85 targets in Syria and Iraq on Friday, all eyes shifted to Tehran and its pending decision over whether to respond or take the hit and de-escalate.

The betting in Washington and among its allies is that the Iranians will choose the latter course, seeing no benefit in getting into a shooting war with a far larger power, with all the risks that implies. But it is not yet clear whether the varied proxy forces that have conducted scores of attacks on American bases and ships — who rely on Iran for money, arms and intelligence — will conclude that their interests, too, are served by backing off.

Less than 24 hours after the attacks in Syria and Iran, the United States and Britain launched a new round of strikes on Saturday against Yemen, targeting multiple sites controlled by Houthi militants, officials said. The attacks were part of the Biden administration’s ongoing reprisal campaign against Iran-backed militias.

In the aftermath of the strikes against Iranian forces and the militias they support, American officials insisted there was no back-channel discussion with Tehran, no quiet agreement that the United States would avoid high-value targets like missile sites, drone-launching facilities, ammunition stores and command-and-control complexes, in response to an attack last Sunday that took the lives of American soldiers.

“There’s been no communications with Iran since the attack that killed our three soldiers in Jordan,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters in a call on Friday night after the retaliatory strikes were completed.

But even without direct conversation, there has been plenty of signaling, in both directions.

President Biden is engaged in a military, diplomatic and election-year gamble that he can first restore some semblance of deterrence in the region, then help orchestrate a pause or cease-fire in Gaza to allow for hostage exchanges with Israel, and then, in the biggest challenge of all, try to reshape the dynamics of the region.

But it is all happening in an area of the world that he hoped, just five months ago, could be kept on the back burner while he focused on competition with China and the war in Ukraine, and in the midst of a campaign where his opponents, led by former President Donald J. Trump, will declare almost any move a sign of weakness.

For their part, the Iranians have been broadcasting in public that they want to lower the temperature — on the attacks, even on their quickly advancing nuclear program — even if their ultimate objective, to drive the United States out of the region once and for all, remains unchanged.

Their first response to the military strikes was notably mild.

“The attack last night on Syria and Iraq is an adventurous action and another strategic mistake by the American government which will have no result other than increasing tensions and destabilizing the region,” Nasser Kanaani, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, said on Saturday.

Until Friday night, every military action by the United States has been soaked in calibration and caution, the hallmark of Mr. Biden’s approach. The deaths of the American soldiers forced his hand, though, administration officials said.

He had to make clear that the United States would seek to dismantle many of the capabilities of the groups that call themselves the “Axis of Resistance,” a reference to the one concept that unites a fractious, often undisciplined group of militias — opposition to Israel, and to its chief backer, the United States.

And the strikes, Mr. Biden’s advisers quickly concluded, had to aim at facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

But the president made the decision to strike largely at facilities and command centers, without aiming to decapitate its leadership or threatening Iran’s regime directly.

There was no serious consideration of striking inside Iran, one senior administration official said after the first round of strikes were complete. And the telegraphing of the move gave Iranians and their proxies time to evacuate senior commanders and other personnel from their bases, and disperse them in safe houses.

To Mr. Biden’s critics, this is too much calibration, too much caution.

“The overriding intellectual construct of Biden foreign policy is avoidance of escalation,” said Kori Schake, a former Republican defense official in the Bush administration who directs foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

“They are not wrong to be worried about escalation,” she said. “But they don’t take into account that it encourages our adversaries. We often seem more worried about fighting wars we can win, and that encourages them to manipulate our fear.”

U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria send a message but do limited damage.

The dozens of airstrikes carried out by the United States in Syria and Iraq largely corresponded with the goals of direct American military engagement in the Middle East in recent years: Send a message to enemies while limiting damage and avoiding getting pulled into a wider war.

U.S. officials said the strikes were launched in retaliation for an attack on a military base in Jordan that killed three American service members.

But the United States appeared not only to calibrate the attacks to avoid stoking a broader war, but had warned that they were coming days in advance, giving the militias being targeted and their Iranian advisers time to move.

“There is no desire on the part of the U.S. or Iran to escalate into an all-out conflict,” said Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. Instead, she said, both sides had sought ways to attack that remained “below a threshold that would spell an all-out war.”

The stakes of this particular bombing were high, given heightened tensions across the Middle East because of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and related violence it has sparked elsewhere.

Since the deadly Hamas-led assault on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s retaliatory bombing campaign and ground invasion in Gaza, militias have carried out more than 160 attacks on U.S. forces in the region and on commercial ships in the Red Sea.

The United States said it struck only targets associated with militias backed by Iran that had been involved in the attack on the base in Jordan or other offensives against U.S. troops.

But the United States did not attack Iran itself, despite its status as the patron and overall coordinator of these militias. Nor did it strike Hezbollah in Lebanon, the most powerful of Iran’s regional proxies, which has been battling Israeli troops along the Lebanon-Israel border throughout the war in Gaza.

That fits with the United States’ efforts to keep its own military activities separate from those of Israel, which says it is seeking to destroy Hamas.

How successful the new strikes will be in degrading the military capabilities of Iran and its militia or in deterring them from attacking the United States remains an open question.

Iran created its network, with affiliates in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, to extend its influence and give it a way to strike foes without having to do so itself, analysts say.

Anti-Iran hawks in the United States and the Middle East often argue that attacking the proxies without hitting Iran is a waste of time.

Ms. Yahya said she did not expect the new U.S. strikes to drastically change the activities of Iran’s regional proxies.

“The only thing that will get them to pull back would be a clear sign from Iran telling them to pull back,” she said. “But even then, they may listen and they may not.”

That is because Iran does not directly control its proxies, who have significant latitude to make their own decisions, she said.

Israel has been bombing Iranian-backed groups in Syria regularly for years, without stopping their efforts to develop a presence in the country nor cutting off the flow of arms to Hezbollah.

In 2020, the United States assassinated Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, who was a key figure in expanding Iran’s regional militia network and its members’ military capabilities.

Four years later, the militias he fostered are still active, attacking ships in the Red Sea, targeting U.S. forces in Iraq and fighting with Israel along its border with Lebanon.

House G.O.P. plans a vote on aid for Israel as the Senate tries to close a broader deal.

Speaker Mike Johnson pledged Saturday that the House would hold a vote next week on legislation to speed $17.6 billion in security assistance to Israel with no strings attached, a move likely to complicate Senate leaders’ efforts to rally support for a broader package with border security measures and aid to Ukraine.

Mr. Johnson’s announcement to members of his conference came as senators were scrambling to finalize and vote on a bipartisan national security bill that has taken months to negotiate. The move could further erode G.O.P. support for the emerging compromise, which was already flagging under criticism from party leaders like Mr. Johnson and former President Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, has said that the Senate package would be dead on arrival in the House, arguing that its border security measures are not stringent enough to clamp down on a recent surge of immigration. He said the House would instead focus its efforts on the impeachment of Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary — a vote on which is now expected to take place next week.

In a letter to his members Saturday, he said the House would also prioritize its own approach to helping Israel’s war effort against Hamas, regardless of what — if any — related legislation the Senate might produce.

“Their leadership is aware that by failing to include the House in their negotiations, they have eliminated the ability for swift consideration of any legislation,” Mr. Johnson wrote, adding that “the House will have to work its will on these issues and our priorities will need to be addressed.”

Senate negotiators have been working on a sweeping national security funding bill to address Republican demands that any legislation sending military aid to Ukraine also significantly improve security at the southern border with Mexico. The emerging legislation, which includes measures making it more difficult to claim asylum and increasing both detentions and deportations, would also send more military aid to Ukraine and Israel, dedicate humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza and fund efforts to counter Chinese threats to the Indo-Pacific region.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, announced this week that the Senate would vote no later than Wednesday on whether to take up the bill, the text of which negotiators are expected to publicize no later than Sunday.

But the measure is already facing stiff headwinds from Senate Republicans who think the border enforcement provisions ought to be tougher, as well as those loath to take a politically challenging vote for a bill that is all but assured to die at the G.O.P.-led House’s door.

Several Republicans in the Senate and the House have clamored for a split approach that would address Israel’s war effort separately from Ukraine and the border. Late last year, the Democratic-led Senate rejected a G.O.P. attempt to force a vote on an earlier Israel aid bill that was backed by the House. Democrats objected to the way that the House G.O.P. bill sought to pay for the funds, by making cuts to the Internal Revenue Service.

In his letter Saturday, Mr. Johnson acknowledged that history.

“Democrats made clear that their primary objection to the original House bill was with its offsets,” he wrote, adding that with the new Israel package, “the Senate will no longer have excuses, however misguided, against swift passage of this critical support for our ally.”

The new bill, which was unveiled by House appropriators, is larger than the House’s previous Israel measure, which totaled $14.3 billion. President Biden had sought that amount for Israel as part of a larger request he made in October for supplemental funds to address various global crises, including Ukraine.

The $17.6 billion House measure would direct $4 billion to replenishing Israel’s missile defense systems known as Iron Dome and David’s Sling, as well as $1.2 billion to counter short-range rocket and mortar attacks. An additional $8.9 billion would go toward supplying Israel with weapons, helping it produce its own and replenishing defense stock the United States has already provided; while $3.5 billion would go toward supporting U.S. military operations, embassy security and efforts to evacuate American citizens in the region.

Syria and Iraq are angered by U.S. strikes, warning they could deepen regional turmoil.

Syria and Iraq condemned U.S. strikes on Iran-backed militias in their countries, saying such attacks only impede the fight against Islamic State terrorists and threaten to drag the region even deeper into instability.

The U.S. strikes overnight hit 85 targets at seven sites in the two countries in retaliation for a drone attack on a remote outpost in Jordan on Sunday that killed three American soldiers. Washington has suggested that an Iran-linked Iraqi militia was behind that attack.

The Biden administration warned these strikes would not be the last.

“These strikes constitute a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, an undermining of the efforts of the Iraqi government,” Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for Iraq’s military, said late Friday. He called the U.S. attacks “unacceptable” and “a threat that will drag Iraq and the region into unforeseen consequences.”

The Iraqi government said that 16 people, including civilians, had been killed and 25 wounded, and warned that it would summon the U.S. envoy in Baghdad to protest the strikes.

The Syrian defense ministry called the attacks a “blatant air aggression,” according to state media. The strikes targeted 26 sites connected with the Iran-backed militias including bases and grain silos, killing at least 18 members of Iran-backed groups, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group with researchers in Syria.

The Syrian foreign ministry condemned what it called U.S. “aggression” and said that it would weaken Syrian efforts to combat terrorism.

The defense ministry said that the areas targeted were places where Syria’s military was fighting the Islamic State terrorist group, which continues to maintain an underground presence and carry out attacks inside Syria. The United States has hundreds of troops in other parts of Syria focused on fighting the remnants of Islamic State.

U.S. officials said they were confident the strikes had hit “exactly what they meant to hit.”

The targets were all linked to specific attacks against U.S. troops in the region, officials said, describing them as command and control operations, intelligence centers, weapons facilities and bunkers used by the Quds Force — the overseas arm of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards — and affiliated militias. The Quds Force oversees Iran’s proxies around the Middle East.

Iran’s interior minister denied that Revolutionary Guards sites were hit in an interview with Al Manar, a Lebanese broadcaster linked to the Iran-backed Lebanese militant and political group Hezbollah.

John F. Kirby, a U.S. National Security Council spokesman, said the Iraqi government had been notified ahead of the strikes, which the Iraqi government called a “false claim.”

The United States had telegraphed for nearly a week before the strikes that it intended to retaliate.

But the Syrian Observatory reported that there was confusion among Iran-backed militias in Syria about what might be targeted. Leaders of the groups went to Damascus and Homs provinces and told others affiliated with them to remain in their homes, the Observatory reported.

In the days after President Biden said he had decided on a U.S. response to the Jordan attack, Mr. Kirby said it was very possible that the United States would carry out “a tiered approach” over a period of time rather than a single action.

Falih Hassan, Hwaida Saad and Victoria Kim contributed reporting.

Gaza war protesters direct their ire at Blinken.

Protesters angry over Israel’s assault on Gaza have become a regular presence outside the home of Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in Northern Virginia, with some camping out for days in roadside tents. Palestinian flags and handmade signs express their fury at a diplomat who has become the face of President Biden’s policy toward the conflict.

“Bloody Blinken lives here,” read one this week. “Caution: War Criminal Inside,” read another. Passing cars drove over the words “Secretary of genocide” scrawled along the road in pastel chalk colors.

And when Mr. Blinken’s official motorcade pulled out of his driveway one day in early January, protesters splashed fake blood on the armored black Suburban in which he was riding.

Organizers of the protests have even given their effort a name, “Occupy Blinken,” and said in a statement that their encampment had held more than 100 people. (On Thursday afternoon, perhaps two dozen were visible, along with numerous police officers and vehicles.) They have “braved cold temperatures, winds and rain, 24 hours a day, to plead with Blinken” to support an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, the statement said.

Hamas signals that wide gaps remain on reaching a cease-fire agreement.

Even as hopes have risen about the possibility of reaching a hostage release deal and cease-fire in the nearly four-month war between Israel and Hamas, substantial gaps between the two sides remain, a Hamas official has said.

A proposal hammered out in Paris last week “is being studied by the movement’s leadership and other resistance factions,” Osama Hamdan, a leader in Hamas’s political wing in Lebanon, told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International on Friday. “But we cannot say that we have reached a conclusion.”

In the negotiating room, Israel was still insisting that “the military operation in Gaza would continue” after the cease-fire, Mr. Hamdan said, which contradicted Hamas’s condition for a permanent truce. Another key sticking point was an Israeli demand for a buffer zone inside Gaza, he added.

Israeli leaders have said they will not compromise on their goal of toppling Hamas’s rule in Gaza and told the Israeli public to expect months more of fighting. Israeli troops have been destroying buildings to clear out what they have described as a security zone inside Gaza, in an attempt to prevent another surprise attack similar to the Hamas-led assault on Oct. 7 that prompted the war, Israeli officials have said.

Israel and Hamas do not recognize one another and negotiate via mediators, primarily Qatar and Egypt. On Sunday, Israeli, Egyptian and American intelligence chiefs met with the Qatari premier in Paris, working out a framework for a potential cease-fire agreement, which was passed on to Hamas.

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas’s political bureau, spoke on Friday with leaders of two other Palestinian armed groups — Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — about the potential deal, his office said in a statement.

In the statement, Mr. Haniyeh emphasized to his counterparts that the talks were aimed at “totally ending the aggression and the withdrawal of the occupation army outside of Gaza.”

As part of any cease-fire agreement, Hamas has demanded that Israel release the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails in exchange for the over 100 Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza. Mr. Hamdan said that would include Palestinians serving life sentences for killing Israelis, including Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison for killings committed during the second intifada in the early 2000s.

“Our demand is for the liberation of all Palestinian prisoners, especially because we have enough imprisoned Israeli soldiers in our possession to enable us to do so,” Mr. Hamdan said, later mentioning Mr. Barghouti by name.

Many Palestinians revere Mr. Barghouti as a courageous resistance figure untainted by the accusations of corruption and rights abuses that dog the current Palestinian leadership. Israeli officials view him as a terrorist responsible for deadly attacks.

In a Tuesday speech at a military academy in the occupied West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel appeared to rule out a mass Palestinian prisoner release, further raising doubts on the ability of both sides to reach a deal.

“We will not withdraw the Israel Defense Forces from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of terrorists. None of this will happen,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “What will happen? Total victory!”

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.

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,

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.

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 Ebrahim 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.”

The 8 Days That Roiled the U.N.’s Top Agency in Gaza

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When a senior U.S. diplomat called the Israeli military last week to request further details about Israeli allegations against a United Nations agency in Gaza, military leaders were so surprised that they ordered an internal inquiry about how the information had reached the ears of foreign officials.

The allegations were grave: 12 employees of the organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, were accused of joining Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel or its aftermath.

The claims reinforced Israel’s decades-old narrative about UNRWA: that it is biased against Israel and influenced by Hamas and other armed groups, charges that the agency strongly rejects.

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Gaza Rescuers Go Missing on Mission to Save Girl Trapped in a Car

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The post by the Palestine Red Crescent was a haunting plea, hoping to learn the fate of three people not heard from for five days.

“Where is Hind? Where are Ahmed and Yousef? We need to know,” it said.

Two of the group’s rescuers were dispatched on Monday to find 6-year-old Hind Rajab, believed to be trapped in a vehicle in northern Gaza with a number of dead family members.

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They Run the World’s Biggest Sports, and They Don’t Want to Leave

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The new president of European soccer’s governing body settled into a chair in his glass-walled office in Switzerland, glanced out at the sweeping views of Lake Geneva and insisted he would not be there long enough to get comfortable.

It was 2017, soccer was still emerging from its greatest scandal and Aleksander Ceferin, only a few months into his presidency, was unequivocal that he was already on the clock. The sport, he said, could no longer accept leaders who grew so comfortable with the trappings of power and luxury that they worked the system to remain in their jobs. He would not be like them, he promised.

The three-year term to which he had been elected, finishing out the one vacated by his disgraced predecessor, “is already one term for me,” he said. If he was fortunate enough to earn the two more full four-year terms allowed by the rules, fine. But that would be it. Mr. Ceferin had no interest in being a president for life.

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Turkey’s Central Bank Chief Steps Down Amid Long Inflation Battle

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey appointed a new central bank governor early Saturday, hours after the abrupt resignation of his previous appointee, who said she was stepping down because of “a major reputation assassination campaign.”

The departing central bank chief, Hafize Gaye Erkan, was the fifth in five years, and the first woman to hold the post. The bank’s deputy governor, Fatih Karahan, was swiftly promoted to take her place.

The surprise change-up came about eight months into a shift in Turkey’s economic program aimed at taming a yearslong cost-of-living crisis that has been painful for many Turks. Annual inflation as of last month was about 65 percent.

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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.

Haneen Faroukh, 26, said she now had to wait for hours to run simple errands. Israeli soldiers had sown panic among ordinary Palestinians who make the crossing frequently to reach jobs, doctors, relatives or just their homes.

“They yell at us all the time,” said Ms. Faroukh. “We’re too scared to say anything.”

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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.

And even his vice-presidential running mate admits their goal is “eliminating” what he sees as the broken democracy of the past.

But polls show most Salvadorans support Mr. Bukele, often not in spite of his strongman tactics — but because of them.

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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 UNRWA, 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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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.

In the City of Cayalá, a utopian domain created by one of Guatemala’s richest families, the streets are quiet and orderly, the stores are upscale and the homes attainable — if only to families from the country’s small, moneyed elite, or foreigners, like the American diplomats stationed at the huge newly built United States embassy nearby.

Evoking the feel of a serene Mediterranean town, Cayalá features milky white buildings with red-tile roofs, a colossal civic hall with Tuscan columns, cafes and high-priced restaurants, colonnade-lined plazas and walkable, stone-paved boulevards. All of this is open to the public — except for the gated sections where about 2,000 families live.

“In 20 years, Cayalá will be just like La Rambla,” said Andrés García Manzo, a restaurateur who lives in one of Cayalá’s secluded villas, drawing a comparison to Barcelona’s legendary pedestrian-friendly promenade. “You can walk everywhere here in peace.”

But critics say it is largely a playground for the well-off, hard to reach by public transit, environmentally devastating and has attracted significant investment even as other parts of crime-ridden Guatemala City fall into decay.

Cayalá began taking shape more than a decade ago and has won multiple international awards for what urban designers view as the openness of its innovative shared spaces.

But a fierce debate is flaring about whether Cayalá aggravates problems of inequality and access to urban spaces, instead of alleviating them, after protesters against the efforts to thwart the country’s new president, Bernardo Arévalo, from taking office were barred by gunmen from the area.

The spotlight on Cayalá — which roughly translates as “paradise” in the Indigenous Kaqchikel language — casts attention on the role of architecture and urban design in one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, where an estimated 59 percent of the population of 18 million subsists below the poverty line.

Cayalá started out on a modest scale 20 years ago when Guatemala’s Leal family, which owns large swaths of some of the capital’s last urban forests and had already built fenced-off neighborhoods, hatched plans for a different kind of community.

They hired a Luxembourg-born architect, Léon Krier, who had worked with King Charles III on a model town in southern England, to help plan Cayalá. Architects including the University of Notre Dame’s Richard Economakis also signed on, drawing inspiration from the Parthenon of Athens to design Cayalá’s civic hall.

Private security guards closely monitor the grounds, especially on weekends when shoppers flock to the area. The neighborhood has proved especially popular with visitors from neighboring El Salvador.

In a city where the upper classes have long lived in well-guarded communities, Cayalá might not have become the focus of an uproar if not for the protests that exploded in October around Guatemala over the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to prevent Mr. Arévalo from taking office.

While protests elsewhere in the country unfolded largely peacefully, two motorists forced their vehicles through the demonstrators near Cayalá’s entrance and gun-wielding men in ski masks, including an owner of a business in Cayalá, barred the protesters from entering the area.

The episode left many aghast.

“I was stunned when I saw those images,” said Dora Monroy, who lives in a neighborhood next to Cayalá. “When someone takes a rifle to a peaceful protest, it’s a form of intimidation.”

Cayalá’s developers declined to comment on that episode, and did not respond to questions about criticism of the enclave. But in a statement, a spokesman said, “Cayalá is a city for everyone.”

As they nurture plans to expand, some question how that could affect some of Guatemala City’s last remaining forests.

Bárbara Escobar, a biologist and conservationist, said the expansion could inflict damage on a basin crucial for recharging groundwater, while endangering a habitat for foxes, raccoons and owls.

“I’m not against development, but one has to do things right,” she said. Noting that bus access to Cayalá is limited, largely making it a place for people prosperous enough to own cars, Ms. Escobar added, “This is a zone of exclusion, designed for a privileged minority in this country.”

In a twist, dissension is also coming from Mr. Krier, one of Cayalá’s creators. Mr. Krier, who has worked on Cayalá since 2003, acknowledged that it was conceived as a place for upper-class Guatemalans to live.

“You have lots of things for the extreme rich,” he said. “We built for the medium and wealthy rich.”

But Mr. Krier also emphasized that he envisioned Cayalá as a completely non-gated development with two- to three-story buildings, inspired by Persian, Greek and Roman cities of antiquity, where people from all walks of life could gather.

“The city should be walkable, not only horizontally but vertically,” he explained, adding that tall buildings make cities too dense, raise energy costs because of the need for elevators and prioritize real estate speculation over quality of life.

A departure from that vision came, Mr. Krier said, when “the residents got together and democratically voted for gating,” effectively creating an array of closed communities within a development that otherwise remains open.

A plan by Cayalá’s developers to build high-rises as they expand, which could generate higher returns from a commercial perspective, was a step too far for Mr. Krier, who recently resigned in response.

“The pressure on me as master planner became unbearable,” he said. “Skyscraping is, I think, an immoral act.”

Criticism of Cayalá has been building for years, with some questioning the project when urban areas that are potential gems, like Guatemala City’s old center, are in disrepair.

Javier Lainfiesta Rosales, the founder of a venture providing marketing for startups, called Cayalá an “abomination” in an essay.

“In Cayalá, there are no homeless people, begging children, malnutrition, street vendors, harassment, collisions, extortion, assaults, corruption, or inequality,” he said. “It’s a piece of the First World in the heart of a city dangerously close to being Fourth World.”

Still, Cayalá has many defenders, who point out that people from different backgrounds frequent its open spaces.

Warren Orbaugh, an architecture professor at Francisco Marroquín University, hit back at the focus on the thousands of trees felled to build and expand Cayalá.

“What wasn’t once forest here in Guatemala?” Mr. Orbaugh asked. “Cayalá should multiply like cells around the country, replicated in terms of its scale and population density.”

Cayalá’s allure was on display this month, when visitors, including Indigenous families chatting in Mayan languages, roamed its grounds, taking selfies in front of pieces of sculpture. Young couples intertwined on park benches whispered sweet-nothings to one another.

Other visitors wandered into Cayalá’s cavernous Roman Catholic church. Oenophiles sipped wine at cafes, and partyers at an overflowing Mexican restaurant drank margaritas.

Just steps away, behind Cayalá’s gates, its well-guarded residential areas, perched near a nature reserve, were eerily quiet.

Mr. García Manzo, the restaurateur who lives in Cayalá, said the three restaurants he owns there provide jobs for more than 100 people.

But he acknowledged that fears emerged among his neighbors during the protests when rumors spread that hundreds of buses were headed toward Cayalá to attack the area.

“I told my neighbors that was impossible, if they come they won’t be carrying torches to light our houses on fire,” said Mr. García Manzo, emphasizing that he was against taking up arms to protect Cayalá. “The rumors created a strong psychosis.”

For Carlos Mendizábal, an architect who loathes Cayalá, that wasn’t surprising. Citing the need to constantly repaint its white walls and repair its air conditioning, all while bolstering security, he called it an unsustainable “white elephant.”

“After all this time,” Mr. Mendizábal said, “Cayalá is still a shopping center pretending to be a neighborhood.”

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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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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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A Child of Another War Who Makes Music for Ukrainians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Depardieu Sexual Assault Suit Dropped Over Statute of Limitations

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

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

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

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 primera dama y el bolso Dior: una crisis política sacude Corea del Sur

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El presidente estaba enfrentando una economía en desaceleración, una mortífera avalancha humana y amenazas nucleares de un vecino beligerante. Luego se presentó un escándalo mucho más personal: las imágenes de una cámara oculta que mostraban a su esposa aceptando como regalo un bolso Dior de 2200 dólares.

Se ha convertido, rápidamente, en una de las mayores crisis políticas para el presidente Yoon Suk Yeol de Corea del Sur, quien se ha destacado en la política exterior al alinear su país más estrechamente con Estados Unidos y Japón, pero se ha visto empantanado con controversias en casa. Y muchas de ellas involucran a la primera dama, Kim Keon Hee.

El video de Kim, que se dio a conocer a fines del año pasado, causó una ruptura entre Yoon y uno de sus lugartenientes de mayor confianza. Ha sacudido a su partido político: un miembro de alto rango pidió a Kim que se disculpara y la comparó con María Antonieta. Y, según las encuestas, se ha convertido en un problema significativo antes de unas elecciones parlamentarias cruciales en una atmósfera política cada vez más polarizada.

Durante casi dos años, Kim ha desafiado cómo esta sociedad profundamente patriarcal ve el papel de la cónyuge presidencial. A diferencia de las primeras damas anteriores, que solían permanecer a la sombra de sus maridos, ella ha disfrutado de la atención mediática e incluso ha instado públicamente al gobierno de Yoon a prohibir la cría y el sacrificio de perros para el consumo humano. Ha hablado sobre la devoción de Yoon por ella, diciendo en 2022 que él había prometido cocinar para ella y “mantuvo esa promesa durante la última década”.

Pero Kim también ha cortejado frecuentemente la controversia, a veces de maneras que, según los críticos, ponen de relieve su influencia indebida en el gobierno.

En 2021, cuando Yoon, quien había sido fiscal, estaba en campaña para la presidencia, ella se disculpó por maquillar su currículum para promocionar su negocio de exposiciones de arte. Luego vino la publicación de conversaciones con un reportero, quien grabó secretamente a Kim insinuando que estaba profundamente involucrada en la campaña de su esposo. Llamaba a Yoon “un tonto” que “no puede hacer nada sin mí”. También declaró que se vengaría de los medios de comunicación hostiles “si tomo el poder”.

Kim también ha enfrentado acusaciones de que estuvo envuelta en un esquema de manipulación de precios de acciones antes de la elección de Yoon. En diciembre, el Parlamento controlado por la oposición aprobó un proyecto de ley que hubiera dispuesto que un fiscal especial investigara los dichos. Yoon, de 63 años, quien como Kim, de 51, ha negado las acusaciones, vetó el proyecto de ley.

Yoon, quien ha dicho que su “recuerdo más feliz” fue casarse con Kim en 2012, no ha podido dejar atrás las imágenes relacionadas con la bolsa de Dior.

El video fue tomado en septiembre de 2022 por un pastor coreano-estadounidense llamado Choi Jae-young con una cámara oculta dentro de un reloj de pulsera. Las primeras noticias sobre el episodio surgieron más de un año después, en un canal de YouTube de izquierda llamado la Voz de Seúl, el mismo medio que publicó la charla de Kim con un reportero.

En el video se muestra a Choi de visita en la oficina personal de Kim fuera del complejo presidencial dándole el regalo.

“¿Por qué sigues trayendo estas cosas?”, se le oye decir a Kim. “Por favor, no necesitas hacer esto”.

Choi aboga por relaciones amistosas entre Corea del Norte y Corea del Sur, mientras que Yoon ha adoptado una postura más agresiva hacia el Norte. Dijo que conoció a Kim cuando Yoon estaba en campaña para presidente y recibió una invitación para la toma de posesión de Yoon en mayo de 2022. Un mes después, visitó la oficina de Kim para agradecerle y dijo que le regaló un juego de cosméticos de Chanel de 1300 dólares.

Durante esa reunión, Choi dijo que escuchó una conversación en la que Kim parecía estar desempeñando un papel en el nombramiento de un alto funcionario del gobierno. Dijo que fue entonces cuando decidió “desenmascararla”. Un reportero de la Voz de Seúl le proporcionó la cámara espía y el bolso Dior de piel de ternera azul nube, y Choi envió una foto del bolso Dior a Kim, pidiendo otra reunión.

Choi dijo que aunque había pedido reunirse con la primera dama varias veces, solo se le concedió audiencia en dos ocasiones y únicamente cuando ella sabía de antemano que llevaba regalos caros. A los funcionarios gubernamentales y sus cónyuges se les prohíbe aceptar regalos con valor de más de 750 dólares incluso si no hay un posible conflicto de interés.

“El regalo era un boleto para una audiencia con ella”, dijo Choi.

En el video, Kim también expresó su deseo de “participar activamente en las relaciones Corea del Sur-Corea del Norte”, lo que hace temer que se estuviera extralimitando en su papel.

Mientras que el escándalo causa estragos, Kim ha evitado apariciones públicas durante un mes y medio. Cuando se le preguntó a la oficina de Yoon si el presidente y Kim tenían algún comentario sobre el asunto, respondió que no tenía “nada que compartir”.

Kim no ha comentado públicamente sobre las diversas acusaciones en su contra desde su disculpa de 2021, cuando dijo que se “limitaría al papel de esposa” si Yoon era elegido. Pero durante una inusual entrevista con Artnet News el año pasado, señaló un cambio, al decir que quería convertirse en “una vendedora de la cultura K” y apoyar a Yoon y su gobierno en la “diplomacia cultural”.

En las conversaciones grabadas por Choi y Voz de Seúl, ella parecía negar las acusaciones de irregularidades, calificándolas de campañas de difamación política.

Algunos funcionarios del Partido del Poder Popular de Yoon han acusado a Choi de tender una “trampa” a Kim y programar la publicación del video para influir en las elecciones de abril. También han dicho que Kim no ha usado el bolso, que ha sido almacenado en un depósito presidencial.

En las encuestas, una mayoría de los surcoreanos dicen que fue inapropiado que Kim aceptara el bolso y que quieren una investigación y una explicación de Yoon.

“Este es un asunto explosivo” porque recuerda a los surcoreanos la corrupción recurrente que ha deshonrado a la mayoría de los expresidentes del país, dijo Ahn Byong-jin, politólogo de la Universidad Kyung Hee en Seúl.

Algunos miembros del partido de Yoon han exigido una disculpa de Kim como control de daños. La oposición acusó a Kim de tráfico de influencias y “manipulación de asuntos gubernamentales”. Yoon, agregaron, estaba siendo excesivamente protector de su esposa, en marcado contraste con el enérgico enjuiciamiento de su gobierno por cargos de corrupción contra Lee Jae-myung, el líder de la oposición.

Yoon también ha sido criticado por sus aliados en los medios de comunicación.

“Los conservadores de este país ya no pueden cargar con el ‘riesgo Kim Keon Hee’”, dijo un columnista en el diario conservador Dong-A Ilbo.

El presidente del Partido del Poder Popular, Kim Gi-hyeon, renunció ante la creciente presión,. Yoon lo reemplazó con un aliado cercano, Han Dong-hoon. Pero Han pareció criticar cómo el gobierno gestionó el escándalo y nombró al alto oficial que luego comparó a la primera dama con María Antonieta, una crítica que resonó ampliamente entre el público.

Yoon luego exigió la renuncia de Han, según los medios locales, pero la semana pasada los dos hombres parecían haber llegado a una tregua incómoda.

Su manejo del escándalo ha mostrado cuánta influencia tiene Kim dentro de la oficina de Yoon, dijeron analistas políticos. Es por eso que los surcoreanos bromeaban, a decir de Ahn, con que “hay dos VIP en la oficina de Yoon y la VIP Número 1 es Kim Keon Hee”.

Choe Sang-Hun es el jefe de la corresponsalía de The New York Times en Seúl. Cubre noticias de Corea del Norte y del Sur. Más de Choe Sang-Hun

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

Daisuke Wakabayashi y

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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.

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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