BBC 2024-02-07 00:44:14

Hamas responds to proposed Gaza ceasefire plan

Hamas says it has given its response to a framework proposal for a new ceasefire in Gaza.

The details of the deal – set out by Israel, the US, Qatar and Egypt – have not been released.

It was earlier reported to include a six-week truce, when more Israeli hostages would be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners.

Israel and the US have both said they are reviewing Hamas’s response.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is currently in the Middle East, said he would discuss Hamas’s response with officials in Israel on Wednesday.

While Mr Blinken has given no indication of how the US views the response, President Joe Biden described it as “a little over the top” – suggesting the Israeli leadership will not easily agree to what the group is asking.

A senior Hamas official told the BBC the group had presented a “positive vision” in response to the framework but had asked for some amendments relating to the rebuilding of Gaza, the return of its residents to their homes and the provisions for those who had been displaced.

The official said Hamas had also asked for changes relating to the treatment of those injured, including their return home and transfer to hospitals abroad.

The proposal was sent to Hamas around a week ago but a representative told the Reuters news agency it had taken them until Tuesday to respond because parts of it were “unclear and ambiguous.”

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al Thani has described Hamas’s response as “positive” in general.

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The conflict in Gaza was triggered by an unprecedented cross-border attack by Hamas gunmen on southern Israel on 7 October, in which about 1,300 people were killed and about 250 others taken hostage.

More than 27,500 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the health ministry in the Gaza Strip, which has been governed by Hamas and blockaded by Israel and Egypt since 2007.

Hamas is proscribed as a terrorist organisation in several countries.

During a week-long ceasefire in late November, 105 Israeli and foreign hostages were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

The timing of any new deal could be complicated by claims briefed earlier this week by Israeli defence officials that the military is “making progress” in its hunt for Hamas’s leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under intense domestic pressure to secure the release of the remaining hostages.

A growing sense of regional crisis also adds to the urgency Mr Blinken brings to the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, as he arrives seeking progress on the deal.

The US is increasingly trying to stem a widening regional escalation after last week’s drone strike that killed three American soldiers in Jordan.

Washington retaliated with air strikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq and is warning more will come.

A ceasefire deal in Gaza is seen by the US as the most realistic way to reduce tensions further afield.

On Tuesday, Israel confirmed that 31 of the 136 remaining hostages in Gaza had been killed.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), said their families had been informed and that the authorities would continue to push for the return of the remaining captives.

“This is a moral obligation, national obligation and international obligation and this is our compass and this is how we will continue operating,” said Mr Hagari.

Trump’s failed immunity appeal is a strategic win

Donald Trump has been handed a defeat in court – but one that comes with a generous helping of victory.

An appeals court ruled that Mr Trump is not immune from criminal prosecution for acts committed while he was president. The time it took to issue that decision, however, has indefinitely delayed Mr Trump’s federal trial related to the 6 January 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

So while Mr Trump did not successfully assert sweeping new presidential powers to act with impunity while in office, the tentative 4 March start date in Washington DC has been removed from the federal court’s calendar.

And there is no indication of when it might reappear.

This is in keeping with the former president’s strategy of throwing sand in the gears of the judicial process whenever possible, according to Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor.

“It’s in Trump’s interest to delay the case until after the November election,” Mr Rahmani said. “If he wins control of the White House, a sitting president can’t be prosecuted.”

If delay is the goal, there are a few steps Mr Trump’s legal team could now follow.

They might request that the full 11-judge DC Circuit Court of Appeals review and reconsider this case. That is unlikely to succeed, however, as six of the eight remaining judges would have to back that decision and obliging such a request is rare.

The appeals court, meanwhile, has ruled that the 6 January case can proceed while such a request is considered. Perhaps in the hope of avoiding further delay.

But Mr Trump has other options at his disposal.

He can turn to the Supreme Court, which would have to decide whether to review the case or let the lower-court decision stand. They can also decide whether to put the 6 January trial on hold in the meantime.

That appears the likely route, as the appeals court has given the Trump legal team until 12 February to prepare its Supreme Court request.

That is where there are further opportunities for delay or for the trial to get back on track.

If the Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, the election interference case could return to its normal schedule. But if it agrees to do so, that all but guarantees that a trial would take place under the shadow of election day – at the very earliest.

It is a prospect that may prompt Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over the trial, to shelve the case until Americans can cast their ballots in November.

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Given past court precedent and American legal tradition, the Supreme Court is unlikely to go along with the former president’s legal arguments, said Professor David Super, a lecturer of constitutional law at Georgetown University.

“Under Mr Trump’s view, US presidents’ legal status would differ little functionally from that of monarchs,” he told the BBC.

But with the resulting delay, a loss at the Supreme Court would mark another win for the former president. And if he pairs that with a win at the ballot box in November, his legal concerns at the federal level could vanish with the stroke of a pen.

After his inauguration, he could arrange for his Justice Department appointees to drop the cases, or he could even take the historic step of using the presidential pardon power on himself.

It would be a remarkable way for Mr Trump’s second term in office to begin. But then, the former president taking the oath of office on the Capitol steps where, four years earlier, his supporters rioted in protest of his defeat would be remarkable in and of itself.

King seen for first time since cancer announcement

King Charles has been pictured for the first time since his cancer diagnosis was made public, after the Duke of Sussex arrived in the UK to visit him.

The King and Queen were pictured in a car leaving Clarence House in London, and are now at Sandringham in Norfolk.

Prince Harry arrived in London after an overnight flight from the US.

Buckingham Palace announced on Monday that the King, 75, had been diagnosed with a form of cancer and would step back from public duties for treatment.

The Palace has disclosed few details about the King’s diagnosis, other than to confirm it was discovered during a recent procedure to treat an enlarged prostate.

Both of his sons were informed about his diagnosis before the announcement.

The King and the Queen smiled and waved as they left Clarence House, their home in London, on Tuesday.

Charles and Prince Harry met for around 45 minutes before the King left for his flight to Sandringham.

The Duchess of Sussex is expected to remain in the US, where the couple live with their two young children.

There are no plans for Prince Harry to meet his brother, the Prince of Wales, during his visit to London, the BBC understands.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier told BBC Radio 5 Live the King’s cancer had been “caught early” and said he was still in “regular contact” with the monarch.

He said their weekly audiences would continue to take place during the King’s treatment.

The speed with which Prince Harry has hurried from California to visit his father in the UK appears significant.

There had already been signs of the family getting closer, such as when the duke, 39, spoke to the King by phone for the monarch’s birthday last autumn.

But there were no signs of Prince Harry or Meghan heading over for Christmas or for any other family get-togethers. Until now they had stayed an ocean apart from the rest of the Royal Family.

Tensions in the Royal Family – as reported in Prince Harry’s memoir Spare – seemed not so much between him and the King, but rather with his brother the Prince of Wales and fuelled by the excesses of the tabloid press.

To that end, Prince Harry’s recent trips to the UK have been more about law courts than the royal courts.

But even before this latest health news, Prince Harry and Meghan – who live in the exclusive Californian community of Montecito – seemed to be planning more projects and travel.

They travelled to Jamaica for a film premiere and had said they would be in Canada later this month, in an event related to their Invictus Games. That trip is still expected to go ahead.

King Charles’s cancer diagnosis

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Prince Harry’s brother, Prince William, is yet to comment publicly on the King’s diagnosis.

Prince William is expected to take on some of his father’s public engagements during the King’s absence, though the Palace has stressed the monarch will continue to carry out formal constitutional functions.

The prince was already due to return to his own public duties this week after stepping back following the Princess of Wales’s abdominal surgery last month.

On Tuesday morning, the King’s niece Princess Beatrice was seen arriving at Clarence House.

  • You can get all the latest royal stories and analysis straight to your inbox every week with our Royal Watch newsletter – sign up here

Offices struggle with Lunar New Year celebration

Many employees with Asian backgrounds say employers lose the nuance behind Lunar New Year celebrations – if they acknowledge the festival at all.

For Lunar New Year, Aivee’s office was decorated with Chinese lanterns. The Sydney location of the global tech-consulting firm, where she worked as a lawyer, also hosted a traditional lion dance, and convened a panel discussion about Lunar New Year traditions that lacked diverse representation other than one Chinese colleague.

Yet 32-year-old Aivee, who is Malaysian, felt dissatisfied. The entire effort felt lacklustre, if not generic. Little about the organisation of the festivities, she says, felt inclusive or genuine. “I came in with the expectations of hearing more about Lunar New Year traditions of different Asian countries across the office.”

As workforces grow more diverse, many companies have rolled in a wider swath of multicultural celebrations, recognising heritage months and culturally specific holidays. Research from McKinsey & Company shows companies leading in diversity are 35% more likely to outperform their peers financially; for workers, Deloitte data shows workers who have a strong sense of belonging often become often productive, leave companies less often and take fewer sick days.

“It leads to higher employee engagement,” explains Pin-ya Tseng, a senior consultant at Paradigm, a San Francisco-based diversity and inclusion consultancy. She says workplace multiculturalism, as opposed to ignoring or minimising group differences, leads employees to perceive their colleagues to be less biased.

Yet it can be hard to handle cultural celebrations with nuance – getting details right, hitting the correct touchpoints and doing so with sensitivity. Experts point to Lunar New Year as an example where businesses can make missteps that leave workers like Aivee feeling like their companies have simply paid them lip service – or left them unacknowledged.

“Organisations need to recognise that many of their employees observe Lunar New Year,” says Tseng. “It is estimated that around two billion people worldwide celebrate the holiday.”

For many of those people, workplace recognition of Lunar New Year is not just the desire for a party. Instead, it’s an opportunity foster cultural understanding among leaders and colleagues. When companies don’t emphasise the significance of the Spring Festival for the many cultures that celebrate it – and do so properly – some workers can feel misunderstood.

Several cultures celebrate Lunar New Year in different ways, and workplaces need to take into account global traditions (Credit: Alamy)

Kelly, 22, who is originally from Hong Kong, says she was left “feeling different” at work, as she found it challenging to explain the importance of the Lunar New Year in her London workplace. To her it is “the best time of the year”. Yet her colleagues, who overwhelmingly celebrated Western holidays, didn’t grasp its significance and customs after the office’s tepid, drop-by celebration.

“It’s much harder for them to relate when I say I’m going home for the Lunar New Year. I’m taking two weeks off and it’s affecting my work,” she says. It’s a contrast to the common approach of taking end-of-year holidays off, and many of her colleagues didn’t understand why she was taking the time in February. The burden can fall on employees to explain their cultural customs – work that is both unpaid and emotionally taxing.

Even when business leaders do introduce programming, workers say they often get it wrong.

“We’ve seen organisations make the mistake of neglecting to acknowledge the range of countries and communities that celebrate the Lunar New Year,” explains Tseng. Some companies refer to “Lunar New Year” as “Chinese New Year”, or conversely, assume certain Asian cultures celebrate Lunar New Year when they don’t. 

Khoi, a 23-year-old Vietnamese graduate at a global financial firm in London, celebrates Tết. His employer did recognise Lunar New Year, but called it “Lunar Chinese New Year”.

“Well, at least it’s better than just ‘Chinese New Year’,” says Khoi, a sentiment that stems from his previous employer’s complete lack of recognition for the season. Yet this “good enough” attitude can leave workers like him resigned to the fact that companies simply will not be able to get it right – and lower the bar for what they should expect of their employers.

Leaders have a major role to play in making employees who celebrate Lunar New Year feel supported and prioritised (Credit: Getty Images)

Yet companies can do it, say experts. Much of the success of these programmes fall on senior leaders to actively promote them. “If leaders aren’t visibly prioritising these events or programs, others within the organisation won’t see them as important either,” says Tseng. “This means it will be hard to get engagement from those who may be helping create and run activities as well as those who would be participating.”

One of the underlying issues with executive support, however, is a common lack of Asian representation in leadership positions: often called the “bamboo ceiling”. Research in 2023 from the MIT Sloan School of Management in Massachusetts, US, showed East Asian workers – Chinese, Japanese and Koreans – were viewed as less creative, creating a barrier to top roles. Organically boosting Lunar New Year celebrations from the top is challenging when few Asians hold senior jobs.

However, senior managers of all backgrounds can still to use their roles to push forward diversity efforts and make positive changes step by step, carefully working in tandem with Asian colleagues at all levels of an organisation. And leaders from Asian backgrounds say the importance of Lunar New Year inclusivity pays dividends.

“As I’ve grown professionally, I have seen first-hand how important it can be for myself and other Asian colleagues to have a strong support network, from a community to celebrate our culture with many people without strong family connections in-country, to advice and career support as people progress and build their careers,” says Cassandra Yong, a Chinese-Malaysian partner at Boston Consulting Group in London, who founded and leads its Asian Diversity Network at the firm across the UK, Netherlands and Belgium. “Our Asian community has grown significantly over the years, and it was important for me to ensure everyone is able to access a network like this.”

The meaning of one of Toby Keith’s biggest hits

Released in 2002, Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American) provoked a strong response. It was also one of Keith’s most autobiographical songs.

Toby Keith, who has died at the age of 62, forged his own path. As Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement, “Keith was big, brash, and never bowed down or slowed down for anyone… He relished being an outsider and doing things his way.” The terrorist attacks of 9/11 sparked a succession of songs in the years that followed, but none had the divisive impact of his country anthem Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).

The song, released in May 2002, begins with recognition of his father Hubert “HK” Covel Jr, a US Army veteran who had died the previous year. “He wanted my mother, my brother, my sister and me/to grow up and live happy in the land of the free,” he sang.

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In interviews, Keith often noted the song originated as a personal account of the rage he felt his father would have expressed in response to the attacks. But the song became much bigger than that, particularly due to its chorus, a revenge fantasy: “Justice will be served and the battle will rage/This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage/And you’ll be sorry that you messed with/The US of A/’Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass/It’s the American way.”

The song was released in that fraught era of impassioned arguments between those who were for eradicating terrorism in the Middle East and those who viewed war as a reckless adventure for corporate profiteers. Having Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American) raging on the radio at a time when a culture war was raging across the US itself gave it greater significance than maybe he even intended. The song elevated the Oklahoma native’s career to new heights and remained one of the biggest hits of his career.

He would turn the song into an opportunity to become actively involved in the military charity United Service Organisations (USO), performing in 17 countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan, while fighting off critics including Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines, who said that the song was “ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant”.

The feud with Maines continued over years – he displayed her picture in concert next to Saddam Hussein; she responded by wearing a T-shirt that read “FUTK” – seen as a thinly-veiled insult directed at Keith – at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2003. “People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up. One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic licence,” he said.

He responded with other songs that sympathised with the military, like American Soldier (2003), a gentle ballad sung in the first-person voice of an Army reservist who is being asked to leave his family and fight overseas. The 2011 song Made in America is another portrait of a US citizen, this one of an elderly man in a small town mourning the ravages of globalisation on his community: “It breaks his heart seeing foreign cars/Filled with fuel that isn’t ours/And wearing cotton we didn’t grow,” he sings. “He won’t buy nothing that he can’t fix/With WD-40 and a Craftsman wrench/He ain’t prejudice, he’s just made in America.”

The concept of “America First” that President Donald Trump would later use in his first White House campaign is hinted at in lyrics like those, but to Keith – a rare country music hitmaker who either wrote or co-wrote most of his songs – the songs were not meant for the pundit class or for political campaigns, but were instead simply documents of everyday people.

Throughout his career, Keith insisted he was not political. He performed for President George W Bush and President Trump, but he also performed at the annual Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 2009 that honoured President Barack Obama, whose Afghanistan policy Keith said he supported. In the past, he said he was a Democrat but switched to become a registered Independent in 2008.

“I’ve never been political. I thought it was cool to support the military,” he said. “You can’t go out and support the military in Afghanistan or you get all the right-wing checkmarks that come with it. I was like, ‘Well, I’m just gonna take ’em. Mark me down. Just check me off however you want to check me off.'”

Contrarianism is a well-trodden path in country music history and includes songs like Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee and Johnny Cash’s The One on the Right Is on the Left, which each mock both the left and the right on the political spectrum. Haggard’s lyrics criticising smoking marijuana in the midst of the counterculture-revolution of the 1960s were considered radical, while Cash’s song is emblematic of how the singer flirted with conservative and liberal values throughout his career.

Many of Keith’s songs ultimately fall in line into that tradition. However, there is no doubt that the sabre-rattling he conjured in Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American) created an opening, more than two decades later, for Try That in a Small Town by Jason Aldean, which similarly caused screaming headlines.

But perhaps Keith’s intentions weren’t so divisive. By focusing on the plight of military members and telling their stories in his music, he struck a single note that in the current climate of extreme partisanship, feels almost quaint.

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