The Guardian 2024-02-09 16:02:20

Netanyahu orders military to prepare to evacuate Rafah in southern Gaza before expected invasion

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has ordered the military to prepare a plan to evacuate the population of Rafah ahead of an expected Israeli invasion of the southern Gaza town, reports the Associated Press (AP).

Netanyahu made the announcement Friday after international criticism of Israel’s plan to invade the crowded town on Egypt’s border.

Israel says Rafah is the last remaining Hamas stronghold and it needs to send in troops to complete its war plan against the Islamic militant group. But an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians have crammed into the town after fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

Netanyahu said a “massive operation” is needed in Rafah. He said he asked security officials to present a “double plan” that would include the evacuation of civilians and a military operation to “collapse” remaining Hamas militant units.

Earlier Friday, Israel bombed targets in Rafah. The attack took place hours after Biden administration officials and aid agencies warned Israel against expanding its Gaza ground offensive to the town where more than half of the territory’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge.

Airstrikes overnight and into Friday hit two residential buildings in Rafah, while two other sites were bombed in central Gaza, including one that damaged a kindergarten-turned-shelter for displaced Palestinians. Twenty-two people were killed, according to AP journalists who saw the bodies arriving at hospitals.

Israel’s stated intentions to expand its ground offensive to Rafah also prompted an unusual public backlash in Washington.

“We have yet to see any evidence of serious planning for such an operation,” Vedant Patel, a state department spokesperson, said on Thursday. Going ahead with such an offensive now, “with no planning and little thought in an area where there is sheltering of a million people would be a disaster.”

John Kirby, the national security council spokesperson, said an Israel ground offensive in Rafah is “not something we would support.”

The comments signaled intensifying US friction with Netanyahu, who pushed a message of “total victory” in the war this week, at a time when US secretary of state Antony Blinken was in Israel to press for a ceasefire deal in exchange for the release of dozens of Hamas-held hostages.

GazaIsrael moves closer to Rafah offensive despite ‘bloodbath’ warning

Gaza: Israel moves closer to Rafah offensive despite ‘bloodbath’ warning

Biden and UN say assault on city where 1.3m civilians are sheltering would be disastrous

  • Middle East crisis – live updates

Israel moved closer on Friday to a full-scale ground offensive against the southern Gaza city of Rafah, as the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netayahu, ordered military leaders to present a plan to evacuate civilians from the area.

Despite warnings from the US and senior UN officials that an assault on Rafah – where about 1.3 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering in miserable conditions – would lead to a “bloodbath”, Israel appeared determined to push ahead.

“It is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas and leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah,” Netanyahu said in a statement, rejecting a warning from the Biden administration that it could not support an offensive against Rafah. “On the other hand, it is clear that a massive operation in Rafah requires the evacuation of the civilian population from the combat zones.”

With more than half of Gaza already under evacuation orders and widespread destruction throughout the coastal strip, and continuing fighting, it was unclear where such a large number of people could safely move to.

Situated on the southern border with Egypt, Rafah’s prewar population of several hundred thousand has increased massively as about half of the strip’s 2.3 million people have sought shelter in the city and surrounding areas.

The disclosure by the Israeli prime minister’s office that it had requested detailed evacuation plans along with a military plan for fighting in the city, came a day after Joe Biden described Israel’s military response in Gaza as “over the top” and said he was seeking a “sustained pause” in fighting.

“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top,” he told reporters at the White House.

He said he had been pushing for a deal to normalise relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, increase humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians and pause the fighting temporarily to allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas.

“I’m pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage ceasefire,” Biden said. “There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it’s gotta stop.”

A day before, the US had specifically warned against attacking Rafah. The US national security council spokesperson, John Kirby, said on Thursday that any assault on Rafah without due consideration of civilians would be a disaster and that “we would not support it”.

Biden’s comments mark a sharp change in language for the US president, who has been very supportive of Israel, including in the immediate aftermath of Hamas’s 7 October attack on southern Israel.

His remarks came as his administration issued a national security memorandum on Thursday that calls on the state department to procure written assurances from countries receiving US weapons that they will abide by international law, including the provision of humanitarian assistance.

The White House has become increasingly frustrated with statements from Israeli ministers, including Netanyahu. It denied reports earlier this week that Biden had privately called the Israeli prime minister “a bad fucking guy”.

Sources of friction include Israel’s resistance to winding up a war that has caused so many civilian casualties and Netanyahu’s rejection of US calls for progress towards a Palestinian state when the war is over.

The remarks, some of Biden’s sharpest public criticism to date of Netanyahu’s government, come as domestic pressure increases on him to press Israel to stop the fighting.

Biden was criticised for remarks during the early stages of Israel’s military campaign in which he described the death of innocent Palestinians as “the price of waging a war”.

Israel began its offensive after Hamas militants from Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages on 7 October. Gaza’s health ministry says almost 28,000 Palestinians have been confirmed dead, with thousands more feared buried under rubble.

Despite bullish Israeli assessments of the progress it has made against Hamas, most recently by Netanyahu this week, US intelligence officials who briefed members of Congress suggested that Israel was not close to eliminating the group, a stated Israeli war aim.

Saudi Arabia has told the US there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognised based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and Israeli “aggression” on the Gaza Strip stops, its foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. Netanyahu has ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israeli forces bombed areas of Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population is sheltering, on Thursday as diplomats sought to salvage ceasefire talks after Netanyahu rejected a Hamas proposal and confirmed the Israeli military would advance on Rafah.

The strikes killed at least 13 people, including two women and five children, according to the Kuwaiti hospital, which received the bodies. At the scene of one of the strikes, residents used torches on their mobile phones as they dug through the rubble with pick axes and their bare hands.

“I wish we could collect their whole bodies instead of just pieces,” said Mohammed Abu Habib, a neighbour who witnessed the strike.

International aid organisations have warned that any major operation in Rafah, previously designated a “safe” area by Israel, would aggravate what is already a humanitarian catastrophe.

“If they aren’t killed in the fighting, Palestinian children, women and men will be at risk of dying by starvation or disease,” said Bob Kitchen of the International Rescue Committee. “There will no longer be a single ‘safe’ area for Palestinians to go to.”

Outside the hospital where bodies from the overnight strikes were brought, relatives wept as they said farewell to their loved ones. Warda Abu Warda said she felt helpless. “Where do we go after Rafah? Do we go to the sea?” she asked.

Biden said he hoped a deal to secure the release of hostages could lead to a temporary pause in fighting that would then be extended.

He also suggested that Hamas launched the October attack to prevent a broad deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but added: “I have no proof.”

Explaining his response to the crisis, Biden appeared to mix up the details of his diplomatic efforts, calling the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the leader of Mexico.

“Initially, the president of Mexico, Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in, Biden said. “I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate. I talked to Bibi to open the gate on the Israeli side.”

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report

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Country in crisis as election results still undeclared and rigging claims mount

Pakistan in crisis as election results still undeclared and rigging claims mount

Count at a standstill as candidates for Imran Khan’s PTI allege seats they were winning are declared for Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N

Pakistan was thrown into a state of crisis on Friday with its election results still undeclared more than 24 hours after polling closed and the vote marred by widespread allegations of rigging.

Analysts and candidates widely questioned the integrity of the polls that took place on Thursday, raising concerns that there was an attempt to rig the vote to bring back the three-time former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and his Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) to power.

Sharif was seen to have the backing of Pakistan’s powerful military, which has long been the country’s political powerbroker and has a history of meddling in its elections.

Voters across the country, however, appear to have come out in unprecedented numbers to support Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party of the former prime minister Imran Khan, who is serving more than a decade in jail.

With more than half the votes counted for the 265 seats in the national assembly, PTI-backed candidates had won 88 seats, PML-N 60 and the Pakistan People’s party 46.

Many PTI leaders alleged that the true number of seats the party had won was much higher, and there were widespread allegations of rigging as the vote count was delayed. Protests against the outcome erupted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, where police are alleged to have retaliated with violence, and PTI supporters also came out on to the streets of Lahore.

As the day went on, both PML-N and PTI declared victory and there was a growing sense of frustration at the lack of clear results across the country, which is in the throes of the worst economic crisis in its history.

The lead for Khan’s party came as a shock to many. He is loathed by many in the military leadership after he had a dramatic fallout with senior generals and was toppled from power in 2022.

The military has since led a sustained attack on Khan and his PTI, making it clear it would not tolerate his return to power. Over the course of months, PTI leaders and workers were arrested, their candidates prevented from campaigning and their party symbol of a cricket bat banned.

Khan was arrested in August, and last week received three separate jail sentences that could keep him behind bars for more than a decade.

His popularity, however, has soared in recent months, as voters have become increasingly frustrated at the military’s brazen interference in politics.

Just after the vote counting began on Thursday evening, it looked like a landslide for Khan’s party. PTI-backed candidates across the country, even in the Sharif’s stronghold of Punjab and those who were fighting from jail, surged ahead in over 100 constituencies. At his party headquarters in Lahore, Sharif – who a few hours earlier had given a confident assurance of a simple majority for the PML-N – was forced to cancel plans to give his victory speech, which had been pre-written.

The surge in support for Khan on election day was evident at polling stations across Islamabad’s NA-47 district visited by the Guardian. From first-time voters to elderly women born before Pakistan was established, and from labourers to tech workers and lawyers, the overwhelming majority said they were voting for PTI, or as many put it, giving their full backing to Khan.

At a gathering in Islamabad as results began to break, one independent candidate running against PTI and the PML-N spoke of a PTI “whitewash”, evident not only in the constituency he was fighting in but being reported by candidates across the country. “The people have clearly spoken,” he said. “The military must accept it, or it’s terrible for Pakistan.”

But elation at the apparent triumph of the people’s vote over the military’s agenda was short-lived. Declarations of results began to slow down and then stopped altogether. Polling agents began to to say they were unable to collect results and then there was a reported “technical error” in counting. TV stations were said to have received instructions to stop reporting the results. The suspension of mobile internet, justified on the basis of keeping polling stations safe, continued long into the night after voting had finished.

On Friday morning, about 18 hours after the polls had closed, constituencies began to be declared for the Sharifs and their allies in quick succession in their stronghold of Punjab; Nawaz Sharif in his Lahore constituency, as well as his brother Shehbaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and other PML-N heavyweights.

But allegations of inconsistencies and rigging also began to emerge. More votes were said to have been counted than registered in Lahore, while the officer overseeing the count was transferred abruptly on Friday morning, allegedly for medical reasons.

In another Lahore constituency, the PTI candidate Salman Akram Raja went to the high court on Friday to challenge the result in which he lost to a PML-N candidate despite having a significant majority on Thursday night. He alleged that he and his wife had been removed from the polling office as they tried to observe the count.

In NA-47, the central Islamabad constituency visited by the Guardian on polling day, the PTI candidate Shoaib Shaheen said officials had declared him a clear winner on Thursday night with a majority of more than 50,000 votes. By Friday afternoon, however, the seat had been awarded to PML-N, to a candidate who is a close ally of Sharif.

Standing outside the office of the election commission in protest, Shaheen accused it, the judiciary and the military of colluding to rig the election and said he would be challenging the result in the courts.

“We can see clearly how corrupt and broken the system is,” he said. “My constituency is in the heart of the capital; the supreme court, the high court, parliament house, the election commission, all are all located here. If they can change and rig the elections here, think what they are doing in the rest of the country.”

Non-PTI candidates also alleged irregularities. Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who was standing as an independent in Islamabad and had already voiced fears of vote manipulation, said the PTI candidate in his constituency was clearly winning but that the seat had been declared for the PML-N. “This is the worst kind of rigging and playing with fire,” said Khokhar, who also backed Shaheen’s allegations.

Among voters who had come out in droves to support PTI, there was anger on the streets. In Islamabad, section 144 was imposed, which bans large gatherings.

“Our votes have been stolen and people will not accept the result,” said Wajahat Abbas, 27. “We wanted to trust the system with our votes but they failed us, our trust is completely gone. We see now that we are living under martial law.”

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Country needs fresh approach on battlefield, says new top general

Ukraine needs fresh approach on battlefield, says new top general

Oleksandr Syrskyi says ‘life and health’ of soldiers is army’s key asset in first statement as armed forces chief

  • Europe live – latest updates

Ukraine’s newly appointed top general has said a new approach is required to achieve success on the battlefield.

“Only changes and constant improvement of the means and methods of warfare will make it possible to achieve success on this path,” said Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, in his first statement as armed forces chief.

Syrskyi was appointed to the top job by the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on Thursday in a controversial shake-up that marks the biggest military reshuffle since Russia’s full-scale invasion nearly two years ago.

Syrskyi has replaced Valerii Zaluzhnyi, a popular commander whose relations with Zelenskiy had become strained in recent months. Critics have suggested Zelenskiy may have been partly motivated by concerns over Zaluzhnyi’s high approval ratings in Ukrainian society and his potential to one day become a political challenger.

Changes at the top of the army have been the main topic of conversation in Ukraine since last Monday, when news leaked that Zelenskiy had asked Zaluzhnyi to resign and he had declined.

Borislav Bereza, a former opposition MP who was one of the first to leak news of the initial meeting, said Zelenskiy’s team had subsequently made several attempts to persuade Zaluzhnyi to resign voluntarily, but he had rejected all of them. However, he said the general understood the need for wartime unity so did not want to rock the boat too much.

“Zaluzhnyi is a person oriented on the needs of the state, he understands that if he says: ‘I’m leaving but I’ll be coming back,’ it would bring dissonance into Ukrainian society,” said Bereza.

In a show of unity on Friday, Zelenskiy awarded Zaluzhnyi the Hero of Ukraine award, the country’s highest honour.

The defence minister, Rustem Umerov, said he had introduced Syrskyi to the general staff. “Defence is in good hands,” he wrote on Facebook.

The change in commanders comes as Ukraine’s forces face their toughest period since the opening weeks of the war, contending with a failure to retake significant territory since late 2022, Russia on the attack around the city of Avdiivka and other parts of the frontline, and a delay in funding from the US that has added to ammunition shortages. Zelenskiy’s aide Mykhailo Podolyak said in an interview this week that Russia was firing up to 10,000 shells a day while Ukraine was able to fire only 1,500 – to 2,500.

Some of the concern about Syrskyi among the rank and file is over his reputation as a “Soviet-style” general who has little regard for the lives of his troops. Formerly commander of the land forces, Syrskyi is credited with masterminding the defence of Kyiv in the beginning of the war and the successful counteroffensive in Kharkiv region in late 2022, but has also been criticised for fighting on in the ultimately failed defence of Bakhmut at the cost of many lives.

Perhaps to address this criticism, Syrskyi in his statement on Friday said: “The life and health of servicemen have always been and are the main value of the Ukrainian army.”

Syrskyi was born in Russia’s Vladimir region, then part of the Soviet Union, and attended the Moscow high military command school before moving to Ukraine in the 1980s. His close family still lives in Russia. “I’m not in touch with him, I don’t even know where he is. I don’t know anything about him,” his brother Oleg told the Russian news state agency Ria hours after Syrskyi’s appointment was made public.

On Odnoklassniki, a popular Russian social network, Oleg and Syrskyi’s 82-year-old mother, Lyudmila, appeared to have frequently “liked” posts that back Russia’s invasion.

Zelenskiy’s office has portrayed Syrskyi as someone who could offer a new approach on the battlefield, though it has not provided specifics. “In 2023 there were particular expectations and we did not meet them. Now it’s 2024, it can’t just be a year that we sit and wait for something to happen in Russia. We need direct answers to real questions … because right now we are in stagnation,” Podolyak said this week.

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Evan GershkovichPutin says release of US journalist may be possible

Putin says release of US journalist Evan Gershkovich may be possible

Russian president suggests detained Wall Street reporter could be freed in prisoner exchange

Vladimir Putin has said he believes “an agreement can be reached” to free the imprisoned US journalist Evan Gershkovich, hinting he would trade him for a Russian killer serving a life sentence in Germany.

Speaking on Thursday to Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host, Putin said he did not rule out the possibility of Gershkovich returning “to his motherland”.

“But we have to come to an agreement,” he added.

The 32-year-old Wall Street journalist has been held in a notorious Moscow prison for nearly a year after being arrested on espionage charges, which he, his paper and the US government vehemently deny.

When urged by Carlson to release Gershkovich, Putin suggested he might be willing to trade the reporter for Vadim Krasikov, although he did not mention him by name. The Russian suspected FSB agent is serving life in prison in Germany for the murder of a Chechen former separatist fighter in Berlin’s Tiergarten in 2019.

It was the clearest indication to date that Russia was hoping to involve Gershkovich in a prisoner exchange.

The Wall Street Journal said late on Thursday: “Evan is a journalist, and journalism is not a crime. Any portrayal to the contrary is total fiction. Evan was unjustly arrested and has been wrongfully detained by Russia for nearly a year for doing his job, and we continue to demand his immediate release.

“We’re encouraged to see Russia’s desire for a deal that brings Evan home, and we hope this will lead to his rapid release and return to his family and our newsroom.”

Despite promising to only take “30 seconds or one minute”, Putin started his two-hour interview with Carlson in the Kremlin with a 30-minute history monologue that took viewers from the ninth-century rule of Oleg the Wise, to the struggles of the 1300s, through to a critique of Lenin’s foreign policy.

The opening speech ultimately centred on the false narrative that Ukraine’s statehood is a fiction. Putin then proceeded to repeat his justifications for invading Ukraine, claiming Russia’s goal was to actually “stop the war” and that Moscow could not be defeated on the battlefield.

For the first time, however, the Russian leader gave credence to recent media reports that claimed he was sending signals, via intermediates, to the US that he was open to peace talks and that he saw the war ending not with a military victory, but through an agreement with the west.

“We have contacts through various agencies,” Putin said when asked about his communication with the Biden administration over peace in Ukraine. “Certain contacts are being maintained,” he added, without elaborating.

Tatiana Stanovaya, the founder of the political analysis firm R.Politik, said Putin’s strategic goal appeared to be to achieve a peace deal that would cement control of the land Moscow has captured since invading almost two years ago – about a fifth of Ukraine – and to install a Russia-friendly government in Kyiv.

To achieve these aims, Stanovaya said, Putin believed the US must put pressure on Kyiv to hold negotiations to end the war.

“Putin thinks that this is a window of opportunity when Russia has a chance of turning the situation with the war in Ukraine in its favour … against this backdrop, he needs access to western audiences,” Stanovaya said.

Shifting the blame on to the west for the continuing fighting, Putin also claimed the former UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, prolonged the conflict by sabotaging peace negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow in spring 2022.

Johnson, in an interview with the Times, described Putin’s accusations as “total nonsense” and “Russian propaganda”.

There are growing concerns among European nations that Putin could invade a Nato nation over the coming decade, at a time when US support for the continent appears to be dwindling.

Putin emphasised to Carlson that Moscow had no intention of attacking countries on Nato’s eastern flank, a promise that will hardly stem concerns in the west given how Moscow previously played down warnings it was planning to invade Ukraine.

“We have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else,” Putin said. “It’s just threat-mongering.”

The interview was preceded by days of intense Russian coverage of Carlson’s travels in Moscow, with local reporters covering his every move, down to what he ordered at Tasty and That’s It, the former McDonald’s.

The coverage highlighted Moscow’s desire to show its own people that, in Carlson, Moscow still had powerful allies in the west who were sympathetic to its plight.

Carlson’s visit offered Putin a rare opportunity to present his distorted version of the war in Ukraine to a large US audience at a time when many in Russia, including leading conservative officials, believe Washington is spending too much on aid for Ukraine.

Having been consistent in his pro-Moscow and anti-Kyiv rhetoric, Carlson presented himself as the perfect vehicle for Putin’s plea to the US to halt military aid to Ukraine.

Instead of pressing Putin on the many topics at hand, including credible accusations of Russian war crimes in Ukraine and the continuing imprisonment of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the conservative TV host mostly allowed the Russian leader to speak uninterrupted.

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Duke of Sussex settles rest of Mirror Group phone-hacking claims

Prince Harry settles rest of Mirror Group phone-hacking claim

Duke of Sussex criticises Piers Morgan’s ‘continued attacks’ as publisher agrees to pay damages and costs

Read Prince Harry’s statement in full

Prince Harry has called for the authorities to take action and criticised Piers Morgan after settling the remaining parts of his phone-hacking claim against the publisher of the Daily Mirror, arguing that the former editor knew “perfectly well what was going on”.

In December the Duke of Sussex won a substantial part of his case against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), with a high court judge awarding him £140,600 in damages after ruling that Harry’s phone was hacked “to a modest extent” from the end of 2003 to April 2009.

After a high-profile trial – in which Harry became the first senior royal in more than 130 years to be cross-examined in a courtroom – the landmark ruling found there was “widespread and habitual” phone hacking by MGN from 2006 to 2011, “even to some extent” during the Leveson inquiry into media standards.

On Friday, Harry criticised Morgan’s “continued attacks” against him and called for action, pointing to the fact that Mr Justice Fancourt had ruled that Morgan, the Mirror’s editor between 1995 and 2004, and other senior executives knew about phone hacking.

In a statement after the judgment in December, Harry called upon the authorities – including the financial regulator, the Metropolitan police and the Crown Prosecution Service – to “investigate bringing charges against the company and those who have broken the law”.

Responding furiously at the time, Morgan denied he had been aware of phone hacking during his time as editor. In a statement read outside his home, he said Harry “wouldn’t know truth if it slapped him in his California-tanned face”, and he claimed Harry and his wife, the Duchess of Sussex, were trying to “destroy the British monarchy”.

Harry’s barrister David Sherborne read out a statement on his behalf on Friday, saying: “In light of this, we call again for the authorities to uphold the rule of law and to prove that no one is above it. That includes Mr Morgan, who as editor knew perfectly well what was going on, as the judge held.”

Harry said of Morgan: “His contempt for the court’s ruling and his continued attacks ever since demonstrate why it was so important to obtain a clear and detailed judgment.”

Harry – who is also locked in legal battles with the publisher of the Sun, the publisher of the Daily Mail and the Home Office – added: “As I said back in December, our mission continues. I believe in the positive change it will bring for all of us. It is the very reason why I started this, and why I will continue to see it through to the end.”

During a hearing in London on Friday, Sherborne said MGN would pay Harry “a substantial additional sum by way of damages” as well as his legal costs. He said the publisher would make an interim payment of £400,000.

An MGN spokesperson said: “We are pleased to have reached this agreement, which gives our business further clarity to move forward from events that took place many years ago and for which we have apologised.”

The publisher could now face a legal bill of millions after being ordered to pay legal costs related to more than 100 people, including Harry.

Harry and three others brought “representative” claims against the publisher but the trial last year also heard “generic” evidence about wider alleged wrongdoing at MGN.

In Friday’s ruling, the judge said the publisher should pay “generic” legal costs to the more than 100 people involved in the legal action.

The judge said: “On the generic issues, there can be little doubt that the claimants were successful […] In this unusual case, justice is only done by awarding the claimants their costs of the generic issues.”

Two of the cases heard alongside Harry’s – those of Nikki Sanderson, an actor, and Fiona Wightman, the ex-wife of the comedian Paul Whitehouse – were dismissed because they had been made too late, despite the judge finding that some of their complaints were proved. Michael Le Vel, who plays Kevin Webster in Coronation Street, was awarded £31,650 in damages.

The judge said Sanderson and Wightman should pay MGN the legal costs of defending their individual claims.

The final cost to MGN is yet to be finalised, but the high court previously heard that the group were seeking payment of £1,976,660 in legal costs.

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‘Mirror Group have finally conceded’Prince Harry statement in full

Prince Harry statement in full: ‘Mirror Group have finally conceded’

Statement read by Duke of Sussex’s lawyer after he settled rest of phone-hacking claim against newspaper group

Duke settles rest of Mirror phone-hacking claim

Prince Harry has settled the remaining parts of his phone-hacking claim against the publisher of the Daily Mirror, after winning a substantial part of his case and damages against the Daily Mirror in December. Following is the statement read outside the court by his lawyer on Friday.

After our victory in December, Mirror Group have finally conceded the rest of my claim, which would have consisted of another two trials, additional evidence and 115 more articles.

Everything we said was happening at Mirror Group was in fact happening, and indeed far worse, as the court ruled in its extremely damning judgment. As the judge has said this morning, we have uncovered and proved the shockingly dishonest way the Mirror Group acted for many years and then sought to conceal the truth.

In light of all this, we call again for the authorities to uphold the rule of law and to prove that no one is above it. That includes Mr [Piers] Morgan, who, as editor, knew perfectly well what was going on, as the judge held.

Even his own employer realised it simply could not call him as a witness of truth.

His contempt for the court’s ruling and his continued attacks ever since demonstrate why it was so important to obtain a clear and detailed judgment.

As I said back in December, our mission continues. I believe in the positive change it will bring for all of us. It is the very reason why I started this, and why I will continue to see it through to the end.

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Biden fights back after criticism; Senate debates Israel and Ukraine aid bill

Good morning, US politics blog readers. Yesterday was a doozy for Joe Biden. The president received what should have been good news when special counsel Robert Hur announced no charges were warranted after investigating the classified documents found at his residence last year. But Hur contained in his lengthy report several references to Biden not being able to remember things, and said one reason why he would not recommend prosecuting the president is because jurors would see him as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”. At 81 years old, Biden’s age is expected to be a major factor on voters’ minds as he campaigns for re-election, and in an unscheduled late-night speech, he hit back at Hur’s claims, saying “my memory is fine,” but also mixed up the presidents of Egypt and Mexico.

Meanwhile, we may hear more from Congress today on the chances of passing aid to Israel and Ukraine, one of the Biden’s priorities. The Senate took an initial step to approving the legislation yesterday, but it’s unclear if it has the votes to pass the chamber, and whether the GOP will insert hardline immigration policies (which the party had, bizarrely, rejected earlier this week). Even if the legislation does make it through, Republican House speaker Mike Johnson has not said that he will put it up for a vote.

Here’s what else is going on today:

  • German chancellor Olaf Scholz is in Washington DC, and will meet with Biden at 3pm ET.

  • Now we wait for the supreme court’s decision on Donald Trump’s ballot eligibility, after the justices yesterday signaled they were skeptical of arguments to disqualify him for his involvement in January 6.

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will take reporters’ question at 1pm.

Biden fights back after criticism; Senate debates Israel and Ukraine aid bill

Good morning, US politics blog readers. Yesterday was a doozy for Joe Biden. The president received what should have been good news when special counsel Robert Hur announced no charges were warranted after investigating the classified documents found at his residence last year. But Hur contained in his lengthy report several references to Biden not being able to remember things, and said one reason why he would not recommend prosecuting the president is because jurors would see him as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”. At 81 years old, Biden’s age is expected to be a major factor on voters’ minds as he campaigns for re-election, and in an unscheduled late-night speech, he hit back at Hur’s claims, saying “my memory is fine,” but also mixed up the presidents of Egypt and Mexico.

Meanwhile, we may hear more from Congress today on the chances of passing aid to Israel and Ukraine, one of the Biden’s priorities. The Senate took an initial step to approving the legislation yesterday, but it’s unclear if it has the votes to pass the chamber, and whether the GOP will insert hardline immigration policies (which the party had, bizarrely, rejected earlier this week). Even if the legislation does make it through, Republican House speaker Mike Johnson has not said that he will put it up for a vote.

Here’s what else is going on today:

  • German chancellor Olaf Scholz is in Washington DC, and will meet with Biden at 3pm ET.

  • Now we wait for the supreme court’s decision on Donald Trump’s ballot eligibility, after the justices yesterday signaled they were skeptical of arguments to disqualify him for his involvement in January 6.

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will take reporters’ question at 1pm.

Women’s basketball team refused to shake hands with Israel

Irish women’s basketball team refused to shake hands with Israel

  • Player accused Irish rivals before match of being antisemitic
  • Ireland said comments were ‘inflammatory and inaccurate’

Ireland’s women’s basketball team refused to shake hands with their Israeli opponents on Thursday, amid outrage over accusations of antisemitism, as the two countries faced off at a EuroBasket qualifier.

Minutes before the match was set to start, Basketball Ireland said on social media that its players had decided to do away with the usual pre-match courtesies, linking the decision to earlier comments made by Israeli player Dor Saar.

In an interview published on Tuesday by the Israeli Basketball Association, Saar addressed the upcoming match with Ireland. “It’s known that they are quite antisemitic and it’s no secret, and maybe that’s why a strong game is expected,” she said. “We talk about it among ourselves. We know they don’t love us and we will leave everything on the field always and in this game especially.”

Basketball Ireland described the comments as “inflammatory and wholly inaccurate”, and said it had reported them to the body that governs basketball in Europe.

“Basketball Ireland informed Fiba Europe yesterday that as a direct result of recent comments made by Israeli players and coaching staff – including inflammatory and wholly inaccurate accusations of antisemitism, published on official Israeli federation channels – that our players will not be partaking in traditional pre-match arrangements with our upcoming opponents,” it said.

It added that it fully supported the players’ decision to shun courtesies such as the exchanging of gifts and handshakes before and after Thursday’s game. The players also lined up for the national anthem by their bench, rather than centre court.

In recent weeks the women’s team had been wrestling with calls to boycott the match, which had been originally slated to be played in Israel in November but was postponed and moved to Riga after Basketball Ireland requested a neutral venue. Several high-profile sporting figures had backed the call, with pressure on the players ramping up after the Israel Basketball Association shared photos from a practice session that included a visit by soldiers from the Israeli Defence Force.

Basketball Ireland said late last month that it had raised “strong concerns” about the fixtures with Israel to Fiba Europe and that it had floated the possibility of forfeiting the games. The organisation said it had been told, however, that it could face up to €180,000 in fines and face expulsion from EuroBasket this year and in 2027 for doing so.

The head of Basketball Ireland, John Feehan, said the penalties would be a ruinous blow to the team. “Not only would we be out of international competition for the next five years but it would probably take us another five years to get back to where we are now, so in real terms we’d lose a generation of players,” he told Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ.

Several players, however, opted not to travel to Riga for Thursday’s encounter. Israel won the match, which was played behind closed doors amid security concerns, beating Ireland 87-57.

Following the loss, Ireland’s head coach, James Weldon, praised his players over their “incredible maturity in how they handled a very pressured week”.

He sought to sidestep questions over the pre-match formalities. “I would prefer to be talking about basketball and not this, we didn’t engage in the pre-match activities as a direct result of those unwarranted and unacceptable comments from the Israeli camp about our players,” he said in a statement. “It was hugely disappointing, we came here for a game of basketball, we wanted to win, but didn’t come out on the right side of the result on this occasion.”

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Instagram and Facebook delete the accounts of supreme leader

Instagram and Facebook delete the accounts of Iran’s supreme leader

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel, which Meta said violated its policies

Meta has removed Instagram and Facebook accounts run on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, following criticism over his support for Hamas after the group’s 7 October attack on Israel that sparked the months-long war still raging in the Gaza Strip, the company confirmed on Friday.

Meta, based in Menlo Park, California, offered no specifics about its reasoning. However, it said it removed the accounts “for repeatedly violating our Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy”.

“We do not allow organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence to have a presence on our platforms,” the policy states. That includes those designated as terrorists by the US government. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Accounts associated with the supreme leader had been praising the Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw about 250 others taken hostage. Immediately after the attack, Khamenei backed Hamas in a speech, saying: “We kiss the hands of those who planned the attack on the Zionist regime.” Khamenei still maintains an account on X, formerly Twitter.

Pressure has been growing on online platforms to remove Khamenei in recent years, particularly after the mass protests that followed the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest allegedly over how she wore the mandated headscarf in Iran.

Khamenei’s use of Facebook has drawn criticism after he joined in 2012. The social network has been banned in Iran since its 2009 disputed presidential election and the Green Movement protests that followed. Iran began blocking Instagram and Meta’s WhatsApp messaging service after the protests over Amini’s death.

Iran has provided arms and support to Hamas, though Tehran isn’t believed to have directed the 7 October attack. Since then, Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians and sparked tensions across the wider Middle East. Iranian-backed militias such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels have launched attacks against Israel in the time since.

Khamenei and his vast patronage network inside Iran have long been targeted by US sanctions – Khamenei himself since 2019 by the administration of then president Donald Trump as tensions began to spiral in the Middle East over Trump unilaterally withdrawing the US from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

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Actor accused of physical and emotional abuse by two more women

Jonathan Majors accused of physical and emotional abuse by two more women

The Creed III and Ant-Man 3 actor is currently awaiting sentencing for assault and harassment

Actor Jonathan Majors has been accused of physical and emotional abuse by two more women.

In a New York Times report, two ex-girlfriends of the Creed III and Marvel actor have spoken out against alleged behaviour as the 34-year-old awaits sentencing for assaulting and harassing another former partner. Their testimonies were also used as pre-trial statements.

Emma Duncan was engaged to Majors between 2015 and 2019 and alleges that she once found messages between him and another woman when she visited him on the set of the western Hostiles. After she started packing her things, she claims he pushed her on to a couch and choked her. Majors then said “I’m going to kill you” before throwing her across the room and adding: “I’m going to make sure you can’t have children.”

Duncan claims that on another occasion Majors picked her up and slammed her against a mailbox after an argument, which led to bruising. A year later, she claims, he threw her to the ground.

She claims that her account of their relationship is “well documented”, adding: “I stand by the events described.”

Before they were together, Majors dated Maura Hooper, who also shared her testimony of his alleged emotional abuse. She claims he was controlling and refused to let her “speak to anyone about their relationship, isolating her from a support system” and after she became pregnant early on, she had an abortion.

During an argument when she confronted him over alleged infidelity, he threatened to kill himself (Duncan also attests that he made frequent suicide threats). A year after they broke up and Majors found out she was dating someone he knew, he allegedly called her a whore and said: “I hope you die; kill yourself” and “I’m going to rip you out of my heart the way they ripped our baby out of you.”

The actor’s lawyer Priya Chaudhry has denied all accusations of physical abuse but has called both relationships “toxic” and that her client was taking responsibility for his role in them. She added that her client “regrets saying hurtful things”.

Majors has also been accused of improper behaviour on the set of the HBO drama Lovecraft Country. His co-workers on the show have claimed that Majors was difficult with the women he worked alongside. He has been accused of threatening behaviour and making derogatory racial remarks, and after three women made a complaint to HBO he was forced to make an apology, calling it all a misunderstanding.

Chaudhry claims that he has “never been told that anyone objected to his behavior”.

In December 2023, Majors was found guilty of two misdemeanour charges of assault and harassment against a former girlfriend. His lawyer claimed that Majors “still has faith in the process and looks forward to fully clearing his name”. That same day he was dropped by Marvel. He had been playing the character of Kang in big- and small-screen projects.

In a televised interview in January, Majors denied ever hitting a woman and said he planned to appeal. This week his sentencing was postponed after his lawyer filed a motion to delay. It will now take place in April.

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Rightwinger Leonard Leo linked to efforts to keep Trump on ballot

Revealed: rightwinger Leonard Leo linked to efforts to keep Trump on ballot

Federalist Society co-chair has ties to the groups arguing in the US supreme court case that Trump should stay on the Colorado ballot

The man behind the conservative effort to move the judiciary to the right has ties to many of the groups and people arguing that Donald Trump should stay on the ballot in a case heard before the US supreme court this week.

Leonard Leo’s advocacy and financial network played a major role in Trump’s judicial nominations and confirmation hearings as part of his years-long push to make the courts more friendly to conservatives and their causes. Justice Clarence Thomas once joked that Leo was the “No 3 most powerful person in the world”.

Leo is the co-chairman of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization that counts five of the current nine justices as current or former members. He also heads a well-funded financial network that works to advance rightwing causes, having received a massive $1.6bn donation to boost his work. His maneuvers have been part of the recent scandals at the supreme court, including a payment he directed to be paid to Thomas’s wife, Ginni, the Washington Post reported in 2023.

Through this extensive network, he is tied to several of the filers of amicus briefs in the 14th amendment case that could prevent Trump from running for re-election. In those briefs, a variety of conservative groups argue against Trump’s removal, aligning with Trump’s arguments that he should remain on the ballot.

The consequential case has brought in amicus briefs on both sides from outside groups, historians, law professors and elected officials, who’ve parsed through legal language and the implications of removing a presidential candidate from the running.

According to research by Accountable.US, a non-profit that focuses on calling attention to special interests in US politics, Leo has ties – including professional associations, funding through his own groups or those he’s exchanged money with, and allies in the Federalist Society – to a handful of groups that filed amicus briefs against Trump’s removal.

The ties are part of a pattern, documented by Politico, of Leo himself and his network being connected to amicus briefs in high-profile supreme court cases in recent years. The Politico review also found “multiple instances of language used in the amicus briefs appearing in the court’s opinions”.

In this instance, Accountable.US found ties between Leo and the following groups or their lawyers that filed amicus briefs in the 14th amendment case: Citizens United, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, the Claremont Institute, Landmark Legal Foundation, Judicial Watch, Jones Day, Wyoming’s secretary of state Chuck Gray and America’s Future.

Citizens United, a conservative group whose name is synonymous with the 2010 supreme court ruling that allows unlimited political spending by outside groups and corporations, filed a brief alongside Steven Calabresi, Leo’s fellow co-chair of the Federalist Society. Other lawyers tied to the society are signed on to the group’s brief as well.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation’s brief is co-filed with a man who has been featured in more than 100 Federalist Society events, and the group has received funding from groups tied to Leo. The Claremont Institute has also received funds from groups tied to Leo’s funding network, and the brief’s author wrote a book that includes a quote from Leo on the back cover and featured in society events.

Leo has complimented the chairman of the Landmark Legal Foundation as a “great patriot” and “our old Federalist Society stalwart”. The Judicial Watch president is also president of the Council for National Policy, which Leo has reportedly been involved with. Jones Day, a conservative law firm whose attorneys authored an amicus brief for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has given money to the Federalist Society, and the firm is where Leo, Trump and others met to come up with a list of supreme court candidates.

The lawyers who filed Wyoming secretary of state Gray’s brief include a Federalist Society contributor who’s received a fellowship from the group. America’s Future has gotten funding from a group that’s exchanged millions with Leo’s financial network.

“It’s no surprise that Leonard Leo is backing efforts to support Trump at the supreme court,” said Accountable.US president Caroline Ciccone. “Leo helped Trump draw up his supreme court nominee shortlist – many of whom are justices on the bench set to hear this critical case – and now, Leo’s deploying his rightwing network in support of Trump as he faces consequences for his violent insurrection. It couldn’t be clearer where Leo stands.”

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Row over Canterbury Cathedral silent disco

‘Profane’ or ‘innocent’? Row over Canterbury Cathedral silent disco

Critics say dance event sends message that ‘Christians do not take their faith or their holy places seriously’

From south London’s Ministry of Sound to Ibiza’s legendary superclub Pacha, everyone has a favourite venue for dancing the night away. And now England’s oldest cathedral may be about to join that illustrious list.

More than 3,000 people were expected to take to the floor across four sessions of Canterbury Cathedral’s 90s silent disco to dance to the likes of the Spice Girls, Vengaboys and Eminem, in an event that officials hope will serve to attract a new generation of worshippers to the building’s hallowed cloisters.

However, the decision has sparked a backlash from some in the Church of England, with a petition describing the event as “profane” garnering more than 1,700 signatures. Critics of the event say it belittles the sanctity of the cathedral and that silent discos belong in nightclubs, not “the most important Christian church in England”.

In a message to the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the petition’s organiser Cajetan Skowronski said: “It will not bring young people closer to Christ, rather it will send the message that Christ and his church, and all the truth, beauty and goodness it has to offer, are unimportant. That entertainment deserves our attention more than God. That Christians do not take their faith or their holy places seriously … Make the cathedral a house of prayer once more.”

The Canterbury event, which sold out within an hour of going on sale, is part of a series of silent discos taking place in cathedrals and historic buildings around the UK and Europe. Cathedrals in Guildford and Ely are holding 90s and 80s themed nights in the next few months.

Canterbury Cathedral was founded in 597 and is a world heritage site.

The dean of Canterbury, the Very Rev Dr David Monteith, said: “Whether people choose to come to Canterbury Cathedral primarily as worshippers, sightseers or attendees at our events – which include classical concerts, light and sound installations, and craft workshops – it’s always joyous to see them discover this incredible place anew and on their own terms.

“There are many different views on the secular and the sacred. Our 90s-themed silent disco will be appropriate to and respectful of the cathedral – it is categorically not a ‘rave in the nave’ – but I appreciate that some will never agree that dancing and pop music have a place within cathedrals.”

A spokesperson for the event’s organisers, Silent Discos in Incredible Places, said they had the “utmost respect” for Canterbury Cathedral’s importance. They said: “We understand the concerns and respect the beliefs and opinions of those who would feel this inappropriate; however, to clarify, our silent disco is an innocent, feelgood event focused on bringing people together to sing the songs they love in the spectacular surroundings.”

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