The New York Times 2024-02-16 00:09:30

Middle East Crisis: A Mysterious Construction Project Takes Shape in Egypt, Near Gaza

Egyptian officials have disclosed little about the building project.

A wall is going up in the desert of Egypt near the border of the war-torn Gaza Strip, but no one is talking much about it.

Satellite imagery, photographs and video analyzed by The New York Times show a large patch of land being bulldozed and the wall being built in the buffer zone between Egypt and Rafah, the southern Gaza city overflowing with over a million displaced Palestinians that Israeli forces are poised to invade.

The satellite imagery clearly shows newly graded land south of the Rafah border crossing. An analysis of the satellite images indicated that the work began around Feb. 5.

But the Egyptian government, which has looked on with concern as Gazans displaced by the war between Israel and Hamas mass in Rafah, has declined to discuss the new construction. A spokesman for the government would only refer to statements by the government in recent weeks highlighting its fortification of the border.

It was not clear whether the structure might be intended to hold Gazans who crossed the border, but if it was used that way, it would be a major reversal of Egypt’s stance.

A contractor and an engineer who were interviewed by The Times and provided photos said they had been commissioned by the Egyptian Army to build a five-meter-high concrete wall — about 16 feet — to close off a five-square-kilometer plot of land at the site. They said they began work on Feb. 5 and started on the wall two days ago.

The contractor and the engineer spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying they feared reprisals. The Egyptian authorities heavily restrict information coming from the border area.

Since October, when a Hamas-led attack on Israel led to immense Israeli military retaliation in Gaza, Egypt has repeatedly rebuffed any suggestion that it take in some of the Gazans who have fled air and ground assaults to areas near the border in Rafah. Egyptian officials fear that an influx of refugees would pose a security risk. And many Palestinians suspect that Israel might not allow people who leave Gaza to come back when the war is over.

In recent weeks, uprooted Gazans have crammed into Rafah, on the border of Egypt, struggling to survive in tents and makeshift shelters with scarce access to food and other critically needed supplies, aid workers say. One Gazan official in Rafah, Ahmed al-Soufi, estimated that there were over 100,000 displaced Palestinians in encampments pressed against the border.

At a meeting convened by Egypt on Thursday, Martin Griffiths, the United Nation’s top aid chief, said “the possibility of spillover, a sort of Egyptian nightmare, is one that is right before our eyes.”

Like Israel, Egypt has sealed its borders with Gaza, and in recent months it has been adding fortifications to its border area.

A day after the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7, the governorate of North Sinai — where the work captured in the satellite images is taking place — said in a statement that the governor had held an emergency meeting with senior local officials to “study the capacities of schools, housing units and empty land that can be used as shelter sites if necessary.”

But on Thursday, the deputy governor of North Sinai, Maj. Gen Hisham el-Khouly, said he was not aware of any new construction. And the governor of North Sinai, Maj. Gen Mohamed Shousha, did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Ahmed Ezzat, the head of emergency operations at the Egyptian Red Crescent, which coordinates Gaza-related humanitarian assistance work at the border, said he had not heard of the project.

Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva, and Adam Rasgon from Jerusalem.

Israel says it sent special forces into the largest hospital in southern Gaza.

Israel sent troops on Thursday into Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, in what it said was a search for Hamas fighters and the bodies of hostages, an incursion that raised alarm over the fate of hundreds of patients and medical workers and the many displaced Palestinians who had sought shelter there from the war.

The raid came two days after Israel’s military ordered displaced people to evacuate the hospital, the largest in southern Gaza and one of the last ones functioning in the enclave, and after warnings by health officials that a military operation there could be catastrophic for civilians.

Ashraf al-Qudra, the Gazan Health Ministry’s spokesman, said that the Israeli military had demolished the southern wall of the complex and begun storming it, overrunning the ambulance center and an area where displaced people had been living in tents.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders, which has staff members at the hospital, said that shelling on Thursday morning had left “an undetermined number of people killed and injured” and called on Israel to halt the operation.

The Israeli military said that special forces soldiers were “conducting a precise and limited operation inside Nasser” against Hamas, which it accused of hiding in the hospital among wounded civilians. Israel, which has said that Hamas uses hospitals across Gaza as cover for military operations, said it had intelligence, including from released hostages, that Hamas had held captives at the hospital and that their bodies might be there.

Neither Israel’s claims nor those of the Gazan authorities could be independently verified.

On Thursday, Israel said that it had detained “a number of suspects” at Nasser, and Dr. al-Qudra said that Israeli forces had bulldozed graves on the hospital grounds. In past raids on Gaza hospitals during the war, the Israeli military has arrested medical staff members and dug up graves, saying it was searching for hostages’ bodies.

Hamas and hospital administrators have denied that Hamas uses medical facilities for military operations. International law experts have said Israel is obligated to protect hospitals and other civilian infrastructure with only narrow exceptions, such as if they are clearly being used for military purposes.

The Israeli military has faced rising international condemnation for its actions against Gazan hospitals, mosques and schools, and on Thursday it said that it aimed to ensure that Nasser could continue treating patients despite the military operation. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, said that at the hospital’s request, the military had arranged to allow international aid groups to deliver medical supplies and equipment to the hospital in recent days, including oxygen tanks and fuel.

As anesthesia, fuel, food and medical supplies run low at Nasser, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday that Israel had prevented aid deliveries to the hospital twice in recent days. Israel has denied blocking aid, and on Monday said the W.H.O. should avoid “baselessly accusing” it of doing so.

Nasser has become a focus of Israel’s ground offensive against Hamas in southern Gaza, and doctors there have described bombings and gunfire killing people inside the complex as Israeli forces edged toward its gates. After the Israeli military ordered displaced people sheltering there to evacuate, hundreds of Palestinians fled the hospital on Wednesday, although it was unclear where they would go in a territory pounded by airstrikes and riddled with fighting.

Admiral Hagari said the Israeli military had opened a “humanitarian corridor” to allow civilians to leave the complex safely. But some Palestinians who left Nasser on Thursday risked drone fire outside, according to Mohammad Salama, a journalist who fled the hospital.

On Tuesday, doctors and health officials said that people who had tried to flee the hospital came under fire, and that some were killed.

Nir Dinar, a spokesman for the Israeli military, pushed back on suggestions that Israel had attacked evacuees, saying that he “would be happy to see some evidence.”

Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting from Jerusalem; Rawan Sheikh Ahmad from Haifa, Israel; Ameera Harouda from Doha, Qatar; and Adam Sella from Tel Aviv.

Maps: Tracking the Attacks in Israel and GazaSee where Israel has bulldozed vast areas of Gaza, as its invasion continues to advance south.

Medical workers describe chaotic scenes inside Nasser Hospital.

Confusion and fear spread through and beyond the Nasser Medical Complex in southern Gaza on Thursday as an Israeli military raid on one of the region’s few functioning hospitals sent panicked workers and sheltering civilians fleeing.

A doctor at the hospital, Islam Sawaly, said she fled on foot around 3 a.m. after a rocket struck the orthopedic department.

“Only a few doctors remained,” she said after what she described as a walk of more than four hours along a dark and damaged road to the area of Miraj, about halfway between the hospital in Khan Younis and Rafah. That city along the border with Egypt has become the destination of many fleeing Gazans.

Video verified by The New York Times showed the aftermath of a strike, with injured people being rushed through a smoke-filled corridor amid debris and the sounds of gunfire. It is unclear what time the video was filmed.

The number of casualties from the raid was unclear.

Doctors Without Borders said that shelling had left “an undetermined number of people killed and injured.” In voice notes released by the group, a doctor at the hospital said a rocket attack around 2 a.m. had killed a patient in his bed and injured six others.

Dr. Sawaly told The Times that a rocket attack had left two people with burns and killed a doctor, although health officials in Gaza said the doctor had been injured.

Doctors Without Borders also said that one of its workers was unaccounted for after being detained at a checkpoint and called for the “protection of his dignity.”

An Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said late Thursday that “dozens” of people had been arrested, and the military released photos of three individuals it said were suspected of terrorism.

Conditions at Nasser — where health officials said about 8,000 displaced Palestinians were staying before an evacuation order — deteriorated rapidly in recent days, and then grew still worse overnight when Israeli forces entered the complex.

The Doctors Without Borders physician, whose name the group withheld for his protection, said that Israeli troops had ordered the medical staff to move all the patients into the oldest building of the hospital. The doctor said only about 40 health care workers and administrative staff members were left. Some 300 medical workers were there before the evacuation order, Gazan health officials have said.

Tanya Haj-Hassan, a pediatric intensive care doctor for the group, described the situation there as “catastrophic and utterly unbearable.” The hasty evacuations set off in recent days by Israeli warnings, she said, meant that those left behind at Nasser were the sickest patients, who could not be moved, and an unknown number of evacuees who turned back after coming under fire while trying to get out.

Rik Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization’s representative for the West Bank and Gaza, said Nasser had been treating about 400 patients on Wednesday, including about 80 in intensive care, with 35 on dialysis.

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad and Ameera Harouda contributed reporting.

Israel says a hospital raid was about the hostages, a source of division in the country.

Israel’s military said its raid of Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza on Thursday was partly driven by intelligence showing that Hamas had held hostages there and that the bodies of captives could be at the hospital.

The operation came amid an increasingly divisive public debate in Israel over the government’s course of action in Gaza regarding the hostages captured by Hamas and other groups on Oct. 7. More than 130 hostages remain in the enclave, including at least 30 who are believed to have died, according to the Israeli security services.

Israel has said that securing their freedom is a key aim of its war, but rifts have been growing in Israeli society between those who seek an immediate deal to release the hostages and those who think a better deal can be secured after further military action.

Those divisions have been on stark display in recent days. On Monday, Israeli commandos freed two hostages in a rescue operation accompanied by airstrikes that killed scores of Gazans, on the eve of talks in Cairo aimed at securing a cease-fire and the release of hostages.

Officials from a number of countries, including Israel and the United States, met in Cairo to discuss a possible deal to trade hostages for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and to suspend the war in Gaza. William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, who has been involved in efforts to free the hostages, visited Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, according to two people briefed on the visit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations.

But Israeli news media reported on Wednesday that Mr. Netanyahu had told his negotiators not to participate further in the discussions. Those reports infuriated some relatives of the hostages, who say that the government is not doing enough to rescue them.

The main alliance of the hostages’ family members, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, protested outside the homes of Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli officials Wednesday evening. On Thursday, the group reiterated its opposition to the government’s withdrawal from the talks in Cairo and said its members would continue to protest.

“If the Cairo initiative fails, 134 children and parents will be sacrificed and will die,” the alliance said in a statement. “Do not sacrifice them, do not abandon them again.”

A few relatives of hostages have said that the Israeli military should continue its war against Hamas until it has achieved its objectives, even if that means their family members remain in captivity.

Mr. Netanyahu said on Wednesday night that “strong military pressure and very tough negotiations” would be key to freeing more of the remaining hostages. In a post on social media, he also praised the Israeli military operation in Rafah on Monday that freed the two hostages held by Hamas.

Dozens of Palestinians were killed by strikes Israel carried out around that raid, according to the Gazan Health Ministry, further casualties in a war that the ministry there says has claimed the lives of more than 28,000 people in the enclave.

The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, on Wednesday called for Hamas to speed up an exchange of hostages for prisoners to spare the Palestinian people further “catastrophe” in the war, according to the authority’s official news agency.

Israel’s claims about Hamas activity at Nasser hospital could not be independently verified, and Hamas and hospital administrators have denied that the group uses medical facilities for military operations.

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.

The U.S. conducted a cyberattack against an Iranian military ship, an official says.

The United States recently carried out a cyberattack against an Iranian military vessel that the Pentagon says was gathering intelligence on merchant ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden and relaying that information to Houthi fighters, a U.S. military official said on Thursday.

The cyberattack happened as part of the Biden administration’s retaliation on Feb. 2 to a drone attack last month by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq that killed three American soldiers at a remote outpost in Jordan and injured dozens of others, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters.

U.S. analysts had suspected for weeks that the ship, the MV Behshad, was operating near the African port of Djibouti, which lies across a strait from Yemen, to spy on nearby ships and pass that information to Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The Houthis, who control northern Yemen, have been firing missiles and drones at vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Iranian officials have denied the allegations. The Houthis have said that their attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians under Israeli attack in Gaza.

The cyberattack was intended to disrupt the Iranian ship’s ability to share that information with the Houthis, according to the U.S. military, who did not elaborate on the clandestine mission.

Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, declined on Thursday to comment on the matter.

The New York Times previously reported that the United States had conducted a cyberattack against Iranian targets as part of the response to avenge the deaths of the three soldiers in Jordan. That response also included retaliatory strikes against Iranian forces and the militias they support in seven sites in Syria and Iraq. NBC News first reported new details about the cyberattack on Thursday.

The U.S. says it seized more weapons from Iran intended for the Houthis.

The U.S. military said on Thursday that a Coast Guard cutter had recently seized advanced weapons and other lethal aid from a vessel in the Arabian Sea that had originated in Iran and were bound for Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

A Coast Guard boarding team intercepted the vessel on Jan. 28 and found more than 200 packages that contained medium-range ballistic missile components, explosives, naval drone components, anti-tank guided missile launcher parts and communications gear, the military’s Central Command said in a statement.

The United States has accused Iran of supplying weapons and arms components to the Houthis, helping the Iran-backed militia sustain its string of missile and drone attacks targeting commercial vessels and Navy ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The Houthis have said that their attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians under Israeli attack in Gaza.

“This is yet another example of Iran’s malign activity in the region,” Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, the head of Central Command, said in a statement. “Their continued supply of advanced conventional weapons to the Houthis is in direct violation of international law and continues to undermine the safety of international shipping and the free flow of commerce.”

The United States and several allies have repeatedly warned the Houthis of serious consequences if their salvos do not stop. But U.S.-led retaliatory strikes — including major barrages on Jan. 11 and Feb. 3 — have so far failed to deter the Houthis from attacking shipping lanes to and from the Suez Canal that are critical for global trade. Hundreds of ships have been forced to take lengthy detours around southern Africa, driving up costs.

In the past five days, the United States has carried out short-notice strikes on at least two dozen aerial and naval drones and anti-ship cruise missiles in Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen that Central Command said posed an imminent threat to commercial ships. But the Houthis continue to fire away, at one point this week hitting a ship carrying corn to Iran, the U.S. military said.

U.S. and British military strikes are intended to whittle away at the Houthis’ arsenal, American officials say, while the maritime interdictions are aimed at choking off the militants’ arms pipeline.

Last month, two members of the Navy SEALs died during an operation at sea to intercept weapons from Iran headed to Houthi fighters. In that nighttime mission, which also involved helicopters and aerial drones, Navy commandos boarded a small boat and seized Iranian-made ballistic-missile and cruise-missile components, the U.S. military said.

The items seized in that operation included propulsion and guidance systems and warheads for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, as well as air-defense components, Central Command said. Such weapons transfers to the Houthis would violate international law and a United Nations Security Council resolution, the military said.

Escalating warnings over Israel’s plans for Rafah have come from all corners.

International alarm over Israel’s plans for a ground offensive in Rafah, in southern Gaza, has intensified in recent days, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to press ahead with plans to invade the city near the Egyptian border.

Over half of the Gaza Strip’s entire population of more than two million is sheltering in Rafah, according to the United Nations, an area of about 25 square miles. Many of them were repeatedly pushed southward by Israeli military orders to move into so-called safe zones. They are now trapped against Gaza’s southernmost edge, largely living in makeshift tents with little food or clean water, under aerial bombardment and awaiting the terrifying prospect of soldiers advancing on them once again.

Mr. Netanyahu has ordered the Israeli military to draw up plans to evacuate civilians from Rafah before the offensive, though human rights groups say there is little chance that an evacuation of such scale could be carried out in compliance with international law. They also say that because Rafah is the primary portal for aid to Gaza, any military operations there would have disastrous consequences on the entire enclave.

Warnings against the offensive have come from nearly every part of the world, including from Israel’s most powerful allies.

Here are some of the most notable.

  • The United States: A ground invasion of Rafah should not proceed “without a credible and executable plan” for ensuring the safety of displaced civilians, President Biden told Mr. Netanyahu in a phone call on Sunday, according to the White House.

    The U.S. is a top financial backer of the Israeli military, and its most steadfast diplomatic ally. On Tuesday, John F. Kirby, Mr. Biden’s national security communications adviser, declined to answer questions about what the United States would do if Israel moved on Rafah without such a plan, saying, “Let’s see what they come up with.”

  • South Africa: The government has asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the U.N.’s top court, to consider further emergency measures against Israel in light of the looming offensive, saying it would breach the court’s order in January that Israel take proactive steps to prevent a genocide.

  • Britain: The British foreign secretary, David Cameron, said his country was “very concerned about what is happening in Rafah” and wanted Israel to “stop and think very seriously before it takes any further action” there. “It’s impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people,” he added. “There is nowhere for them to go.”

  • Other major European nations and the European Union: France is firmly opposed to an offensive in Rafah, President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he told Mr. Netanyahu in a phone call. Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, has said the offensive would be a “humanitarian catastrophe,” and Norway’s foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, warned that it would “render humanitarian support practically impossible.”

    The E.U.’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles, denounced the notion that Israel could successfully evacuate all civilians from Rafah before a ground offensive, saying this week, “They’re going to evacuate? Where? To the moon?”

  • Major Middle Eastern nations: Egypt, which borders Gaza and is hosting the current cease-fire negotiations in Cairo, has categorically refused to allow large numbers of Palestinians to enter the country from Rafah over fears that their displacement could be permanent. Qatar, another key mediator, as well as Jordan and Saudi Arabia have also warned Israel against pushing into Rafah.

  • Australia, Canada, New Zealand: The prime ministers of the three nations issued a joint statement calling for an “immediate humanitarian cease-fire” in light of Israel’s plans for Rafah, adding that international consensus against the offensive was growing. “Israel must listen to its friends and it must listen to the international community,” the statement said. “The protection of civilians is paramount and a requirement under international humanitarian law.”

Warnings have also come from top U.N. officials and aid groups:

  • The United Nations: The U.N.’s aid chief, Martin Griffiths, said that Palestinians in Rafah are “staring death in the face” and military operations there “could lead to a slaughter.” He added, “The government of Israel cannot continue to ignore these calls. History will not be kind.”

    The U.N.’s human rights chief, Volker Türk, said that “beyond the pain and suffering of the bombs and bullets,” an invasion of Rafah could end the “meager” humanitarian aid that has been entering the enclave, with “huge implications for all of Gaza, including the hundreds of thousands at grave risk of starvation and famine in the north.”

    Answering a question about whether the U.N. would help with evacuation efforts, Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the U.N.’s secretary general, said it “will not be party to forced displacement.”

  • The International Criminal Court: Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor for the court at The Hague, said that he was “deeply concerned” about a potential Israeli offensive in Rafah and stressed that he had “not seen any discernible change in conduct by Israel” during his office’s investigation into possible war crimes. “Those who do not comply with the law should not complain later when my office takes action pursuant to its mandate,” he said.

  • International Committee of the Red Cross: “Countless lives are hanging in the balance,” the I.C.R.C. said, adding that international humanitarian law “protects all civilians from the effects of hostilities, including those who may not be able to depart Rafah.”

  • Doctors Without Borders: Israel’s ground offensive in Rafah “must not proceed,” said Meinie Nicolai, the leader of the charity, and called on the U.S. and other governments supporting Israel “to take concrete action to bring about a complete and sustained cease-fire. Political rhetoric is not enough.”

  • Save the Children: “Much of the international community has failed tests of their commitment to protect children so far,” the organization said, warning that 610,000 Palestinian children are in Rafah. “This is the gravest test of all.”

State media reports in Lebanon say Israeli strikes there killed 10 civilians.

Israel’s military launched new attacks on targets in Lebanon on Thursday, a day after its strikes in southern Lebanon that according to Lebanese state media killed at least 10 civilians, the most in months of cross-border fighting.

The strikes — which came in response to a rocket attack from Lebanon on Wednesday that killed one Israeli soldier and wounded eight other people — amplified fears that months of cross-border clashes could escalate into a full-fledged war.

Lebanon’s state media reported on Thursday that among the 10 civilians killed in the Israeli strikes were seven members of one family in the city of Nabatieh. Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, on Thursday condemned the Israeli military’s “aggression” and requested that an urgent complaint against Israel be brought before the United Nations Security Council, according to a statement from his office.

Israel’s military later said that its fighter jets had carried out more strikes inside Lebanon against targets belonging to Hezbollah, the powerful militia that is an ally of Hamas in Gaza. Hezbollah and Israel have engaged in intense cross-border strikes since the Hamas-led attacks in Israel on Oct. 7.

Since Wednesday, Hezbollah has announced the deaths of at least 10 of its fighters, although it has not specified when or where they had died. Israel’s military said that one was a commander in Hezbollah’s elite Radwan Force that had been killed by Israeli strikes on Wednesday; the group confirmed the man’s death but did not describe his position.

The escalations have reignited fears that another front could open in Israel’s war against Hamas. Hezbollah has vowed to respond to the Israeli strikes — and Israeli leaders have signaled that they, too, were prepared to fight.

“We have no interest in war, but we must prepare,” Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said in videotaped remarks released on Thursday.

Mr. Gallant said earlier on Thursday that he had spoken to the American defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, about the “ongoing threats and attacks” from Hezbollah.

The United States is one of several countries that have been involved in diplomatic efforts to defuse the cross-border tensions.

How Russia Depicts Wounded Soldiers: As Heroes, or Not at All

A shell slammed into the ground just feet from where the Russian soldier was deployed, and the explosion tossed him into the air.

“I felt my arm fall off, then a blow to my leg, everything slowed down, just a frozen picture in my eyes — no sounds, no other sensations,” said the soldier, Andrei, a 29-year-old former convict recruited into the Wagner private military company.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Which Version of an Ex-General Did Indonesia Just Vote For?

A strongman apparatchik accused of multiple human rights abuses. A violent nationalist. A pious defender of Muslims. A loyal acolyte of a popular president with few achievements of his own.

Prabowo Subianto has been called all of these over the years he has sought power in Indonesia. Now he is projected to be the country’s next president. Unofficial tallies from Wednesday’s election show him winning a decisive victory, with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

During the campaign, Mr. Prabowo repeatedly promised that he would continue on the path and policies charted by Joko Widodo, the popular departing president. That would mean doling out billions of dollars on welfare programs like school lunches, health care and housing. Mr. Joko, who had beaten Mr. Probowo in previous elections and is scheduled to step down in October, seemed to offer support to his former rival as well, through his 36-year-old son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who will be Mr. Prabowo’s vice president.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Losing Ground, Ukraine Seeks New Positions Around Avdiivka

Ukrainian soldiers are withdrawing from positions in the shattered town of Avdiivka after advancing Russian forces breached a critical supply line and threatened to encircle scores of Ukrainian soldiers, Ukrainian military officials and soldiers said on Thursday.

Dmytro Lykhovii, a spokesman for Ukrainian forces fighting in the area, said the Ukrainians were “maneuvering” and “sometimes withdrawing to more advantageous positions and sometimes repelling enemy advances.”

He also said military commanders had set up a backup logistical route to the town to transport much needed supplies to Ukraine’s beleaguered troops.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

This Centuries-Old Border Dispute Pits an Army Against Unarmed Volunteers

Simon Romero and Alejandro Cegarra spent several days in Belize, traveling by boat to the Sarstoon River and crisscrossing the country by car to speak with people about the dispute with Guatemala.

The boat edged its way past the mangrove swamps, a tangled maze of thorn-covered branches sheltering jaguars and shrieking howler monkeys. We were in Belize, our GPS signals showed, the English-speaking Central American country where British pirates put down stakes centuries ago.

But then members of Guatemala’s military, clad in camouflage and berets, spotted us. Pulling up in their own boat, they grasped rifles, index fingers close to the triggers.

“You’ve just entered Guatemalan waters!” one shouted in Spanish when they were just a few feet away. “We request that you steer toward the nearest Guatemalan command post.”

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

He Lost a Son, Then Chronicled Life in a Gaza Hospital

Sign up for the Israel-Hamas War Briefing.  The latest news about the conflict.

For weeks, Mustafa Abutaha wandered the halls of one of Gaza’s few functioning hospitals and filled his days by volunteering to do whatever was needed — sweeping floors, baking bread, dressing injured patients, feeding dates or tomato sandwiches to those who couldn’t feed themselves. Anything to avoid thinking about his son, Muhammed.

As the Israeli military targeted the southern city of Khan Younis in early December and fighting with Hamas intensified, his family’s home was struck while he was visiting a neighbor, Mr. Abutaha said. His brother was killed. Three of his five children were injured. And Muhammed, 18, was found motionless in a stairwell.

“If somebody sends me his picture, I just shout at him and say: ‘Please don’t remind me of my son. He’s already dead. Please, I don’t want to bring back memories,’” Mr. Abutaha said. “Oblivion, forgetfulness, is a blessing from God.”

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Putin Says He Prefers Biden Over Trump. Commentators Are Skeptical.

Putin Says He Prefers Biden Over Trump. Commentators Are Skeptical.

The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, called President Biden experienced and predictable. But Moscow watchers said the comments most likely had an ulterior motive.

President Vladimir V. Putin said on Wednesday that it was in Russia’s interest for President Biden to win a second term, calling his American counterpart experienced and predictable, and dismissing concerns about Mr. Biden’s age.

It was the first time that Mr. Putin had directly expressed a preference ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, and the comments ran counter to the widespread assumption that the Kremlin was rooting for former President Donald J. Trump, the front-runner to be the Republican nominee. Mr. Putin made the comments in a brief interview with Russian state television released late Wednesday.

“Who is better for us: Biden or Trump?” the interviewer asked.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

In Extraordinary Move, Venezuela Expels U.N. Human Rights Agency

A United Nations agency that defends human rights was ordered on Thursday to leave Venezuela by the government of President Nicolás Maduro, an extraordinary move that will further strip the country of foreign oversight at a time when its government stands accused of intensifying repression.

The announcement, by foreign minister Yvan Gil, comes just days after the detention and disappearance of Rocío San Miguel, a prominent security expert and human rights advocate.

Following her detention, several United Nations entities issued online statements expressing concern about the arrest, some calling it part of a pattern in which the government tries to silence critics through intimidation.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Greece Becomes First Orthodox Country to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

Greece legalized same-sex marriage and equal parental rights for same-sex couples on Thursday as lawmakers passed a bill that has divided Greek society and drawn vehement opposition from the country’s powerful Orthodox Church.

Although Greece became the 16th European Union country to allow same-sex marriage, it is the first Orthodox Christian nation to pass such a law. The country extended civil partnerships to same-sex couples in 2015, but stopped short of extending equal parental rights at the time.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had pledged to pass the new measures after his landslide re-election last year. He told his cabinet last month that same-sex marriage was a matter of equal rights, noted that similar legislation was in place in more than 30 other countries, and said that there should be no “second-class citizens” or “children of a lesser God.”

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

India’s Supreme Court Strikes Down a Fund-Raising Edge for Modi

India’s Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a contentious fund-raising mechanism that allowed individuals and corporations to make anonymous political donations, a system that was widely seen as an advantage for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing party.

Though the judgment came just months before the country’s next general election, probably too soon to affect its outcome, activists said it could bring more accountability to campaign finance down the road.

The ruling on “electoral bonds,” as the fund-raising instruments are known, came a full six years after Mr. Modi’s government introduced them. According to political analysts, his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party raised immense sums of money during that period — both from electoral bonds and other means — money it has used to trounce its rivals in elections and drown out opposition voices more generally.

Under the contested fund-raising system, the government-owned State Bank of India, India’s largest commercial bank, issued paper bonds that could be purchased in exchange for donations to a political party of the donor’s choice. They range from just $12 to more than $120,000, with no limit on the number of bonds that a donor could buy.

Though the purchases were anonymous in the sense of not being publicly reported, every buyer’s identity was known to the State Bank of India, which is run by the federal government.

“This decision was undertaken for a laudable objective to bring in transparency in the electoral system. We respect the court order,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, a leader from the ruling party, said about the Supreme Court ruling. “We will give a proper response after studying the whole judgment.”

In its 232-page ruling, the judges wrote that they wondered how elected representatives could be held accountable to the electorate if “companies, which bring with them huge finances and engage in quid pro quo arrangements with parties, are permitted to contribute unlimited amounts.”

The Supreme Court, in other words, did not take seriously the notion that corporate donors were giving money to politicians purely out of a sense of civic duty. “The reason for political contributions by companies is as open as daylight,” its judges wrote. Yet “the integrity of the election process is pivotal for sustaining the democratic form of government.”

During court hearings, Prashant Bhushan, one of the lawyers who brought the case against the government, told justices that about 99 percent of issued bonds ended up with the governing party and its allies.

In its Thursday ruling, the five-judge bench declared the entire system unconstitutional, and directed the State Bank of India to cease issuing any more bonds. It also ordered that all funding received by political parties since April 2019 via the bonds be reported to the country’s federal election commission.

For decades, some Indians have clamored for transparency in campaign financing, as their elections have become more costly. By some estimates, Indian elections now cost even more than competitive elections in the United States.

The police often seize hoards of cash, liquor and other inducements from candidates and parties, that are meant to be distributed among voters before elections. Political observers say that politicians who deploy the most money to win elections tend to become corrupt the fastest, as they seek the earliest opportunity to finance their future campaigns.

In 2017, when Mr. Modi’s government introduced the electoral bonds system, his finance minister argued that it was needed to bring transparency into campaign funding. Opposition politicians and other critics noted that the nature of the system seemed better designed to benefit politicians already in power.

In a recent report, the Association for Democratic Reforms or A.D.R., a nonprofit working to clean up India’s elections, said that individuals and companies had purchased about $2 billion worth of electoral bonds as of last November, and that Mr. Modi’s party alone had received about 90 percent of the corporate portion of these donations in the previous financial year.

Jagdeep S. Chhokar, a member of the A.D.R. and one of the petitioners before the Supreme Court, said the judgment would prevent further damage of the kind done to the electoral system over the past few years and should help level the political playing field in the future.

“The scheme had the potential to give additional advantage to any ruling party that was in power. And it has the potential to choke funding to all opposition political parties,” by giving the government the power to surreptitiously monitor its rivals’ fund-raising efforts. “That mischief has been removed,” Mr. Chhokar said.

Enjoy unlimited access to all of The Times.

6-month Welcome Offer
original price:   A$6.25sale price:   A$0.50/week

Learn more

For Families of Itaewon Crowd Crush Victims, Verdicts Are a Bittersweet Win

Bereaved relatives of the victims of a deadly 2022 crowd crush in South Korea expressed mixed emotions this week after three former police officers were convicted of destroying evidence connected to the episode, in which nearly 160 people died in Seoul. Dissatisfaction over the slow pace of the inquiry and the perceived leniency of the sentences was mingled with relief that someone, at last, had been held to account.

On Wednesday, a court found the three former officers guilty for their roles in deleting an internal report that warned of the potential for hazardous situations during that October weekend’s Halloween festivities. Though others have been indicted, these officers are the first people to be convicted of any crime related to the episode.

The verdicts were an unexpected win for the victims’ family members, who had waited more than 15 months and were starting to lose faith that anyone would ever be held responsible.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Russia Hides Its War Toll. We Pieced Together the Clues.

The true casualty toll in Russia from its invasion of Ukraine is an enduring secret of the war. The Kremlin maintains a policy of silence, and many Russians do not speak publicly for fear of repercussions.

But the number of Russians wounded in combat is believed to be staggering.

The Pentagon puts the Russian death toll at about 60,000, with the wounded three or four times that, totaling roughly 300,000 casualties, said a U.S. official speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Europe Wants to Stand on Its Own Militarily. Is It Too Little, Too Late?

As Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany broke ground for a new ammunition factory this week, he celebrated a move that should enable the country to restore its almost entirely depleted arsenal of artillery shells.

But despite his portrayal of the groundbreaking as another German response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began two years ago this month, it was also a reminder of how slow the European reaction has been. It will be a year before the new factory is able to produce 50,000 rounds annually, with hopes of doubling that in 2026.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Why Farmers Are Marching Toward Delhi Again

Once again, India’s capital is bracing itself for a siege. Not by a foreign army but by an army of Indian farmers, streaming toward New Delhi from nearby states to protest government policies.

The farmers’ march has turned the city’s main points of entry into choke points, as the federal and local police go into overdrive: barricading highways by pouring concrete and stacking shipping containers to halt the advancing tractors.

The authorities have blocked the social media accounts of some protest leaders and even used drones that were once billed as an agricultural innovation to drop tear-gas grenades on the demonstrators.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

An English City Gave Soccer to the World. Now It Wants Credit.

As far as the man in the food truck is concerned, the patch of land he occupies in Sheffield, England, is about as humdrum as they come. To him, the spot — in the drab parking lot of a sprawling home improvement superstore, its facade plastered in lurid orange — is not exactly a place where history comes alive.

John Wilson, an academic at the University of Sheffield’s management school, looks at the same site and can barely contain his excitement. This, he said, is one of the places where the world’s most popular sport was born. He does not see a parking lot. He can see the history: the verdant grass, the sweating players, the cheering crowds.

His passion is sincere, absolute and shared by a small band of amateur historians and volunteer detectives devoted to restoring Sheffield — best known for steel, coal and as the setting for the film “The Full Monty” — to its rightful place as the undisputed birthplace of codified, organized, recognizable soccer.

Map locates Sheffield, Manchester and London in England. It also shows where Wembley Stadium is in northwest London.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

How John Travolta Became the Star of Carnival

Jack Nicas and Dado Galdieri reported this article among the giant puppets of the Carnival celebrations in Olinda, Brazil

Leer en español

It was near the start of one of Brazil’s most famous Carnival celebrations, in the northern seaside city of Olinda, and the town plaza was jammed with thousands of revelers. They were all awaiting their idol.

Just before 9 p.m., the doors to a dance hall swung open, a brass band pushed into the crowd and the star everyone had been waiting for stepped out: a 12-foot puppet of John Travolta.

Confetti sprayed, the band began playing a catchy tune and the crowd sang along: “John Travolta is really cool. Throwing a great party. And in Olinda, the best carnival.” (It rhymes in Portuguese.)

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Subscribe to The New York Times.



‘This Is Where I Want to Be’

Sign up for the Israel-Hamas War Briefing.  The latest news about the conflict.

When Ayelet Khon moved back to the Kfar Azza kibbutz with her husband two months after the brutal Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7, the first thing she did was hang a string of rainbow-colored lights up on the front patio.

At night, when darkness drenches this community, the twinkling colors are the only lights visible.

“We are going to keep these lights on and never turn them off — even if we’re out for the evening — they are lights of hope,” Ms. Khon said she told her husband, Shar Shnurman.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Manhattan or Pulau Rhun? In 1667, Nutmeg Made the Choice a No-Brainer.

Richard C. Paddock and

Richard C. Paddock and Muktita Suhartono, along with the photographer Nyimas Laula, spent three days on Pulau Rhun to document life on the remote island.

The isles of Manhattan and Pulau Rhun could hardly be farther apart, not just in geography, but also in culture, economy and global prominence.

Rhun, in the Banda Sea in Indonesia, has no cars or roads and only about 20 motorbikes. Most people get around by walking along its paved footpaths or up steep stairways, often toting plastic jugs of water from the numerous village wells or sometimes lugging a freshly caught tuna.

But in the 17th century, in what might now seem one of the most lopsided trades in history, the Netherlands believed it got the better part of a bargain with the British when it swapped Manhattan, then known as New Amsterdam, for this tiny speck of land.

Map locates the Maluku Islands in eastern Indonesia. It also locates Pulau Rhan, an island in the Banda Island group, which is part of the Maluku Islands.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Discontent and Defiance on the Road to Pakistan’s Election

Christina Goldbaum and

The reporters traveled along a famed highway in Pakistan’s most heated political battleground to understand how Pakistanis are feeling before a national election on Thursday.

The highway is the most politically charged slice of a politically turbulent country. It winds 180 miles from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, through the fertile plains of Punjab Province to Lahore, the nation’s cultural and political heart.

For centuries, it was known only as a sliver of the Grand Trunk Road, Asia’s longest and oldest thoroughfare, linking traders in Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent. But in Pakistan, this stretch of the smog-drenched highway has become the stage for major rallies and protests led by nearly every famed civilian leader the country has had.

As Pakistan heads into national elections on Thursday, the road is buzzing. Politics dominates the chatter between its vendors and rickshaw drivers, their conversations seeped in a culture of conspiracy, cults of political personality and the problems of entrenched military control.

The map highlights the Grand Trunk Road from Islamabad to Lahore in Pakistan . The towns of Gujar Khan, Jhelum, Wazirabad and Gujranwala along the road are also located.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

The Friar Who Became the Vatican’s Go-To Guy on A.I.

Before dawn, Paolo Benanti climbed to the bell tower of his 16th-century monastery, admired the sunrise over the ruins of the Roman forum and reflected on a world in flux.

“It was a wonderful meditation on what is going on inside,” he said, stepping onto the street in his friar robe. “And outside too.”

There is a lot going on for Father Benanti, who, as both the Vatican’s and the Italian government’s go-to artificial intelligence ethicist, spends his days thinking about the Holy Ghost and the ghosts in the machines.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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

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

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

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

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Playing Soccer in $1.50 Sandals That Even Gucci Wants to Copy

The wealthy pros of Ivory Coast’s national soccer team were resting in their luxury hotel last week, preparing for a match in Africa’s biggest tournament, when Yaya Camara sprinted onto a dusty lot and began fizzing one pass after another to his friends.

Over and over, he corralled the game’s underinflated ball and then sent it away again with his favorite soccer shoes: worn plastic sandals long derided as the sneaker of the poor, but which he and his friends wear as a badge of honor.

Shiny soccer cleats like his idols’? No thanks, said Mr. Camara, a lean 18-year-old midfielder, as he wiped sweat from his brow.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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

Sign up for Your Places: Global Update.   All the latest news for any part of the world you select.

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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

An Olympic Dream Falters Amid Track’s Shifting Rules

Leer en español

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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

En Venezuela, un día eres crítico y al siguiente estás detenido

De todos los críticos del gobierno, pocos pensaban que Rocío San Miguel sería la que iba a desaparecer.

San Miguel, de 57 años, durante mucho tiempo ha sido una de las expertas en seguridad más conocidas de Venezuela, una mujer que se atrevió a investigar al gobierno autoritario de su país incluso cuando otros huían. También es moderada, cuenta con reconocimiento internacional y parecía tener fuertes contactos en el hermético mundo del ejército venezolano, cualidades que sus colegas pensaban que podrían protegerla.

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

Pero a finales de la semana pasada, San Miguel llegó al aeropuerto de las afueras de Caracas con su hija, con destino a lo que un familiar calificó como un viaje corto a Miami, cuando fue detenida por agentes de contraespionaje. Poco después, su familia también empezó a desaparecer. La hija, dos hermanos y dos antiguas parejas sentimentales. Desaparecidos.

Durante cuatro días, la única información pública sobre San Miguel procedió del fiscal general de Venezuela, que afirmó en redes sociales, sin aportar pruebas, que San Miguel había sido vinculada a un complot para asesinar al presidente del país, Nicolás Maduro.

Finalmente, el martes por la noche, sus abogados dijeron que había aparecido, y que estaba recluida en un centro de detención conocido por su crueldad. Su familia también estaba bajo custodia estatal.

La detención de San Miguel, directora de una modesta pero influyente organización sin fines de lucro que monitoreaba a las fuerzas armadas, ha desencadenado un pequeño terremoto en los círculos de derechos humanos de Venezuela, donde hace solo unos meses muchos observaban con cautelosa expectativa cómo Maduro firmaba un acuerdo con la oposición del país, donde prometía trabajar para lograr unas elecciones presidenciales libres y justas este año.

El cambio político, aunque todavía era una posibilidad lejana, parecía un anhelo digno de consideración.

Ahora, el pequeño grupo de activistas, trabajadores humanitarios, críticos, analistas, periodistas y otros que han podido resistir dentro del país —a pesar de años de represión y crisis económica— ven cómo se reducen aún más los estrechos espacios de actuación disponibles para ellos.

Como resultado, el camino hacia la democracia parece tan arduo como siempre.

Una nueva ley propuesta por el partido de Maduro pretende regular estrictamente las organizaciones sin fines de lucro, prohibiéndoles participar en acciones “que amenacen la estabilidad nacional”, lo que hace temer que se utilice para criminalizar a estos grupos.

La principal candidata de la oposición del país, María Corina Machado, ha sido inhabilitada para presentarse a las elecciones presidenciales, varios miembros de su equipo han sido detenidos y una violenta banda afín al gobierno interrumpió recientemente uno de sus actos, ensangrentando a sus partidarios.

“Si esto le ocurrió a Rocío San Miguel, ¿qué le queda a los demás?”, dijo Laura Dib, que dirige el programa sobre Venezuela en la Oficina en Washington para Asuntos Latinoamericanos.

El encarcelamiento de personas que el gobierno de Maduro considera una amenaza no es nuevo. En Venezuela hay 263 presos políticos, según un grupo de vigilancia, Foro Penal, muchos de los cuales llevan años recluidos sin juicio.

Lo que distingue el caso de San Miguel no es solo lo conocida es y lo bien relacionada que estaba, sino que las autoridades detuvieron a toda su familia y luego los mantuvieron a todos sin comunicación durante días, táctica conocida en el derecho internacional como “desaparición forzada”.

En conjunto, estas medidas forman parte de un cambio notable en la represión, dijo Gonzalo Himiob, de Foro Penal, en el que el gobierno busca casos que atraigan la atención de los medios de comunicación y tácticas de detención que puedan aumentar el miedo entre quienes lo desafían.

“El gobierno está cruzando líneas que no había cruzado antes”, dijo.

En el centro de estas acciones parece estar el propio miedo de Maduro. El chavismo, el movimiento que lidera, ha gobernado Venezuela desde que su predecesor, Hugo Chávez, ganó las elecciones presidenciales en 1998.

Chávez, y luego Maduro, dirigieron una revolución de inspiración socialista que al principio sacó a muchos de la pobreza. Pero en los últimos años, la mala gestión gubernamental del sector petrolero, así como la corrupción y las sanciones estadounidenses, han devastado la economía.

Una crisis humanitaria al interior del país ha desbordado sus fronteras, con millones de venezolanos que buscan refugio fuera de él.

Maduro quiere que Estados Unidos retire las sanciones, algo que podría ayudar a mejorar la situación financiera del país, y que Washington ha dicho que hará si Maduro toma medidas para apoyar la democracia.

En octubre, con cautelosos elogios de Estados Unidos y sus aliados, Maduro firmó un acuerdo con la oposición para celebrar elecciones presidenciales.

Días después, la principal candidata de la oposición, Machado, ganó unas primarias con una participación que superó las expectativas y que se consideraron una señal de la debilidad de Maduro.

Las detenciones de San Miguel y su familia, dijo Dib, son un “mensaje a la sociedad civil de que no van a conseguir lo que quieren”. Es decir, unas elecciones de verdad.

Maduro, añadió, “no está dispuesto a perder el poder”.

San Miguel, que tiene doble nacionalidad, venezolana y española, es la directora de Control Ciudadano, que ha publicado una investigación sobre el número de personas asesinadas por las fuerzas de seguridad del Estado y ha criticado una ley venezolana que permite el uso de fuerza letal durante las protestas.

La mañana del 9 de febrero, San Miguel había llegado al aeropuerto en las afueras de Caracas con su hija de 26 años, según Minnie Díaz Paruta, tía de la hija.

San Miguel fue abordada por agentes del gobierno y detenida.

Aterrorizada, la hija volvió a Caracas. Un día después, regresó al aeropuerto para recuperar su equipaje, pero desapareció al poco tiempo y dejó de contestar a los mensajes, dijo la tía. Los hermanos y exparejas de San Miguel fueron detenidos por esas fechas, según Díaz y otros informes.

Dos días después, el fiscal general de Venezuela, Tarek William Saab, anunció en la plataforma de redes sociales X que San Miguel estaba detenida por el Estado, acusada de participar en una operación que, según él, buscaba el asesinato de Maduro.

Aseguró que la detención se había producido de acuerdo con “las normas nacionales e internacionales de protección de los derechos humanos”.

(El gobierno de Maduro afirma con frecuencia haber descubierto complots de asesinato contra el presidente).

A los abogados de San Miguel no se les permitió verla ni se les dijo dónde estaba.

Un grupo de activistas de derechos humanos recorrió algunos de los centros de detención del país con la esperanza de encontrarla, dijo Dib, sin éxito. No está claro cómo dieron con ella finalmente.

La embajada estadounidense para Venezuela, que se encuentra en la vecina Colombia, dijo que las detenciones seguían “una tendencia preocupante de detenciones aparentemente arbitrarias de actores democráticos”.

El Consejo de Derechos Humanos de la ONU, que en 2020 afirmó que Maduro había cometido “crímenes contra la humanidad” en sus esfuerzos por silenciar a la oposición, emitió una declaración similar.

Saad dijo el 13 de febrero que San Miguel había comparecido en una audiencia celebrada la víspera, acusada de traición, conspiración y terrorismo. Sus abogados dijeron que no estuvieron presentes.

Más tarde ese mismo día, un miembro de su equipo de defensa anunció en internet que la habían localizado: estaba en el Helicoide, un edificio de la década de 1950 construido como centro comercial que desde entonces se ha convertido en un conocido centro de detención.

La misión de las Naciones Unidas que examina las violaciones de derechos humanos en el país ha entrevistado a detenidos del Helicoide y afirma que han denunciado torturas, incluidas palizas y el uso de descargas eléctricas.

La misión también informó, en 2022, que el director de la principal agencia de inteligencia del país, que ostenta un poder significativo en el Helicoide, recibía órdenes directas de Maduro.

El abogado de San Miguel dijo que una de sus exparejas, Alejandro González, estaría recluido en otro centro, y que ambos permanecerían bajo custodia.

Los otros cuatro miembros de la familia, Miranda Díaz San Miguel, Víctor Díaz Paruta, Miguel San Miguel y Alberto San Miguel, serían puestos en libertad con la condición de que no salieran del país ni hablaran con los medios de comunicación.

La noticia de las detenciones se difundió rápidamente. Jairo Chourio, de 46 años, que vive en la ciudad de Maracaibo, dijo que se enteró de la detención de San Miguel en un grupo de Telegram, donde recibió información del partido socialista del país. Celebró las detenciones, que debían ser “bien merecidas”.

Otros dijeron que las detenciones eran señales angustiosas del estado de la democracia del país.

“En mi familia, todos tenemos miedo de opinar”, dijo Andrea Bracho, de 28 años, también de Maracaibo.

Bracho solo había decidido hablar con una periodista, dijo, “porque ya mañana me voy”.

“Por ahora, no tengo esperanzas”, continuó. “Y lo siento mucho”.

Sheyla Urdaneta colaboró con reportería desde Maracaibo, Venezuela.

Julie Turkewitz es la jefa del buró de los Andes, que cubre Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Perú, Surinam y Guyana. Antes de mudarse a América del Sur, fue corresponsal de temas nacionales y cubrió el oeste de Estados Unidos. Más de Julie Turkewitz

El Carnaval de Brasil solo empieza cuando llega John Travolta (el que mide 4 metros)

Jack Nicas y Dado Galdieri reportaron este artículo entre los gigantescos muñecos de las celebraciones de Carnaval en Olinda, Brasil

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

Era casi el comienzo de una de las celebraciones más famosas del Carnaval en Brasil, en la ciudad costera de Olinda, al norte del país, y la plaza de la ciudad estaba repleta de miles de asistentes. Todos esperaban a su ídolo.

Justo antes de las 9 p. m., las puertas de un salón de baile se abrieron de par en par, una banda de música se abrió paso entre la multitud y salió la estrella que todos habían estado esperando: un muñeco de John Travolta de cuatro metros.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Una redada israelí en Rafah rescata a 2 rehenes y mata a decenas, según las autoridades

Las fuerzas de operaciones especiales israelíes asaltaron a primera hora del lunes un edificio de la ciudad de Rafah, en el sur de Gaza, y liberaron a dos rehenes que estaban en poder de Hamás, según informó el ejército, mientras Israel lanzaba una oleada de ataques en los que murieron decenas de palestinos en la ciudad, según el ministerio de Salud gazatí.

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

La operación nocturna —solo la segunda vez que las fuerzas israelíes dicen haber rescatado a cautivos en Gaza— provocó alegría en Israel, donde el destino de más de 100 personas secuestradas durante el ataque dirigido por Hamás el 7 de octubre se ha convertido en una de las principales prioridades del país.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Ricardo Martinelli, refugiado en la embajada de Nicaragua, promete hacer campaña desde ahí

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

Mientras Panamá se preparaba para su ruidosa temporada de Carnaval, las celebraciones del fin de semana se producían en medio de un extraño drama político que tiene lugar en la capital.

Un expresidente, quien también es uno de los principales candidatos en las elecciones presidenciales de mayo de este año, se refugió en la embajada de Nicaragua en Ciudad de Panamá con sus muebles, incluidos un sofá y un escritorio, así como su perro, Bruno.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Australia introduce el derecho laboral a ‘desconectarse’

Cuando estén fuera del horario laboral y el jefe los esté llamando por teléfono, los trabajadores australianos —que ya figuran entre los más descansados y satisfechos del mundo— podrán pronto tocar la opción “rechazar” para entregarse mejor al dulce llamado de la playa.

En lo que significó un nuevo refuerzo contra el flagelo del exceso de trabajo, el Senado australiano aprobó el jueves un proyecto de ley que podría otorgarles a los trabajadores el derecho a ignorar llamadas y mensajes fuera del horario laboral sin temor a represalias. Ahora el documento regresará a la Cámara de Representantes para su aprobación definitiva.

El proyecto de ley, que se espera sea aprobado en la Cámara con facilidad, permitirá a los trabajadores australianos rechazar comunicaciones profesionales “no razonables” fuera de la jornada laboral. Los centros de trabajo que castiguen a los empleados por no responder a ese tipo de demandas podrían ser multados.

“No se debe penalizar a alguien que no cobra 24 horas al día si no está conectado y disponible las 24 horas del día”, declaró el primer ministro Anthony Albanese en una rueda de prensa el miércoles.

La disposición es una enmienda de última hora a un paquete de cambios legales propuestos para reforzar los derechos de los trabajadores. La legislación, que incluye protecciones para los trabajadores temporales que deseen convertirse en fijos y nuevas normas para quienes hacen trabajos independientes, como los repartidores de comida a domicilio, había sido muy debatida.

Australia sigue los pasos de países europeos como Francia, que en 2017 introdujo el derecho de los trabajadores a desconectarse de los empleadores mientras no estén de servicio, una medida emulada después por Alemania, Italia y Bélgica. El Parlamento Europeo también ha pedido una ley en toda la Unión Europea que alivie la presión sobre los trabajadores a responder a las comunicaciones fuera del horario laboral.

“El mundo está conectado, pero eso ha creado un problema”, declaró Tony Burke, ministro de Trabajo y Relaciones Laborales, en una entrevista concedida el martes a la radiotelevisión pública australiana.

“Si tienes un trabajo en el que solo te pagan por las horas exactas que trabajas, algunas personas se encuentran ahora en la situación constante de tener problemas si no revisan sus correos electrónicos”, añadió Burke. Es razonable que los empleadores se pongan en contacto con sus trabajadores para hablar de turnos y otros asuntos, dijo, pero los trabajadores no deberían estar obligados a responder estos mensajes durante sus horas no compensadas.

Los sindicatos y otros grupos industriales llevan mucho tiempo defendiendo que los empleados tienen derecho a desconectarse, pero el tema cobró relevancia durante la pandemia, cuando el cambio generalizado al trabajo remoto hizo que se difuminaran aún más los límites entre la vida doméstica y la vida laboral.

Los detractores de la nueva norma, entre ellos organizaciones empresariales y legisladores de la oposición, la han calificado de precipitada y de ser una extralimitación del gobierno, expresando su preocupación de que pueda dificultar el trabajo de las empresas.

“Esa legislación generará costos significativos para las empresas y se traducirá en menos puestos de trabajo y menos oportunidades”, declaró mediante un comunicado Bran Black, consejero delegado del Consejo Empresarial de Australia.

“Ninguna de las medidas está diseñada para mejorar la productividad, el empleo, el crecimiento y la inversión, los ingredientes de una economía próspera”, señaló Michaelia Cash, senadora del Partido Liberal, de oposición y de derecha. Y añadió: “Los trabajadores ya tienen protecciones legales contra horarios laborales irrazonables”.

Otros criticaron el mecanismo de la legislación, que hace recaer en los trabajadores la responsabilidad de proteger sus derechos, en lugar de obligar a los empresarios a no ponerse en contacto con sus empleados en horas no razonables.

Unas órdenes similares, comentó Kevin Jones, experto australiano en seguridad laboral, “suelen ser utilizadas por alguien que se da cuenta de que su relación con el empleador se ha echado tanto a perder que ya no es funcional y es mejor que se vaya”.

Los australianos ya disfrutan de una serie de prestaciones normalizadas, como 20 días de vacaciones anuales retribuidas, licencia por enfermedad paga obligatoria, baja por “servicio prolongado” de 6 semanas para quienes hayan permanecido en una empresa al menos siete años, 18 semanas de baja por maternidad retribuidas y un salario mínimo en todo el país de casi 15 dólares la hora.

El país ocupa el cuarto lugar del mundo en “equilibrio entre la vida laboral y familiar”, por detrás de Nueva Zelanda, España y Francia, según un índice de la plataforma mundial de empleo Remote. Estados Unidos, con un salario mínimo federal de 7,25 dólares, ocupa el puesto 53.

“El equilibrio entre la vida laboral y personal es un marcador cultural para los australianos”, aseguró Jones. “Vamos a la playa, paseamos y tenemos tiempo libre”.

Natasha Frost escribe el boletín informativo de lunes a viernes del Times, The Europe Morning Briefing, e informa sobre Australia, Nueva Zelanda y el Pacífico. Está radicada en Melbourne, Australia. Más de Natasha Frost

Isabella Kwai es reportera de noticias en directo en la oficina de Londres. Se incorporó al Times en 2017 como parte de la corresponsalía de Australia. Más de Isabella Kwai