The New York Times 2024-02-23 22:44:27

Middle East Crisis: Netanyahu Pushes for Indefinite Military Control Over Gaza

News Analysis

Netanyahu’s ambiguous plan for Gaza leaves him room to maneuver.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first detailed postwar plan for Gaza was carefully written to postpone long-term decisions about the territory’s fate and to avoid irreversible confrontations with both domestic allies and foreign partners, analysts said.

Mr. Netanyahu’s position paper, released on Friday, said Israel would retain indefinite military control over the enclave while ceding the administration of civilian life to Gazans without links to Hamas. If carried out, it would make it nearly impossible in the short term to establish a Palestinian state comprising Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The plan signaled to Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing base that he is defying foreign pressure on Israel to leave Gaza and allow the establishment of a Palestinian state. But the vagueness of its wording signaled to the United States and other foreign powers pressing for Palestinian sovereignty that there is still room to maneuver.

To satisfy mainstream Israeli opinion, Mr. Netanyahu said he wanted to retain military control of both Gaza and the West Bank; subcontract the management of civilian affairs to Gazan administrators; and retain control of buffer zones lining Gaza’s borders with Egypt and Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu also didn’t explicitly refer to the issue of settlements to avoid angering his far-right coalition partners, who could collapse his government if he rules out resettling Gaza with Jews.

All of these approaches infuriated the Palestinian leadership, which quickly condemned the plan. They are also likely to heighten tensions with Israel’s foreign allies, including the United States, who want Israel to abandon the buffer zones; engage in a process toward the creation of a Palestinian state; and hand over control of Gaza to a revamped version of the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank.

But Mr. Netanyahu was also careful not to go too far. He included no new ideas, choosing instead to repackage proposals that he has presented several times before. Nor did he directly rule out any of the options promoted by the United States.

Mr. Netanyahu’s pledge to hand day-to-day administration to Gazan managers did not explicitly reject the idea that they could be directed by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

“The administration of civilian affairs and the enforcement of public order will be based on local stakeholders with managerial experience” who are not “affiliated with countries or entities that support terrorism,” the position paper said, avoiding any mention of the Palestinian Authority while implicitly creating a challenge to its involvement.

The plan also rejected the idea of foreign countries unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state, a move recently hinted at by Britain and France. But it did not directly dismiss the idea of Palestinian statehood altogether, even though Mr. Netanyahu has on other occasions rejected the concept.

The document even leaves open the possibility of “a permanent arrangement with the Palestinians,” which it says “will only be achieved through direct negotiation between the parties.”

By using such ambiguous language, analysts said, the plan buys Mr. Netanyahu time because it satisfies his base while giving foreign leaders hope that he could still change course before it is too late.

“It doesn’t ruin anyone’s plan,” said Nadav Strauchler, a political analyst and former strategist for Mr. Netanyahu. “It leaves a lot of options open and postpones a lot of decisions.”

“He is treading a thin line,” Mr. Strauchler said. “Think how many different eyes and audiences are reading this paper with different glasses.”

Blinken says new Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal, reversing a Trump policy.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Friday that the American government now considers new Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories to be “inconsistent with international law,” marking a reversal of a policy set under the Trump administration and a return to a decades-long U.S. position on the contentious subject.

Mr. Blinken spoke at a news conference in Buenos Aires, after Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, made an announcement on Thursday indicating thousands of new residences would be added to settlements. Mr. Blinken said he was “disappointed” at the announcement.

“It’s been longstanding U.S. policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching enduring peace,” he said. “They’re inconsistent with international law. Our administration maintains firm opposition to settlement expansion. And in our judgment, this only weakens — it doesn’t strengthen — Israel’s security.”

Mr. Blinken was in Argentina for meetings with the recently elected president, Javier Milei, and the foreign minister, Diana Mondino.

In Washington, John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, reiterated that stance in comments to reporters. “This is a position that has been consistent over a range of Republican and Democratic administrations — if there’s an administration that is being inconsistent, it was the previous one,” he said.

State Department officials declined to say what actions, if any, the United States might take to hold Israeli settlers or the government legally accountable for the building of new settlements.

Over many years, settlements have proliferated across the West Bank, Palestinian territory that is occupied by Israel, without the United States pushing for any legal action. About 500,000 residents now live in the occupied West Bank and more than 200,000 in East Jerusalem.

In November 2019, President Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, reversed four decades of U.S. policy by saying that settlements did not violate international law. State Department lawyers never issued a new legal determination that buttressed that policy change, and Mr. Blinken’s shift back to the old policy is consistent with a longstanding legal finding of the department.

Starting in 2021, when President Biden took office, diplomatic reporters asked State Department officials whether Mr. Blinken planned to reverse Mr. Pompeo’s move, but the officials each time said there was no change to policy.

Some State Department officials had grown uneasy last year over the sharp surge in acts of violence by extremist settlers. After the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, violence increased in the West Bank, and Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken began denouncing the actions and the expansion of settlements.

On Friday afternoon, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a liberal Jewish American advocacy group that tries to shape policy on Israel, praised Mr. Blinken’s announcement.

“Now, the administration must make clear that, particularly in light of the volatility of the current situation between Israelis and Palestinians, there must be no further expansion of the settlement enterprise,” he said in a statement. He added that the Biden administration should show it “will take further steps to enforce its view — and the view of the international community — that the creeping annexation of the West Bank must stop.”

Mr. Pompeo’s move in 2019 bolstered the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who had vowed during two elections that year to annex the West Bank. Mr. Netanyahu’s new ruling coalition has several far-right ministers that support that direction, and it is those politicians who have helped Mr. Netanyahu stay in power despite the widespread criticism of him over his inability to protect Israel from the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and his moves to undermine the judiciary’s power.

On Thursday night, the office of one of those ministers, Mr. Smotrich, announced that an existing Israeli planning committee that oversees construction in the West Bank would be convened.

He said the committee would move ahead with plans for more than 3,000 housing units, most of them in Ma’ale Adumim, near the site of a Palestinian shooting attack earlier that same day. Mr. Smotrich’s office described the expansion of the settlement as an “appropriate Zionist response” to the attack.

“Let every terrorist plotting to harm us know that raising a hand against the citizens of Israel will be met with death, destruction, and the deepening of our eternal grip on the entire Land of Israel,” Mr. Smotrich said in a statement.

Mr. Smotrich’s office did not say when the committee would be convened, whether the housing units would be new homes or what stage of the planning process they were in.

Mr. Blinken also said he would withhold judgment on the postwar plan for Gaza that Mr. Netanyahu had begun to circulate among Israeli officials. Mr. Blinken said any plan has to align with three principles: Gaza should not be a base for terrorism; the Israeli government should not reoccupy Gaza; and the size of Gaza’s territory should not be reduced.

“There are certain basic principles that we set out many months ago,” he said, referring to the outcome of a diplomatic conclave in Tokyo, “that we feel are very important when it comes to Gaza’s future.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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

Israel would retain military control of Gaza under Netanyahu’s postwar plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel released on Friday his most detailed vision yet for a postwar Gaza, pledging to retain indefinite military control over the enclave while ceding the administration of civilian life to Gazans without links to Hamas.

The plan, if realized, would make it almost impossible to establish a Palestinian state including Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, at least in the short term. That would likely accelerate a clash between Israel and a growing number of its foreign partners, including the United States, that are pushing for Palestinian sovereignty after the war ends.

Mr. Netanyahu released his plan on the day that Israeli, Qatari, U.S. and Egyptian officials were set to meet in Paris in an effort to advance a deal for a cease-fire and the release of hostages captured by Hamas and its allies in their Oct. 7 attacks. While Israeli officials have indicated that they are open to making a deal to pause fighting and free captives, they have steadfastly rejected pressure to move toward a permanent cease-fire, insisting that they are prepared to wage a protracted campaign to destroy Hamas.

Mr. Netanyahu’s document is in effect a position paper that would need to be adopted by the government, though there is no timeline yet for such discussions.

It envisions the creation of an Israeli-controlled buffer zone along the length of Gaza’s border with Egypt, a move that risks inflaming tensions with the Egyptian government. That aspect of the plan would require Israel to invade Rafah, the southernmost city of Gaza, where most Gazans are currently sheltering, risking their mass displacement onto Egyptian territory, an outcome that Egypt has repeatedly warned against.

The plan also says Israel will seek to retain control over a sliver of land inside Gaza along the Israeli border, where its military is systematically demolishing thousands of buildings in order to create another buffer zone. Israel’s intention is to make it harder for militants in Gaza to repeat a raid like that of Oct. 7, in which Israeli officials say some 1,200 people were killed, although the United States and others have spoken out against any effort to reduce the size of Gaza.

The plan was circulated to cabinet ministers and journalists in the early hours of Friday morning. Though Mr. Netanyahu has laid out most of the proposals in public statements, this is the first time that he has collected them in a single document.

The plan does not say whether Israeli settlers would be allowed to re-establish communities on Gazan soil, as Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing supporters are pushing for. A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a matter that puts the prime minister at odds with his base, said that there were no plans to resettle Gaza with Jews, but declined to say so on the record, leaving Mr. Netanyahu with room for maneuver in the future.

Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza in 2005, while maintaining control over its airspace, access to the sea, population registry and telecommunication networks.

Other parts of the plan include:

  • Handing administrative control to “local stakeholders with managerial experience” who are “not affiliated with countries or entities that support terrorism.” The reference to terrorism aims to exclude anyone who Israel says has connections to Hamas. And while the document does not explicitly mention the Palestinian Authority, the body that administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the reference to local residents implicitly rules out the involvement of the authority’s leadership in the postwar set-up — a position that is at odds with that of the Biden administration.

  • The dismantling of UNRWA, the main U.N. agency operating in Gaza. Israel has accused 30 UNRWA workers of participating in the Oct. 7 attack. UNRWA’s leaders say the agency tries to ensure its 13,000 employees in Gaza uphold standards of neutrality, but they say it is not possible to track the private allegiances of all its employees.

  • The overhaul of the Gazan education and welfare systems. Israel says schools and other public institutions in Gaza foment extremism.

  • Opposing foreign recognition of a Palestinian state. The plan says that a final resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be achieved through bilateral talks between the two sides — an implicit rejection of hints by countries including Britain and France that they could unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state. Mr. Netanyahu has previously rejected the concept of an independent Palestinian state, but his plan released on Friday did not explicitly rule it out.

Johnatan Reiss and Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting.

International calls for a Palestinian state clash with Netanyahu’s plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s framework released Friday for a postwar order in Gaza appeared to keep his government on a collision course with the United States and much of the rest of the world over the enclave’s future.

Here are some of the major points of friction between what the Israeli leader has proposed and what other governments have said they want after the war in Gaza is over:

Palestinian statehood

The Biden administration and Arab states have called for both Gaza and the occupied West Bank to become part of a future Palestinian state alongside Israel, arguing that decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be resolved with an eventual two-state solution.

But Mr. Netanyahu’s plans appear to rule out a sovereign Palestinian state in the near term, saying that Israel would indefinitely maintain military control across “all of the territory west of the Jordan” river, including the enclave. It does not explicitly rule out a Palestinian state, but its wording would make an independent territory including Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank all but impossible for the foreseeable future.

Gaza’s border with Egypt

Mr. Netanyahu’s framework calls for sealing off Gaza’s border with Egypt — the territory’s only crossing not controlled by Israel — in order to prevent what it described as cross-border smuggling. It would be done in coordination with Egypt and with the backing of the United States, his proposal said.

But it was not clear whether the Biden administration would support such a move. And it would likely ratchet up tensions with Egypt: The government in Cairo has called Israeli threats to send troops into a so-called buffer zone separating Gaza from the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Desert “a serious threat to Egyptian-Israeli relations.”

Buffer zone

The framework envisions a “security space” inside Gaza along the border with Israel, in order to prevent another raid like the one on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led assailants crossed the border and killed some 1,200 people in Israel, according to Israeli officials. Israeli forces have been clearing out the area, demolishing scores of homes and leveling factories, drawing international condemnation.

One United Nations expert has said that the systematic demolition of Palestinian homes could constitute a war crime. The United States has rejected any permanent reduction in the size of Gaza’s territory, although it has signaled that it might support a temporary buffer zone, for example to allow displaced Israelis to return to border communities. Mr. Netanyahu said that the zone should last “as long as the security need exists.”

The Palestinian Authority

The Biden administration has called for a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority — run by aging leader Mahmoud Abbas — to take the reins in Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal. The Palestinian body administers some areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Mr. Netanyahu’s proposal would instead see civilian administrative control in Gaza handed to “local stakeholders with managerial experience” who are “not affiliated with countries or entities that support terrorism.” That likely rules out Mr. Abbas’s government in its current form, which Mr. Netanyahu has previously criticized in identical terms.

The head of the agency that aids Palestinians warns it is at a ‘breaking point.’

The main United Nations aid agency that serves Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere in the region has “reached a breaking point,” its leader has warned, as donors have pulled funding from the agency and Israel imposed further restrictions on its operations and called for its closure.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, the chief lifeline for Gaza’s besieged population of 2.2 million people through the Israel-Hamas war, has lost $450 million in donor funding, including from the United States, since Israeli allegations that 12 of the agency’s employees were involved in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack.

Absent new funding, UNRWA, the largest aid agency on the ground in Gaza, says that its reserves will be gone by March, even as aid groups warn that Gaza is on the verge of famine.

“I fear we are on the edge of a monumental disaster with grave implications for regional peace, security and human rights,” Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s commissioner general, wrote in a letter to the president of the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday.

Fewer aid trucks have entered Gaza this week than earlier in the year, when between 100 and 200 aid trucks were arriving on most days; both border crossings used for aid have frequently closed, sometimes because Israeli protesters have blocked a crossing. A total of 69 trucks entered on Tuesday and Wednesday, the agency said. It added that it is aiming for 500 per day to meet Gaza’s needs.

The International Court of Justice has ordered Israel to take immediate steps to facilitate the aid Gaza desperately needs, which UNRWA would normally play a central role in distributing. But Israeli officials have argued that its employees’ alleged links to Hamas fundamentally compromise the agency.

Israel has claimed that at least 10 percent of the agency’s staff is affiliated with Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. UNRWA’s leaders say the agency tries to ensure its 13,000 employees in Gaza uphold standards of neutrality, and that it shares the names of its staff with Israeli authorities, but they say it is not possible to track the private allegiances of all its employees.

A proposal for Gaza’s postwar future shared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Thursday night with members of his cabinet called for UNRWA to be closed in Gaza and replaced “with responsible international aid agencies.”

Israeli officials have taken a series of actions against UNRWA since the day the allegations became public, which was the same day the international court issued its aid order. Israeli officials have said they would revoke its tax exemptions and other privileges as a U.N. agency, limit visas for staff and suspend shipment of its goods in and out of Israel.

Mr. Lazzarini argued that Israel wanted to close UNRWA to make it impossible to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. He cited a map that Mr. Netanyahu presented to the U.N. General Assembly in September that showed the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank within Israel’s borders.

Israel’s calls to close UNRWA are “not about the agency’s neutrality,” Mr. Lazzarini wrote in his letter to the president of the U.N. General Assembly. “UNRWA’s mandate to provide services to Palestine refugees within this same area is an obstacle to that map becoming a reality.”

Mr. Netanyahu has previously rejected the concept of an independent Palestinian state, though his plan released Friday did not explicitly rule it out. The plan does not say whether Israeli settlers would be allowed to move back to Gaza, from which they withdrew in 2005.

As part of Israel’s crackdown on UNRWA, Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, issued a directive not to transfer food aid for Gaza that has been lingering in the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod to the agency. U.N. officials will instead funnel the aid — 1,050 containers holding mostly flour — through the World Food Program, Jamie McGoldrick, a top U.N. humanitarian official in Jerusalem, told reporters on Thursday.

The Israeli authorities did not immediately confirm that the flour was cleared to enter Gaza. A spokeswoman for Israel’s customs office said U.N. shipments not intended for UNRWA were “being released as normal,” but declined to comment on specific cargo.

Mr. Smotrich’s office called the move a positive step toward further hobbling UNRWA’s ability to operate in Gaza. “If that’s true, then excellent,” said Eytan Fuld, a spokesman for Mr. Smotrich. “That was the goal.”

Vessel struck by Houthis is still afloat but partially sinking, the ship’s operator says.

A cargo ship struck by a Houthi missile in the Red Sea this week is partly submerged but still afloat, its operator said on Friday, having survived what appeared to be the Houthis’ most damaging attack yet.

The vessel, called the Rubymar, will soon be towed to Djibouti or Aden, a port city in Yemen, where its remaining cargo will be transferred onto another ship and sent to Bulgaria, said Roy Khoury, the head of the ship’s operator, Blue Fleet Group. Its engine room and one of its holding compartments is underwater, he added.

Most of the Houthi missile and drone attacks on ships in the Red Sea since the conflict in Israel started have not inflicted serious damage, but the attack on the Rubymar appeared to be one of the Houthis’ more serious to date. At least one missile struck the ship on Monday night, fired from a part of Yemen controlled by Houthi militants, the U.S. military said.

The Houthis, an Iran-backed group that has been targeting ships in what they call a campaign to pressure Israel to stop the war in Gaza, later claimed that they had sunk the ship. But satellite imagery and the ship’s operator confirmed that the Houthis had not.

After the Rubymar was hit on Monday night, its crew issued a distress call and then abandoned ship, the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement. A coalition warship responded to the distress call, and the crew was taken to port by a merchant vessel in the area, the statement said.

The crew members were taken to Djibouti by a vessel operated by a French shipping company and have since flown home, according to Mr. Khoury. Djibouti port officials said 24 crew members were on board: 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, three Indians and four Filipinos.

The port officials also said that the Rubymar was carrying nearly 22 metric tons — more than 48,000 pounds — of fertilizer that is classified as “high consequence dangerous goods” for its combustibility risk by the International Maritime Organization, the U.N. body that regulates global shipping. The Blue Fleet Group did not comment about the ship’s cargo.

The Rubymar, a bulk carrier sailing with a Belize flag, is owned by Golden Adventure Shipping, a company registered in the Marshall Islands, Mr. Khoury said. The Blue Fleet Group is based out of Athens.

Since the Houthis began attacking ships in the Red Sea, a coalition of countries, including the United States and Britain, have brought naval forces to bear to defend vessels and retaliate. But the attacks have persisted against ships flying a range of flags.

The U.S.-led coalition has repeatedly struck missiles and launchers in Yemen and intercepted drones and missiles, but so far it has failed to halt the Houthi attacks.

On Thursday, the U.S. Central Command said that it conducted “self-defense strikes” against four Iranian-backed Houthi drones and two missiles that were prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen. On Friday, the military said it shot down three more Houthi drones near “several commercial ships operating in the Red Sea,” adding that there was no damage to the ships.

Riley Mellen contributed reporting.

Israel joins talks in Paris as cease-fire efforts continue.

An Israeli delegation arrived in Paris on Friday for talks with senior officials from Egypt, Qatar and the United States, the latest attempt to advance a deal for a cease-fire with Hamas and the release of hostages held in Gaza, an Israeli official said on Friday.

The Mossad chief, David Barnea; the C.I.A. director, William J. Burns; the Qatari prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani; and Abbas Kamel, the head of Egyptian intelligence, are expected to attend the talks, according to a second Israeli official and a person briefed on the talks. All the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the diplomatic developments.

Qatar and Egypt have been acting as intermediaries between Israel and Hamas, which do not negotiate directly.

The talks come a day after President Biden’s Mideast envoy met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials in Israel, part of a flurry of efforts to negotiate the release of hostages and a pause in the fighting. According to Israeli officials, about 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza. At least 30 others there are dead, officials believe.

On Tuesday, Hamas said that a delegation led by Ismail Haniyeh was in Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials to discuss efforts to end the war. On Thursday, Hamas issued a statement saying that Mr. Haniyeh had met with the Egyptian intelligence chief and aides, and had concluded his visit. The statement said that among the topics those talks addressed were ending the war, the return of displaced people to their homes, humanitarian aid, swapping hostages for Palestinian prisoners, and “what the occupation is planning at al-Aqsa Mosque” during Ramadan.

Efforts to secure a cease-fire deal have taken on greater urgency as the death toll from four months of war in the Gaza Strip nears 30,000 Palestinians, according to health officials there, and as Israel’s stated plan to invade Gaza’s southernmost city, Rafah, raises international alarm.

The talks had appeared to stall last week, after discussions held in Cairo failed to reach a breakthrough. Mr. Netanyahu withdrew his negotiators, accusing Hamas of refusing to budge on what he called “ludicrous” demands and pledged to press on with Israel’s offensive.

But on Wednesday night, Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, said that there had been momentum on a new draft of a deal that indicated a “possibility to advance.”

And on Thursday, a White House official said that President Biden’s Middle East coordinator, Brett McGurk, had held “constructive” meetings in Israel with Mr. Netanyahu; Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister; and other members of Israel’s war cabinet.

“The initial indications we’re getting from Brett is these discussions are going well,” said the official, John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council. He also said that Mr. McGurk had spent a “good couple of hours” with Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. McGurk was focused on whether negotiators could “cement a hostage deal for an extended pause to get all of those hostages home where they belong and get a reduction in the violence so that we can get more humanitarian assistance,” Mr. Kirby said.

Mr. Gallant, after meeting with Mr. McGurk on Thursday in Tel Aviv, said that Israel’s government would “expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators.”

One person briefed on the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were indications that both Hamas and Israel were willing to negotiate over an interim deal that could exchange 35 Israeli hostages who are either medically frail or older for an undetermined number of Palestinian prisoners.

Mr. Kirby said Mr. McGurk intended to press the Israeli war cabinet for its plans for its military operation in Rafah.

“Nothing has changed about our view that any operation in Rafah without due consideration and a credible executive plan for the safety and security of the more than a million Palestinians seeking refuge in Rafah would be a disaster,” Mr. Kirby said. “We would not support that.”

Earlier this week, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. Israeli and U.S. officials have argued that an immediate cease-fire would allow Hamas to regroup and fortify in Gaza, and reduce the pressure for making a deal to release hostages held in the territory.

The United States has drafted a rival resolution, which is still in early stages of negotiations, that calls for a temporary humanitarian cease-fire “as soon as practicable,” and the release of hostages.

Adam Sella and Cassandra Vinograd contributed reporting.

Orban Gives Green Light to Sweden’s NATO Bid

Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary on Friday declared an end to a monthslong spat with Sweden over the expansion of NATO, saying that a visit by his Swedish counterpart had rebuilt trust and paved the way for the Hungarian Parliament to vote on Monday to ratify the Nordic nation’s membership in the alliance.

“We are ready to fight for each other, to give our lives for each other,” Mr. Orban said at a joint news conference in Budapest, the Hungarian capital, with the visiting Swedish leader, Ulf Kristersson. Hungary has been the last holdout in formally endorsing Sweden’s NATO membership.

The sudden warming of relations between the two countries followed a decision by Sweden to provide Hungary with four Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets in addition to the 14 its air force already uses, and a promise that Saab, the maker of the warplanes, will open an artificial intelligence research center in Hungary.

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

For Many Ukrainians, It’s Been a 10-Year War, Not a 2-Year One

Andrew E. Kramer covered the Maidan uprising in 2014, the war in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that began in 2022.

They were a ragtag army, fighting with baseball bats, Molotov cocktails and plywood shields. But for Ukrainians, the protesters who faced off with riot police on Kyiv’s main square a decade ago were the first soldiers in a war still raging today.

The demonstrators were part of the Maidan uprising of 2014, when Ukrainians took to the streets to protest the decision by President Viktor F. Yanukovych to forgo closer ties to Europe and instead more closely align Ukraine with Moscow. In the uprising’s violent, final days police killed more than 100 protesters.

Their portraits now adorn a wall of honor at St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv. They are displayed first, ahead of portraits of soldiers killed in the simmering, eight-year conflict in Ukraine’s east that served as a prelude to Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. And a museum dedicated to the street uprising identifies those who died on the square as the first soldiers killed in the war with Russia.

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

Unpredictable Strongman? Two Years Into War, Putin Embraces the Image.

After President Biden called President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia a “crazy S.O.B.” this week, the Kremlin was quick to issue a stern condemnation.

But the image of an unpredictable strongman ready to escalate his conflict with the West is one that Mr. Putin has fully embraced after two years of full-scale war.

At home, the Kremlin is maintaining the mystery over the circumstances of the death last week of Aleksei A. Navalny, preventing the opposition leader’s family from reclaiming his body.

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

As Gaza War Grinds On, Israel Prepares for a Prolonged Conflict

As the war in Gaza rages on, the situation in the battered enclave is one of devastation and despair. More than 29,000 people have been killed, according to Gaza health officials, the majority in a relentless Israeli bombing campaign. Neighborhoods have been flattened, families wiped out, children orphaned, and an estimated 1.7 million people displaced.

While global scrutiny grows over Israel’s conduct in the war, the Israeli military, by its assessment, has delivered a major blow to the capabilities of Hamas, killing commanders, destroying tunnels and confiscating weapons. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s goal of destroying Hamas remains elusive, according to current and former Israeli security officials.

They anticipate a protracted campaign to defeat Hamas.

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

Russian Authorities Threaten to Bury Navalny on Prison Grounds, Aides Say

Russian authorities have warned Aleksei A. Navalny’s mother that if she doesn’t agree to a secret funeral, the late opposition campaigner will be buried by the state on prison grounds, according to Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, Mr. Navalny’s mother, was given three hours to agree to the ultimatum but she refused to negotiate, arguing that Russian authorities had no legal right to decide the time and place of her son’s burial, according to Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.

“She is demanding compliance with the law, which requires investigators to hand over the body within two days, from the moment the cause of death is established,” Ms. Yarmysh said in a statement released on X. The two days expire on Saturday.

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

Africa’s Donkeys Are Coveted by China. Can the Continent Protect Them?

For years, Chinese companies and their contractors have been slaughtering millions of donkeys across Africa, coveting gelatin from the animals’ hides that is processed into traditional medicines, popular sweets and beauty products in China.

But a growing demand for the gelatin has decimated donkey populations at such alarming rates in African countries that governments are now moving to put a brake on the mostly unregulated trade.

The African Union, a body that encompasses the continent’s 55 states, adopted a continentwide ban on donkey skin exports this month in the hope that stocks will recover.

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

German Lawmakers Move Closer to Legalizing Marijuana

Lawmakers in Germany approved legalization of limited amounts of cannabis for recreational use on Friday, bringing the country a step closer to becoming one of the few European nations — and by far the largest — to do so.

“By legalizing it, we are taking cannabis out of the taboo zone,” Karl Lauterbach, who as health minister is largely responsible for the law, said on public television before the vote.

In the end, 407 lawmakers voted for the proposal, and 226 voted against the plan, which must be now approved by the Federal Council. That vote is expected next month.

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

Canadian Judge Rules the Killing of Four Muslims Was Terrorism

A Canadian judge ruled on Thursday that the deadly rampage of a man who drove his truck into five members of a Muslim family was an act of terrorism motivated by white supremacist ideology and sentenced him to life with no possibility of parole for 25 years for his crimes.

The terrorism finding by Justice Renee Pomerance of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario was the first in Canada against a far-right extremist, according to the country’s criminal prosecution service. The perpetrator, Nathaniel Veltman, 23, killed four members of the Afzaal family in London, Ontario, in his June 2021 rampage and was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder in November.

In his trial, Mr. Veltman’s lawyers did not challenge that he had deliberately driven his Ram truck into the family. But they argued it was an impulsive act caused by consuming psilocybin, more commonly known as magic mushrooms, several hours earlier. They also said that he suffered from mental health problems and had difficulty controlling “an urge or obsession to put his foot on the gas” of his pickup.

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

From Blinken to Trump: Javier Milei’s Strange Trip

President Javier Milei of Argentina hosted U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in Buenos Aires on Friday morning to discuss the various ways Mr. Milei is reshaping Argentina foreign policy in line with the United States.

A few hours later, both men were set to board separate planes for Washington. Mr. Blinken was going back to the White House and President Biden. Mr. Milei was headed to the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, where he would take the stage ahead of former President Donald J. Trump and give a speech that would almost certainly rail against the dangers of the left.

Mr. Milei’s hectic itinerary — traveling south to north, left to right — shows how the new Argentine president is trying to navigate the politically turbulent waters of the United States in an election year, knowing that the next administration could be crucial to his own success.

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

Shamima Begum, Who Joined ISIS as a Teen, Loses Latest Bid to Regain U.K. Citizenship

Shamima Begum, who traveled from her home in London to Syria with two friends in 2015 when she was a teenager to join the Islamic State terrorist group, has lost her latest bid to regain her British citizenship.

Britain’s Court of Appeal on Friday upheld an earlier tribunal’s ruling that a decision by the government in 2019 to strip Ms. Begum of her citizenship was legal.

The decision means that Ms. Begum, now 24, who has been living in a refugee camp in Syria since 2019, cannot return to Britain and remains effectively stateless.

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

Navalny’s Mother Says Authorities Are ‘Blackmailing’ Her Over Son’s Remains

Russian authorities have declared that the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny died of natural causes but are refusing to release his remains until his family agrees to a “secret funeral,” Mr. Navalny’s mother and his spokeswoman said on Thursday.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, Mr. Navalny’s mother, said she had been “secretly” taken to a morgue Wednesday night, “where they showed me Aleksei.” She was shown a medical report on Mr. Navalny’s death that said he died of natural causes, according to the Navalny team’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.

But Ms. Navalnaya, 69, said she now was locked in a grim battle with local authorities in the northern Russian city of Salekhard who, taking orders from Moscow, were not releasing custody of the remains. She said the authorities warned that if she did not “agree to a secret funeral,” then “they will do something with my son’s body.”

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

Mexico’s President Faces Inquiry for Disclosing Phone Number of Times Journalist

Mexico’s freedom of information institute, a government agency, said Thursday that it would start an investigation into the president’s disclosure on national television of the personal cellphone number of a journalist for The New York Times.

The investigation centers on a decision by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a televised news conference on Thursday that left many aghast in Mexico, one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists. At least 128 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2006, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

During the news conference, Mr. López Obrador read aloud from an email from Natalie Kitroeff, The New York Times’s bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. She had requested comment for an article revealing that U.S. law enforcement officials had for years been looking into claims that allies of Mr. López Obrador met with and took millions of dollars from drug cartels.

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.

‘This Is Where I Want to Be’

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.

Can Gabriel Attal Win Over France?

Gabriel Attal, 34, is a new kind of French prime minister, more inclined to Diet Coke than a good Burgundy, at home with social media and revelations about his personal life, a natural communicator who reels off one-liners like “France rhymes with power” to assert his “authority,” a favorite word.

Since taking office in early January, the boyish-looking Mr. Attal has waded into the countryside, far from his familiar haunts in the chic quarters of Paris, muddied his dress shoes, propped his notes on a choreographed bale of hay, and calmed protesting farmers through adroit negotiation leavened by multiple concessions.

He has told rail workers threatening a strike that “working is a duty,” not an everyday French admonition. He has shown off his new dog on Instagram and explained that he called the high-energy Chow Chow “Volta” after the inventor of the electric battery. He has told the National Assembly that he is the living proof of a changing France as “a prime minister who assumes his homosexuality.”

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

Architect Embraces Indigenous Worldview in Australian Designs

Jefa Greenaway will never forget the first time he heard his father’s voice. It was in 2017, when he was watching a documentary about Indigenous Australians’ fight to be recognized in the country’s Constitution.

“It was poignant, surreal,” Mr. Greenaway recalled. “In one word: emotional.”

In the film, his father, Bert Groves, an Indigenous man and a civil rights activist born in 1907, recounts how he was prevented from pursuing an education because of the size of his skull, a victim of phrenology, the pseudoscience that lingered in Australia into the 20th century.

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.

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

Sign up for the Canada Letter Newsletter  Back stories and analysis from our Canadian correspondents, plus a handpicked selection of our recent Canada-related coverage.

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.

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.

Incendio en Valencia: hay al menos 9 muertos

El viernes, un día después de que un incendio arrasó un complejo residencial en la ciudad española de Valencia y ha dejado al menos a nueve personas muertas y 14 desaparecidas, se temía que esas cifras pudieran aumentar, ya que las altas temperaturas en el interior de la estructura carbonizada impidieron en un inicio a los trabajadores de emergencia buscar en el interior.

Los bomberos y la policía acudieron rápidamente al lugar de los hechos poco después de las 5:30 p. m. del jueves, cuando en media hora el fuego envolvió por completo el par de edificios, uno de los cuales tenía 14 plantas.

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

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

EE. UU. indagó acusaciones de vínculos del narco con aliados del presidente de México

Funcionarios de la ley estadounidenses indagaron durante años afirmaciones de que aliados del presidente de México, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, se habían reunido con cárteles del narcotráfico y recibido millones de dólares luego de que asumió el cargo, según consta en registros de EE. UU. y de acuerdo con tres personas con conocimiento del tema.

La indagatoria, de la que hasta ahora no se había informado, descubrió información que señalaba posibles vínculos entre operadores poderosos de los cárteles y funcionarios y asesores mexicanos cercanos a López Obrador cuando ya gobernaba el país.

Pero Estados Unidos nunca abrió una investigación formal a López Obrador y los funcionarios que estaban haciendo la indagatoria al final la archivaron. Concluyeron que había poca disposición en el gobierno estadounidense para rastrear acusaciones que pudieran implicar al líder de uno de los principales aliados del país, dijeron las tres personas con conocimiento del caso, quienes no tenían autorización de ofrecer declaraciones públicamente.

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

López Obrador dijo que lo anterior era “completamente falso”, al responder a las preguntas de The New York Times el jueves. Afirmó que la noticia de la indagatoria no afectaría “de ninguna manera” la relación de México con Estados Unidos, pero que esperaba una respuesta del gobierno estadounidense.

“¿Disminuye eso la confianza que el gobierno mexicano tiene en Estados Unidos?”, dijo López Obrador en su conferencia de prensa habitual. “Eso el corrido lo dirá”.

El Estado mexicano ha sido infiltrado por los cárteles de la droga desde hace mucho tiempo, desde los niveles más bajos hasta las altas esferas del gobierno. Sobornan a la policía, manipulan alcaldes, reclutan a altos funcionarios y dominan amplias zonas del país.

No obstante, aunque los esfuerzos recientes de los funcionarios estadounidenses identificaron posibles vínculos entre los cárteles y los asociados de López Obrador, no hallaron conexiones directas entre el presidente en sí y organizaciones delictivas.

Las autoridades estadounidenses declinaron hacer comentarios.

Buena parte de la información recolectada por los funcionarios estadounidenses provenía de informantes cuyos testimonios pueden ser difíciles de corroborar y en ocasiones resultan ser incorrectos. Los investigadores de EE. UU. obtuvieron la información mientras seguían las actividades de los cárteles del narcotráfico, y no está claro qué tanto de lo que los informantes les dijeron fue corroborado de manera independiente.

Por ejemplo, los registros muestran que un informante le relató a los investigadores estadounidenses que uno de los confidentes más cercanos a López Obrador se había reunido con Ismael Zambada García, uno de los altos líderes del Cártel de Sinaloa, previo a su victoria en las elecciones de 2018.

Otra fuente les dijo que, luego de que el presidente fue elegido, uno de los fundadores del conocido y violento grupo de los Zetas pagó 4 millones de dólares a dos de los aliados de López Obrador con la esperanza de que lo liberaran de prisión.

Los investigadores consiguieron información de una tercera fuente que sugería que los cárteles del narcotráfico tenían videos de los hijos del presidente recibiendo lo que se describió como dinero del narco, según consta en los documentos.

López Obrador negó todas las acusaciones hechas por los informantes.

Los agentes de la ley estadounidenses también lograron rastrear por su cuenta pagos de dinero de personas que se creía eran operadores del cártel a intermediarios de López Obrador, dijeron dos personas con conocimiento de la investigación.

Al menos uno de esos pagos, dijeron, se efectuó más o menos al mismo tiempo que López Obrador se trasladó al estado de Sinaloa en marzo de 2020 y se reunió con la madre del narcotraficante Joaquín Guzmán Loera, conocido como el Chapo, quien ahora cumple con una sentencia de cadena perpetua en una prisión federal estadounidense.

Hace más de una década, una investigación distinta dirigida por la Administración de Control de Drogas (DEA por su sigla en inglés) descubrió denuncias de que el narco había donado millones de dólares a la primera e infructuosa campaña presidencial de López Obrador en 2006. Esta investigación previa, que fue dada a conocer el mes pasado por tres medios de comunicación, se cerró y no derivó en presentar cargos.

Para Estados Unidos, perseguir cargos penales contra altos funcionarios extranjeros, es algo inusual y complejo. Sería especialmente complicado armar un caso legal contra López Obrador. La última vez que Estados Unidos presentó cargos penales contra un alto funcionario mexicano terminó por retirarlos luego de que la detención causara una desavenencia diplomática con México.

El gobierno de Joe Biden tiene un enorme interés en el manejo de su relación con López Obrador, quien es considerado una figura indispensable para contener el aumento del flujo migratorio que se ha convertido en uno de los temas más contenciosos de la política estadounidense. Es una de las principales preocupaciones de los votantes de cara a las elecciones presidenciales estadounidenses de este otoño.

México también es un importante socio comercial de Estados Unidos y el colaborador más importante en los esfuerzos del país para ralentizar el cruce de drogas ilícitas como el fentanilo por la frontera sur.

Las agencias de aplicación de la ley de EE. UU. tienen competencia para investigar y presentar cargos contra funcionarios de otros países si es que logran mostrar una conexión con los estupefacientes que cruzan la frontera hacia Estados Unidos.

Si bien es poco común que los agentes estadounidenses vayan tras altos funcionarios extranjeros, no es inédito que lo hagan: esta semana comenzó en el Tribunal Federal del Distrito de Manhattan el juicio por narcotráfico contra Juan Orlando Hernández, expresidente de Honduras.

Fiscales federales en Nueva York también lograron que Genaro García Luna, exsecretario de Seguridad Pública de México, fuera declarado culpable el año pasado por un caso de corrupción. Los fiscales convencieron al jurado de que García Luna había aceptado millones de dólares en sobornos de los violentos cárteles de la droga a los que debía perseguir.

Aunque los esfuerzos para indagar a López Obrador ya no están activos, la revelación de que agentes estadounidenses examinaran en secreto denuncias de corrupción contra él y sus ayudantes en sí misma podría ser dañina.

El mes pasado, reportes periodísticos, entre ellos uno de ProPublica, sobre una indagatoria estadounidense de 2006 al financiamiento de campaña —en unas elecciones que no ganó— suscitaron revuelo en México.

López Orador condenó públicamente los reportajes e insinuó que intentaban influenciar las elecciones presidenciales del país de junio, en las que su protegida, la exjefa de gobierno de Ciudad de México Claudia Sheinbaum, lidera las encuestas para sucederlo. Insinuó que dichos artículos podrían complicar las conversaciones en materia de migración y fentanilo con el gobierno de EE. UU. y dijo que estaba considerando no recibir al asesor de seguridad nacional de Biden para un encuentro planeado en la capital mexicana.

“¿Cómo vamos a estar sentados en la mesa hablando del combate a la droga si ellos, o una institución de ellos, está filtrando información y dañándome?”, dijo López Obrador en su conferencia de prensa matutina días después de la publicación de los reportajes.

Luego de que Biden llamó a López Obrador y calmara la tensión, la secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores de México dijo que el asesor de seguridad nacional de EE. UU. le había asegurado a México que “este es un tema cerrado para ellos”.

El gobierno de Biden ha manejado con mucho cuidado a López Obrador y ha evitado criticarlo en público, prefiriendo, en cambio, enviar en repetidas ocasiones a altos funcionarios a Ciudad de México para que se reúnan con él e insistan en privado que continúe con el control migratorio.

La decisión de dar carpetazo a la indagatoria reciente , según las personas familiarizadas con ella, fue en gran medida causada por el desmoronamiento de otro caso distinto y muy contencioso. En los últimos meses del gobierno de Donald Trump en 2020, autoridades de EE. UU. presentaron cargos contra el general Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, quien fungió de 2012 a 2018 como secretario de la Defensa Nacional de México.

En una acusación federal, hecha pública en Nueva York luego de una investigación de varios años denominada “Operación Padrino”, los fiscales señalaron a Cienfuegos de emplear la influencia de su oficina para brindar ayuda a un violento grupo delictivo llamado el cártel H-2 en la realización de operaciones de narcotráfico.

Su detención en el aeropuerto de Los Ángeles causó indignación al interior del gobierno mexicano, en especial entre los líderes de las fuerzas armadas, que durante el mandato de López Obrador han asumido mayores responsabilidades y más poder.

El presidente de México dijo que la acusación se “fabricó” en EE. UU., y su gobierno dio a conocer más de 700 páginas de comunicaciones interceptadas por agentes estadounidenses que presuntamente indicaban actividades delictivas pero que fueron descalificadas como no concluyentes.

La DEA, que ya tenía un historial accidentado como protagonista de una guerra contra las drogas considerada inútil y sangrienta, sufrió un tremendo golpe en su relación con el gobierno mexicano.

Apenas unas semanas después de la detención, el Departamento de Justicia de EE. UU., muy presionado por López Obrador, dio marcha atrás y desestimó la acusación para enviar a Cienfuegos de regreso a México.

El episodio no solo afectó acuerdos de seguridad de larga data entre ambos países, sino que también dejó una profunda impresión en los funcionarios de la ley al norte de la frontera, muchos de los cuales vieron el caso fallido como un relato aleccionador sobre esfuerzos similares contra otros funcionarios mexicanos de alto rango.

Emiliano Rodríguez Mega colaboró con reportería.

Alan Feuer cubre extremismo y violencia política para el Times, centrándose en los casos penales relacionados con el atentado del 6 de enero en el Capitolio y contra el expresidente Donald Trump. Más de Alan Feuer

Natalie Kitroeff es corresponsal en el extranjero y cubre México, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Más de Natalie Kitroeff

EE. UU. defiende a Israel ante la Corte Internacional de Justicia

El miércoles, un día después de vetar los llamados a un alto al fuego inmediato en Gaza, Estados Unidos defendió la ocupación israelí de Cisjordania y Jerusalén Oriente, ocurrida a lo largo de décadas, argumentando ante el más alto tribunal de las Naciones Unidas que Israel se enfrentaba a “necesidades muy reales en materia de seguridad”.

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

La más reciente defensa estadounidense de Israel en la escena internacional se produjo en la Corte Internacional de Justicia de La Haya, donde Richard Visek, asesor jurídico en funciones del Departamento de Estado de EE. UU., instó a un panel de 15 jueces a no exigir la retirada inmediata de Israel de los territorios palestinos ocupados.

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

¿Quién controla las prisiones de Latinoamérica? ¿El hampa o los guardias?

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

El ejército de Ecuador fue enviado a recuperar el control de las prisiones el mes pasado, luego de que dos cabecillas importantes se fugaron y bandas criminales organizaron con rapidez una serie de disturbios que paralizaron el país.

La semana pasada, dos reclusos en Brasil con conexiones a una pandilla importante se convirtieron en los primeros en escapar de una de las cinco prisiones de máxima seguridad del país, según las autoridades.

Las autoridades en Colombia declararon una emergencia carcelaria después de que dos guardias fueron asesinados y varios más han sido blanco de lo que el gobierno calificó de represalias por su mano dura contra las principales organizaciones delictivas.

Al interior de las prisiones de toda Latinoamérica, grupos criminales ejercen una autoridad irrestricta sobre los presos, a quienes brindan protección o artículos básicos, como comida, a cambio de dinero.

Las prisiones también sirven como una suerte de refugio seguro para los líderes criminales encarcelados para que puedan dirigir a distancia y desde la reclusión sus grupos delictivos y ordenan asesinatos, organizan contrabando de drogas a Estados Unidos y Europa y coordinan secuestros y extorsiones a negocios locales.

A menudo, cuando las autoridades intentan restringir el poder que los grupos delincuenciales ejercen tras las rejas, sus líderes mandan a sus secuaces en el exterior de las prisiones a contraatacar.

“El principal centro de gravedad, el control que tiene el crimen organizado, está dentro de los centros carcelarios”, dijo Mario Pazmiño, coronel retirado y exdirector de inteligencia del ejército ecuatoriano que funge como analista en temas de seguridad.

“Ahí funcionan, digamos, los puestos de dirección, los puestos de mando”, añadió. Es “donde se dan las órdenes y disposiciones para que convulsionen el país”.

La población carcelaria de Latinoamérica se ha disparado en las últimas dos décadas, un crecimiento impulsado por medidas más severas como la prisión preventiva. Sin embargo, los gobiernos de la región no han destinado suficientes recursos para manejar este aumento y, más bien, a menudo han cedido el control a los reclusos, según expertos penalistas.

Quienes son enviados a prisión con frecuencia enfrentan una decisión: unirse a un grupo criminal o sufrir su ira.

Como resultado, los centros penitenciarios se han tornado en una pieza clave en el reclutamiento para los carteles y las pandillas más violentos de América Latina, con lo que refuerzan, y no pierden, su control de la sociedad.

En su mayoría, las autoridades carcelarias —mal financiadas, sobrepasadas en número, saturadas y que a menudo reciben sobornos— se han rendido ante los líderes criminales en muchas prisiones a cambio de una paz frágil.

Las bandas delictivas controlan total o parcialmente mucho más de la mitad de las 285 prisiones de México, según los expertos. En Brasil, el gobierno a menudo distribuye la población penitenciaria según su afiliación criminal para evitar la agitación. En Ecuador, los analistas dicen que la mayoría de las 36 prisiones del país tienen algún grado de control criminal.

“La pandilla está resolviéndole un problema al gobierno”, dijo Benjamin Lessing, profesor de ciencia política de la Universidad de Chicago que estudia bandas y prisiones latinoamericanas. “Esto le da a las bandas un tipo de poder que es muy difícil de medir pero también difícil de sobreestimar”.

La población de las prisiones latinoamericanas aumentó en un 76 por ciento de 2010 a 2020, según el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, lo que excede por mucho el aumento poblacional del 10 por ciento que experimentó la región en el mismo periodo.

Muchos países han impuesto políticas de aplicación de la ley más estrictas, entre ellas sentencias más prolongadas y más condenas por delitos menores relacionados con las drogas, lo que ha llevado a la mayoría de las cárceles de la región a sobrepasar su máxima capacidad.

Al mismo tiempo, los gobiernos han priorizado la inversión en las fuerzas de seguridad como una forma de atacar la delincuencia y mostrar al público que hacen algo, en lugar de invertir en las cárceles, que son menos visibles.

Brasil y México, los países latinoamericanos más poblados y con las mayores poblaciones carcelarias, invierten poco en las prisiones: el gobierno de Brasil gasta unos 14 dólares diarios por preso mientras que México gasta unos 20 dólares. Estados Unidos gastaba unos 117 dólares diarios por recluso en 2022. Los guardias penitenciarios de América Latina también reciben salarios ínfimos, lo que los vuelve susceptibles a los sobornos de las bandas que buscan ingresar contrabando o ayuda para que los detenidos de alto perfil puedan escapar.

Las autoridades federales de Brasil y Ecuador no respondieron a los pedidos de comentarios, mientras que las autoridades federales de México rechazaron hacer comentarios. En general, las prisiones federales en México y Brasil cuentan con mejor financiamiento y condiciones que sus prisiones estatales.

El estado de Río de Janeiro, que gestiona algunas de las prisiones más mala fama de Brasil, afirmó en una declaración que por décadas ha separado a los presos según su afiliación para “garantizar su seguridad física” y que la práctica está permitida por la legislación brasileña.

Algunos líderes criminales viven con relativa comodidad tras las rejas, lo que refleja el poder que tienen las bandas de las prisiones, donde operan tiendas de comestibles, clubes nocturnos y áreas de peleas de gallos, y a donde en ocasiones llevan de contrabando a sus familiares para que vivan con ellos.

Los expertos aseguran que las prisiones ecuatorianas son un ejemplo modélico de los problemas que aquejan a los sistemas penitenciarios en Latinoamérica y de la dificultad de atenderlos.

Los disturbios de enero estallaron después de que el presidente recientemente electo de Ecuador intentara aumentar la seguridad en las prisiones luego de que una investigación realizada por la fiscala general del país mostró que un cabecilla encarcelado, que se enriqueció con el tráfico de cocaína, había corrompido a jueces, oficiales de policía, guardias e incluso al exdirigente del sistema penitenciario.

El presidente de Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, planeaba transferir a varios líderes delictivos a una prisión de máxima seguridad, dificultando así la operación de sus negocios ilícitos.

Pero dichos planes se filtraron a los líderes de las bandas y uno desapareció de un centro penitenciario.

La búsqueda subsiguiente dentro de la prisión ocasionó disturbios en las cárceles del país, tras los cuales escaparon decenas de presos, entre ellos el líder de otra poderosa banda.

Las bandas también ordenaron a sus miembros que atacaran en el exterior, dijeron los expertos. Secuestraron oficiales de policía, quemaron vehículos, detonaron explosivos y tomaron brevemente el control de una gran cadena de televisión.

Noboa respondió con el decreto de un conflicto armado interno, autorizando al ejército a actuar contra las bandas en las calles e intervenir en las prisiones. En al menos una prisión se despojó a las personas privadas de su libertad de la ropa interior y se confiscaron y quemaron sus pertenencias, según el ejército y videos en las redes sociales.

Las escenas recordaban a algunas en El Salvador, en donde el presidente Nayib Bukele declaró un estado de excepción en 2022 para abordar la violencia de las pandillas. Unas 75.000 personas han sido encarceladas en ese país, muchas de ellas sin el debido proceso, de acuerdo con grupos de derechos humanos.

El dos por ciento de todos los salvadoreños están encarcelados, la proporción más alta del mundo, según World Prison Brief, una base de datos recopilados por Birkbeck, Universidad de Londres.

Las tácticas de Bukele han diezmado a las pandillas callejeras del país, revertido años de violencia terrible y ayudado a asegurarle un segundo mandato.

Pero los expertos aseguran que miles de personas inocentes han sido encarceladas.

“¿Qué consecuencias tiene esto?”, dijo Carlos Ponce, experto en El Salvador y profesor asistente en la Universidad del Fraser Valley en Canadá. “Esto los va a marcar a ellos y sus familias de por vida”.

El frecuente uso de la prisión preventiva por toda la región para combatir la delincuencia ha ocasionado que muchas personas desfallezcan durante meses e incluso años en prisión a la espera de ser enjuiciados, aseguran grupos de defensa de derechos humanos. La práctica afecta especialmente a los más pobres, quienes no pueden pagar abogados y a menudo se enfrentan a un sistema judicial que avanza con lentitud y está saturado.

En los primeros siete meses del estado de excepción de El Salvador, el 84 por ciento de los arrestados se encontraba en prisión preventiva y casi la mitad de la población penitenciaria de México sigue a la espera de un juicio.

“Las cárceles pueden definirse como centros de explotación para los pobres”, dijo Elena Azaola, una académica que ha estudiado el sistema penitenciario de México durante 30 años.

“Algunas personas han estado encarceladas por 10 o 20 años sin proceso”, añadió. “Muchas salen peor de lo que estaban al ingresar”.

De hecho, las prisiones de algunos países latinoamericanos son hasta cierto punto un carrusel.

Alrededor del 40 por ciento de los prisioneros en Argentina, Brasil, Chile y México son liberados solo para volver a ser puestos tras las rejas. Si bien la tasa de reincidencia es mucho más elevada en Estados Unidos, en América Latina muchas personas son encerradas por delitos menores y a menudo no violentos y luego pasan a cometer crímenes más graves, dicen los expertos, en parte porque los delincuentes del fuero común comparten el encierro con los criminales serios.

De hecho, las dos pandillas más grandes de Brasil —el Primer Comando Capital y el Comando Vermelho— se fundaron en prisiones que siguen siendo bastiones de su poder.

Jefferson Quirino, otrora integrante de una pandilla que completó cinco detenciones distintas en las cárceles de Río, dijo que las bandas controlaban todas las prisiones donde estuvo recluido. En algunas, los presos a menudo se dedicaban a llevar a cabo operaciones de las pandillas a través de los numerosos celulares que lograban ingresar de contrabando, con frecuencia con la ayuda de guardias a los que habían comprado.

En Brasil, donde las autoridades mismas a menudo dividen a los centros de detención por su afiliación criminal, la influencia de las pandillas en las prisiones es tan grande que los guardias obligan a los nuevos reclusos a elegir un bando a fin de limitar la violencia.

“Lo primero que te preguntan es: ‘¿A qué pandilla perteneces?’”, dijo Quirino, quien lidera un programa para evitar que los niños pobres se unan a las pandillas. “En otras palabras, necesitan comprender dónde ubicarte en el sistema porque de otro modo te mueres”.

Esto ha contribuido a que los grupos delictivos aumenten sus filas.

“La cárcel funciona como un espacio de reclutamiento de personal”, dijo Jacqueline Muniz, quien fue líder de Seguridad de Río de Janeiro.

“Y para crear lealtad entre tu fuerza de trabajo criminal”.

Colaboraron con reportería Emiliano Rodríguez Mega desde Ciudad de México; José María León Cabrera desde Quito, Ecuador; Thalíe Ponce desde Guayaquil, Ecuador; Genevieve Glatsky desde Bogotá, Colombia; y Laurence Blair desde Asunción, Paraguay.

Annie Correal reporta desde Estados Unidos y América Latina para el Times. Más de Annie Correal

Maria Abi-Habib es corresponsal de investigación con sede en Ciudad de México y cubre América Latina. Anteriormente ha reportado desde Afganistán, todo Medio Oriente e India, donde cubrió el sur de Asia. Más de Maria Abi-Habib

Jack Nicas es el jefe de la corresponsalía en Brasil, con sede en Río de Janeiro, desde donde lidera la cobertura de gran parte de América del Sur. Más de Jack Nicas

4 Ways Autocrats Have Used Interpol to Harass Faraway Enemies

Interpol is the world’s largest police organization. It serves as a powerful bulletin board that governments and law enforcement agencies use to team up to pursue fugitives across the globe. At its best, it helps track down killers and terrorists.

But it is also a novel weapon for strongmen and autocrats in the hunt for political enemies, giving them the power to reach across borders and grab their targets — even in democracies.

Here are some of the ways countries can exploit Interpol:

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