The New York Times 2024-02-27 04:50:10


Israelis Broach a Concession in Hostage Talks With Hamas

Israeli negotiators have offered a significant concession in cease-fire talks with Hamas, signaling that they might be open to releasing high-profile Palestinians jailed on terrorism charges in exchange for some Israeli hostages still being held in the Gaza Strip, according to two officials with knowledge of the talks.

President Biden said Monday that he believed negotiators were nearing an agreement that would halt Israel’s military operations in Gaza within a week, though earlier in the day, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was still talking about further military action.

Mr. Netanyahu said that the Israeli military had presented a plan to the war cabinet to evacuate civilians from “areas of fighting” in Gaza. He appeared to be speaking of Israel’s long-expected invasion of Rafah, the southern city where more than half of Gaza’s population is sheltering, many in makeshift tents.

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Macron Does Not Rule Out Sending Western Troops to Ukraine

President Emmanuel Macron of France on Monday said “nothing should be ruled out” after he was asked about the possibility of sending Western troops to Ukraine in support of the embattled nation’s war against Russia.

Mr. Macron, speaking after a meeting of European leaders in Paris to bolster support for Ukraine, stressed that the talks had not resulted in any consensus on putting troops on the ground “in an official, approved and endorsed way.”

But he insisted that “anything is possible if it is useful to reach our goal,” which he said was to ensure that “Russia cannot win this war.”

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The Spy War: How the C.I.A. Secretly Helps Ukraine Fight Putin

Adam Entous and

Adam Entous and Michael Schwirtz conducted more than 200 interviews in Ukraine, several other European countries and the United States to report this story.

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Nestled in a dense forest, the Ukrainian military base appears abandoned and destroyed, its command center a burned-out husk, a casualty of a Russian missile barrage early in the war.

But that is above ground.

Not far away, a discreet passageway descends to a subterranean bunker where teams of Ukrainian soldiers track Russian spy satellites and eavesdrop on conversations between Russian commanders. On one screen, a red line followed the route of an explosive drone threading through Russian air defenses from a point in central Ukraine to a target in the Russian city of Rostov.

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Hungary’s Parliament Approves Sweden’s NATO Bid After Stalling

Hungary’s Parliament voted on Monday to accept Sweden as a new member of NATO, sealing a major shift in the balance of power between the West and Russia set off by war in Ukraine.

The vote allowed Sweden, which has long been nonaligned, to clear the final hurdle that had blocked its membership in NATO and held up the expansion of the military alliance.

Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, whose Fidesz party has a large majority in Parliament, has maintained cordial relations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia despite the war in Ukraine and had stalled for 19 months on putting Sweden’s NATO membership to a vote in the 199-member legislature.

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Middle East Crisis: Israel Signals a Willingness to Free High-Profile Palestinian Prisoners, Officials Say

The proposal includes the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinians convicted of terrorism.

In a major shift, Israeli negotiators have signaled that Israel could release a group of high-profile Palestinian prisoners serving lengthy jail terms in exchange for the freedom of some of the Israeli hostages still being held in Gaza, officials say.

The change in Israeli negotiating strategy, which has not been announced publicly, is significant because it could help persuade Hamas to release Israeli soldiers captured in October and agree to a deal that would temporarily pause the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

International efforts to reach a truce had stalled over Israel’s refusal to release Palestinians convicted of murder and to commit to a permanent cease-fire, two of the measures that Hamas is holding out for.

Now, Israeli negotiators have privately agreed to a U.S. proposal that would see five female Israeli soldiers released for 15 Palestinians convicted of major terrorism charges, according to two officials with knowledge of ongoing mediation efforts. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions, which came during a meeting with officials from Egypt, Qatar and the United States in Paris last week.

The idea is seen as the basis for negotiations with Hamas, which has not responded to the proposal. The Israeli government had previously avoided such a concession partly because the release of Palestinians convicted of major acts of terrorism, even in exchange for Israeli hostages, would attract significant domestic criticism.

Asked about the negotiators’ position, the office of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, declined to comment.

Other elements of a possible deal — including the length of a cease-fire and Hamas’s demand for a complete withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Gaza — are still under discussion.

Still, the idea could add momentum to the talks, as officials race to complete a deal before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in about two weeks. An Israeli delegation was expected to arrive in Qatar as soon as Monday to continue negotiations with international mediators. According to one of the officials, Israeli intelligence officers believe that Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, has become more amenable in recent weeks to a deal that, in theory, would allow for only a temporary truce — hoping that it would become permanent once in place.

The idea is part of a wider U.S. proposal that would allow for the release of 40 of the roughly 100 hostages who were captured in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks and believed still to be alive in Gaza. They include five female Israeli soldiers and civilians, including sick, wounded and older people. It does not include male Israeli soldiers, whose release will be the subject of a separate negotiation, one of the officials said.

Seven of the 35 civilian prisoners set to be released are women that Israel said should have been released during the last cease-fire and prisoner swap in November. For the release of those seven women, Israel has proposed releasing 21 Palestinian detainees, the same three-to-one ratio observed during the earlier exchange.

It would release more Palestinians for each of the remaining hostages, including six for every civilian man age 50 and older and 12 for every sick or wounded man. For each of the five female Israeli soldiers in captivity, Israel would release three “heavy” prisoners — those believed responsible for major attacks — and 15 others.

Israel has often agreed to lopsided prisoner exchanges in conflicts with Hamas. In 2011, it released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to secure the freedom of one captured soldier, Gilad Shalit.

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington.

Israel submits a report on measures to prevent genocide in Gaza, as ordered by the U.N.’s top court.

The Israeli government said on Monday that it had submitted a progress report demanded by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the U.N.’s highest court, on measures it ordered Israel to take last month to prevent the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza and to allow more humanitarian aid into the enclave.

The filing from Israel, whose contents were not made public, came after several human rights groups issued statements on Monday accusing Israel of violating the court’s legally binding order. Because the court does not have an enforcement mechanism, the rights groups also called on other countries to pressure Israel to comply and to stop providing it with weapons.

In an interim ruling on Jan. 26 in a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of committing genocide, the court ordered Israel to immediately implement six measures to limit harm to Palestinian civilians and report back within a month. The measures included taking all steps within Israel’s power to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza and enabling the provision of “urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

The International Federation for Human Rights said that Israel had “utterly failed” to comply with the court’s order and that violence against Palestinian civilians had “continued unabated.”

Similar condemnations were issued by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which cited data from the United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs showing that even as the risk of famine grew, Israeli restrictions on aid distribution remained in place and the daily average number of aid trucks entering Gaza dropped significantly in the weeks after the court’s order.

“The Israeli government is starving Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians, putting them in even more peril than before the World Court’s binding order,” Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s director for Israel and Palestine, said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the accusations made by the human rights groups. It has previously denied responsibility for the lack of aid reaching civilians. The Israeli military’s top lawyer recently found “unacceptable conduct” by Israeli forces in Gaza, including some that appeared criminal, and warned commanders to prevent violations of international law that would damage Israel’s standing.

Airwars, a nonprofit watchdog that monitors civilian deaths in conflict zones, released a report on Monday that detailed “patterns of harm” for Palestinian civilians in Gaza during the two weeks following the court’s interim ruling.

Civilians in Gaza were reported killed each day during that time period, Airwars said. It identified five incidents in which civilians waiting to receive humanitarian aid were killed or injured, and six in which health care workers or emergency medical workers were killed.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, about 3,700 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since the court’s ruling on Jan. 26. The ministry said that as of Monday, more than 29,000 people had been killed since the start of the war.

Biden says he’s hopeful for Gaza cease-fire within a week.

President Biden said on Monday that he believed negotiators were nearing an agreement that would halt Israel’s military operations in Gaza within a week in exchange for the release of at least some of the more than 100 hostages being held by Hamas.

Speaking with reporters during a stop in New York, Mr. Biden offered the most hopeful assessment of the hostage talks by any major figure in many days, suggesting that the war might be close to a major turning point.

“I hope by the end of the weekend,” he said when asked by reporters when he expected a cease-fire to begin. “My national security adviser tells me that we’re close. We’re close. We’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday, we’ll have a cease-fire.”

The president delivered the comments spontaneously in response to questions during a visit to an ice cream shop after taping a segment on Seth Meyers’s late-night talk show. They came amid an active period of talks in the region, as Israel’s war cabinet over the weekend approved the broad terms of a deal that would involve a six-week truce for the release of about 40 hostages. An Israeli delegation is expected to meet in Qatar with intermediaries from the United States, Egypt and Qatar.

An agreement for a lengthy cease-fire would halt the Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, which has killed thousands of Palestinians and created a humanitarian crisis. It could also provide an opening for a surge in humanitarian assistance into Gaza, where food, water, electricity and other basics are in short supply.

A negotiated deal would be a dramatic, and perhaps defining, moment in the nearly five-month-old Middle East conflict and could lead to the release of the six remaining American hostages, who were among more than 200 seized and taken to Gaza when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. About 1,200 people were killed in Israel.

It could also eventually mean freedom for dozens of other hostages still in captivity. Their families have been waging a pressure campaign in Israel and around the world to demand their release, even as Israel has responded to the Hamas attacks with a fierce ground and air assault.

Mr. Biden did not elaborate on Monday about the details of a cease-fire or about whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had signed off on a deal. But the president’s assessment that one could be reached within a week was the clearest indication of progress in several weeks.

For Mr. Biden, helping to orchestrate a lasting deal to halt the fighting could be a significant step toward addressing a difficult political vulnerability as he seeks a second term in the White House.

For months, Palestinian activists in the United States have been assailing Mr. Biden for what they view as his failure to do more to prevent civilian deaths in Gaza. Protesters have dogged the president at most of his public events in recent weeks, sometimes waving signs calling him “Genocide Joe.”

That anger is likely to be on display on Tuesday, when Democratic voters in Michigan go to the polls to make their choice for the party’s presidential nominee. Some activists in Michigan, which is home to many Palestinian Americans, have urged voters to protest Mr. Biden’s stance on Gaza by voting for “uncommitted” in the primary.

The timing of Mr. Biden’s response to an unprompted question by a reporter could undercut that effort and help the president show strength in the primary.

Efforts to secure an end to the fighting have been in the works since the early days of the war, though the president and his aides have repeatedly defended Israel’s responsibility to respond to the worst terrorist attack in its history.

At the same time, the administration has been under growing pressure to restrain Israel’s government in light of the rising death toll in Gaza, which Gazan health officials say now stands above 29,000, the majority of them civilians. In November, the United States helped broker a short pause in the fighting that led to the release of about 100 hostages. Israel’s military assault continued after the pause broke down over disagreements with Hamas.

In recent weeks, negotiators have expressed optimism that talks between the parties have been moving in the right direction. But the discussions were being held against a backdrop of threats from Mr. Netanyahu that the country’s forces were ready for a major assault on Rafah, in the southern part of Gaza.

More than a million civilians, many of whom fled Israel’s bombing in the north of Gaza, are gathered in Rafah, and humanitarian organizations warned that a major assault by Israel there could kill thousands more.

Mr. Biden talked with Mr. Netanyahu on Feb. 15, and White House officials said in a summary of the call that the two men “discussed ongoing hostage negotiations” and that the president “reaffirmed his commitment to working tirelessly to support the release of all hostages.”

An evacuation plan reinforces Israel’s intention to send troops into Rafah.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said early Monday that the country’s military had presented a long-awaited plan to the war cabinet for evacuating civilians from “areas of fighting” in the Gaza Strip, a likely reference to an expected invasion of the southern city of Rafah.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office made the announcement before dawn local time on social media. Though Mr. Netanyahu did not provide details of the plan publicly, the comments appeared to reinforce Israel’s intention to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are taking refuge.

While Israel has said sending troops into the city is necessary to defeat Hamas, it has also signaled optimism about talks on a possible cease-fire, and it was not clear whether Mr. Netanyahu was using the prospect of invading Rafah as a cudgel to gain leverage in the discussions. An Israeli delegation was expected to arrive in Qatar on Monday to continue negotiations with international mediators around securing a temporary cease-fire and the release of some hostages.

The Israeli government has not specified where civilians in Rafah would be expected to go, and the invasion plan has drawn condemnation from some of Israel’s most important allies, including the United States.

A follow-up statement by Mr. Netanyahu’s office said that a new plan for providing humanitarian assistance to the enclave had also been approved after reports that Palestinians in Gaza had surrounded and looted trucks carrying relief supplies because of a desperate lack of food and other necessities. The government did not release the plan or give further details.

Mr. Netanyahu reiterated on Sunday that Israel planned to invade Rafah, a major city along Gaza’s border with Egypt whose civilian population is essentially trapped. Members of his government have set a deadline — the start of the holy month of Ramadan next month — for Hamas to release the more than 100 hostages who remain in the enclave after being captured during the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu said on Sunday that the assault on Rafah could be “delayed somewhat” if a deal is reached with Hamas over the release of the remaining hostages being held in Gaza.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the spokesman for the Palestinian Authority’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the Israeli prime minister’s announcement of an evacuation plan, saying that it confirmed his intention “to storm the city of Rafah.”

“The American administration must move in a different and serious way to stop this Israeli madness,” Mr. Abu Rudeineh said in a statement.

The heads of humanitarian organizations including the Red Cross have warned there is nowhere safe for Palestinians in southern Gaza to move to, given the destruction of infrastructure and the large amounts of unexploded ordnance.

António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, said Monday that Rafah, with its border crossing, was central to efforts to get more humanitarian aid into Gaza. An Israeli offensive in the city “would not only be terrifying for more than a million Palestinian civilians sheltering there, it would put the final nail in the coffin of our aid programs,” he said in an address opening a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Human rights conventions, Mr. Guterres added, “recognize that terrorizing civilians and depriving them of food, water, and health care is a recipe for endless anger, alienation, extremism and conflict.”

Nick Cumming-Bruce and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.

Protests erupt over who must serve in the military as Israel’s Supreme Court takes up the issue.

Credit…Ronen Zvulun/Reuters and Leo Correa/Associated Press

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday, when the high court began to hear arguments on whether ultra-Orthodox Jews should be conscripted into the country’s military.

As throngs of protesters demanded equal military service for all, groups of Haredim — as the ultra-Orthodox are known in Hebrew — blocked a road, dancing and singing as they lobbied to remain exempt from the draft that populates Israel’s armed forces.

Most young Jews serve at least two years in the military after leaving school in Israel, but the Haredi population has long been exempt from conscription so they can study Jewish law and scripture at government-subsidized seminaries.

The Haredim for decades have fought to remain exempt, and their reluctance to serve has irritated secular Israelis who are required to protect the nation.

But as of mid-December, more than 2,000 Haredim had joined the military since the Hamas-led attacks of Oct. 7, reflecting a modest shift in attitudes.

Nearly 30 percent of the ultra-Orthodox public now supports the idea of military service, 20 points higher than before the war, according to a December poll by the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, a Jerusalem-based research group.

The Times of Israel reported that the high court on Monday gave the Israeli government until March 24 to explain why the military should not begin drafting ultra-Orthodox students.

The Palestinian Authority’s government tenders its resignation.

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh of the Palestinian Authority, the body that administers part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, tendered the resignation of his cabinet on Monday, according to the authority’s official news agency.

The decision follows diplomatic efforts involving the United States and Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, to persuade the authority to overhaul itself in a way that would enable it to take over the administration of Gaza after the war there ends.

But it was unclear whether Mr. Shtayyeh’s resignation would be enough to revamp the authority or persuade Israel to let it govern Gaza. President Mahmoud Abbas, the most senior leader of the authority, will stay in position along with his security chiefs. And after accepting Mr. Shtayyeh’s resignation, Mr. Abbas asked him to remain as a caretaker prime minister while a replacement is sought.

Israeli leaders had strongly hinted that they would not allow the authority’s existing leadership to run Gaza. American and Arab leaders had hoped that new leadership might make Israel more likely to cede administrative control of Gaza to the authority — a context that Mr. Shtayyeh discussed in his resignation statement.

“The next stage and its challenges require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the emerging reality in the Gaza Strip,” Mr. Shtayyeh wrote, according to Wafa, the authority’s news agency. Those challenges include the push for “the extension of the Palestinian Authority’s sovereignty over the entire land of Palestine,” he added.

With no functional parliament within the areas controlled by the authority, Mr. Abbas remains the key figure in the authority, regardless of Mr. Shtayyeh’s fate. Mr. Abbas has long ruled by decree, and he exerts wide influence over the judiciary and prosecution system. Any prime minister works under the authority of Mr. Abbas and has little leeway to make their own decisions.

According to diplomats briefed on his thinking, Mr. Abbas’s preferred candidate for prime minister is Mohammad Mustafa, a longtime economic adviser who is considered a member of his inner circle.

But analysts predicted that it could be weeks before a successor is announced.

By keeping Mr. Shtayyeh in place as a caretaker, Mr. Abbas is “basically buying time,” said Ibrahim Dalalsha, the director of the Horizon Center for Political Studies and Media Outreach, a political analysis group based in Ramallah, West Bank.

It allows Mr. Abbas to signal to foreign powers that he has begun an overhaul, while in practice delaying any substantive changes and giving himself more time to persuade domestic allies and foreign funders of Mr. Mustafa’s virtues, Mr. Dalalsha said.

“Many governments around the world — including Arab governments — have conditioned their financial support to the P.A. on creating a new Palestinian government that is accountable, that is efficient, that is inclusive,” he said.

The creation of a caretaker government “by itself does not initiate any concrete changes overnight, but it signals willingness and seriousness, at least at the political level, at moving in this direction,” Mr. Dalalsha added.

The authority was created during the Oslo peace process in the 1990s, and it was envisaged by Palestinians and their supporters as the government of a state in waiting.

Instead, the peace process collapsed and the state never materialized. The authority was left with only limited autonomy in roughly 40 percent of the West Bank. A quarter-century later, polling shows that Palestinians mainly see it as authoritarian and corrupt.

Though many Israelis accuse the authority of doing too little to combat Palestinian terrorism, Palestinians see its security services as an extension of Israel’s security apparatus because of their regular crackdowns on Palestinian militants and dissidents.

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

Israel launches its deepest airstrikes in Lebanon in years.

Israeli airstrikes inside Lebanon on targets associated with the Hezbollah militia hit deeper than any in recent years on Monday, targeting an area close to the Syrian border.

The Israeli military said that its fighter jets had struck Hezbollah air defenses in the Bekaa Valley, about 60 miles from the Israeli border. It said that the strikes were in response to a surface-to-air missile attack that downed an Israeli drone over southern Lebanon. Hezbollah claimed responsibility for that attack.

At least two Hezbollah fighters were killed in the Israeli airstrikes and at least six other people were wounded, according to Bachir Khodor, mayor of the nearby city of Baalbek. Video from the scene provided by Mr. Khodor, which could not be independently verified, showed a building reduced to rubble and people on stretchers being loaded into an ambulance.

The Israeli military later confirmed that it had also killed a Hezbollah commander in a targeted strike earlier in the day in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah announced the fighter’s death in a statement, but did not provide details on his rank or seniority.

In a statement, Hezbollah said that it had retaliated by firing a rocket barrage toward the Golan Heights, a plateau that Israel seized in 1967, and had aimed at an Israeli army headquarters. The Israeli military did not immediately comment on the statement.

The Bekaa Valley, a fertile plain that runs along the Syrian border, has long been a stronghold for Hezbollah, the politically powerful Lebanese militia that has engaged in near-daily clashes with Israeli forces since the Hamas-led attacks in Israel on Oct. 7. The fighting has displaced more than 150,000 people on both sides of the Lebanese-Israeli border and left hundreds dead.

The airstrikes on Monday were the first time that the Israeli military had hit the Bekaa Valley during the current conflict. Its strikes have recently been moving deeper inside Lebanon. Last week, the Israeli military said that it had struck what it called Hezbollah weapons storage facilities near the Lebanese coastal city of Sidon, around 20 miles from the border with Israel.

During a meeting with military officials on Sunday, the Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said that his country was “planning to increase the firepower against Hezbollah,” adding that it would not pause operations along the border with Lebanon even if there were a temporary halt to the fighting in Gaza.

“We will increase the fire in the north separately and will continue until the full withdrawal of Hezbollah and the return of Israeli civilians to their homes,” he said.

Hassan Fadlallah, a Hezbollah lawmaker in the Lebanese Parliament, said on Monday that the latest round of Israeli strikes would “not go without a response.”

Johnatan Reiss contributed reporting from Tel Aviv.

Gazans gather in the north, awaiting aid trucks that don’t arrive.

Palestinians in the north of Gaza, growing more hungry and desperate by the day, have been gathering to wait for food assistance that United Nations agencies say can no longer be delivered there.

“I’m here to get flour or any aid to feed my kids before the month of Ramadan,” said Abu Mostafa, a Palestinian man among a crowd of people on the coast in Gaza City on Sunday, in video shot by The Associated Press. “We’re not scared of war or anything. We just need food and water,” he added.

“I cannot feed my own children,” cried another man, Naim Abouseido, standing next to his young son as they waited for aid. “There is no rice, no food, no flour. What did we do to deserve this?”

Several United Nations agencies and aid groups have said that the fighting in Gaza, a lack of help from the Israeli military in facilitating aid deliveries and the breakdown of order had made it increasingly difficult to send aid convoys to much of Gaza.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the main United Nations aid agency that serves Palestinians, said on Sunday that the agency was last able to deliver aid to northern Gaza over a month ago. He added on Monday that famine could be avoided only if more aid trucks got through.

A statement from the Israeli prime minister’s office on Monday said the war cabinet had approved a new plan to provide aid to Gaza. The government did not release the plan or give further details.

Nader Ibrahim contributed reporting from London.

The U.N.’s top court holds a final day of hearings on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

The United Nations’ top court on Monday heard a final day of arguments on the legality of Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian territories, proceedings that have added pressure to Israel at a time when attention focuses on the war in Gaza.

The hearings, which began last Monday, were the first time that the court, the International Court of Justice, had been asked to detail the legal consequences of Israel’s “prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation” of the territories, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, since 1967 — issues that have been the subject of years of debate and resolutions at the United Nations. The U.N. General Assembly asked the court to give an advisory opinion.

Judge Nawab Salam, the president of the court, ended the hearings saying that the judges’ conclusions would be announced at a public hearing. The conclusions were expected to take at least six months, lawyers at the court said.

The sessions, held at the Peace Palace in The Hague, heard from representatives of more than 50 countries, an unusually high number for the court. Most sided with the Palestinian representatives, who argued that Israel had long abused Palestinian rights with impunity and denied their right to self-determination.

“Israel has arrogated to itself the right to decide who owns land, who may live on it, how it is used,” Philippe Sands, a member of the Palestinian delegation’s legal team, argued last week. “It has confined Palestinians to enclaves,” he added, and broken up its territory with hundreds of settlements “regarded as a permanent part of Israel.”

Israel did not appear at the hearings, but, in a written submission, it rejected the questions raised by the proceedings as biased.

The proceedings have been given urgency by Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Health authorities in Gaza say that Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 29,000 people, the majority civilians, and provoked what the United Nations says is a humanitarian disaster.

Since the war began, Israeli forces have also detained hundreds of Palestinians in West Bank raids. Deadly violence against Palestinians by Israeli settlers has increased and Palestinian attacks on Israelis have also risen.

A few speakers at the court, including those from the United States, Britain and Hungary, have sided with Israel. On Wednesday, a State Department official argued before the court that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians were determined by its “very real security needs.”

But Israel’s campaign in Gaza has presented a dilemma to President Biden’s administration, which has continued to supply Israel with military aid while expressing growing concern over the treatment of Palestinians.

Mr. Biden has said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been “over the top” in its conduct of the war in Gaza. And on Friday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that the American government was reversing a Trump administration policy and would now consider new Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories to be “inconsistent with international law.”

Navalny Was Part of Discussions on a Prisoner Exchange

Aides to Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died this month, asserted on Monday that he had been on the verge of being freed in a prisoner exchange with the West.

A Western official familiar with the negotiations said “early discussions” on the possibility of freeing Mr. Navalny through such a swap had been underway when Russian authorities reported him dead on Feb. 16. But the official pushed back on the Navalny team’s portrayal of the talks as having been in their final stages.

In a video posted to the Navalny team’s YouTube channel on Monday, a top aide to Mr. Navalny portrayed the prisoner-exchange talks as evidence of what she described as President Vladimir V. Putin’s motive to kill the opposition leader.

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Senate Aide Investigated Over Unofficial Actions in Ukraine

A senior Capitol Hill staff member who is a longtime voice on Russia policy is under congressional investigation over his frequent trips to Ukraine’s war zones and providing what he said was $30,000 in sniper gear to its military, documents show.

The staff member, Kyle Parker, is the senior Senate adviser for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission. The commission is led by members of Congress and staffed by congressional aides. It is influential on matters of democracy and security and has been vocal in supporting Ukraine.

A confidential report by the commission’s director and general counsel, which The New York Times reviewed, said that the equipment transfer could make Mr. Parker an unregistered foreign agent. It said that Mr. Parker had traveled Ukraine’s front lines wearing camouflage and Ukrainian military insignia and had hired a Ukrainian official for a U.S. government fellowship over the objections of congressional ethics and security officials.

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The NATO Welcoming Sweden Is Larger and More Determined

BERLIN — Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago was an enormous shock to Europeans. Used to 30 years of post-Cold War peace, they had imagined European security would be built alongside a more democratic Russia, not reconstructed against a revisionist imperial war machine.

There was no bigger shock than in Finland, with its long border and historical tension with Russia, and in Sweden, which had dismantled 90 percent of its army and 70 percent of its air force and navy in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After the decision by Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, to try to destroy a sovereign neighbor, both Finland and Sweden rapidly decided to apply to join the NATO alliance, the only clear guarantee of collective defense against a newly aggressive and reckless Russia.

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31,000 Ukrainian Soldiers Killed in Two Years of War, Zelensky Says

Some 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since Russia’s full-scale invasion began two years ago, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday, acknowledging for the first time in the war a concrete figure for Ukraine’s toll.

“This is a big loss for us,” Mr. Zelensky said at a news conference in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. But he declined to disclose the number of wounded or missing, saying that Russia could use the information to gauge the number of Ukraine’s active forces.

Mr. Zelensky’s tally could not be independently verified. It differs sharply from estimates by U.S. officials, who, this past summer, put the losses much higher, saying that close to 70,000 Ukrainians had been killed and 100,000 to 120,000 had been wounded. Russia’s military casualties, the officials said, were about twice as high.

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Weary but Determined, Ukrainians Vow Never to Bow to Russia

Reporting from Kharkiv, Ukraine

When Russian missiles struck the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv a couple of weeks ago, schoolchildren and their teachers installed in newly built underground classrooms did not hear a thing.

Down in the bowels of Kharkiv’s cavernous, Soviet-era subway stations, the city administration has built a line of brightly decorated classrooms, where 6- and 7-year-olds are attending primary school for the first time in their lives in this war-stricken city.

“The children were fine,” said Lyudmyla Demchenko, 47, one of the teachers. “You cannot hear the sirens down here.”

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Premier League Cuts Everton’s Points Penalty, Easing Relegation Fears

Everton, a storied English soccer club trying to weather a serious financial storm, secured a modest victory on Monday when a record penalty that had sent it to the bottom of the Premier League standings was reduced on appeal.

Everton’s original penalty, a 10-point deduction for financial rules violations, was reduced to six points, lifting its chances of staying in the division — and of retaining access to the tens of millions of dollars in annual revenues that a place in the Premier League brings.

The successful appeal immediately lifted Everton to 15th place in the standings and eased the club’s fears of relegation and potential financial ruin. The reprieve, however, might be short-lived.

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A Re-established West Bank Settlement Symbolizes Hardened Israeli Views

For an Israeli settlement that has become such a resounding symbol of religious and right-wing politics in the West Bank, Homesh is not much to look at.

Three families live in tarpaulin-covered shelters full of bunk beds for some 50 young men, who study in a yeshiva that is a shabby prefab structure surrounded by abandoned toys, building materials and garbage.

They live part time here amid the ruins and rubbish of a hilltop settlement ripped down in 2005 by the Israeli Army and the police. It is one of four West Bank settlements dismantled when Israel pulled all of its troops and settlements out of Gaza. Israel’s intention then, pushed by Washington, was to signal that outlying settlements too hard to defend would be consolidated in any future peace deal.

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Belarus Holds an Election, but the Outcome Is Not Hard to Predict

Amid a number of high-stakes elections to be held around the world this year, the East European nation of Belarus on Sunday offered an alternative to the unpredictability of democracy: a vote for Parliament without a single candidate critical of the country’s despotic leader.

Opposition parties have all been banned — belonging to one is a crime — and the four approved parties taking part in the election have competed only to outdo each other in their displays of unwavering loyalty to the country’s leader, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 30 years.

For the government, the election on Sunday — the first since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which neighbors Belarus to the south — is important as an opportunity to show Moscow, its ally, that it has snuffed out all domestic opposition and survived economic and other strains imposed by the war. Russia, which has in the past had doubts about Mr. Lukashenko’s durability and reliability, launched its invasion in February 2022 in part from Belarusian territory.

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For Car Thieves, Toronto Is a ‘Candy Store,’ and Drivers Are Fed Up

Vjosa Isai drove around Toronto in a Volkswagen Passat with 290,000 miles on it, a vehicle not coveted by car thieves, to report this article.

Whenever Dennis Wilson wants to take a drive in his new SUV, he has to set aside an extra 15 minutes. That’s about how long it takes to remove the car’s steering wheel club, undo four tire locks and lower a yellow bollard before backing out of his driveway.

His Honda CR-V is also fitted with two alarm systems, a vehicle tracking device and, for good measure, four Apple AirTags. Its remote-access key fob rests in a Faraday bag, to jam illicit unlocking signals.

As a final touch, he mounted two motion-sensitive floodlights on his house and aimed them at the driveway in his modest neighborhood in Toronto.

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Where Hostage Families and Supporters Gather, for Solace and Protest

A week after Hamas-led terrorists stormed his kibbutz and kidnapped his wife and three young children, Avihai Brodutch planted himself on the sidewalk in front of army headquarters in Tel Aviv holding a sign scrawled with the words “My family’s in Gaza,” and said he would not budge until they were brought home.

Passers-by stopped to commiserate with him and to try to lift his spirits. They brought him coffee, platters of food and changes of clothing, and welcomed him to their homes to wash up and get some sleep.

“They were so kind, and they just couldn’t do enough,” said Mr. Brodutch, 42, an agronomist who grew pineapples on Kibbutz Kfar Azza before the attacks on Oct. 7. “It was Israel at its finest,” he said. “There was a feeling of a common destiny.”

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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.

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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

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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.)

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‘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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Cleaning Latrines by Hand: ‘How Could Any Human Do That?’

When he came to fully realize exactly what his parents and older brother did for a living, and what it likely meant for his own future, Bezwada Wilson says he was so angry he contemplated suicide.

His family members, and his broader community, were manual scavengers, tasked with cleaning by hand human excrement from dry latrines at a government-run gold mine in southern India.

While his parents had tried hard to hide from their youngest child the nature of their work as long as they could — telling Mr. Bezwada they were sweepers — as a student Mr. Bezwada knew his classmates viewed him with cruel condescension. He just didn’t know the reason.

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A Child of Another War Who Makes Music for Ukrainians

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Olympic Dream Falters Amid Track’s Shifting Rules

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Maximila Imali, a top Kenyan sprinter, did not lose her eligibility to compete in the Paris Olympics because she cheated. She did not fail a doping test. She broke no rules.

Instead, she is set to miss this year’s Summer Games because she was born with a rare genetic variant that results in naturally elevated levels of testosterone. And last March, track and field’s global governing body ruled that Ms. Imali’s biology gave her an unfair advantage in all events against other women, effectively barring her from international competition.

As a result, Ms. Imali, 27, finds her Olympic dream in peril and her career and her livelihood in limbo.

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Las deportistas de México alcanzan una nueva frontera: el softbol profesional

Reportando desde Ciudad de México y León, Mexico

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En muchas partes de América Latina, el béisbol es un deporte popular y bien establecido, con ligas profesionales masculinas en México, República Dominicana y Venezuela, entre otros países. Pero las mujeres que querían jugar el deporte primo del béisbol —softbol— de forma profesional solo tenían una opción: marcharse. Debían irse a Estados Unidos o Japón.

Hasta ahora.

En lo que se cree es el primer caso en América Latina —una región donde los hombres suelen tener más oportunidades que las mujeres, particularmente en los deportes— se ha creado una liga profesional de softbol femenino en México. Desde el 25 de enero, cuando comenzó la temporada inaugural, 120 mujeres en 6 equipos pudieron llamarse a sí mismas jugadoras profesionales de softbol, muchas por primera vez.

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Incendio en Valencia: hay al menos 9 muertos

Un día después de que un incendio arrasara un complejo de viviendas de gran altura en la ciudad española de Valencia, que derivó en la muerte de al menos 9 personas, los investigadores policiales intentaban determinar por qué las llamas se habían extendido por los dos edificios en menos de una hora.

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Las primeras sospechas recayeron en los materiales de construcción, pero era difícil determinarlo, ya que las dos estructuras permanecían tan calientes que los bomberos no pudieron entrar en los edificios sino hasta alrededor del mediodía del viernes, horas después de haber llegado al lugar durante la noche anterior.

Luis Sendra, decano del Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de la Comunidad Valenciana, dijo que los investigadores tendrían que esperar a que las estructuras se enfriaran para poder precisar si el revestimiento exterior podría haber contribuido a avivar el fuego. Afirmó que los huecos entre el aislamiento y el revestimiento podrían haber facilitado la propagación de las llamas.

“Es pronto para saber la causa exacta”, dijo Sendra. “Pero por la rapidez con que se extendió, podría haber mucha similitud con Grenfell en Londres”.

Setenta y dos personas murieron en el incendio de Grenfell, que consumió un edificio de apartamentos de gran altura en el oeste de Londres en 2017. Se habían utilizado materiales inflamables en el revestimiento de ese edificio, lo que aceleró la propagación del fuego.

En una rueda de prensa celebrada el viernes por la mañana, Carlos Mazón, presidente de la Comunidad Valenciana, anunció un periodo de luto de tres días y afirmó que siete bomberos habían resultado heridos en el incendio.

El gobierno de la comunidad autónoma había anunciado a primera hora del viernes que 10 personas habían fallecido en el incendio, pero de acuerdo con información que apareció en los medios de comunicación españoles más tarde ese mismo día, citando fuentes policiales, se afirmaba que el número de muertes se había revisado y eran nueve, y una persona desaparecida.

En unas imágenes dramáticas que circularon en los medios de comunicación españoles se veía a un bombero saltando desde el séptimo piso a una colchoneta de seguridad en el suelo. Dos residentes también fueron rescatados de un balcón tras quedar atrapados por el fuego; mientras los bomberos contenían las llamas con mangueras, los residentes trepaban de balcón en balcón para llegar a una plataforma de rescate elevada por un camión de bomberos.

El complejo residencial de Valencia, la tercera ciudad más grande de España, estaba formado por un edificio de 14 plantas y otro más bajo, y tenía un total de 138 viviendas, según Sendra.

Un equipo de 15 agentes forenses de la policía nacional está llevando a cabo una investigación sobre el incendio. Tampoco estaba claro el origen del incendio.

Aún no se sabía con claridad qué materiales se utilizaron en el exterior de los edificios. Sendra declaró a los medios de comunicación que el uso de aluminio en las fachadas de los edificios estaba permitido por la normativa de construcción española, pero que el uso de poliuretano como aislante no lo estaba.

Tampoco quedaba claro si se había utilizado poliuretano. Sin embargo, Esther Puchades, vicepresidenta del Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros Técnicos Industriales de Valencia, afirmó en un comunicado que “todos los indicios apuntaban al poliuretano como el causante de la voracidad de las llamas y el color del humo”.

Un comunicado del colegio señaló que algunos de los materiales de la fachada de los edificios contenían plástico que se incendió con rapidez, pero añadía: “No podemos asegurar que sea un material en concreto hasta que no acabe la investigación”.

Pep Benlloch, presidente de la asociación de vecinos de la zona, dijo en una entrevista en la cadena de televisión Antena 3 que en el complejo vivían muchos extranjeros, entre ellos ucranianos, pero que, en un principio, había estado vacío durante mucho tiempo debido a los precios prohibitivos por el auge de la construcción.

La policía y el ayuntamiento señalaron que no podían confirmar inmediatamente cuántas de las viviendas estaban habitadas en el momento del incendio. El complejo se construyó durante el auge inmobiliario de mediados de la década de 2000, según Sendra.

Un residente de 67 años que solo dio su nombre de pila, Pep, dijo el viernes a los medios de comunicación españoles que había salido de su vivienda con su esposa poco después de que se declarara el incendio.

“Cogí la cartera, el móvil, y logré salir del infierno”, dijo el hombre, hablando fuera del hotel donde ha sido alojado temporalmente.

Jorge, quien vive en el barrio de Campanar, dijo que había salido a dar un paseo cuando vio el incendio y se unió a un pequeño grupo de personas que contemplaba con horror cómo el edificio era consumido por las llamas.

Inmediatamente empezó a grabar; hizo un video del edificio en llamas, con el sonido de gritos de fondo, que publicó en las redes sociales

“Olía a plástico quemado”, dijo Jorge, quien solo dio su nombre de pila, en una entrevista.

El ayuntamiento de Valencia señaló en un comunicado que se había instalado una locación de asistencia en un edificio cercano para ofrecer apoyo práctico y psicológico a los residentes sobrevivientes.

El presidente del gobierno de España, Pedro Sánchez, visitó el viernes el lugar del incendio, agradeció a los trabajadores de emergencia y ofreció “trasladar nuestra solidaridad, nuestro cariño y nuestra empatía” a las familias afectadas por el fuego.

“La prioridad ahora”, dijo, “es la búsqueda de víctimas”.


Emily Schmallcolaboró con reportería.

Los burros de África son codiciados por China. ¿Puede el continente protegerlos?

Durante años, las empresas chinas y sus contratistas han estado sacrificando millones de burros en toda África, codiciando la gelatina de las pieles de los animales que se procesa para fabricar medicinas tradicionales, dulces populares y productos de belleza en China.

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Pero la creciente demanda de gelatina ha diezmado las poblaciones de burros a un ritmo tan alarmante en los países africanos que los gobiernos están tomando medidas para frenar el comercio, en su mayor parte no regulado.

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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.

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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.

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