The New York Times 2024-03-06 22:45:08


Middle East Crisis: Biden Expresses Hope on Cease-Fire Talks, but Hamas Appears to Reject Latest Offer

‘We need a cease-fire,’ Biden says.

President Biden said Tuesday that talks on a possible six-week cease-fire in Gaza are “in the hands of Hamas right now.” He spoke just before a Hamas leader in Lebanon appeared to reject a proposed deal the United States is backing, insisting that Israeli hostages would be released only after a cease-fire was in place and Israeli forces have withdrawn.

Mr. Biden said that the Israelis had “been cooperating” in the indirect negotiations, which are being mediated by Qatar and Egypt, and that “a rational offer” had been made.

“We will know in a couple of days what’s going to happen,” Mr. Biden said as he returned to the White House from a weekend in Camp David, where he was preparing for his State of the Union speech, scheduled for Thursday. “We need a cease-fire.”

Mr. Biden’s remarks echoed comments made earlier in the day by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and on Monday by Vice President Kamala Harris regarding their meetings with a member of Israel’s war cabinet, Benny Gantz, who was in Washington on a visit that was not coordinated with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The urgency for a breakthrough in talks has grown as the Islamic holy month of Ramadan approaches, with all sides treating the holiday as a deadline. Ramadan, a month of prayer, introspection and dusk-to-dawn fasting, is the one of the most important times of the Muslim calendar. A continued Israeli military onslaught during the holiday could further inflame Arab-Israeli tensions.

The war is now approaching the five-month mark. Large parts of Gaza are in ruins, more than 30,000 people have been killed by the count of Gazan health officials, and severe hunger, bordering on starvation, is affecting hundreds of thousands.

Still, there was little sign Hamas, the armed group that governs Gaza, was ready to move toward a compromise. In Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday, a senior Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, repeated the group’s demand for a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and a permanent cease-fire in place before it would release Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

“The security and safety of our people will not be achieved except with a permanent cease-fire and withdrawal from every inch of the Gaza Strip,” Mr. Hamdan said. “A prisoner exchange cannot take place before all of this is achieved.”

Mr. Hamdan said that Hamas had made its position clear to the Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

At a meeting with Mr. Blinken, Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani, said that Qatar and its partners would persist “to make sure that this deal happens, despite whoever is trying to undermine the efforts of bringing peace.”

“We want to see an end of the humanitarian suffering; we want to see the hostages back with their families,” he said on Tuesday.

Before the Hamas news conference, Mr. Biden was asked whether a cease-fire was possible before the beginning of Ramadan, which has often been accompanied by heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions over access to a major holy site in Jerusalem.

“There’s got to be a cease-fire,” Mr. Biden said, adding that if a deal is not reached by Ramadan to pause the fighting “it’s going to be very dangerous.”

He added, “So, we are trying very, very hard to get a cease-fire.”

The U.S. makes a second airdrop but says it will not send troops into Gaza help the aid effort.

The United States made a second round of airdrops of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, as the Biden administration continued its efforts to prevent a greater humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian territory.

U.S. Air Force cargo planes dropped 36,800 ready-to-eat meals, in a joint operation with the Jordanian Air Force, “to provide essential relief to civilians affected by the ongoing conflict,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement on Tuesday.

It said that army troops trained in aerial delivery were part of the airdrop, and that it was planning more such missions. However, the Pentagon said on Tuesday that the United States did not intend to send its troops into Gaza to strengthen the aid distribution process.

“At this time there are no plans to put U.S. forces on the ground in Gaza,” Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said at a news conference.

Some aid experts and humanitarian groups have criticized the American airdrops as insufficient and largely symbolic, given the scale of the hunger problem facing Gaza after five months of war. Cargo planes can only move a fraction of the food a convoy of trucks can deliver, experts say, and a better solution would be for the United States to persuade Israel to open more border crossings and speed up inspections.

The operation on Tuesday followed a first round of airdrops on Saturday, two days after more than 100 Palestinians were killed as Israeli forces opened fire around a convoy of aid trucks in northern Gaza.

Doctors at Gaza hospitals said most of the casualties were from gunfire. The Israeli military said most of the victims were trampled as they tried to seize the cargo, although Israeli officials acknowledged that troops had fired on some people who they said had threatened them.

After the convoy killings, President Biden said the United States would find new ways to get aid to Palestinians in desperate need because of Israel’s five-month military campaign to destroy Hamas. Only a trickle of aid has been reaching northern Gaza via land, but aid groups have criticized airdrops as ineffective. The amount of aid delivered by a French plane in an airdrop last week was much less than a single truckload.

Although Mr. Biden has implored Israel, which has largely sealed its border with Gaza, to clear the way for more aid deliveries, the demand for food, water and medicine there remains huge. Those conditions have put Mr. Biden under political pressure to do more to help the Palestinians, even as the United States supplies Israel with military hardware.

Despite his frustrations with Israel’s political leadership, Mr. Biden has not threatened to put limits on American military aid to the country.

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

With 3 Red Sea internet cables disabled, suspicion has focused on Houthi rebels. They deny involvement.

Mysterious damage to vital communications cables under the Red Sea has raised concerns about whether the conflict in the Middle East is now beginning to threaten the global internet.

Just as the waters off Yemen hold crucial shipping lanes, they are also a critical location for undersea cables that carry email and other digital traffic between Asia and the West. Around a dozen cables run through the area, and more are planned.

These bundles of glass fibers, about as thick as a garden hose, “are extremely important,” said Tim Stronge, vice president for research at TeleGeography, which analyzes the telecommunications market. “Over 90 percent of all communications traffic between Europe and Asia goes through those” cables.

Late last month, Seacom, a company that specializes in providing communications to African countries, noticed that data had stopped flowing through its line that runs from Mombasa, Kenya, up through the Red Sea to Zafarana in Egypt.

At the same time two cables linking West to East were knocked out, affecting 25 percent of traffic through the area, according to an estimate by HGC Global Communications, a Hong Kong-based telecommunications company.

In an interview from his office in Johannesburg, Prenesh Padayachee, Seacom’s chief digital and operations officer, said the damage to his company’s cable occurred on the bottom of the Red Sea, in Yemeni waters about 650 feet deep. The two other damaged cables are nearby.

What disabled the cables is still not clear. Suspicion has centered on Yemen’s Houthi rebels, but the Houthis, who have attacked numerous ships in the area in what they say is solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the war between Israel and Hamas, have denied responsibility.

Mr. Padayachee said the cause of the damage would remain unknown until a repair vessel managed to pull the wire up and examine it. Candidates include an anchor dragged by a ship, a disturbance on the sea bottom or sabotage. “We will only be able to tell once we lift the cable,” he said.

Arranging repairs is proving difficult. Seacom is working with a company called E-marine, which has boats in nearby Oman, to address the problem, but Mr. Padayachee acknowledged that the job requires assessing the political situation and obtaining permits from Yemen.

He said he was hopeful that the work might get underway sometime next month.

While Seacom has been able to arrange for most of its internet traffic to be rerouted through other cables, Mr. Padayachee said he chafed at the regional instability hampering the repair effort. “We would prefer to have definitive timelines that aren’t dictated by geopolitical situations,” he said.

Having so many cables running through such a volatile area is also a concern. Individual lines are relatively easy to damage. While cables are buried and armored near shore, further out at sea they lie on the bottom with little protection.

Mr. Stronge estimated that there were roughly 500 undersea cables globally and an average of 100 breaks a year. Most of the time, some sort of marine accident like an anchor dragging turns out to be the cause, he said.

Mr. Stronge said that what compensated for the fragility of individual cables was the redundancy that operators built into the system. He said that even if all the cables in the Red Sea were severed, internet traffic, like tankers, could be rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa or eastward through Singapore, Japan and across the United States to Europe. “It is slower, but it can be done,” he said.

Tensions rise between Israel and the U.N. after a U.N. team’s report on sexual violence.

In the latest sign of rising tensions with the United Nations, Israel has recalled its ambassador for consultations, claiming on Tuesday that the U.N. chief was failing to take steps to address a new report finding signs that sexual violence was committed during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The U.N. report released on Monday, which was largely welcomed in Israel, found “reasonable grounds” to believe that sexual violence had occurred in at least three locations, and “clear and convincing information” that hostages had been subjected to sexual violence, including rape. It said abuse of those hostages still being held in the Gaza Strip may be continuing.

In a social media post, Israel Katz, Israel’s foreign minister, criticized the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, for not immediately convening the Security Council to discuss the report and to declare Hamas a terrorist organization. The authority to convene the Security Council, however, lies not with Mr. Guterres but with the president and members of the Council, according to U.N. bylaws.

Mr. Katz said that he had recalled the U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, for consultation in protest of what he said was a concerted effort by Mr. Guterres to “forget the report and avoid making the necessary decisions.” Mr. Erdan was on a plane back to Israel on Tuesday, he said.

A U.N. spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, rejected the claim, saying that “in no way, shape or form did the secretary general do anything to ‘bury’ the report.”

Mr. Dujarric also expressed surprise at the timing of Mr. Katz’s comments.

“That announcement accusing the secretary general of trying to bury a report was made literally an hour, two hours, before the press conference presenting the report,” he said.

Whatever the skirmishing between Israeli and U.N. leaders, the report was welcomed by many in Israel.

The Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, said that the report was “of immense importance,” and he lauded it for its “moral clarity and integrity.”

The Hostage Family Forum said in a statement that the report made it “glaringly obvious that the female hostages are going through hell every moment, every minute,” and warned that the people of Israel will not forgive Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the cabinet if they don’t bring them home.

Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, a law professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and women’s rights activist, said on Tuesday that she was confused by the decision to recall the Israeli ambassador from the United Nations. The U.N. report, she said, “serves as confirmation on the highest level of the fact that sexual violence and gender atrocities were indeed apart of Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7.”

But tensions have been rising between Israel and the United Nations, which is broadly distrusted in Israel.

Mr. Guterres has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and has been pushing for an immediate and binding cease-fire, as well as for the release of the hostages taken during the Oct. 7 attacks.

Israel has accused about 30 employees of UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, of involvement in those attacks, and the agency’s head on Tuesday said Israel was trying to undermine its operations. And Mr. Erdan earlier called on Mr. Guterres to resign for remarks condemning the “collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

The U.N. report was based on information collected in Israel and the occupied West Bank by a team of experts led by Pramila Patten, the secretary-general’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

The U.N. report detailed significant challenges to determining what happened on the day of the attack. The report said it was nearly impossible to review the sort of forensic evidence often used to establish sexual assault, and it noted a deep reservoir of suspicion among Israelis toward international organizations like the United Nations.

Noting that an array of fighters from Hamas and other groups took part in the attack, the report said its experts could not determine who was responsible for the sexual assaults.

In the past, Israeli activists have expressed frustration over what they considered to be the United Nations’ slow response to the accounts of sexual assault during the Oct. 7 attack. On Tuesday, President Herzog’s wife, Michal, said on Israeli radio that the report was “the first time after five months that a senior U.N. official supports what we’ve been claiming in the past months.”

Hamas has repeatedly rejected the accusations that its fighters had committed sexual violence as part of the Oct. 7 attack. On Tuesday, a senior Hamas leader in Beirut, Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, called the U.N. report “false” and asserted that it had been “written by the Israelis.” He called for the U.N. to fire Ms. Patten.

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

UNRWA head says Israel is targeting the agency in a ‘deliberate and concerted campaign.’

The head of the United Nations agency providing aid for Palestinians in Gaza has said that his organization is being targeted with a “deliberate and concerted campaign” to undermine its operations when its services are most needed.

Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, spoke on Monday before the U.N. General Assembly in New York in some of his strongest remarks in defense of the agency since Israel’s accusations emerged in January that a dozen UNRWA employees had participated in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks. He warned that the worst might be yet to come if humanitarian services collapsed.

Israel’s accusations prompted 16 donor countries, including the United States, to suspend about $450 million in funding. Mr. Lazzarini said the agency faced a financial crisis while functioning “hand-to-mouth” and would soon be unable to serve millions of people dependent on it for food, shelter and basic medical care.

Mr. Lazzarini noted that the Israeli accusations had become public as UNRWA employees had provided testimony in a case before the International Court of Justice about the suffering in Gaza. The submissions were followed by a “corresponding increase in attacks against the agency,” he said.

The court, the United Nations’ highest judicial body, has ordered Israel to take immediate steps to facilitate the aid Gaza desperately needs and is weighing whether Israel has committed genocide in its war in Gaza.

“Attacks against UNRWA seek to eliminate its role in protecting the rights of Palestinian refugees and acting as a witness to their plight,” Mr. Lazzarini said.

Israel has a long history of friction with UNRWA, which was founded in 1949 and is one of the oldest U.N. agencies. Some Israelis say its very existence perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by preventing Palestinians from setting down roots elsewhere in the Middle East as they hope to return to their former homes in what is now Israel.

Israel has claimed that at least 10 percent of UNRWA’s staff is affiliated with Palestinian armed groups in Gaza and that what it says are employees’ links to Hamas fundamentally compromise the agency. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel laid out a proposal last month for Gaza’s postwar governance with his war cabinet, as part of which he said UNRWA should be closed and replaced “with responsible international aid agencies.”

Last week’s disastrous aid convoy that Israel helped to organize highlighted the steep challenge for other groups trying to provide services in Gaza, where order is virtually nonexistent after five months of war.

Mr. Lazzarini said he had not received any additional information to back up Israel’s accusations after they were initially presented to him in January, but that the agency had immediately terminated the staff members’ contracts because of the gravity of the allegation.

Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, told reporters on Monday that the United States would wait for the outcome of the U.N. investigations into Israel’s allegations before deciding whether to resume funding for UNRWA. The Biden administration remains extremely concerned for the humanitarian situation in Gaza, he said.

“Parents are facing impossible choices about how to feed their children,” he said. “Many don’t know where the next meal will come from, or if it will come at all.”

“The situation is simply intolerable,” he said.

A correction was made on 

March 5, 2024

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described allegations made by Israel that some employees from the United Nations agency providing aid for Palestinians in Gaza had participated in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks. The Israeli accusations were initially made privately and then emerged after the United Nations fired some of the accused; they were not initially made publicly.


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Israeli forces trade fire with Hezbollah over the Lebanese border.

Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon have been engaging in stepped-up rocket attacks as diplomats struggle to prevent a second full-fledged war from flaring up in the region.

For months, since the war in the Gaza Strip began, Hezbollah — an Iranian-backed group in Lebanon — and the Israeli military have been striking at each other across the border between their countries. But in recent days, the fighting has appeared especially heavy.

Early Tuesday, an Israeli airstrike killed three members of the same family in a border village, Houla, according to reports from Lebanon’s official National News Agency. Then, late in the day, a heavy barrage of rockets fired out of Lebanon — the number was put at around 60 — struck the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona.

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, said on Tuesday that indirect talks on an end to the border hostilities would begin next week, Reuters reported. In an interview with a local Lebanese broadcaster, Mr. Mikati said a Lebanese lawmaker close to Hezbollah, Nabih Berri, was studying a proposal put forward by an American envoy, Amos Hochstein, who had visited Beirut, Lebanon, on Monday, the news agency said.

Mr. Mikati’s comments came the same day that the Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, struck a pessimistic tone about an agreement.

“We are committed to the diplomatic process,” Mr. Gallant said after meeting with Mr. Hochstein. “However, Hezbollah’s aggression is bringing us closer to a critical point in the decision-making regarding our military activities in Lebanon.”

During his visit to Beirut, Mr. Hochstein said that even if negotiators agreed to a truce in Gaza, the hostilities at the Lebanese-Israeli border might persist.

At the White House on Tuesday, President Biden said that talks on a cease-fire in Gaza were “in the hands of Hamas right now.” In Washington, a member of the Israeli war cabinet, Benny Gantz, met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to discuss conditions in Gaza.

Palestinians were ‘completely traumatized’ after Israeli detention, aid agency’s chief says.

The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees confirmed Monday that hundreds of Palestinians had reported abuse under Israeli detention, responding to a question about an unpublished investigation it had conducted that was first reported on by The New York Times.

“We have seen these people coming back from detention,” Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, told reporters. Most of them were “completely traumatized by the ordeal they have gone through,” he added.

Palestinians interviewed by UNRWA reported a “broad range of ill-treatment” from the Israeli soldiers, Mr. Lazzarini said, including being forced to strip naked, verbal and psychological abuse, threats of electrocution, sleep deprivation, extreme noise and the use of dogs to intimidate people.

“We have indeed an internal report about their experiences,” Mr. Lazzarini said, adding that it had been shared with human rights groups.

UNRWA staff members have also been among the detainees, the agency said in a separate statement on Monday. It said they reported “torture, severe ill-treatment, abuse and sexual exploitation” while under detention and interrogation, without providing details.

Some said that, under torture and ill-treatment, they were forced to give false confessions “in response to questioning about relations between UNRWA and Hamas and involvement in the Oct. 7 attack against Israel,” according to the agency. UNRWA is itself at the center of an investigation after Israel alleged that at least 30 of its 13,000 employees participated in the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.

The unpublished report, which was seen by The Times, includes accounts from detainees who said they were beaten, stripped, robbed, blindfolded, sexually abused and denied access to lawyers and doctors, often for more than a month. Some, the report said, died in detention.

When presented with the findings of the report by The Times, the Israeli military said in a statement that some detainees had died in detention, including those who had pre-existing illnesses and wounds, without giving more details. It said every death was being investigated by the military police. The military said all mistreatment was “absolutely prohibited” and strongly denied any allegation of sexual abuse, adding that all “concrete complaints regarding inappropriate behavior are forwarded to the relevant authorities for review.”

In a separate report released Monday, the United Nations said it found signs that sexual violence was committed in multiple locations during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel. That report was a result of the U.N.’s deployment of a team of experts to Israel and the West Bank, led by Pramila Patten, the secretary-general’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict. The team said it also heard accounts of sexual violence against Palestinians that implicated Israeli security forces and settlers.

Palestinian officials and civil society representatives, it said, told the U.N. team of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Palestinians in detention, including the increased use of various forms of sexual violence.”

The team asked Israel’s government to give access to other U.N. bodies so they could investigate those allegations. The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lior Haiat, said, “Israel rejects the report’s call to investigate Palestinian claims regarding ‘sexual violence by Israeli elements.’”

Israel turned back a food convoy headed for northern Gaza, a U.N. agency says.

The Israeli military turned back a convoy trying to take 200 tons of food into northern Gaza on Tuesday, a U.N. agency said, a day after United Nations officials said children in the territory were dying of starvation.

The World Food Program was attempting its first food delivery into northern Gaza since it said on Feb. 20 that it had to suspend operations in the region because of Israeli restrictions and a breakdown of civil order among hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of famine.

The convoy of 14 trucks waited for three hours at the Wadi Gaza checkpoint inside central Gaza on Tuesday before the Israeli military turned it away, W.F.P. said in a statement. It was rerouted and then was stopped by a “large crowd of desperate people who looted the food,” said the agency, which is part of the U.N.

The turning away of the convoy “was an operational decision by the forces on the ground,” Shimon Freedman, a spokesman for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for coordinating aid deliveries into Gaza, said on Wednesday.

The W.F.P.’s deliveries to the north had already been largely halted for three weeks before the Feb. 20 announcement, over safety concerns and what it called the absence of a functional system for coordinating with the Israeli military, which has maintained tight control over aid to Gaza.

At least 20 people, most of them children in northern Gaza, have died in recent days from malnutrition and dehydration, the territory’s health ministry said on Wednesday.

United Nations officials have called for the system for delivering aid to be overhauled, after saying for weeks that Israel was continuing to impose excessive delays at checkpoints, interfering with aid missions and outright denying access to northern Gaza as the humanitarian crisis there spiraled. On Tuesday, a group of U.N.-appointed experts said Israel had been “intentionally starving the Palestinian people in Gaza” and violating its obligations under international law, as well as measures it was ordered to take by the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

“We have said before: We are alarmed to see an entire civilian population suffering such unprecedented starvation so quickly and completely,” the group said.

The World Health Organization said at least 10 of the child deaths from malnutrition or dehydration happened at the Kamal Adwan Hospital, which its teams were able to visit for the first time since early October over the weekend.

At a news conference on Tuesday, the leader of the W.H.O.’s sub-office in Gaza, Dr. Ahmed Dahir, said the team saw at least two other malnourished children at Kamal Adwan and that other patients and health care workers themselves were “barely surviving on one meal a day.”

Aaron Boxerman, Adam Rasgon and Adam Sella contributed reporting.

Starbucks workers are being laid off in the Mideast as boycotts hurt sales.

Starbucks franchise operators across the Middle East and Southeast Asia are losing significant business amid boycotts linked to the Israel-Hamas war, and at least one has started laying off employees.

Alshaya Group, a Kuwait-based franchise operator that owns the rights to operate Starbucks in the Middle East, confirmed on Tuesday that it planned to cut 2,000 jobs across the region “as a result of the continually challenging trading conditions over the last six months.”

Since the Israel-Hamas war began, Starbucks has been forced to deflect perceptions that the company has supported and even funded the Israeli government and the Israeli military. It issued a lengthy statement in October describing the claims as false, but that has not cooled the calls for boycotts in numerous regions.

Alshaya Group, which operates over 1,900 Starbucks shops in the Middle East and North Africa that employ 19,000 workers, said in a statement that it would provide affected employees and their families with “the support they need.”

The cuts added to drama playing out in the United States, where Starbucks management and a union of Starbucks workers sued each other after the union expressed solidarity with Palestinians.

Boycotts have also been hurting sales at Starbucks franchises in Malaysia, a majority Muslim country. Berjaya Food Berhad, a Malaysia-based investment company that develops and operates restaurant and cafe chains across Southeast Asia, reported last month a 38 percent slump in quarterly sales as consumers turned away from its 400 Starbucks stores. The company’s stock has fallen over 20 percent since early October.

The company’s founder, Vincent Tan, appealed to customers in Malaysia to stop the boycotts in an interview with reporters on Monday, saying it was mainly hurting Malaysians.

“I think all those who are boycotting Starbucks Malaysia should know that it is a Malaysia-owned company,” he said. “We don’t even have one foreigner working in the head office. In the stores, 80 to 85 percent of employees are Muslims. This boycott doesn’t benefit anyone.”

The website for Starbucks in Malaysia issued a blog post saying that the company had no political agenda and did not use profits to fund any government or military operations. “It is important to note that Starbucks does not have any stores in Israel,” the post added, noting that the company ended a partnership in Israel in 2003. A similar post was published on the site for Starbucks in the Middle East.

In January, Starbucks cut its global annual sales forecast as the Israel-Hamas war hurt the business of its licensees in the Middle East. The company’s chief executive, Laxman Narasimhan, said the company had suffered “a significant impact on traffic and sales in the region” because of protests and boycotts. He said that the effects could also be felt in the United States, “driven by misperceptions about our position.”

Demands from some people for the company to take a stance on the war can be seen on social media and increasingly outside Starbucks stores in the wake of the Hamas-led attack on Israel in October. In its statement at the time, Starbucks denied that the company or its former chief executive, Howard Schultz, provided financial support to Israel.

Starbucks said it would continue to grow its business in the Middle East, including working with Alshaya Group in developing plans for the region. But those plans appear to be challenged, at least for now.

Too Little Ammunition, Too Many Russians: The Harrowing Retreat From Avdiivka

The fighting had become increasingly ferocious last month at the Zenith air-defense base a mile south of Avdiivka, where for years a company of Ukrainian soldiers had defended the southern approaches to the city.

Russian troops had moved up on their flanks and were pounding them from all sides with tank, artillery and mortar fire, smashing their defenses and wounding men.

“Every day we tried to repel enemy attacks,” said Senior Soldier Viktor Biliak, a 26-year-old with the 110th Mechanized Brigade, who had spent 620 days defending the base. “All the fortifications were being destroyed and there was no possibility to build new ones.”

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Russia Strikes Odesa With Missile During Visit by Zelensky and Greek Leader

Russia launched a missile strike on the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa on Wednesday while President Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece were visiting.

Neither was hurt, and they continued their visit of Odesa, a strategic port city. It is unclear how close they were to the explosion, and a Ukrainian Army spokeswoman, Natalia Humeniuk, denied that the attack had specifically targeted the state leaders. “This is in no way related to a specific visit,” she said.

Mr. Mitsotakis said at a news conference in Odesa that he and Mr. Zelensky were visiting the city’s port at the time of the assault. “We heard the sound of sirens and explosions that were very close to us,” he said. “We didn’t have time to go to a shelter.”

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Israel Sees Vindication in U.N.’s Report, but Tensions Between Them Rise

Israelis largely welcomed a U.N. report that supported allegations of sexual violence during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack, even as a top Israeli official accused the United Nations of not doing enough to address the findings — a sign of the rising tensions between them.

The U.N. report, released on Monday, found both “reasonable grounds to believe” that sexual violence against multiple people had occurred in at least three locations in Israel, and “clear and convincing information” that hostages taken to Gaza on Oct. 7 had been subjected to sexual violence, including rape.

On Tuesday, President Isaac Herzog of Israel said on X that the report was “of immense importance,” and he lauded it for its “moral clarity and integrity.”

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Who are the Houthis?

‘At least 2 innocent sailors have died,’ the British Embassy in Yemen says.

The Houthi militia claimed responsibility for an attack on a commercial vessel off the coast of Yemen on Wednesday that Western officials said killed two or three people, the first fatalities from Houthi attacks since the group began targeting ships late last year.

The crew abandoned the ship, the True Confidence, according to British and American authorities.

“At least 2 innocent sailors have died,” the British Embassy in Yemen said in a statement. “This was the sad but inevitable consequence of the Houthis recklessly firing missiles at international shipping. They must stop.”

In what they call acts of protest against Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the Houthis have launched missiles and drones at many ships transiting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, disrupting global trade. The United States and Britain, with support from several allied countries, have responded with airstrikes on Houthi targets, but the attacks have continued.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Houthis said they had warned the ship’s crew before firing missiles at the True Confidence. The Houthi spokesman, Yahya Sarea, added that a fire broke out on the ship.

The U.S. military’s Central Command, in a statement late in the day, said that three people on the ship were killed and four were wounded, “of which three are in critical condition,” and that there was “significant damage to the ship.”

Western security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly put the casualties at two dead and six injured.

Though the Houthi spokesman called the vessel an American ship, the True Confidence is a bulk carrier sailing under the flag of Barbados, according to multiple websites that track global shipping. A spokesman for the ship’s managers, Pat Adamson, said that the vessel is owned by True Confidence Shipping and operated by a Greek company called Third January Maritime. It has no connection with any American entity, he said.

Shipping websites showed that it had departed from China and it was bound for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Mr. Adamson said that its cargo included steel products and trucks.

A crew of 20 people — one Indian, four Vietnamese and 15 Filipinos — and three armed guards — two Sri Lankans and one Nepalese — were on board, Mr. Adamson said, though he did not specify who had died.

The U.K. Maritime Trade Organization, an arm of the British Navy, said that the incident had taken place 54 nautical miles southwest of the Yemeni city of Aden.

U.S. Central Command said, “coalition warships responded and are assessing the situation.”

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Matthew Miller, said the United States would continue to work with allies to degrade the Houthis’ capabilities and to deter their attacks. He declined to specify what actions the United States might take.

Though the Houthis initially pledged to target any ship with links to Israel, they have since said their attacks are also in retaliation of the “American-British aggression” against them. The ships they have targeted have been connected to more than a dozen countries.

Their campaign has left shipping companies with difficult decisions, as they weigh sailing thousands of extra miles around Africa or paying increased insurance premiums if they sail through the Red Sea. Both options inflate shipping costs.

Attacks on the Red Sea have also posed environmental risks. Last week, when a British-owned cargo ship sank in the Red Sea after being damaged in a Houthi missile attack, the United States said the attack had created an 18-mile oil slick, creating an “environmental disaster.”

Talks over a cease-fire and the release of hostages have stalled.

Talks between Israel and Hamas over the release of dozens of Israeli hostages held in Gaza have stalled, dimming hopes that a deal could be reached before Ramadan begins in a few days, according to several people briefed on the conversations.

Negotiators had been discussing a proposal for an initial six-week cease-fire during which Hamas would release about 40 people — including women, elderly and ill hostages, and five female Israeli soldiers — for a substantial number of Palestinian prisoners.

The discussions included terms for releasing at least 15 prisoners convicted of serious acts of terrorism who would be exchanged for the female soldiers. The terms also said Israel would release hundreds of other detainees or prisoners, at an average of 10 Palestinians for every Israeli civilian freed, officials said.

American officials had said that they hoped to reach an agreement to release some hostages and put in place a temporary pause in fighting before Ramadan, which is expected to start this Sunday. President Biden expressed confidence last week that a deal was within reach.

But in recent days, Hamas has backed away from the proposed agreement and made demands that Israel refuses to meet, according to officials briefed on the talks. The negotiations had been taking place in Doha, Qatar, before they moved to Cairo in recent days.

John F. Kirby, a senior National Security Council official, said on Wednesday that while the United States was disappointed that an agreement had not been reached, negotiators were still confident in the parameters of the deal they had helped negotiate.

“It is just a matter of getting Hamas to sign on,” he said.

Hamas, Mr. Kirby said, had been engaging in proposals and counterproposals, working with the other parties to develop the framework of the agreement.

“There had been a robust back and forth on the details, but the fact that we are not there yet is an indication that the details still are not all worked out,” he said.

One official in the region said the main point of difference is the same one that has hovered over the talks for weeks: Hamas wants Israel to commit now to a permanent cease-fire during or after three phases of hostage releases, while Israel refuses to do so. Israel wants to focus on an agreement for the terms of the first phase only, a position the United States supports. Until now, the discussions around the first phase have centered on the potential release of those 40 people, out of about 100 remaining hostages.

The Israeli delegation has not attended the sessions in Cairo because of Hamas’s new demands. Israeli officials said they believed a broad consensus for the first phase of the agreement had been reached, only to have Hamas renew its push for broader demands.

Besides the permanent cease-fire, Hamas is also insisting on a withdrawal of Israeli troops from northern Gaza after the third phase of the hostage releases and greater aid into Gaza, the official in the region said.

The people briefed on the talks in Egypt declined to be identified by name or nationality, citing the fragile nature of the negotiations. A Hamas official did not respond to a request for comment.

The United States had been pushing for an agreement to be reached before Ramadan, worried that the situation could become more intractable during the holy month of fasting. Frustration and tempers could flare then, making an agreement far more difficult to achieve, U.S. officials said.

American officials continue to push for a deal. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met in Washington with Benny Gantz, a member of the Israeli war cabinet who might eventually challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his office.

After the meeting, the main State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, said in a statement that Mr. Blinken “underscored the importance of reaching an agreement to achieve the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, which would lead to a temporary cease-fire and allow additional humanitarian assistance to enter Gaza.”

The same day, Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani of Qatar, the most senior Qatari negotiator in the hostage talks, spoke with Mr. Blinken separately in Washington during a previously scheduled meeting on common strategic concerns. Both men told reporters it was important to try to get hostages released and some form of cease-fire.

Qatar and Egypt have been bringing proposals to Hamas political and military leaders. The United States has tried to draft broad proposals to restart the talks after they hit various roadblocks following an initial seven-day pause in November during which Hamas released about 100 hostages, mainly civilians.

People familiar with the negotiations believe Hamas has issued new demands for a variety of reasons.

On Feb. 28, Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas political leader based in Qatar, called publicly for a march during Ramadan in Jerusalem at the Al Aqsa Mosque, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. Some Israeli officials believe Hamas’s military wing wants those protests to turn violent. Hamas may want to avoid a cease-fire deal for fear of being accused of breaking it if the protests become violent.

Hamas, according to people briefed on the talks, believes an action at the mosque will show its strength despite the monthslong Israeli military campaign in Gaza and could increase pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to end the fighting.

But Hamas may have made new demands during the negotiations for another reason.

Last Thursday, Israeli forces opened fire in Gaza while a crowd had gathered near a long convoy of aid trucks. The chaotic scene led to more than 100 deaths.

U.S. officials harshly criticized Israel’s handling of the convoy and its failure to provide security for desperate Palestinian people.

Some officials briefed on the talks say Hamas leaders may believe the deaths around the humanitarian convoy have strengthened their position in the negotiations and weakened Israel’s international standing.

Adam Rasgon 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.

Who are the Houthis?

Since mid-November, the Houthis, the de facto government in northern Yemen that is backed by Iran, have launched dozens of attacks on ships sailing through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, a crucial shipping route through which 12 percent of world trade passes.

In January, the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn “in the strongest terms” at least two dozen attacks carried out by the Houthis on merchant and commercial vessels, which it said had impeded global commerce and undermined navigational freedom.

The United States and a handful of allies, including Britain, have struck back, carrying out missile strikes on Houthi targets inside Yemen and thrusting the militia and its long-running armed struggle further into the limelight. Last month, the State Department designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization, following through on warnings to crack down on the group.

Here’s a primer on the Houthis and their attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

Who are the Houthis?

The Houthis, led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, are an Iran-backed group of Shiite militants who have been fighting Yemen’s government for about two decades and now control the country’s northwest and its capital, Sana.

They have built their ideology around opposition to Israel and the United States, seeing themselves as part of the Iranian-led “axis of resistance,” along with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Their leaders often draw parallels between the American-made bombs used to pummel their forces in Yemen and the arms sent to Israel and used in Gaza.

In 2014, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened to try to restore the country’s original government after the Houthis seized the capital, starting a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands.

Last April, talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia raised hopes for a peace deal that would potentially recognize the Houthis’ right to govern northern Yemen.

Once a group of poorly organized rebels, the Houthis have bolstered their arsenal in recent years, and it now includes cruise and ballistic missiles and long-range drones. Analysts credit this expansion to support from Iran, which has supplied militias across the Middle East to expand its own influence.

Why are they attacking ships in the Red Sea?

When the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7, the Houthis declared their support for the people of Gaza and said they would target any ship traveling to Israel or leaving it.

Yahya Sarea, a Houthi spokesman, has said frequently that the group is attacking ships to protest the “killing, destruction and siege” in Gaza and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The Gazan authorities say that more than 30,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the Israeli bombing campaign and ground offensive that started after Hamas carried out cross-border raids and killed, the Israeli authorities say, about 1,200 people.

While the Houthis initially pledged to target all ships with links to Israel, they have since said their attacks are also in retaliation to the “American-British aggression” against them. Most ships that have been attacked have no obvious links to Israel and have not been bound for Israeli ports.

Since November, the Houthis have launched dozens of attacks with drones and missiles on vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The latest was on Wednesday, when the Houthis claimed an attack on a commercial vessel off the coast of Yemen that killed two people and injured at least six others, according to Western officials. The attack marked the first fatalities from Houthi attacks since the group began targeting ships.

How have the attacks affecting countries around the world?

Speaking to reporters in Bahrain on Jan. 10, the American secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, warned that continued Houthi attacks in the Red Sea could disrupt supply chains and in turn increase costs for everyday goods. The Houthis’ attacks have affected ships tied to more than 40 countries, he said.

Shipping companies have been left with difficult options.

Rerouting vessels around Africa adds an extra 4,000 miles and 10 days to shipping routes, and requires more fuel. But continuing to use the Red Sea would raise insurance premiums. Either option would bruise an already fragile global economy.

In addition to holding critical shipping lanes, the waters off Yemen are a critical location for undersea cables that carry email and other digital traffic between Asia and the West. Three of these cables were disabled on Tuesday, raising concerns about whether the conflict in the Middle East is now beginning to threaten the global internet. The cause of the damage is still unclear, but suspicion has centered on the Houthis, who have denied responsibility.

What has the U.S. been doing to stop the Houthi attacks?

The Biden administration has repeatedly condemned Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and has assembled a naval task force to try to keep them in check.

The task force, called Operation Prosperity Guardian, brought together the United States, Britain and other allies and has been patrolling the Red Sea to, in Mr. Blinken’s words, “preserve freedom of navigation” and “freedom of shipping.”

Bahrain is the only Middle Eastern country that agreed to participate. Even though many countries in the region depend on trade that goes through the Red Sea, many do not want to be associated with the United States, Israel’s closest ally, analysts say.

U.S. and British warships have intercepted some Houthi missiles and drones before they reached their targets.

Last month, American and British warplanes hit 18 targets across eight locations in Yemen associated with Houthi underground weapons storage facilities, missile storage facilities, one-way attack unmanned aerial systems, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter.

The United States had earlier struck five Houthi military targets, including an undersea drone, in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

In January, American fighter jets from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower, along with four other warships, intercepted 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile, Central Command said in a statement. In December, U.S. Navy helicopters sank three Houthi boats that were attacking a commercial freighter.

Ben Hubbard, Peter Eavis, Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Keith Bradsher contributed reporting.

The U.S. places sanctions on shipping companies for helping Iran to finance the Houthis.

The Treasury Department on Wednesday took measures aimed at disrupting the flow of money from Iran to the Houthis, a Yemen-based militant group that has been attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea to put pressure on Israel to end its military campaign in Gaza.

The department imposed new economic sanctions on two shipping companies and two vessels that the Treasury Department says have been illicitly transporting goods on behalf of a Houthi “financial facilitator” named Sa’id al-Jamal.

The companies are based in Hong Kong and the Marshall Islands, and they are accused of falsifying documents and manipulating shipping signals to mask the fact that they were helping Iran finance the Houthis.

Brian E. Nelson, the Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the Houthis and their patrons in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps “continue to rely on the illicit sale of commodities to finance their attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”

The announcement did not say what commodities were being transported on the ships, but the Treasury Department has previously accused Mr. al-Jamal of raising millions of dollars in revenue from the sale like Iranian petroleum through a network of intermediaries.

The Biden administration stepped up its scrutiny of Iran’s ties to the Houthis after a series of attacks on ships in recent months disrupted the flow of international trade, persuading many cargo companies to reroute their ships around the Cape of Good Hope, adding time and cost. The Houthis have sunk one cargo ship, the Rubymar, and captured a second, the Galaxy Leader. They have launched dozens of attacks since November, the U.S. military said.

Since January, the United States and Britain have responded to the attacks with numerous airstrikes in Yemen aimed at taking out Houthi missiles, launchers and drones.

The Houthis, who control western Yemen and the capital, Sana, after a long civil war with the Yemeni government, are one of several armed militias in the region that receive military aid and training from Iran and are sworn enemies of Israel and the United States, among them Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Last month, the State Department officially labeled the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group, giving the United States new powers to crack down on their access to the global financial system.

The Houthis are expected to increase their attacks if Israel launches an offensive against Rafah, the city in southern Gaza where more than a million civilians are trapped. In the meantime, the United States has been working to erode the group’s formidable arsenal, to prevent weapons transfers from Iran and to cut off its money.

“The United States remains resolved to hold accountable those who enable these destabilizing activities,” Mr. Nelson said.

The new sanctions affect Reneez Shipping Limited in the Marshall Islands and Hongkong Unitop Group Limited in Hong Kong, as well as one ship owned by each company. U.S. officials say both companies have transported Iranian commodities for Mr. Sa’id al-Jamal’s network.

Truce talks have been an exhausting tangle of emotions for Gazans.

When President Biden suggested last week that a cease-fire was imminent, Khalil el-Halabi was elated.

Mr. Halabi, a 70-year-old retired U.N. official, paraded through a cluster of tents in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, delivering the news to people displaced by the war, prompting cheers and claps. But the joy didn’t last: The next morning, reports that gaps remained between Israel and Hamas brought him back down to earth.

“It’s a form of psychological torture,” Mr. Halabi said. “It’s unbearable. We’re told one day that the war is ending and then the opposite the next day.”

Palestinians in Gaza, whose lives may depend on a cease-fire, have followed news of indirect talks between Israel and Hamas with rapt attention. But a stream of conflicting reports has sent them on an exhausting emotional roller-coaster as they huddle in crowded apartments, tent cities and shelters.

The tension is especially acute in Rafah, which is densely packed with more than one million displaced people. Israel has repeatedly threatened to invade the city as it tries to root out the leadership of Hamas.

The United States is pressing for a cease-fire to be negotiated ahead of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that begins in about a week. On Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris said a deal was on the table for a cease-fire of at least six-weeks, one that would include the release of hostages held by militants in Gaza and the entry of a “significant” amount of aid. The U.S.-backed proposal is to exchange scores of Palestinian prisoners and detainees for 40 hostages in Gaza, officials say.

But the negotiations appear to be making little progress. Israel refused to send a delegation to talks in Cairo this week.

President Biden said Tuesday that cease-fire talks were “in the hands of Hamas right now,” and a Hamas leader in Lebanon appeared to publicly reject the deal, insisting that Israeli hostages would be released only after a cease-fire was in place and Israeli forces have withdrawn, a condition Israel has rejected. But the militant group signaled on Wednesday in a statement that it was still open to negotiations “until an agreement is reached that realizes our people’s interests and demands.”

Nidal Kuhail, 29, a resident of Gaza City who is sheltering in Rafah, said people were closely monitoring their phones and radios for updates on the negotiations, but were growing tired of waiting day after day without a breakthrough.

“We’re oscillating between being happy and then frustrated,” said Mr. Kuhail. “This seesawing in news reports has made the people incredibly confused.”

Those fluctuations have been going on for months, as a series of talks have led to no relief since a seven-day cease-fire in November.

In early February, when reports suggested that Hamas and Israel were nearing a deal, a celebration erupted in the Kuwait Specialty Hospital in Rafah, with people whistling and applauding, said Omar al-Najjar, a volunteer medical intern there.

“The atmosphere was upbeat,” said Mr. Najjar, 24. “People could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.” But the next morning, newer reports showed that the parties will still far from overcoming their differences, casting a depressed mood across the hospital, he said.

Mr. Najjar said hopes for a cease-fire had been dashed so frequently that many were no longer paying attention to the news. “People have completely lost hope,” he said.

Over the past couple of days, the saga played out again. Arabic news outlets reported “significant progress” only to speak of “difficulties” a day later.

Hazem Surour, 20, originally from northern Gaza, said he had stopped letting news reports get his hopes up after months of Israel and Hamas failing to achieve a deal.

“We seriously need something real, not news reports,” he said. “We can only be patient and pray.”

Israel must let more aid into Gaza, the British foreign secretary tells an Israeli official.

Meeting with a member of Israel’s war cabinet on Wednesday, Britain’s foreign secretary said Israel must help get far more food and other supplies into the Gaza Strip to address the humanitarian crisis there, the secretary said after they spoke.

“I once again pressed Israel to increase the flow of aid,” the foreign secretary, David Cameron, said in a statement. “We are still not seeing improvements on the ground. This must change.”

The Israeli cabinet member, Benny Gantz, a former army chief, visited London after hearing similar messages in Washington from U.S. officials. Mr. Gantz’s office said that he also met Wednesday with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Mr. Sunak’s national security adviser, Tim Barrow.

A statement about the meetings released by Mr. Gantz’s office did not mention such prodding. It said that he spoke of the importance of pressuring Hamas to release hostages, of “the just and necessary goal of removing the threat of Hamas,” and of Israel’s appreciation for Britain’s support of Israel, particularly in combating Houthi militants in Yemen who fire missiles at ships, and “noted Israel’s

On Monday and Tuesday, Mr. Gantz held closed-door meetings with Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser. The trip by Mr. Gantz, the top political rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was not authorized by Mr. Netanyahu’s government, the prime minister’s office has said.

Ms. Harris praised Israel’s “constructive approach” to seeking a six-week cease-fire but urged the government to do more to allow desperately needed humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Mr. Cameron, a former prime minister, said he told Mr. Gantz on Wednesday that there must be a pause in fighting to get “lifesaving supplies” into Gaza, where the threat of famine is rising steadily, and to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas and its allies. In addition, he called for more land and sea access routes to deliver aid to Gaza, more robust distribution of that aid within Gaza and more types of aid, including shelters and supplies to repair the territory’s devastated infrastructure.

He also expressed concern about the prospect of an Israeli offensive into Rafah, the southern city where more than half of Gaza’s population, displaced from homes elsewhere, has sought refuge.

Mr. Cameron also raised the question of whether Israel was in violation of international law in its conduct of the war.

“Israel has a legal responsibility to ensure aid is available for civilians,” he said. “That responsibility has consequences, including when we as the U.K. assess whether Israel is compliant with international humanitarian law.”

Mr. Gantz’s high-level meetings have rankled Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing allies, exposing deepening divisions among the leaders shepherding Israel’s war in Gaza.

Mr. Gantz and Mr. Netanyahu belong to different parties; they were adversaries in recent elections and they have often sat on opposing sides of issues. But after the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, Mr. Gantz joined Mr. Netanyahu’s emergency war cabinet.

The far-right Israeli finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said on Knesset TV on Monday that it was “too bad” that Mr. Gantz’s trip had not been coordinated with the prime minister, adding: “We must show unity and speak with one voice to the whole world.”

In Washington, Mr. Austin asked for Mr. Gantz’s support to enable more humanitarian aid to reach Gaza and emphasized the need for a plan to protect civilians before Israel pushes into Rafah, the Pentagon said in a summary of the meeting. Mr. Blinken pressed on Mr. Gantz the importance of reaching an agreement soon on the release of hostages and a pause in fighting, and urged Israel to open additional border crossings to facilitate getting supplies into the territory, according to the State Department.

John Kirby, the White House National Security Council spokesman, responded to a reporter’s question about whether Mr. Gantz’s meetings were a snub to the Netanyahu government by saying they had been requested by Mr. Gantz.

“It was a good opportunity to have a discussion with the war cabinet about the way in which we’re supporting Israel and the things that we want to see Israel do,” Mr. Kirby said.

Adam Sella and Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

Despite a U.S. rebuke, Israel advances plans for more housing in West Bank settlements.

The Israeli government is moving ahead with plans for more than 3,400 new housing units in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a top minister said on Wednesday, shrugging off sharp condemnation of the plans by the Biden administration.

A key committee authorized zoning plans for the settlements of Ma’ale Adumim, Kedar and Efrat, according to the office of Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s far-right finance minister. The committee voted to move most of the homes to an intermediate stage of the planning process, while others neared full approval, according to planning documents.

Roughly 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli military rules over roughly 2.7 million Palestinians. Much of the Israeli right believes Israel should control the West Bank in perpetuity, while Palestinians see the area as integral to their aspirations for an independent state.

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry condemned the latest moves, saying they represent “an explicit call for the continuation of the spiral of violence and wars.”

Tensions have soared in the occupied West Bank since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel prompted all-out war in Gaza. Over 400 Palestinians, including over 100 minors, have been killed in “conflict-related incidents” across the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the start of the war, according to the United Nations. Thousands of Palestinians have been arrested in mass Israeli detention campaigns intended to root out militants, according to the Israeli military.

Mr. Smotrich announced the decision to advance the housing plans in February after a Palestinian shooting attack there killed at least one Israeli, calling it “an appropriate Zionist response.” A longtime leader of the settler movement, Mr. Smotrich conditioned his entry into the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on receiving more control over construction in the West Bank.

At the time, the Biden administration strongly criticized the new settlement plans. Following Mr. Smotrich’s announcement, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken called Israeli settlements “inconsistent with international law,” reversing a Trump-era policy backing them and reverting to a decades-old State Department legal finding.

“I have to say we’re disappointed in the announcement,” Mr. Blinken said in late February. “It’s been longstanding U.S. policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace.”

Israel rejects a far-right plan to put new limits on access to an important mosque.

The Israeli government has decided against putting new restrictions on access to an important mosque in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a move that may reduce tensions at a site that has long been a flashpoint for unrest.

At a meeting on Tuesday night led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, security officials decided to let a similar number of worshipers enter the Aqsa Mosque compound during Ramadan as they had in previous years, Mr. Netanyahu’s office said. Ramadan, whose start is tied to the sighting of the crescent moon, is expected to begin in a few days.

Israel has long restricted access to the compound, which is sacred to Muslims and Jews alike, during Ramadan for Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank. This year, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right national security minister, called on the government to impose limits on Arab citizens of Israel as well.

The decision on Tuesday put an end to the plan promoted by Mr. Ben-Gvir, but it allowed some wiggle room. “A weekly assessment of the security and safety aspects will be held; a decision will be made accordingly,” a statement from the prime minister’s office said.

The mosque compound has regularly been the scene of violent clashes. Confrontations at the site in May 2021 contributed to the outbreak of an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

With Ramadan nearing as the current Israel-Hamas war enters its sixth month, the fear of escalation at the site has intensified. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said that if a cease-fire deal was not reached by Ramadan, “it’s going to be very dangerous.”

Mansour Abbas, an Arab Israeli member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, praised the decision. “I congratulate the Prime Minister for the responsible decision to allow Muslim worshipers at Al Aqsa Mosque freedom of worship,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Mr. Ben-Gvir, however, expressed concern that the decision would undermine Israel’s effort to destroy the militant group Hamas, which attacked Israel on Oct. 7. “Hamas celebrations on the Temple Mount ≠ complete victory,” he wrote on X, using the name used by Jews to refer to Al Aqsa.

Hamas previously condemned any Israeli restrictions on worship at Al Aqsa. On Monday, a Hamas leader called on Palestinians to turn the mosque into a site of confrontation.

Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Jerusalem should “turn every moment of Ramadan into a clash and confrontation with the enemy to protect Al Aqsa,” Osama Hamdan, a Hamas leader based in Beirut, told a conference of Muslim scholars by video.

In Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the site of Al Aqsa, and tens of thousands of Muslims visit the mosque every day during Ramadan. For Jews, the area is revered as the Temple Mount because it was the site of two Jewish temples in antiquity that remain central to Jewish identity.

Matthew Mpoke Bigg contributed reporting.

Israel turned back a food convoy headed for northern Gaza, a U.N. agency says.

The Israeli military turned back a convoy trying to take 200 tons of food into northern Gaza on Tuesday, a U.N. agency said, a day after United Nations officials said children in the territory were dying of starvation.

The World Food Program was attempting its first food delivery into northern Gaza since it said on Feb. 20 that it had to suspend operations in the region because of Israeli restrictions and a breakdown of civil order among hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of famine.

The convoy of 14 trucks waited for three hours at the Wadi Gaza checkpoint inside central Gaza on Tuesday before the Israeli military turned it away, W.F.P. said in a statement. It was rerouted and then was stopped by a “large crowd of desperate people who looted the food,” said the agency, which is part of the U.N.

The turning away of the convoy “was an operational decision by the forces on the ground,” Shimon Freedman, a spokesman for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for coordinating aid deliveries into Gaza, said on Wednesday.

The W.F.P.’s deliveries to the north had already been largely halted for three weeks before the Feb. 20 announcement, over safety concerns and what it called the absence of a functional system for coordinating with the Israeli military, which has maintained tight control over aid to Gaza.

At least 20 people, most of them children in northern Gaza, have died in recent days from malnutrition and dehydration, the territory’s health ministry said on Wednesday.

United Nations officials have called for the system for delivering aid to be overhauled, after saying for weeks that Israel was continuing to impose excessive delays at checkpoints, interfering with aid missions and outright denying access to northern Gaza as the humanitarian crisis there spiraled. On Tuesday, a group of U.N.-appointed experts said Israel had been “intentionally starving the Palestinian people in Gaza” and violating its obligations under international law, as well as measures it was ordered to take by the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

“We have said before: We are alarmed to see an entire civilian population suffering such unprecedented starvation so quickly and completely,” the group said.

The World Health Organization said at least 10 of the child deaths from malnutrition or dehydration happened at the Kamal Adwan Hospital, which its teams were able to visit for the first time since early October over the weekend.

At a news conference on Tuesday, the leader of the W.H.O.’s sub-office in Gaza, Dr. Ahmed Dahir, said the team saw at least two other malnourished children at Kamal Adwan and that other patients and health care workers themselves were “barely surviving on one meal a day.”

Aaron Boxerman, Adam Rasgon and Adam Sella contributed reporting.

Haiti Engulfed by Crisis as Gangs Press Prime Minister to Step Down

Haiti’s security crisis is reaching a breaking point. An alliance of armed gangs is pressing the country’s prime minister to resign, placing the United States in the middle of a power struggle gripping the country. Aiming to ease the standoff, the Biden administration is increasing pressure on Prime Minister Ariel Henry to enable a transfer of power.

The United States was not actively “calling on him or pushing for him to resign,” Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the State Department, said. But, he added, “we are urging him to expedite the transition to an empowered and inclusive governance structure.”

The impasse points to a major inflection point in Haiti, which has been plagued by nearly perpetual crises over the last several years, as tempers flare in the country of 11.5 million people over spreading unrest, food shortages and a lack of progress in moving toward democratic elections and restoring a sense of security.

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Russians Flock to Navalny’s Grave as They Grapple With His Legacy

Marina, a Moscow lawyer, decided to stay home when the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny was buried last Friday. She had expected a big crowd and widespread arrests at the Borisovsky Cemetery, given Russia’s current climate of repression, and thought it would be better to pay her respects another day.

She wasn’t alone in that thought. When she came to lay flowers on Sunday, she had to wait in line for up to 40 minutes, Marina said in a phone interview from Moscow. (Like others, she asked that her last name be withheld for fear of retribution.)

After Mr. Navalny’s funeral — when thousands of mourners had waited outside the church and marched across the Moskva River to the cemetery where he was interred — it was widely expected that the crowds would thin out. Presumably, that was the hope inside the Kremlin. In the days since, however, the gravesite has become a place of pilgrimage for those yearning for his vision of “the beautiful Russia of the future” to become a reality.

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Ukraine’s First Lady Declines Invitation to State of the Union Address

Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady, declined a White House invitation to attend President Biden’s State of the Union address on Thursday, her office said, citing a scheduling conflict.

“Due to scheduled events, including a visit of children from an orphanage to Kyiv, which was planned in advance, the first lady will unfortunately not be able to attend the event,” Tetiana Haiduchenko, Ms. Zelenska’s press secretary, said on Wednesday.

Yulia Navalnaya — the widow of the Russian opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny, who died in a Russian prison last month — was also invited to the address but is unable to attend, the White House said on Tuesday.

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A Grainy Photo and a Dilemma: How U.K. Papers Are Covering Princess Catherine

After a week of often hysterical speculation about her well-being, there were suddenly two plausible pieces of evidence that Catherine, Princess of Wales, was on the mend: a photo of her in a car driven by her mother and a confirmation by the British Army that she would attend a military ceremony in June.

But as with almost everything surrounding the health of Prince William’s 42-year-old wife in recent weeks, any sense of certainty quickly melted away.

A palace official said on Tuesday that the army had jumped the gun in announcing Catherine’s participation in Trooping the Color, an annual ritual that celebrates the birthday of the sovereign. And while British newspapers reported the existence of paparazzi shots, purportedly of Catherine, that were posted on social media on Monday, none of them published the images.

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Egyptians Are Buying and Selling Gold Just to Stay Afloat

Inside the wood-paneled shop in Cairo’s famed Khan el-Khalili market, the price of gold was slumping fast, and Rania Hussein was feeling the future slip through her fingers.

She and her mother watched the gold merchant weigh the necklace and three bangles they had brought in — jewelry Ms. Hussein had bought for her mother as a present five years ago but which they now needed to sell. Her brother was getting married, an expensive undertaking even in normal times, but the economic crisis and soaring inflation that have gripped Egypt for more than two years left the family no choice.

Years of reckless spending and economic mismanagement had come to a head in 2022, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine helped plunge Egypt into a financial crisis. The war in Gaza has only deepened the pain.

The crisis has jacked up the price of eggs at the grocery store as well as the new furniture her brother is required, by tradition, to buy for the marital home, Ms. Hussein said. It also has shut her clothing design business and wiped out three-quarters of the value of her brother’s salary as an accountant.

And, in an odd side effect, it upended Khan el-Khalili’s normally placid gold jewelry and bullion stores, with their old-fashioned curly lettered signage and the Quranic recitations drifting ceaselessly from dusty speakers. In the past two years, speculators buying gold descended on the market as a crashing Egyptian currency drove up demand for gold as a safe haven from the turmoil.

While the price of the metal has generally risen despite the occasional reverse, its value has ebbed and flowed along with demand, depending on the vagaries of daily economic news, a volatility that has baffled both consumers and merchants.

On the day Ms. Hussein visited the market, the price of gold was dropping fast on news that Egypt might have found a lifeline to save it from what had, until then, looked like looming financial ruin. The country late last month struck a $35 billion deal for the United Arab Emirates to develop a new city and tourism destination on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.

Within hours of the deal’s announcement, Egypt’s pound strengthened, the dollar’s black-market value fell and gold prices dropped with it.

If the Emirati funds materialize as promised, analysts say, the cash, along with a new bailout agreement with the International Monetary Fund expected within weeks, will help Egypt stabilize its economy. It will help the country avoid a debt default, pay for a backlog of needed imports and undercut the black market in dollars created by a shortage of foreign currency.

But for Egyptians, the damage has been done.

As they watched the value of their paychecks and savings evaporate over the past two years, the poor skimped on food, the middle class pulled their children out of good schools for cheaper or free ones, and even the better-off went without vacations and meals out. Millions of people descended into poverty.

“It’s not guaranteed that it’ll go up, and I’m afraid that it’ll go down again,” Ms. Hussein said of the falling price of gold as she sat in the market shop, explaining why she had decided to sell. “And the price of furniture should go down, but we have yet to see it.”

She sighed, adding, “Everything is a joke.”

The turbulence has turned many people into reluctant speculators, their lives ruled by uncertainty and rumors. Checking the black-market price of the dollar has become as commonplace as checking the weather forecast.

On paper, Ms. Hussein would collect more for the jewelry than what she had paid for it five years ago, but two years of rampant inflation and a sliding pound would probably cancel any gains. The price of many goods is now set by the black-market value of the dollar, which rose to around 70 pounds to the dollar last month, compared with about 16 before the crisis. “Even vegetable sellers are worried about the dollar price,” said Ms. Hussein’s mother, Tamrihan Abdelhadi. “Everybody is pricing in dollars.”

The family had already sold one of Ms. Abdelhadi’s gold rings to afford the three new rings a groom’s family traditionally gives an Egyptian bride, and still there was the couple’s apartment to think about.

“It’s so expensive, the living room set for example,” Ms. Hussein said. “This isn’t going to be enough for that, but it’ll go into the fund.”

Since early 2022, a crippling dearth of foreign currency triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Egypt’s heavy debt load has sent inflation to record highs and the value of the local currency plummeting to record lows.

The war in Gaza has deepened the crisis, threatening tourism, a key source of foreign currency, and halving Egypt’s dollar revenue from the Suez Canal as the Iran-backed Houthi militia has attacked ships in the Red Sea.

Egypt imports oil, wheat and many other goods that it must pay for in dollars. That has made the United States currency both indispensable and scarce, creating a murky black market in which the dollar’s value far outpaces the exchange rate artificially set by the government of about 31 pounds to the dollar.

Looking for safe financial harbors, Egyptians with savings began plowing them into gold, real estate and cars — anything they thought would hold its value better than the foundering Egyptian pound.

Traditionally, Egyptians have bought gold jewelry as a long-term saving strategy, but speculators have now turned to coins and ingots to try to turn a quick profit, said Saeed Imbaby, the founder of iSagha, a gold trading platform.

Demand for gold doubled and then some, driving up the price. The market grew so fevered that the government announced in November that it was partnering with a financial technology company to install A.T.M.s that would dispense gold bars instead of cash.

Before the pound’s value began slipping, “I never thought about gold, not even jewelry,” said Nermin Nizar, 52, a translator in Cairo. But “in this panic, I needed anything I could get to protect the value of my money.”

She put her savings into a single gold coin in September. Its value in pounds has risen 30 percent, though inflation would slash the buying power of the profit if she sold now.

The speculation wreaked havoc in the Khan el-Khalili gold market as shop owners confronted an ever-fluctuating price for the raw material they bought to turn into rings, necklaces and earrings. Many stopped selling altogether.

“I can’t work, because I don’t have a stable price to sell at,” said Amir Salah, the owner of a small gold jewelry store. “I don’t even understand that much of what’s going on.”

Now a new uncertainty is gripping the market, though one tinged with optimism. The Emirates, a longtime political ally and financial patron of Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has already begun transferring billions of dollars to Egypt for the development deal, Mr. el-Sisi said on Wednesday. The president, who until the war in Gaza began had been hemorrhaging popular support, appears to have won a reprieve.

“It’s reassuring,” said Nasser Badawi, the proprietor of the Bullion Trading Center in Khan el-Khalili, which sells tiny solid-gold lollipops and baby bottles as gifts for newborns, along with regular ingots that he said had become popular investments last year. “Anything that brings me funds and helps me get through this crisis, why not?”

Preventing the economy of the Middle East’s most populous country from collapsing has likewise taken on new urgency for Egypt’s Western partners amid the war in Gaza. The I.M.F. has announced that it will increase a previously agreed loan of $3 billion within weeks, with the amount expected to total about $8 billion, according to five diplomats in Cairo who were briefed on the talks.

But few details about the Emirates deal were available. The funds would stave off default, analysts said, but Egypt risked another crisis if it did not make meaningful reforms to cut spending, attract more private investment, produce more exports and reduce the military’s dominance over the economy.

Before the deal, growing economic pressure had forced the government to make some changes, including freezing some costly megaprojects ordered up by Mr. el-Sisi that had piled on the debt, among them a showy new capital in the desert.

But Egypt now has less incentive to change course.

The deal is “a game-changer,” said Tarek Tawfik, the chairman of the Cairo Poultry Group and president of Egypt’s American Chamber of Commerce. “The question is, how will the money be used?”

International Court Accuses 2 Russian Officers of War Crimes in Ukraine

The International Criminal Court on Tuesday issued arrest warrants for two top Russian military officers, accusing them of war crimes in Ukraine for targeting civilians and destroying crucial energy infrastructure.

The two officers — Lt. Gen. Sergei Ivanovich Kobylash and Adm. Viktor Nikolayevich Sokolov — are accused in a court statement of being personally responsible for numerous missile strikes by their forces on electrical power plants and substations in multiple locations between October 2022 and March 2023.

The wintertime strikes were defined as war crimes because they were largely directed against civilian targets, causing “excessive incidental harm to civilians or damage to civilian objects,” the court said.

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Venezuela Announces Election Date, With Opposition Candidate Still Banned

Venezuelan officials announced on Tuesday that national elections that many had hoped would forge a path toward democracy will be held on July 28.

But the decision on a date comes a month after the country’s highest court barred the leading opposition candidate from the ballot, leading many to question how free and fair the summer election would be.

Still, the announcement from the government of President Nicolás Maduro is at least a partial fulfillment of a commitment to the United States to hold elections this year in exchange for a lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

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China Wants to Look Open. Under the Surface, Xi’s Grip Is Clear.

Finally, it appeared, things were back to normal.

As nearly 3,000 delegates filed into Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Tuesday for the opening of China’s annual legislative meeting, none wore face masks. Officials pressed together to shake hands and pose for photos. Around them, reporters and diplomats from around the world milled about the cavernous lobby, many invited back for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic four years earlier.

It was one of China’s highest-profile political stages, and the message being sent was clear: The country’s prolonged isolation was over, and it was once more open to the world and ready for business.

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Gaza War Is Shifting Ties Between Secular and Ultra-Orthodox Israelis

In a neighborhood of Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox Jewish residents cheered a soldier returning from military service. At a religious seminary, similarly devout students gathered to hear an officer talk about his military duties. And at a synagogue attended by some of the most observant Jews in the country, members devoted a Torah scroll in memory of a soldier slain in Gaza.

The Hamas-led attack on Israel last October has prompted flashes of greater solidarity between sections of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish minority and the secular mainstream, as fears of a shared threat have accelerated the integration of some of Israel’s most insular citizens.

As Israel’s war in Gaza drags on and Israeli reservists are called to serve elongated or additional tours of duty, long-simmering divisions about military exemptions for the country’s most religious Jews are again at the center of a national debate.

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A Boring Capital for a Young Democracy. Just the Way Residents Like It.

Reporting from Belmopan, Belize

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Mention Belmopan, Belize’s capital that sits deep in the country’s interior, and many Belizeans will belittle the city as a bastion of pencil-pushing bureaucrats that’s not just dull, but also devoid of nightlife.

“I was warned, ‘Belmopan is for the newlyweds or the nearly deads,’” said Raquel Rodriguez, 45, owner of an art school, about the reactions when she moved to Belmopan from coastal, bustling Belize City.

Not exactly known as an Eden for young urbanites, Belmopan figures among the smallest capital cities anywhere in the Americas. It has only about 25,000 residents and a cluster of hurricane-proof, heavy-on-the-concrete, Maya-inspired Brutalist buildings.

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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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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.

“In my growing up years, I was made to feel different from the rest in school. I was not allowed to laugh at jokes, and caste slurs were thrown at me,” Mr. Bezwada said in an interview on a recent evening in Delhi. “All I wanted to know then was why was my community different, and how could I make them equal to the others?”

By the time he was 18 or so, the young man of course knew what his community did to put food on the table, but his knowledge was still only theoretical. He wanted to experience the work for himself.

So he urged some manual scavengers to take him on the job. He watched them reach way down into a pit to scrape dried human waste from toilet floors, piling it into iron buckets and then transferring it into a trolley to be dumped on the mining township’s outskirts.

As he observed, one man’s bucket fell into the pit. The man rolled up his pants before dropping down into ankle-deep waste to pull the bucket out.

“I shouted, cried and implored him to not do so. How could any human do that?” Mr. Bezwada recalled.

The night of that incident, furious about what he had witnessed, he spent hours sitting by a water tank, thinking about jumping in to end his life.

“The sound of the water was consistent. But what I could hear in my mind was a ‘no, don’t die. Live on and fight,’” Mr. Bezwada recalled.

And he has, for the last four decades.

Every morning, Mr. Bezwada, now 57, wakes up with a single-minded mission: to unshackle his community from the centuries-old scourge linked to their caste.

“My community did not realize that this is not what they were born to do,” Mr. Bezwada said, “but were made to do by society and government.”

The movement he founded in 1993, Safai Karmachari Andolan, or Campaign of the Cleanliness Workers, is now one of the largest organizations in India fighting against caste discrimination.

While such discrimination is illegal in India, almost all the country’s sanitation workers who deal with human excrement, including those who clean septic tanks and sewers, are from the lowest caste rung in their communities.

In addition to the social stigma, such work can be extremely dangerous: In enclosed spaces, human waste can create a mix of toxic gases, which can result in loss of consciousness and death for those forced to breathe in the foul air for extended periods.

Mr. Bezwada’s Campaign of the Cleanliness Workers movement has recorded over 1,300 sanitation worker deaths since the early 1990s.

After his own near-death experience at the water tank, Mr. Bezwada kept talking to community members at the Kolar Gold Fields in the state of Karnataka, where 114 dry latrine cleaners and about 1,000 sanitary workers overall were among the approximately 90,000 employees.

He discovered manual scavenging was not a local issue but an all-India problem. So he started writing letters, including to Karnataka’s chief minister and to the prime minister of India. He arranged for a camera through a friend and started documenting the situation at the mine, which was closed in 2001.

Communists were active at the camp, frequently staging demonstrations for higher wages, and Mr. Bezwada said he learned how to protest from them.

There were many days where he was the only one protesting, and his mother urged him to end his activism. “‘Forget it. We will move out,’” he said she told him.

His breakthrough moment came when a journalist contacted him for a story on the continued existence of dry toilets in the gold mining township, which officials claimed were no longer there. After the article ran, Mr. Bezwada found himself all over the news. Government officials wanted to inspect the situation themselves, and Mr. Bezwada was called on to show them around.

In an effort to raise awareness beyond the gold mine, Mr. Bezwada started visiting other cities and towns, traveling by bus at night, trying to mobilize the manual scavenger communities he encountered and talking to them about “how to come out of it,” he said.

A chance meeting with a retired bureaucrat in the early 1990s helped formalize his Campaign of the Cleanliness Workers movement, leading to both donations and volunteers.

Since the campaign started, and especially over the last decade, dry latrines have largely been eliminated in India, although Mr. Bezwada said they can still be found in rural and semi-urban parts of some states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. He said he won’t be satisfied until there isn’t a single person picking up waste by hand.

In addition to working to eradicate any remaining dry latrines and replace them with flush toilets, Mr. Bezwada’s movement also trains former manual scavengers in other lines of work, like tailoring, gardening and auto rickshaw driving, and it advocates safer working conditions for all waste workers.

In 2023, at least 90 sanitary workers in India died on the job, Mr. Bezwada said. From 2017 to 2022, 373 people are reported to have died cleaning hazardous sewers and septic tanks, according to government data.

Mr. Bezwada said his politics were shaped by the architect of India’s Constitution, Bhim Rao Ambedkar, who himself belonged to Mr. Bezwada’s Dalit caste. It was by reading Mr. Ambedkar, Mr. Bezwada said, that his anger shifted from his community for not resisting, toward society and the government for pushing his caste into inhumane jobs.

“They were doing it to protect the interests of the elite and upper castes,” Mr. Bezwada explained.

Even after nonprofits began supporting his work, Mr. Bezwada still traveled on the cheap, often sleeping at a bus station and covering himself with the newspapers he loved to read during the day for warmth at night.

He mobilized manual scavengers and presented letters to municipalities demanding they demolish the town’s dry toilets. If towns refused, sometimes Mr. Bezwada and his volunteers would take matters into their own hands.

“We would take crow bars and start breaking them,” he said.

In 1993, he and his volunteers started documenting the existence of dry latrines across India and recording each manual scavenger’s death on the job. In 2003, the organization filed a petition in India’s top court asking for strict enforcement of a law passed in the early 1990s that was meant to eradicate manual scavenging in India but was widely ignored.

It wasn’t until 2014 that the court finally acted: It ordered state governments to pay compensation to families of those who had died cleaning sewers and septic tanks; to take stringent measures to stop manual cleaning of dry latrines; and to retrain people engaged in manual scavenging with skills that would give them the means for a more dignified livelihood.

In 2016 he won the Ramon Magsaysay Award, often called the Nobel Prize for Asia.

“I had no proper education. But loads of real-life wisdom,” Mr. Bezwada said, assessing the reasons for his success.

However agonizingly long the wait for the court’s decision, the time was put to good use.

“The community got organized in the process,” Mr. Bezwada said. “That’s the reward. Even if I go quiet, today there are thousands who are speaking up.”

One recent afternoon, a group of volunteers huddled in his Delhi office for a meeting.

Mr. Bezwada was coaching them on the fine art of full-throated sloganeering for the ongoing campaign against sewer worker deaths.

“Nobody can win without putting up a fight,” Mr. Bezwada told them. “Whatever victory has come in the world so far, it is all through the struggle and fight only. But every fight may not yield a result. What’s important is the fight.”

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Canadian Skaters Demand Bronze Medals in Olympics Dispute

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.

Nearly a month after international figure skating’s governing body revised the results of a marquee competition at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, stripping Russia of the gold medal and giving the United States team a long-delayed victory, a new fight about the outcome erupted on Monday.

Eight members of the Canadian squad that competed in the team competition in Beijing have filed a case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport demanding that they be awarded bronze medals in the team event. The court announced the filing but revealed no details.

The Canadians, whose case was joined by their country’s skating federation and national Olympic committee, are expected to argue that figure skating’s global governing body erred when it revised the results of the competition in January after a Russian skater who had taken part, the teenage prodigy Kamila Valieva, was given a four-year ban for doping.

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In Latin America, a New Frontier for Women: Professional Softball in Mexico

Reporting from Mexico City and León, Mexico

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In many parts of Latin America, baseball is a popular and well-established sport with men’s professional leagues in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, among others. But women wanting to play baseball’s cousin — softball — professionally had only one option: to leave. They had to go to the United States or Japan.

Until now.

In what is believed to be a first in Latin America — a region where men often have more opportunities than women, particularly in sports — a professional women’s softball league has started in Mexico. On Jan. 25, when the inaugural season began, 120 women on six teams got to call themselves professional softball players, many for the first time.

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Why the Cost of Success in English Soccer’s Lower Leagues Keeps Going Up

Geoff Thompson knows there are plenty of people who want to buy what he has to sell. The phone calls and emails over the last few weeks have left no doubt. And really, that is no surprise. Few industries are quite as appealing or as prestigious as English soccer, and Mr. Thompson has a piece of it.

It is, admittedly, a comparatively small piece: South Shields F.C., the team he has owned for almost a decade, operates in English soccer’s sixth tier, several levels below, and a number of worlds away, from the dazzling light and international allure of the Premier League. But while his team might be small, Mr. Thompson is of the view that it is, at least, as perfectly poised for profitability as any minor-league English soccer club could hope to be.

South Shields has earned four promotions to higher leagues in his nine years as chairman. The team owns its stadium. Mr. Thompson has spent considerable sums of money modernizing the bathrooms, the club shop and the private boxes. There is a thriving youth academy and an active charitable foundation. “We have done most of the hard yards,” Mr. Thompson said.

After a cancer scare last year led him to reassess his priorities, Mr. Thompson has, reluctantly, decided that he has to “hand the baton” to someone else.

That is where things becomes complicated. There are plenty of very wealthy people who want to buy their way into English soccer. It is, as Mr. Thompson said, “fun.” Owning a team offers the chance to “be a hero” to a place. It is a pitch sufficiently compelling that, in a matter of weeks, at least four suitors — two British, two American — have inquired about taking South Shields off his hands.

That is the upside. The downside is that — as the Premier League has become a playground for private equity firms and sovereign wealth funds, and as the “Welcome to Wrexham” success has focused Hollywood’s searchlight on the romance of the game’s backwaters — England’s minor leagues have become a place where even the very rich can feel poor.

The league to which South Shields has risen, the National League North, is largely stocked with part-time teams and semiprofessional players, but the team’s salary bill still stands at around $1.2 million a year. (Even that is not the highest in the division.) Mr. Thompson estimates he has invested around $10 million of his own money in the club. He knows he will not recoup most of that.

And that, he says, is fine. He is happy to have created something to treasure in South Shields, his modest hometown, a place, he said, that is “always in the wrong quartile for obesity, for poverty, for unemployment.”

“I feel all right about it,” he said. “Even if they sound like the words of a madman.”

The challenge is finding a person to succeed him who feels the same way. The South Shields he has built boasts healthy crowds, no debt and reduced risk. He does not want all of his work to disappear when his successor realizes that the money will not go quite as far as one might hope. “I don’t want it to wither on the vine,” he said.

Simon Leslie does not know how or when his ambition to own a soccer team came about. It was just something he knew, and had known, for some time. “I always wanted to own a club,” he said. “I thought it looked like the coolest, sexiest job in the world.”

Before the advent of the Premier League three decades ago, Mr. Leslie’s background — he founded Ink, a company that produces a portfolio of in-flight magazines, and sold his stake in 2022 — would have made him a likely candidate to own a team in the upper reaches of English soccer.

Now, though, the cost of entry into the top flight is essentially out of reach for the merely extraordinarily wealthy: Jim Ratcliffe, one of the world’s richest men, recently spent well over $1 billion to buy just a 25 percent stake in Manchester United. Rising prices have caused an inflationary spike farther down, meaning that even buying into the second tier league, known as the Championship, is prohibitively expensive.

“You need nation-state money to buy a Premier League team,” as Mr. Thompson put it. “A team in the Championship needs hundreds of millions.”

Last year, Mr. Leslie realized his dream in the sixth tier instead, taking a majority stake in Eastbourne Borough, a mainstay of the National League South, the geographical counterweight to the division South Shields calls home. In the town of Eastbourne — genteel, coastal, artsy — Mr. Leslie saw opportunity.

He had a bold vision for what its soccer team could become: a haven for players released by elite academies, and sustained by a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center — “cryotherapy, cold plasma, everything,” he said — sandwiched between the sea and the rolling hills of the South Downs.

It would be wrong to say that money was no object, but Mr. Leslie was prepared to invest. He has spent around $600,000 in his first season, hiring not only players but also sports scientists, talent spotters and chefs. He expects to invest the same amount in his second year. The aim is to break even by 2026 since there is, Mr. Leslie said, a “limit to how much I am prepared to lose.”

But the inflationary effect that has priced even the superwealthy out of top-tier soccer is now being felt throughout the various strata of English soccer: Across the country, there are dozens of investors pouring vast sums into teams in the three divisions of the semiprofessional National League and even into the sprawling, hyperlocal amateur tiers below that.

“It’s not just that teams from the divisions above come to sign our players,” Mr. Leslie said. “We’ve had clubs from the Isthmian League, the level below, offering players more money than we pay them.”

They can do so because — unlike the Premier League or the three professional tiers of the Football League just below it — England’s minor leagues have no cost controls. Owners can spend what they like, and they are incentivized to do so because of the potential reward: Promotion to the Football League can mean about $1.2 million a year in broadcasting revenue alone.

“It’s in the National League that people think they can make money,” Mr. Leslie said.

Over the course of his first few months at Eastbourne, he has come to realize that is much easier said than done.

English soccer has an unfortunate habit of viewing its beloved pyramid only from the top down. As it descends from the cash-soaked Premier League through the ambitious Championship to the dozens of semiprofessional and amateur leagues below that, the depth and breadth of the league system seem to illustrate not only the sport’s popularity but also its health.

Observe the pyramid from the bottom up, though, and the impression is different. It is steep, and daunting, and quickly narrowing.

Only two National League clubs can be promoted each season into the Football League, unlocking its coveted television income.

“Clubs spend an inordinate amount of money to get out” of the lower leagues, said Christina Philippou, a lecturer in sports finance at the University of Portsmouth. “That means if others want to compete, they have to spend similar.” And that, she said, “creates a spiral.”

It is one drastic enough that it surprises even those who might have grown accustomed to it. “I see some of the teams spending money, and I’m flabbergasted,” said Gary Douglas, the chairman of Guiseley, a National League North team in a suburb of Leeds. “There are teams with fairly small crowds who suddenly have these huge budgets.”

The change, he said, has been gradual. He first invested in soccer in 2006, joining with two friends to take control of Guiseley. Their combined wealth made the club the “richest in nonleague,” as Steve Parkin, one of the members of Mr. Douglas’s triumvirate, said at the time of the purchase.

That is most certainly not the case anymore. Money has poured into the minor leagues in recent years, even before Wrexham — both the team and the documentary — brought an unanticipated allure to the lower reaches of English soccer. Now there are dozens of wealthy owners prepared to gamble that they will be the ones who succeed.

“The National League is the golden goose,” Mr. Douglas said.

Quite how risky an investment it is, though, can be seen in the clubs’ finances. In 2022, the last year for which a full set of figures is available, clubs in the three divisions of the National League reported a combined loss of $25 million. Two-thirds of the league’s teams were effectively insolvent, their liabilities dwarfing their assets. That pattern is most likely repeated even further down the pyramid where revenues are even smaller.

“It’s got disaster written all over it,” Dr. Philippou said.

For some, deliverance will come with escape, and promotion. But far more teams — and their owners — are destined to be disappointed. Like Mr. Douglas, the Guiseley chairman, they might find themselves committed financially and emotionally, unable to leave.

“Once you’re in, you’re in,” he said.

Or they might, like Mr. Thompson, the South Shields chairman, have to start the long, exacting search for a suitable replacement: someone who will build on, rather than dismantle, their work. That, after all, is kind of how the system works.

“The model is that, for reasons of ego or for emotion, there are always new people waiting when one particular individual’s journey at a club ends,” Dr. Philippou said.

It only works, though, she added, because of the belief that “there will always be someone else who comes along.”

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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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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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Una foto borrosa y un dilema: la cobertura mediática a la princesa de Gales

Tras una semana de especulaciones a menudo alarmistas sobre su bienestar, de pronto aparecieron dos pruebas plausibles de que Catalina, princesa de Gales, se estaba recuperando: una foto suya en un automóvil conducido por su madre y la confirmación por parte del ejército británico de que asistiría a una ceremonia militar en junio.

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Pero, como ha ocurrido en las últimas semanas con casi todo lo que ha rodeado a la salud de la esposa del príncipe Guillermo, de 42 años, cualquier sensación de certeza se desvaneció rápidamente.

Un funcionario de palacio dijo el martes que el ejército se había precipitado al anunciar la participación de Catalina en Trooping the Color, un ritual anual que celebra el cumpleaños del soberano. Y aunque los periódicos británicos informaron de la existencia de fotos de paparazzi, supuestamente de Catalina, que se difundieron en las redes sociales el lunes, ninguno de ellos publicó las imágenes.

Al final de otro ciclo informativo, los consumidores de noticias de la realeza volvieron a la casilla de inicio: sin información sobre la princesa, que se sometió a cirugía abdominal en enero y a quien no se ha visto durante su larga convalecencia.

La única certeza en la saga de Catalina es la participación, desenfadada y sin filtro, de su tío Gary Goldsmith, en un programa de telerrealidad británico, Celebrity Big Brother, que se emitió el lunes por la noche. En cualquier otro momento, la aparición de Goldsmith podría haber sido una vergüenza para Catalina, quien ha intentado cultivar una imagen digna y disciplinada como miembro principal de la familia real.

Sin embargo, en el vacío de noticias sobre ella, los expertos dicen que las travesuras televisivas de Goldsmith pueden ser una distracción bienvenida para los periódicos sensacionalistas británicos. Los editores se han esforzado por equilibrar su afán por informar sobre la realeza —un entusiasmo casi ilimitado, en el caso de la futura reina, antes conocida como Kate Middleton— con el reconocimiento de que, en el Reino Unido, incluso la mayoría de los personajes públicos tienen derecho a la intimidad en cuestiones de salud.

“Los medios de comunicación van, inusualmente, rezagados”, dijo Sarah Sands, ex editora sénior de la BBC y exeditora de The Sunday Telegraph. “Están confundidos: ¿La quisieron demasiado y la presionaron demasiado? ¿Es el nuevo papel de los medios de comunicación brindar tranquilidad?

“Acude en ayuda de los tabloides la simpática figura de pantomima del malvado tío de Kate, Gary Goldsmith”, continuó Sands. Goldsmith, dijo, “será probablemente el único comentario desde dentro que recibiremos durante las próximas semanas”.

De ser cierto, esto podría evitar que los periódicos y las cadenas de televisión tengan que tomar decisiones como la que debieron afrontar el lunes, cuando el sitio estadounidense de chismes sobre famosos TMZ publicó lo que afirmaba, eran las primeras imágenes de Catalina luego de que fuera hospitalizada. Las fotos, tomadas con teleobjetivo, granuladas y en las que aparece una mujer con gafas de sol que se parece a Catalina, fueron tomadas cerca del castillo de Windsor, según el sitio.

El Daily Mail dijo que las fotos no se publicaron en el Reino Unido porque el palacio de Kensington, donde Guillermo y Catalina tienen sus oficinas, “pidió que ella pudiera recuperarse en privado”. Pero la publicación luego pasó a especular que habrían sido captadas el lunes por la mañana, poco después de que Catalina dejara a sus hijos en el colegio, ayudada por su madre, Carole Middleton.

Chris Ship, editor sobre la realeza de ITV News, se refirió a las imágenes en las redes sociales, pero declaró: “No las publicamos por respeto a su intimidad mientras se recupera de la operación en el plazo que nos dieron”.

El palacio de Kensington ha declarado que Catalina no volverá a sus obligaciones reales hasta después de Pascua. La semana pasada, envuelto en un remolino de conjeturas y teorías conspirativas después de que Guillermo se retirara abruptamente de un acto, reiteró esa declaración y dijo que solo proporcionaría “actualizaciones significativas”. Según un funcionario, la princesa seguía evolucionando favorablemente.

El martes, el palacio se negó a comentar las fotos, diciendo que no quería dar publicidad a TMZ. Los periódicos británicos han tratado con cautela las fotos de los paparazzi desde la muerte de la princesa Diana, madre de Guillermo, en un accidente automovilístico en París en 1997, tras una persecución a gran velocidad por parte de los fotógrafos.

“El recuerdo para la prensa británica sigue siendo nítido”, dijo Sands, quien era editora adjunta de The Daily Telegraph en el momento de la muerte de Diana. “Estaba llena de remordimientos. Las normas sobre privacidad y deber de protección cambiaron profundamente”.

Los tribunales británicos han dictaminado que el derecho a la intimidad se extiende a los miembros de la familia real, y el Código de Buenas Prácticas de los Editores, con el cual opera gran parte de la prensa británica, protege a todas las personas contra la intromisión injustificada en asuntos de salud física y mental.

Algunos críticos se mostraron menos generosos sobre los motivos de los medios de comunicación, sobre todo teniendo en cuenta que las imágenes son fácilmente accesibles para cualquiera con solo unos cuantos clics en un iPhone.

“Lo fascinante es cómo las tonterías sobre Kate en las redes sociales dan a los periódicos la oportunidad de escribir sobre algo sobre lo que no hay nada que escribir, mientras critican lo que hay en la red”, dijo Peter Hunt, antiguo corresponsal para la realeza de la BBC.

Es la segunda vez en cuatro meses que los medios de comunicación británicos se niegan a publicar detalles sobre la familia real, incluso después de que hayan circulado por las redes sociales. En noviembre, los periódicos no publicaron los nombres de Catalina y el rey Carlos III tras ser identificados, en la edición holandesa de un nuevo libro, como miembros de la familia que supuestamente habían preguntado por el color de la piel del hijo no nacido del príncipe Enrique y su esposa, Meghan.

Las compuertas se abrieron solo después de que Piers Morgan, un destacado presentador de televisión, revelara los nombres en su programa. El palacio de Buckingham dijo entonces que estudiaría la posibilidad de emprender acciones legales, pero no actuó.

Los mensajes contradictorios sobre la asistencia de Catalina a Trooping the Color pueden acabar siendo un simple caso de torpeza burocrática. El ejército dijo en su página web que Catalina, en su calidad de coronela de los guardias irlandeses, pasaría revista a los soldados que van a desfilar en la ceremonia del 8 de junio.

Pero un funcionario del palacio de Kensington dijo que era tarea del palacio confirmar la agenda de la princesa, y aún no lo ha hecho. Tampoco ha comentado la decisión de Goldsmith, hermano menor de Carole Middleton, de unirse al reparto de Celebrity Big Brother.

Goldsmith, de 58 años, antiguo empresario tecnológico, se declaró culpable en 2017 de agredir a su esposa, Julie-Ann Goldsmith.

En un video promocional del programa, un alegre Goldsmith decía: “Dar cuerda a la gente es probablemente mi pasatiempo favorito. Cada parte de mí está plagada de travesuras y peligros”.

Luego añadió: “Es una auténtica pesadilla vivir conmigo. Por algo he tenido cuatro esposas”.

Mark Landler es el jefe de la corresponsalía en Londres del Times. Cubre el Reino Unido así como la política exterior estadounidense en Europa, Asia y Medio Oriente. Es periodista desde hace más de tres décadas. Más de Mark Landler


El calentamiento global afecta en particular a las familias lideradas por mujeres, según la ONU

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El calor extremo está empobreciendo a algunas de las mujeres más pobres del mundo.

Esta es la cruda conclusión de un informe, publicado el martes, por la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura (FAO, por su sigla en inglés), basado en datos meteorológicos y de ingresos en 24 países de ingresos bajos y medianos.

El informe se suma a un conjunto de trabajos que muestran cómo el calentamiento global, impulsado por la quema de combustibles fósiles, puede magnificar y empeorar las disparidades sociales existentes.

El informe concluye que, aunque el estrés térmico es costoso para todos los hogares rurales, es significativamente más costoso para los hogares liderados por una mujer: los hogares encabezados por mujeres pierden un 8 por ciento más de sus ingresos anuales en comparación con otros hogares.

Es decir, el calor extremo aumenta la disparidad entre los hogares liderados por mujeres y los demás. Eso se debe a que están en juego disparidades subyacentes.

Por ejemplo, aunque las mujeres dependen de los ingresos agrícolas, solo representan el 12,6 por ciento de los propietarios de tierras en todo el mundo, según estimaciones del Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo. Esto significa que los hogares encabezados por mujeres probablemente carezcan de acceso a servicios esenciales como préstamos, seguros de cosechas y servicios de extensión agraria que les ayuden a adaptarse al cambio climático.

El informe se basa en datos de encuestas de hogares entre 2010 y 2020, superpuestos con datos de temperatura y precipitaciones a lo largo de 70 años.

El efecto a largo plazo del calentamiento global también es patente. Los hogares liderados por mujeres pierden un 34 por ciento más de ingresos, en comparación con los demás, cuando la temperatura media a largo plazo aumenta 1 grado Celsius.

La temperatura media mundial ya ha aumentado aproximadamente 1,2 grados Celsius desde el inicio de la era industrial.

Según el informe, las inundaciones también reducen los ingresos de los hogares liderados por mujeres más que los de otros tipos de hogares, pero en menor medida que el calor.

“A medida que estos fenómenos sean más frecuentes, también se agravarán las repercusiones en la vida de las personas”, afirma Nicholas Sitko, autor principal del informe y economista de la FAO.

En los últimos años se ha prestado cada vez más atención a los daños desproporcionados de las condiciones meteorológicas extremas, a veces agravadas por el cambio climático, en los países de renta baja que producen muchas menos emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero, por persona, que los países más ricos e industrializados.

Lo que se discute con menos frecuencia son las desigualdades dentro de los países. Las disparidades de género suelen ser las más difíciles de cuantificar.

“Las mujeres y las niñas se ven afectadas de manera desproporcionada por las catástrofes relacionadas con el clima, no solo por las disparidades socioeconómicas, sino también por las arraigadas normas culturales y la falta de acceso a los recursos y a los procesos de toma de decisiones”, afirma Ritu Bharadwaj, investigadora del Instituto Internacional de Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo, quien no participó en el informe de la FAO, pero ha estudiado los efectos del género y el clima.

En algunos lugares, las condiciones meteorológicas extremas, como el calor y la sequía, pueden hacer que mujeres y niñas tengan que recorrer distancias más largas para conseguir agua, alimentos y combustible para cocinar. En otros lugares, la disminución de los ingresos puede llevar a las familias a sacar a las niñas de la escuela antes que a los niños. Cuando los hombres emigran a las ciudades en busca de trabajo, las mujeres se quedan cuidando la tierra.

Cuando los expertos en clima hablan sobre la necesidad de adaptarse al aumento de las temperaturas y a los fenómenos meteorológicos extremos, suelen referirse a la siembra de árboles para reducir los riesgos térmicos, la plantación de manglares costeros para reducir las mareas de tempestad o el desarrollo de variedades de cultivos que sean resistentes a la sequía.

Estos esfuerzos no abordan necesariamente las disparidades sociales subyacentes que hacen que el calentamiento global sea más difícil para las personas más vulnerables de una sociedad, como los hogares rurales encabezados por mujeres que destaca el informe del martes.

Se están probando otras estrategias, aunque todavía a pequeña escala.

En algunos lugares, las organizaciones humanitarias realizan transferencias de efectivo antes de que se produzcan fenómenos meteorológicos extremos, brindando a la gente dinero que puede utilizar —antes de que se produzca la catástrofe— con el fin de prepararse mejor para resistirla. En otros lugares, los seguros se activan cuando la temperatura alcanza un determinado umbral.

El nuevo informe también hace referencia a las escuelas de campo, donde los pequeños agricultores experimentan con técnicas y cultivos adaptados al clima. Cita un experimento realizado en Mozambique, donde el aumento del número de mujeres como agentes de extensión agraria animó a más mujeres para que adoptaran nuevas técnicas agrícolas.

En Malaui, añade el informe, los programas de comidas escolares redujeron la presión de las familias para sacar a las niñas de la escuela durante las malas sequías. El acceso al capital es crucial para quien carece de títulos de propiedad de la tierra. Y cuando la agricultura no proporciona los ingresos necesarios, el acceso al cuidado infantil puede ayudar a las mujeres a encontrar trabajo en otra parte.

“Las pruebas son claras: si no se abordan los efectos desiguales del cambio climático en la población rural, se intensificará la gran brecha entre los que tienen y los que no tienen y entre hombres y mujeres”, afirma el informe.

Somini Sengupta es la reportera de clima internacional del Times. Más de Somini Sengupta

Juicio contra Juan Orlando Hernández: los hondureños siguen el caso con atención

El caso penal contra el expresidente de Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández, que se está desarrollando en el Bajo Manhattan, apenas se registra en el vertiginoso ciclo de noticias de Nueva York.

Para los hondureños, es una oportunidad inusual de lograr justicia nacional.

El juicio a Hernández en el Tribunal Federal del Distrito de Manhattan, acusado de conspiración de importación de estupefacientes, ha conmocionado al pequeño país centroamericano y a sus expatriados, y ha atraído a una muestra representativa de los 40.000 hondureños que viven en la ciudad de Nueva York, así como a otros que se encuentran fuera del estado e incluso en la propia Honduras.

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“Llevó a nuestro país al infierno”, dijo Flavio Ulises Yuja, de 62 años, quien viajó de Honduras a Florida para pasar unas vacaciones, pero cambió de planes de manera abrupta y voló a Nueva York para asistir al juicio.

El juicio evidencia los problemas de un país asolado por la corrupción, la pobreza y la anarquía. Mientras los estadounidenses debaten sobre las deficiencias de su propia democracia y su sistema judicial, los hondureños ven en los tribunales estadounidenses una instancia para algo que no está disponible en su país: un juicio justo y una medida de justicia.

Los hondureños son una presencia cotidiana afuera del tribunal. Durante la primera semana del juicio, decenas de ellos se reunieron a pesar del frío, gritando consignas con megáfonos y marchando con banderas hondureñas y pancartas que denunciaban a Hernández. Una mujer de Brooklyn vendía sándwiches caseros de atún y pavo a 7 dólares que llevaba en una hielera.

Cada día, Hernández es trasladado a un juzgado abarrotado ante un escuadrón de reporteros hondureños que toman notas. Hernández dirigió al país por ocho años, hasta principios de 2022, cuando fue extraditado a Estados Unidos poco después de dejar el cargo.

En los numerosos juicios de alto perfil celebrados en este tribunal del Bajo Manhattan —incluidos los del expresidente Donald Trump y el de exempresario de criptomonedas Sam Bankman-Fried, quien fue condenado por fraude—, los equipos de grabación de las cadenas de televisión se reúnen en la entrada con camionetas de última generación equipadas con unidades de iluminación. En el juicio de Hernández, los reporteros han grabado los acontecimientos diarios en sus iPhone y han transmitido las noticias a través de las redes sociales.

El juicio que están cubriendo detalla una cultura de corrupción en Honduras, que permitió la entrada de enormes cantidades de cocaína en Estados Unidos. Hernández, quien ha negado haber cometido algún delito, fue acusado de dirigir un “narco-Estado” desde la capital de Honduras, Tegucigalpa, recibiendo millones de dólares de los cárteles violentos.

Es posible que Honduras sea conocida por los estadounidenses por su historia plagada de pobreza, inestabilidad política e intervención estadounidense. Eso incluye las guerras bananeras, que comenzaron a fines del siglo XIX para reforzar el poder político de las empresas fruteras, y la presencia del ejército estadounidense que en la década de 1980 fue desplegado para apoyar a la guerrilla de la Contra, que combatía a los dirigentes nicaragüenses.

En la década de 2000, los narcotraficantes que gozaban de protección política contribuyeron para convertir a Honduras en una privilegiada vía de llegada para los cargamentos de cocaína procedentes de Sudamérica, gran parte de la cual se dirigía a Estados Unidos para satisfacer su voraz apetito por la droga.

Shannon K. O’Neil, experta en América Latina del Consejo de Relaciones Exteriores, afirmó que era improbable que el juicio lograra cambiar la corrupción en Honduras de la noche a la mañana, pero un proceso judicial estadounidense podría ser disuasorio.

“Es importante que alguien poderoso comparezca ante la justicia”, dijo. “Ver cómo un presidente es confrontado y posiblemente acabe en una prisión de máxima seguridad en Estados Unidos puede tener un efecto amedrentador en otros dirigentes y élites, ya sea en Honduras o en otros países latinoamericanos”.

Muchos hondureños culpan a Hernández de impulsar el declive de su país, y cuando fue extraditado se hicieron celebraciones.

En la primera fila en el tribunal, sentadas junto a los periodistas, las hermanas Eugenia Brown, de 69 años, y Aurora Martinez, de 64, asentían con la cabeza ante las historias de asesinatos, narcotráfico y corrupción. Resoplaron durante el testimonio de que Hernández le ordenó a su jefe de policía que asesinara a rivales.

Las hermanas, migrantes hondureñas, dijeron que habían viajado desde Nueva Jersey y el Bronx para ver cómo por fin se hacía justicia.

“Es vergonzoso para Honduras, pero a la misma vez es bueno para nosotros porque queremos justicia”, dijo Brown.

Martha Rochez, de 60 años, otra migrante hondureña que ahora vive cerca, en Chinatown, salió de la corte visiblemente alterada y se apoyó contra una pared.

“Quiero verlo en la cárcel. Nos ha hecho sufrir. Hizo sufrir a mi familia”, dijo.

A unos 3200 kilómetros de distancia, en Honduras, cuya población de 10 millones de habitantes apenas supera a la de la ciudad de Nueva York, el caso causa conmoción desde la región de la costa de Mosquitos hasta Tegucigalpa. Se estima que la mitad de la población vive en la pobreza, la violencia de las bandas es endémica y el producto interno bruto per cápita del país es de solo unos 3400 dólares, frente a los 83.000 de Estados Unidos.

Suyapa Mendez, de 63 años, quien vende verduras en un mercado de Tegucigalpa, dijo que aunque el expresidente sea encontrado culpable en Estados Unidos, “el daño al país” ya estaba hecho.

Algunos residentes de la capital hacían apuestas sobre qué figuras de los mundos del crimen y el gobierno del país podrían ser llamadas a declarar. Algunos aliados políticos de Hernández calificaron el caso de venganza por su falta de cooperación con las autoridades de EE. UU. y expresaron su escepticismo ante la posibilidad de que pudiera tener un juicio justo.

Pero Mario Sierra, un carpintero de 69 años que ha seguido el juicio por televisión en su taller, dijo que los hondureños estaban “agradecidos” de su extradición y su juicio, porque en Honduras no pasaría “nada”.

La ciudad de Nueva York es aproximadamente un tercio hispana, pero los hondureños —dispersos por zonas del Bronx, Queens y Brooklyn— solo representan aproximadamente el 0,5 por ciento de la población total, una cifra que palidece en comparación con otros grupos como los puertorriqueños y los dominicanos y, en años más recientes, los mexicanos y ecuatorianos.

Décadas de corrupción, delincuencia y desempleo también han hecho que numerosos hondureños lleguen a Estados Unidos, lo que ayuda a explicar el afiche que llevaba un manifestante frente al tribunal recientemente: los narcogobiernos obligan al pueblo a emigrar.

Victor Velasquez, de 47 años, se quedó observando y fotografiando todo. Dijo que manejó toda la noche con su esposa y su hijo adolescente desde Virginia para llevar a un amigo, que también es un migrante hondureño, a una audiencia de asilo en el Bajo Manhattan.

“Son juicios que no podemos tener en nuestros países; demuestra el nivel de corrupción que tenemos ahí, que otros países deben intervenir”, dijo Velasquez, quien añadió que la corrupción del gobierno hondureño había ahuyentado a la organización sin ánimo de lucro en la que trabajaba, lo que le costó su trabajo.

Afuera, Alex Laboriel, de 41 años, de Brooklyn, calificó de difícil —incluso vergonzoso— presenciar el juicio al expresidente de su país natal.

“Es indignante, lamentable”, dijo. “Es un dolor”, añadió, que “se vive”.

“Sería mejor que esto estuviese pasando en nuestro país”, añadió.

Rommel Gómez, de 40 años, periodista de Radio Progreso, calificó el juicio como una prueba para todos los hondureños.

“No únicamente Juan Orlando Hernandez está en juicio”, dijo. “El Estado también”.

Joan Suazo colaboró con reportería desde Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Corey Kilgannon es un periodista del Times que escribe sobre la delincuencia y la justicia penal en Nueva York y sus alrededores, así como sobre noticias de última hora y otros reportajes. Más de Corey Kilgannon

El papel de una ‘granja de cadáveres’ en el combate al consumo de fentanilo

Reportando desde una granja de cadáveres en Whitewater, Colorado, y una morgue en Denver

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

Las dos mujeres levantaron un cadáver rígido del suelo, lo que dejó a la vista un bicho que se retorcía en la tierra.

“¡Esa es una larva viva!”, dijo Alex Smith, director del laboratorio de la Estación de Investigación Forense de la Universidad de Colorado Mesa, mientras arrancaba la larva del suelo y la metía en un tubo de cristal. Los gusanos no son solo gusanos, explicó Smith: son posibles pruebas.

“De hecho, puedes analizar las carcasas de larvas y pupas en busca de drogas”, dijo con entusiasmo.

Su público era un grupo de forenses mexicanos que el mes pasado viajaron a las instalaciones de Colorado, conocidas como “granja de cadáveres”, donde decenas de cuerpos donados se exponen al sol para ser estudiados mientras se descomponen.

Los especialistas forenses mexicanos estaban ahí para aprender a analizar cuerpos en busca de fentanilo, y así fue como acabaron en un campo de cadáveres, observando cómo un investigador buscaba gusanos en la tierra.

Su viaje fue organizado por el Departamento de Estado de EE. UU., y las autoridades esperaban que contribuyera a lograr un objetivo diplomático clave: lograr que el gobierno de México se enfrentara a su propio problema con el fentanilo.

En el norte de México, grupos de ayuda y centros de rehabilitación han alertado por el aumento del consumo de fentanilo en los últimos años, informando de una oleada de sobredosis de opiáceos a lo largo de las regiones fronterizas con Estados Unidos. El gobierno mexicano afirma que la propagación de la droga está contenida y que el consumo general sigue siendo relativamente bajo.

En realidad, nadie sabe cuán común que es el consumo de fentanilo en México. Existen pocos datos recientes sobre el consumo de drogas a nivel nacional, y la mayoría de los patólogos forenses mexicanos no realizan pruebas sistemáticas en los cadáveres para detectar la presencia de fentanilo, según afirman los médicos forenses y las autoridades estadounidenses.

“En México, no salen casos de muerte por fentanilo, porque no hacemos el estudio, no porque no mueren de fentanilo”, dijo César González Vaca, jefe del servicio forense del estado de Baja California. Y añadió: “No lo estamos buscando”.

México es la fuente principal del fentanilo ilícito que se introduce en EE. UU., según el gobierno estadounidense, y aunque las fuerzas armadas mexicanas informaron de un aumento sustancial de las incautaciones de drogas el año pasado, los opiáceos sintéticos continúan inundando la frontera.

Según las autoridades de EE. UU., una estrategia para lograr que México haga más por frenar el flujo es demostrar que el fentanilo no solo es una adicción estadounidense, sino que también está matando a mexicanos.

El viaje a Colorado “fue un esfuerzo para ayudar a México a reconocer que tiene un problema, por muy inconveniente que sea”, dijo Alex Thurn, funcionario de la oficina de asuntos internacionales de narcóticos y aplicación de la ley de la embajada de EE. UU. en México.

Así pues, en una fresca mañana de febrero, más de una decena de forenses y químicos de los estados del norte de México se reunieron en la Oficina del Médico Forense de Denver para presenciar la autopsia de un hombre de mediana edad que fue encontrado muerto en el suelo de su garaje.

La noche de su fallecimiento le dijo a su novia que había tomado “10 azules”, probablemente en referencia a pastillas de fentanilo, según afirmaron los patólogos.

Ian Puffenberger, patólogo forense, apretó los pulmones del hombre y de ellos salió un chorro de espuma. Eso, según Puffenberger, era “un hallazgo habitual” en las muertes por opiáceos porque la respiración de la persona se ralentiza y los pulmones se llenan de líquido.

Cuando aserraron su cráneo se reveló otro signo de sobredosis: las protuberancias de su cerebro, conocidas como giros, parecían menos abultadas de lo que deberían.

“Si hay inflamación del cerebro”, otro efecto de la sobredosis de opiáceos, según dijo Puffenberger, “los giros empujan contra el cráneo y se aplanan”.

Más allá de sus cuchillos de alta gama y sus relucientes instalaciones —que fueron objeto de varias observaciones entre los forenses mexicanos—, los patólogos estadounidenses también disponían de un arsenal de costosas herramientas para confirmar que el hombre había muerto de sobredosis.

Hicieron análisis de sangre preliminares en una máquina de los Laboratorios Randox que cuesta más de 30.000 dólares, y que ofreció resultados positivos de fentanilo, metanfetamina y anfetaminas. Luego enviaron las muestras para un análisis toxicológico completo en un laboratorio de análisis de drogas de Pensilvania.

“Nos sentíamos en Disneylandia”, dijo Vaca. “Tienen todo”.

Los forenses mexicanos, dijo Vaca, con frecuencia acomodan los cuellos sobre botellas de refresco de dos litros y asierran los cráneos con sierras que suelen ser utilizadas para cortar metal. También explicó que, a menudo, ganan muy poco como para evaluar la causa de los fallecimientos en un país donde los criminales se especializan en lograr que sus víctimas sean irreconocibles.

“Aquí no ven a la gente descuartizada, metida en bolsas, quemada, con 200 heridas de bala”, dijo Vaca.

El médico forense mexicano ilustra lo mucho que se puede hacer con menos.

Tras observar cómo el fentanilo se convertía en un asesino en masa en Estados Unidos, Vaca empezó a presionar para que se hicieran pruebas en cadáveres de Baja California. Ha tenido que recurrir a un método de baja tecnología —sumergir tiras de fentanilo en orina, sangre u otros fluidos corporales— y solo está realizando pruebas en Tijuana y Mexicali, las dos ciudades más grandes del estado. Pero los resultados son asombrosos.

Desde junio de 2022, más de la mitad de todos los cadáveres que llegaron a las morgues de esas ciudades han dado positivo en drogas, y el fentanilo apareció en el 20 por ciento de ellos. “Esto es una crisis de salud pública”, dijo Vaca.

Durante décadas, el voraz apetito estadounidense por los estupefacientes impulsó el surgimiento de vastas redes delictivas en México, aunque históricamente las drogas no se consumían a gran escala en el país. Sin embargo, el consumo de drogas es cada vez más común, según muestran las investigaciones.

La última vez que el gobierno mexicano realizó su encuesta nacional sobre drogas, en 2016, el número de mexicanos que dijeron consumir narcóticos ilegales casi se había duplicado desde 2008. La demanda de tratamiento contra las drogas en México ha crecido rápidamente desde 2018, según otra investigación gubernamental.

Se ha encontrado fentanilo en pastillas falsificadas vendidas en farmacias del norte de México, así como en drogas recreativas como cocaína y MDMA en un festival de música cerca de Ciudad de México.

“Es barato de fabricar y sencillo de distribuir”, dijo Manuel López Santacruz, médico forense del estado de Sonora, al otro lado de la frontera con Arizona. Las pastillas de fentanilo, dijo, cuestan tan solo 3 dólares cada una, lo que hace que sean asequibles para casi cualquiera y eso impulsa las adicciones.

Hace poco, el gobierno reanudó la encuesta nacional sobre el consumo de drogas, tras un paréntesis de años, pero los expertos afirman que es poco probable que capte la verdadera difusión de los opiáceos sintéticos porque es posible que muchos consumidores no admitan que los consumen.

Según los expertos, el seguimiento de las muertes por fentanilo reflejaría de forma más fiable la magnitud del problema, pero requiere una inversión significativa por parte de las autoridades.

En Denver, la jefa de investigaciones, Erin Worrell, ofreció consejos para identificar posibles sobredosis.

Mientras proyectaba fotos de escenas de muertes recientes en una pantalla, Worrell destacó a un hombre que falleció con un cigarrillo a medio encender en la mano, y que más tarde se descubrió que tenía fentanilo y un cóctel de otras drogas en su organismo.

“Si estás sufriendo un ataque al corazón o algo así, vas a tratar de agarrar cosas”, dijo. “Va a ser más caótico, ya sabes”.

Worrell dijo que una pista era la posición del cuerpo. Las personas que cabecean y mueren tras tomar opiáceos suelen encontrarse encorvadas y con las piernas dobladas. Sabe que hay que buscar laxantes, porque los opiáceos provocan estreñimiento.

A veces, las muertes por sobredosis parecen asesinatos, como el caso de un hombre al que encontraron con heridas por toda la espalda y sentado en un cuarto de baño lleno de sangre.

“Esto parecen huellas de defensa”, dijo uno de los especialistas mexicanos, mirando las fotos de la horrible escena. En realidad, se trataba de una sobredosis, y antes de morir, el hombre se había mutilado.

“Muchas veces la gente empieza a tener comezón”, dijo Worrell. “Creen que tienen bichos encima”.

Al concluir la presentación de Worrell, Vaca se acercó y le mostró una foto en su teléfono: un hombre muerto por fentanilo con tanta rapidez que la jeringuilla seguía clavada en su cuello. “Lo vemos todo el tiempo”, dijo Vaca.

Natalie Kitroeff es la jefa de la corresponsalía del Times para México, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Más de Natalie Kitroeff

Por qué algunos colombianos llaman a sus madres ‘sumercé’

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

Cuando Altair Jaspe se mudó de Venezuela a Bogotá, la capital colombiana, le sorprendió la manera en que se dirigían a ella al entrar en cualquier tienda, cafetería o consulta médica.

Aunque ambos lugares formaron parte del Imperio español, la ciudad colombiana parecía más en sintonía con su pasado imperial. Jaspe ya no era una “señora”, como la habrían llamado en Caracas o quizá, en su juventud, “muchacha” o “chama”.

En cambio, le otorgaban un tratamiento honorífico que parecía más propio de una mujer con capa y corona: “su merced”.

¿Sumercé le gustaría un café?

¿Sumercé va a tomar la cita de las 3:00 p. m.?

Permiso, sumercé, le decía la gente con la que se cruzaba en una puerta o en un ascensor.

“Me llevó a la época colonial, automático”, dijo Jaspe, de 63 años, directora de logística jubilada, expresando su incomodidad inicial con la frase. “A la carreta, los caballos”, continuó, “a lo mejor un poco a la esclavitud”.

“Pero después de vivirlo”, continuó, “entendí”.

En la mayor parte del mundo hispanohablante, los pronombres más usados son el informal “tú” y el formal “usted”. Pero en Colombia existe una variante: “su merced”, que significa “su misericordia”, “su gracia” o incluso “su excelencia”, y que ahora se contrae como “sumercé”.

(En algunas regiones del mundo hispanohablante también se emplea el “vos”).

En Bogotá, ciudad de 8 millones de habitantes enclavada en la cordillera de los Andes, el “sumercé” es omnipresente, no solo entre taxistas y tenderos para atender a los clientes (con frases como: “¿En qué puedo ayudar a ‘sumercé’?”), sino también entre niños para referirse a sus padres o cuando los padres hablan de sus hijos (a veces con tierna ironía) e incluso entre maridos, esposas y amantes para referirse el uno al otro (“¿’Sumercé’ me pasa la sal?” o “‘Sumercé’, ¿qué dice, hoy me pongo este pantalón?”).

Lo usan jóvenes y mayores, urbanitas y campesinos. Claudia López, la última alcaldesa de Bogotá, fue captada en cámara cuando le gritó a una vendedora ambulante: “¡Trabaje juiciosa, ‘sumercé’!”, e incluso la vocalista de uno de los grupos de rock más conocidos del país, Andrea Echeverri, de Aterciopelados, suele utilizarlo.

Los españoles fundaron Bogotá en 1538 tras una brutal conquista del pueblo indígena muisca, y pronto la ciudad se convirtió en un centro de poder colonial.

“Sumercé” es, en efecto, una reliquia de esa época, y los estudiosos han documentado su uso como una muestra de cortesía en las relaciones institucionales (fue utilizado en una carta del gobernador de Cuba al conquistador Hernán Cortés en 1518); también era una señal de respeto en las familias (de un cuñado a otro en 1574); y, en particular, como un signo de servidumbre en las relaciones de los esclavos o en las comunicaciones de los siervos con sus amos.

Pero los defensores modernos del “sumercé” afirman que su popularidad actual radica en el hecho de que ha perdido esa connotación jerárquica y hoy en día significa respecto y afecto, no reverencia o una distinción de clase social.

Jaspe afirmó que con el tiempo terminó considerando al “sumercé” una expresión casual de cariño, como en “‘sumercé’, qué bonito le queda ese sombrero”.

Luego de que Colombia se independizara de los españoles a principios del siglo XIX, la expresión “sumercé” permaneció vigente en el departamento de Boyacá, una exuberante región agrícola en el centro de Colombia, al norte de Bogotá.

Jorge Velosa, un cantautor y famosa voz de Boyacá (en una ocasión se presentó en el Madison Square Garden vestido con la tradicional ruana de la región), recordó que en la casa de su infancia, “sumercé” era la manera en que él y sus hermanos se referían a su madre, y su madre a ellos.

“‘Sumercé’”, contó, servía como una especie de término medio entre el rígido “usted” —utilizado en casa solo como preámbulo a una reprimenda— y el casi demasiado informal “tú”.

Con el tiempo, “sumercé” migró al sur junto con muchos boyacenses, a Bogotá, convirtiéndose en una parte tan importante del léxico del centro de Colombia como “bacano”, “chévere”, “parce”, “paila”, “qué pena” y “dar papaya”. (Como cuando se dice: “Sumercé, no dé papaya en la calle, le van a robar”).

En mayor parte, “sumercé” sigue siendo una característica del centro de Colombia, y rara vez se utiliza en la costa del país, donde el “tú” es más común, o en ciudades como Cali (“vos”) y Medellín (“tú”, “usted” y a veces “vos”).

Pero en la capital y sus alrededores, el “sumercé” aparece estampado en gorros, broches y camisetas y está incorporado en los nombres de restaurantes y mercados. Es el título de un nuevo documental sobre activistas ambientales colombianos. Es celebrado en canciones, pódcast, y lecciones de español colombiano en Spotify y YouTube.

“En este momento no marca ninguna clase social”, afirmó Andrea Rendón, de 40 años, de Bogotá. “Todos somos ‘sumercé’”.

Un video musical estrenado recientemente, “Sumercé”, del rapero Wikama Mc, refleja el estatus folclórico y genial que la frase ha alcanzado.

En una escena de una fiesta casera que podría estar ambientada en cualquier lugar de los Andes colombianos, el artista viste una ruana mientras celebra el “flow colombiano” de la mujer objeto de su afecto, quien, se jacta, “baila carranga” —música folclórica popularizada por Velosa— y también reguetón, ritmo fiestero moderno popularizado por celebridades internacionales como J. Balvin.

“Hábleme claro ‘sumercé’”, rapea, antes de saludar cordialmente a su novia quitándose su tradicional sombrero de fieltro.

La canción ha recopilado más de 18.000 vistas desde que fue subido a YouTube en diciembre. Una cifra admirable, considerando que el artista tiene 500 seguidores en la plataforma.

Echeverri, la estrella de rock, vinculó su uso de la frase con una estética punk, la cual busca una relación “horizontal” con la gente cotidiana. (En una entrevista en video reciente, la utilizó para conectar con la presentadora del programa, cuando habló de una nueva versión de una de “esas canciones que tan pronto ‘sumercé’ las ha oído tantas veces”).

La palabra sumercé, explicó en otra entrevista, “es cariñosa, pero a la vez es respetuosa y a la vez es como cercana, pero tampoco tanto”.

Por supuesto, no todos lo perciben de esa manera. Carolina Sanín, una escritora reconocida, ha criticado a quienes alegan que “sumercé” es tan omnipresente en Colombia que debería ser aceptado, sin ninguna crítica, como norma cultural.

Incluso en una región conocida por su pronunciada desigualdad, las divisiones de clases en Colombia siguen particularmente arraigadas. Al colombiano pobre promedio le toma 11 generaciones llegar al ingreso nacional promedio, según la Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económicos, dos más que en Brasil, tres más que en Chile y cinco más que en Argentina.

Décadas de violencia han reforzado estas barreras, permitiéndole a un pequeño grupo acumular capital y territorio. Para algunos, “sumercé” puede sentirse como una perpetuación o incluso una celebración de estas relaciones jerárquicas.

“También no pagar prestaciones sociales o la acumulación de la tierra es ‘vuestra costumbre’”, escribió Sanín en Twitter.

“Las palabras importan”, continuó. “Con las palabras se hacen los caminos a la justicia”.

Javier Guerrero-Rivera, un lingüista de Bogotá, encuestó recientemente a 40 estudiantes universitarios colombianos, y encontró que el 85 por ciento afirmó que no les molestaba el término, y sentían respeto y cariño cuando se les dirigía a ellos. Otro 10 por ciento se sentía indiferente ante la frase. Solo el 5 por ciento dijo que el término era despectivo o los incomodaba.

Juan Manuel Espinosa, subdirector del Instituto Caro y Cuervo, el cual se dedica a estudiar las particularidades del español colombiano, afirmó que creía que la división social descrita por personas como Sanín era precisamente lo que atraía a tantos colombianos hacia la palabra.

“El ‘sumercé’ es una manera de crear una conexión en una sociedad muy fragmentada”, dijo.

Jhowani Hernández, de 42 años, que opera máquinas de limpieza de oficinas, describió usar “sumercé” con su esposa, Beatriz Méndez, una ama de casa de 50 años, “cuando me saca la piedra” (expresión para denotar molestia), pero en su mayoría “para dar cariño”.

Aún así, Daniel Sánchez, un documentalista de 31 años en Bogotá, afirmó que había dejado de utilizar “sumercé” luego de que comenzó a pensar en “todo el trasfondo de la frase”, es decir, “esa cosa servil y colonialista que no es tan chévere”.

Ahora, cuando quiere transmitir respeto y cariño, utiliza un colombianismo diferente y menos cargado: “Veci”, diminutivo de “vecino”:

“Veci, no dé papaya en la calle, le van a robar”.

Simón Posada colaboró con reportería desde Bogotá.