The New York Times 2024-03-07 10:20:22


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.

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

Middle East Crisis: Houthis Claim Lethal Attack on Commercial Ship Near Yemen

3 killed in attack on commercial ship off Yemen’s coast.

The Houthi militia claimed responsibility for an attack on a commercial vessel off the coast of Yemen on Wednesday that killed 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.

One Vietnamese and two Filipino crew members died in the attack, and two others were seriously injured, a spokesman for the ship’s managers, Pat Adamson, said.

“This was the sad but inevitable consequence of the Houthis recklessly firing missiles at international shipping,” the British Embassy in Yemen said in a statement. “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 had broken out on the ship.

The U.S. military’s Central Command, in a statement late in the day, said that there was “significant damage to the ship.”

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 Mr. Adamson, who said that it 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.

The ship departed from China bound for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and its cargo included steel products and trucks, Mr. Adamson said.

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, he said. An Indian warship took the crew to Djibouti, he said.

The U.K. Maritime Trade Organization, an arm of the British Navy, said that the attack 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, resulting in an “environmental disaster.”

The True Confidence was drifting away from land, according to Mr. Adamson, and arrangements were being made to salvage it.

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 National Security Council spokesman, 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, with a guarantee that half go to northern Gaza, the official in the region said. These demands are ones that can be worked out between the Israeli government and Hamas, officials 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Israel-Hamas Talks Over Hostage Releases and a Cease-Fire Stall

Israel-Hamas Talks Over Hostage Releases and a Cease-Fire Stall

Officials say Hamas has continued to press Israel for a commitment to a permanent cease-fire after a multistage release of all hostages, but Israel has refused.

Ronen BergmanEdward Wong and

Ronen Bergman and Edward Wong reported from Istanbul, and Julian Barnes from Washington.

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 National Security Council spokesman, 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.

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

“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, with a guarantee that half go to northern Gaza, the official in the region said. These demands are ones that can be worked out between the Israeli government and Hamas, officials 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.

Israel Must Let More Aid Into Gaza, U.K. Tells Israeli Official

Israel Must Let More Aid Into Gaza, U.K. Tells Israeli Official

After meeting with Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, the British foreign secretary, David Cameron, had strong words about conditions in Gaza that “must change.”

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.

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

I.M.F. Agrees to Much Larger Rescue Package for Egypt

The International Monetary Fund has agreed to more than double a bailout package for Egypt, which is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, exacerbated by war in the neighboring Gaza Strip and in Ukraine.

The fund now plans to provide Egypt $8 billion, up from an initial $3 billion announced in October 2022.

The I.M.F.’s mission chief to Egypt, Ivanna Vladkova Hollar, noted at a news conference that the already-struggling Egyptian economy had been further hurt by the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which has cut into the country’s vital tourism trade.

At the same time, revenue from the Suez Canal dropped by half after Houthi militants, who say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, began attacking cargo ships using Red Sea shipping routes.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly of Egypt said that the deal would enable the government to secure an additional $1.2 billion, above the $8 billion, from the I.M.F.’s environmental suitability fund and would encourage development partners like the World Bank and the European Union to also give Egypt more loans to help it reach financial stability.

Last week, Egypt secured a deal worth $35 billion with the United Arab Emirates to develop parts of its Mediterranean coast. Egyptian officials celebrated it as the largest foreign direct investment in Egypt’s history.

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

Hours before the I.M.F. deal was announced, in an attempt to rein in soaring inflation, Egypt’s Central Bank devalued the currency by more than 35 percent — it was the fourth devaluation in two years — and raised interest rates by 600 basis points.

Mr. Madbouly said his government and the I.M.F. had reached consensus on the targets of Egypt’s structural reform plan.

“The aim is to raise foreign currency reserves, lower the debt burden, guarantee the flow of foreign direct investments and work towards high growth rates for the Egyptian economy,” he said.

The government and the monetary fund are committed to social protection measures for vulnerable people who will be affected by the reform plans, Mr. Madbouly said.

Over the past 18 months, a severe foreign currency shortage in Egypt, which overwhelmingly relies on imports, has sent prices — and anxiety about the future — off the charts. The cost of some basic food items quadrupled, debt burden reached an all-time high, and the currency lost a huge portion of its value, decimating the purchasing power of people’s incomes and the value of their life savings.

The Central Bank Governor, Hassan Abdalla, said the government’s medium-term plan aimed to bring down inflation, which hit a record-high of nearly 40 percent last summer, to a single digit.

Before the I.M.F. deal, growing economic pressure had forced the government to shift tactics, including freezing some costly megaprojects ordered up by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, including a lavish new capital in the desert.

Additional pressure came from the I.M.F., which refused to hand over much of the initial loan until Egypt made good on some economic policy conditions. Among them was encouraging private-sector growth by eliminating the competitive advantages enjoyed by Egypt’s military-owned businesses.

Over the past decade, Egypt’s economy has been struggling for stability. Many observers say mismanagement, including overspending on megaprojects and the longstanding overreliance on imports, left Egypt vulnerable to successive external shocks. Apart from the war in Gaza, there was the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which affected both tourism and essential wheat imports.

Mr. el-Sisi has repeatedly defended his government’s policies, saying that the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak set off lasting economic precarity.

In daily interactions on the streets of Cairo, however, and on social media, many blame the president, whom they accuse of spending on vanity projects and weakening the economy to the point of undermining Egypt’s influence in the region.

Some experts say the I.M.F., which has lent Egypt billions of dollars since 2016, is part of the problem.

“They don’t go deep enough into what’s happening in the machine,” said Mohamed Fouad, a financial consultant and former Egyptian lawmaker.

Mr. Fouad expects that the international lender will now be making more calculated decisions.

“Their biggest mistake,” he said, “came between 2016 and 2020, when everyone was cheering along, only focusing on the macroeconomic aspect. But the foundation was shaky.”

Vivian Yee contributed reporting.

Our best offer. Sale won’t lastA$0.50 a week for your first year.

save on all of the times
original price:   A$6.25sale price:   A$0.50/week

Learn more

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.”

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

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.”

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

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.

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

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.

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

After 217 Covid Vaccines, Man Had No Side Effects and Robust Immunity

Two years ago, German doctors stumbled across news reports of a man being investigated for receiving scores of coronavirus vaccines with no medical explanation.

Then followed a flurry of speculation about what he had been up to. As it turned out, prosecutors were looking into whether he had been receiving so many extra doses as part of a scheme to collect stamped immunization cards that he could later sell to people who wanted to skirt vaccine mandates.

But to the doctors, the man was a medical anomaly, someone who had defied official recommendations and turned himself into a guinea pig for measuring the outer limits of an immune response. Last year, they asked prosecutors investigating his vaccine splurge to pass along a request: Would he like to join a research project?

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

MH370 Disappeared a Decade Ago. Here’s What We Know Today.

On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was heading from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, to Beijing, when it deviated from its scheduled path, turning west across the Malay Peninsula.

The plane, a Boeing 777 carrying 239 people from 15 countries, is believed to have veered off course and flown south for several hours after radar contact was lost. Some officials believe it may have crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean after running out of fuel, but expansive search efforts over years have returned no answers, no victims, and no plane.

The reason the plane went off course and its exact location today remains one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time. This week, officials suggested a renewed search operation might be undertaken.

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

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.

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

Who are the Houthis?

The Houthis claim a deadly attack on a commercial ship off Yemen’s coast.

The Houthi militia claimed responsibility for an attack on a commercial vessel off the coast of Yemen on Wednesday that killed 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.

One Vietnamese and two Filipino crew members died in the attack, and two others were seriously injured, a spokesman for the ship’s managers, Pat Adamson, said.

“This was the sad but inevitable consequence of the Houthis recklessly firing missiles at international shipping,” the British Embassy in Yemen said in a statement. “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 had broken out on the ship.

The U.S. military’s Central Command, in a statement late in the day, said that there was “significant damage to the ship.”

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 Mr. Adamson, who said that it 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.

The ship departed from China bound for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and its cargo included steel products and trucks, Mr. Adamson said.

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, he said. An Indian warship took the crew to Djibouti, he said.

The U.K. Maritime Trade Organization, an arm of the British Navy, said that the attack 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, resulting in an “environmental disaster.”

The True Confidence was drifting away from land, according to Mr. Adamson, and arrangements were being made to salvage it.

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 National Security Council spokesman, 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, with a guarantee that half go to northern Gaza, the official in the region said. These demands are ones that can be worked out between the Israeli government and Hamas, officials 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Reporting from Belmopan, Belize

Leer en español

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.

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

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.

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

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.”

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

How John Travolta Became the Star of Carnival

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

Leer en español

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

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

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

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

Murder and Magic Realism: A Rising Literary Star Mines China’s Rust Belt

For a long time during Shuang Xuetao’s early teenage years, he wondered what hidden disaster had befallen his family.

His parents, proud workers at a tractor factory in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, stopped going to work, and the family moved into an empty factory storage room to save money on rent.

But they rarely talked about what had happened, and Mr. Shuang worried that some special shame had struck his family alone.

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

Can Gabriel Attal Win Over France?

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

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

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

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

Architect Embraces Indigenous Worldview in Australian Designs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

Reporting from Mexico City and León, Mexico

Leer en español

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

“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

Read in English
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.