BBC 2024-03-10 01:01:54

Gaza war fuels Jerusalem fears as Ramadan set to begin

There are renewed fears of violence spreading, particularly to Jerusalem, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, as a truce remains elusive.

Hamas has reiterated a call for Palestinians to step up visits to al-Aqsa Mosque.

Israel has accused Hamas of “striving to ignite the region during Ramadan”, which is due to begin in the next few days.

The third holiest shrine in Islam is a place of worship for local Muslims.

But the site – also the holiest place in Judaism, known as Temple Mount – is often a flashpoint during flare-ups in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Ramadan is due to begin on 10 or 11 March depending on sighting of the new moon.

This week, the courtyards of al-Aqsa were calm as I visited, but Palestinian worshippers’ minds were on the war.

“People don’t feel like celebrating and enjoying the regular Ramadan traditions,” said one woman, Ayat, sadly. “This year, they won’t go ahead because of what’s happening in Gaza.”

Hopes that a 40-day ceasefire could take effect by the start of Ramadan have faded although Egyptian sources say mediators will again meet a Hamas delegation on Sunday to try to reach an agreement with Israel.

Israel said on Saturday that its spy chief had met with his US counterpart as it continued efforts to try to release dozens of hostages.

Afterwards the Israeli prime minister’s office released a statement saying Hamas was “holding to its position,” as if it was “uninterested in a deal.”

A framework plan being discussed would see some of the Israeli hostages snatched by Hamas in its deadly 7 October attacks released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and an increase in aid, amid UN warnings of famine.

“This Ramadan will be difficult. How will we break our daily fast and eat when we think of our compatriots in Gaza,” commented Abu Nader, who had been following the news, as he crossed al-Aqsa in his mobility scooter.

“We pray to God for better times.”

Israeli police are always visibly dotted around the vast al-Aqsa mosque complex and have officers present at every gate, controlling access.

Since Israel captured East Jerusalem, including this part of the Old City, from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War and occupied and annexed it, the site has become a prominent symbol of the wider Palestinian struggle.

In 2000, the visit of then Israeli opposition leader, Ariel Sharon to the sacred hilltop was seen as a key trigger for the Second Palestinian Uprising, which Palestinians refer to as the “al-Aqsa Intifada”.

There are often clashes here between Israeli security forces and Palestinian worshippers, particularly during Ramadan.

Tensions also run high whenever there are Israeli nationalist marches in the Old City, and in response to calls from Israel’s far-right to change the long-established, highly sensitive religious status quo rules at the site, which permit Jewish visitors but not Jewish prayer.

In May 2021, heightened tensions in Jerusalem erupted in violence at al-Aqsa. Hamas then fired rockets at Jerusalem, leading to a short war in Gaza and widespread unrest between Jewish and Arab Israelis.

Last year, when Ramadan overlapped with the Jewish Passover holiday, reports circulated that Jewish extremists planned to carry out the ritual sacrifice of a goat on Temple Mount.

Not trusting Israeli police to prevent that, hundreds of Muslims barricaded themselves in al-Aqsa and stun grenades were used against them.

This year, Ramadan does not coincide with any major Jewish holiday.

How this Ramadan plays out depends a lot on events in Gaza as well as the limitations imposed by Israel.

The far-right Israeli National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, did call for tight restrictions on Muslim Israeli citizens’ access to al-Aqsa, saying this was to stop Hamas “celebrating victory” while Israeli hostages remained captive in Gaza.

However, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has now rejected the plan. He said that worshippers would be permitted to enter the mosque during the first week of Ramadan, as they have in the past, with the security situation re-evaluated each week.

It is not yet clear what numbers will be allowed to reach the site.

During the Gaza war, Israel has largely blocked Palestinians from the West Bank from entering Jerusalem. Typically, tens of thousands would pass through Israeli military checkpoints to attend Friday prayers during this sacred month.

  • Why are Israel and Hamas fighting in Gaza?

The Israeli government spokesman, Eylon Levy, insisted that the right decisions would be made to safeguard freedom of worship.

“Ramadan is often an occasion when extremist elements try to whip up and inflame violence. We are working to deter that,” he told the BBC.

“We will continue to facilitate access to the Temple Mount for worship as in previous years, make clear that is our policy and will, of course, work against anyone determined to disturb the peace.”

Next to the gold-gilded Dome of the Rock, I met Dr Imam Mustafa Abu Sway, a member of the Islamic Waqf council, which administers al-Aqsa Mosque or Haram al-Sharif, which the compound is also known as.

“A few years ago, Israel allowed practically everyone who wanted to, to come from the West Bank and there wasn’t one single incident,” the scholar said.

“People do come to worship. They don’t come to disturb the peace. If the Israeli police and security forces leave them alone, everything will, hopefully, be ok.”

This year, even more than usual, the world will be scrutinising what happens in Jerusalem, to see if that is the case.

UNRWA: Sweden and Canada resume funding for UN agency for Palestinian refugees

Sweden and Canada have said they will resume aid payments to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

They were among 16 countries that paused funds after Israel accused at least 12 UNRWA staff of involvement in the 7 October attack by Hamas.

The UN is investigating, and France’s foreign minister is leading a review.

Sweden said on Saturday it would send 200 million kronor (£15m; $19m) initially, after UNRWA agreed to more checks on its spending and staff.

“The government has allocated 400 million kronor to UNRWA for the year 2024. Today’s decision concerns a first payment of 200 million kronor,” it said in a statement.

It comes after Canada said on Friday that it would re-start funding for UNRWA while investigations into the agency’s staff continue.

On 7 October, Hamas gunmen stormed across Gaza’s border into Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostage.

In response, Israel launched a campaign of air strikes and a ground invasion of the territory.

More than 30,900 people have since been killed in Gaza, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry says, and the amount of aid reaching civilians has plummeted.

The UN has warned that a quarter of the Strip’s population is on the brink of famine and children are starving to death.

UNRWA is the biggest UN agency operating in Gaza. It provides healthcare, education and other humanitarian aid, and employs about 13,000 people there.

Its chief Philippe Lazzarini said he was “cautiously optimistic” donors would start funding it again within weeks.

He said the agency was “at risk of death” after major donor countries suspended funding following allegations in late January that a number of staff members were involved in the 7 October attack. Within days, Mr Lazzarini said an investigation was being carried out, and “to protect the agency’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance” these staff members had been sacked.

“What is at stake is the fate of the Palestinians today in Gaza in the short term who are going through an absolutely unprecedented humanitarian crisis,” Mr Lazzarini said.

The European Commission said earlier this month that it would release €50m in UNRWA funding.

Sweden is the fourth largest contributor to the agency’s budget, and Canada the 11th largest, 2022 data shows.

Canada’s decision was announced in a statement on Friday by the country’s Minister of International Development, Ahmed Hussen.

He said it was made so that “more can be done to respond to the urgent needs of Palestinian civilians”, and “in recognition of the robust investigative process under way”.

The Canadian Armed Forces will also donate about 300 cargo parachutes to Jordan, so they can be used to airdrop supplies into Gaza.

  • Why food airdrops into Gaza are controversial
  • Key UN Gaza aid agency runs into diplomatic storm

On Friday the EU, UK, US and others said they planned to open a sea route to Gaza to deliver aid that could begin operating this weekend.

Meanwhile an internal draft document compiled by UNRWA and seen by the BBC has detailed widespread abuse of Palestinians, including UNRWA employees who were released into Gaza from Israeli detention.

In the document, former detainees describe an extensive range of ill-treatment.

It says: “Agency staff members have been subject to threats and coercion by the Israeli authorities while in detention, and pressured to make false statements against the Agency, including that the Agency has affiliations with Hamas and that UNRWA staff members took part in the 7 October 2023 atrocities.”

In a statement provided to the BBC, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) rejected specific allegations and said: “The mistreatment of detainees during their time in detention or whilst under interrogation violates IDF values and contravenes IDF and is therefore absolutely prohibited.”

Oscars 2024: How to watch and who is nominated

The biggest night in the entertainment calendar is finally upon us – the 96th Oscars.

Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which has 13 nominations, is expected to sweep up at the ceremony later.

Many film fans will also be cheering on Barbie, last year’s biggest hit at the box office, which has eight nods.

Here are all the hot talking points and things to look out for at the ceremony (we’ve already placed a bet on Margot Robbie wearing pink).

Why are the Oscars such a big deal?

More formally known as the Academy Awards, the Oscars have been recognising big screen talent since 1929.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, based in Los Angeles, annually nominate and vote across more than 20 categories including best picture, best actor and best actress.

While film awards ceremonies including the Golden Globes and the Baftas attract plenty of attention, the Oscars is the pinnacle of achievement in the awards season calendar. The awards are voted for by Academy members.

Which films are in the running?

Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, about the life of the man who helped develop the atomic bomb, is leading the charge with 13 nominations including best picture, best actor (Cillian Murphy) and best supporting actress (Emily Blunt).

Titanic, Ben Hur and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King jointly hold the record for the most wins with 11, so could Oppenheimer match it or even do better?

  • 17 facts you need to know about this year’s Oscars
  • How to watch this year’s awards films
  • 10 things we spotted in the Oscars class photo
  • Lily Gladstone: The actress who could make Oscars history
  • Barbenheimer was wonderful for cinema, Murphy says
  • Oscars 2024: List of nominations in full
  • Can anything stop Oppenheimer’s march to the Oscars?

Its British-born filmmaker Nolan is the hot favourite to pick up best director. While his films have collected Oscars previously, the man behind movies including Interstellar, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises has never won this prestigious category.

In fact, despite his pedigree, he’s only been nominated for best director once previously (Dunkirk in 2018). This is surely his year.

Four out of five nominated directors this year are European (Nolan has dual US/British citizenship but he was born and grew up here so we’re claiming him).

If, as widely expected, Oppenheimer’s Robert Downey Jr picks up the award for best supporting actor, it will also be a first Oscar win for him.

Chasing down Oppenheimer with 11 nods is Yorgos Lanthimos’s brilliantly bizarre Poor Things is. Its star, Emma Stone, is a frontrunner in the best actress race alongside Lily Gladstone from Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. If Gladstone triumphs – and it’s hard to call at this point – she will be the first Native American to win the award.

Killers of the Flower Moon, about the murder of members of the Osage Indian tribe by white settlers who are after their oil, scored 10 nominations in total.

Scorsese has now been nominated for a best director Oscar 10 times, which makes him the most nominated living director in Academy Awards history. He’s also the oldest best director nominee at 81.

His long-time collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker is the most nominated editor in history with nine nods, and this could be a record-breaking fourth win for her (she currently holds the joint record with three wins).

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock since Christmas (and we’ve all felt like doing it in this weather), Barbie director Greta Gerwig and the film’s star, Margot Robbie, missed out on individual nominations when they were announced in January.

Barbie did land eight nods in total though, with America Ferrara and Ryan Gosling recognised in the best supporting actress and supporting actor categories respectively. But it’s still not Kenough for some.

All the films above are up for the coveted best picture prize, and are joined by French courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall, romantic drama Past Lives, Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro, incisive satire American Fiction, warm comedy tale The Holdovers and chilling Nazi drama The Zone of Interest.

What else is there to look out for?

The Barbenheimer juggernaut that sparked a thousand memes has done the Oscars no harm this year; the commercial success of these two films which have put bums on seats and also won over the critics, may bring new audiences to this year’s event.

While some categories appear to have it all wrapped up – The Holdovers’ Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Oppenheimer’s Robert Downey Jr have picked up pretty much every film prize going in the run-up to the Oscars – there could still be some surprises in store.

The race for best actress between Stone and Gladstone is too close to call, but could Gladstone’s recent Screen Actors Guild (SAG) win get her over the line? That’s what happened with Michelle Yeoh last year.

However, Stone has the showier role as Poor Things’ charming protagonist Bella Baxter, while Gladstone’s dignified and resilient Molly Kyle in Flower Moon is a more understated part that enjoys considerably less screen time. It’s an intriguing contest.

Best actor is also up in the air with Paul Giamatti (The Holdovers) and Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer) in a two-horse race, although Murphy seems to have his nose in front following recent wins at Bafta and SAG. If he wins, he will be the first Irish-born actor to triumph, although Day-Lewis, who holds both British and Irish citizenship, has won three best actor Oscars previously.

In best picture, could The Holdovers pull an Argo, winning best picture for a film in which the director (Alexander Payne) isn’t nominated for best director? It will take some doing to overhaul the Oppenheimer steamroller, but stranger things have happened.

Slightly in the realms of fantasy now, but if Rustin’s Colman Domingo also pulls off a big shock by winning the Oscar for best actor for playing gay Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin, he will be the first Afro-Latino actor to win the prize. And there are people of colour in every acting category.

Jodie Foster was nominated for best supporting actress for her portrayal of the gay swimming coach Bonnie Stoll in Nyad. It’s the first time two gay actors have been nominated for playing two gay characters in the same year.

There’s progress elsewhere, too. But it’s slow progress. Anatomy of a Fall’s Justine Triet is only the eighth woman to be nominated for best director (the Oscars director branch is made of up 75% men). However a record three films directed by women – Triet, Gerwig and Celine Song (Past Lives) – are up for best picture (out of a possible 10).

Other categories are also worth paying attention to – the short film and short animation categories are buckling under the strain of stardust this year.

Both shortlists are worth checking out in their own right but some names you might recognise include Wes Anderson, who has directed The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, a Roald Dahl adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes and Dev Patel.

Meanwhile, David Olewoyo stars in Misan Harriman’s The After, which tackles grief.

And Robbie Robertson could pick up a posthumous Oscar for best score for Killers of the Flower Moon. He sadly died aged 80 in August last year.

Dave Mullins, who worked at Pixar for 20 years, wrote and directed animated short War is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko. The famous pair’s son, Sean Lennon, is the executive producer.

Which stars are attending?

Anyone who is anyone will be there, is the short answer. Most of the nominees will be gracing the red carpet (we think it’s red anyway, last year they switched to a champagne colour but it got dirty very quickly).

Presenters include Zendaya, Al Pacino, Lupita Nyong’o, Bad Bunny, Dwayne Johson, Regina King, Matthew McConaughey, Mahershala Ali, Ke Huy Quan, Brendan Fraser and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Never mind the A-listers, we’re hoping Messi, the dog from Anatomy Fall, makes another star appearance.

Who is performing?

The best song nominees will all perform, including Barbie’s Ryan Gosling and Mark Ronson with I’m Just Ken. Gosling gave a hilarious reaction to the song’s win at the Critics’ Choice Awards earlier this year – bemused and almost suspicious.

Billie Eilish will also sing her Barbie track, the favourite to win, What Was I Made For?

Who is this year’s host?

US late night presenter Jimmy Kimmel returns to hosting duties this year – it will be his fourth time, including his stint at the helm last year, which marked a smooth return after the chaos of 2022’s ceremony when Will Smith slapped one of the awards presenters, Chris Rock.

Kimmel joked when his return was announced: “I always dreamed of hosting the Oscars exactly four times.” We bet it’s not his last, though.

How can I watch the Oscars?

The 2024 Oscars will air live on Sunday 10 March from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, where the ceremony has been held since 2002.

The show can be watched in the US on ABC and on various streaming services. It’s also broadcast around the world in more than 200 territories.

In the UK, you might actually be able to stay awake to watch this year. The awards start an hour earlier and the clocks in Los Angeles – PST – go forward an hour on Oscars Sunday. The show starts at 16:00 (PT), 19:00 (ET) and midnight (GMT). UK viewers can watch on ITV and ITVX from 22:30.

British and international buzz

As well as Nolan, other Brits in the running include Emily Blunt (Oppenheimer), Carey Mulligan (Maestro), Jonathan Glazer (director, The Zone of Interest), Jacqueline Durran (costume design, Barbie) and Holly Waddington (costume design, Poor Things).

And what about this for an effort? Special effects whizz Neil Corbould (who already has two Oscars under his belt) is up for three this year in the visual effects category for The Creator, Napoleon and Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.

Meanwhile, if Sandra Huller picks up best actress (Anatomy of a Fall) she will be the first German to do so in 60 years.

It’s also the first time two international films not in the English language have been nominated for best picture in the same year (Anatomy of a Fall and The Zone of Interest).

Read more about some of the films in this year’s Oscars race:

  • Poor Things: Emma Stone: Sex scenes in Poor Things are ‘honest’
  • The Holdovers: Could this film be a new Christmas classic?
  • Barbie: Billie Eilish dedicates award to people struggling
  • Oppenheimer: Cillian Murphy film marches towards Oscars success
  • The Zone of Interest: Auschwitz film was ‘like Big Brother’ in house next to camp
  • American Fiction: White audiences ‘too comfortable with black clichés’
  • Rustin: The gay civil rights activist history forgot
  • The Color Purple: Stars want to make Oprah proud
  • Past Lives: The film on lost love that crosses continents
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: Lily Gladstone could make Oscars history
  • Society of the Snow: Society of the Snow film explores cannibalism and survival
  • Maestro: Why the Bradley Cooper nose row is complicated
  • 20 Days in Mariupol: Award-winning film in town’s ‘Ukrainian Sunday’
  • The Creator: The Creator’s Gareth Edwards on shaking up Hollywood
  • The After: David Oyelowo: I had to crack open my heart for this role

Ramsdale relief after blunder as Arsenal go top

Eventually Aaron Ramsdale was able to break out into a relieved smile.

The Arsenal goalkeeper’s grin came moments after his team had beaten Brentford in a slog of a 2-1 win which moved the Gunners back to the top of the Premier League.

Ramsdale was not laughing, however, for most of the previous hour.

During that period it looked as though his error – hesitating on a backpass and seeing Brentford equalise when his eventual clearance was charged down by Yoane Wissa – would prove costly.

The 25-year-old looked distraught as he headed into half-time, and the contrasting nature of his emotions at the end of each half summed up a rollercoaster evening for the England keeper.

The high of a rare Premier League start was followed by the low of his mistake just before half-time.

But he recovered after the break to show his worth to the team, producing two saves from Ivan Toney and Nathan Collins which prevented Arsenal falling 2-1 behind.

Those stops proved pivotal as the home side went on to nick a late winner through Kai Havertz which surely left Ramsdale the most relieved man in Emirates Stadium.

“I’m really happy especially because he did exactly what he is, which is a person with huge personality and courage, very determined,” Gunners boss Mikel Arteta said.

“Errors are part of football. It’s how you react to it, especially for the keepers which is probably the most difficult position.

“He did so in an amazing way.

“I’m not surprised because the whole team and the whole stadium was behind him.

“He has earned that respect and admiration. We really wanted to win for him.”

How the dressing room rallied round Ramsdale

Had Havertz not rescued Arsenal, Ramsdale’s mistake might have have stopped Arsenal earning a statement win before title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City meet on Sunday at Anfield (15:45 GMT).

Perhaps it could have been even more detrimental long term.

The race between Arsenal, Liverpool and City is so tight it feels like any time one of the three challengers drops points, especially in a home game against a struggling side, it could decide the destination of the Premier League trophy.

After his goal secured victory, Havertz said the squad rallied round Ramsdale in the dressing room at half-time and moving on from the incident quickly is what helped them bounce back.

“Everyone in our team all made errors during the season. Sometimes when you are a goalkeeper it can look worse. We are all in this together,” said the Germany forward.

“We spoke about it in the dressing room at half-time and turned it around.

“It was tough for us – I think we handled it quite well. We conceded an unlucky goal but we believed and did it.”

Does Ramsdale’s mistake justify Arteta’s decision?

Arteta surprised many when he decided Arsenal needed another goalkeeper last summer.

Ramsdale had been the ever-present number one in Arsenal’s spirited title challenge last season, keeping 14 clean sheets and conceding 44 goals in 38 games – the second-lowest tallies in the top flight.

But Arteta believed his squad would be improved by Spain keeper David Raya, who arrived on a season-long loan from Brentford.

While Ramsdale did start the league campaign, he was swiftly replaced by Raya who appears to be preferred for his better distribution skills.

On Saturday, Ramsdale returned against Brentford to play in the Premier League for the first time since November’s reverse fixture and his sloppy error only served to underline Arteta’s stance on Raya becoming first choice.

Former Arsenal and England winger Karen Carney, covering the game as an analyst for Sky Sports, believes Wissa was emboldened to close down Ramsdale more quickly than he would have done if his former team-mate Raya was playing.

“Wissa trained every day with Raya last year and I’m not sure he’d have pressed him in the same way he did Ramsdale,” Carney said.

“We’ve seen all the stats that say Ramsdale is a brilliant shot-stopping goalkeeper, but the reason he is not in the Arsenal team is because of playing out from the back.”

Clearly Arteta had identified Ramsdale’s limitation in this crucial area integral to the way his side plays, and is why Raya will return as first choice when Arsenal go to Manchester City in their next Premier League game.

Ramsdale’s race may be run, but despite his error the Gunners are still in the thick of the most important race – to be crowned Premier League champions.

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Russian student jailed for pro-Ukraine wi-fi name

A student has been sentenced to 10 days in jail in Moscow after renaming his wi-fi network with a pro-Kyiv slogan.

The Moscow State University student had titled the network “Slava Ukraini!” which means “Glory to Ukraine!”.

A Moscow court found him guilty of displaying “symbols of extremist organisations” on Thursday.

Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, thousands have been handed prison terms or fines for criticising the invasion or supporting Ukraine.

The student was arrested on Wednesday morning in Moscow, after a police officer had reported the network name to authorities.

According to court documents, officers inspected his room within the university’s student accommodation, and found his personal computer and a wi-fi router.

The court said he had used the network to “promote the slogan ‘Slava Ukraini!’ to an unlimited number of users within wi-fi range.” The router has now been confiscated.

“Slava Ukraini” has become a rallying cry for supporters of Ukraine, and is regularly heard chanted during protests against Russia’s full-scale invasion, which it launched on 24 February, 2022.

The student was found guilty of “public demonstration of Nazi symbolism… or symbols of extremist organisations”. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly made baseless claims about a “neo-Nazi regime” in Ukraine, and used it to justify his invasion.

The student is the latest in a long list of ordinary Russians who have been punished for their comments – or actions – about the war. Last month, hundreds of people were detained for simply laying flowers in memory of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died under suspicious circumstances in an Arctic Circle prison.

The conflict is not even allowed to be called a “war” in Russia – it must be referred to as a “special military operation”.

According to Amnesty International, last year more than 21,000 people were targeted by Russia’s “repressive laws” used to “crack down on anti-war activists”.

The human rights group said “deeply unfair trials” were used to “dish out prison sentences and hefty fines to silence critics in response to the slightest dissent.”