The New York Times 2024-03-11 16:19:29

Middle East Crisis: Ramadan Begins as Hunger and Fear Stalk Gaza

‘Even without Ramadan, we are fasting’: Gazans brace for a holiday of hardship.

Marking Ramadan in Deir al Balah and Rafah in southern Gaza on Sunday.Credit…Mohammed Saber/EPA, via Shutterstock; Fatima Shbair/Associated Press; Said Khatib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is usually a time of religious devotion, dawn-to-dusk fasting, charity, family gatherings and nightly feasts.

All that seems far away this year in Gaza, now in the sixth month of an Israeli military offensive and near-total blockade. More than 31,000 people have been killed in Israel’s bombardments and ground invasion, severe hunger is spreading and the coastal strip has been devastated. The war has erased how Palestinians here used to live and observe Ramadan.

In peaceful times, the streets of Gaza’s cities would be packed with families buying Ramadan decorations and supplies — colorful lamps, food and sweets — and preparing for days of fasting, evenings of eating with family and nights of prayer at mosques.

“I remember the festivities of the month while walking through the market streets, with chants and praises everywhere,” said Ahmad Shbat, a 24-year-old street vendor. “Everything was available, and the mosques played a vital role.”

Now families have been separated and dispersed as most of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents have been forced to flee their homes. Many live in crowded tent encampments. Mosques that Israel claimed were used by Hamas fighters have been bombed to rubble. Gazans had hoped that a cease-fire deal would be reached before Ramadan began, but that didn’t happen.

Muslims can be exempt from fasting for many reasons, and some in Gaza have said that the hardships of war will make it difficult to observe daylong fasts. Others say that with starvation threatening Gaza, most are eating only one meal a day in any case and fasting will be no different from the hunger they have been forced to endure for months.

The enclave is nearing a famine, United Nations officials say. Almost no aid has reached northern Gaza for weeks. Gazan health officials say at least 20 Palestinian children have died from malnutrition and dehydration.

People are so hungry that some have resorted to eating leaves and animal feed. Many have been subsisting on a native wild plant known as Egyptian mallow, commonly eaten by Palestinians.

Mr. Shbat, who was displaced from his home, is sheltering with four members of his family in a school classroom in Jabaliya, in northern Gaza. He said that Ramadan this year “won’t be pleasant, especially because we will be away from our houses and loved ones.”

“There is no meaning to the month without gathering around the table with the family,” he said in a phone interview. And with the destruction of mosques, he added, it feels like “we lost the joy of Ramadan.”

Still, people are doing what they can to observe the holiday. At the school where Mr. Shbat is living, he said, people have prepared the courtyard for the nightly Ramadan prayers called taraweeh.

Iman Ali, a 42-year-old mother of four whose husband was killed in the war, said in a telephone interview from Jabaliya that she would spend her days going out to look for food for her children, two of whom are injured. But she can’t find anything in the markets to buy, she said. For more than a month she and her children have had barely anything to eat.

“Even without Ramadan, we are fasting,” she said.

Normally in the lead-up to Ramadan, Ms. Ali would be at her home in northern Gaza preparing the house for a month of worship and festivities. Instead, she spends her days walking the streets looking for food and praying for an aid airdrop from the sky.

Despite the daily struggles and uncertainty they are living through, they hold on to their faith and religious practices.

“We can’t not fast,” Ms. Ali said. “It’s Ramadan.”

Ameera Harouda contributed reporting.

Hopes for a cease-fire before the Muslim holy month were dashed.

International hopes of reaching a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan were dashed on Sunday, hours before Palestinians and other Muslims were to begin the month of daytime fasting, as Hamas repeated demands for a comprehensive cease-fire, which Israel has rejected.

Egypt, Qatar and the United States had sought to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas before the start of Ramadan on Monday, and there had been optimism for a last-minute deal that would allow for the release of some Israeli hostages held in Gaza and Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

But weeks of indirect negotiations have stalled, and a top Hamas political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a televised speech on Sunday that Hamas wanted an agreement that would end the war, guarantee the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, return displaced Palestinians to their homes and provide for the humanitarian needs of Gazans.

Israel “wants to get its prisoners back and then resume the war on our people,” he said.

Mr. Haniyeh said if the mediators were to inform Hamas that Israel was committed to ending the war, withdrawing from Gaza and permitting the return of displaced people to the north, then the Islamist group would be ready to show flexibility on the issue of exchanging Palestinian prisoners for hostages.

“The enemy must understand that it will pay a price on the issue of an exchange, but the top priority is protecting our people, ending the aggression and massacres, returning the displaced people to their homes, and opening a political horizon for our issue and people,” he said.

Some Palestinians in Gaza have criticized Hamas, arguing the group was holding up negotiations in order to press Israel into freeing more Palestinian prisoners.

In an interview with Politico that was published on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel suggested a cease-fire was not imminent, saying that he would “like to see another hostage release” but that there had not been a breakthrough in negotiations.

“Without a release, there’s not going to be a pause in the fighting,” he said.

Israel has said it must wipe out Hamas’s military and governing abilities in Gaza before agreeing to end the war. It also has said a key goal of the war was the return of all the hostages taken in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

On Friday, David Barnea, the chief of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, met with the C.I.A. director, William J. Burns, in an effort to advance a deal to release hostages, the Israeli spy agency said. The Mossad accused Hamas of seeking to inflame the region at the expense of Palestinians in Gaza, but said that ongoing talks were aimed narrowing the gaps between Israel and Hamas.

In an interview with MSNBC on Saturday, President Biden said that he remained hopeful that the United States could still help broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas as Ramadan approached, kicking off a month of family celebrations and nightly feasts.

“I think it’s always possible,” Mr. Biden said.

Israeli police officers blocked many Palestinians from Al Aqsa Mosque at the start of Ramadan, videos show.

Palestinian and Israeli news media reported late Sunday that police officers had prevented many Palestinians from entering Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City to perform prayers for the start of Ramadan.

Both cited a video that shows officers with batons chasing and beating some Palestinians. Video taken by The New York Times also shows people running from uniformed officers who are using batons.

The mosque is one of the holiest structures in Islam, and is a chronic flashpoint in tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has long restricted access to the mosque during Ramadan for Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Last week, Israel said it would let a similar number of worshipers enter the Aqsa Mosque compound — which is also sacred to Jews — during the current holy month as it had in previous years.

But the potential for tensions remained. Hamas has called on Palestinians to engage in “confrontation with the enemy to protect Al Aqsa” during Ramadan. Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister, who had called on the government to tighten restrictions on access to the mosque for Muslims during the holy month, said that failing to do so would undermine efforts to destroy Hamas, which attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

The 35-acre site that encloses the mosque is known by Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, and by Jews as the Temple Mount. The site is part of the Old City of Jerusalem, and is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims.

In Arabic, “aqsa” translates as farthest, and in this case it is a reference to Islamic scripture and its account of the Prophet Muhammad traveling from Mecca to the site in one night to pray and then ascending to heaven.

The mosque, which can hold 5,000 worshipers, is believed to have been completed early in the eighth century and faces the Dome of the Rock, the golden-domed Islamic prayer hall that is a widely recognized symbol of Jerusalem. Muslims consider the whole compound to be holy, with crowds of worshipers filling its courtyards to pray on holidays.

Many Palestinians say their access to Al Aqsa compound has become increasingly restricted in favor of Jews, who consider the Temple Mount one of the most sacred places in Judaism because it was the site of two ancient temples. The first was built by King Solomon, according to the Bible, and destroyed by the Babylonians; the second stood for nearly 600 years before the Roman Empire destroyed it in the first century.

Incidents at the compound have at times been the spark for broader conflicts. The second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, was set off in 2000 when Ariel Sharon, who later became Israel’s prime minister, visited Al Aqsa surrounded by hundreds of police officers. Confrontations at the compound in May 2021 contributed to the outbreak of an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

Biden, marking Ramadan, says the war has inflicted ‘terrible suffering’ on Gaza.

President Biden, marking the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, said he would press for a cease-fire in Gaza and more humanitarian aid for the territory, and noted that many American Muslims were grieving for family members killed there.

The war has inflicted “terrible suffering” on the Palestinian people, Mr. Biden said in the statement, released Sunday night, adding that “more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians, including thousands of children.” In addition, nearly two million people have been displaced and need food, water and shelter, he said.

Mr. Biden’s comments were part of a tradition of U.S. presidential statements marking religious holidays, but they carried additional political significance given many Arab Americans’ opposition to U.S. support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

In one measure of the war’s potential electoral significance, more than 100,000 voters in Michigan’s Democratic primary last month registered their ballot as “uncommitted.” That signaled discontent over the war among Arab Americans, as well as some young voters and progressives, in a battleground state.

Mr. Biden noted that the United States was carrying out airdrops of aid and reiterated a U.S. commitment to building a temporary pier on Gaza’s coast, as well as working with Israel to expand deliveries of aid by land.

Since Oct. 7, when Hamas led an attack on Israel in which the authorities there say around 1,200 people were killed, the number of trucks entering Gaza daily with food and other humanitarian aid has dropped by around 80 percent, according to U.N. data.

“The United States will continue working nonstop to establish an immediate and sustained cease-fire for at least six weeks as part of a deal that releases hostages,” Mr. Biden said, referring to around 100 hostages seized on Oct. 7 who Israeli authorities say remain in captivity in Gaza.

“We will continue building toward a long-term future of stability, security, and peace,” he said in the statement, which also decried an “appalling resurgence of hate and violence toward Muslim Americans.”

Netanyahu rejects a rebuke from Biden as their public rift grows.

A day after President Biden asserted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu dismissed that contention as “wrong,” escalating the leaders’ increasingly public dispute.

Mr. Netanyahu, in an interview with Politico, challenged Mr. Biden’s assessment of Israel’s military strategy in the Gaza Strip, and said that his policies represented what the “overwhelming majority” of Israelis wanted.

“I don’t know exactly what the president meant, but if he meant by that that I’m pursuing private policies against the majority, the wish of the majority of Israelis, and that this is hurting the interests of Israel, then he’s wrong on both counts,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

He added, “They’re policies supported by the overwhelming majority of the Israelis. They support the action that we’re taking to destroy the remaining terrorist battalions of Hamas.”

Mr. Netanyahu was responding to comments Mr. Biden made on Saturday in an interview with MSNBC. Mr. Biden rebuked Mr. Netanyahu over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, even as he reaffirmed American support for Israel.

“He has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas, but he must, he must, he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken,” Mr. Biden said.

“In my view, he’s hurting Israel more than helping Israel,” Mr. Biden said, appearing to refer to Mr. Netanyahu’s military strategy. “It’s contrary to what Israel stands for, and I think it’s a big mistake. So I want to see a cease-fire.”

Asked by the interviewer, Jonathan Capehart, if he had a “red line” that Mr. Netanyahu should not cross, like a ground invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, Mr. Biden offered a muddled response but said that “the defense of Israel is still critical.”

“He cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead as a consequence” of his pursuit of Hamas, the president said, referring to Mr. Netanyahu.

“There’s other ways to deal, to get to, to deal with the trauma caused by Hamas,” he added.

Mr. Biden did not offer details. The Gazan health ministry has said that more than 31,000 people have been killed in the enclave since Israel began the war in response to the Oct. 7 attacks launched by Hamas.

But the president’s comments once again highlighted the delicate position the United States has found itself in: arming Israel while at the same time providing humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Mr. Biden has been more forceful in recent days about the plight of civilians in Gaza, urging Mr. Netanyahu not to go ahead with his stated plans to launch a major ground offensive in Rafah without a plan to protect those sheltering there. More than a million Gazans have sought refuge in the city, many of whom were displaced by Israeli military orders to move into so-called safe zones.

In the interview with Politico, Mr. Netanyahu reiterated that Israel still intended to invade Rafah: “We’ll go there. We’re not going to leave. You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is, that Oct. 7 doesn’t happen again. Never happens again.”

When asked about Mr. Biden’s remarks, Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, declined to say what they suggested about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

“I am trying to separate between rhetoric and essence: The goals of the war and the state of Israel are simple — they are to release all of the hostages and to dismantle Hamas’s military and leadership force,” Mr. Katz told Kan, Israel’s public radio network on Sunday. “The United States supports these goals as Biden had stressed yesterday.”

He added that Israel had said there would be a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah before any ground invasion, and he reiterated that his country’s military did not “deliberately harm civilians.”

The push toward Rafah has drawn warnings from the United States and other allies about the potential humanitarian cost. The United Nations has said that a ground invasion of Rafah could have “huge implications for all of Gaza, including the hundreds of thousands at grave risk of starvation and famine in the north.”

Under Mr. Biden’s direction, U.S. military cargo planes have in recent days dropped food, water and other aid into Gaza a handful of times. The latest airdrop came on Sunday, when the U.S. military said it dropped meals along with rice, flour and other goods into northern Gaza.

In addition, the Biden administration has announced plans to build a floating pier off the coast of Gaza to deliver more supplies to the enclave.

But American officials have acknowledged that dropping aid by air and building a pier will not be as effective as delivering supplies by land, an option that Israel has largely blocked.

Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting.

A U.S. military ship has set sail to help build a pier off Gaza for aid.

The U.S. military said on Sunday that a ship had set sail carrying equipment to build a floating pier on Gaza’s coast, part of a Biden administration effort to deliver aid to the enclave by sea and help ease its hunger crisis.

The administration’s plan for a pier and causeway, announced last week, could eventually help deliver as many as two million meals a day for residents of Gaza. But the Pentagon has said that the project will take weeks to complete, and humanitarian officials have criticized the plans, saying delivering aid by truck is far more efficient.

On Sunday, the U.S. military said that an Army ship, the General Frank S. Besson, had set sail from a base near Norfolk, Va., a day earlier. It was unclear when it would reach Gaza.

“Besson, a logistics support vessel, is carrying the first equipment to establish a temporary pier to deliver vital humanitarian supplies,” it said in a post on social media.

The Pentagon has said that one of the main military units involved in the construction of the floating pier would be the Army’s Seventh Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), and that some 1,000 American service members would work to complete it.

The Israeli military will help coordinate the installation of the pier, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces, said on Saturday. Shipments will be inspected by Israeli troops before they are handed off to aid groups that will distribute it, he said.

The U.S. project is the latest in a flurry of efforts to get more aid into the enclave — including by sea — amid warnings from the United Nations that a famine in Gaza is imminent.

Such plans will come with significant logistical challenges and a hefty price tag, diplomats and officials have said. Aid officials have said that trucks are the most efficient and cheapest way to deliver food and supplies to Gaza, urging Israel to open more border crossings and ease its entry restrictions.

Britain, the European Union and the United Arab Emirates said on Friday that they would join a separate maritime initiative to get aid into Gaza.

And on Saturday, World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization founded by the renowned Spanish chef José Andrés, said that its staff was loading a cargo ship in Cyprus with 200 tons of rice, flour and proteins. It added that the ship was expected to depart from Larnaca, Cyprus, as soon as possible and head off on an estimated 60-hour trip to the Gaza Strip.

The ship, called Open Arms, is owned by a Spanish aid group of the same name that is a partner in the initiative along with the United Arab Emirates. They are trying to deliver the first sea shipment of food and humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

Helene Cooper, Gaya Gupta and Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

Ukraine Could Deploy F-16s as Soon as July, but Only a Few

The jets are ready, and the flight instructors are waiting, at a new training center in Romania that was created to teach Ukraine’s pilots to fly the F-16 warplane. But there’s a catch: The Ukrainian pilots have yet to arrive, despite declarations last summer that the center would play a crucial role in getting them into the air to defend their country from increasingly deadly Russian strikes.

It’s still unclear when Ukrainian pilots will begin training at the center, at the Fetesti air base in southeast Romania, which NATO allies also are using to get schooled on the fighter jets. But the delay is a window into the confusion and chaos that has confronted the military alliance’s rush to supply the F-16s.

That is not to say that Ukraine’s pilots are not being prepared. Twelve pilots so far — fewer than a full squadron — are expected to be ready to fly F-16s in combat by this summer after 10 months of training in Denmark, Britain and the United States.

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Navigating Israeli Restrictions, Many Palestinians Find It Hard to Reach Al Aqsa

As the sermon about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan sounded over the speakers from Al Aqsa Mosque, 13-year-old Yousef al-Sideeq sat on a bench outside the compound’s gates.

“Most Fridays they prevent me from getting in, for no reason,” the young Jerusalem resident said, referring to the Israeli police.

Every Friday, Yousef visits Jerusalem’s Old City to pray at Al Aqsa, the third holiest site for Muslims and part of the compound sacred to Jewish people, who call it the Temple Mount. But since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks and Israel’s ensuing bombardment of Gaza, heavily armed Israeli police forces who guard many of the Old City’s gates have stopped him from entering the compound, he said.

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A Dutch Quandary Offers a Glimpse of a Deepening Problem for Europe

Just months ago, Geert Wilders was an anathema to most Dutch political parties.

A disruptive and divisive force on the far right for two decades, Mr. Wilders has said he wants to end immigration from Muslim countries, tax head scarves and ban the Quran. He has called Moroccan immigrants “scum.” His Party for Freedom has supported leaving the European Union.

But then Mr. Wilders won national elections convincingly in November. Nearly a quarter of Dutch voters chose his party, which won 37 of 150 seats in the House of Representatives, a huge margin by the standards of a fractious party system that rests on consensus and coalition building.

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Princess Catherine Apologizes, Saying She Edited Image

Catherine, the Princess of Wales, apologized on Monday for doctoring a photo of her with her three children, which was recalled by several news agencies on Sunday after they determined the image had been manipulated.

The decision to recall the photo reignited a storm of speculation about Catherine, who has not been seen in public since she had abdominal surgery nearly two months ago. In her statement, the 42-year-old princess chalked up the alteration to a photographer’s innocent desire to retouch the image.

“Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing,” Catherine wrote in a post on social media. “I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused.”

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‘Strong Movement’ on Flight to New Zealand Leaves Dozens Injured

About 50 people were treated by emergency medical workers on Monday after a Latam Airlines flight bound for Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, experienced what the airline called “strong movement” caused by a “technical problem.”

Twelve people, one of whom was in serious condition, were taken to three hospitals, Auckland’s ambulance service said. Latam, a Chilean airline, provided no specifics about the technical problem that it said had caused the disturbance.

The plane made a “violent drop” for just a second or two, said Brian Jokat, who was on board Latam Airlines Flight 800. Aircraft tracking information from Flight Aware showed a gap of roughly an hour for which no data was available.

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Swiss Rescuers Find Bodies of Five Missing Skiers

Five missing skiers were found dead in the Swiss Alps and the search was ongoing for a sixth member of their group, the local police said on Monday.

The skiers set out from the Swiss resort town of Zermatt on Saturday morning, aiming for the village of Arolla, across a series of snow-covered peaks.

A relative alerted rescue services on Saturday afternoon that the group of Swiss citizens age 21 to 58 had failed to arrive at the village, according to a statement from the Valais region’s police force.

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How the Wait for Olympic Medals Became an Endurance Sport

It took Lashinda Demus of the United States 52.77 seconds to run the women’s 400-meter hurdles at the 2012 London Olympics. It took more than a decade for her to be upgraded to first place from second. A year after that decision, and 12 years after the race, she is still waiting to receive her gold medal.

One of her American teammates, Erik Kynard Jr., competed in the high jump at the London Games. Like Demus, he was beaten by a Russian athlete later found guilty of doping. And like Demus, he had to wait many years before being named the victor. He, too, has never touched his gold medal.

Demus and Kynard are expected to finally receive their medals this summer during the Paris Olympics, according to officials at the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee. The details are still being ironed out; officials hope a resolution could come soon.

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As Israel’s Ties to Arab Countries Fray, a Strained Lifeline Remains

Only a few years ago, plenty of citizens of the United Arab Emirates were willing to speak warmly about their country’s budding ties with Israel.

Israel had just established relations with the Emirates through a U.S.-brokered deal. Business groups had sprung up to funnel cross-country investment. Two women, Emirati and Israeli, posed for a photograph holding hands atop a skyscraper in Dubai. American, Emirati and Israeli officials predicted that their deal, called the Abraham Accords, would spread peace across the Middle East.

But now, as Israel’s monthslong bombardment of Gaza fuels anger around the region, Emirati fans of the deal are increasingly hard to find.

An Emirati businessman who had once touted the economic ties said that he had left an Emirati-Israeli business council and that he had nothing else to say. Some Emiratis, although frustrated with the accords, said they were afraid to speak publicly, citing their authoritarian government’s history of arresting critics. One figure who did speak out, Dubai’s deputy police chief, declared online that Arabs had “truly wanted peace” and that Israel had “proved that its intentions are evil.”

Neither the Emirates nor Israel is likely to walk away from the deal, analysts say: It remains a diplomatic lifeline for Israel while its ties to other Arab countries fray, and it has brought the Emirates billions in trade and positive public relations in Western nations. But the current trajectory of the war does not bode well for the accords or the security of the Middle East, said Mohammed Baharoon, the head of B’huth, a Dubai research center.

“This is a partnership,” he said, “and if one partner is not paying their dues, then it’s not a partnership anymore.”

Anger toward Israel and its main ally, the United States, has risen sharply in the Arab world over Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza, which has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, Gazan health officials say, and left two million others facing mass displacement, the risk of starvation and a collapsing medical system.

For the handful of Arab leaders who maintain ties with Israel, the war has pushed them to reconsider that relationship. Jordan recalled its ambassador in November. Egyptian officials have warned that any action that sends Gazans spilling into Egypt could potentially jeopardize a decades-old treaty. And Israel’s ambassadors to Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt have largely remained in Israel since the war began on Oct. 7, after the Hamas-led attack that Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people.

The diplomatic chill has left Israel’s Embassy and Consulate in the Emirates as its only fully functioning diplomatic mission in the Arab world. Several government-owned airlines also suspended flights, leaving the Emirates as the only country in the Middle East where people can fly directly to Israel.

Despite the pressure, Emirati officials say they have no intention of cutting ties.

In a written statement to The New York Times, the Emirati government highlighted how Emirati officials had used their relationship with Israel to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid for Gazans, as well as the medical treatment of injured Gazans taken to the Emirates.

“The U.A.E. believes that diplomatic and political communications are important in difficult times such as those we are witnessing,” the government said.

In late February, Israel’s economy minister, Nir Barkat, became the first Israeli minister to visit the Emirates since Oct. 7, attending a gathering of the World Trade Organization. In an interview, he said he was “very optimistic” after meeting with Emirati officials.

“There’s a bit of sensitivity while the war is still happening,” he said, but the two countries “have aligned interests, and the Abraham Accords are extremely strategic for all of us.”

Still, even if the existence of the accords is not at stake, what the relationship will look like is far from certain, many Israelis and Emiratis said.

“The romantic phase of the Abraham Accords kind of faded away,” said Noa Gastfreund, an Israeli co-founder of the Tech Zone, a group that connects Emirati and Israeli tech entrepreneurs and investors. Now, she said, “we got into the realistic phase of understanding that it won’t be easy.”

The accords, announced in 2020, were particularly coveted by Israel as a major step toward greater integration into the Middle East, where Arab countries had long isolated Israel over its treatment of Palestinians and control over Gaza and the West Bank.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Donald J. Trump hailed the deal as a milestone, the Emirati president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, tempered his celebration. He emphasized that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump had reached an agreement “to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories.”

Over the next few years, hundreds of thousands of Israeli tourists poured into the Emirates, and in 2022, the country reported $2.5 billion in trade with Israel. A handful of Israeli restaurants opened in Dubai; one called itself Cafe Bibi, after Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname.

But cracks soon emerged among disappointed Emiratis, watching as Jewish settlements expanded in the West Bank and Israel formed the most right-wing government in its history.

Multiple plans by Mr. Netanyahu to visit the Emirates never materialized. The accords did not expand to include countries like Oman or Qatar. And while Saudi officials have pursued talks with American officials to potentially recognize Israel, they are uninterested in joining the accords — and are demanding heavy concessions.

At a conference in September, Anwar Gargash, a senior Emirati official, said that the Israeli relationship was “going through a difficult time.”

Tensions have only worsened since the war began. Dhahi Khalfan, Dubai’s deputy police chief, has posted scathing denunciations of Israel on social media, saying that Israeli leaders “don’t deserve respect.”

“I hope for all Arab leaders to reconsider the issue of dealing with Israel,” he wrote in January — an unusually frank plea in the Emirates, where most citizens say little about politics, out of both deference and fear.

Several Emiratis declined to be interviewed about the war in Gaza or Emirati ties with Israel. One Emirati in his 20s agreed to speak on the condition that he be identified only by a middle name, Salem.

He described a growing sense of cognitive dissonance as he enjoyed a comfortable life, amid gleaming skyscrapers and specialty coffee shops, while images of death and destruction streamed out of Gaza. The relationship with Israel was demoralizing, he said, particularly because he and many Emiratis had been raised to view Palestinians as brothers whom they must protect.

He now believes the Abraham Accords were an attempt to curry favor with the Emirates’ Western allies, he said. It made him feel like his country’s values were up for sale, he said.

Emirati views toward the accords had already grown darker before the war, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a generally pro-Israel research organization. By November 2022, 71 percent of those surveyed in the Emirates said that the accords were having a “negative” effect on their region.

So far, Emirati officials have responded to the war by focusing on aid to Gaza, directing increasingly harsh rhetoric toward Israel, and calling for a cease-fire and the creation of a Palestinian state.

The strongest remarks from an Emirati official to date came from Lana Nusseibeh, the country’s U.N. representative, in recent testimony to the International Court of Justice. She denounced “Israel’s indiscriminate attacks on the Gaza Strip,” argued that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank was illegal and demanded consequences.

She also said, at a conference in Dubai last month, that the Emirati government was not willing to fund the reconstruction of Gaza without an “irreversible” pathway to a Palestinian state.

In an interview, Mohammed Dahlan, an influential Palestinian exile and a close adviser to the Emirati president, suggested that Arab rulers had soured on Mr. Netanyahu.

Before the war, Mr. Netanyahu and Biden administration officials had set their eyes on a larger prize than relations with the Emirates: an Israeli deal with Saudi Arabia.

That prospect now looks increasingly out of reach, scholars say.

“Israel has become a moral burden for anyone engaging with it,” a Saudi academic, Hesham Alghannam, wrote in a Saudi magazine last month. “Arabs are nearing the conclusion that while peace with Israel may still be conceivable, it is no longer desirable.”

During Mr. Barkat’s visit, an image circulated on social media of the Israeli minister and Saudi Arabia’s commerce minister exchanging business cards at an event. The Saudi government swiftly denied the meeting had been intentional.

“An unknown individual approached the minister to offer greetings and later identified himself as the minister of economy in the Israeli occupation government,” the government said in a statement.

Asked about the Saudi reaction, Mr. Barkat said, “we love to create collaboration with all peace-seeking countries in the region.”

Patrick Kingsley, Adam Rasgon and Omnia Al Desoukie contributed reporting.

‘It’s a Way of Life’: Women Make Their Mark in the Ukrainian Army

Over two weeks, Nicole Tung spent time with women serving in Ukraine’s army in the country’s east.

On the front line just outside Bakhmut, Ukraine, a 32-year-old commander of a Ukrainian artillery platoon rocked to and fro in the passenger seat of a beat-up Lada, as another soldier navigated the car through a thick forest, sometimes mowing down young trees. When they reached their destination, a small village less than two miles from Russian lines, all that was left were destroyed houses, their shattered roofs visible in the moonlight.

The commander, a female soldier who uses the call sign Witch, is a former lawyer who, along with two of her brothers and her mother, joined the military the day after Russia invaded in February 2022. Her first experience in combat was in the outskirts of Kyiv that year, and much of what she has learned about weapons systems since has been self-taught and on the fly.

Since early 2023, Witch has been with her platoon in the 241st Brigade in the area around Bakhmut, supervising all of the artillery systems. She is resolute about staying in the military even if the war ends. “People who want to join the armed forces must understand that it’s a way of life,” she said.

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Will Memes About Politicians Now Get Sri Lankans Thrown in Jail?

Even in the darkest of times, Sri Lankans held on to their humor.

In 2022, when the island nation’s economy collapsed and the government announced a QR code system to ration gasoline, a meme spread online: “Scanning Fuel QR Code Now Makes You Forget Last Three Months.”

And when public anger forced the strongman president to flee his palace, with protesters venturing inside to fry snacks in his kitchen and jump into his pool, another meme captured the mood upon their departure: “We Are Leaving. The Key Is Under the Flower Pot.”

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Portugal’s Socialist Party Concedes Election Amid Far-Right Surge

Portugal’s Socialist Party conceded defeat on Sunday night in a very tight national election that ended the party’s eight years in power and reflected the country’s drift to the right, which follows a broader trend in Europe.

That shift was marked by the ascent of Chega, an anti-establishment, right-wing party, which skyrocketed from recent irrelevance to become the third most popular party in Portugal.

The Socialist Party, which has been hobbled by a corruption investigation, had been running neck and neck with the Democratic Alliance, a center-right coalition, until late in the evening, when the Socialist leader conceded at a news conference.

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Three Is Best: How China’s Family Planning Propaganda Has Changed

For decades, China harshly restricted the number of children couples could have, arguing that everyone would be better off with fewer mouths to feed. The government’s one-child policy was woven into the fabric of everyday life, through slogans on street banners and in popular culture and public art.

Now, faced with a shrinking and aging population, China is using many of the same propaganda channels to send the opposite message: Have more babies.

The government has also been offering financial incentives for couples to have two or three children. But the efforts have not been successful. The birthrate in China has fallen steeply, and last year was the lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Instead of enforcing birth limits, the government has shifted gears to promote a “pro-birth culture,” organizing beauty pageants for pregnant women and producing rap videos about the advantages of having children.

In recent years, the state broadcaster’s annual spring festival gala, one of the country’s most-watched TV events, has prominently featured public service ads promoting families with two or three children.

In one ad that aired last year, a visibly pregnant woman was shown resting her hand on her belly while her husband and son peacefully slept in bed. The caption read: “It’s getting livelier around here.”

The propaganda effort has been met with widespread ridicule. Critics have regarded the campaign as only the latest sign that policymakers are blind to the increasing costs and other challenges people face in raising multiple children.

They have also mocked the recent messaging for the obvious regulatory whiplash after decades of limiting births with forced abortions and hefty fines. Between 1980 and 2015, the year the one-child policy officially ended, the Chinese government used extensive propaganda to warn that having more babies would hinder China’s modernization.

Today the official rhetoric depicts larger families as the cornerstone of attaining a prosperous society, known in Chinese as “xiaokang.”

For officials, imposing the one-child policy also meant they had to challenge the deep-rooted traditional belief that children, and sons in particular, provided a form of security in old age. To change this mind-set, family planning offices plastered towns and villages with slogans saying that the state would take care of older Chinese.

But China’s population is aging rapidly. By 2040, nearly a third of its people will be over 60. The state will be hard pressed to support seniors, particularly those in rural areas, who get a fraction of the pension received by urban salaried workers under the current program.

Now the official messaging has shifted dramatically, highlighting the importance of self-reliance and family support.

Under the one-child policy, local governments levied steep “social upbringing fees” on those who had more children than allowed. For some families, these penalties brought financial devastation and fractured marriages.

As recently as early 2021, people were still being fined heavily for having a third child, only to find out a few months later, in June, that the government passed a law allowing all married couples to have three children. It had also not only abolished these fees nationwide but also encouraged localities to provide extra welfare benefits and longer parental leave for families with three children.

The pivot has prompted local officials to remove visible remnants of the one-child policy. Last year, local governments across various provinces systematically erased outdated slogans on birth restrictions from public streets and walls.

In a village in Shanxi Province in northern China, government employees took down a mural with a slogan that promoted the one-child policy.

But the slogans that the government would like to treat as relics of a bygone era are finding new resonance with young Chinese.

On social media, many Chinese users have shared photos of one-child policy slogans as witty retorts to what they described as growing societal pressure to have larger families. Some of the posts have garnered thousands of likes and hundreds of comments.

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

Reporting from Belmopan, Belize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where Hostage Families and Supporters Gather, for Solace and Protest

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

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

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

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An English City Gave Soccer to the World. Now It Wants Credit.

As far as the man in the food truck is concerned, the patch of land he occupies in Sheffield, England, is about as humdrum as they come. To him, the spot — in the drab parking lot of a sprawling home improvement superstore, its facade plastered in lurid orange — is not exactly a place where history comes alive.

John Wilson, an academic at the University of Sheffield’s management school, looks at the same site and can barely contain his excitement. This, he said, is one of the places where the world’s most popular sport was born. He does not see a parking lot. He can see the history: the verdant grass, the sweating players, the cheering crowds.

His passion is sincere, absolute and shared by a small band of amateur historians and volunteer detectives devoted to restoring Sheffield — best known for steel, coal and as the setting for the film “The Full Monty” — to its rightful place as the undisputed birthplace of codified, organized, recognizable soccer.

Map locates Sheffield, Manchester and London in England. It also shows where Wembley Stadium is in northwest London.

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How John Travolta Became the Star of Carnival

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

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

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

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

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‘Decolonizing’ Ukrainian Art, One Name-and-Shame Post at a Time

Hiding for days in the basement of a kindergarten in Bucha, the Kyiv suburb that became synonymous with Russian war crimes, Oksana Semenik had time to think.

Outside, Russian troops were rampaging through the town, killing civilians who ventured into the streets. Knowing she might not make it out, Ms. Semenik, an art historian, mulled over the Ukrainian artworks she had long wanted to write about — and which were now in danger of disappearing.

That time spent holed up in Bucha was during the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion, but even then, two years ago, she had already seen reports of destroyed museums. Precious folk paintings by her favorite artist, Maria Primachenko, had gone up in flames. Moscow, she realized, was waging a war on Ukrainian culture.

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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.

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Can Gabriel Attal Win Over France?

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

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

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

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Architect Embraces Indigenous Worldview in Australian Designs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Canadian Skaters Demand Bronze Medals in Olympics Dispute

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

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

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

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

Reporting from Mexico City and León, Mexico

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Un estudiante de una escuela normal rural murió tras un tiroteo de agentes de la policía de México

Agentes de policía mexicanos mataron a tiros a un estudiante de una escuela normal rural el jueves por la noche en la parte occidental del país. El episodio se produce en un momento de creciente tensión entre el gobierno y los estudiantes de la escuela, vinculada a una de las peores atrocidades de la historia reciente de México.

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

El tiroteo del jueves se produjo en el estado de Guerrero después de que agentes de la policía estatal intentaran detener una camioneta blanca que había sido denunciada como robada y fueran recibidos a tiros, según las autoridades estatales.

Las autoridades dijeron que, en el tiroteo que siguió, una de las personas que viajaba en el vehículo, Yanqui Kothan Gómez Peralta, de 23 años, recibió un disparo en la cabeza por parte de la policía y murió posteriormente en un hospital. Una segunda persona que viajaba en la camioneta fue detenida, y en el vehículo se encontraron un arma de fuego y drogas, según la policía.

El secretario general del gobierno de Guerrero, Ludwig Reynoso, dijo a la prensa tras el tiroteo que Gómez Peralta era estudiante de la Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos, una escuela para formar profesores de una zona rural de Guerrero con un historial de activismo y protesta social.

En 2014, un grupo de 43 estudiantes de la escuela fue atacado por pistoleros, entre los que se encontraban agentes de la policía local cuyos mandos habían estado recibiendo órdenes directas de narcotraficantes locales, como demostró un conjunto de mensajes de texto, testimonios de testigos y archivos de investigación.

Los estudiantes fueron secuestrados y nunca se les volvió a ver. Una década después, solo se han identificado oficialmente los restos de tres cuerpos.

La escuela normal condenó el viernes la actuación de la policía en el encuentro con la camioneta, sugiriendo que fue un ataque no provocado.

“Acribillaron de manera cruel a uno de nuestros compañeros”, declaró la escuela en un comunicado. “Responsabilizamos de manera directa al gobierno estatal por el ataque armado”.

Funcionarios estatales dijeron que lamentaban la muerte ocasionada en el encuentro, pero explicaron que los agentes estaban respondiendo a un delito.

“No hay un ataque a un estudiante, puesto que no sabíamos que era un estudiante, sino a una persona que iba manejando un vehículo con reporte de robo y no se detiene ante el alto de la autoridad”, afirmó René Posselt, vocero del gobierno del estado de Guerrero.

El asesinato de Gómez Peralta se produjo días después de que un grupo de manifestantes embistiera las puertas de madera del Palacio Nacional, donde vive el presidente del país, exigiendo respuestas sobre la investigación del caso de los 43 estudiantes desaparecidos, que, según los manifestantes, el gobierno había paralizado.

El presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador restó importancia a la protesta y la calificó de provocación.

Tras la muerte de Gómez Peralta, algunos estudiantes de la escuela normal protagonizaron una protesta en Chilpancingo, la capital del estado, prendiendo fuego a un vehículo policial.

José Filiberto Velázquez, sacerdote local y director del grupo de derechos humanos Minerva Bello en Guerrero, dijo que un tercer estudiante que se había bajado de la camioneta para ir a una tienda cercana alertó a la escuela de lo que había ocurrido.

Otros estudiantes llamaron entonces a Velázquez, quien rebatió la versión oficial de que los estudiantes atacaron primero a la policía.

“Es una ejecución extrajudicial para nosotros”, dijo Velázquez. “Resultado de una tendencia de abuso de autoridad, de brutalidad policíaca, que es ya una costumbre”

Santiago Aguirre, abogado principal que representa a las familias de los 43 estudiantes desaparecidos, afirmó que existe un patrón de uso desproporcionado de la fuerza letal por parte de las autoridades estatales de Guerrero, y añadió que las organizaciones de derechos humanos han documentado casos de agentes de policía que han plantado pruebas en las escenas de los crímenes.

“El llamado de cautela es a una investigación exhaustiva que no se realice con sesgos y que agote todas las líneas de investigación necesarias”, dijo Aguirre.

El viernes por la mañana, López Obrador expresó su consternación por el asesinato de Gómez Peralta y dijo que la fiscalía investigaría a fondo el incidente del jueves. También reiteró su intención de obtener respuestas sobre lo ocurrido a los 43 estudiantes desaparecidos.

“No vamos a responder con violencia de ninguna manera, por convicción, no somos represores”, dijo López Obrador, cuyo gobierno dirige la investigación sobre los estudiantes desaparecidos. “Saber lo que sucedió y castigar a los responsables y encontrar a los jóvenes, ese es mi compromiso y estoy en eso”.

La escuela normal y las familias de los estudiantes desaparecidos han criticado la gestión del gobierno en cuanto a esta investigación.

El año pasado, un grupo de expertos internacionales que había estado investigando el secuestro de los estudiantes anunció que ponía fin a su investigación y abandonaba el país después de que sus miembros dijeran que las fuerzas armadas mexicanas les habían mentido y engañado repetidamente sobre el papel de los militares en el crimen.

Un vocero del ejército mexicano dijo que la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional del país ya no estaba autorizada a hablar sobre el caso de los estudiantes desaparecidos.

“El que habla es el presidente sobre esto”, dijo.

Emiliano Rodríguez Mega es investigador-reportero del Times radicado en Ciudad de México. Cubre México, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Más de Emiliano Rodríguez Mega

¿Cuáles son las pandillas que han invadido la capital de Haití y qué quieren?

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Haití, nación del Caribe con una larga historia de turbulencia, está atravesando uno de sus peores periodos de caos.

Las pandillas cerraron el aeropuerto, saquearon puertos marítimos, edificios públicos y tiendas, y han atacado casi una decena de comisarías. Las carreteras están bloqueadas, lo que corta el suministro de alimentos, y 4600 reclusos fueron liberados tras el ataque a las prisiones.

El primer ministro, Ariel Henry, está varado en Puerto Rico mientras los pandilleros causan estragos, exigen su dimisión y asaltan decenas de camiones llenos de provisiones del Programa Mundial de Alimentos.

El estado de emergencia en torno a Puerto Príncipe, la capital, se prorrogó un mes más.

Con el gobierno al borde del colapso, Estados Unidos y los países del Caribe están trabajando para llegar a una resolución —incluido un plan para un gobierno de transición— que restablezca cierta apariencia de orden en la atribulada nación y permita que Henry pueda regresar al país.

Los expertos calculan que en Haití operan hasta 200 pandillas, unas 20 de ellas en Puerto Príncipe. Van desde pequeños grupos de unas pocas decenas de jóvenes que comparten pistolas hasta cuadrillas de unos 1500 hombres con sueldos semanales y armas automáticas que pertenecen a organizaciones jerarquizadas con jefes.

Dos organizaciones principales de pandillas, el G-Pèp y la Familia G-9, controlan muchos de los barrios más pobres de la capital. Los grupos delictivos y sus aliados a veces trabajan en colaboración, pero más a menudo se enfrentan.

Los grupos han estado históricamente vinculados a partidos políticos: el G-9 está afiliado al partido gobernante Haitian Tèt Kale, mientras que el G-Pèp tiende a apoyar a los partidos de la oposición.

El G-9 y sus aliados se han apoderado en gran medida de los puertos y de las carreteras que rodean el principal aeropuerto del país. Ha sido casi imposible conducir desde Puerto Príncipe a las ciudades del norte porque las pandillas han tomado la autopista norte-sur.

Henry abandonó el país la semana pasada para dirigirse a Kenia, donde firmó un acuerdo que allana el camino para que una fuerza multinacional dirigida por esa nación de África Oriental viaje a Haití y se enfrente a las bandas.

En su lugar, en ausencia de Henry, los líderes de las pandillas anunciaron una alianza informal llamada “Vivre Ensemble” o “Vivir Juntos” en español. Lanzaron ataques coordinados contra instituciones estatales con el objetivo de derrocar al gobierno actual e impedir el despliegue de la fuerza internacional.

“Quieren engullir barrios uno a uno”, declaró Nicole Phillips, abogada de derechos humanos especializada en Haití. “Cualquier gobierno que les permita hacerlo, eso es lo que quieren”.

Las bandas también esperan establecer un consejo de gobierno para dirigir el país, y quieren ayudar a elegir a sus miembros para poder ejercer el control, dijo Robert Muggah, quien investiga Haití para varias agencias de la ONU.

Las bandas tienen varios jefes en distintos barrios, pero en los últimos días un jefe llamado Jimmy Chérizier, a quien se conoce como Barbacoa, se ha convertido en la cara pública de la alianza Vivir Juntos.

Exagente de policía conocido por su crueldad, ha sido acusado de dirigir masacres. Su alianza de bandas, el G-9, dirige el centro de Puerto Príncipe y ha sido acusado de atacar barrios aliados con partidos políticos de la oposición, saquear viviendas, violar a mujeres y matar a personas al azar.

La llamó “revolución armada”.

Esta semana trató de adoptar un tono más conciliador, pidiendo disculpas a las personas cuyos hogares habían sido saqueados por las pandillas, incluida su propia alianza, durante los recientes disturbios.

“Nuestro primer paso en la batalla es derrocar al gobierno de Ariel Henry, como siempre hemos dicho, y luego nos aseguraremos de que el país tenga un Estado fuerte con un sistema judicial fuerte para luchar contra los corruptos”, dijo durante una conferencia de prensa. “Vamos a asegurarnos de que tener un sistema de seguridad fuerte que permita a todo el mundo circular a la hora que quiera y regresar cuando quiera”.

“Nuestro objetivo es ver otro Haití”.

Aunque no estaba claro si el enfoque más comedido del jefe de la pandilla era sincero o calculado, Muggah señaló que no dejaba de ser una postura nueva para Chérizier.

“Hemos visto cómo Chérizier y el G-9 han evolucionado en las últimas semanas hacia una retórica más política”, dijo Muggah. “Además de llamar a la rebelión y amenazar con la guerra civil si no se cumplen sus exigencias, están tratando de proponer soluciones en las que mantendrían su poder si, como mínimo, se les absolviera y se les brindara amnistia por todos los crímenes que han cometido.”

Kenia fue uno de los pocos países que respondieron a la petición internacional de ayuda de Haití.

Haití lleva ocho años sin celebrar elecciones. Su presidente fue asesinado hace casi tres años. Henry, primer ministro designado, es considerado en general un gobernante ilegítimo.

El Estado ha perdido credibilidad y poder, y las bandas han intervenido para llenar el vacío.

El año pasado, casi 5000 personas fueron asesinadas y otras 2500 secuestradas, según la ONU, un nivel de violencia que duplicó el del año anterior. Enero fue el mes más violento en dos años, con más de 800 personas asesinadas, según la ONU.

A fines de 2022, Henry pidió a la comunidad internacional que interviniera. Algunas naciones, entre ellas Estados Unidos, manifestaron poco interés, dado el sombrío historial de anteriores intervenciones internacionales en Haití.

Estados Unidos accedió a financiar la mayor parte del despliegue de 1000 agentes de policía kenianos, más otros procedentes de otras naciones, pero se ha retrasado por resoluciones judiciales kenianas.

A medida que las pandillas haitianas han crecido en tamaño y armamento, han ganado más territorio e infraestructuras importantes. Cobran tasas por pasar por determinadas carreteras y por recuperar camiones secuestrados, y exigen rescates para liberar a las víctimas de secuestros.

En los últimos años, los grupos violentos han empezado a extenderse a zonas rurales como Artibonite, a unos 100 km al norte de Puerto Príncipe y una de las principales regiones agrícolas de Haití. Las bandas invaden las granjas y dificultan —si no imposibilitan— que los agricultores viajen y vendan sus productos.

Es una pregunta complicada de responder.

“Ahora utilizamos la palabra ‘pandilla’ porque es práctica, todo el mundo la utiliza y la conoce, pero no capta lo que está ocurriendo”, afirmó Romain Le Cour, quien investiga sobre Haití para la Iniciativa Global contra el Crimen Organizado Transnacional, con sede en Ginebra.

La mayoría de los miembros de las bandas son hombres de unos 20 años que proceden de barrios urbanos empobrecidos donde escasean las oportunidades. A menudo están alineados con empresarios y políticos de élite que les pagan por todo, desde asegurar la carga hasta reunir manifestantes. Los partidos políticos han utilizado a los miembros de las pandillas en las elecciones para atraer votos o suprimirlos.

“En Haití existe una larga tradición de élites que intentan crear y alimentar grupos paramilitares que, en las últimas décadas, les han ayudado a servir a sus intereses y a utilizar la violencia para mantener el monopolio de algún producto básico o para algunos intereses políticos”, afirmó Diego Da Rin, investigador sobre Haití del International Crisis Group.

En Haití, el concepto de grupos armados irregulares se remonta a décadas atrás y han existido varios tipos de actores violentos en el país.

Durante la dictadura haitiana de François Duvalier, los grupos paramilitares conocidos como Tonton Macoutes eran famosos por su violencia y represión. En 1995, el presidente Jean-Bertrand Aristide ilegalizó los grupos paramilitares y disolvió las fuerzas armadas haitianas.

Antiguos soldados que originalmente formaban parte del movimiento de Aristide crearon más tarde grupos locales de autodefensa conocidos como “baz”, que a menudo seguían a líderes carismáticos y llegaron a gobernar partes de Puerto Príncipe.

Otros grupos paramilitares del pasado son el Frente para el Avance y el Progreso de Haití, de extrema derecha, y los chimères, que estaban afiliados a Aristide.

Ahora bien, la línea que separa a un baz de una banda suele ser borrosa.

Las personas hartas de la violencia de las bandas se han unido a un movimiento conocido como “bwa kale”, que anima a la justicia por mano propia. Han cometido asesinatos extrajudiciales y, en general, persiguen a los delincuentes, a menudo con el apoyo de la comunidad local.

Además, muchos miembros de una brigada ambientalista sancionada por el gobierno, conocida como B-SAP, se han vuelto contra el Estado, con lo que se ha sumado otro grupo de personas armadas.

La Policía Nacional de Haití se ha visto impactada por la salida de unos 3000 de sus 15000 empleados en los últimos dos años. Aunque Estados Unidos ha invertido casi 200 millones de dólares estadounidenses en el departamento, actualmente presenta escasez de armamento y carece de personal. El departamento posee 47 vehículos blindados, pero en una reciente visita de los investigadores de la ONU, menos de la mitad estaban operativos.

Andre Paultre colaboró con reportería desde Puerto Príncipe, Haití.

Frances Robles es una reportera de investigación que cubre Estados Unidos y América Latina. Es periodista desde hace más de 30 años. Más de Frances Robles

La princesa de Gales se disculpa y dice que editó la fotografía con sus hijos

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

Catalina, la princesa de Gales, se disculpó el lunes por retocar una foto suya en la que aparece con sus tres hijos y que varias agencias de noticias retiraron el domingo tras determinar que la imagen había sido manipulada.

La decisión de retirar la foto reavivó una tormenta de especulaciones sobre Catalina, a quien no se ha visto en público desde que se sometió a una cirugía abdominal hace casi dos meses. En su comunicado, la princesa, de 42 años, atribuyó la alteración al inocente deseo de un fotógrafo que quiere retocar la imagen.

“Como muchos fotógrafos aficionados, de vez en cuando experimento con la edición”, escribió Catalina en una publicación en las redes sociales. “Quería expresar mis disculpas por cualquier confusión que haya causado la fotografía familiar que compartimos ayer”.

La foto, que conmemoraba el Día de las Madres en el Reino Unido, mostraba a una sonriente Catalina rodeada de sus hijos, Jorge, Carlota y Luis. Horas después de que el palacio de Kensington publicara la foto, The Associated Press, Reuters y Agence France-Presse emitieron avisos instando a los medios a retirar la imagen.

La AP dijo que, tras una inspección posterior a la publicación de la fotografía, sus editores determinaron que la imagen “muestra una incoherencia en la alineación de la mano izquierda de la princesa Carlota”. La fuente de la foto, dijo, “había manipulado la imagen de un modo que no cumple las normas fotográficas de la AP”.

El palacio de Kensington indicó que Guillermo había tomado la foto la semana pasada en Windsor, donde la familia vive en Adelaide Cottage, en los terrenos del castillo de Windsor. Pero Catalina es conocida por su afición a la fotografía, y el palacio distribuye a menudo sus fotos de la familia.

Los detalles de la fotografía muestran una variedad de inconsistencias visuales que sugieren que fue retocada. En varias partes de la imagen, se notan una manga o un cierre que no están alineados o con patrones artificiales.

Un funcionario de palacio dijo que Catalina hizo pequeños ajustes en lo que pretendía ser una foto informal de la familia reunida para el Día de las Madres. El funcionario reiteró que Guillermo había hecho la foto, aunque Catalina la editó.

La fotografía apareció en portadas de periódicos y sitios web de todo el mundo, incluido el sitio web de The New York Times. El Times retiró la foto de un artículo sobre ella el domingo por la noche.

Adam Dean y Lauren Leatherby colaboraron con reportería.

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

Juan Orlando Hernández es hallado culpable en juicio de narcotráfico

Juan Orlando Hernández ejerció el poder en Honduras durante más de una década, primero como integrante del Congreso Nacional, luego como líder de ese organismo y finalmente como el presidente del país.

El viernes, un jurado estadounidense de un Tribunal Federal del Distrito encontró a Hernández culpable de conspirar para importar cocaína a Estados Unidos y de posesión y conspiración para poseer “dispositivos destructivos”, entre ellos ametralladoras.

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

Tras el veredicto, Hernández, quien se enfrenta a una pena de prisión obligatoria de al menos 40 años, y cuya sentencia está prevista para el 26 de junio, se puso de pie y permaneció en silencio con las manos cruzadas mientras los miembros del jurado desalojaron el juzgado.

Durante su primera campaña presidencial en 2013, Hernández, militante del derechista Partido Nacional de Honduras, se presentaba como un candidato favorable a la aplicación de la ley y el orden que sería capaz de detener la epidemia de drogas y delincuencia que había azotado al país.

Pero según los fiscales en Estados Unidos, Hernández estaba aliado con las mismas fuerzas a las que pretendía combatir. Durante un juicio por conspiración en Manhattan, una serie de testigos declararon que el éxito político de Hernández estuvo impulsado por las ganancias del narcotráfico que le entregaban los traficantes de cocaína, a quienes trataba como socios comerciales.

Los fiscales afirmaron que Hernández recibió millones de dólares de organizaciones de traficantes en Honduras, México y otros lugares, entre ellos Joaquín Guzmán Loera, conocido como el Chapo, un capo mexicano de la droga y antiguo líder del Cártel de Sinaloa. A cambio, agregaron los fiscales, Hernández permitía que grandes cantidades de cocaína pasaran por Honduras de camino a Estados Unidos.

Se jactaba de “meter la droga por las narices de los gringos”, según los fiscales de EE. UU.

Las pruebas y los testimonios presentados durante el juicio de Hernández retrataron un panorama desolador de un país en el que las drogas y la política han estado entrelazadas durante mucho tiempo y en el que la gente que trabaja en la política han exigido y aceptado sobornos de forma rutinaria.

Diariamente, las filas de asientos del tribunal se abarrotaban de hondureños que decían acudir a ver cómo Hernández se enfrentaba a un proceso judicial del tipo que algunos dudaban que pudiera haber sucedido en su país de origen.

Algunos de esos espectadores se rieron burlonamente cuando Hernández, vestido con un traje oscuro, dio su testimonio cerca del final del juicio, insistiendo que no tenía ninguna relación con el narcotráfico y que los testigos que habían declarado lo contrario eran “mentirosos profesionales”.

Un abogado defensor amplió esa idea durante su alegato, repasando una lista de delitos —incluidos un total de 224 asesinatos— que han sido asociados a varios de los antiguos traficantes que subieron al estrado como testigos del gobierno.

“Este fue un elenco de personajes que nunca antes se había visto y los cuales nunca se volverán a ver mientras se viva”, dijo el abogado, Renato Stabile. “A lo largo del juicio estas personas les han dicho que son mentirosos. Les han dicho que son asesinos”.

Pero un fiscal, Jacob H. Gutwillig, le dijo a los miembros del jurado que Hernández había aceptado “sobornos pagados con cocaína” de los cárteles y que había “protegido sus drogas con todo el poder y la fuerza del Estado: ejército, policía y sistema judicial”.

Aunque los exmandatarios extranjeros a veces son juzgados en Estados Unidos, no suelen serlo por delitos relacionados con las drogas. El paralelo más cercano a Hernández es el general Manuel Antonio Noriega, antiguo dirigente de Panamá, quien en 1992 fue declarado culpable ante un tribunal federal de Miami de permitirle al Cartel de Medellín que enviara cocaína a Estados Unidos a través de su país a cambio de millones de dólares en sobornos.

Cuando Hernández dejó la presidencia en 2022, era una figura profundamente impopular en Honduras. Su gobierno había hecho poco por mitigar los efectos de la delincuencia o por crear una economía estable, lo que llevó a muchos ciudadanos a abandonar el país. La sucesora de Hernández en la presidencia, Xiomara Castro, lo acusó de haber convertido a la nación en una “narcodictadura”, y miles de hondureños celebraron su extradición a Nueva York tres meses después de dejar el cargo.

También hubo celebraciones en el exterior del tribunal, en el sur de Manhattan, tras conocerse el veredicto de culpabilidad. Decenas de personas ondeaban banderas hondureñas y coreaban en español. Una mujer sostenía un cartel en el que advertía que no tendría que haber perdón para la narcopolítica.

Expusieron fotografías de personas que decían que habían sido víctimas de la violencia de los cárteles, junto con un uniforme de presidiario naranja con esposas unidas por una larga cadena.

De pie en medio de la multitud, Carlos Hernández, de 32 años, dijo que había abandonado Honduras cuando aún era un adolescente para huir de la violencia y la pobreza del país.

“Esto es histórico”, dijo sobre el veredicto, y añadió que el juicio le había dado a Honduras un sentido de justicia.

El juicio de Hernández fue relativamente sencillo, basado principalmente en el recuento de testigos, entre ellos un investigador de drogas hondureño y los antiguos traficantes, incluidos dos hombres que dijeron haberse declarado culpables de delitos graves y que se enfrentan a posibles cadenas perpetuas en prisiones estadounidenses.

El investigador, Miguel Reynoso, declaró que estaba presente cuando las autoridades hondureñas detuvieron a un grupo de vehículos con compartimentos ocultos y en el que encontraron armas de fuego, granadas y casi 200.000 dólares envueltos en plástico. Las autoridades también encontraron cuadernos con las iniciales de Juan Orlando Hernández que, según los fiscales de Manhattan, detallaban transacciones de drogas.

Reynoso atestiguó que los cuadernos fueron colocados en bolsas de plástico selladas y que las llevó, con los sellos intactos, a los fiscales de Estados Unidos en 2019.

Entre los extraficantes que subieron al estrado se encontraba Amilcar Alexander Ardón Soriano, quien declaró que había sido alcalde del municipio de El Paraíso mientras traficaba drogas, que había participado en torturas y asesinado a dos personas, y que era responsable de la muerte de más de 50 individuos. Dijo que había pedido a los legisladores a los que había sobornado previamente que votaran a favor de Hernández como presidente del Congreso hondureño. A cambio, dijo Ardon, Hernández prometió protegerlo de los fiscales.

Ardón añadió que entregó 500.000 dólares procedentes del narcotráfico a la campaña presidencial de Hernández en 2013 y que había sobornado a personas en El Paraíso para que votaran por él. También dijo que tenía entendido que el Chapo había acordado proporcionar a esa campaña un millón de dólares.

Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, antiguo líder de la brutal banda hondureña Los Cachiros, fue probablemente el testigo con peor reputación en subir al estrado. Empezó a trabajar en secreto con las autoridades estadounidenses hace una década y admitió estar implicado en la muerte de 78 personas, entre ellas dos periodistas y un funcionario que trabajaba como zar antidroga en Honduras.

En 2012, testificó Rivera, sobornó a Hernández con 250.000 dólares entregados a su hermana, Hilda, a cambio de protección para los Cachiros.

Cuando un abogado defensor le preguntó si sentía algún remordimiento por las personas a las que le había hecho daño, Rivera respondió que se arrepentía de todo lo que había hecho como miembro de lo que denominó como una banda peligrosa, incluyendo los pagos de sobornos a policías y políticos “corruptos”.

Afirmó que aunque las autoridades hondureñas debían haber intentado capturarlos, más bien, se aliaron con ellos.