The New York Times 2024-03-12 01:19:20


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.

Israel struck an area used by a high-ranking Hamas commander, a military spokesman says.

Israel attacked an underground space used by Marwan Issa, the deputy commander of Hamas’s military wing, an Israeli military spokesman said Monday, adding that investigators were still analyzing the outcome of the strike.

Hamas, which has revealed little information about its senior military leaders since the war began, did not immediately comment.

The Israeli spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, emphasized that Israel had not finished verifying the results of the attack by Israeli warplanes, which he said had hit a location that has been used by Mr. Issa and another senior Hamas military official responsible for the group’s weapons.

If Mr. Issa were killed in the strike, he would be the highest-ranking Hamas commander to have been slain since the war began. His death would represent a victory for Israel, whose leaders have vowed to wipe out the Hamas leadership in Gaza — although Israel has killed many senior Hamas members in past decades, and the group has swiftly replaced them.

One of the most senior Hamas officials to have been confirmed dead since the start of the war is Saleh al-Arouri, a founder of the group’s armed wing who Hamas said was killed in an Israeli attack in Lebanon on Jan. 2. Although Israel’s campaign has battered Hamas over the last five months, its leader in Gaza and the presumed mastermind of the Oct. 7 attack, Yahya Sinwar, has eluded Israeli forces. Mohammed Deif, the top commander of the military wing, is also believed to be alive.

Admiral Hagari said the strike had been carried out on Nuseirat, in central Gaza, overnight between Saturday and Sunday. Israel conducted a particularly large number of strikes there that night, according to Arabic news media.

Admiral Hagari said that Mr. Issa helped plan the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack and was a part of “the main triangle of terror” in Gaza, alongside Mr. Sinwar and Mr. Deif.

The U.N. Security Council discusses sexual violence against Israeli women.

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on Monday — called jointly by the United States, Britain and France — to discuss accusations of sexual violence against Israeli women during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks on Israel and against hostages held captive in Gaza.

The session follows a 23-page U.N. report, released on March 4, written by a team led by Pramila Patten, a special envoy on sexual violence and conflict. The team spent two weeks in Israel to look into the accusations.

The report found signs that sexual violence was committed in multiple locations on Oct. 7, including three sites where rape and gang rape likely occurred, and that hostages in Gaza were subjected to rape and sexual torture. The report said it was reasonable to believe sexual violence against hostages could be ongoing.

The report described a pattern of victims, mostly women, being naked and bound and shot and said that, “although circumstantial, such a pattern of undressing and restraining of victims may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence.”

In briefing the council about the key findings of the report, Ms. Patten called for a full-fledged human rights investigation by U.N. bodies, saying the scenes she encountered in Israel were “unspeakable violence perpetrated with shocking brutality resulting in intense human suffering.”

Ms. Patten said her findings do not “in any way legitimize further hostilities,” and reiterated calls of U.N. officials and nearly all members of the council, with the exception of the U.S., for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in the war between Hamas and Israel and the release of hostages, saying their families were “torn between hope and despair.”

Three Israeli women who were hostages in Gaza and suffered from sexual violence attended the session, along with family members of hostages, but they did not address the council.

Israel Katz, Israel’s foreign minister, spoke at the session, asking for Hamas to be declared a terrorist organization and sanctioned, and for the council and the U.N. to press for the immediate release of more than 100 hostages still being held in Gaza.

“The only ones responsible for these crimes against humanity is Hamas,” Mr. Katz said.

Diplomats from the 15-member council uniformly condemned sexual violence against Israeli women. But many also brought up the plight of Palestinian women suffering in Gaza, and raised concern about U.N. reporting that Palestinian women and men had been subject to sexual violence and threats of rape by Israeli forces in detention and during house raids.

Ms. Patten and her team also visited the West Bank to hear reports of sexual violence against Palestinians by Israeli security forces and settlers. The full report addressed the accusations, but did not focus on them because other U.N. bodies were working on that.

The Palestinian representative to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, also spoke at the session, saying that reports of sexual violence against Palestinian men and women had not led to a single Security Council meeting being convened, and that he hoped this meeting would mark a change and “more attention would be given by the Council to this matter in unbiased manner.”

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. Mossad accused Hamas of seeking to inflame the region at the expense of Palestinians in Gaza, but said that ongoing talks were aimed at 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.

Thousands of worshipers pour into Al Aqsa Mosque, a day after Israeli police blocked many from entering.

Thousands of worshipers streamed into the compound of Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem on Monday, in a stark contrast to the tight control Israeli police officers exercised at the start of Ramadan the previous day.

A flood of men and women, from the very young to the very old, passed virtually unimpeded through the heavy presence of police officers and soldiers in Jerusalem’s Old City, where the historic mosque stands. Security stops were rare; most people entered the compound without even being checked.

On Sunday, uniformed Israeli officers stopped many young men from entering the mosque compound. When a crowd grew outside one of the entrances to the compound, uniformed officers chased some Palestinians and struck people with batons.

The mosque, one of the holiest structures in Islam, is a chronic flashpoint in tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, and concerns have grown that it will be the site of violence amid the war in Gaza.

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.

One young man denied entry to the compound on Sunday, Mahdi Abu Tin, pleaded with police officers in Arabic and Hebrew to let him into the compound, before performing a prayer on the street outside the gate.

“I don’t know why we’re not being allowed. We just want to pray,” he said. “It’s our right as people from here. It’s the holy month of Ramadan — it happens only one month of the year.”

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.

Rami Nazzal contributed reporting.

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 the 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.”

Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch says its leader has died.

The Yemen-based branch of Al Qaeda said on Sunday that its leader, Khaled Batarfi, had died.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known as A.Q.A.P., released a video announcing Mr. Batarfi’s death, showing images of him wrapped in a white funeral shroud overlaid with a black Al Qaeda flag. It did not explain how he had died.

The United States government once considered Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to be one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations. The group tried and failed at least three times to blow up American airliners, and has been targeted by American drone strikes for two decades. But in that time, its power and ability to carry out attacks outside of Yemen have both diminished, according to scholars who study the group.

“It will be interesting to observe whether the group charts a new course in coming months,” said Gregory D. Johnsen, a Yemen expert at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “A.Q.A.P. has struggled in recent years, losing territory and recruits and, at the moment, is a shadow of its former self.”

In the video statement, Ibrahim Al-Qosi, a Sudanese senior leader in the group, expressed his “heartfelt condolences and sincere regret” over the death of Mr. Batarfi.

He said that the group’s new leader would be Saad bin Atef al-Awlaki, of Yemen. The United States previously offered a $6 million reward for information about Mr. al-Awlaki, and $5 million for tips about Mr. Batarfi.

Born in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Batarfi traveled in the 1990s to Afghanistan and fought alongside the Taliban before joining Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, according to a U.S. informational sheet about him. He was believed to have been in his 40s when he died.

A United Nations report in January estimated that the group had about 3,000 fighters scattered among different Yemeni provinces, and that it had faced operational and financial challenges, but “persists as a threat.”

“Although in decline, A.Q.A.P. remains the most effective terrorist group in Yemen with intent to conduct operations in the region and beyond,” the report’s authors wrote.

Yemen has been torn apart by war over the past decade, as an Iran-backed militia, the Houthis, seized control of much of the country, and Saudi Arabia — Yemen’s neighbor to the north — led a bombing campaign in an attempt to rout them. Hundreds of thousands of people have died from violence, hunger and disease.

The Saudi-led coalition pulled back in recent years, leaving the Houthis entrenched in power in the north, including in the Yemeni capital of Sana. In the south, the most powerful entity is an Emirati-backed armed separatist group called the Southern Transitional Council. The separatist group and other Yemeni armed groups have intermittently clashed with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The elevation of a new leader for the group “doesn’t change much in terms of intent,” said Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst at the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm based in New York.

“Like all of his predecessors, al-Awlaki has been vocal calling for attacks on the U.S.,” he said. “But the question comes down to capability.”

Instability in Yemen — as the Houthis launch attacks on ships in the Red Sea in a campaign that it says is solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and a U.S.-led coalition carries out airstrikes against the group — might “provide an opening” for A.Q.A.P. to recruit and rebuild its operations, Mr. Clarke said.

“That will be the overarching priority for al-Awlaki, to restore A.Q.A.P. to relevance within the broader jihadist movement,” he said.

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 Monday, when the U.S. military said it dropped more than 27,000 “meal equivalents” and nearly 26,000 bottles of water 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.

Israel’s military lightly rebukes a general for a demolition at a university in Gaza.

Israel’s military has issued what amounts to a mild administrative sanction to one of its generals for ordering his troops to blow up a university building in Gaza without permission, adding to the complicated war record of a commander who has received praise and criticism for his role in the response to the Oct. 7 attack.

The reprimand of Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram over the demolition of a building at Israa University came in the form of a command note entered into his personnel file.

“The investigation found that the Hamas terrorist organization used the building and its surroundings for military activity against our forces, but the demolition of the building was done without the required approvals,” said an Israeli Defense Forces statement on Monday.

A command note carries relatively little weight as a form of sanction within Israel’s military, according to former military officials. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the military, later said that General Hiram was slated for a promotion.

Video that circulated online in January showed a multistory structure disappear in a cloud of smoke. Israa University, which posted the video on its Facebook page, said the demolished building housed graduate studies and undergraduate colleges. Other university buildings have been damaged or destroyed since the beginning of the war, including its training hospital, medical and engineering laboratories and cafeteria, the university said.

U.S. officials and others criticized Israel over the damage and the Israeli military said both the demolition and the approval process that led to it were “under review.” It also said that a preliminary investigation indicated that Hamas “used the compound and its surrounding area for military purposes.”

Israa University, near Gaza City, is one of several in the territory that have been devastated during Israel’s campaign against Hamas. The military campaign — which has included controlled demolitions by Israeli forces — has destroyed or damaged more than half of the buildings in Gaza, razing whole neighborhoods.

General Hiram, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, led Israeli troops in a battle to retake the village of Be’eri after Hamas and its allies surged across the border on Oct. 7, killing many civilians, abducting others and setting fire to homes.

Survivors of the attack said that, during the battle, an Israeli tank fired on a house where Hamas fighters were holding hostages. General Hiram later told The New York Times that he had authorized tank fire to end the standoff “even at the cost of civilian casualties.”

Since then, some people in Israel have praised him for bravery, while others have said that he recklessly endangered civilians. Only two of the 14 hostages in the house survived, although it was not clear how many had died because of tank fire.

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.

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

Even Photoshop Can’t Erase Royals’ Latest P.R. Blemish

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a digitally altered picture of an absent British princess is apparently worth a million.

That seemed to be the lesson after another day of internet-breaking rumors and conspiracy theories swirling around Catherine, Princess of Wales, who apologized on Monday for having doctored a photograph of herself with her three children that circulated on news sites and social media on Sunday.

It was the first official photo of Catherine since before she underwent abdominal surgery two months ago — a cheerful Mother’s Day snapshot, taken by her husband, Prince William, at home. But if it was meant to douse weeks of speculation about Catherine’s well-being, it had precisely the opposite effect.

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

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.

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

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.

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

U.S. Pledges Another $130 Million to Restore Order to Haiti

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced Monday that the United States would provide an additional $100 million in aid toward a United Nations-backed multinational security mission planned to deploy to Haiti, which has been overrun by gang violence.

He also pledged an additional $33 million in humanitarian aid, bringing the U.S. commitments to $333 million.

“We can help. We can help restore a foundation of security,” Mr. Blinken said during a meeting of regional leaders held in Kingston, Jamaica. “Only the Haitian people can, and only the Haitian people should determine their own future, not anyone else.”

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

American Man Sentenced to Life After Killing Woman at German Castle

A German court on Monday convicted an American man of raping and murdering a woman and attempting to murder her companion near the Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the country’s most famous tourist destinations.

A nearby bridge known for its panoramic views of the fairy-tale castle became a crime scene in June when the 31-year-old man attacked two young American women, who had been on a trip to Europe after their college graduation.

In imposing a life sentence, the court established the “particular gravity of the guilt,” a spokesman for the court said, adding that the man was charged with murder and rape resulting in the death in relation to the first victim, and attempted murder and grievous bodily harm in relation to the second. This means that the defendant will not be eligible for parole after the customary 15 years, though possibly at a later date.

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

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 Christmas Day and had abdominal surgery in January. 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.”

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

With Pride and Hope, Ukraine Celebrates Oscar Win for Mariupol Documentary

Streets and squares are being changed from Ukrainian names to those from the Soviet era. Only Russian passport holders will have access to health care and social services. Teachers have been forced to switch to Russian curriculums.

The Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has been a symbol of Russia’s brutal invasion and occupation of vast areas of Ukrainian territory. But as the war drags on and Moscow tries to turn the city into a model of Russification, Mariupol’s fate risks slipping away from the world’s consciousness.

So it was with satisfaction and hope that Ukraine on Monday celebrated winning its first-ever Oscar for the documentary “20 Days in Mariupol,” which recounts the ferocity of the Russian siege of the city in spring 2022.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.”

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

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

Leer en español

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Hostage Families and Supporters Gather, for Solace and Protest

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

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

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

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

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.

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

How John Travolta Became the Star of Carnival

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

Leer en español

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

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

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

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

‘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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Gabriel Attal Win Over France?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canadian Skaters Demand Bronze Medals in Olympics Dispute

Sign up for the Canada Letter Newsletter  Back stories and analysis from our Canadian correspondents, plus a handpicked selection of our recent Canada-related coverage.

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

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

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

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

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

Reporting from Mexico City and León, Mexico

Leer en español

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aparecen en EE. UU. nuevos sitios de noticias falsas vinculados a Rusia

En las últimas semanas han surgido, en medio de la crisis del periodismo estadounidense, una serie de sitios web cuyos nombres sugieren un énfasis en las noticias cercanas: D. C. Weekly, New York News Daily, Chicago Chronicle y, una publicación hermana más reciente, Miami Chronicle.

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

En realidad, no son organizaciones de noticias locales. Son creaciones rusas, según investigadores y funcionarios gubernamentales, diseñadas para imitar a las organizaciones de noticias reales con el fin de difundir la propaganda del Kremlin intercalándola en una mezcla a veces extraña de historias sobre delincuencia, política y cultura.

Aunque Rusia lleva mucho tiempo buscando maneras de influir en el discurso público de Estados Unidos, estas recientes organizaciones de noticias falsas —al menos cinco, hasta ahora— representan un salto tecnológico en sus intentos de encontrar nuevas plataformas para embaucar a lectores estadounidenses desprevenidos. Según los investigadores y las autoridades, estos sitios podrían ser los cimientos de una red en línea preparada para difundir desinformación antes de las elecciones presidenciales estadounidenses de noviembre.

Patrick Warren, codirector del Centro Forense de Medios de la Universidad de Clemson que ha revelado las actividades furtivas de desinformación rusa, afirmó que los avances en inteligencia artificial y otras herramientas digitales “han facilitado aún más esta tarea y han hecho que los contenidos sean aún más específicos”.

El sitio web del Miami Chronicle apareció por primera vez el 26 de febrero. Su eslogan afirma falsamente haber ofrecido “las noticias de Florida desde 1937”.

Entre algunas noticias verdaderas, el sitio publicó la semana pasada una nota sobre una “grabación de audio filtrada” de Victoria Nuland, subsecretaria de Estado para asuntos políticos de Estados Unidos, en la que habla de un cambio en el apoyo estadounidense a la asediada oposición rusa tras la muerte del disidente ruso Alexéi Navalny. La grabación es una burda falsificación, según funcionarios de gobierno que solo aceptaron hablar de manera anónima para poder comentar temas de inteligencia.

La campaña, según expertos y funcionarios, parece implicar a restos del imperio mediático controlado en su momento por Yevgeny Prigozhin, un antiguo socio del presidente ruso, Vladimir Putin, cuya fábrica de troles, la Agencia de Investigación de Internet, interfirió en las elecciones presidenciales de 2016 entre Donald Trump y Hillary Clinton.

Prigozhin murió en un accidente aéreo a las afueras de Moscú en agosto tras liderar un breve levantamiento militar contra el ejército ruso, pero la continuidad de sus operaciones subraya la importancia que el Kremlin otorga a sus batallas informativas en todo el mundo. No está claro quién ha tomado el timón de esa operación.

“Putin sería un completo idiota si dejara que la red se desmoronara”, señaló Darren Linvill, socio de Warren en la Universidad de Clemson. “Necesita la red Prigozhin más que nunca”.

Los investigadores de Clemson revelaron las conexiones rusas detrás del sitio web D. C. Weekly en un informe en diciembre. Tras su revelación, empezaron a aparecer narrativas rusas en otro sitio que se había creado en octubre, Clear Story News. Desde entonces, han aparecido nuevos medios.

Los sitios web del Chicago Chronicle y del New York News Daily, cuyo nombre evoca claramente al famoso tabloide de la ciudad Daily News, se crearon el 18 de enero, según la Corporación de Internet para la Asignación de Nombres y Números, que supervisa los dominios.

Todos los medios utilizan el mismo software de WordPress para crear sus sitios y, por lo tanto, tienen diseños similares.

Los logotipos y nombres de los medios evocan una época pasada del periodismo estadounidense, en un intento por crear una apariencia de autenticidad. Un periódico real llamado The Chicago Chronicle funcionó de 1895 a 1907, antes de desaparecer por una razón muy familiar para los periódicos de la actualidad: no fue rentable.

Además, se actualizan periódicamente con las principales noticias de última hora, creando a primera vista la impresión de actualidad. Un artículo sobre la decisión de la Corte Suprema acerca de la elegibilidad de Trump para permanecer en la papeleta de las primarias en Colorado apareció en el sitio del Miami Chronicle pocas horas después de la decisión.

En otros aspectos, los sitios web están mal construidos, incluso incompletos en algunas secciones. Por ejemplo, la sección “Acerca de” del Miami Chronicle está llena de “Lorem ipsum”, el texto en latín que se utiliza como relleno estándar. Algunas imágenes del sitio tienen nombres de archivo del ruso original. (Ninguno de los sitios publica información de contacto que funcione).

El objetivo no es engañar a un lector perspicaz para que profundice en el sitio web y mucho menos que se suscriba, explicó Linvill. El objetivo es dar un aura de credibilidad a las publicaciones en las redes sociales que difunden la desinformación.

La labor sigue un patrón que el Kremlin ha utilizado antes: blanquear afirmaciones que aparecen primero en línea a través de organizaciones de noticias menores. Esas informaciones se difunden de nuevo en internet y aparecen en otras organizaciones de noticias, incluidas las agencias de noticias estatales y las cadenas de televisión rusas.

“La página solo está ahí con el fin de parecer lo suficientemente realista como para engañar a un lector ocasional haciéndole creer que está leyendo un artículo genuino, de marca estadounidense”, aseguró Linvill.

Según el estudio de Clemson, D. C. Weekly publicó varias narrativas del Kremlin a partir de agosto. Una de ellas incluía la falsa afirmación de que la esposa del presidente de Ucrania, Volodímir Zelenski, había comprado joyas con un valor de más de 1,1 millones de dólares en la tienda Cartier de Nueva York durante su visita a las Naciones Unidas en septiembre.

El sitio afirma contar con una plantilla de 17 periodistas, pero parecen ser personajes inventados. La biografía de la autora de esa nota, llamada Jessica Devlin, utilizó como imagen de perfil una fotografía de Judy Batalion, autora de un libro exitoso sobre mujeres judías que lucharon contra los nazis. Batalion dijo que nunca había oído hablar del sitio ni de la autora hasta que los verificadores de hechos se pusieron en contacto con ella.

Otros artículos que aparecen en los sitios parecen haber sido tomados de organizaciones de noticias reales, como Reuters y Fox News, o de agencias de noticias en inglés de medios de comunicación estatales rusos, como RT. Algunas historias han incluido por descuido instrucciones o respuestas de uno de los chatbots de OpenAI, según escribieron Linvill y Warren en el estudio.

Los artículos suelen recibir cientos de publicaciones en diversas plataformas, como X, antes conocida como Twitter; Facebook, y Telegram, así como Reddit, Gab y Truth Social, aunque es difícil medir el alcance exacto. En conjunto, en teoría podrían llegar a miles de lectores, incluso millones.

“Esto es sin duda un preludio del tipo de interferencia que veremos en el ciclo electoral”, concluyó Linvill. “Es barato, muy selectivo y obviamente eficaz”.

Jeanne Noonan DelMundo colaboró con este reportaje.

Steven Lee Myers cubre temas de desinformación para The New York Times. Ha trabajado en Washington, Moscú, Bagdad y Pekín, donde contribuyó a los artículos que ganaron el Premio Pulitzer por servicio público en 2021. También es autor de The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin. Más de Steven Lee Myers

La ciudad natal de Gabriel García Márquez espera su último libro y más visitantes

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

Estatuas y murales llevan su imagen. Escuelas y bibliotecas tienen su nombre. Hoteles, barberías, clubes nocturnos y tiendas de reparación de bicicletas hacen referencias a su obra.

En la sofocante ciudad montañosa de Aracataca, en Colombia, es imposible caminar por una sola calle sin ver alusiones al más renombrado de sus viejos residentes: Gabriel García Márquez, el ganador del Premio Nobel de Literatura de 1982.

Por toda la ciudad se ven mariposas amarillas, un guiño a una de sus famosas imágenes literarias. La casa donde vivió de niño se ha convertido en un museo lleno de sus muebles originales, incluida la cuna donde dormía.

La biblioteca, llamada Biblioteca Pública Municipal Remedios La Bella, en honor al personaje Remedios, la bella, de su novela Cien años de soledad, tiene una vitrina que exhibe sus libros traducidos a varios idiomas.

Aracataca, que antes era una ciudad remota y pequeña de 40.000 habitantes asolada por el desempleo y la falta de servicios básicos, se ha transformado por su conexión con García Márquez, el autor más famoso de Colombia y uno de los titanes literarios del mundo.

Hace diez años, la ciudad no tenía mucho que ofrecer a los turistas y hacía poco por promocionar su conexión con el autor, más allá de un museo y una sala de billar que se denominaba a sí mismo como Billar Macondo, por el nombre de la ciudad ficticia de Cien años de soledad.

Pero desde la muerte de García Márquez, en 2014, ha aumentado el interés por él y por su ciudad natal, la cual inspiró algunas de sus obras más conocidas.

Muchos se refieren al escritor por su apodo, Gabo, y la ciudad se ha convertido en una especie de Gabolandia.

Si caminas por cualquier calle, encontrarás referencias evidentes al autor: carteles con su nombre, murales, estatuas, señales de tránsito y un montón de puestos que venden distintos productos, desde gorras de béisbol hasta tazas de café con la imagen de García Márquez.

Con la reciente publicación de su libro póstumo, En agosto nos vemos, los funcionarios y residentes de Aracataca tienen grandes esperanzas de que la nueva publicidad atraiga aún más turistas.

“Sí, se han visto cambios en todos los aspectos”, dijo Carlos Ruiz, director de un museo en el que el padre de García Márquez trabajó como operador de telégrafos. Él ha estado trabajando junto con el gobierno regional para impulsar el turismo literario en la ciudad.

“A través de Gabo lo que queremos es que Aracataca se fortalezca”, dijo Ruiz, y añadió que el año pasado la visitaron 22.000 turistas, frente a los 17.500 de 2019.

La ciudad celebra el cumpleaños de García Márquez todos los 6 de marzo, pero las festividades de este año fueron mayores, con más participantes y más actividades.

La celebración incluyó un concurso de relatos cortos y poesía y un espectáculo de danza a cargo de un grupo de niñas vestidas de mariposas amarillas. Una bibliotecaria se disfrazó de García Márquez para leer a los niños fragmentos de Cien años de soledad. Por la noche, un grupo de teatro representó El amor en los tiempos del cólera.

García Márquez no quería que se publicara su último libro, cuyos méritos literarios ya se están debatiendo. Pero, en su ciudad natal, la publicación ha generado un gran entusiasmo.

“Hay una expectativa grande, sobre todo porque en esta obra es una mujer la protagonista”, dijo Claudia Aarón, una maestra de escuela de 50 años.

“Qué bueno que la podamos disfrutar”, añadió, “que el gran nobel, nuestro maestro, todavía nos deja disfrutar su obra hasta después de fallecido”.

Aarón, quien iba vestida de amarillo chillón como muchos de los asistentes al concurso de poesía, recordó la última vez que el escritor vino a Aracataca, en 2007, y recorrió la ciudad en un carruaje de caballos.

“Eso fue apoteósico”, dijo. “Él con la esposa iban saludando como reina de pueblo y la gente se agolpaba”.

“Tantas cosas nos ayudan y nos motivan a seguir viviendo aquí, a luchar por esta cultura”, dijo Rocío Valle, de 52 años, otra maestra que asistió al concurso de poesía. “Gracias a Dios y gracias a Gabo”.

García Márquez nació en Aracataca en 1927 y fue criado por sus abuelos maternos hasta los ocho años, antes de mudarse a Sucre a vivir con sus padres.

Aunque su estancia en Aracataca fue relativamente breve, la ciudad se convirtió en la inspiración para la ciudad ficticia de Macondo. (En 2006 se realizó un referéndum para cambiar el nombre de Aracataca por el de Macondo, pero finalmente fracasó).

En sus memorias Vivir para contarla, el novelista recordaba que cuando regresó a Aracataca de joven “la reverberación del calor era tan intensa que todo se veía como a través de un vidrio ondulante”.

Hoy en día, en Aracataca, las obras de García Márquez se enseñan desde el preescolar, y se pide a los niños que hagan dibujos basados en sus cuentos, los cuales se leen en voz alta, dijo Aarón.

El miércoles, un grupo de adolescentes reunidos frente a una tienda dijeron que el legado del Premio Nobel de García Márquez los había inspirado a ser creativos e imaginativos en clase. También debatieron sobre cuál de sus obras era su favorita: La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y de su abuela desalmada o Relato de un náufrago.

Alejandra Mantilla, de 16 años, dijo que se sentía orgullosa de ver a turistas de lugares tan lejanos como Europa y China visitar la ciudad, sobre todo porque Colombia sigue luchando por superar su reputación relacionada a las drogas y la violencia.

“Colombia es, de pronto, uno de los países que está como muy alejado por todo lo del narcotráfico y todo eso”, dijo. “Entonces, qué bueno que le dé una buena imagen al país”.

Iñaki Otaoño, de 63 años, y su esposa, que viven en España, se aseguraron de visitar Aracataca durante su viaje de un mes por Colombia. Otaoño dijo que ha leído todas las obras de García Márquez.

“Somos un poco monomaníacos de este señor”, dijo. “Había que conocer el sitio de lo que sale en el libro”.

También mencionó que pensaban comprar su nuevo libro cuando llegaran a Bogotá.

“Pues mejor comprarlo aquí en su país, ¿no?”, dijo.

El gobierno regional ha estado trabajando para reactivar un ferrocarril que pasa por Aracataca, que actualmente funciona solo para movilizar carbón, para transportar pasajeros como parte de una “ruta Macondo”. Además, se está construyendo un gran hotel con piscina y panadería.

El aumento del turismo ha proporcionado más oportunidades económicas.

Cuando Jahir Beltrán, de 39 años, perdió su empleo como minero del carbón, trabajó brevemente en construcción y agricultura, hasta que un amigo le sugirió trabajar como guía turístico.

Entonces empezó a estudiar la obra de García Márquez y contrató a un sastre que le hizo un uniforme para poder disfrazarse del coronel Aureliano Buendía, uno de los personajes más importantes de Cien años de soledad.

“Todo esos conocimientos, tanto del escritor como de la vieja Aracataca, me han servido para transmitírselo a los turistas”, dijo Beltrán, quien ahora trabaja a tiempo completo como guía turístico independiente.

Fernando Vizcaíno, banquero jubilado de 70 años, tuvo la idea de convertir su casa en un hostal hace unos seis años, cuando vio que empezaban a llegar un mayor número de visitantes. Lo bautizó como Casa Turística Realismo Mágico, y él y su esposa la decoraron con colores brillantes y muchas referencias a García Márquez.

Vizcaíno dijo que su padre era amigo de la familia del autor y llevaba y traía las cartas que los padres de García Márquez se escribían cuando eran jóvenes y perseguían un amor prohibido. Ese noviazgo inspiró El amor en los tiempos del cólera.

“Aquí en Aracataca es una persona que está viva todavía”, dijo.


La ayuda de World Central Kitchen de José Andrés podría salir a Gaza en unos días

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

El primer cargamento marítimo de ayuda humanitaria a Gaza —asistencia alimentaria de la organización World Central Kitchen— podría salir del país insular mediterráneo de Chipre en unos días, dijeron autoridades de la Unión Europea.

Ursula von der Leyen, presidenta del organismo ejecutivo de la UE, describió el cargamento como un “proyecto piloto” para un corredor marítimo de asistencia a Gaza, pero ofreció pocos detalles sobre cómo se llevaría a cabo ni en qué ubicación del territorio se entregaría.

El célebre cocinero español José Andrés, fundador de World Central Kitchen, publicó el viernes en las redes sociales imágenes en las que se veían plataforma de carga cargadas en un buque con los nombres de su grupo y de Open Arms, un organismo de asistencia español. Dijo que los planes para el envío estaban “en las fases finales” y que “desembarcaría en las playas de Gaza con 200 palés”. No quedó claro cómo se recogería o distribuiría la ayuda, si llegaba a Gaza.

Desde octubre, organizadores y cocineros palestinos que trabajan con la World Central Kitchen han servido más de 32 millones de comidas en Gaza, según ha declarado el grupo. Sus esfuerzos podrían ser impulsados por los planes del ejército de EE. UU. para construir un muelle flotante para llevar más ayuda a Gaza, y los anuncios el viernes del Reino Unido, la Unión Europea y otros países indicando que establecerían un corredor marítimo de asistencia al territorio.

La medida le daría al grupo un acceso clave a un suministro constante de alimentos, el cual les serviría para más que duplicar las raciones que sirven diariamente y ayudar incluso más a la población de la zona norte de Gaza, dijo José Andrés en una entrevista el jueves, luego de que Estados Unidos anunció los planes del muelle flotante.

“Estamos intentando hacer lo imposible”, dijo. “Merece la pena intentar lo imposible para alimentar a la población de Gaza”.

La organización ha establecido 65 cocinas comunitarias en Gaza gestionadas por palestinos locales y tiene planes de añadir al menos 35 más, dijo José Andrés. Cada día se sirven unas 350.000 raciones, pero, añadió, le gustaría distribuir más de un millón.

Llevar alimentos y ayuda a Gaza ha sido desalentador, dijo. World Central Kitchen ha recurrido a enviar alguna de sus ayudas mediante lanzamientos aéreos con la Real Fuerza Aérea Jordana.

José Andrés fundó la organización tras el terremoto de Haití de 2010, en el que fallecieron unas 300.000 personas. Desde entonces, ha asistido en numerosas catástrofes naturales y guerras en Estados Unidos y en el extranjero. En 2017, la asociación sirvió millones de raciones de comida a los puertorriqueños afectados por el huracán María, a los ucranianos damnificados por la guerra contra Rusia y, más recientemente, a personas que se enfrentaban a incendios en Chile y Texas, entre otros lugares.

“Tenemos que apuntar a la Luna, porque donde sea que caigamos, merece la pena el esfuerzo”, dijo.

La asociación es el mayor programa de alimentación de emergencia creado por un grupo de cocineros: ha servido más de 350 millones de raciones de comida desde su fundación. Su impacto es inmediato, pues José Andrés y su personal pueden establecer redes rápidamente, organizar cocinas en condiciones difíciles y conseguir ingredientes y equipos.

Las cocinas, como las de Gaza, suelen estar gestionadas por lugareños, que preparan su gastronomía. Muchas de esas recetas se recopilaron en el libro de cocina del World Central Kitchen que se publicó en septiembre.


Christina Morales es reportera de alimentación para el Times. Más de Christina Morales.

Monika Pronczuk es una reportera radicada en Bruselas. Se incorporó al Times en 2020. Más de Monika Pronczuk.

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?

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

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