The New York Times 2024-03-20 01:25:05


Middle East Crisis: Netanyahu Rebuffs Biden and Vows to Press Ahead With Rafah Invasion

Netanyahu acknowledges a dispute with the U.S., but says Israel will press on into Rafah.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel brushed aside disagreement with the Biden administration over a planned ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, saying Tuesday that his government would press ahead despite pleas for restraint from the United States and key allies.

Mr. Netanyahu made the remarks to Israeli lawmakers a day after speaking by phone with Mr. Biden, who the White House said had reiterated concerns that invading Rafah would be “a mistake.” Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said that Israel’s objectives in Rafah “can be done by other means,” and that Mr. Netanyahu had agreed to send a team of Israeli officials to Washington to hear U.S. concerns and to discuss alternatives.

But on Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu insisted that sending troops into Rafah was necessary to eliminate what he said were Hamas battalions in the city.

“I made it as clear as possible to the president that we are determined to complete the elimination of these battalions in Rafah, and there is no way to do this without a ground incursion,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

Given the forum where the Israeli leader was speaking — a committee of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset — it was unclear whether the intended audience for his comments was primarily domestic, and whether the divisions might be smoothed at the meetings planned in Washington.

But Mr. Netanyahu acknowledged the dispute with the Biden administration over invading Rafah, saying “we all know this.” The United States has expressed increasing concern over civilian deaths in Gaza, but Mr. Netanyahu emphasized on Tuesday that he and Mr. Biden remained on the same page about the main objectives of the war.

“We have a debate with the Americans over the need to enter Rafah, not over the need to eliminate Hamas, but the need to enter Rafah,” he told the lawmakers.

He said that “out of respect for the president,” he had agreed to send a team to Washington so that the U.S. officials could “present us with their ideas, especially on the humanitarian side.”

Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, told reporters at a news briefing on Tuesday that the U.S. and Israel were “just squarely in a different place” on the expected invasion of Rafah.

“We have a different strategic viewpoint on what we believe is necessary to help target the key elements of Hamas,” he added.

The Biden administration has repeatedly warned Israel against sending ground troops into Rafah without a plan to get the more than one million Palestinians sheltering there out of harm’s way.

On Monday, Mr. Sullivan said that no such plan had been presented.

Many Palestinians who have fled from fighting in other parts of the Gaza Strip have sought safety in Rafah, obeying Israeli directives to move south. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are crammed into temporary shelters.

“They went from Gaza City to Khan Younis and then to Rafah,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters. “They have nowhere else to go.”

And Rafah’s limited resources have been exhausted as the population has multiplied. Many people in the city spend their days trying to secure basic needs: finding clean water for drinking and bathing, getting enough food and calming their children when Israeli strikes hit nearby.

The White House says a meeting with an Israeli delegation on Rafah is expected early next week.

The White House is expected to meet with an Israeli delegation early next week to discuss Israel’s plans for an invasion of Rafah, a point of tension between President Biden and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Air Force One on Tuesday that the Biden administration expected the Israeli officials to arrive in Washington “likely” early next week.

The leaders are at odds over how to proceed in Rafah. The White House said that Mr. Biden told Mr. Netanyahu on Monday that sending Israeli forces into Rafah, which has become the last refuge for more than half of Gaza’s population, would be disastrous when there are other ways to defeat Hamas.

But Mr. Netanyahu has not moved from his position that he must send troops into Rafah to defeat Hamas, the Palestinian faction that led the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, even though about 1.5 million civilians are currently seeking shelter in the southern city.

“Our view is that there are ways for Israel to prevail in this conflict, to secure its long-term future, to end the terror threat from Gaza, and not smash into Rafah,” Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Monday. “That’s what we’re going to present in this integrated way when this team comes.”

He also said the face-to-face meetings would be necessary to make progress in negotiations between Israel and Hamas on a deal to release Israeli hostages held by Hamas and a cease-fire to the fighting in Gaza.

“We’ve arrived at a point where each side has been making clear to the other its perspective, its view,” Mr. Sullivan said. “And now we really need to get down to brass tacks and have the chance for a delegation from each side on an integrated basis — everyone sitting around the same table, talking through the way forward.”

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

How Gazans have fared after Israel has asked them to flee.

For many civilians in Gaza, fleeing from Israeli attacks has become a grim cycle. Israeli evacuation orders have prompted more than a million people to move from one destination to another since October, each time packing belongings and seeking transport — by vehicle, cart or foot — to escape airstrikes and ground fighting between Israel and Hamas.

The latest example is Rafah, in southern Gaza, a city swollen to more than 1.4 million people by forced displacement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Tuesday that his military would invade the city to root out Hamas but that it would provide humanitarian aid and “facilitate an orderly exit of the population.”

Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, has said that a major ground invasion in Rafah would be a mistake, not least because it would further imperil humanitarian access. Displacement has contributed to a hunger crisis sweeping the territory, and the United Nations has said that an invasion could mean that an already catastrophic situation slides “deeper into the abyss.”

Some civilians say they have fled time and again. As many people face the prospect of being displaced again, here is a look at what happened on a few occasions when Israel has told civilians to evacuate.

Northern Gaza

Israel began telling more than one million civilians to evacuate northern Gaza about two weeks ahead of its ground invasion on Oct. 27, though the area was pummeled by Israeli airstrikes soon after the Hamas-led attack in Israel on Oct. 7.

“Hamas is using you as a human shield,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said on Oct. 22, calling on civilians still in northern Gaza to move south.

The Israeli military also dropped Arabic-language leaflets over the area, warning that anyone who did not move south “may be considered as a partner in a terrorist organization.”

The United Nations said that the evacuation order was impractical, and the U.S. asked Israel to delay its invasion to give civilians more time. Even so, hundreds of thousands of people obeyed the order and moved to southern Gaza, carrying a few possessions away from an area that had already been shattered by airstrikes before the full-scale invasion began.

The south proved to be no escape from peril. An investigation by The New York Times in December found that Israel had used some of the largest and most destructive bombs in its arsenal in southern Gaza, posing a pervasive threat to civilians.

Mr. Netanyahu says that Israel intends to minimize civilian casualties while fighting Hamas, and Israeli officials said that Hamas fighters had set up checkpoints to prevent people from complying with the orders to move.

Khan Younis

In early December, after a one-week cease-fire, Israel launched a major military operation in Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s largest city. Many civilians there had fled to the city from northern Gaza.

The Israeli military again warned civilians to leave parts of Khan Younis for Rafah and other places farther south, though residents said that they sometimes had mere hours of notice. Israel also dropped leaflets over Khan Younis and broadcast information about which parts of the city were safe at any given moment.

Several Palestinians said, however, that the orders to leave Khan Younis, or to move within it, were confusing, not least because they appeared to shift over time and left little opportunity to gather possessions. In addition, obeying the orders meant carting relatives — many of whom had been displaced several times previously — to a new place where the prospects for shelter and basic essentials were uncertain.

Civilians also said that when they fled as instructed, they sometimes found themselves at locations engulfed in fighting or subject to airstrikes.

Rafah

The most recent designated large scale safe zone is Rafah, which lies against the closed Egyptian border and has been immensely swollen by displacement. Without sufficient accommodations, many of its new residents have pitched makeshift tents.

Rafah has been subject to airstrikes and fighting in recent weeks. In one example, the health authorities in Gaza said on Feb. 12 that at least 67 people had been killed overnight in airstrikes in the city. Israel’s military had launched an operation to rescue two people held hostage in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack.

Al-Mawasi

The Israeli authorities have asked people at least twice to head to Al-Mawasi, a coastal village in southern Gaza that could be a destination for people asked to leave Rafah. Aid officials have said that the village lacks shelter, humanitarian aid and basic infrastructure.

Israel’s military says its forces are still operating at Al-Shifa Hospital.

The Israeli military said its forces were pressing on with a raid of Al-Shifa Hospital and had detained scores of people there, in an operation that has drawn condemnation from Gazan health officials and raised questions about how much control Israeli forces have over northern Gaza.

The latest raid of Al-Shifa began on Monday in what Israeli officials said was an operation targeting senior Hamas officials who had regrouped there, setting off a battle that both sides said had resulted in casualties.

On Tuesday, Israel’s military said its troops were “continuing precise operations” in the sprawling complex of the hospital, which is Gaza’s largest. It said it had killed dozens of militants, though its account of the fighting could not be independently verified.

The Al Jazeera news network said that one of its journalists had been detained for 12 hours. It said the journalist, Ismail al-Ghoul, had been severely beaten. Israel’s military has not responded to the allegations, which drew outrage from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Gazan Health Ministry condemned the raid as a “crime against health institutions,” and humanitarian organizations expressed alarm over the situation at the complex. The hospital, along with the surrounding area, had been sheltering 30,000 patients, medical workers and displaced civilians.

“Hospitals should never be battlegrounds,” the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a post on social media warning that the situation was “endangering health workers, patients and civilians.

Doctors Without Borders said it was “extremely concerned” for the safety of patients and medical staff in the hospital compound. In a statement on Monday, the organization urged “all warring parties to respect the grounds and perimeter of the hospital and ensure the safety of medical personnel, patients and civilians.”

Israel has said that the hospital complex doubled as a secret Hamas military command center, calling it one of many examples of civilian facilities that Hamas uses to shield its activities.

Four months ago, Israeli forces stormed the complex and found a tunnel shaft that they said supported their contention that the armed group had used it to conceal military operations.

Since then, Israel has withdrawn many troops from northern Gaza and has shifted the focus of its invasion to the south. As a result, lawlessness has increasingly taken hold in the north, prompting international aid organizations to suspend operations despite a dire humanitarian crisis.

The Biden administration has grown increasingly critical of Israel’s conduct of the war and its toll on civilians. On Monday, President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said that “more innocent civilians have died in this conflict, in this military operation, than in all the wars in Gaza combined, including thousands of children.”

“A humanitarian crisis has descended across Gaza, and anarchy reigns in areas that Israel’s military has cleared but not stabilized,” he said.

Gabby Sobelman and Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting.

The U.N. human rights chief says Israel may be using starvation as a war weapon.

The United Nations human rights chief, Volker Türk, blamed Israel on Tuesday for what he said was the entirely preventable catastrophe of starvation and famine unfolding in Gaza, urging international pressure on the country to allow for the unimpeded entry of humanitarian aid.

International alarm has been growing over the hunger crisis in Gaza, with food experts predicting an imminent famine in the north of the enclave and foreign leaders and diplomats becoming increasingly blunt in pointing the finger at Israel.

“The situation of hunger, starvation and famine is a result of Israel’s extensive restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid and commercial goods, displacement of most of the population, as well as the destruction of crucial civilian infrastructure,” Mr. Türk said in a statement.

Mr. Türk said Israel’s restrictions on aid, together with its conduct in its campaign to destroy Hamas, including the displacement of people and the destruction of infrastructure, may amount to the use of starvation as a weapon of war, which is a war crime.

Israel has pushed back on criticism that it is restricting aid from entering Gaza, pointing to its support for several recent initiatives, including efforts to provide supplies by air and sea that aid groups say are far less efficient than road.

It has accused Hamas of diverting aid and of using Palestinian civilians as human shields. The country’s mission in Geneva said on Tuesday that Mr. Türk “seeks once again to blame Israel for the situation and completely absolve the responsibility of the U.N. and Hamas.”

A report released Monday by the U.N.-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification said that 1.1 million people, half the population of Gaza, would most likely face catastrophic food insecurity and predicted an imminent rise in hunger-related deaths.

“The coping mechanisms we have seen the past weeks, even months, are people eating bird seeds, animal fodder, wild grass and weeds,” Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. aid agency in Geneva, told reporters on Tuesday while discussing the report. “We are beyond that. There’s literally nothing left.”

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that it had set up a center to try to stabilize malnutrition levels in the south of Gaza and was looking to set up another in the north, but it said that to bring in supplies at the scale needed would require a cease-fire. Talks in Qatar are continuing amid another intensive diplomatic push to secure a pause in the fighting.

Israel’s spy chief returns home as cease-fire talks continue in Qatar.

The head of Israel’s delegation has returned home from cease-fire talks in Qatar, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, but talks there are continuing amid another intensive diplomatic push to secure a pause in the fighting in Gaza as famine looms.

Warnings from the United Nations that a “famine is imminent” have added urgency to efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, and get more humanitarian aid into Gaza. In addition to the discussions in Qatar, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week to discuss postwar plans for Gaza and the wider Middle East.

Israeli negotiators arrived in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on Monday for a new round of in-person talks about a potential cease-fire and the release of hostages held by Hamas and other armed groups. Their delegation was led by David Barnea, the head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign spy agency.

Mr. Barnea returned to Israel on Tuesday morning, according to an Israeli official who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. Further details were not immediately available, but the Israeli news media reported that other members of Israel’s negotiating team remained in Qatar.

Officials from Qatar and Egypt have acted as intermediaries in the cease-fire discussions, in part because negotiators for Israel and Hamas do not talk directly with each other.

A spokesman for Qatar’s foreign ministry, Majed al-Ansari, confirmed that Mr. Barnea had departed but said on Tuesday that “technical teams” seeking to hash out finer details of a potential agreement were continuing to meet in Doha.

He said that while there had not yet been a breakthrough in talks, Qatar remained “cautiously optimistic.”

Two senior Israeli officials said the government had initially given its negotiating team an amorphous mandate for the latest round of talks. The team had now been authorized to go deeper into details during the talks, they said, but wasn’t given the full latitude it had requested. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to communicate with the news media.

The Israeli officials said on Monday that a proposal being discussed included a 42-day pause in the fighting in exchange for the release of 40 of the more than 100 hostages taken from Israel and still held in Gaza by Hamas or its allies. But they emphasized that they expected it would take a long time to reach an agreement.

Last week, Hamas presented a new proposal that omitted a previous demand that Israel immediately agree to a permanent cease-fire in return for beginning an exchange of hostages and Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

The Israeli officials said Hamas’s new proposal included details that were unacceptable to Israel.

For months, Hamas leaders have been publicly calling for a comprehensive cease-fire and complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israeli officials repeatedly rejected the demands and indicated that they would be open to only a temporary pause.

Cassandra Vinograd contributed reporting.

The top U.S. diplomat will make his sixth wartime trip to the Middle East.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week, a trip that comes as the Biden administration tries to broker a hostage deal that would pause Israel’s offensive in Gaza and allow more humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territory.

Speaking to reporters during a stop in Manila on Tuesday, Mr. Blinken said his discussions would include postwar plans for Gaza and the wider Middle East, including a potential agreement that would normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and lay the groundwork for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

Mr. Blinken will be traveling to the region as mediators from Egypt and Qatar hold meetings in Qatar about a possible cease-fire. Israel sent a team of negotiators to Qatar on Monday.

The trip will be Mr. Blinken’s sixth to the region since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which set off the war in Gaza. In the announcement of his travel, the State Department said that he would meet with the Saudi and Egyptian “leadership,” without naming specific officials. There was no mention of a visit to Israel.

Mr. Blinken said that during stops in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, and Cairo, the Egyptian capital, he would be discussing “the imperative of having a plan for Gaza, for when the conflict ends,” and that the hope was such a conclusion would come “as soon as possible, consistent with Israel’s needs to defend itself and make sure that Oct. 7 can never happen again.”

Any postwar plan for Gaza will involve the question of how to provide governance and security in Gaza, a subject on which the United States and Israel disagree.

Mr. Blinken also said he would address “what is the right architecture for lasting regional peace,” an apparent reference to diplomacy between the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia to broker a joint agreement.

Such a pact would likely require Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in return for its first-ever formal diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. In turn, the Saudis want the United States and Israel to support the creation of a civil nuclear program on Saudi soil, as well as greater military support from Washington.

Mr. Blinken stressed the urgency of providing humanitarian relief to Gaza, whose inhabitants, he said, “continue to face a horrific humanitarian situation.” He said that Hamas bore blame for the crisis but that it was also “incumbent on Israel” to protect civilians during its military campaign.

He is expected to travel to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and to Egypt on Thursday.

Israel blocks the head of the U.N. agency for Palestinians from visiting Gaza.

Israel denied the chief of UNRWA, the United Nations agency that supports Palestinians, entry to the Gaza Strip on Monday, according to the agency and the foreign minister of Egypt.

Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s commissioner general, said on social media on Monday that Israeli authorities had blocked him from making a visit that was “supposed to coordinate & improve the humanitarian response.” UNRWA, formally the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, is the largest aid group on the ground in Gaza and a critical lifeline for more than 2.2 million people struggling to survive under a near-total Israeli siege.

The Israeli defense ministry’s agency that oversees policy for the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, said on social media that Mr. Lazzarini’s request for entry to Gaza “was not submitted by the necessary coordination processes and channels.”

“This is another attempt by UNRWA to blame Israel for their own mistakes,” the agency said. COGAT did not immediately respond to questions about the decision.

Juliette Touma, the director of communications for UNRWA, said COGAT’s explanation was “not accurate.”

Mr. Lazzarini’s trip was approved by Israel on Sunday night, she said, adding that he was the only person among a team of UNRWA workers to be denied access on Monday morning, even though all of their requests for entry were submitted as a group.

She described the denial as a “last-minute change” that came as Mr. Lazzarini was set to fly from Cairo to El Arish, Egypt, before traveling to the border and crossing into Gaza.

At a news conference with Mr. Lazzarini in Cairo, the foreign minister of Egypt, Sameh Shoukry, expressed dismay over Israel’s denial.

The denial came on the same day that a new report from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification global initiative projected that a full-scale famine will take hold in northern Gaza anytime between now and May.

Mr. Lazzarini — who had planned to visit northern Gaza as part of the trip, according to Ms. Touma — said on social media that “this man-made starvation under our watch is a stain on our collective humanity.” Averting the famine was a matter of “political will,” he added.

Israel has long argued that UNRWA is biased against Israel and influenced by Hamas, allegations that the agency strongly denies. In January, Israel accused 12 of UNRWA’s 13,000 employees in Gaza of participating in the Oct. 7 attacks or their aftermath, leading to several donor nations suspending funding. Israel Katz, the foreign minister, has called on Mr. Lazzarini to resign.

Mr. Lazzarini has said that the agency was facing a “deliberate and concerted campaign” to undermine its operations at a time when its services are most needed. Some countries have since resumed their donations to UNRWA, citing its role in mitigating the humanitarian crisis.

A White House official says Israeli forces killed a senior Hamas military leader in Gaza.

Israeli forces have killed one of Hamas’s highest-ranking military leaders in the Gaza Strip, a senior White House official said on Monday.

Marwan Issa, the deputy commander of Hamas’s military wing, “was killed in an Israeli operation last week,” Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters at a White House briefing.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media, said Israel had not confirmed Mr. Issa’s death but that there were many indications he had been killed.

Israeli officials have said that Mr. Issa was targeted by an Israeli airstrike on the night of March 9-10. Though they have stopped short of saying whether Mr. Issa was killed in the attack, Israeli officials have hinted at his possible death — the Israeli military chief of staff said on Sunday that Hamas was trying to “hide” the fate of senior Hamas officials, without directly naming him.

In the attack, Israeli warplanes struck an underground space in the Nuseirat neighborhood of central Gaza that had been used by Mr. Issa and another senior Hamas military official responsible for the group’s weapons, a spokesman for the Israeli military, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said a week ago.

Hamas — which has announced the deaths of just a few of its members since the war began — did not immediately comment on Mr. Sullivan’s remarks. The Israeli military declined to comment on the remarks on Monday.

The death of Mr. Issa, a key figure in its Qassam Brigades, would represent a victory for Israel, whose leaders have vowed to wipe out the Hamas leadership in Gaza — although the group has swiftly replaced such leaders in the past, and many of Hamas’s top political leaders live outside the enclave.

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. Hamas said he was killed in an Israeli attack in Lebanon on Jan. 2.

But despite an Israeli military campaign that has battered Hamas over the last five months, the group’s 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 Qassam Brigades, is also believed to be alive.

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

Who was Marwan Issa, the Hamas commander killed by Israel?

Marwan Issa, the deputy commander of Hamas’s military wing in Gaza and a presumed mastermind of the Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel, was confirmed dead on Monday by a senior U.S. official after an Israeli airstrike more than a week ago.

Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, told reporters that Mr. Issa, one if the highest-ranking officials in Hamas, had been killed. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said on March 11 that Israeli military warplanes had targeted Mr. Issa and another senior Hamas official in an underground compound in central Gaza.

With his death, Mr. Issa, who had been among Israel’s most wanted men, became the senior-most Hamas leader to be killed in Gaza since the start of the war. Israeli officials have characterized the strike as a breakthrough in their campaign to wipe out the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

But experts cautioned that his death would not have a devastating effect on Hamas’s leadership structure. Israel has killed Hamas’s political and military leaders in the past, only to see them quickly replaced.

Here is a closer look at Mr. Issa and what his death means for Hamas and its leadership.

What was Mr. Issa’s role in Hamas?

Mr. Issa, who was 58 or 59 at the time of his death, had served since 2012 as a deputy to Mohammed Deif, the elusive leader of the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing. Mr. Issa assumed the role after the assassination of another top commander, Ahmed al-Jabari.

Mr. Issa served both on Hamas’s military council and in its Gaza political office, overseen by Yahya Sinwar, the group’s highest-ranking official in the enclave. Mr. Issa was described by Palestinian analysts and former Israeli security officials as an important strategist who played a key role as a liaison between Hamas’s military and political leaders.

Salah al-Din al-Awawdeh, a Palestinian analyst close to Hamas, described Mr. Issa’s position in the group as “part of the front rank of the military wing’s leadership.”

Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, the former Israeli military intelligence chief, said Mr. Issa was simultaneously Hamas’s “defense minister,” its deputy military commander and its “strategic mind.”

What does his death mean for the group?

Experts described Mr. Issa as an important associate of Mr. Deif and Mr. Sinwar, though they said his death did not represent a threat to the group’s survival.

“There’s always a replacement,” Mr. Awawdeh said. “I don’t think the assassination of any member of the military wing will have an effect on its activities.”

Michael Milshtein, a former Israeli military intelligence officer and an expert on Palestinian affairs, said Mr. Issa’s death was a significant blow to the Qassam Brigades, though he conceded it wasn’t “the end of the world” for Hamas.

“He had a lot of experience,” Mr. Milshtein said. “His death is a big loss for Hamas, but it isn’t a loss that will lead to its collapse and it won’t affect it for a long time. In a week or two, they’ll overcome it.”

Mr. Milshtein added that even though Mr. Issa’s opinion was valued at the highest levels of Hamas, the fact he did not directly command fighters meant his death did not leave a gaping hole in Hamas’s operations.

How has he been described?

Mr. Issa was a lesser-known member of Hamas’s top brass, maintaining a low profile and rarely appearing in public.

Gerhard Conrad, a former German intelligence officer who met Mr. Issa more than a decade ago, described him as a “decisive and quiet” person lacking charisma. “He was not very eloquent, but he knew what to say, and he was straight to the point,” Mr. Conrad said in an interview.

Mr. Conrad said he met Mr. Issa, Mr. al-Jabari and Mahmoud al-Zahar, another senior Hamas official, about ten times between 2009 and 2011 in Gaza City. The men met as part of an effort to broker a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas.

“He was the master of the data on the prisoners,” Mr. Conrad said of Mr. Issa. “He had all the names to be negotiated on.”

Mr. Conrad, however, said it was apparent at the time that Mr. Issa was a subordinate to Mr. al-Jabari. “He was a kind of chief of staff,” he said.

It was only after Mr. al-Jabari’s assassination that Mr. Issa’s prominence grew, but he still was keen to stay out of view. Few images of Mr. Issa are in the public domain.

Mr. Awawdeh, the analyst, called Mr. Issa a man who liked to “remain in the shadows” and who seldom granted interviews to the media.

In one of those rare interviews, Mr. Issa spoke in 2021 about his role in the indirect talks that resulted in Israel exchanging more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for a single Israeli soldier, Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit, and his hopes for a future conflict with Israel.

“Even if the resistance in Palestine is monitored by the enemy at all hours, it will surprise the enemy,” he told Al Jazeera at the time.

In a separate interview with a Hamas publication in 2005, Mr. Issa lauded militants who raided Israeli settlements and military bases, calling the actions “heroic” and an “advanced activity.”

What is known about his early life?

Mr. Issa was born in the Bureij area of central Gaza in 1965, but his family hails from what is now the Ashkelon area in Israel.

A Hamas member for decades, he was involved with the militant group involved pursuing Palestinians who were believed to have collaborated with Israel, according to Mr. Awawdeh.

Mr. Issa spent time in prisons operated by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Admiral Hagari has said that Mr. Issa helped plan the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack. Mr. Issa is also thought to have planned operations aimed at infiltrating Israeli settlements during the second intifada in the 2000s, Mr. Milshtein said.

A correction was made on 

March 18, 2024

An earlier version of this article misstated the surname of a former Israeli military intelligence chief. He is Tamir Hayman, not Heyman.


When we learn of a mistake, we acknowledge it with a correction. If you spot an error, please let us know at nytnews@nytimes.com.Learn more

Barren Fields and Empty Stomachs: Afghanistan’s Long, Punishing Drought

Lynsey Addario and

They awake in the mornings to find another family has left. Half of one village, the entirety of the next have departed in the years since the water dried up — in search of jobs, of food, of any means of survival. Those who remain pick apart the abandoned homes and burn the bits for firewood.

They speak of the lushness that once blessed this corner of southwestern Afghanistan. Now, it’s parched as far as the eye can see. Boats sit on bone-dry banks of sand. What paltry water dribbles out from deep beneath the arid earth is salt-laced, cracking their hands and leaving streaks in their clothes.

Several years of punishing drought has displaced entire swaths of Afghanistan, one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change, leaving millions of children malnourished and plunging already impoverished families into deeper desperation. And there is no relief in sight.


The map locates six provinces in Afghanistan: Jowzjan, Balkh, Samangan, Badghis, Herat, and Nimruz. It also locates the districts of Kang and Chakhansur in Nimruz province.

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Hong Kong Adopts Sweeping Security Laws, Bowing to Beijing

Hong Kong on Tuesday passed national security laws at the behest of Beijing, thwarting decades of public resistance in a move that critics say will strike a lasting blow to the partial autonomy the city had been promised by China.

The new legislation, which was passed with extraordinary speed, grants the authorities even more powers to crack down on opposition to Beijing and the Hong Kong government, establishing penalties — including life imprisonment — for political crimes like treason and insurrection, which are vaguely defined. It also targets offenses like “external interference” and the theft of state secrets, creating potential risks for multinational companies and international groups operating in the Asian financial center.

Analysts say the legislation, which will take effect on March 23, could have a chilling effect on a wide range of people, including entrepreneurs, civil servants, lawyers, diplomats, journalists and academics, raising questions about Hong Kong’s status as an international city.

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U.S. Vows to Continue Support for Ukraine, Despite Funding Doubts

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The United States and European nations vowed on Tuesday to maintain military support for Ukraine, even though future American aid remains snarled in Congress and modest donations of new weapons reflected an alliance with relatively little left to give as the war against Russia enters a critical stretch.

The U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, in Germany for the start of a meeting of about 50 governments that are supplying Kyiv’s forces, said that allies would “dig deeper to get vital security assistance to Ukraine.”

To that end, Germany’s defense minister, Boris Pistorius, said Berlin would send Ukraine 10,000 rounds of badly needed artillery shells, 100 armored infantry vehicles and transport equipment in a new $544 million infusion of support. The Finnish defense chief, Antti Häkkänen, announced a $32 million donation to help the Czech Republic buy 800,000 rounds of ammunition, including from beyond NATO-member militaries and manufacturers.

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Brazil Police Recommend Criminal Charges Against Bolsonaro

Brazil’s federal police recommended that former President Jair Bolsonaro be criminally charged in a scheme to falsify his Covid-19 vaccine card, partly to travel to the United States during the pandemic, in the latest sign of criminal investigations closing in on the former president.

Federal prosecutors will now decide whether to pursue the case. If they do, it will be the first time the former president has faced criminal charges.

Brazilian police accused Mr. Bolsonaro of ordering a top aide to obtain falsified Covid-19 vaccination records for himself and his daughter, 13, in late 2022, just before the former president traveled to Florida to stay for three months following his election loss.

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As U.K. Royals Struggle to Calm Rumors, Agency Flags Older Edited Photo

When Catherine, Princess of Wales, confessed last week to digitally altering a photo of her with her children, news agencies began examining Catherine’s gallery of royal family photos for other examples of doctoring.

It didn’t take long: On Monday, Getty Images placed an editorial advisory on a second photo taken by Catherine, of Queen Elizabeth II surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, saying the image had been altered before it was released by the palace.

In a statement, the news agency said that “in accordance with its editorial policy it has placed an editor’s note on a handout image stating the image has been digitally enhanced at source.”

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Hong Kong’s New Security Legislation Took Decades to Pass. Here’s What to Know.

Hong Kong passed national security legislation on Tuesday, giving officials in the Chinese territory more power to curb dissent, 21 years after mass protests forced the government to backtrack on a plan to introduce such laws.

The legislation targets political offenses like treason and insurrection with penalties as harsh as life imprisonment and expands the scope of what can be considered criminal behavior. Local officials have said it will close gaps in a security law that China’s government imposed on the territory in 2020 after months of huge antigovernment protests.

The security legislation is another significant erosion of freedoms in a former British colony once known for its freewheeling politics and relative autonomy from China. It also highlights how weak Hong Kong’s once-boisterous civil society and political opposition have become over the past four years.

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How Anti-Immigrant Anger Has Divided a Small Irish Town

On a cold January afternoon in Roscrea, a market town of around 5,500 people in rural Ireland, news began to spread that the town’s only remaining hotel would close temporarily — to provide housing for 160 asylum seekers.

Almost immediately, speculation and anger began to swirl online.

Posts to a local Facebook group blamed the closure on the government and on “non-nationals” moving in. Someone called for people to gather outside the hotel, Racket Hall, to demand answers.

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Senegal Election 2024: What You Need to Know


  • Why does this election matter?

  • Who is running?

  • What are the main issues?

  • When will the results be released?

  • Who is likely to win?

  • Where to find more information?

  • What other elections are happening?

It should have been one of Africa’s more boring polls.

Senegal, with a ticking economy, is seen as a stable, safe country — no small feat in western Africa, where coups, crises and insurgencies abound. A president regarded as a steady hand is stepping down after two terms. A pool of candidates is taken mainly from the political old guard.

But then the president, Macky Sall, blew up any chance of a mundane election. He went on state television and canceled the vote, alleging corruption in the way candidates were approved by constitutional court.

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Israel Faces Tough Balancing Act on Russia and the West

Israel, though heavily dependent on support from the United States, Germany and other Western nations, has been noticeably out of step with them when it comes to relations with Russia during its war of conquest in Ukraine.

Long before Hamas attacked Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, the country refused Ukrainian requests to send arms or to apply widespread sanctions on Russia, including stopping flights to the country. Despite the eagerness of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, himself Jewish, to visit the country and show solidarity after the attack, he has never made the trip.

The reasons reflect Israel’s unique security needs and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s delicate relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a primary supporter of Israel’s enemies in the region whom Israel cannot afford to offend.

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Putin Hails Conquests in Ukraine in Red Square Spectacle

His most beloved crooner sang a nationalistic ballad with an appeal to Russians: “The Motherland is calling. Don’t let her down.”

His favorite band belted out a moody song about wartime sacrifice.

And then he took the stage, under a banner celebrating the 10th anniversary of Crimea’s seizure from Ukraine, to remind thousands of Russians gathered on Red Square that his fight to add territory to Russia wasn’t over.

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Gambia Moves Toward Overturning Landmark Ban on Female Genital Cutting

Gambian lawmakers have voted to advance a measure revoking a ban on female genital cutting by removing legal protections for millions of girls, raising fears that other countries could follow suit.

Of the 47 members of the Gambia National Assembly present on Monday, 42 voted to send a bill to overturn the ban onward to a committee for consideration before a final vote. Human rights experts, lawyers and women’s and girls’ rights campaigners say that overturning the ban would undo decades of work to end female genital cutting, a centuries-old ritual tied up in ideas of sexual purity, obedience and control.

If the bill passes the final stages, the small West African nation of Gambia will become the first nation globally to roll back protections against cutting.

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Pakistani Airstrikes in Afghanistan Kill at Least 8, Taliban Officials Say

Pakistan launched two airstrikes into Afghanistan on Monday morning that killed at least eight people, Afghan officials said, escalating simmering tensions between the two countries.

The pre-dawn strikes were carried out in the Paktika and Khost Provinces in eastern Afghanistan around 3 a.m., Afghan officials said. Three children were among those killed, according to Taliban officials, who condemned the strikes as a violation of Afghan territory.

The strikes came amid a surge of attacks by militants in Pakistan following the Taliban’s seizure of power in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have blamed militants harbored on Afghan soil and protected by the Taliban administration for the attacks. Taliban officials have denied those claims.

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Haiti’s Hospitals Survived Cholera and Covid. Gangs Are Closing Them.

Taïna Cenatus, a 29-year-old culinary student in Haiti, lost her balance at school one day this month and toppled over, but it was not until she hit the ground that she realized she had been hit in the face by a stray bullet.

It left a small hole in her cheek, just missing her jawbone and teeth.

Unlike many Haitians wounded by gunfire in the middle of a vicious gang takeover of the capital, Port-au-Prince, Ms. Cenatus was actually lucky that day — she made it to a clinic. But she is still in pain, her wound swelling, and she cannot get any relief, with more and more hospitals and clinics abandoned by staff or looted by gangs.

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Snakes in the Grass — and Under the Piano, by the Pool and in the Prison

Natasha Frost spent two days trailing snake catchers on the Sunshine Coast, Australia.

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The phone rings. It’s the local prison. There’s a snake in a cell. Within a few hours, snakes have also been spotted at a school, beneath a piano stored in a private garage and near a lagoon-like swimming pool at a retirement home. Customers want them gone.

Business has never been so good for Stuart McKenzie, who runs a snake-catching service in the Sunshine Coast, a verdant enclave along miles of pristine beach in the vast Australian state of Queensland. On the busiest days, he can receive more than 35 calls about troublesome snakes.

Queensland is home to the largest number of snake species in Australia — about 120. Of those, two-thirds are venomous and a handful are deadly. Throughout Australia, fatalities from snake bites remain extremely rare — about two a year — and in Queensland, the reptiles are simply a part of life.

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

Reporting from Belmopan, Belize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where Hostage Families and Supporters Gather, for Solace and Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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An American Who Has Helped Clear 815,000 Bombs From Vietnam

On a visit to the former battlefield of Khe Sanh, scene of one of the bloodiest standoffs of the Vietnam War, the only people Chuck Searcy encountered on the broad, barren field were two young boys who led him to an unexploded rocket lying by a ditch.

One of the youngsters reached out to give the bomb a kick until Mr. Searcy cried out, “No, Stop!”

“It was my first encounter with unexploded ordnance,” Mr. Searcy said of that moment in 1992. “I had no idea that I would be dedicating my life to removing them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can Gabriel Attal Win Over France?

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

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

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

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Architect Embraces Indigenous Worldview in Australian Designs

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

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

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

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‘Get Ready to Scream’: How to Be a Baseball Fan in South Korea

In the United States, many Major League Baseball games feature long periods of calm, punctuated by cheering when there’s action on the field or the stadium organ plays a catchy tune.

But in South Korea, a baseball game is a sustained sensory overload. Each player has a fight song, and cheering squads — including drummers and dancers who stand on platforms near the dugouts facing the spectators — ensure that there is near-constant chanting. Imagine being at a ballpark where every player, even a rookie, gets the star treatment.

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Canadian Skaters Demand Bronze Medals in Olympics Dispute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Es un estilo de vida’: las mujeres dejan su huella en el ejército ucraniano

Durante dos semanas, Nicole Tung pasó tiempo con mujeres que servían en el ejército ucraniano en el este del país.

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En el frente, a las afueras de Bajmut, Ucrania, una comandante de 32 años de un pelotón de artillería del país se balanceaba de un lado a otro en el asiento del copiloto de un Lada destartalado, mientras otro soldado conducía el auto a través de un denso bosque, derribando a veces árboles jóvenes. Cuando llegaron a su destino, un pequeño pueblo situado a poco menos de 3 kilómetros del frente ruso, solo quedaban casas destruidas, con los tejados destrozados visibles a la luz de la luna.

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La comandante, una mujer soldado cuyo nombre en clave es Witch, solía ser una abogada que, junto a dos de sus hermanos y su madre, se enlistó en el ejército al día siguiente de la invasión rusa en febrero de 2022. Su primera experiencia en combate fue en las afueras de Kiev ese año y gran parte de lo que ha aprendido sobre sistemas de armas desde entonces ha sido de manera autodidacta y sobre la marcha.

Desde principios de 2023, Witch ha estado con su pelotón en la Brigada 241 en la zona alrededor de Bajmut, supervisando todos los sistemas de artillería. Está decidida a seguir en el ejército aunque termine la guerra. “La gente que quiere unirse a las fuerzas armadas debe entender que es un estilo de vida”, dijo.

A medida que Ucrania lucha contra los feroces ataques rusos y sus pérdidas aumentan, el número de mujeres que se unen a las fuerzas armadas ha incrementado y cada vez son más las que se presentan como voluntarias para desempeñar funciones de combate. El ejército ucraniano también ha emprendido una labor concertada para reclutar a más mujeres y así llenar sus filas.

En este momento, alrededor de 65.000 mujeres prestan servicio en las fuerzas armadas ucranianas, lo que representa un aumento del 30 por ciento desde el comienzo de la guerra. Unas 45.000 son militares y el resto ocupan puestos civiles, según el Ministerio de Defensa. Un poco más de 4000 están en puestos de combate.

A diferencia de lo que ocurre con los hombres ucranianos, no existe un servicio militar obligatorio para las mujeres; sin embargo, las que estudian medicina o farmacéutica deben registrarse para prestar servicio militar.

Estas mujeres ocupan un número cada vez mayor de puestos en el ejército: médicos de combate en unidades de asalto; artilleras superiores; francotiradoras; comandantes de unidades de tanques y brigadas de artillería y al menos una copiloto en un equipo de evacuación médica que sueña con convertirse en la primera piloto de helicópteros de combate de Ucrania. Decenas de ellas han sido heridas en combate, algunas han muerto o han sido capturadas.

A lo largo del frente de batalla, operan bajo el mismo manto de miedo y penurias que los soldados varones. En el húmedo fuerte donde Witch y uno de sus equipos de morteros pasaban la mayor parte del día, esperaban casi a oscuras en el sótano. Encender las luces significaría que la cuadrilla no podría ajustar la vista a la oscuridad con rapidez si tuviesen que salir a abrir fuego.

Más al norte, una comandante con el nombre en clave Tesla, antes cantante folclórica ucraniana, estaba sentada encorvada en un taburete en la casa vacía que servía de cuartel general de la Brigada Mecanizada 32. Las fuerzas rusas de la región de Kúpiansk lanzaban descargas de artillería sobre las líneas ucranianas.

Tesla enviaba mensajes de texto y notas de voz a los soldados de su unidad mientras hablaba con el segundo al mando sobre el plan de batalla. Llevaba los pantalones arremangados, lo que dejaba ver unos calcetines naranja neón con caricaturas de aguacates.

Trataba de redirigir el fuego ruso sobre otro batallón hacia la posición de sus propios soldados, para que la otra unidad pudiera evacuar a un camarada gravemente herido. “Tres torniquetes en tres extremidades”, llegó la información en un mensaje de voz, dijo Tesla.

“Envíen uno más”, ordenó Tesla con un mensaje de voz, dando la orden a sus soldados de disparar de nuevo. “Cuando terminen, infórmenme”.

Hasta 2018, las mujeres tenían prohibido ocupar puestos de combate en el ejército ucraniano, aunque algunas hacían caso omiso de las normas. Las restricciones se han moderado desde la invasión rusa. El reclutamiento de miles de mujeres más en el ejército se ha visto como un paso en buena dirección del país, cuyas candidaturas para unirse a la OTAN y la Unión Europea aún están en revisión.

El inconveniente es que el ejército no ha sido capaz de adaptarse con la suficiente rapidez para darles cabida. Las soldados afirman que sigue habiendo una gran escasez de uniformes y botas para mujeres, chalecos antibalas correctamente ajustados y productos de higiene femenina. Esto las obliga a adquirir muchos artículos por su cuenta.

Por ello, organizaciones como Veteranka y Zemliachky han contribuido a subsanar esta brecha mediante la recaudación de fondos para proporcionar artículos adaptados a las mujeres.

Pero los problemas van más allá, hacia cuestiones de desigualdad y discriminación por razón de género.

Muchas mujeres que prestan servicio en funciones de combate afirmaron que los soldados varones y sus superiores directos en gran medida no discriminan por razón de género, aunque siguen existiendo insinuaciones sexuales y comentarios inapropiados.

En cambio, son los mandos superiores, a menudo remanentes de la era soviética, quienes subestiman a las mujeres en el ejército, en especial en funciones de combate. En algunos casos, las mujeres optan por alistarse en brigadas de nueva creación con mandos más jóvenes y dinámicos.

“No quise unirme a una brigada creada hace muchos años porque sabía que no me harían caso como joven oficial y como mujer”, afirmó Tesla.

En una ocasión, un comandante de brigada estaba tan indignado con una mujer al mando de una tropa de artillería que la atacó de manera directa. “Te arrastrarás de rodillas hasta mí y suplicarás para irte cuando te des cuenta de que el trabajo es demasiado difícil y no te permitiré abandonar tu puesto”, recordó que le dijo, solicitando el anonimato para hablar con franqueza sobre un tema delicado.

También han surgido denuncias de acoso sexual. Según algunas mujeres, no ha habido canales oficiales para denunciar el acoso excepto los comandantes de batallón, que luego tienen que decidir si dan curso a la denuncia. En algunos casos, según las soldados, los testigos pueden negarse a declarar por miedo a las repercusiones.

Las soldados afirman que estos impedimentos, así como la posibilidad de perjudicar sus carreras militares, disuaden a las mujeres de denunciar el acoso.

Diana Davitian, vocera del Ministerio de Defensa, dijo que el 1 de enero el ejército puso en marcha una línea directa donde los soldados pueden denunciar el acoso sexual. Las denuncias se investigarán, dijo, y se tomarán medidas si las acusaciones resultan ser ciertas.

El ministerio también declaró que planeaba crear una unidad aparte dedicada a garantizar la igualdad de género y ofrecer programas educativos, incluido uno centrado en la lucha contra la violencia sexual relacionada con la guerra.

De vuelta al sótano, Witch recibió una llamada del puesto de mando: era hora de disparar. El equipo se apresuró a salir a un patio semicubierto situado a pocos metros, donde había un cañón de mortero preparado.

Se hizo el silencio mientras Kuzya, de 20 años, artillera principal del pelotón de morteros, observaba por la mirilla y leía las coordenadas en su teléfono. “¡Fuego!”, gritó alguien. Se dispararon varias ráfagas más antes de que el equipo volviera al sótano, a la espera de un posible regreso de los rusos.

Apenas unos meses antes, el novio de Kuzya murió en combate. Ella y Witch, quien tiene un hijo de 7 años al que vio pocas veces el año pasado, parecían encontrar consuelo en su mutua compañía. Las dos mujeres entrenaban en el mismo club de judo de Kiev, la capital, y al día siguiente de la invasión fueron juntas a la oficina de registro para enlistarse.

Para muchas mujeres, la guerra y el deseo de estar en combate es algo para lo que se han preparado durante años. Foxy, de 24 años, una exbarista convertida en artillera y médica, se ofreció como voluntaria para hacer redes de camuflaje después de la escuela durante toda su adolescencia, antes de trabajar con veteranos heridos. El año pasado, se enlistó en el ejército tras semanas de entrenamiento.

Su comandante anterior le dio dos opciones: “Eres mujer. Puedes trabajar con documentos o cocinar ‘borsch’”, recordó Foxy. “No tuve otra opción que hacerme cargo del papeleo hasta que me cambié de batallón”.

Entonces, pasó a formar parte de un equipo de morteros en algunos de los combates más intensos del frente en Bajmut, donde su equipo la trató como a una igual. “Aunque al principio me enfrenté a cierto grado de sexismo”, dijo, “siento que no necesito demostrar nada ni convencer a nadie de lo que puedo hacer”.

Evelina Riabenko colaboró con la reportería.

Por qué cambió todo en Haití: las bandas criminales se unieron

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Incluso cuando las bandas delictivas aterrorizaban a Haití, secuestraban civiles en masa y mataban a discreción, el primer ministro del país se aferró al poder durante años.

Luego, en cuestión de días, todo cambió.

En medio de una agitación política inédita desde el asesinato del presidente del país en 2021, el primer ministro de Haití, Ariel Henry, aceptó renunciar. Ahora, los países vecinos se apresuran a crear un consejo de transición para dirigir el país y trazar el camino hacia las elecciones, que antes parecían una posibilidad lejana.

Según los expertos, este momento es distinto debido a que las pandillas se unieron, obligando al líder del país a renunciar al poder.

“El primer ministro Ariel no dimitió por política, ni por las manifestaciones callejeras masivas en su contra a lo largo de los años, sino por la violencia que han ejercido las bandas”, dijo Judes Jonathas, un consultor haitiano que ha trabajado durante años en el suministro de ayuda humanitaria. “Ahora, la situación ha cambiado totalmente, porque ahora las bandas trabajan juntas”.

No está claro cuán sólida es la alianza, ni si va a durar. Lo que es evidente es que las bandas delictivas están tratando de capitalizar su control de Puerto Príncipe, la capital, para convertirse en una fuerza política legítima en las negociaciones en las que están mediando gobiernos extranjeros, entre ellos Estados Unidos, Francia y países del Caribe.

A principios de marzo, Henry viajó a Nairobi a fin de ultimar un acuerdo para el despliegue en Haití de una fuerza de seguridad dirigida por Kenia. Los grupos delictivos aprovecharon la ausencia de Henry, que es muy impopular. En pocos días, las pandillas cerraron el aeropuerto, saquearon puertos marítimos, atacaron una decena de comisarías de policía y liberaron a unos 4600 presos.

Exigieron la renuncia de Henry, amenazando con agravar la violencia si se negaba. Según los analistas, desde que aceptó dimitir, las pandillas parecen centrarse principalmente en obtener inmunidad penal y evitar ir a la cárcel.

“Su mayor objetivo es la amnistía”, afirmó Jonathas.

El aliado político más destacado de los delincuentes es Guy Philippe, antiguo comandante de policía y líder golpista que cumplió seis años en una prisión federal estadounidense por lavado de dinero procedente del narcotráfico antes de ser deportado a Haití a finales del año pasado. Philippe ha liderado las presiones para que Henry dimita.

Ahora pide abiertamente que se otorgue amnistía a las bandas.

“Tenemos que decirles: ‘Dejen las armas o van a tener que enfrentarse a graves consecuencias’”, dijo Philippe a The New York Times en una entrevista en enero, refiriéndose a las pandillas. “Si dejan las armas, van a tener una segunda oportunidad. Tendrán una especie de amnistía”.

Philippe no forma parte del consejo de transición designado para dirigir Haití. Pero está utilizando sus conexiones con el partido político Pitit Desalin para llevar esas demandas a la mesa de negociaciones en Jamaica, donde funcionarios caribeños e internacionales se reúnen para forjar una solución a la crisis en Haití, según tres personas familiarizadas con las discusiones.

Lo más probable es que la decisión de los líderes de las bandas de unirse estuviera motivada por el deseo de consolidar su poder después de que Henry firmó el acuerdo con Kenia para llevar 1000 agentes de policía a Puerto Príncipe, según William O’Neill, experto de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas en derechos humanos en Haití.

Muchos miembros de pandillas en Haití son adolescentes, dijo, que buscan que se les pague pero que probablemente tienen poco interés en entrar en una guerra con una fuerza policial bien armada.

Las bandas respetan “el miedo y la fuerza”, dijo O’Neill. “Temen a una fuerza más fuerte que ellos”.

Aunque muchos dudan de que la fuerza keniana aporte una estabilidad duradera, su llegada representaría el mayor desafío al control territorial de las pandillas en años.

“Las bandas llevan años oyendo hablar de esta fuerza dirigida por Kenia”, dijo Louis-Henri Mars, director ejecutivo de Lakou Lapè, una organización que trabaja con pandillas haitianas. “Entonces vieron que por fin llegaba, así que lanzaron un ataque preventivo”.

La violencia desatada por las bandas cerró gran parte de la capital e impidió que Henry pudiera regresar a su país.

Este fue el punto de inflexión: Estados Unidos y los líderes caribeños consideraron que la situación de Haití era “insostenible”. Las autoridades estadounidenses llegaron a la conclusión de que Henry ya no era un socio viable y redoblaron sus llamados para que avanzara rápidamente hacia una transición de poder, según afirmaron funcionarios implicados en las negociaciones políticas.

Desde entonces, los líderes de las pandillas han estado hablando con periodistas, celebrando conferencias de prensa, prometiendo la paz y exigiendo un asiento en la mesa.

Jimmy Chérizier, un poderoso líder de la banda también conocido como Barbecue, se ha convertido en uno de los rostros más conocidos de la nueva alianza de bandas, conocida como Living Together.

La G-9, la banda de Chérizier, un exagente de policía conocido por su crueldad, controla el centro de Puerto Príncipe y ha sido acusada de atacar barrios aliados con partidos políticos de la oposición, saquear casas, violar mujeres y matar gente al azar.

Sin embargo, en sus conferencias de prensa, Chérizier ha pedido disculpas por la violencia y ha culpado a los sistemas económico y político de Haití de la miseria y la desigualdad del país. Philippe se ha hecho eco de este pensamiento.

“Esas chicas jóvenes, esos chicos jóvenes, no tienen otra oportunidad: morir de hambre o tomar las armas”, dijo Philippe al Times. “Eligieron tomar las armas”.

Maria Abi-Habib es corresponsal de investigación con sede en Ciudad de México y cubre América Latina. Anteriormente ha reportado desde Afganistán, todo Medio Oriente e India, donde cubrió el sur de Asia. Más de Maria Abi-Habib

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

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


Los objetivos contradictorios de Brasil: ser potencia ecológica y petrolera

Desde la ventana de su oficina, el director de la petrolera estatal de Brasil observaba el paisaje abarrotado de Río de Janeiro. Del otro lado de los desgastados rascacielos de la ciudad, la estatua del Cristo Redentor también fijaba su mirada en él. Un grupo de halcones revoloteaba en círculos sobre un enorme montón de basura. Unas columnas de humo se desprendían de una hoguera en una favela situada en una colina.

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

Su empresa, Petrobras, planea un aumento tan acelerado en la producción petrolera que Brasil podría convertirse en el tercer mayor productor del mundo para 2030, una transformación que, en su opinión, podría contribuir a reducir la pobreza evidente frente a sus ojos. Su país tiene este plan a pesar de que se ha posicionado como uno de los líderes en el combate contra el cambio climático, un fenómeno que, por supuesto, se debe principalmente a la quema de petróleo y otros combustibles fósiles.

Petrobras ya extrae casi la misma cantidad de petróleo crudo al año que ExxonMobil, según Rystad Energy, una firma de investigación de mercados. En los próximos años, de acuerdo con las proyecciones, rebasará a las petroleras nacionales de China, Rusia y Kuwait, con lo que solo las de Arabia Saudita e Irán extraerán más que Petrobras para 2030.

Se trata de un dilema colosal para el presidente brasileño, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, mejor conocido como Lula, quien se ha forjado una imagen como el líder mundial más notable en temas ambientales. Según el consenso general, Lula se ha convencido en años recientes de que el cambio climático es un factor importante que genera pobreza y desigualdad, situaciones que ha prometido erradicar a lo largo de su carrera política de varias décadas.

Desde que fue electo en 2022, Lula ha logrado reducir drásticamente la desforestación en la Amazonía y ha liderado un desarrollo considerable de las energías renovables. Pero también dirigirá el auge petrolero de Petrobras y un periodo de crecientes importaciones de gas, con lo que podría lograr que Brasil satisfaga su creciente ambición de tener vuelos más baratos, dietas más sustanciosas y hogares con aire acondicionado.

Por más contradictorio que parezca, es lo justo, señaló Jean Paul Prates, director ejecutivo de Petrobras, desde las relucientes oficinas centrales de su empresa que le ofrecen una vista panorámica.

“No renunciaremos a esa prerrogativa”, afirmó, “porque otros no están haciendo ningún sacrificio”.

Este es un argumento que preocupa a quienes encabezan proyectos globales con el objetivo de reducir la dependencia de combustibles fósiles. Los países industrializados como Estados Unidos, que se convirtieron en superpotencias económicas gracias a actividades que emitían cantidades gigantescas de gases de efecto invernadero, todavía son los mayores productores per cápita y consumidores de combustibles fósiles.

Y si ellos no paran, ¿por qué debería hacerlo Brasil?

La principal asesora de Lula en temas de cambio climático, Ana Toni, que cuenta con una larga trayectoria al frente de distintas organizaciones sin fines de lucro, indicó que, en el caso ideal, Petrobras debería reducir su producción de petróleo e invertir mucho más en opciones renovables, lo que, de hecho, la transformaría en un nuevo tipo de empresa. Sin embargo, concordó con Prates y subrayó que, en tanto no se consiga que todo el mundo colabore para lograr la misma meta y los países más ricos lideren esas acciones, los países en desarrollo se seguirán oponiendo a hacer sacrificios.

Durante años, esa tensión ha dominado las negociaciones en el tema del cambio climático y volverá a ser uno de los temas centrales en la cumbre de noviembre de este año patrocinada por las Naciones Unidas en Azerbaiyán. En esa reunión, los negociadores de casi todas las naciones del mundo esperan abordar el espinoso tema de qué podrían hacer los países más ricos para hacerles llegar más dinero a los países más pobres y así ayudarlos a adoptar fuentes de energía más limpias y adaptarse a los efectos del cambio climático.

Después de Azerbaiyán, el próximo anfitrión de la cumbre del clima de las Naciones Unidas será Brasil. Esa cumbre se celebrará en Belém, una ciudad que colinda con la Amazonía, cerca de un lugar donde Petrobras propuso realizar exploraciones petroleras. Pero en una de las contadas instancias en las que el gobierno de Brasil le ha puesto límites a la industria petrolera, la idea fue bloqueada. Prates comentó que Petrobras está apelando la decisión.

Entre tanto, Petrobras planea invertir más de 7000 millones de dólares en los siguientes cinco años para explorar posibles sitios de perforación marítimos en otros tramos costeros de Brasil con el fin de aumentar su producción, que ya va en ascenso.

Según las proyecciones internas de Petrobras, al igual que las de muchas otras empresas petroleras y de gas, la demanda de sus productos se mantendrá firme a niveles altos. Por lo tanto, la empresa opera con base en un conjunto de hipótesis muy distinto al de la Agencia Internacional de Energía y otras que insisten en que la demanda de petróleo ya alcanzó su punto más alto o está a punto de hacerlo.

Eso deja a países como Brasil en una especie de área gris en la que se hace todo, aseveró Mercedes Bustamante, profesora y ecóloga de la Universidad de Brasilia e integrante del grupo independiente de científicos llamado Climate Crisis Advisory Group.

Brasil trabaja para desarrollar tanto las energías renovables como los combustibles fósiles. Este año se incorporó como observador a la OPEP, la organización petrolera global, con todo y que el año próximo planea ser anfitrión de las negociaciones globales para el clima de las Naciones Unidas. Para 2030, la nación será la quinta mayor productora de petróleo del mundo, según los datos de Rystad.

Esta dinámica también se refleja en los bosques, señaló Bustamante. Se restringió la conversión a tierra agrícola en la Amazonía, pero al mismo tiempo va en aumento en el Cerrado, una amplia sabana que cubre la mayor parte del centro de Brasil.

“Tener ambas cosas forma parte del ADN de las políticas de Brasil”, explicó Oliver Stuenkel, profesor de la Escuela de Relaciones Internacionales de la Fundación Getulio Vargas en Sao Paulo. “Vamos a ser una superpotencia ecológica, claro, pero no vamos a aceptar riesgos innecesarios. Eso implica que debemos prepararnos para un mundo en el que el petróleo desempeñe un papel importante por mucho tiempo y la transición tarde más de lo esperado”.

Prates indicó que habla con Lula cada dos semanas y ha tratado de convencerlo de que una transición hacia la eliminación de los combustibles fósiles debe ser “juiciosamente lenta”.

“Es decir, no debe ser lenta porque no queramos hacer la transición, sino porque necesitamos actuar en correspondencia con las expectativas del mercado del petróleo, el gas y sus derivados”, añadió. “Petrobras aprovechará hasta la última gota de petróleo, justo como Arabia Saudita o los Emiratos harán lo mismo”.

Max Bearak es un reportero del Times que escribe sobre políticas climáticas y energéticas globales y nuevos enfoques para reducir las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero. Más de Max Bearak