The New York Times 2024-04-03 16:19:57

Middle East Crisis: Attack on Workers Slows Flow of Aid to Gazans

World Central Kitchen sent ships with hundreds of tons of food back to Cyprus.

A deadly Israeli strike on an aid convoy run by World Central Kitchen in Gaza is already setting back attempts to address a hunger crisis in the territory, with aid agencies saying they are being more cautious about making deliveries and at least two suspending operations.

In the wake of the attack that killed seven of its workers, World Central Kitchen stopped its work in Gaza and sent three ships with hundreds of tons of food back to port in Cyprus. The food was meant to be unloaded at a makeshift jetty in northern Gaza that was built by the group, which says it has provided 43 million meals to Gazans since the start of the war.

Gaza faces what United Nations officials say is a man-made humanitarian crisis, as the war and Israeli restrictions on aid have caused severe hunger that experts say is approaching famine. The most dire shortages are in northern Gaza, and aid groups say that, in the short term at least, the killing of the aid workers will make things worse there.

“Humanitarian aid organizations are unable to carry out their work safely,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday.

Another aid group, American Near East Refugee Aid, or Anera, which said it had operated in the Palestinian territories for more than 55 years, also announced that it was suspending its work in Gaza. But groups that are continuing to work there, including the World Food Program and UNRWA, the main U.N. agency that supports Palestinians, have long said that they face unacceptable hurdles in delivering aid, including Israeli restrictions on deliveries and lawlessness in northern Gaza.

“Our staff have guided our work, and they, themselves, feel like there’s a target on their backs,” Sandra Rasheed, Anera’s country director in Gaza and the West Bank, told the Al Jazeera network.

Michael Capponi, the founder of Global Empowerment Mission, a nonprofit aid group, said he was reconsidering his plans to travel to Gaza next week. Some staff members “basically want to pack up and go home now,” he said.

Gaza has faced an Israeli blockade for more than a decade, backed by Egypt, but since the war started in October, residents said the amount of food available has fallen dramatically.

“No aid or anything comes down to us,” Rawan al-Khoudary, who lives in north Gaza, said in an interview. She said in an interview that her baby, Anwar, had died a few weeks ago, in part because of a lack of nutrition. Another resident of north Gaza, Ezzeldine al-Dali, 22, said that his family had only received one bag of flour in aid, which had lasted a few days.

In recent weeks, the United States, other countries and aid groups have increased pressure on Israel to allow more aid to enter Gaza, a territory of more than two million people. Israel, which announced a siege of Gaza at the start of the war, says it places no limits on the amount of aid that can go into the territory, but wants to prevent food or other supplies from falling into the hands of Hamas.

Countries including the United States, France, Jordan and Egypt have increased their use of airdrops to get aid into Gaza, and the World Central Kitchen ships were part of a multinational plan to create a maritime route that would deliver aid from Cyprus. As part of the effort to increase maritime shipments, the United States military is building a temporary pier on Gaza’s coast, but that will take weeks.

The United Nations says that the only effective way to ramp up aid sufficiently is by truck.

Figures from the United Nations show that the number of aid trucks entering Gaza through the two main crossing points, Kerem Shalom and Rafah, which are both in the southern part of the enclave, increased in March by nearly 75 percent compared with February.

Overall, however, an average of around 117 aid trucks have entered Gaza each day since Oct. 7, down roughly 75 percent from prewar figures, the U.N. data show. The World Food Program estimates that 300 trucks of food are needed daily to begin to meet people’s basic food needs.

Despite the short-term difficulty, the strike could galvanize a push for a cease-fire, said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a former U.N. emergency relief coordinator.

He said it could also push governments to intensify efforts to protect aid workers, press for more entry points for aid and speak out more strongly against Israel’s planned invasion of Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than a million people have gathered in an attempt to escape the fighting.

The aid workers were part of a growing number killed in Israel’s bombardment, with 203 killed since the war began, most of them Palestinian, according to the Aid Worker Security Database.

“The international aid workers have gotten more attention than the previous 200 Palestinian aid workers killed, which is of course tragic,” Mr. Egeland said. “But this could provide the watershed moment we have been hoping for.”

Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting

Biden says he is ‘outraged’ by the attack on an aid convoy, after Israel’s military says it was a mistake.

President Biden said he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the killing of seven humanitarian aid workers in a strike by Israeli forces, strongly condemning the attack just hours after Israel’s top military commander acknowledged its military had made a “grave mistake.”

Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi made a rare admission of fault by Israel in the six-month-old war in the Gaza Strip, as he accepted responsibility for the deaths of the aid workers.

“It was a mistake that followed a misidentification, at night, during the war, in a very complex condition,” he said, adding, “It shouldn’t have happened.”

General Halevi’s mea culpa marked a change in tone from Israel’s military, which throughout the war has largely rejected criticism of its conduct by arguing that it was doing what was necessary to defeat Hamas. It came as many of Israel’s closest allies voiced indignation and demanded explanations for the attack.

The seven workers, traveling in a convoy, were with World Central Kitchen, a charity that was helping to feed hungry Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip.

In a sharply worded statement, Mr. Biden said that Israel had not done enough to protect civilians and noted that the deaths were not a “stand-alone incident.” He said the conflict “has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed.”

The president’s blunt criticism of an ally highlighted his growing impatience with Israel’s conduct of the war and increasing tensions with its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the death toll in Gaza has climbed, according to Gazan health authorities, past 32,000.

David Cameron, the British foreign secretary, called the workers’ deaths “completely unacceptable,” saying in a statement that “Israel must urgently explain how this happened and make major changes to ensure the safety of aid workers.”

The World Central Kitchen workers — a Palestinian, an Australian, a Pole, three Britons and a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen — were traveling in clearly marked cars after leaving a warehouse in Deir al Balah, in central Gaza, when their convoy came under fire late Monday, the organization said in a statement. The Israeli military had been informed of the workers’ movements, the charity said.

The killings drew condemnation from countries around the world, including those of the people killed, and prompted aid agencies to reassess their operations in Gaza. World Central Kitchen, which was founded by the renowned chef José Andrés, said on Tuesday that it was suspending its operations in Gaza.

Throughout the war, Palestinians and relief organizations have accused Israel of bombing indiscriminately, heedless of civilian casualties — claims Israel has consistently denied. The killing of aid workers from countries that have backed Israel could add fuel to rising international anger over the way it has conducted the war.

General Halevi said that an independent body would investigate the killings, and that the military would learn from the conclusions and share the findings with World Central Kitchen.

“Israel is at war with Hamas, not with the people of Gaza,” General Halevi said. “We are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members of the W.C.K. We share in the grief of the families, as well as the entire World Central Kitchen organization, from the bottom of our hearts.”

The remarks from General Halevi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who said on social media that Israel “deeply regrets the tragic incident” — came within 24 hours of the strike.

In December, it took several days for the Israeli military to acknowledge that it had carried out two airstrikes in the central Gaza Strip that health officials in the enclave said had killed dozens of civilians.



The national security adviser postpones a trip to Saudi Arabia after cracking his rib.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser for President Biden, has postponed a planned trip to Saudi Arabia to discuss the turmoil in the Middle East after an accident that left him with a cracked rib, a National Security Council spokesman said on Wednesday.

Mr. Sullivan had been expected to meet with Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, to discuss the push for normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which has been stalled since the Hamas attacks on Israel in October.

The trip was to have included Mr. Sullivan and a small delegation of American officials. But John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Mr. Sullivan suffered an accident that left him with a broken rib, so the delegation would not travel to the region as planned.

“Jake was planning to head to the region this week,” Mr. Kirby told reporters. “That trip has been postponed.”

Mr. Kirby did not say what kind of accident caused the injury but added that “it was not caused by anybody.”

“It was not the result of a nefarious act,” he said.

The delay in the visit comes one day after a strike by Israeli forces in Gaza killed seven aid workers for World Central Kitchen who were distributing food in the war-torn area. Israel has said the strike was an accident. Mr. Kirby did not address whether the strike also contributed to the decision by Mr. Sullivan to postpone the visit to Saudi Arabia.

Fears grow that an Israeli strike in Syria could spur retaliatory attacks.

Current and former U.S. officials expressed fears on Tuesday that Israel’s airstrike on an Iranian embassy compound in Syria could escalate hostilities in the region and prompt retaliatory strikes against Israel and its American ally.

The officials said the attack, which killed three generals in Iran’s Quds Force and four other officers on Monday, had dealt a serious blow to the force, the external military and intelligence service of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Ralph Goff, a former senior C.I.A. official who served in the Middle East, called Israel’s strike “incredibly reckless.”

“It will only result in escalation by Iran and its proxies, which is very dangerous” to American troops in the region who could be targeted in retaliatory strikes by Tehran’s proxies, Mr. Goff said.

Indeed, after the Israeli strike in Damascus, Syria’s capital, American troops based in southeastern Syria knocked down an attack drone, a Defense Department official said. It was unclear if the drone was aimed at the U.S. forces, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details. If it were, it would be the first attack by Iran-backed militias against American troops in Iraq or Syria in nearly two months. No injuries or damage were reported.

The official said there had been no further attacks overnight, but that Pentagon officials were monitoring the situation closely.

Mr. Goff said the deadly strike in Syria fit Israel’s “longer-term strategy of degrading” Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds Force unit, and “punishing them for ongoing plots to kill or kidnap Israeli Jews around the world.”

In the yearslong shadow war between Iran and Israel, Syria has been key terrain for Israel as it works to degrade Iran’s ability to move advanced weaponry by land and air closer to Israel’s borders.

“The strike yesterday is a significant escalation and risks tipping an already volatile, unstable region into full-scale war,” said Dana Stroul, formerly the Pentagon’s top Middle East policy official who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This is the Israeli version of the U.S. strike on Qassim Suleimani,” she said, referring to the former longtime leader of the Quds Force, who was killed by an American drone strike near the Baghdad airport in 2020.

Ms. Stroul said assessing the post-Suleimani era is instructive because the command and control of the Quds Force was degraded.

“We have seen Iran-backed militia groups take decisions into their own hands under the leadership of Qaani, as well the rise of rival power centers in Iran,” Ms. Stroul said, referring to Gen. Ismail Qaani, the current Quds Force commander. “This has led to a more diffuse, but not less lethal, Quds Force-led network abroad. But Iran’s core strategy never changed. Tehran will continue to invest in its terrorist network abroad in order to keep the fight away from its own borders.”

More broadly, Ms. Stroul said, the message is that Islamic Revolutionary Guards “operatives and leaders are not safe anywhere.”

She continued: “It should have strategic effect on how the Quds Force operates abroad and should erode any semblance of invincibility or deniability that this terrorist organization only brings instability and violence to the places it seeks to operate.”

Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., a retired four-star general and former leader of the Pentagon’s Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, said the deaths of the senior Quds Force officers was “a blow.”

“Their long-term, carefully developed relationships will be lost,” he said.

Ms. Stroul said the strike would further inflame Tehran. “The question is, will Iran respond in a manner that de-escalates the situation, or will it climb further up the escalation ladder?” she said.

Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, sought on Tuesday to tamp down fears of escalation, saying that the United States had no involvement in the airstrike and did not know about it ahead of time.

Ms. Singh said at a news conference that the message had also been conveyed directly to Iran. “Tensions being high in the region, we wanted to make it very clear in private channels that the U.S. had no involvement in the strike in Damascus.”

General McKenzie said he expected Iran would retaliate in some way, but he downplayed fears of a major escalation of hostilities between Israel and Iran.

“Iran’s options to hit Israel are very, very limited,” General McKenzie said. “And the Israelis aren’t going to back down.”



Israel’s military says U.N. observers in Lebanon were wounded by a buried explosive device.

A buried explosive device was the source of a blast that injured U.N. military observers in Lebanon over the weekend as they were patrolling the border with Israel, Israel’s military said Wednesday.

Three observers and a Lebanese translator were wounded in the blast on Saturday morning near the town of Rmeish. Two senior Lebanese security officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, had attributed the blast to Israel, without providing evidence. The Israeli military denied striking in the area.

In a statement on social media, a spokesman for the Israel military, Avichay Adraee, said that the blast was caused “by an explosive previously installed there by Hezbollah.”

Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militia and political movement, did not immediately comment on the claim. Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, and other militant groups have been trading fire with Israeli forces across the border for months.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, UNIFIL, had not completed its investigation into the incident, Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the mission said, but a preliminary report showed that “the explosion was not caused by direct or indirect fire.” He did not provide further details.

UNIFIL said that the wounded peacekeepers were an Australian, a Norwegian and a Chilean.

The peacekeeping mission was established to observe Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in the late 1970s. Since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, it has monitored and reported on violations of the subsequent cross-border truce.

Euan Ward contributed reporting.

In a U.N. meeting, U.S., Britain and France do not join the condemnation of an Israeli strike in Syria.

In an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, the majority of diplomats condemned Israel, saying that it had violated international laws and breached the U.N. charter that protects diplomatic premises when it bombed an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria.

The United States, France and Britain did not condemn Israel, but they joined other nations in reiterating that diplomatic structures should be considered off limits during wartime and that the airstrikes, on Monday in Damascus, the Syrian capital, had risked plunging the Middle East into further instability.

“Any miscalculation could lead to broader conflict in an already volatile region, with devastating consequences for civilians who are already seeing unprecedented suffering,” Khaled Khiari, the U.N. assistant secretary general, told the Council.

Russia, a close ally of Iran, had called for the meeting to discuss Israel’s attack, after Iran’s mission to the U.N. submitted a letter to the world body arguing that the airstrikes had violated international law. The attacks killed seven members of Iran’s Quds forces, including three generals.

Iran and Syria both attended the meeting and addressed the Council. Israel, which did not attend the meeting, has said that the target was not a diplomatic one because it had been used frequently by Iran’s military commanders and personnel in Syria.

Robert A. Wood, the U.S. representative at the meeting, told the Council that Washington had communicated to Iran that it was not involved in the attack and had no prior knowledge of it. Mr. Wood did not directly criticize Israel, saying instead that the United States was concerned about Iran and its proxy militia’s use of Syrian territory to attack Israeli targets and American bases.

“Any confirmed attack on property that was in fact a diplomatic facility would be of concern to the United States,” Mr. Wood said. “Diplomatic missions and their property, as well as official diplomatic residents, must be protected even in and especially in terms of armed conflict.”

Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, said his country was extremely concerned by what he called Israel’s disregard of international rules, and described the attacks as “reckless actions.” Mr. Nebenzya also lashed out at the United States, Britain and France for their “verbal gymnastics” in applying double standards by refusing to directly criticize Israel.

“If it was your embassy that was attacked or your consulate in the region, would you respond in the same way?” Mr. Nebenzya said. “This is your rules-based order in all its glory.”

Geng Shuang, China’s deputy ambassador to the U.N, said Israel’s attack was “of an extremely vicious nature” and violated the sovereignty of both Syria and Iran. China is a key economic partner for Iran and helps the government stay afloat financially by buying its embargoed oil at a discount price.

Iran’s deputy ambassador to the U.N., Zahra Ershadi, said Iran had so far exercised “considerable restraint” but that there was a limit to its patience. Ms. Ershadi called for the Council to hold Israel accountable and take actions against it.

Syria’s ambassador to the U.N., Koussay Aldahhak, said the Iranian diplomatic compound was in a densely populated civilian area in Damascus and near buildings that house diplomatic missions, banks, other international agencies, such as the World Food Program, a private hospital and faculty of Damascus University.

“This vital area is crossed by thousands of civilians on daily basis,” Mr. Aldahhak said. “Some of those civilians have suffered severe injuries.”



What we know about the Israeli strike that killed 7 aid workers.

Seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen were killed in the Gaza Strip when their convoy came under fire on Monday night, according to the aid organization and Gazan health officials.

The disaster relief organization, founded by the Spanish chef José Andrés, said the convoy was hit in an Israeli strike. In a statement following the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel referred to a “tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people.” He said Israel was in touch with foreign governments over the episode.

Here’s what we know.

The convoy of three vehicles had just left a food warehouse.

The World Central Kitchen staff members were leaving a warehouse in Deir al Balah, a city in the central Gaza Strip, when their convoy — two armored cars and a third vehicle — came under fire late Monday, the organization said in a statement.

The Israeli military had been informed of the aid workers’ movements, the charity said. Aid workers had just unloaded more than 100 tons of food brought to Gaza by sea at the warehouse, according to the group.

Videos and photos verified by The New York Times suggest the convoy was hit multiple times. The imagery shows three destroyed white vehicles, with the northernmost and southernmost vehicles nearly a mile and a half apart.

The World Central Kitchen logo could be seen on items inside the charred interiors of the northernmost and southernmost cars. The car in the middle was left with a gaping hole in its roof, which was clearly marked with the group’s logo. All three vehicles, though far apart from each other, were on or near the Al-Rashid coastal road.

It remained unclear on Tuesday morning what sort of munition struck the cars and whether those explosives were launched from the ground, a warplane or a drone.

Six foreign citizens and a Palestinian were killed.

World Central Kitchen said one of those killed was a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, while the others were from Australia, Britain, Gaza and Poland. In a post with the victims’ names and ages on the group’s website, its chief executive, Erin Gore, said “We are reeling from our loss.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia identified one of the victims as Zomi Frankcom, an Australian citizen and a senior manager at World Central Kitchen. “The tributes flowing for Lalzawmi ‘Zomi’ Frankcom tell the story of a life dedicated to the service of others, including her fellow Australians during natural disasters,” Penny Wong, the country’s foreign minister, said on social media.

Damian Sobol, an aid worker from the southeastern Polish city of Przemysl, died in the attack, according to the city’s mayor, Wojciech Bakun. “There are no words to describe what people who knew this fantastic guy feel at this moment,” he said in a post on social media.

David Cameron, the British foreign secretary, said on social media that three of the aid workers who were killed were British citizens. The BBC reported their names: John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby. Local British media outlets described Mr. Chapman and Mr. Henderson as former Royal Marines who later turned to volunteer work.

Jacob Flickinger, who also died in the attack, was a 33-year-old dual citizen of the United States and Canada, according to the World Central Kitchen, and worked on the group’s relief team.

Palestinian medics retrieved the bodies of the seven victims and took them to a hospital in Deir al Balah, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The bodies of the foreigners were to be taken out of Gaza into Egypt, the group said.

Saif Abutaha, a 25-year-old Gazan working as a driver and translator for World Central Kitchen, also died in the attack. Mr. Abutaha was an enterprising young man who worked in his father’s business and spoke good English, his brother Shadi said.

Mr. Abutaha and other World Central Kitchen workers were thrilled to have the opportunity to unload the desperately needed food aid. “They were so excited, like they were going to a wedding,” his brother said. It was the last time he saw him.

Mr. Cameron said on social media that “it is essential that humanitarian workers are protected and able to carry out their work.” He called on Israel “to immediately investigate and provide a full, transparent explanation of what happened.”

At least 196 aid workers were killed in Gaza and the West Bank between October 2023 and late March, according to Jamie McGoldrick, a senior U.N. relief official. “This is not an isolated incident,” he said, later adding: “There is no safe place left in Gaza.”

The prime minister appeared to take responsibility for the ‘unintentional’ attack.

In a video statement on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel referred to a “tragic case of our forces unintentionally harming innocent people in the Gaza Strip.” Mr. Netanyahu did not name World Central Kitchen in his remarks.

But an Israeli official familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the strike was still under investigation, clarified that the prime minister was referring to the strike.

“It happens in war, we are fully examining this, we are in contact with the governments, and we will do everything so that this thing does not happen again,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

An Israeli military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an internal investigation, said the military had concluded it was responsible for the strike on the convoy. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the Israeli military chief of staff, is expected to review findings of an initial inquiry into the incident on Tuesday evening, the official said.

A spokesman for Israel’s military, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said the investigation had been referred to the Fact Finding and Assessment Mechanism, a military body tasked with investigating accusations and looking into the circumstances behind battlefield episodes. “We will be opening a probe to examine this serious incident further,” he said. “This will help us reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again.”

The Israeli military said the mechanism was an “independent, professional and expert body.” Human rights groups have generally been critical of the Israeli military’s ability to transparently investigate itself, charging that inquiries are often long and rarely lead to indictments.

The World Central Kitchen aid ship is headed back to Cyprus.

At the time of the strike, workers had unloaded 100 tons of aid from the Jennifer, a World Central Kitchen vessel that had left the Cypriot port of Larnaca last weekend and arrived in Gaza on Monday. Another 240 tons were to be unloaded on Tuesday, according to Theodoros Gotsis, a spokesman for the Cypriot foreign ministry.

Mr. Gotsis said that the Jennifer instead left Gaza to sail back to Larnaca on Tuesday. He added that several more tons of aid were waiting at warehouses in Larnaca, but that it was not clear when and whether a mission to deliver them would take place.

Patrick Kingsley, Rawan Sheikh Ahmad, Gabby Sobelman, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Lauren Leatherby, Nader Ibrahim and Kim Severson contributed reporting to this article.

The 7 aid workers who were killed were known for their passion for helping others.

To those who knew them, the World Central Kitchen workers who were killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Monday were described as devoted humanitarians who would do anything they could to help those in need.

Six of them came from around the world to help deliver and distribute food throughout the enclave, joining the dozens of Gazans already dedicated to relief work. One was a local Palestinian who was excited about having a job that involved helping others. They had just left a food warehouse in Deir al Balah, a city in central Gaza, when Israeli airstrikes hit their convoy, despite the World Central Kitchen coordinating with the Israeli military. All seven of them were killed.

They are the latest casualties in the growing toll of aid workers killed in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, and they are among more than a dozen workers who have been killed while doing their jobs.

Gaza has been the deadliest place for aid workers since the Oct. 7 attacks. According to the Aid Worker Security Database, a compilation of data on attacks funded by the United States Agency for International Development, 203 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the war started. All were Palestinian, except for six of the World Central Kitchen workers most recently killed, who were citizens of Australia, the United States, Canada, Poland and Britain. As of Monday, 176 workers from UNRWA, the U.N. agency dedicated to Palestinians, have been killed, according to the group.

After Oct. 7, 161 aid workers were killed in Gaza in the last weeks of 2023. That total is larger than all aid worker deaths worldwide in every year since 1997, when the aid worker database started collecting figures.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel “deeply regrets” the attack on the World Central Kitchen convoy, a rare acknowledgment of an attack that killed aid workers, and the Israeli military said it was investigating the incident. Humanitarian personnel are protected by international law.

Saif Abutaha, the sole Palestinian traveling with the convoy, had volunteered with World Central Kitchen when it set up operations in Gaza, said his older brother Shadi; the group said it later hired him. At 25, Saif was an enterprising young man who “wanted to do something for others,” his brother said, adding that he worked in their father’s business and spoke good English.

Shadi recalled seeing his brother depart on Monday for work with other members of the World Central Kitchen team. The workers “were so excited, like they were going to a wedding,” he said, intending to go to the jetty in northern Gaza and unload the desperately needed food aid.

He never saw his brother again, he said.

Lalzawmi Frankcom, 43, who was known as Zomi, was the Australian worker who was killed on Monday. She began volunteering for the World Central Kitchen in 2018 and was hired the next year, according to her former partner, Josh Phelps.

Their last text exchange was on Sunday, just before she and the aid convoy set out from central Gaza. He sent her some photos from their time together delivering food on a reservation in South Dakota. She sent back a heart emoji.

A day later, he found out that she had been killed.

“Anywhere she needed to go, she was willing to go,” he said. “She was following her dreams to make a life around the world.”

Damian Sobol of Poland was described as “the Michael Jordan of humanitarian work” by a former colleague, Noah Sims, a chef in North Georgia who has been at the site of several World Central Kitchen disaster relief efforts.

They first met while feeding refugees in the southeastern Polish city of Przemysl, Mr. Sobol’s hometown and where he had been studying hospitality.

“Anything I ever needed, Damian could get it done,” Mr. Sims said.

According to the World Central Kitchen, three British citizens were also killed in the attack: John Chapman, 57; James Henderson, 33; and James Kirby, 47. All three of the men were part of the organization’s security team. Local British media outlets described Mr. Chapman and Mr. Henderson as former Royal Marines who later turned to volunteer work.

In a statement, Mr. Chapman’s family called him an “incredible father, husband, son and brother.”

“He was loved by many and will forever be a hero,” it said.

The seventh worker, Jacob Flickinger, was a 33-year-old dual citizen of the United States and Canada, according to the World Central Kitchen, and worked on the group’s relief team.

Kim Severson and Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

A correction was made on 

April 2, 2024

An earlier version of this article misstated the age of Saif Abu Taha, one of the World Central Kitchen workers who was killed on Monday. He was 25, not 26.

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



A protest turns into a ‘riot’ outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem home, the police say.

The Israeli police clashed with antigovernment protesters outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem overnight, on the third day of demonstrations calling for early elections and his ouster.

The chaotic scenes drew an appeal for calm and unity from Mr. Netanyahu’s chief rival, Benny Gantz, on Wednesday morning.

“We must not accept violence from any side, we must not accept ignoring police instructions and breaking barriers as we saw last night in Jerusalem,” he wrote on X. “A protest is legitimate, the pain is also understandable, but the law and the rules of the game must be respected.”

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Jerusalem since Sunday, when a planned four-day antigovernment protest began outside Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset. Many protesters have camped out in tents outside the Knesset, where the demonstrations have swelled each evening.

The protest and an authorized march started peacefully on Tuesday night but then turned into what the Israeli police force called an unbridled “riot.” It said in a statement that hundreds of people had tried to break through barriers near Mr. Netanyahu’s house but were blocked by police officers.

Dozens of people caused disorder in the street afterward, the police said, forcing officers to deploy riot control measures. Five people were arrested and one officer was injured in the melee, the police force added.

Photographs of the scene showed that the police used water cannons to disperse protesters, many of whom carried Israeli flags.

There was no immediate comment about the latest protest from Mr. Netanyahu, who earlier on Tuesday was released from the hospital where he had been recovering from surgery to treat a hernia.

Many of the protesters accuse Mr. Netanyahu of prioritizing his political survival over the broader interests of the Israeli people and hold him responsible for his government’s failure to prevent the Oct. 7 attack led by Hamas. He also has been accused of not doing enough to bring home the hostages held by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza.

Posters bearing the names and faces of the hostages have been ever-present at the protests, along with signs and banners reading “Bring Them Home.”

Many Israelis have refrained from protesting the government during the war. While this week’s protests have been some of the most significant demonstrations against Mr. Netanyahu’s government since the war began, the crowds have appeared smaller than those at the demonstrations last year at the peak of a wave of antigovernment protests, which the prime minister’s coalition survived.

Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting.

Taiwan’s Strongest Earthquake in 25 Years Injures More Than 1,000

The first quake was alarming enough — a rumble more powerful than anything felt in Taiwan for a quarter-century, lasting for more than a minute on Wednesday morning, knocking belongings and even whole buildings askew. It was so strong it set off tsunami warnings in Japan, China and the Philippines.

But then, even in a fault-riddled place with long and hard experience with earthquakes, the jolt of aftershock after aftershock was startling, continuing every few minutes throughout the day.

The magnitude-7.4 quake killed nine and injured at least 1,011 others, stretching an expert quake response system that has served as a model in other places. In Hualien County, close to the epicenter, 71 people were trapped in two mining areas as of Wednesday night and dozens of others were stranded, according to officials. Forty flights were canceled or delayed. Around 14,000 households were without water, and 1,000 households were without power.

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NATO Weighs Taking Over U.S.-Led Group Directing Ukraine Military Aid

With continued American aid to Ukraine stalled and against the looming prospect of a second Trump presidency, NATO officials are looking to take more control of directing military support from Ukraine’s allies — a role that the United States has played for the past two years.

Under a proposal being discussed this week at the military alliance’s headquarters, NATO would oversee the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a group currently led by the United States that coordinates the donation and delivery of weapons to the battlefield. Discussions are also underway about a plan floated by Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, to secure an additional $100 billion from the alliance’s 32 member states for Ukraine over five years.

“A stronger NATO role in coordinating and providing support is the way to end this war in a way where Ukraine prevails,” Mr. Stoltenberg said on Wednesday at the start of meetings among the alliance’s top diplomats.

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Israeli Army Withdraws From Major Gaza Hospital, Leaving Behind a Wasteland

The journalists were among a small group of international reporters brought by the Israeli army to Al-Shifa Hospital on Sunday. To join the tour, they agreed to stay with the Israeli forces at all times and not to photograph the faces of certain commandos.

Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, once the fulcrum of Gaza’s health system and now an emblem of its destruction, stood in ruins on Sunday, as if a tsunami had surged through it followed by a tornado.

The emergency department was a tidy, off-white building until Israeli troops returned there in March. Two weeks later, it was missing most of its facade, scorched with soot, and punctured with hundreds of bullets and shells.

The eastern floors of the surgery department were left open to the breeze, the walls blown off and the equipment buried under mounds of debris. The bridge connecting the two buildings was no longer there, and the plaza between them — formerly a circular driveway wrapping around a gazebo — had been churned by Israeli armored vehicles into a wasteland of uprooted trees, upturned cars and a half-crushed ambulance.

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Leader of South Africa’s Assembly Resigns Amid Corruption Allegations

The speaker of South Africa’s National Assembly resigned on Wednesday, a day after a judge cleared the way for her to be arrested on charges that she took bribes when she served as defense minister.

The resignation of the speaker, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, comes amid a tense, weekslong standoff with law enforcement officials over a corruption case that has dealt a blow to the governing African National Congress two months before a critical national election.

On Tuesday, a judge threw out Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula’s court application seeking to prevent her arrest. As of Wednesday afternoon, she had not turned herself in to the authorities.

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How European Soccer Made Peace With Fasting During Ramadan

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Youseff Chippo had a secret.

A few months into his life as a soccer pro in Europe, Chippo, a Moroccan midfielder, was pushing to prove himself and didn’t want to do anything that might hurt his chances of success. That included revealing he was fasting for Ramadan, a normal practice for the world’s billion Muslims but not in the locker room of Portugal’s F.C. Porto in the winter of 1997.

The team’s double practice sessions — morning and afternoon — were arduous. Taking part while going without food and water from sunup to sundown made things harder. Eventually, after enduring days of dizziness and headaches in silence, Chippo came clean, and the club quickly put together a plan to preserve his energy and his health.

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Zelensky Lowers Ukraine’s Draft Age, Risking Political Backlash

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has signed into law three measures aimed at replenishing the ranks of his country’s exhausted and battered army, including the politically poisonous step of lowering the age when men become eligible for mobilization, and eliminating some medical exemptions.

Parliament passed the legislation lowering the draft eligibility age to 25, from 27, last May, but Mr. Zelensky had delayed signing it in hopes that it would not be needed. He relented on Tuesday and signed the measure, along with laws eliminating a category of medical exemption known as “partially eligible” and creating an electronic database of men in Ukraine, starting at age 17, to crack down on draft dodgers.

“It is a very unpopular decision, and that is why Zelensky held it without signing,” said Volodymyr Ariev, a lawmaker in Parliament who is in the opposition European Solidarity party. “Now he has no choice.”

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For Lithuania, Unease Over a Growing Russian-Speaking Diaspora

A pile of flowers blanketed a small memorial in the center of the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius after the death of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny last month. “Putin Is a Murderer,” read a placard in Russian.

The impromptu tribute at the memorial, an unassuming pyramid commemorating victims of Soviet repression, has highlighted Vilnius’s growing status as the center of Russian political opposition. Hundreds of dissidents who fled Russia after the invasion of Ukraine found a sympathetic ally in their struggle against President Vladimir V. Putin: the Lithuanian government, which has long viewed the Russian leader’s foreign interventions as an existential threat.

In Vilnius, exiled Russian journalists have set up studios to broadcast news to millions of compatriots back home on YouTube. Russian activists have rented offices to catalog the Kremlin’s human rights abuses, and exiled Russian musicians have recorded new albums for the audience back home.

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Ugandan Court Upholds Draconian Anti-Gay Law

Uganda’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday largely upheld a sweeping anti-gay law that President Yoweri Museveni signed last year, undermining the efforts of activists and rights groups to abolish legislation that drew worldwide condemnation and strained the East African nation’s relationship with the West.

The legislation, which was signed into law by Mr. Museveni in May, calls for life imprisonment for anyone who engages in gay sex. Anyone who tries to have same-sex relations could face up to a decade in prison.

Uganda has faced international consequences for passing the law, with the World Bank suspending all new funding and the United States imposing sanctions and visa restrictions on top Ugandan officials. But the law was popular in Uganda, a landlocked nation of over 48 million people, where religious and political leaders frequently inveigh against homosexuality.

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Africa’s Youngest President Takes Office, Promising ‘Systemic Change’

Still reeling from a whirlwind campaign, young people in Senegal threw jackets over their worn election T-shirts on Tuesday to attend the inauguration of an opposition politician who went from political prisoner to president in less than three weeks.

Their new leader, Bassirou Diomaye Faye — at 44, Africa’s youngest elected president — took the oath of office promising “systemic change,” and paying homage to the many people killed, injured, and imprisoned in the yearslong lead-up to the West African country’s election.

“I will always keep in mind the heavy sacrifices made so as to never disappoint you,” Mr. Faye said, addressing a vast auditorium in which African heads of state and dignitaries sat at the front. From the back, hundreds of supporters of Mr. Faye and his powerful backer, the opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, shouted for joy.

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29 Killed in Fire at Istanbul Nightclub

A fire Tuesday at a popular Istanbul nightclub that was undergoing renovations killed 29 people and injured one, the governor’s office said.

The authorities said the renovation work at the club, Masquerade, may have caused the fire, which took place while the club was closed to the public. The dead and injured included construction workers, the governor of Istanbul, Davut Gul, said in televised remarks.

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Rome’s Future Is a Walk Through Its Past

Conscious of the weight of its illustrious history, Rome has managed to preserve an impressive number of archaeological monuments in its city center. The Colosseum, the Circus Maximus and the Roman Forum and Imperial Fora are just a few of the sites clustered in the city’s heart.

As Rome, which will celebrate its 2,777th birthday on April 21, moves toward its fourth millennium, city leaders are promoting a new vision of this area as a giant, pedestrian-friendly public space that supporters say will promote Rome’s ancient past.

“Italy is working to make the most of what is arguably the most important concentration of history, archaeology, art and nature in the world,” Rome’s mayor, Roberto Gualtieri, said on Tuesday at a news conference announcing that Labics, a Rome-based architectural and urban planning practice, had won a competition to revamp the area.

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5-Star Bird Houses for Picky but Precious Guests: Nesting Swiftlets

With no windows, the gloomy, gray building looming four stories above the rice fields in a remote village in Indonesian Borneo resembles nothing more than a prison.

Hundreds of similar concrete structures, riddled with small holes for ventilation, tower over village shops and homes all along Borneo’s northwestern coast.

But these buildings are not for people. They are for the birds. Specifically, the swiftlet, which builds its nests inside.

Map shows the location of Perapakan in the Sambas Regency on Borneo, Indonesia.

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A Stork, a Fisherman and Their Unlikely Bond Enchant Turkey

Ben Hubbard and

Reporting from Eskikaraagac, Turkey

Thirteen years ago, a poor fisherman in a small Turkish village was retrieving his net from a lake when he heard a noise behind him and turned to find a majestic being standing on the bow of his rowboat.

Gleaming white feathers covered its head, neck and chest, yielding to black plumes on its wings. It stood atop skinny orange legs that nearly matched the color of its long, pointy beak.

The fisherman, Adem Yilmaz, recognized it as one of the white storks that had long summered in the village, he recalled, but he had never seen one so close, much less hosted one on his boat.

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The Japanese Sensei Bringing Baseball to Brazil

Reporting from Rio de Janeiro

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Yukihiro Shimura always arrives first. He quietly puts on his baseball uniform. He rakes the dirt field meditatively. He picks up the coconut husks and dog poop. And, finally, when he finishes, he bows to Rio de Janeiro’s only baseball field.

Then his misfit team — including a geologist, graphic designer, English teacher, film student, voice actor and motorcycle delivery man — starts to form. Most are in their 20s and 30s, and some are still learning the basics of throwing, catching and swinging a bat.

It was not what Mr. Shimura envisioned when he signed up for this gig. “In my mind, the age range would be 15 to 18,” he said. “I should have asked.”

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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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From New England to Notre-Dame, a U.S. Carpenter Tends to a French Icon

Notre-Dame Cathedral sat in the pre-dawn chill like a spaceship docked in the heart of Paris, its exoskeleton of scaffolding lit by bright lights. Pink clouds appeared to the east as machinery hummed to life and workers started clambering around.

One of them, Hank Silver, wearing a yellow hard hat, stood on a platform above the Seine River and attached cables to oak trusses shaped like massive wooden triangles. A crane hoisted them onto the nave of the cathedral, which was devastated by fire in 2019.

Mr. Silver — a 41-year-old American-Canadian carpenter — is something of an unlikely candidate to work on the restoration of an 860-year-old Gothic monument and Catholic landmark in France. Born in New York City into an observant Jewish family, he owns a small timber framing business in rural New England and admits that until recently he didn’t even know what a nave was.

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Insooni Breaks Racial Barrier to Become Beloved Singer in South Korea

When she took the stage to perform at Carnegie Hall in front of 107 Korean War veterans, the singer Kim Insoon was thinking of her father, an American soldier stationed in South Korea during the postwar decades whom she had never met or even seen.

“You are my fathers,” she told the soldiers in the audience before singing “Father,” one of her Korean-language hits.

“To me, the United States has always been my father’s country,” Ms. Kim said in a recent interview, recalling that 2010 performance. “It was also the first place where I wanted to show how successful I had become — without him and in spite of him.”

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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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Adidas Stops Customization of Germany Jersey for Fear of Nazi Symbolism

The sports apparel giant Adidas abruptly stopped the sale of German soccer jerseys created with the player number “44” this week because the figure, when depicted in the official lettering of the uniform’s design, too closely resembled a well-known Nazi symbol.

The stylized square font used by Adidas for the jerseys, which will be worn by Germany’s team when it hosts this summer’s European soccer championships, makes the “44” resemble the “SS” emblem used by the Schutzstaffel, the feared Nazi paramilitary group that was instrumental in the murder of six million Jews. The emblem is one of dozens of Nazi symbols, phrases and gestures that are banned in Germany.

The country’s soccer federation, which is responsible for the design, said Monday any similarity to the logo created by the design’s numbering was unintentional.

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

Reporting from Mexico City and León, Mexico

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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La policía allana la casa de la presidenta de Perú en busca de relojes Rolex

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

La policía y la fiscalía de Perú llevaron a cabo un allanamiento sorpresa en la casa de la presidenta Dina Boluarte y en el palacio de gobierno a primera hora del sábado, como parte de una investigación por “enriquecimiento ilícito” tras las noticias de que se la había visto llevando relojes Rolex desde que asumió el cargo.

El allanamiento, que se produjo cuando los peruanos celebraban el feriado de Semana Santa, conmocionó a mucha gente, incluso en un país que se ha acostumbrado en las últimas dos décadas a que los políticos sean investigados por presunta corrupción.

Antes de la medianoche del Viernes Santo, la policía utilizó una comba para entrar por la fuerza en la casa de Boluarte en Lima, según la cobertura en directo de Latina Noticias. Los fiscales y la policía registraron a continuación el despacho de Boluarte y su residencia en el palacio de gobierno.

La presidenta no se había presentado esta semana a una cita programada con los fiscales para mostrarles tres relojes Rolex que ha usado y explicar su procedencia. También se negó a permitirles entrar en su casa para ejecutar una orden de registro, según el fiscal general Juan Villena, quien dijo a los legisladores que su negativa era “un claro indicador de rebeldía”.

La investigación a Boluarte comenzó el 18 de marzo, después de que el programa de noticias por internet La Encerrona reveló que la mandataria había empezado a llevar relojes cada vez más caros, entre ellos al menos un Rolex, desde que asumió el cargo en diciembre de 2022. Los fiscales sospechan que ha violado las leyes del país contra el enriquecimiento ilícito y no ha declarado bienes de lujo. En Perú, las autoridades electas deben informar al gobierno de cualquier activo cuyo valor supere los 10.300 soles, unos 2774 dólares, y consignar cualquier regalo recibido de terceros.

Los medios de comunicación locales han informado desde entonces que Boluarte ha llevado otros tres relojes Rolex, así como una pulsera Cartier de 50.000 dólares, y que las autoridades bancarias han detectado unos 300.000 dólares en depósitos de origen desconocido realizados en sus cuentas personales antes de que asumiera el cargo.

Según La Encerrona, los modelos de relojes Rolex que ha llevado cuestan al menos 14.000 dólares.

Boluarte ha negado haber cometido irregularidades, pero también se ha rehusado a explicar públicamente el origen de los Rolex, limitándose a decir que el primer reloj Rolex que llamó la atención era un artículo “de antaño”. “En mi ADN está no ser corrupta”, declaró a los periodistas. “Lo que tengo es fruto de mi esfuerzo y de mi trabajo”.

En un discurso televisado el sábado, Boluarte, flanqueada por los ministros de su gabinete, culpó a los medios de comunicación de crear “cortinas de humo” que alimentan el “caos” y la “incertidumbre”.

“Soy una mujer honesta. Entré a palacio de gobierno con las manos limpias y así me retiraré en el año 2026”, dijo. “Hoy marchemos por la verdad, por la idoneidad, por abrazarnos todos en un solo corazón”.

Los subordinados de Boluarte han sugerido otras explicaciones. Hania Pérez de Cuéllar, su ministra de Vivienda y exdirectora de la institución que protege la propiedad intelectual, sugirió que el Rolex podría ser falso y admitió haber comprado ella misma una réplica de un reloj de lujo en un viaje a China. Un abogado de Boluarte dijo a primera hora del sábado que podría haber recibido los relojes de un “fan” que quería permanecer en el anonimato.

El ministro de Justicia, Eduardo Arana, calificó la medida de los allanamientos de “inconstitucional” y “desproporcionada” y pidió a los legisladores y a la ciudadanía “unidad” ante lo que describió como un intento de desestabilizar al Gobierno.

“Se ha politizado la justicia”, dijo en rueda de prensa junto a otros ministros. “Estos hechos tienen un propósito de resquebrajar el Gobierno, resquebrajar la democracia y resquebrajar la institucionalidad”. Declinó responder a las preguntas de los periodistas.

No estaba claro si la polémica del Rolex le costaría a Boluarte un apoyo clave.

El Ministerio del Interior, que controla la Policía Nacional, expresó su apoyo a Boluarte, diciendo en un post en X que rechazaba “actos que afectan el desarrollo del país, encubiertos en cuestionables disposiciones judiciales”.

“Reafirmamos nuestro compromiso de continuar trabajando por el orden interno del país”, escribió el ministerio.

Algunos de los aliados de Boluarte en la derecha la culparon de dejar que la situación se agravara. Y los medios de comunicación, alguna vez afines, han adoptado por una postura más crítica, señal de que la paciencia puede estar agotándose entre sus partidarios.

La polémica sobre los relojes Rolex se produce en un momento en el que la economía flaquea y el hambre crece en Perú, un país que se ganó el elogio internacional por consolidar su democracia y aprovechar el auge de las materias primas impulsado por la minería para sacar a millones de sus ciudadanos de la pobreza. El programa de noticias de investigación Cuarto Poder informó que Boluarte lució un modelo de Rolex valorado en más de 18.000 dólares durante un acto celebrado en febrero para abordar la pobreza en poblaciones vulnerables.

Algunos analistas políticos dijeron que el escándalo podría abrir la puerta a una nueva ronda de agitación política en un país que ha tenido seis presidentes en los últimos seis años.

Todas las salidas a la crisis actual parecían conducir a “un callejón sin salida”, dijo en una entrevista el politólogo peruano Gonzalo Banda. Si seguía en el cargo, era probable que la confianza en la democracia disminuyera aún más, con consecuencias impredecibles, dijo.

“En Perú, hay una clase política que ya no responde a los ciudadanos, por lo que los ciudadanos están cada vez más alejados de la política, más descontentos con la política, más hartos de la política, lo que no significa que no presten atención”, dijo Banda. “Todo ese descontento se va a desatar en las nuevas elecciones”.

Según una encuesta realizada en enero, Boluarte es la presidenta menos popular de América Latina, con un índice de aprobación de solo el 9 por ciento.

Antigua funcionaria convertida en política de un partido marxista, fue vicepresidenta del presidente Pedro Castillo. Le sucedió después de que este fuera destituido en 2022 y arrestado por anunciar que iba a tomar el control del Congreso y del sistema judicial.

La decisión de Boluarte de sustituir a Castillo en lugar de renunciar —como prometió en una ocasión que haría para dar paso a nuevas elecciones— desencadenó violentas protestas contra su gobierno a finales de 2022 y principios de 2023, con 49 civiles muertos en represiones policiales y militares. Actualmente está siendo investigada por la fiscalía nacional de derechos humanos.

Boluarte es también coautora de un libro sobre legislación de derechos humanos que está siendo investigado por plagio.

Antes de asumir el cargo, Boluarte ganaba 1100 dólares al mes como funcionaria de la institución estatal que elabora los documentos de identidad. Como ministra, ganaba unos 8000 dólares al mes, y como presidenta gana algo más de 4000 dólares al mes.

Mientras las autoridades retiraban cajas de las residencias de Boluarte, un legislador anunció que su antiguo partido de izquierda había conseguido apoyo suficiente para una moción de vacancia en el Congreso, donde Boluarte se ha apoyado en una coalición de partidos de derecha y de centro para sobrevivir.

Aunque solo se requieren 26 votos para una moción de vacancia, se necesitan 87 votos —o dos tercios de los legisladores— para su aprobación.

Desde 2016, cuando los escándalos de corrupción consecutivos comenzaron a alimentar batallas políticas de alto riesgo en Perú, dos presidentes, Castillo y Martín Vizcarra, han sido destituidos. Uno de ellos, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, dimitió para evitar la destitución. Todos los expresidentes peruanos vivos, excepto uno, Francisco Sagasti, que gobernó desde finales de 2020 hasta mediados de 2021, han sido investigados por corrupción o abusos de los derechos humanos. En 2019, el expresidente Alan García se suicidó para evitar ser detenido.

El congresista Alejandro Muñante, del partido de extrema derecha Renovación Popular, dijo en X que Boluarte no se había hecho ningún favor con su silencio en las últimas semanas.

“Callar le ha costado mucho a la presidenta y le seguirá costando si sigue optando por esta pésima estrategia de defensa”, dijo Muñante. “Boluarte aún está a tiempo de aclararlo. Si no lo hace, una nueva sucesión no sería nada descabellada”.