The New York Times 2024-04-04 01:32:16


Middle East Crisis: Aid Groups Pull Back After Workers Are Killed, Deepening Gaza’s Food Crisis

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 groups 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. The United Nations has stopped movement at night for at least 48 hours from Tuesday to evaluate security, the organization’s spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, told reporters according to Reuters.

The U.N.’s World Food Program is still operating by day, he said. “As famine closes in we need humanitarian staff and supplies to be able to move freely and safely across the Gaza Strip,” Reuters reported him as saying on Wednesday.

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 northern 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 northern 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 bodies of the six foreigners were driven to Egypt on Wednesday, and from there were to be flown to their home countries.

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 Mr. 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.

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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 Mr. Sullivan’s decision to postpone the visit to Saudi Arabia.

In a televised show of unity and defiance, Iran and its proxy militias denounce Israel and the U.S.

The leaders of Iran and the militia groups it backs around the Middle East made an unusual televised show of unity and defiance on Wednesday, railing against Israel and the United States, as war rages in the Gaza Strip.

On a joint broadcast, the leaders of what calls itself the “axis of resistance,” speaking from different locations, delivered fiery speeches ahead of the upcoming Quds Day, a show of solidarity with Palestinians held each year on the last Friday of Ramadan.

The war between Israel and Hamas gave this year’s iteration a sharper edge than usual. The broadcast also came just days after Israel struck an Iranian embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, killing three generals of Iran’s Quds Force and four other Iranian officers in one of the deadliest attacks in the yearslong shadow war between Israel and Iran.

President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran said that Israel would be punished and made to regret its attack in Damascus. He focused most of his speech on what he called Israel’s demise in world public opinion and said any normalization of ties with the Jewish state — referring to Saudi Arabia — would be akin to “betting on a dead horse.”

Last April, a similar event took place to commemorate Quds Day, with a broader list of speakers representing political and military leaders from across the Arab world and Iran. This year’s event, however, was tightly focused on militant groups supported by Iran that have been fighting Israel on multiple fronts since Hamas’s Oct. 7 assault on Israel, which they refer to as the Al Aqsa Flood.

The speakers, in addition to Mr. Raisi, included Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of Hamas; Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese group Hezbollah; Ziad al-Nakhaleh, the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which, like Hamas, is active in Gaza; Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi movement, which controls a large part of Yemen; and Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of Hashd al-Shaabi, an Iraqi Shiite militia.

“The Al Aqsa Flood united the Muslim people and this collective unity has manifested with the help of Iran on battlefields in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq,” Mr. Haniyeh said. He said that the United States had aided crimes committed by Israel by supporting it financially, providing it with sophisticated weaponry and vetoing cease-fire resolutions at the United Nations Security Council.

Since Oct. 7, Hezbollah has launched daily attacks against Israel after a long lull in fighting, raising fears of a wider regional war, and the Houthis for the first time have launched drones and missiles against Israel and vessels in the Red Sea, disrupting international shipping.

Iran has tried to calibrate its response, applying pressure on Israel while avoiding all-out war. Earlier this year, it made an effort to rein in Iraqi militias, including Hashd al-Shaabi, that had been firing on U.S. bases.

Mr. Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, urged his followers not to “overlook the achievements of the resistance” in six months of battle with Israel.

Mr. al-Ameri focused most of his speech on the resolve of militant groups to force the American military to withdraw from Iraq saying, “we are steadfast and there is no turning back.”

Separate from that broadcast event, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, held a large meeting on Wednesday with government, military and religious leaders of the country, and pledged that Israel would receive “a slap” for killing Iranian officers in Syria. The crowd, fists in the air, chanted back, “Death to Israel.”

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The killing of aid workers will not affect U.S. plans to build a pier in Gaza, the State Department said.

The killing by Israel of seven relief workers in the Gaza Strip will not interfere with the American project of building a pier to deliver aid to the embattled enclave, a State Department spokesman said on Wednesday.

The deaths of the seven workers, from the charity World Central Kitchen on Monday night, prompted the group to halt operations in Gaza, and has spurred other aid groups to curtail or reassess their own efforts, at a time when people there are facing starvation.

“It will not affect our efforts to stand up the pier to deliver aid through sea,” a State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, told reporters. “That effort is ongoing.”

With airdrops by several countries supplying only a small fraction of the need, and an insufficient number of deliveries entering Gaza by truck, the Biden administration has ordered the U.S. military to build a pier so that ships could dock off Gaza’s Mediterranean shore and unload supplies in bulk. The coastal waters are too shallow for large vessels, so a long pier is needed.

Israel has taken responsibility for the attack on three World Central Kitchen vehicles, calling it a mistake and vowing to conduct a thorough investigation, but Mr. Miller noted that the deaths of the aid workers were not isolated. More than 200 aid workers have been killed in Gaza during nearly six months of war, most of them local Palestinian employees of relief groups.

World Central Kitchen has said it had complied with the travel procedures laid out by the Israeli authorities, communicating with them where its convoy would be going on Monday and when.

Mr. Miller said the Biden administration has repeatedly told Israel that it must do better in working with aid groups.

“They don’t have to wait for the outcome of this investigation to do it,” he said. “They need to put in place better de-confliction and better coordination measures to protect humanitarian workers and to protect all the civilians on the ground.”

José Andrés, the Spanish chef who founded World Central Kitchen, spoke to news organizations on Wednesday, voicing anger and grief. The Israeli strike, he told Reuters, targeted his colleagues “systematically, car by car.”

He told Channel 12 in Israel, “I believe, obviously, Israel has all the right to defend their people, but defending your people is not killing everybody else around.”

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.”

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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 Israeli 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.”

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

Mr. Abu Taha 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 Abu Taha, 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.


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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 Kills 9 and Injures Hundreds

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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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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#MeToo Stalled in France. This Actress Might Be Changing Things.

Catherine Porter and

Reporting from Paris

Judith Godrèche did not set out to relaunch the #MeToo movement in France’s movie industry.

She came back to Paris from Los Angeles in 2022 to work on “Icon of French Cinema,” a TV series she wrote, directed and starred in — a satirical poke at her acting career that also recounts how, at the age of 14, she entered into an abusive relationship with a film director 25 years older.

Then, a week after the show aired, in late December, a viewer’s message alerted her to a 2011 documentary that she says made her throw up and start shaking as if she were “naked in the snow.”

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How Soccer Learned to Embrace Ramadan: From Faked Injuries to Bespoke Diets

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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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The Taiwan Earthquake’s Aftermath

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A powerful earthquake of at least 7.4 magnitude struck Taiwan shortly before 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

The quake, the strongest to strike Taiwan in a quarter century, caused buildings in Taipei, the capital, to shake for a minute or more. In Hualien County, on the east coast, dozens of buildings collapsed, officials said. At least nine deaths and hundreds of injuries were reported, with the casualty toll expected to rise as the extent of the damage became clearer.

Tremors were reported in mainland China, as far away as Hangzhou, Xiamen and Shanghai, and officials warned of more potentially strong aftershocks in the coming days.

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An English Village Hollowed Out for a Train That May Never Come

For those that can afford them, the large villas at Whitmore Heath offer the tranquillity of the countryside within striking distance of urban centers like Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford, an hour’s drive north of Birmingham, the largest city in the English Midlands.

Yet on Heath Road, where some house prices have exceeded a million pounds (about $1.3 million), padlocked gates and signs warn trespassers of CCTV security monitoring. Outside one house stands a dumpster filled with waste while the roof of another is carpeted with a veneer of moss. Peer through the large windows of a family home, and not a single piece of furniture can be seen inside.

This scene of abandonment is a byproduct of a multibillion-dollar rail project that has spanned three decades and six prime ministers — a case study in the problems Britain encounters when planning large-scale infrastructure, and of the scarring that remains when such projects go awry.


Map showing the village of Whitmore on one of the two cancelled HS2 lines. The map also locates HS Phase 1 and the cities of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

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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.”

Russia’s forces have been on the offensive along the front line, and Ukrainian generals have warned of a broader attack in the spring or summer, even as Ukraine’s army runs low on ammunition and many soldiers have been on continual combat duty for two years.

Ukraine’s army of about one million soldiers is fighting the largest war in Europe since World War II, waged in muddy trenches or the ruins of cities in urban combat. Casualty rates are high. Most men who wanted to volunteer for the military have already done so, and small anti-draft protests had broken out before the new laws were passed.

Ukraine is expected, at best, to hold the existing front lines in ground fighting this year, but only if a new influx of American weapons arrives, military analysts say, and risks falling back without it. To maximize its efforts, Ukraine plans to replenish its army through mobilization while trying to keep Russia off balance with sabotage missions behind enemy lines and long-range drone strikes, such as attacks on an oil refinery and weapons plant in Russia on Tuesday.

Ukraine relies on its allies for most new ammunition and weapons, and renewing that arsenal is mostly a matter beyond the country’s control. In Washington on Monday, the House speaker, Mike Johnson, laid out conditions for a vote on a fresh infusion of American weapons and financial aid, in the strongest indication yet that the assistance could be forthcoming despite opposition from many Republicans.

At home, Ukraine has stumbled on the overhaul of mobilization rules.

In January, its Parliament withdrew a draft law on mobilization that included stiffened penalties for draft dodgers. That bill was reintroduced in February, but bogged down in Parliament as lawmakers submitted more than 4,000 amendments. It would further expand the draft by closing loopholes for men obtaining a second college degree or in instances when several men in a family sought exemptions to care for a disabled relative. A vote is expected this month.

It is unclear how quickly Ukraine will draft and train the additional troops, or whether they will be ready before the expected Russian offensive. The comprehensive mobilization bill that has yet to pass in Parliament envisions three months of training for soldiers drafted during wartime.

“The decision is taken — it’s a good one, but it’s too late,” said Serhiy Hrabsky, a colonel and a commentator on the war for the Ukrainian news media.

And lowering the draft age alone will not resolve Ukraine’s looming need for soldiers. In December, Mr. Zelensky said the military had asked to mobilize 450,000 to half a million soldiers. Ukraine’s military commander, Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, said last week that the army had “significantly reduced” its request, without specifying a number.

Mr. Zelensky has said he does not intend to conscript women into the military, although women with medical educations are required to register for the draft.

Ukraine’s total population of 25- and 26-year-olds was about 467,000 in 2022, the latest year when the government published population estimates, according to Natalia Tilikina, the director of Institute of Youth, a research group. But many are already serving in the military, living in occupied areas or outside Ukraine, or have jobs or disabilities that exempt them from conscription.

In formulating its mobilization plans, Ukraine has had to balance military, economic and demographic considerations. Lowering the draft age will bring thousands of healthy and rested soldiers to the fight, but poses long-term risks for Ukraine’s population, given the country’s demographics.

As in most former Soviet states, Ukraine has a small generation of 20-year-olds, because birthrates plummeted during the deep economic depression of the 1990s. Because of this demographic trough, the country has three times as many men in their 40s as in their 20s.

Drafting men starting at age 25, given the likely battle casualties, also risks further diminishing this small generation of Ukrainians and potentially future birthrates, leaving the country with declines of working- and draft-age men decades from now.

At the outset of the war, the country drafted men aged 27 to 60, and the average age in the military is currently over 40. Under martial law, all men 18 to 60 had already been prohibited from leaving the country in case the decision was made to draft them. Men and women can volunteer for military service starting at age 18.

Senator Lindsey Graham, on a visit to Kyiv last month, had suggested that Ukraine dip into a younger population of men for the war. “You’re in a fight of your life, so you should be serving,” he said. “We need more people in the line.”

Politicians in Ukraine have become more vocal in their criticisms of Mr. Zelensky’s wartime leadership. In an interview broadcast this week on Al Jazeera, former President Petro O. Poroshenko vowed to run for a second term in a future election that he said should be held only after the war is over. Under martial law, elections in Ukraine are suspended.

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.

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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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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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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.”

Ms. Kim, born in 1957, is better known as Insooni in South Korea, where she is a household name. For over four decades, she has won fans across generations with her passionate and powerful singing style and genre-crossing performances. Fathered by a Black American soldier, she also broke the racial barrier in a country deeply prejudiced against biracial people, especially those born to Korean women and African-American G.I.s.

Her enduring and pioneering presence in South Korea’s pop scene helped pave the way for future K-pop groups to globalize with multiethnic lineups.

“Insooni overcame racial discrimination to become one of the few singers widely recognized as pop divas in South Korea,” said Kim Youngdae, an ethnomusicologist. “She helped familiarize South Koreans with biracial singers and break down the notion that K-pop was only for Koreans and Korean singers.”

Thousands of biracial children were born as a result of the South Korea-U.S. security alliance. Their fathers were American G.I.s who fought the Korean War in the 1950s or who guarded South Korea against North Korean aggression during the postwar decades.

Most of their mothers worked in bars catering to the soldiers. Although South Korea depended on the dollars the women earned, its society treated them and their biracial children with contempt. Many mothers relinquished their children for adoptions overseas, mostly to the United States.

Those children who remained often struggled, keeping their biracial identity a secret if they could, in a society where, until a decade ago, schools taught children to take pride in South Korea’s racial “purity” and ‘‘homogeneity.”

“Whenever they said that, I felt like being singled out,” Insooni said.

In school, boys pelted her with racist slurs based on her skin color, said Kim Nam-sook, a former schoolmate, “but she was a star during school picnics when she sang and danced.”

Now a self-assured sexagenarian, she has started a Golden Girls K-pop concert tour with three divas in their 50s.

But Insooni’s confidence turned into wariness when she discussed her childhood in Pocheon, a town near the border with North Korea. Topics she still found too sensitive to discuss in detail included her younger half sister, whose father was also an American G.I. When she was young, she said, she hated when people stared at her and asked about her origins, wishing that she were a nun cloistered in a monastery.

She said her mother had not worked in a bar, recalling her as a “strong” woman who grabbed whatever odd work she could find, like collecting firewood in the hills, to feed her family. Virtually all she knew about her father was that he had a name that sounded similar to “Van Duren.”

The mother and daughter never talked about him, she said. Nor did Insooni try to find him, assuming he had his own family in the United States. Her mother, who died in 2005, never married. Because of the stigma attached to having biracial children, she lost contact with many of her relatives. When the young Insooni saw her mother crying, she didn’t ask why.

“If we went there, both of us knew that we would fall apart,” she said. “I figured this out early even as a child: You have to do your best with the card you are dealt, rather than going down the rabbit hole of asking endless whys. You can’t fix bygones.”

Insooni’s formal education ended with middle school. She and her mother were then living in Dongducheon, a city north of Seoul with a large U.S. military base. One day, a singer who performed for American soldiers came to her neighborhood to recruit biracial background dancers.

“I hated that town and this was my way out,” she said.

Insooni debuted in 1978 as the only biracial member of the “Hee Sisters,” one of the most popular girl groups at the time. TV producers, she said, made her cover her head to hide her Afro. In 1983, she released her first solo hit, “Every Night,” still a karaoke favorite for Koreans.

A slump followed. Ignored by TV, she performed at nightclubs and amusement parks.

But her time in the entertainment wilderness helped shape her artistic identity, as she honed her live-performance skills and versatility, learning to sing and communicate with children, elderly people and whoever else showed up to hear her.

“I don’t tell my audience: ‘This is the kind of song I sing, so listen to them,’” she said. “I say: ‘Tell me what kind of song you like, and I will practice and will sing them for you next time.’”

She constantly prepared for her comeback to TV. Whenever she watched a TV music show, she imagined herself there and practiced “songs I would sing, dresses I would wear and gestures I would make.” Her chance came when the national broadcaster KBS introduced its weekly “Open Concert” for cross-generational audiences in 1993. She has been in demand ever since.

Although she did not have as many original hits as some other top singers, Insooni often took others’ songs, like “Goose’s Dream,” and made them nationally popular, reviewers said. She kept reinventing herself, adopting everything from disco and ballads to R&B and soul, and collaborating with a young rapper in “My Friend.”

“Many singers faded away as they aged, but Insooni’s popularity only expanded in her later years, her status rising as a singer with songs appealing across the generational spectrum,” said Kim Hak-seon, a music critic.

South Koreans say Insooni’s songs — like “Goose’s Dream,” which starts “I had a dream” — and her positive onstage manner resonate with them in part because of the difficulties she has lived through.

“You first come to her songs feeling like you want to hug her,” said Lee Hee-boon, 67, a fan. “But you end up feeling encouraged.”

Insooni, who married a South Korean college professor, gave birth to her only child, a daughter, in the United States in 1995, to make her an American citizen, she said. She worried that if her child resembled her, she would suffer the same discrimination as she did.

Today, South Korea is becoming increasingly multiethnic. One out of every 10 weddings is bi-ethnic, as men in rural areas marry women from poorer countries in Asia. Its farms and small factories can’t run without migrant workers from abroad.

One of South Korea’s most popular rappers — Yoon Mi-rae, or Natasha Shanta Reid — sings about her biracial identity. K-pop groups like NewJeans have biracial or foreign members as their markets globalize.

Insooni welcomed the change but doubted that the country was embracing multiculturalism “with hearts,” not out of economic needs.

In 2013, she founded the tuition-free Hae Mill School for multicultural children in Hongcheon, east of Seoul, after learning that a majority of biracial children still didn’t advance to high school, decades after her own school life ended so early.

During the recent interview, at the school, students on campus rushed to hug her.

“You can tell me things you cannot even tell your mom and dad because I am one of you,” she told children during an entrance ceremony this month.

Insooni sometimes questions her decision not to look for her father. She once told South Korean military officers that if they were posted abroad, they should never do what American G.I.s did in Korea decades ago: “spreading seeds you cannot take responsibility for.”

“At Carnegie Hall, I was thinking that there might be a chance, however small, that some of the American veterans might have left children like me behind in Korea,” she said. “If they did, I wanted to tell them to take their burden off their minds. Whether successful or not, children like me have all tried to make the best of our lives in our own way.”

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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Las secuelas del terremoto de Taiwán, en fotos

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Un fuerte terremoto de magnitud 7,4 sacudió Taiwán poco antes de las 8 a. m. del miércoles.

El sismo, el más fuerte que ha sacudido Taiwán en un cuarto de siglo, hizo temblar los edificios de Taipéi, la capital, durante un minuto o más. En el condado de Hualien, en la costa este, decenas de edificios se derrumbaron, según las autoridades. Se registraron al menos nueve muertos y cientos de heridos, y se espera que el número de víctimas aumente a medida que se conozca el alcance de los daños.

Se registraron temblores en China continental, en lugares tan distantes como Hangzhou, Xiamen y Shanghái, y las autoridades advirtieron de la posibilidad de que se produjeran más réplicas fuertes en los próximos días.

A continuación, fotografías de las secuelas del terremoto.

Hualien

Un equipo de búsqueda y rescate intenta ayudar a una persona atrapada.

Hualien

Un deslizamiento de tierras causado por el terremoto del miércoles

Hualien

Trabajadores de emergencia ayudan a un sobreviviente tras ser rescatado de un edificio dañado el miércoles.

Taipéi

Estudiantes evacuados al patio de una escuela tras el terremoto.

New Taipei City

Un apartamento dañado tras el terremoto del miércoles

Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japón

Personas en la azotea de un hotel observan el horizonte ante la alerta de tsunami por el terremoto del miércoles en Taiwán.

Distrito de Xindian, Nueva Taipéi

Edificios dañados el miércoles.

Hualien

Un equipo de búsqueda y rescate se prepara para entrar en un edificio dañado.

Taipéi

Un hombre inspecciona los daños en una pared de ladrillo derrumbada en una casa tras el terremoto.

Hualien

Residentes rescatando a un niño de un edificio parcialmente derrumbado el martes.

Taipéi

Pasajeros haciendo fila para subir a un tren. Se suspendieron algunos servicios ferroviarios tras el terremoto.

Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japón

Personas en las azoteas seguían las noticias mientras estaba en vigor una alerta de tsunami por el terremoto que sacudió Taiwán el miércoles.

Xiulin, Hualien

Deslizamiento tras el terremoto en la costa oriental de Taiwán

Taipéi

Escombros acordonados en el complejo Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Zelenski rebaja la edad de reclutamiento para reforzar el mermado ejército ucraniano

El presidente de Ucrania, Volodímir Zelenski, ha promulgado tres medidas destinadas a reponer las filas del agotado y maltrecho ejército de su país, entre ellas la reducción a 25 años de la edad en que los hombres pueden ser llamados a filas y la eliminación de algunas exenciones médicas.

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El Parlamento aprobó en mayo pasado la ley que rebaja la edad de reclutamiento de 27 a 25 años, pero Zelenski había retrasado su firma con la esperanza de que no fuera necesaria. El martes cedió y firmó la medida, junto con las leyes que eliminan una categoría de exención médica conocida como “parcialmente elegible”; y crean una base de datos electrónica de hombres en Ucrania a partir de los 17 años.

“Es una decisión muy impopular, y por eso Zelenski la mantuvo sin firmar”, dijo Volodímir Ariev, legislador del Parlamento que pertenece al partido de la oposición Solidaridad Europea. “Ahora no tiene otra opción”.

Las fuerzas rusas han pasado a la ofensiva a lo largo de la línea del frente, y los generales ucranianos han advertido de un ataque más amplio en primavera o verano, incluso cuando el ejército ucraniano se está quedando sin munición y muchos soldados llevan dos años en servicio de combate continuo.

El ejército ucraniano, con cerca de un millón de soldados, está librando la mayor guerra en Europa desde la Segunda Guerra Mundial, en trincheras embarradas o en las ruinas de ciudades en combates urbanos. El número de bajas es elevado. La mayoría de los hombres que querían alistarse como voluntarios ya lo han hecho, y antes de que se aprobaran las nuevas leyes habían estallado pequeñas protestas contra el reclutamiento.

Según los analistas militares, se espera que Ucrania, en el mejor de los casos, mantenga las líneas del frente existentes en los combates terrestres de este año si llega una nueva afluencia de armas estadounidenses, y corre el riesgo de retroceder sin ella. Para maximizar sus esfuerzos, Ucrania planea repoblar su ejército mediante la movilización, al tiempo que intenta desequilibrar a Rusia con misiones de sabotaje detrás de las líneas enemigas y ataques de aviones no tripulados de largo alcance, como los realizados contra una refinería de petróleo y una planta de armas en Rusia el martes.

Ucrania depende de sus aliados para la mayoría de las nuevas municiones y armas, y la renovación de ese arsenal es en su mayor parte una cuestión que escapa al control del país. El lunes, en Washington, el presidente de la Cámara de Representantes, Mike Johnson, expuso las condiciones para la votación de una nueva inyección de ayuda financiera y armamentística estadounidense, el indicio más claro hasta la fecha de que la ayuda podría llegar a pesar de la oposición de muchos republicanos.

En su propio país, Ucrania ha tropezado en la revisión de las normas de movilización.

En enero, el Parlamento retiró un proyecto de ley sobre movilización que preveía penas más severas para quienes eludieran el servicio militar. El proyecto se volvió a presentar en febrero, pero se estancó en el Parlamento, ya que los legisladores presentaron más de 4000 enmiendas. El proyecto ampliaría aún más el servicio militar obligatorio al eliminar las lagunas jurídicas para los hombres que obtuvieran un segundo título universitario o en los casos en que varios hombres de una familia solicitaran exenciones para cuidar de un pariente discapacitado. Se espera una votación este mes.

No está claro con qué rapidez Ucrania reclutará y entrenará a las tropas adicionales, ni si estarán listas antes de la esperada ofensiva rusa. El amplio proyecto de ley de movilización, que aún no ha sido aprobado en el Parlamento, prevé tres meses de entrenamiento para los soldados reclutados en tiempo de guerra.

“La decisión está tomada, es buena, pero llega demasiado tarde”, declaró Serhiy Hrabsky, coronel y comentarista de la guerra para los medios de comunicación ucranianos.

Y la reducción de la edad de reclutamiento no resolverá por sí sola la inminente necesidad de soldados de Ucrania. En diciembre, Zelenski dijo que el ejército había pedido movilizar entre 450.000 y medio millón de soldados. El comandante militar de Ucrania, el general Oleksandr Syrsky, dijo la semana pasada que el ejército había “reducido significativamente” su petición, sin especificar una cifra.

Zelenski ha dicho que no tiene intención de reclutar mujeres en el ejército, aunque las mujeres con estudios de medicina están obligadas a inscribirse en el servicio militar obligatorio.

La población total de Ucrania de 25 y 26 años era de unos 467.000 en 2022, el último año en que el gobierno publicó cálculos sobre la población, según Natalia Tilikina, directora del Instituto de la Juventud, un grupo de investigación. Pero muchos ya están prestando servicio militar, viven en zonas ocupadas o fuera de Ucrania, o tienen trabajos o discapacidades que les eximen del reclutamiento.

Al formular sus planes de movilización, Ucrania ha tenido que equilibrar consideraciones militares, económicas y demográficas. La reducción de la edad de reclutamiento aportará más soldados y más personas sanas a la lucha, pero plantea riesgos a largo plazo para el mantenimiento de la población de Ucrania, dada la demografía del país.

Como en la mayoría de los antiguos Estados soviéticos, Ucrania tiene una generación de veinteañeros pequeña, porque las tasas de natalidad cayeron en picada durante la profunda depresión económica de la década de 1990. Debido a esta depresión demográfica, en Ucrania hay ahora tres veces más hombres que están en la década de los 40 años que entre los 20 años.

Al alistar a los hombres a partir de los 25 años, dadas las probables bajas en combate, también se corre el riesgo de mermar aún más esta pequeña generación de ucranianos y potencialmente las futuras tasas de natalidad, dejando al país con una disminución de hombres en edad de trabajar y de ser reclutados dentro de unas décadas.

Al principio de la guerra, el país reclutaba a hombres de entre 27 y 60 años, y el promedio de edad en el ejército ahora supera los 40 años. En virtud de la ley marcial, ya se había prohibido a todos los hombres de 18 a 60 años salir del país en caso de que se decidiera reclutarlos. Los hombres y las mujeres pueden presentarse voluntarios al servicio militar a partir de los 18 años.

El senador Lindsey Graham, en una visita a Kiev el mes pasado, había sugerido que Ucrania recurriera a una población más joven de hombres para la guerra. “Están en la pelea de sus vidas, así que deberían estar sirviendo”, dijo. “Necesitamos más gente en la línea del frente”.

Los políticos ucranianos se han vuelto más críticos con el liderazgo de Zelenski en la guerra. En una entrevista emitida esta semana en Al Jazeera, el expresidente Petro Poroshenko prometió presentarse a un segundo mandato en unas futuras elecciones que, según dijo, solo deberían celebrarse una vez finalizada la guerra. Bajo la ley marcial, las elecciones en Ucrania están suspendidas.

Maria Varenikova colaboró con reportería.


Andrew E. Kramer es el jefe de la oficina de Kiev para el Times y ha estado cubriendo la guerra en Ucrania desde 2014. Más de Andrew E. Kramer

El asesinato de un desertor ruso reaviva el temor por los escuadrones de la muerte

Los hombres que mataron a Maksim Kuzminov querían enviar un mensaje. Esto era evidente para los investigadores españoles incluso antes de descubrir quién era. Los asesinos no solo le dispararon seis veces en un estacionamiento del sur de España, sino que pasaron por encima de su cuerpo con el auto.

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También dejaron una pista importante sobre su identidad, según los investigadores: casquillos de balas de pistolas Makarov de 9 milímetros, una munición estándar del antiguo bloque comunista.

“Era un mensaje claro”, dijo un alto funcionario de la Guardia Civil, la autoridad policial española que supervisa la investigación del asesinato. “Te encontraré, te mataré, te atropellaré y te humillaré”.

Kuzminov desertó de Rusia a Ucrania el verano pasado, pilotando su helicóptero militar Mi-8 hasta territorio ucraniano donde entregó la aeronave además de un conjunto de documentos secretos a agentes de los servicios de inteligencia ucranianos. Al hacerlo, cometió el único delito que el presidente de Rusia, Vladimir Putin, ha dicho una y otra vez que nunca perdonará: la traición.

Su asesinato en la localidad costera de Villajoyosa el mes pasado ha hecho surgir el temor de que las redes de espionaje rusas en Europa sigan operando y tengan como objetivo a los enemigos del Kremlin, a pesar de los esfuerzos concertados para desmantelarlas después de que Putin invadiera Ucrania en 2022.

Los servicios de inteligencia de Rusia se han puesto en pie de guerra y han comenzado a operar a un nivel de agresividad en el país y en el extranjero que recuerda a la era de Stalin, dijo Andrei Soldatov, autor y experto en los servicios militares y de seguridad de Rusia.

“Ya no se trata de espionaje convencional”, dijo. “Se trata de operaciones, y estas operaciones pueden incluir asesinatos”.

En España, Kuzminov llevaba “una vida indiscreta”, según el alto funcionario de la Guardia Civil. Acudía a bares populares entre la clientela rusa y ucraniana, gastando el dinero que había recibido del Estado ucraniano. Se desplazaba por Villajoyosa en un Mercedes Clase S negro.

No se ha establecido cómo exactamente lo encontraron los asesinos, aunque dos altos funcionarios ucranianos dijeron que se había puesto en contacto con una antigua novia, que aún estaba en Rusia, y la había invitado a venir a verlo a España.

“Fue un grave error”, declaró uno de ellos.

Altos funcionarios policiales que hablaron bajo condición de anonimato dijeron que el asesinato tenía características de ataques similares vinculados al Kremlin, incluido el asesinato de un excomandante rebelde checheno en Berlín en 2019 y el envenenamiento del exagente de inteligencia militar ruso Sergei Skripal en Salisbury, Inglaterra, en 2018. Skripal sobrevivió.

Los dos asesinos encapuchados que aparecieron en las imágenes de las cámaras de vigilancia del estacionamiento del complejo de apartamentos donde residía Kuzminov eran claramente profesionales que llevaron a cabo su misión y desaparecieron rápidamente, dijeron agentes policiales.

“No es habitual aquí en España que tiroteen con mucha munición, de forma muy contundente”, dijo Pepe Álvarez, jefe de la Policía Local de Villajoyosa. “Esos son indicios que apuntan a crimen organizado, a organización criminal, a profesionales”.

Aunque no han aparecido pruebas de la implicación directa del Kremlin, Rusia no había ocultado su deseo de ver muerto a Kuzminov. Semanas después de su deserción, el noticiero dominical del Kremlin emitió un segmento en el que se citaba a compañeros pilotos y comandos del servicio de inteligencia militar ruso que juraban venganza.

“Vamos a encontrar a esta persona y la vamos a castigar, con toda la severidad de las leyes de nuestro país, por traición a la patria y por traicionar a sus hermanos”, dijo uno de los comandos, que no fue identificado. “Al final encontraremos a todos. Nuestros brazos son largos”.

La deserción de Kuzminov fue un golpe para Ucrania, orquestado por una unidad encubierta del HUR, el brazo de inteligencia del ejército ucraniano. La unidad está especializada en reclutar combatientes rusos y dirigir agentes en territorio ruso para llevar a cabo misiones de sabotaje. Algunos soldados de la unidad han recibido formación especializada de la CIA sobre cómo operar en entornos hostiles.

Aunque la unidad había sido capaz de persuadir a algunos ciudadanos rusos y a veces a pequeños grupos de soldados para que desertaran, la audaz huida de Kuzminov —y el alto valor de lo que entregó— no tenía precedentes, dijo un alto funcionario ucraniano con conocimiento de la operación.

El éxito de los esfuerzos de Ucrania por reclutar desertores es difícil de cuantificar. Miles de ciudadanos rusos se han unido a unidades de voluntarios que luchan con el ejército ucraniano y, en ocasiones, han cruzado a territorio ruso para realizar incursiones relámpago en puestos fronterizos. Sin embargo, no parece que hayan cambiado el equilibrio de poder de forma significativa.

Kuzminov dijo en varias entrevistas que se desilusionó tras leer publicaciones de ucranianos en Internet.

“Comprendí quién estaba del lado del bien y quién del lado de la verdad”, declaró en una entrevista con un bloguero ucraniano.

A primera hora de la tarde del 9 de agosto de 2023, Kuzminov despegó en un helicóptero militar de un aeródromo de la región de Kursk, en el oeste de Rusia, para lo que se suponía que iba a ser una simple entrega de carga a otra base del país. Lo acompañaban en la cabina un técnico llamado Nikita Kiryanov y un navegante, Khushbakht Tursunov. Ninguno de los dos parecía estar al tanto de los planes de Kuzminov.

Poco después del despegue, Kuzminov apagó el equipo de comunicaciones por radio del helicóptero y descendió a una altitud de poco más de 6 metros para evitar los radares. Luego cruzó a Ucrania.

En entrevistas con los medios de comunicación ucranianos, Kuzminov se mostró evasivo sobre lo que ocurrió a continuación. Solo dijo que había aterrizado el helicóptero en un punto de encuentro acordado previamente en la región de Járkov, a poco más de 16 kilómetros de la frontera, donde fue recibido por comandos de la HUR.

“Todo salió bien”, dijo en una entrevista.

La realidad es más complicada. Cuando cruzó el país, Kuzminov sorprendió a un grupo de combatientes ucranianos, que abrieron fuego, según otro alto funcionario ucraniano. En la confusión, Kuzminov recibió un disparo en la pierna.

Lo que les ocurrió a sus compañeros de tripulación está menos claro. Un reportaje de la televisión rusa sobre ellos, citando a un médico forense, afirmaba que los dos habían muerto por disparos a corta distancia y sugería que Kuzminov los había matado antes de aterrizar. El alto oficial ucraniano que participó en la operación dijo que esto no era cierto.

“Nuestros soldados les dispararon”, dijo el funcionario. “De lo contrario, habrían matado a Kuzminov y podrían haber escapado en ese helicóptero”.

En entrevistas, Kuzminov dijo que sus compañeros de tripulación estaban desarmados, pero nunca explicó cómo murieron.

La HUR consideró claramente que la misión había sido un gran éxito. Poco después, el general Kyrylo Budanov, jefe de la inteligencia militar ucraniana, anunció que la operación daría confianza a otros soldados rusos que estaban considerando la posibilidad de desertar. La agencia de inteligencia incluso produjo un documental sobre la operación para mostrar su triunfo.

Kuzminov respondió a los medios de comunicación, dando una conferencia de prensa, concediendo entrevistas en las que denunciaba la guerra de Rusia y pedía a otros que siguieran su ejemplo.

“No se arrepentirán”, dijo en el documental. “Te cuidarán por el resto de tu vida”.

El gobierno ucraniano pagó a Kuzminov 500.000 dólares y le proporcionó un pasaporte ucraniano y un nombre falso: Ihor Shevchenko. También le ofrecieron la oportunidad de unirse a ellos en la lucha contra Rusia.

En lugar de ello, Kuzminov abandonó Ucrania en octubre y se dirigió a Villajoyosa, una pequeña ciudad de la costa mediterránea muy popular entre los turistas británicos y de Europa del Este. Allí se instaló en la novena planta de un modesto edificio de apartamentos a unos 10 minutos a pie de la playa.

Era una elección curiosa para alguien tan explícitamente señalado por las autoridades rusas para ser eliminado. La región es una conocida base de operaciones de figuras del crimen organizado ruso, algunas de las cuales mantienen vínculos con los servicios de inteligencia del país, según afirman las autoridades españolas.

En 2020, la policía española detuvo a más de 20 personas relacionadas con grupos delictivos rusos, algunas de las cuales operaban desde Alicante, en la misma provincia que Villajoyosa. Estas personas fueron acusadas de blanquear millones de dólares adquiridos mediante el tráfico de drogas y de seres humanos, la extorsión y los asesinatos por encargo, según las autoridades españolas.

Otro desertor militar ruso que se ha instalado en España y habló bajo condición de anonimato por razones de seguridad calificó la región donde se instaló Kuzminov de “zona roja” llena de agentes rusos. “Nunca iré allí”, dijo.

La mañana del 13 de febrero, un Hyundai Tucson blanco entró al estacionamiento del edificio de apartamentos de Kuzminov y aparcó en un lugar vacío entre los ascensores utilizados por los residentes y la rampa que da a la calle. Dos hombres esperaron allí durante varias horas, según el alto funcionario de la Guardia Civil.

Sobre las 4:20 p. m., Kuzminov entró en el estacionamiento, aparcó y empezó a caminar hacia los ascensores. Cuando pasó por delante del Hyundai blanco, los dos asaltantes salieron, lo llamaron y abrieron fuego. Aunque fue alcanzado por seis balas, la mayoría de ellas en el torso, Kuzminov consiguió correr una corta distancia antes de desplomarse en la rampa.

Los dos asesinos volvieron al coche y pasaron por encima del cuerpo de Kuzminov al salir. El vehículo fue encontrado a pocos kilómetros, quemado con la ayuda de lo que los investigadores creen que fue un acelerante especial. Los especialistas tardaron una semana en identificar la marca y el modelo del coche y determinar que había sido robado —dos días antes del asesinato— en Murcia, una ciudad situada a una hora de distancia.

Una unidad especial de la Guardia Civil está llevando a cabo la investigación bajo estrictas normas de confidencialidad. Las autoridades no han confirmado públicamente que Kuzminov fue la persona asesinada. Han tenido dificultades para ponerse en contacto con funcionarios ucranianos que pudieran ayudarles.

Pero entre la comunidad de expatriados rusos y ucranianos que viven en Villajoyosa no hay dudas sobre quién está detrás de la muerte.

“Todo el mundo cree que se lo llevaron los servicios”, dijo Ivan, de 31 años, que huyó de su ciudad natal, Jersón, Ucrania, al comienzo de la guerra. “Están por todas partes”.

El informe anual de España sobre amenazas a la seguridad nacional, publicado en marzo, decía que Rusia había renovado sus operaciones de inteligencia en el país tras la expulsión de 27 diplomáticos rusos por la guerra en Ucrania. Aunque menos en número, según el informe, los espías rusos siguieron buscando formas de “desestabilizar el apoyo de España a la OTAN.“

En el pasado, los funcionarios rusos se han enredado tratando de oscurecer la conexión del Kremlin con varios asesinatos en toda Europa, a menudo ante la clara evidencia de la participación del Estado. El caso de Kuzminov es diferente. Altos funcionarios rusos hablaron de su muerte con un regocijo apenas disimulado.

“Este traidor y criminal se convirtió en un cadáver moral en el momento en que planeó su crimen sucio y terrible”, dijo Sergei Naryshkin, director del servicio de inteligencia exterior de Rusia.

Dmitri Medvédev, expresidente ruso que ahora es vicepresidente del Consejo de Seguridad del país, dijo: “Un perro recibe una muerte de perro”.

En contraste con la gran fanfarria que acompañó a la deserción de Kuzminov, las autoridades ucranianas han guardado silencio sobre el asesinato. A los altos funcionarios les preocupa que pueda disuadir a otros de seguir su ejemplo.

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“¿Quién cooperará con nosotros después de esto?”, dijo uno de los altos funcionarios.

“Rusia difundirá intensamente la propaganda —ya lo está haciendo— de que encontrará a todos los traidores”, afirmó. “Este es un mensaje velado a otros ciudadanos de Rusia, especialmente al personal militar, de que los encontraremos si nos traicionan”.

Michael Schwirtz es reportero de investigación de la sección Internacional. Trabaja en el Times desde 2006, y ha cubierto a los países de la antigua Unión Soviética desde Moscú y es uno de los reporteros principales de un equipo que ganó el Premio Pulitzer 2020 por artículos sobre operaciones de inteligencia rusas. Más de Michael Schwirtz


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”.