The New York Times 2024-04-26 16:23:45

Middle East Crisis: U.S. Won’t Suspend Aid, for Now, to Israeli Units Accused of Abusing Palestinians

The U.S. will not suspend aid, for now, to Israeli military units accused of abusing Palestinians in the West Bank.

The Biden administration has determined that three Israeli military units and two civilian units have committed gross human rights abuses against Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But it will not deny them military aid, as long as Israel takes steps to hold them accountable.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken notified House Speaker Mike Johnson of the decision in a letter obtained by The New York Times. Mr. Blinken said that Israel is acting to “bring to justice” culpable members of two of the military units and both civilian ones.

In the case of the third military unit — the Netzah Yehuda battalion, which has been investigated in Israel for crimes in the West Bank predating the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks that set off the war in Gaza — Mr. Blinken said that the U.S. was working with Israel to address charges against it.

Under the so-called Leahy Law, the U.S. government must deny aid to foreign military units found to have committed gross violations of human rights without accountability. The law allows for the targeting of individual units without cutting off entire foreign militaries.

It was not clear what practical impact any such move might have, given that funding of specific Israeli units is hard to track and the battalions in question do not receive American training.

Still, the news last week that U.S. officials were considering withholding aid from Israeli military units for abuses prompted a furious response from Israel and from Mr. Johnson, a strong supporter of the current Israeli government. Mr. Johnson said this week that he had called the White House in protest and had received an assurance in writing that none of the billions in additional U.S. aid to Israel approved by Congress this week would be affected.

Mr. Blinken told Mr. Johnson in the undated letter that the U.S. “will not delay the delivery of any U.S. assistance and Israel will be able to receive the full amount appropriated by Congress.” The letter was first reported by ABC News.

The Biden administration has faced growing calls to restrict American military aid to Israel over its military offensive in Gaza in response to the Hamas attacks in October. President Biden so far has declined to place conditions on U.S. aid over Israel’s devastating tactics in the Gaza war, though he has taken several steps in response to violence by Israelis in the West Bank, including placing sanctions against several Israeli settlers for what the U.S. has called “extremist” acts of violence against Palestinians.

In his letter to the Republican House speaker, Mr. Blinken said that two Israeli battalions and “civilian authority units,” none of which he named, had committed human rights abuses but that he had “determined that the Israeli government has conducted effective remediation of the units involved.” He defined remediation as a process in which a foreign government takes “effective steps to bring to justice the responsible members of the unit.”

In the case of Netzah Yehuda, which he did not cite by name, he said that “there has not been effective remediation to date” but that the Israeli government “has presented new information regarding the status of the unit and we will engage on identifying a path to effective remediation for this unit.”

Mr. Blinken will travel to Israel next week for meetings with Israeli leaders to discuss efforts to free hostages from Gaza and an impending Israeli military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, an Israeli official said on Friday. It was not immediately clear whether he would discuss Netzah Yehuda. Mr. Blinken has discussed the matter by phone with senior Israeli officials in recent days.

Under the terms of a 10-year security agreement that the United States and Israel reached in 2016, the U.S. must consult with Israeli officials before placing restrictions on security assistance.

Netzah Yehuda, which was created to accommodate the religious practices of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, has been repeatedly accused of mistreating Palestinians.

In January 2022, according to witnesses, its soldiers bound and gagged a 78-year-old Palestinian American who died of a heart attack while in military custody. An investigation concluded that the two soldiers who bound the man thought he was sleeping. The soldiers faced disciplinary action but no criminal charges were brought.

The unit was transferred in 2022 from the West Bank to the Golan Heights in northern Israel, according to Mr. Blinken’s letter.

Mr. Blinken added that no other Israeli units had been found culpable of rights violations under the Leahy Law and that the administration’s deliberations “will have no impact on our support for Israel’s ability to defend itself against Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah or other threats.”

Blinken will make another wartime trip to Israel.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Israel next week, an Israeli official said on Friday, as talks on a cease-fire deal that would allow for the release of hostages held in Gaza appear stalled and tensions have risen between Israel and the United States over the war.

The Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of lack of authorization to speak publicly on the matter, said talks with Mr. Blinken would center on hostages and an impending Israeli military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Mr. Blinken last visited Israel in March, when he warned that its plans to invade Rafah, where more than a million displaced people are sheltering, would pose severe risks to civilians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with those plans, saying that such an operation is necessary to eliminate Hamas battalions in the city.

Still, the Biden administration has stuck by Israel as mediators have failed to broker even a temporary cease-fire in Gaza that would give Palestinians some respite and allow for the release of hostages abducted in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel.

The United States has proposed a deal through Egyptian and Qatari intermediaries in which Hamas would release 40 of the most vulnerable hostages in exchange for a six-week truce and the release of hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. A senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on Thursday on condition of anonymity under official ground rules put the blame solely on Hamas for blocking the deal.

The official said that while Israel had signaled it would accept those terms, the response from Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader hiding underground in Gaza, had been “totally nonconstructive.” Hamas has since signaled that it is not completely rejecting the deal and is willing to sit down again, the official said, adding that the United States and its partners would test that in coming days.

President Biden and the leaders of 17 other nations called on Hamas on Thursday to release all the hostages in a joint statement that appeared intended to send the message that the world is not entirely against Israel and that Hamas is the main impediment to ending the war.

Peter Baker contributed reporting from Washington.

Israel fires into Lebanon after a deadly Hezbollah missile strike.

An Israeli man was killed in an anti-tank missile attack from Lebanon, the Israeli military said on Friday, the latest in a growing string of civilian casualties on both sides of Israel’s northern border as tit-for-tat strikes intensify with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

The Israeli military said in a statement that the man had been carrying out “infrastructure work” when two anti-tank missiles were fired late Thursday into the area of Har Dov in northern Israel, a disputed sliver of land where Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet. Also known as the Shebaa Farms, the area is claimed by Lebanon but occupied by Israel, and has long been a crucible for violence.

Hezbollah, Iran’s most powerful regional proxy, described the overnight attack as an “ambush,” claiming that two vehicles had been destroyed in a combined missile, artillery and rocket assault on an Israeli military base in the area. The Israeli military statement did not say whether a base had been hit.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, identified the man killed as Sharif Suwayed, 35, and said that his truck had been hit while he was working to improve defenses at a military base, modifications that were being carried out at night to protect against Hezbollah attacks. The Israeli military was investigating the incident, the broadcaster reported.

Israeli forces responded by striking Hezbollah targets across southern Lebanon, among them a weapon storage facility and military compound, according to a military statement. Lebanese state media reported on Friday that multiple towns had been targeted by heavy Israeli bombardment, causing damage to dozens of houses. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The fighting between Hezbollah and Israel, the heaviest between the sides in nearly two decades, has shown no sign of subsiding. Israeli strikes inside Lebanon have begun to creep deeper into the country’s interior, though the hostilities for now have been confined largely to areas along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

In Israel, 19 soldiers and civilians have been killed in the recent violence, which began after Hezbollah launched rockets into northern Israel in support of the deadly Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7.

More than 70 civilians have been killed in Lebanon, along with roughly 270 Hezbollah fighters, the group has said, a figure that exceeds its losses in the 2006 war with Israel.

Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, said this week that its strikes had eliminated half of Hezbollah’s commanders in southern Lebanon, although experts expressed skepticism about that claim. They also have cast doubt on whether targeted killings of commanders could achieve Israel’s goal of pushing Hezbollah farther from the border, reducing the threat of attacks and allowing the tens of thousands of Israeli civilians displaced by the fighting to return to their homes.

Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

A baby born in Gaza after her mother was killed in an Israeli strike dies less than a week later.

A baby who was delivered through an emergency cesarean section after her mother was killed in an Israeli strike died on Thursday, a relative said, less than a week after news of her birth brought a glimmer of hope to war-torn Gaza.

The baby, who was born after a strike in southern Gaza that also killed her father and sister, suffered respiratory problems and doctors were unable to save her, said her uncle, Rami al-Sheikh.

“I buried her in her father’s grave,” he said in a phone interview on Friday.

The mother, Sabreen al-Sakani, was killed along with her husband, Shukri, and their 3-year-old daughter Malak when an Israeli strike hit their home in the city of Rafah shortly before midnight last Saturday. Rescue crews took the bodies to the Emirati Hospital in Rafah, where doctors performed an cesarean section on Ms. al-Sakani, who was 30 weeks pregnant.

Her uncle said that Malak had wanted to name her little sister Rouh, the Arabic word for soul. After her birth, the extended family decided to name her after her mother, Sabreen.

Sabreen was premature and weighed just three pounds at birth, said Dr. Mohammed Salama, head of the neonatal intensive care unit at Emirati Hospital. Her birth was captured on video by a journalist from the Reuters news agency, who filmed doctors providing artificial respiration to her after she emerged, pale and limp, from her mother.

Instead of a name, doctors initially wrote, “The baby of the martyr Sabreen al-Sakani” on a piece of tape across her chest.

“The baby was delivered into a tragic situation,” Dr. Salama told Reuters after her birth, adding, “Even if this baby survives, she was born an orphan.”

Rabbis are arrested near the Gaza-Israel border at a rally to highlight starvation.

Seven rabbis and peace activists were arrested on Friday near the border with Gaza after they tried to take food supplies into the territory, according to two participants and the campaign group that organized the effort.

The detainees were among a group of roughly 30 rabbis and activists from Israel and the United States who were stopped by police officers as they tried to reach the Erez crossing, a major transit point between Israel and northern Gaza.

Organized by Rabbis for Ceasefire, a peace movement based in the United States, the effort was intended to build support for a truce and to highlight rising reports of starvation in Gaza. A global authority on food security, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification initiative, has predicted an imminent famine in northern Gaza, the area of the territory closest to Erez.

The protest was timed to coincide with the week of Passover, a Jewish festival that celebrates the biblical story of the liberation of Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt.

“We were making the point that Jewish liberation is bound up with Palestinian liberation, that we want freedom for all,” said Toba Spitzer, a rabbi from Boston who attended the protest but was not arrested.

The group had tried to drive into Gaza with a pickup truck carrying half a ton of rice and flour but was stopped roughly a third of a mile from the border, Rabbi Spitzer said. The effort was largely symbolic and the organizers expected it to fail given the restrictions along the border; the supplies will now be donated to needy Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Rabbi Spitzer said.

The Israeli police did not respond to requests for comment.

There are widespread food shortages in Gaza. Israeli restrictions on where convoys can enter the strip, Israeli bombardment and widespread damage to roads, the collapse of Gazan agriculture, and a breakdown in law and order have all made it harder to distribute aid safely.

Aid groups and United Nations officials have accused Israel of systematically limiting aid delivery. Israel denies the assertion, blaming the shortages on logistical failures by aid groups, and has recently increased the number of trucks entering the strip.

Israeli officials say that the Erez crossing, which was primarily used for pedestrian traffic before the war, is difficult to use for aid delivery because it lacks the right infrastructure and was also badly damaged during the Hamas-led raid on Israel in October.

A majority of Jewish Israelis oppose the delivery of more aid to Gaza, according to a poll conducted in February by the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based research group.

Israeli protesters regularly gather at another crossing point farther south, trying to block aid convoys entering Gaza.

The U.S. Army has begun work on a floating pier to move aid from ships into Gaza, the Pentagon says.

Army engineers on Thursday began construction of a floating pier and causeway for humanitarian aid off the coast of Gaza, which, when completed, could help relief workers deliver as many as two million meals a day for the enclave’s residents, Defense Department officials said.

The construction on the “initial stages of the temporary pier and causeway at sea” means that the project’s timing is in line with what Pentagon officials had predicted, Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, the Defense Department’s press secretary, said. The construction is meant to allow humanitarian aid to bypass Israeli restrictions on land convoys into the besieged strip.

General Ryder said that defense officials expected the project, ordered up by President Biden early last month, to be completed early next month. The facility is meant to include an offshore platform to transfer aid from ships, and a floating pier to bring the aid to shore.

Aid organizations have welcomed the plan, which will be an addition to the airdrops of humanitarian supplies that the U.S. military has been conducting over Gaza. But aid workers say, and defense officials have acknowledged, that the maritime project is not an adequate substitute for land convoys. Such aid convoys fell sharply when the war began more than six months ago and have only partly recovered.

Some U.S. military officials have also privately expressed security concerns about the project, and General Ryder said that the military was looking into a mortar attack on Wednesday that caused minimal damage in the area where some pier work is supposed to be done. However, he said, U.S. forces had not started moving anything into the area at the time of the mortar attacks.

The floating pier is being built alongside an Army ship off the Gaza coast. Army ships are large, lumbering vessels, so they have armed escorts, particularly as they get within range of Gaza’s coast, defense officials have said.

The United Nations says famine is likely to set in within Gaza by the end of May.

Aid workers have described bottlenecks for aid at border crossings because of lengthy inspections of trucks, limited crossing hours and protests by Israelis, and they have highlighted the difficulty of distributing aid inside Gaza. Israeli officials have denied that they are hampering the flow of aid, saying the United Nations and aid groups are responsible for any backlogs.

Senior Biden administration and military officials detailed a complex plan in a Pentagon call with reporters on Thursday afternoon, explaining how the pier and causeway are being put together, and how it is supposed to work. Army engineers are constructing the facility aboard Navy ships in the eastern Mediterranean. One official said that the “at-sea assembly of key pieces” of the pier began on Thursday.

Biden officials are insistent that the Pentagon can carry out aid deliveries through the floating pier without putting American boots on the ground in Gaza. Officials described a complicated shuttle system, through which aid would be loaded onto Navy ships in Cyprus and transported to a causeway — a floating platform — at sea.

The Pentagon’s military acronym for the project is J-Lots, for Joint Logistics Over the Shore.

The causeway at sea is different from the floating pier where the aid will be offloaded into Gaza. An engineering unit with the Israeli military will anchor the floating pier to the Gaza shore, a senior military official told reporters in the Pentagon call.

Shuttle boats run by aid organizations, the United Nations or other countries are then expected to transport the aid to the floating pier, where it is to be loaded onto trucks driven by “a third party,” the official said. He declined to identify the third party.

The official said that Israel was dedicating a brigade to provide security for the American troops and aid workers working on the pier.

The operation is expected to bring in enough aid for around 90 trucks a day, a number that will increase to 150 trucks a day when the system reaches full operating capacity, the official said.

Has South Africa Truly Defeated Apartheid?

Thirty years ago, the South African miracle came true. Millions voted in the country’s first democratic elections, seemingly delivering a death blow to apartheid.

The African National Congress rose to power under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and used the Freedom Charter, a decades-old manifesto, as a guide to forming a new nation.

The charter’s 10 declarations offered a vision for overcoming apartheid through a free, multiracial society, with quality housing, education and economic opportunities for all.

As South Africans celebrate 30 years of freedom and prepare to vote in a pivotal national election, we looked at how far the country has come in meeting the Freedom Charter’s goals.

When the apartheid government was toppled in South Africa, ending white minority rule, people around the world shared in the excitement and optimism that a more just society would emerge. A generation later, the country’s journey provides a broader lesson: It is far easier to rally for an end to racism than it is to undo entrenched inequities and to govern a complicated country.

The African National Congress won the 1994 election on the promise of “a better life for all.” But for many that promise has fallen short. Polls now suggest that in the election scheduled for May 29, the party risks losing its absolute majority in the national government for the first time.

No one doubts that South Africa has made strides since the days of legalized racial oppression. Democracy has brought a growing Black middle class, access to better education across racial lines and a basic human dignity once stolen from the Black majority.

But there also has been a widening gap between rich and poor, a breakdown in basic services like electricity and water, and the continued isolation of Black families stuck in ramshackle homes in distant communities.

Black South Africans, who make up 81 percent of the population, often argue that they’ve gained political freedom, but not economic freedom — and remain trapped in the structure of apartheid.

We went through the Freedom Charter’s declarations — each ending in an exclamation point — to measure South Africa’s progress and shortcomings over the past 30 years.

On a continent where coups, autocrats and flawed elections have become common, South Africa is a widely admired exception.

Since 1994, the country has held national elections every five years, with local elections in between. Presidents have changed, but the party in power — the A.N.C. — never has. Despite this, there have never been any serious doubts about the integrity of those electoral contests. A record 52 parties will compete in the national election this year.

Despite the electoral stability, politics have been dangerous. Fierce conflict within the A.N.C. has resulted in many assassinations over the years. The A.N.C.’s access to state resources as the governing party has fueled many of the disputes and led to widespread corruption — from top national officials down to local councilors.

The enrichment of A.N.C. leaders while many people barely earn enough to feed themselves has shaken the faith of many South Africans in their democratic system.

Last year, 22 percent of South Africans approved of the functioning of the country’s democracy, down from 63 percent in 2004, according to surveys from the Human Sciences Research Council.

Under apartheid, race restricted every aspect of life for South Africans who were Black, Indian and colored — a multiracial classification created by the government. There were strict limits on where they could live, attend school, work and travel. Laws enforced this segregation, and partaking in politics was criminalized.

But the democratic government drafted a constitution that enshrined equal rights for all.

South Africa has become a place where people of all races often dine, worship and party together. Gay rights are largely accepted. There is a free and vigorous press, and protests and open political debate are a part of life.

But many of the economic barriers created under apartheid still endure.

By one measure, the World Bank has ranked South Africa as the most unequal country in the world. Ten percent of the population holds about 71 percent of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 60 percent holds just 7 percent of assets, according to the World Bank.

To a large extent, the wealth disparities have kept millions of Black South Africans relegated to some of the most deplorable conditions.

Just look at the place in the Soweto community of Kliptown where hundreds of anti-apartheid activists gathered to draft the Freedom Charter in 1955. It is now known as Walter Sisulu Square, named for a prominent anti-apartheid activist.

Nearly two decades ago, the government built a large concrete complex around the square, with restaurants, offices and a hotel. But because of a lack of maintenance and huge riots in 2021 that stemmed from political grievances, most of the businesses are now gutted, littered and stinking of sewage. Informal traders eke out a living nearby selling sandwiches, clothes and fruit.

Across adjacent railroad tracks sits an all-Black neighborhood where most residents live in tin shacks, use outdoor latrines, rely on jury-rigged wires for electricity and navigate craggy dirt roads.

Jack Martins, 54, who lives in the neighborhood, had a cellphone repair shop in the complex, but it did not survive the riots. He now plies his trade from a table on the sidewalk. He secured public housing, but had to pay a bribe to get it, he said. Two of his sons could not get into university because there was not enough space, and his daughter, despite having a mechanical engineering degree, has been unable to find stable work. He is fed up with the near-daily, hourslong electricity outages caused by the failing state power utility.

“What is this government doing for us?” he said. “Absolutely nothing.”

The Black middle and upper classes have grown significantly. In 1995, just 350,000 Black South Africans lived in households that were among the top 15 percent in income, according to researchers at the University of Cape Town’s Liberty Institute of Strategic Marketing. By 2022, that number had grown to about 5.6 million.

Still, Black families are underrepresented among rich households.

Many expected something better this far into democracy. Much of the nation’s wealth remains in white hands.

Black South Africans had a stake in only 29 percent of the companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, according to a 2022 report by South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment Commission. Not a single entity on the exchange was fully Black-owned, the report said.

Economists say the country’s economy never took off enough to allow for a greater redistribution of wealth. Even when South Africa experienced its strongest stretch of economic growth in the first decade and a half of democracy, it still lagged behind its peers in Africa and other upper-middle-income countries. Since then, growth has been tepid, and contraction since the Covid-19 pandemic has been sharper than that in similarly sized economies.

Government rules have allowed Black South Africans to gain a greater stake in industries like mining, where Black ownership has grown from 2 percent to 39 percent over the past two decades. But the gains have gone to relatively few people at the top.

However, the Bafokeng kingdom, an ethnic group within South Africa, has shown what is possible when a community gets its fair share of its resource wealth. The kingdom sits on rich platinum deposits. After a court victory in 1999 that affirmed its land rights, the kingdom used its platinum dividends to build a school with a large campus and a modern clinic, and to invest in other industries. Most families live in large brick homes that are the envy of other rural villages.

At the end of apartheid, when almost all of South Africa’s agricultural land was white-owned, Mr. Mandela’s government pledged in 1994 to transfer 30 percent of it into Black hands within a few years, by encouraging white landowners to sell.

The government failed to meet its goal, and it stretched the deadline to 2030. So far, about 25 percent of white-owned farmland has been transferred to Black ownership, mostly through the purchase of land by the government or Black individuals, according to Wandile Sihlobo and Johann Kirsten, agricultural economists at Stellenbosch University.

White South Africans make up roughly 7 percent of the population, but white-owned farms still cover about half of the country’s entire surface area, according to Mr. Sihlobo and Mr. Kirsten.

In the first decade of democracy, the government gave Black people full ownership of the white-owned farms it had bought. Owning the land meant that Black families had the chance not only to feed and support themselves but also advance.

But the government is no longer giving land to Black South Africans outright, offering long-term leases instead, Mr. Sihlobo and Mr. Kirsten said. Without ownership, Black farmers cannot generate wealth by using the land as collateral to get a bank loan. That has prevented Black farmers from expanding their operations to be commercially competitive.

Only about 7 percent of commercial-scale farms — those that sell to major grocers or export their products — are Black-owned. Only about 10 percent of the food produced by commercial farms in South Africa comes from Black-owned farms, about the same share as in the 1980s, Mr. Sihlobo said.

In the first decade of democracy, more than 930,000 mostly Black and colored farm workers were evicted from farms despite new laws intended to allow them to spend their lives on the farms where they worked.

“We haven’t been able to live up to those ideals” of Black land ownership, Mr. Sihlobo said.

Black South Africans are unemployed at far higher rates than their white peers, and that disparity has not improved over time.

The high unemployment rate has given rise to a hustle culture that sends many South Africans to the streets early each morning in search of work.

Zinhle Nene, 49, has been waking up by 5:30 a.m. most days and waiting on a corner in downtown Johannesburg with hundreds of others seeking day jobs. She left her low-paying job as a home health aide because the transportation to work was too expensive.

“It’s heartbreaking because we come here and we don’t even have food,” she said, wiping away tears as the hours passed. “Sometimes, you even get home, there’s nothing. You just drink water and then you sleep.”

Poverty has decreased since the start of democracy. Still, it remains very high. Nearly two out of every three Black South Africans lived below the upper-bound poverty line in 2015 — the most recent data available — meaning they had access to less than about $80 a month. Only 1 percent of white South Africans lived below that line.

Peter Mokoena broke down in tears last November inside the modest two-bedroom house the government had just given him. It sat alongside dozens of other homes just like it, on the freshly paved roads of a new subdivision about half an hour southeast of Johannesburg.

“I’m so happy, happy, happy, happy for this house,” said Mr. Mokoena, 74, who had been living in a tin shack so leaky that his furniture was soaked when it rained. “Now, it feels like I’m in heaven.”

The government has built 3.4 million houses since 1994, and given ownership of most of them for free to poor South Africans. Some units, known as social housing, are rented out at below-market rates. The government also has embarked on several “mega city” projects, in partnership with the private sector, to cluster together various types of housing and services like day care centers.

Many South Africans have moved into formal homes from makeshift structures, and access to basic services like electricity and piped water has increased. But frequent power and water outages have made those services unreliable, leading to anger and frustration nationwide.

Mr. Mokoena waited 27 years for his house. Many are still waiting. In the meantime, some squat in downtown buildings. Others build shacks in any open space they can find. Or they rent small backyard units built behind houses — an effort the government is supporting.

New government housing has often ended up in areas far from jobs and economic activity, perpetuating the apartheid system of marginalizing Black people to outlying townships.

Nokuthula Mabe anxiously sat on her suitcase in the February heat outside North-West University in the city of Mahikeng, waiting with about a dozen other high-school graduates hoping for a spot. The university had received more than 181,000 applications for 11,717 slots.

In many ways, Ms. Mabe epitomized post-apartheid progress simply by graduating from her overcrowded village school near the Botswana border.

In the 1950s, only 10 percent of Black children finished high school. By 2021, that number had risen to 58 percent, according to government statistics.

Despite these gains, significant racial disparities persist.

In 1982, the apartheid government spent roughly $1,100 a year on education for each white child but just $140 for each Black child, according to Section 27, a human rights organization.

By 2018, that had increased to about $1,400 for each child, according to researchers at Stellenbosch University, much of it intended to level the playing field for Black students.

But schools are still failing many of their students. A report published in 2022 found that 81 percent of Grade 4 students could not understand what they were reading.

And while more children are finishing high school, there are not enough seats in colleges to meet the demand.

In 2022, about 6 percent of South Africans aged 18 to 29 were enrolled in higher education, according to Statistics South Africa. These enrollment rates lag behind countries with similarly sized economies, like Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines, according to figures from the World Bank.

After waiting nervously for hours, Ms. Mabe, 18, dragged her suitcase to the nearest bus stop to begin the three-and-a-half-hour trip back to her village. The university was too full to admit her.

During apartheid, the judicial system was used to criminalize Black people, mete out harsh punishment and cover up the atrocities committed against them.

Today, the judiciary is seen as among the most credible institutions in the country. Judges have upheld human rights and taken tough stances against even powerful political figures like the former president Jacob Zuma, who was sentenced to prison for contempt.

Still, as in many other countries, the South African justice system works best for those with money. A government commission found two years ago that most South Africans could not afford legal fees. The agency providing legal assistance for the poor is underfunded and overburdened.

“Those with very deep pockets are able to take the criminal justice process, stretch it for a very long period of time,” said Chrispin Phiri, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services. “That’s a privilege not afforded to a poorer person.”

What’s more, the justice system does not seem to be taming the country’s high crime rate.

Although the murder rate is lower than it was in 1994, it has climbed steadily since 2012.

On paper, South Africa’s legal system prioritizes rehabilitating prisoners. The government offers an array of restorative justice, jobs and counseling programs for inmates and those being released.

In reality, though, prison-reform activists and studies suggest that treatment behind bars can be harsh and access to education difficult.

Internationally, South Africa has tried to position itself as a broker of peace and a leader in challenging a Western-led world order.

South Africa is the “S” in the BRICS group of nations that also includes Brazil, Russia, India and China, formed as a counterpoint to American and European alliances.

South Africa has played a critical role over the years in peace missions in African countries like Ethiopia, Burundi and Zimbabwe. And President Cyril Ramaphosa led a peace delegation last year to Ukraine and Russia, while refusing to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

South Africa argues that as a midsize nation, it cannot afford to choose sides and must make friends with everyone.

But it has been accused of being hypocritical and selectively concerned about peace and human rights.

The government brought a genocide case this year in the International Court of Justice against Israel for its war in Gaza after the attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7. South African officials have argued that Palestinians face a situation similar to apartheid.

For all of the frustrations that South Africans may have about the past 30 years, democracy has brought something that money and data cannot measure: freedom.

As in, freedom to go where you want, to date whom you want, to complain and advocate change as loudly as you want.

That has driven Sibusiso Zikode, 48, for much of his adult life.

He arrived in Durban, a port city on South Africa’s east coast, and started law school, but dropped out in the first term when his family savings ran out.

He moved to Kennedy Road, a slum built on muddy slopes and surrounded by a landfill, joining thousands who had flocked to the city for opportunity, only to find themselves in zinc shacks. This didn’t feel like freedom.

So, he helped to establish Abahlali baseMjondolo, a protest movement that is one of many that represent the revolt of poor people. Between July and September in 2022, the South African police responded to 2,455 protests.

But going up against the post-apartheid political establishment has come at great cost: Leaders of Abahlali have been assassinated, and Mr. Zikode had to flee from his home at the squatter camp after deadly attacks.

Abahlali’s members are growing more disillusioned with democracy.

“Whoever is homeless now,” Mr. Zikode said, “will be homeless after the election.”

Israel’s Military Campaign Has Left Gaza’s Medical System Near Collapse

Before Israel’s invasion of Gaza last year, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Reqeb worked in one of the Palestinian territory’s largest hospitals and had a private clinic, caring for women throughout their pregnancies.

Now, he lives in a plastic tent in Rafah, a Palestinian border town where roughly half of Gaza’s population has sought refuge, and treats patients for no charge in another tent. Living under Israeli bombardment, with shortages of food and clean water, the pregnant women he serves struggle to find basic safety and nourishment, let alone prenatal care.

Since the Israeli military began bombarding Gaza six months ago following the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack, its forces have wrecked entire hospitals, struck ambulances and killed or detained hundreds of health-care workers. Israeli restrictions on goods entering Gaza have prevented lifesaving medical supplies from reaching patients, according to aid groups. And shortages of fuel, water and food have made it difficult for medical workers to provide basic services.

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Xi and Blinken Trade Small Nods Over a Large Gap

The areas where the United States and China can work together seem to be shrinking fast, and the risks of confrontation are growing. But it was clear on Friday that both countries are trying to salvage what they can.

Preserving some semblance of cooperation — and the difficulty of doing so — was at the heart of a meeting between Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in Beijing on Friday. It was the latest effort by the rivals to keep communications open even as disputes escalate over trade, national security and geopolitical frictions.

Officials in both countries said they had made progress on a few smaller, pragmatic fronts, including setting up the first U.S.-China talks on artificial intelligence in the coming weeks. They also said they would continue improving communications between their militaries and increase cultural exchanges.

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Russia Strikes Ukraine’s Railways and Vows to Slow Arrival of U.S. Aid

Russia attacked railway facilities in three different regions across Ukraine on Thursday night and Friday morning, as the country’s defense minister vowed to step up strikes aimed at slowing the flow of critically needed American weapons and equipment to the front.

At least six civilians were killed and 31 others injured in the attacks, according to the Ukrainian military and local officials. Three of the dead were railway workers killed by a strike in the Donetsk region. In Balakliya, a rail hub in the Kharkiv region, 13 passengers on a regional train were injured when a missile hit the station. Russia also attacked a railway facility in the Cherkasy region but no casualties were reported.

Ukrainian railways, with an estimated 12,000 miles of tracks and 230,000 employees, have played a crucial role in the war, evacuating civilians from frontline areas, transporting everything from grain to humanitarian assistance around the country, and moving heavy weapons supplied by Western allies along carefully guarded and hidden supply lines.

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Resignation of Vietnam’s Parliament Chief Stirs Fresh Political Chaos

Vietnam’s recent political turmoil intensified on Friday as the head of its Parliament resigned, the latest high-level government departure amid a widening anticorruption campaign that has raised questions about the stability of the country.

Vuong Dinh Hue, the chairman of Vietnam’s National Assembly, submitted his resignation on Friday after the Central Inspection Committee found that he had violated regulations governing Communist Party members. It did not specify what these regulations were, but it came four days after his assistant was detained on charges of abuse of power.

“Mr. Vuong Dinh Hue’s violations and shortcomings, according to the Central Executive Committee, have caused bad public opinion and affected the reputation of the Party, the state and him personally,” the Vietnamese government wrote in a post on Facebook.

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In Western Ukraine, a Community Wrestles With Patriotism or Survival

It was sunset when Maj. Kyrylo Vyshyvany of the Ukrainian army stepped into the yard of his childhood home in Duliby, a village in western Ukraine, just after his younger brother, also a soldier, had been buried. Their mother was still crying in the living room.

“I can already see that she’ll be coming to visit him every day,” he said that day.

He was right, but he would not be by her side. A few days after the funeral, in March 2022, he was killed in a Russian missile strike on a Ukrainian military base and buried next to his brother, Vasyl.

The Vyshyvany brothers were the first deaths from Duliby and the surrounding community after Russia began its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. Since then, 44 more Ukrainian soldiers from the area have been killed — more than four times the local death toll from the previous eight years of fighting Russian-backed separatists in the east.

For Duliby and its surrounding enclave of Khodoriv — total population around 24,000 people — waiting for the next solemn death notification and the funeral that follows has become a bitter routine. But even as the town meets and buries the fallen with modest ceremony, some neighbors are quietly weighing the price they are willing to pay for a war with no end in sight.

Divisions have started to form between residents agnostic about the war — often those whose family members have dodged the draft or fled the country — and those who have loved ones on the front line or who fully support the war effort.

In the earliest days of the war, before the news of the first combat deaths arrived, people in communities across Ukraine flocked to draft offices. Among them was Khodoriv, whose families have a long history of fighting for Ukraine’s independence and being executed or sent into exile during violent Soviet repressions of its nationalist movement in the last century.

In Duliby, the Russian invasion hit home early with the deaths of the Vyshyvany brothers. Suddenly, residents were burying soldiers whom most had known as lifelong neighbors.

“No one knew then how to do everything correctly,” said Natalia Bodnar, 41, the older sister of the Vyshyvany brothers. She arranged both her brothers’ funerals, she said, and even wrote the speeches for the priest.

As the war has ground on, the Khodoriv government has taken over the logistics of organizing funerals, and, inevitably, somber repetition has helped smooth the process. Public services have been moved to a central square, each time gathering crowds of people.

“Now everyone knows what kind of coffins, standards and what the procedure is,” Ms. Bodnar said from her apartment in Khodoriv last month.

Last fall, the deaths of locals mounted, and residents sought a visible commemoration of loss to go beyond the daily church services that drew dozens of faithful. So new memorial plaques of rock and bronze were hung on the outer walls of schools the killed soldiers had attended.

At those schools, people also honored the fallen with memorials of flowers and candles. But some parents complained that the offerings were too grim to look at and should be removed, said Olha Melnyk, 46, the head of the social services department in the Khodoriv administration. They were opposed to having their children reminded of the war happening hundreds of miles to the east.

Still, the makeshift altars have stayed put, and when the school the Vyshyvany brothers attended was renamed after them last fall, no one objected.

By 2023, the lines at draft offices across the country slowly disappeared as most volunteers had already gone to the front. New recruits were mostly summoned by draft notices given out in waves, based on the army’s needs, to men aged 27 to 60.

But gradually, the military has increased efforts to recruit soldiers, with some draft offices forcibly taking people from the streets to speed up the process. In the past six months, that tactic — widely known as forced mobilization — has frequently made headlines in Ukraine, symptomatic of the chronic troop shortage, which culminated this month in the government’s decision to lower the draft age in Ukraine to 25.

About 600 people from the Khodoriv community were serving in the army as of March, local authorities said, including over a dozen men from Duliby itself, some of whom were drafted from the streets. Men have since begun to avoid staying out during daylight, residents said.

“Everyone is afraid. No one wants to die,” said Bohdan, a school employee who declined to provide his surname for the fear of repercussions from the Ukrainian authorities.

Petro Panat, the leader of the territorial defense unit, an ad hoc military unit formed in the early days of the war to protect local communities, said 10 out of 30 men from the unit had since obtained documents to legally exempt them from fighting. The exemptions are granted for reasons like health problems or relatives in need of care.

Anna Kukharaska, 66, who runs a volunteer group that collects donations to aid soldiers at the front, said, “There are lots of indifferent people.”

In the Khodoriv area, relatives of soldiers who are fighting or who have died at the front said that in the last two years they have begun to resent men in the community who are said to have bought their way out of service while their own sons and fathers are fighting — a feeling that may be shared by many across the country as the Ukrainian government wrestles with how to mobilize up to 500,000 more troops.

“Sometimes people want to devalue the sacrifice of such families to justify themselves buying their sons out,” said Marta Hladii, 51, a therapist from nearby Stryi who works with the military and their families for free. Of the five mothers spoken to by Ms. Hladii who had lost their only sons to the war, she said two were criticized by neighbors for not bribing their way out of the military to protect them.

There is no legal way to pay for an exemption from military service in Ukraine, but there have been widespread reports of corruption in draft offices, with bribes ranging from $1,000 early in the war — “a buyout from death” — to as much as the $10,000 per head price that was revealed in a Kyiv draft center. Some of the most prominent draft-related scandals caused the government to fire top military enlistment officers last August.

One of the most recent soldiers to be buried in Khodoriv showed up to the fight willingly.

As a child growing up in Khodoriv, a 9-year-old Nazar Yankevych attended the funeral of a local activist, Roman Tochyn, who was shot in the head during Ukraine’s Maidan revolution, the protests in 2014 that renounced pervasive Russian influence on Ukraine.

“After that funeral, he told our mom, ‘When I grow up, I’ll go to war,’” said his sister Maria Yankevych.

Her brother had been accepted to a technology training program just before Russia invaded but instead went to a military training camp, she said, and joined an elite assault unit.

Mr. Yankevych was 19 when he died in combat in February outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka. The shrapnel piece that killed him left a mark on his temple, the same place as the bullet that hit his hero 10 years earlier.

“A lot of young guys from all over Ukraine wrote to me,” his sister said, after she posted about him on Instagram. They wrote: “‘Your brother is a hero to me, I want to be like him.’”

A Novelist Who Finds Inspiration in Germany’s Tortured History

She became a writer because her country vanished overnight.

Jenny Erpenbeck, now 57, was 22 in 1989, when the Berlin Wall cracked by accident, then collapsed. She was having a “girls’ evening out,” she said, so she had no idea what had happened until the next morning. When a professor discussed it in class, she said, it became real to her.

The country she knew, the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, remains a crucial setting for most of her striking, precise fiction. Her work, which has grown in acuity and emotional power, combines the complications of German and Soviet history with the lives of her characters, including those of her own family members, whose experiences echo with the past like contrapuntal music.

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Ukraine Is Denying Consular Services to Men Outside the Country

Ukrainian officials have taken several steps in recent weeks to swell the ranks of an army depleted by more than two years of grueling combat. The government passed a new mobilization bill aimed at increasing troop numbers and has stepped up border patrols to catch draft dodgers.

Now, officials are targeting men who have already left the country. This week the government announced that Ukrainian embassies had suspended issuing new passports and providing other consular services for military-age men living abroad.

Men between the ages of 18 and 60 were prohibited from leaving the country after the start of Russia’s invasion in 2022, but some were abroad before the rule took effect and others have left illegally since then.

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Deadly Rains and Floods Sweep Cities Across East Africa

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At least 200 people were killed and dozens more were injured across East Africa in recent days, officials and aid groups said, as torrential rains, floods and landslides pummeled towns and cities in a region already grappling with the devastating effects of the climate change crisis and dilapidated infrastructure in poor areas.

The extreme rains unleashed a wave of destruction across Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi, flooding homes, demolishing businesses and leaving many people stranded on rooftops.

The downpours exposed yet again the bad roads and poor drainage systems in some of the region’s biggest cities, which residents have persistently complained about. They also revealed how poor people, who live in sprawling shantytowns without access to proper roads, water or power, bear the biggest brunt of destructive floods.

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To the Sound of Gunshots, Haiti Installs a New Ruling Council

The prime minister of Haiti, Ariel Henry, formally signed his resignation letter on Wednesday, paving the way for a new government and bringing a measure of political stability to a nation mired in gang violence and an unfolding humanitarian crisis.

With the sound of gunshots as a backdrop, the nine members of a transitional council took the oath of office early on Thursday in the National Palace.

“We have served the nation in difficult times,” wrote Mr. Henry, whose resignation letter bore a Los Angeles address. “I sympathize with the losses and suffering endured by our compatriots during this period.”

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A Puzzling Move by a Political Survivor Grips Spain

A wave of political turmoil crashed over Spain on Thursday as Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez publicly weighed resigning his post after a judge agreed to investigate his wife over allegations that he and other officials decried as a politically driven smear campaign.

The judge’s decision to take up the case — which was brought by a self-described anti-graft group on the basis of online news reports about alleged influence peddling — prompted Mr. Sánchez’s supporters to coalesce behind him and public prosecutors to move quickly on Thursday to try to get the case dismissed.

Mr. Sánchez, whose political survival skills have for years astonished his supporters and detractors alike, wrote in a public letter Wednesday that the accusations against his wife, Begoña Gómez, were false and amounted to harassment. One of the most prominent leftist leaders in Europe, Mr. Sánchez has canceled his public schedule while he reflects on his next move. He plans to address the nation on Monday.

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Far-Right Greek Party Is Banned From E.U. Parliament Elections

A small far-right party that unexpectedly entered the Greek Parliament last year will not be allowed to field candidates for the European Parliament this summer after Greece’s Supreme Court found that it was essentially a reincarnation of the banned neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.

In its decision about which parties can run in the European Parliament elections, issued on Wednesday, the court found that the party, Spartans, “offered their party as a cloak for the new political party of Ilias Kasidiaris,” the former spokesman of Golden Dawn who is currently in prison.

Mr. Kasidiaris, the court said, is the true leader of Spartans, which “substitutes” for Golden Dawn, serving as a front that allowed him to circumvent eligibility restrictions.

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Welcome to Venice. That’ll Be 5 Euros, Please.

Pulling into the Santa Lucia train station in Venice on Thursday morning, passengers were told via an overhead announcement that they might have to pay a 5-euro fee to enter the city’s historic center. Failure to pay could result in a fine from 50 to 300 euros, the announcement said.

Outside the station, police officers in riot gear lingered, while a flock of assistants in colorful safety vests stopped arriving travelers to ensure that they had a QR code indicating that they had registered to visit on a city website. Those who hadn’t were directed to a booth where they could. After registering, overnight visitors were sent on their way without having to pay, but people planning to stay just for the day were charged (though there were other exemptions).

It was a new welcome to Venice, the first city in the world to charge day visitors a nominal entrance fee, a measure city officials hope will help counter overtourism.

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A Gen Z Resistance, Cut Off From Data Plans

In the night, the mountain air not quite chill enough to still the insects, young people gathered around a glow. The light attracting them was not a phone screen, that electric lure for people almost everywhere, but a bonfire.

From around the blaze, music radiated. Fingers strummed a guitar. Voices layered lyrics about love, democracy and, most of all, revolution. Moths courted the flame, sparking when they veered too close, then swooning to their deaths.

For months now, these hills of Karenni State in eastern Myanmar have been severed from modern communications. The military junta that seized power in a coup three years ago, plunging the country into civil war, has cut off the populations most opposed to its brutal rule. In these resistance strongholds, where people from around the nation have congregated, there is almost no internet, cell service or even electricity.

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War or No War, Ukrainians Aren’t Giving Up Their Coffee

When Russian tanks first rolled into Ukraine more than two years ago, Artem Vradii was sure his business was bound to suffer.

“Who would think about coffee in this situation?” thought Mr. Vradii, the co-founder of a Kyiv coffee roastery named Mad Heads. “Nobody would care.”

But over the next few days after the invasion began, he started receiving messages from Ukrainian soldiers. One asked for bags of ground coffee because he could not stand the energy drinks supplied by the army. Another simply requested beans: He had taken his own grinder to the front.

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

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

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

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

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

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A Stork, a Fisherman and Their Unlikely Bond Enchant Turkey

Ben Hubbard and

Reporting from Eskikaraagac, Turkey

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

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

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

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Forbidden to Watch Films as a Child, He Now Directs Somalia’s Top Shows

At the shout of “action,” two actors, costumed in black blazers and sunglasses, erupted into a spirited shouting match, gesticulating wildly as one demanded that the other convince his daughter to marry him.

A cameraman and a boom operator, sweaty under a scorching sun, moved in to capture the altercation in close-up.

Then the director, Abshir Rageh, seated in a foldable chair, removed his headphones and called: “Cut.”

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Even Before the Olympics, a Victory Lap for a Fast-Moving French Mayor

Reporting from St.-Ouen, France

The mayor grew up in a building so decrepit — filthy hallways, no private toilets, no showers — that his friends in nearby concrete towers pitied him.

Five decades later, that building — in St.-Ouen, a Paris suburb — is a distant memory, and in its place rises France’s Olympic pride: the athletes’ village, with its architectural-showcase buildings that are outfitted with solar panels, deep-sinking pipes for cooling and heating, and graceful balconies from which to look down on the forest planted below. One-quarter will become public housing after the Games.

“All of a sudden, we have the same feeling of pride as people living in the hypercenter,” said the mayor of St.-Ouen, Karim Bouamrane, 51, using his personal shorthand for the glamorous downtown playgrounds of the elites. “There was Los Angeles, Barcelona, Beijing, London, Sydney and, now, there is St.-Ouen.”

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Documentary Filmmaker Explores Japan’s Rigorous Education Rituals

The defining experience of Ema Ryan Yamazaki’s childhood left her with badly scraped knees and her classmates with broken bones.

During sixth grade in Osaka, Japan, Ms. Yamazaki — now a 34-year-old documentary filmmaker — practiced for weeks with classmates to form a human pyramid seven levels high for an annual school sports day. Despite the blood and tears the children shed as they struggled to make the pyramid work, the accomplishment she felt when the group kept it from toppling became “a beacon of why I feel like I am resilient and hard-working.”

Now, Ms. Yamazaki, who is half-British, half-Japanese, is using her documentary eye to chronicle such moments that she believes form the essence of Japanese character, for better or worse.

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

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

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

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

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Insooni Breaks Racial Barrier to Become Beloved Singer in South Korea

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

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

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

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This Town Had a Reputation Problem. Premier League Soccer Changed Things.

As the announcement trilled out over Kenilworth Road, the jumble of rusted metal and peeling paint that Luton Town F.C. calls home, the tone started to shift. At the start of the sentence, it was little more than the traditional polite welcome to the stadium for that evening’s visiting team, Manchester City.

By the end, though, the voice of the announcer seemed overcome by what sounded a little like awe. Luton, the fans in the stands and the players on the field were reminded, was about to face “the champions of the F.A. Cup, the champions of England and the champions of Europe.” Luton seems to be having a hard time believing the company it now keeps.

There is a reason for that. Fifteen years ago, Luton Town had been relegated to the fifth tier of English soccer, a world away from the power and the prestige of the Premier League. There was, for a time, a genuine risk that the club, founded in 1885, several years before the invention of the zipper, might fold altogether. For years afterward, money remained tight, ambitions modest.

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Top Biden Official Calls for Inquiry Into Chinese Doping Case

The Biden administration’s top drug official called on Monday for an independent investigation into how Chinese and global antidoping authorities decided to clear 23 elite Chinese swimmers who tested positive for a banned drug months before the Summer Olympics in 2021.

The official, Rahul Gupta, who is the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that he planned to bring up the handling of the positive tests during a two-day meeting of sports ministers in Washington. Top members of the World Anti-Doping Agency are scheduled to attend the event, which starts Thursday.

“The United States stands by its commitment to ensure that every American athlete and those across the globe are provided a level playing field and a fair shot in international athletic competitions,” Dr. Gupta said in response to questions from The New York Times. “There must be rigorous, independent investigations to look into any incident of potential wrongdoing.”

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A Soccer Team Stopped Charging for Tickets. Should Others Do the Same?

Neither Paris F.C. nor St.-Étienne will have much reason to remember the game fondly. There was, really, precious little to remember at all: no goals, few shots, little drama — a drab, rain-sodden stalemate between the French capital’s third-most successful soccer team and the country’s sleepiest giant.

That was on the field. Off it, the 17,000 or so fans in attendance can consider themselves part of a philosophical exercise that might play a role in shaping the future of the world’s most popular sport.

Last November, Paris F.C. became home to an unlikely revolution by announcing that it was doing away with ticket prices for the rest of the season. There were a couple of exceptions: a nominal fee for fans supporting the visiting team, and market rates for those using hospitality suites.

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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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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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Lo que sabemos del ataque de Israel a Irán

Israel atacó Irán a primera hora del viernes, según funcionarios de ambos países, en lo que pareció ser su primera respuesta militar al ataque iraní contra Israel del pasado fin de semana.

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

El ataque fue el más reciente de un ciclo de represalias entre los dos enemigos que ha alarmado a los líderes mundiales, quienes temen que los ataques de ida y vuelta puedan desembocar en una guerra más amplia.

He aquí lo que sabemos sobre el ataque y sus implicaciones.

Funcionarios iraníes dijeron el viernes que un ataque israelí alcanzó una base aérea militar cerca de Isfahán, una ciudad en el centro de Irán. La magnitud y el método del ataque no estaban claros.

Funcionarios iraníes dijeron que otro ataque israelí fue frustrado en Tabriz, una región a unos 800 kilómetros al norte de Isfahán. Las agencias de noticias iraníes dijeron que se oyeron explosiones cerca de ambas ciudades.

Los medios de comunicación estatales de Siria, un importante aliado de Irán que limita con Israel, dijeron también que misiles israelíes habían alcanzado posiciones de defensa aérea en el sur de Siria el viernes.

El ejército israelí declinó hacer comentarios.

Israel atacó Irán en represalia por un gran ataque iraní en territorio israelí el fin de semana pasado, que incluyó más de 300 misiles y aviones no tripulados.

Ese ataque asustó a los israelíes pero causó pocos daños y pocos heridos porque casi todas las armas de Irán fueron interceptadas por Israel y sus aliados, incluidos Estados Unidos, el Reino Unido y Jordania.

Ese ataque iraní se lanzó en respuesta a un ataque israelí contra un complejo diplomático iraní en Siria el 1 de abril, en el que murieron siete funcionarios iraníes. Las autoridades israelíes no advirtieron a Estados Unidos del ataque de Damasco y algunos han reconocido en privado que se trató de un grave error de cálculo.

No estaba claro si Irán tomaría represalias, pero la reacción inicial en Israel e Irán, donde algunos funcionarios y medios de comunicación estatales trataron de restar importancia a la gravedad del ataque, dio a entender que la respuesta podría ser moderada.

La televisión estatal iraní emitió imágenes de Isfahán con aspecto pacífico e informó que las instalaciones militares y nucleares no habían sufrido daños. Un locutor dijo a los telespectadores que el ataque “no era para tanto”.

Funcionarios israelíes dijeron que el ataque había sido diseñado para evitar una escalada de las tensiones.

Isfahán es una de las ciudades más famosas e históricas de Irán, conocida por sus hermosas mezquitas de azulejos turquesa y púrpura, sus pintorescos puentes arqueados y su Gran Bazar.

La zona alberga también cuatro pequeñas instalaciones de investigación nuclear y es un centro de producción de armamento iraní. Allí se ensamblan muchos de los misiles de medio alcance Shahab, capaces de alcanzar Israel y otros países.

En la provincia de Isfahán también se encuentra la planta de enriquecimiento de uranio de Natanz, así como una base aérea que alberga una flota de cazas F-14 Tomcats de fabricación estadounidense. Según The Associated Press, fueron adquiridos por el gobierno iraní respaldado por EE. UU. antes de la revolución islámica de 1979.

Durante la última semana, el presidente Joe Biden y otros líderes mundiales han instado a Israel a no responder al ataque con misiles iraní del pasado fin de semana. Han dicho que temen que una respuesta israelí pueda desembocar en una guerra total.

Los líderes mundiales han aconsejado a Israel que considere la interceptación de casi todos los misiles y drones iraníes como una victoria estratégica. Esto es especialmente cierto, han dicho, porque fue lograda por una coalición internacional que incluye a países árabes, que históricamente no han sido proclives a salir en defensa de Israel.

Israel también ha estado luchando contra aliados de Irán en otros dos frentes —Hamás en Gaza y Hizbulá en Líbano— durante los últimos seis meses. La dirección de la guerra en Gaza, donde han muerto más de 33.000 personas y ha empezado a cundir la hambruna, ha dejado a Israel cada vez más aislado diplomáticamente.

Liam Stack es un reportero del Times que cubre la guerra entre Israel y Hamás desde Jerusalén. Más de Liam Stack

Atraco histórico en Canadá: 14,5 millones de dólares en oro, armas de contrabando, y nueve detenidos

Fue un atraco descarado: miles de lingotes de oro y millones de dólares en billetes fueron robados hace un año en el aeropuerto internacional de Toronto.

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

El miércoles, las autoridades canadienses anunciaron la detención de nueve personas, entre ellas un empleado de la aerolínea Air Canada, en relación con el robo de más de 20 millones de dólares canadienses, unos 14,5 millones de dólares, en lingotes de oro y también de 2,5 millones de dólares canadienses, o alrededor de 1,8 millones de dólares, en papel moneda que desaparecieron de un almacén del aeropuerto Pearson de Toronto en abril de 2023.

También se han emitido órdenes de detención contra otras tres personas, entre ellas un directivo de la aerolínea.

“Esta historia es sensacional”, dijo Nishan Duraiappah, jefe de la policía regional de Peel, durante una conferencia de prensa el miércoles, frente a un camión que, afirmó, se utilizó en el atraco. Una historia “que decimos en broma que pertenece a una serie de Netflix”. La policía de Peel es responsable de la aplicación de la ley en el aeropuerto de Toronto.

El oro, dijo Duraiappah, se utilizó en parte para comprar armas con destino a Canadá. El hombre que conducía el camión utilizado en el robo del oro fue detenido en Pensilvania en septiembre, después de que un agente de policía parara el vehículo de alquiler por una infracción de tráfico y encontró 65 armas, dos de ellas rifles totalmente automáticos. El hombre ha sido acusado de conspiración para traficar ilegalmente armas de fuego a Canadá.

No está claro si esa detención y una investigación separada de la Agencia de Alcohol, Tabaco, Armas de Fuego y Explosivos de Estados Unidos (ATF, por su sigla en inglés) sobre el contrabando de armas de fuego fueron las que revelaron la trama del robo en general. Eric DeGree, agente especial de la ATF presente en la rueda de prensa, declaró que la agencia se puso en contacto con la policía de Peel tras encontrar el nombre del hombre en una base de datos de información policial.

El robo del oro, que según Duraiappah es el mayor que ha sucedido en Canadá, parece ser extraordinariamente sencillo. El oro y el dinero en efectivo llegaron al aeropuerto de Toronto en un contenedor especial a bordo de un vuelo de Air Canada procedente de Suiza el 17 de abril de 2023, y fueron trasladados a uno de los almacenes de la aerolínea.

El contenedor incluía 6600 lingotes de oro destinados a un banco de Toronto y billetes con destino a una casa de cambio.

Unas dos horas más tarde, un camión conducido por el hombre detenido en Pensilvania se detuvo en el almacén. Según la policía, el hombre llevaba una hoja de ruta (un documento que suele expedir el transportista con información detallada sobre un envío) que le daba acceso al almacén.

En realidad era un duplicado de una hoja de ruta, producida en una impresora de Air Canada, para un envío de mariscos que había sido recogido un día antes.

El contenedor con los lingotes de oro y los billetes se cargó en el camión.

“Necesitaban gente dentro de Air Canada para facilitar este robo”, dijo en la rueda de prensa Mike Mavity, sargento detective de la policía de Peel.

Las grabaciones mostraban al camión circulando por la autopista más transitada de Canadá antes de desaparecer en una zona rural al oeste de la ciudad.

Los agentes de la policía de Peel fueron alertados a primera hora de la mañana siguiente, después de que llegara un camión blindado de Brink’s con la hoja de ruta real para el cargamento de oro y los billetes.

La policía dijo el miércoles que cree que los lingotes de oro, que tenían números de serie, estaban todos fundidos y que se habían incautado unas ollas de fundición. El único oro recuperado, según la policía, fueron seis brazaletes hechos con oro puro que tienen un valor de unos 89.000 dólares canadienses. Entre las personas detenidas se encontraba el propietario de una joyería de Toronto.

Durante la rueda de prensa, la policía mostró dos listas escritas a mano en las que, según dijo, detallaban los pagos a las personas implicadas en el robo.

“Esta es una historia de alquimia inversa”, dijo Nando Iannicca, presidente del gobierno regional. “Se trata de cómo el oro se convierte en armas”.

Ian Austen informa sobre Canadá para el Times, radicado en Ottawa. Cubre la política, la cultura y la gente de Canadá y lleva dos décadas cubriendo el país. Puedes ponerte en contacto con él en Más de Ian Austen

Un memorable y accidentado viaje por Yucatán con el Tren Maya

Salí al andén de la nueva y reluciente estación de tren de Maxcanú, con muchas ganas de ver la magnífica zona arqueológica maya de Uxmal. Solo tenía que tomar un taxi que me llevara hasta allá, en un viaje de unos 48 kilómetros.

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

No hay taxis, dijo el encargado de las instalaciones, mientras esperábamos en los pisos de piedra caliza pulida de la estación con techo alto, que estaba fresca y recibía viento a pesar del fuerte sol mañanero. Yo era la tercera persona que, en las últimas dos semanas, se bajaba en Maxcanú con la intención de llegar a Uxmal, dijo.

Estaba a mitad de un viaje de cinco días para explorar el nuevo Tren Maya y varios de sus destinos en la península de Yucatán en México. Diseñado para recorrer 1554 kilómetros alrededor de un circuito de 34 estaciones cuando esté listo, el tren trasladará cómodamente a los pasajeros que deseen visitar ciudades coloniales, zonas arqueológicas, ostentosos centros turísticos y bosques tropicales.

Pero me había quedado perpleja. Tomar un taxi nunca ha sido un problema en México. Sin embargo, los conductores reunidos en la plaza principal de Maxcanú solo ofrecían furgonetas destartaladas que recorren pequeños pueblos en los que podría o no conseguir un taxi que me llevara a Uxmal. La siguiente camioneta salía en 45 minutos.

Durante mucho tiempo, las capas de la historia de Yucatán me han fascinado. En viajes anteriores en carro, trepé templos y palacios mayas desiertos, entré en las frescas naves de enormes iglesias del siglo XVI y visité haciendas restauradas, testamentos de la ostentación —y el sufrimiento— de la economía de plantación del siglo XIX de la península. Viajar en tren, pensé, me permitiría sumergirme más en esa historia.

Pero, como bien descubrí en Maxcanú, el tren no te llevará necesariamente adonde quieres ir.

Durante mi viaje de febrero, viajé en la única ruta que estaba disponible en ese momento, un segmento en dirección este-oeste que se inauguró en diciembre y que va de Cancún a Mérida, y que luego va al sur a través de la ciudad portuaria de Campeche hacia la zona arqueológica maya de Palenque (el mes pasado se inauguró una ruta corta entre Cancún y Playa del Carmen, con tres trenes diarios). Me encontré con fallas en la programación, estaciones incompletas y escasez de trenes: solo dos operaban a diario en cada dirección entre Cancún y Campeche, y solo uno hacia Palenque. Trenes nocturnos con camas así como vagones especiales con restaurantes parecen estar a años de distancia de ser una realidad.

El presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador considera al Tren Maya como su proyecto de desarrollo más importante y quiere inaugurar el resto de la ruta antes de dejar la presidencia el 1 de octubre. Basándome en mi experiencia, ese objetivo parece difícil de alcanzar.

Comencé mi viaje en Cancún, donde la estación flotaba como una nave espacial resplandeciente en la oscuridad previa al amanecer. Un funcionario escaneó el boleto que había comprado en línea y media decena más me señalaron el camino hacia mi vagón de clase turista, que estaba lleno en un 25 por ciento. Mi plan era ir a Campeche, a unos 482 kilómetros, haciendo una parada diaria. A 120 kilómetros por hora, el tren completa la ruta en unas 6 horas, al igual que un auto. (Cuando la construcción termine, la velocidad del tren debería aumentar a 160 kilómetros por hora).

Las amplias ventanillas del vagón daban hacia una pared de selva baja. Los asientos azul verdoso eran cómodos y había mucho espacio entre las filas. Me compré un capuchino muy bueno en la cafetería, pero ignoré los sándwiches envueltos en plástico. El resto de la mercancía disponible eran vasos de frutas, cajas de leche y comida chatarra.

Al final, el tren costará mucho más que los 29.000 millones de dólares presupuestados hasta ahora, y no es la primera vez que planificadores ambiciosos se han posado en la región. Cancún solía ser un pequeño pueblo pesquero, y hace medio siglo fue seleccionado para ser un centro turístico. El año pasado, 10 millones de turistas internacionales llegaron a su aeropuerto, una cantidad mayor que los aeropuertos de Ciudad de México, Los Cabos y Puerto Vallarta combinados.

Pero el crecimiento descontrolado ha ejercido presión sobre el frágil medioambiente de la costa caribeña. El Tren Maya, advierten los científicos, fomentará esos problemas desde el sur, amenazando el suministro de agua de la región, su sistema único de cuevas subterráneas de roca caliza y sus vastas reservas naturales.

López Obrador pisó el acelerador, entregándole el tren al ejército, y alegando que propagará la riqueza de Cancún y atraerá nuevos visitantes. México recibió más de 42 millones de turistas extranjeros el año pasado, los cuales gastaron casi 31.000 millones de dólares.

Los gobiernos locales ven una oportunidad. “El tren permitirá a las personas dispersarse por toda la península”, afirmó Michelle Fridman, la secretaria de Turismo del estado de Yucatán, el cual promueve decenas de atracciones más allá de destinos conocidos como Mérida y Chichén Itzá.

Ahora que el tren está operativo, las compañías de transporte comenzarán a conectar estaciones con sitios menos conocidos cercanos, afirmó Fridman.

Es justo preguntarse si el tren es la forma más efectiva de desarrollar el turismo de la península. Las empresas de viajes ya organizan viajes a muchos lugares desde las principales ciudades, las cuales están bien comunicadas por autobuses. Conducir un coche de alquiler por la mayor parte de la zona se considera seguro, según las directrices de viaje del Departamento de Estado de EE. UU.

Me tomó dos horas (y un cambio de huso horario) llegar a Valladolid, una ciudad colonial de hermosas calles y viejas iglesias, donde compré el resto de mis boletos en la estación. Un boleto de clase turista desde Cancún a Valladolid cuesta 472 pesos (alrededor de 28 dólares) a extranjeros y 355 pesos (cerca de 21 dólares) a mexicanos. La clase premier, que tiene asientos más anchos, cuesta respectivamente 755.50 pesos y 566.50 pesos, y hay descuentos disponibles para viajeros mayores y residentes de los cinco estados de la ruta del tren. (Un autobús de primera clase desde el centro de Cancún a Valladolid cuesta entre 222 y 344 pesos, dependiendo de la hora del día, y tarda media hora más).

Fue imposible hacer circular las nuevas vías del Tren Maya por los densos centros urbanos y la estación de Valladolid, como el resto, estaba fuera del núcleo urbano. Un autobús en espera llevaba a los pasajeros que desembarcaban al centro, un viaje de 15 minutos por 35 pesos.

Ese día recorrí Ek Balam, la zona arqueológica de un reino maya del siglo IX en el cual se erige un palacio de 30 metros que se distingue por una fachada de tallados que muestran guerreros alados, rasgos animales estilizados y patrones geométricos bordeados por colmillos gigantes. La entrada al sitio incluye el acceso al cenote X’Canché, una de las miles de sumideros de roca caliza que eran sagradas para los mayas.

Esa misma tarde, deambulaba por el Museo de Ropa Étnica, una colección privada de vestidos, adornos y sombreros tradicionales, cuando recibí un mensaje de WhatsApp de la oficina de boletería. Mi tren programado para el día siguiente había sido cancelado.

Decidí lidiar con el problema por la mañana y disfrutar de la ciudad. Mientras paseaba por las tiendas de antigüedades y los hoteles boutique de la elegante Calzada de los Frailes, me quedó claro que el turismo de Valladolid y la infraestructura para gestionarlo, estaban bien establecidos. El Tren Maya es simplemente una forma alternativa de llegar a una ciudad que los turistas descubrieron hace años.

Por la mañana, descubrí que mi tren no había sido cancelado, sino que la estación para la que tenía boleto, Tixkokob, estaba cerrada. En su lugar me bajé una parada antes en Izamal, conocida por sus calles ocres y el gigantesco convento franciscano de San Antonio de Padua, construido sobre las ruinas de una pirámide.

Durante el recorrido de 90 minutos, percibí un entusiasmo generalizado entre mis compañeros de viaje, quienes expresaron su voluntad de darle tiempo al tren para resolver los problemas. “Ahorita somos experimento”, afirmó Oliva Escobedo Ochoa, de 64 años, quien estaba de vacaciones desde su casa en el centro de México.

Leticia Iliassich, mexicana de 57 años, viajaba con su esposo croata junto con familiares de México y Croacia. Inicialmente estaban programados en un tren anterior a Mérida que había sido cancelado. “Sabíamos que era un proyecto nuevo”, dijo. “No nos molesta”.

El grupo ya había mandado un video a varios amigos en el que afirmaban: “¡Estamos en el Tren Maya!”.

En la estación de Izamal, un hombre que me había pedido que le tomara una foto junto a su padre frente al tren, me dio un aventón de 15 minutos hacia el centro del pueblo. Allí, negocié un taxi a la Hacienda San Lorenzo de Aké, una hacienda en funcionamiento que convierte la fibra de una planta de agave llamada henequén en rollos de cuerda. La demanda mundial de henequén, conocido como el “oro verde” de Yucatán, trajo una riqueza fantástica a la región a mediados del siglo XIX, salpicando la península con más de 1000 haciendas. (Muchas son actualmente hoteles lujosos).

Fue durante mi tercer día que me quedé varada en Maxcanú, tras un recorrido en tren de 90 minutos desde Izamal. El encargado de la estación, un capitán del ejército, me ofreció llevarme a Uxmal, tal como lo había hecho antes con varios turistas varados.

Sabiendo que a las 4:00 p. m. cerraban la venta de boletos para Uxmal, acepté.

Mi situación dejaba en claro cuán lejanas están las promesas del Tren Maya para los turistas que buscan explorar más zonas de Yucatán. Con el tiempo eso cambiará, dijo Fridman, la secretaria de Turismo del estado. “La idea es tener más hoteles a lo largo de la línea del tren”, afirmó. “Eso sucederá poco a poco”.

Pero Uxmal, una de las zonas arqueológicas mayas más impresionantes, compensó el inconveniente. Sus grandes edificaciones tienen máscaras decorativas intrincadas y frisos en los que se fusionan la geometría, la naturaleza y lo divino. Placas nuevas en cada estructura ofrecen información detallada en inglés y español, y forman parte de la inversión gubernamental para mejorar las exhibiciones en las zonas arqueológicas mayas para el proyecto del tren.

La mayoría de los turistas realizan excursiones de un día por coche o autobus desde Mérida o se hospedan en uno de los tres hoteles cercanos. Mientras terminaba de cenar en mi hotel, el comedor comenzó a llenarse: habían llegado 47 turistas polacos.

Mi plan para el día era llegar en taxi a Bécal, una ciudad donde se tejen sombreros panameños en cuevas de roca caliza para mantener las fibras suaves, y luego tomar el tren de la tarde en la cercana Calkiní hacia la ciudad portuaria de Campeche.

Pero pasé demasiado tiempo viendo la demostración de fabricación de sombreros y luego probándome mi nuevo sombrero y comprando regalos que salimos de allí con poco tiempo para llegar a la estación. Para mi desgracia, perdí el tren, el último del día.

En la plaza central de Calkiní, encontré una furgoneta que estaba saliendo rumbo a Campeche. ¿El costo? 65 pesos. ¿Duración del viaje? Alrededor de 1 hora y 20 minutos, muy similar a lo que habría durado en el tren. Por supuesto, estuve atrapada en un asiento estrecho y tuve que escuchar las baladas sentimentales elegidas por el conductor, pero me dejaron en el centro de Campeche, cerca de mi hotel.

Al día siguiente, recorrí el Museo de Arqueología Maya, una colección expertamente curada que incluye inquietantes máscaras funerarias de jade, glifos y delicadas figuras de cerámica.

José Madrigal, un ingeniero de 45 años de Fremont, California, intentaba lograr que sus hijos gemelos se interesaran por la cerámica maya. Los chicos acababan de cumplir 5 años y su regalo de cumpleaños había sido un viaje en el Tren Maya. “Aman los trenes”, dijo Madrigal. Acto seguido, la familia siguió su recorrido, manteniendo un ritmo rápido por el museo. Tenían otro tren que tomar.

Sí, si viajas entre las estaciones más grandes. El tren también ofrece una manera de llegar a Palenque, que es más difícil de acceder y tiene carreteras con problemas de seguridad. Los viajeros pueden guardar bicicletas a bordo.

Para ver los horarios de los trenes, revisa los destinos en la página web. No puedes comprar boletos en línea con más de una semana de antelación. Pero cuando finalmente abordas, el viaje es tranquilo y el café es excelente.

Sigue a New York Times Travel en Instagram y suscríbete a nuestro boletín semanal Travel Dispatch para obtener consejos de expertos sobre cómo viajar de manera más inteligente e inspiración para tus próximas vacaciones. ¿Sueñas con una futura escapada o simplemente quieres viajar desde tu sillón? Consulta nuestros 52 lugares a los que ir en 2024.

¿Fue misoginia? Australia se cuestiona tras el ataque masivo

Mary Aravanopoulos estaba abrazada a su hija, acurrucada para ponerse a salvo con otras 15 mujeres en la tienda de vestidos de organza etéreos. Habían visto pasar a un hombre por el pasillo del centro comercial, sin prisa, balanceando en la mano un gran cuchillo.

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

Pronto oyeron que apuñalaban a una mujer y luego a otra.

En medio de la confusión de aquellos momentos de pánico, Aravanopoulos dijo que pensó inmediatamente: “Dios mío, es contra las mujeres”.

El lunes, muchos otros australianos habían llegado a la misma conclusión sobre el espeluznante ataque con arma blanca del fin de semana en un centro comercial de Sídney, en el que murieron seis personas, cinco de ellas mujeres. De la decena de personas que resultaron heridas por lo que al parecer fue un acto aleatorio de violencia masiva —uno de los más mortíferos ocurridos en el país en las últimas décadas—, todas menos dos eran mujeres, entre ellas una bebé de apenas 9 meses.

Es posible que nunca se aclaren los motivos del agresor, del que se sabía que padecía una enfermedad mental y que fue abatido a tiros por una inspectora de policía, Amy Scott.

Pero para muchas personas, fue un recordatorio más de la misoginia y las amenazas de violencia que pueden sufrir las mujeres en la sociedad australiana. Menos de 24 horas antes de los apuñalamientos, cientos de personas habían salido a la calle para protestar por la reciente cadena de asesinatos de tres mujeres. Y el lunes, la sentencia de un caso civil parecía dar validez a una denuncia de violación que se remontaba a años atrás y que obligaba a replantearse cómo la clase dirigente australiana, dominada por hombres, había victimizado a las mujeres durante décadas.

“La ideología del agresor estaba muy clara: odio a las mujeres”, escribió el lunes Josh Burns, miembro del Parlamento, en la red social X. “Debemos denunciarlo por lo que es”.

Para Maria Lewis, escritora y guionista, las acciones del agresor, por inexplicables que fueran, tenían ecos de una idea australiana de lo que significa ser hombre.

“La cultura de ‘hermanos que apoyan a hermanos’ está tan profunda e intrínsecamente ligada a la idea australiana de masculinidad”, afirma. “Esa idea cargada de testosterona de lo que representa la masculinidad se refuerza constantemente en la cultura pop”.

El lunes fue un día de luto nacional en Australia, con las banderas ondeando a media asta en todo el país. El atacante fue identificado por las autoridades como Joel Cauchi, de 40 años, un hombre conocido por las autoridades que nunca había sido detenido.

“El desglose por sexos es, por supuesto, preocupante”, dijo el primer ministro Anthony Albanese en una entrevista radiofónica el lunes por la mañana, afirmando que la policía estaba investigando si el atacante había atacado deliberadamente a mujeres.

Cauchi se había mudado recientemente miles de kilómetros desde Queensland, en el noreste del país, a la zona de Sídney.

En Toowoomba, Queensland, los periodistas congregados frente a su casa le preguntaron al padre de Cauchi, Andrew Cauchi, por qué su hijo, que no había estado en contacto regular con su familia, podía haber atacado a mujeres.

Cauchi padre dijo que podía deberse a la frustración que le producía su incapacidad para salir con mujeres.

“Quería una novia, no tenía habilidades sociales y se sentía frustrado hasta el tuétano”, declaró Cauchi a los medios de comunicación locales.

Tessa Boyd-Caine, directora ejecutiva de la Organización Nacional de Investigación para la Seguridad de las Mujeres de Australia, dijo que era comprensible que la gente buscara una explicación basada en el género inmediatamente después del ataque. Al mismo tiempo, advirtió que la inmensa mayoría de los casos de violencia contra las mujeres se producen en el hogar y a manos de personas conocidas, y no de forma indiscriminada, como en el ataque del sábado.

“¿Cómo entender un acto aleatorio de violencia tan brutal y mortal, perpetrado por un hombre que la policía considera que podría haber atacado a mujeres?”, dijo. “Es una fase tan temprana de la investigación, pero la gente va a querer respuestas a preguntas difíciles”.

El lunes ya habían sido identificadas las seis víctimas mortales de los apuñalamientos del sábado. Las mujeres eran Ashlee Good, de 38 años y madre primeriza; Jade Young, de 47 años y madre de dos hijas; Dawn Singleton, de 25 años y empleada del sector de la moda; Pikria Darchia, de 55 años, artista y diseñadora; y Yixuan Cheng, de nacionalidad china y estudiante en Sídney. El único hombre era Faraz Tahir, de 30 años, guardia de seguridad y recién llegado de Pakistán.

Las autoridades policiales declararon el lunes que habían concluido la investigación de la extensa escena del crimen y devuelto el control del complejo comercial a sus operadores.

Frente al lugar, que permanecía cerrado, un flujo constante de dolientes seguía dejando flores el lunes, que se sumaban a una gran pila que había crecido hasta extenderse por varios escaparates. Muchos de los visitantes eran grupos de mujeres: madres e hijas cogidas de la mano, amigas que se secaban las lágrimas unas a otras, mujeres que parecían aferrarse un poco más a sus hijas.

Aravanopoulos y su hija, Alexia Costa, estaban entre los que dejaban flores. Habían vuelto para recuperar su automóvil, que desde el sábado había quedado inaccesible en el centro comercial acordonado.

Aravanopoulos, de 55 años, dijo que se sentía especialmente culpable por el roce con el peligro del sábado, porque había insistido en ir de compras esa tarde a fin de elegir un vestido para el próximo cumpleaños, 21 años, de su hija. Como mujer que trabaja en el sector de la construcción, dominado por los hombres, ha educado a sus hijas para que nunca se echen atrás y siempre se defiendan.

“Creen que las mujeres no nos vamos a defender”, dijo.

Al creer que el atacante estaba escogiendo a mujeres, dijo que le estremecía pensar qué habría pasado si las jóvenes encargadas de la tienda no hubieran actuado con rapidez y bajado la puerta enrrollable.

“Era una tienda llena de mujeres, y las encargadas fueron las heroínas para nosotras”, relató.

Simone Scoppa, de 42 años, que también estuvo en el lugar de homenaje el lunes, dijo que la oleada de apuñalamientos era solo el más reciente incidente dirigido contra mujeres que le hace mirar por encima del hombro mientras pasea a su perro por la noche, incluso en su barrio de las afueras, y llevar las llaves en la mano como arma defensiva, por si acaso.

El hecho de que el lugar del atentado sea un centro comercial también hace que las mujeres se sientan vulnerables.

“¿Dónde van a estar muchas mujeres un sábado por la tarde?”, dijo Scoppa. “Ves a los padres y a los maridos en los asientos cuidando las bolsas, y a las madres amamantando”.

Yan Zhuang colaboró con reportería.

Victoria Kim es corresponsal en Seúl, y se centra en la cobertura de noticias en directo. Más de Victoria Kim

La ofensiva iraní dejó en evidencia un error de cálculo de Israel

Los ataques sin precedentes de Irán contra Israel del fin de semana pasado han sacudido las suposiciones de Israel sobre su enemigo, afectando sus estimaciones de que la mejor forma de disuadir a Irán era con una mayor agresión israelí.

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

Durante años, los funcionarios israelíes han alegado, tanto en público como en privado, que cuanto más fuerte sea el golpe contra Irán, más cauteloso será su gobierno a la hora de contratacar. El bombardeo iraní realizado con más de 300 aviones no tripulados y misiles el sábado —el primer ataque directo de Irán contra Israel— ha revocado esa lógica.

La ofensiva fue una respuesta al ataque de Israel realizado este mes en Siria que mató a siete oficiales militares iraníes. Los analistas afirmaron que la respuesta demostraba que los líderes de Teherán ya no se conforman con luchar contra Israel a través de sus diversas fuerzas aliadas, como Hizbulá en el Líbano o los hutíes en Yemen, sino que están preparados para enfrentarse a Israel de forma directa.

“Creo que calculamos mal”, dijo Sima Shine, exjefa de investigación del Mosad, la agencia de inteligencia exterior de Israel.

“La experiencia acumulada de Israel es que Irán no tiene buenos medios para tomar represalias”, añadió Shine. “Había una fuerte percepción de que no querían involucrarse en la guerra”.

En cambio, Irán ha creado “un paradigma completamente nuevo”, afirmó Shine.

Al final, la respuesta de Irán causó pocos daños en Israel, en gran parte porque Irán había telegrafiado sus intenciones con mucha antelación, dando a Israel y a sus aliados varios días para preparar una defensa fuerte. Irán también emitió una declaración, incluso antes de que terminara la ofensiva, de que no tenía más planes de atacar a Israel.

Sin embargo, los ataques de Irán han convertido una guerra que durante años se había librado en la sombra entre Israel e Irán en una confrontación directa, aunque aún podría contenerse, dependiendo de cómo responda Israel. Irán ha demostrado que tiene una capacidad armamentística considerable que solo puede contrarrestarse con un apoyo intensivo de los aliados de Israel, incluido Estados Unidos, lo que subraya cuánto daño podría infligir sin esa protección.

Irán e Israel solían tener una relación más ambigua, e Israel incluso le vendió armas a Irán durante la guerra entre Irán e Irak en la década de 1980. Pero sus vínculos se desgastaron después de que terminó la guerra. Los líderes iraníes se volvieron cada vez más críticos del enfoque de Israel hacia los palestinos e Israel se volvió cauteloso ante los esfuerzos de Irán por construir un programa nuclear y su mayor apoyo a Hizbulá.

Durante más de una década, ambos países han atacado de manera silenciosa los intereses del otro en toda la región, pero rara vez anunciaron alguna acción individual.

Irán ha apoyado a Hamás, además de financiar y armar a otras milicias regionales hostiles a Israel, varias de las cuales han estado involucradas en un conflicto de bajo nivel con Israel desde los ataques mortales que Hamás ejecutó el 7 de octubre. De manera similar, Israel ha atacado regularmente a esas fuerzas aliadas, así como a funcionarios iraníes a los cuales ha neutralizado, incluso en suelo iraní, asesinatos por los que ha evitado asumir responsabilidad formal.

Ambos países han atacado buques mercantes vinculados a sus oponentes y también han llevado a cabo ataques cibernéticos entre sí. Además, Israel ha saboteado repetidas veces el programa nuclear de Irán.

Ahora, esa guerra se está librando abiertamente. Y, en gran parte, se debe a lo que algunos analistas ven como un error de cálculo israelí del 1 de abril, cuando los ataques israelíes destruyeron parte del complejo de la embajada iraní en Damasco, Siria, uno de los aliados y representantes más cercanos de Irán, y mataron a los siete oficiales militares iraníes, incluidos tres altos comandantes.

El ataque se realizó tras repetidas insinuaciones de los líderes israelíes de que una mayor presión sobre Irán forzaría a Teherán a reducir sus ambiciones en todo Medio Oriente. “Un aumento de la presión ejercida sobre Irán es fundamental”, dijo en enero Yoav Galant, ministro de Defensa de Israel, “y podría evitar una escalada regional en ámbitos adicionales”.

En cambio, el ataque a Damasco desencadenó el primer ataque iraní contra territorio soberano israelí. Es posible que Israel haya malinterpretado la posición de Irán debido a la falta de respuesta iraní a anteriores asesinatos de altos funcionarios iraníes perpetrados por Israel, según dijeron los analistas.

Aunque durante mucho tiempo los líderes israelíes han temido que algún día Irán construya y dispare misiles nucleares contra Israel, se habían acostumbrado a atacar a funcionarios iraníes sin obtener represalias directas de Teherán.

En uno de los ataques más descarados, Israel asesinó al principal científico nuclear de Irán, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, en 2020, en suelo iraní. Incluso hace poco, en diciembre, Israel fue acusado de asesinar a un alto general iraní, Sayyed Razi Mousavi, en un ataque en Siria, donde funcionarios militares iraníes asesoran y apoyan al gobierno sirio. Esos y varios otros asesinatos no provocaron ataques iraníes de represalia contra Israel.

La decisión de Irán de responder esta vez fue motivada en parte por la indignación en algunos círculos de la sociedad iraní por la pasividad previa de Irán, según Ali Vaez, un analista sobre Irán.

“Nunca antes había visto el grado de presión que recibió el régimen desde la base en los últimos 10 días”, dijo Vaez, analista del International Crisis Group, un grupo de investigación con sede en Bruselas.

Irán también necesitaba demostrarles a sus fuerzas aliadas como Hizbulá que podía defenderse por sí mismo, añadió Vaez. “Demostrar que Irán tiene demasiado miedo para tomar represalias contra un ataque tan descarado a sus propias instalaciones diplomáticas en Damasco habría sido muy perjudicial para las relaciones de Irán y la credibilidad de los iraníes ante los ojos de sus socios regionales”, explicó.

Para algunos analistas, el ataque de Israel contra Damasco todavía podría resultar ser un error de cálculo menor de lo que parecía en un principio. El ataque aéreo de Irán ha distraído la atención de la tambaleante guerra de Israel contra Hamás y ha reafirmado los vínculos de Israel con los aliados occidentales y árabes que se habían vuelto cada vez más críticos de la conducta de Israel en la Franja de Gaza.

El hecho de que Irán le haya dado a Israel tanto tiempo para prepararse para el ataque podría indicar que Teherán sigue relativamente disuadido y que solo buscaba proyectar la imagen de una respuesta importante y, al mismo tiempo, evitar una escalada significativa, afirmó Michael Koplow, analista de Israel en Israel Policy Forum, un grupo de investigación con sede en Nueva York.

“Creo que todavía no hay certeza”, dijo Koplow.

Gabby Sobelman colaboró con este reportaje.

Patrick Kingsley es el jefe de la corresponsalía en Jerusalén, y lidera la cobertura de Israel, Gaza y Cisjordania. Más de Patrick Kingsley