The Guardian 2024-06-11 00:02:05


Prospect of Israeli hostage deal recedes as far-right minister signals opposition

Bezalel Smotrich calls deal with Hamas ‘collective suicide’ as PM grapples with fallout from Benny Gantz resignation

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The prospect of a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas appears to be rapidly receding after the far-right Israeli cabinet member Bezalel Smotrich – on whom Benjamin Netanyahu is now reliant after the resignations of more moderate ministers at the weekend – said he would oppose a deal.

Smotrich’s comments, during a Knesset committee meeting, came amid the fallout from the resignation of the former army chief of staff Benny Gantz from the war cabinet. Gantz quit on the same weekend that Israel rescued four Israeli hostages held in Gaza in an operation that Gaza’s health ministry said killed more than 270 Palestinians and injured hundreds more.

The departure of Gantz, the leader of the centre-right National Unity party, leaves Netanyahu with enough seats in his coalition but has made him even more reliant on the support of far-right allies including Smotrich, the finance minister, and Itamar Ben Gvir, the national security minister, who have repeatedly threatened to walk away over any deal for a ceasefire in exchange for hostages.

Smotrich said Hamas was “demanding the release of hundreds of murderers [held by Israel] so that the hostages be freed” and called the deal that was being negotiated “collective suicide”, saying it would lead to the murder of Jews.

“When Hamas demands to end the war while it’s surviving in Gaza, it means that the group is arming itself, digging tunnels, buying rockets and that many Jews could be murdered and taken hostage on another October 7,” Smotrich said.

His comments underlined Netanyahu’s shrinking room for political manoeuvre barely 24 hours after the celebratory headlines in the Israeli media over the hostages’ rescue.

Netanyahu revelled in the operation’s success, meeting each of the hostages as cameras rolled. Recent opinion polls had already shown him making some progress in rehabilitating his image, and the rescue operation will help.

Analysts and commentators were quick to point out that the possibility of replicating such an operation for the remaining 120 hostages, at least 40 of whom are believed to be dead, were slim as captives would be guarded more closely, making a negotiated deal even more crucial.

Netanyahu appears to be moving to consolidate his grip over the government amid reports he is considering scrapping the emergency war cabinet in which Gantz served.

Gantz was well thought of by some western diplomats, not least in the US where he was perceived by the Biden administration as a voice of reason, and where there is concern over the rising influence of Smotrich and Ben Gvir.

In further signs of tensions within the coalition, the defence minister, Yoav Gallant, announced he planned to defy Netanyahu and oppose a controversial bill to draft a small number of ultra-Orthodox men into the military.

Columnists in the Israeli press have poured cold water on the notion that the hostage rescue operation removes the necessity for a hostage deal.

“If anyone believes [it] absolves the government of the need to strike a deal, they are living a fantasy,” Nahum Barnea wrote in the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper. “There are people out there who need to be saved, and the sooner the better.”

The Israeli army’s spokesperson, R Adm Daniel Hagari, acknowledged the limits of military force. “What will bring most of the hostages back home alive is a deal,” he told reporters.

That view was echoed by the uncle of one of the four rescued hostages, Almog Meir Jan, who was kidnapped during the Nova music festival.

“First we thank the IDF, the special forces, the decision makers who took the decision to rescue them,” Aviram Meir told the Guardian, adding that his nephew had been held in several different locations.

“Second, we have another 120 hostages that have to come home. I believe most of them won’t come home in a special operation and we need a deal to bring them home. The dead for burying and the living for recovery. And I think the struggle will continue, and personally, I will be there. Even though Almog came back, personally, I will continue.”

Describing his nephew’s ordeal, he said: “He was fortunate he was with the other two hostages, Shlomi Ziv and Andrey Kozlov, and they kept each other busy. They studied together languages, and all of them learned Arabic.

“Almog saw a rally of the families’ forum in Tel Aviv with his pictures so he knew that nobody had forgotten him. They took care of one another. They are now a team. They are very close now.”

Linked to the political moves in Israel is how Hamas will interpret recent events, including the hostage rescue mission. Some have speculated that the raid and the high number of casualties may be a blow for the morale of Hamas fighters, while others have suggested that Hamas leaders may be more interested in the splits in Israel’s political establishment.

With one senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, on Monday urging the US to put pressure on Israel to end the war, it seems likely that Hamas will redouble its demands for international guarantees on an end to the war and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza rather than be persuaded to accept an interim ceasefire.

“We call upon the US administration to put pressure on the occupation to stop the war on Gaza and the Hamas movement is ready to deal positively with any initiative that secures an end to the war,” Zuhri said.

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US to ask UN security council to back Joe Biden’s Gaza peace deal

Antony Blinken also visiting Middle East this week in push to nail down support for deal to end hostilities

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The US is to try to shore up support for its proposed Gaza ceasefire deal by asking the 15-strong UN security council in New York to back a resolution supporting the deal.

Washington is struggling to gain the unequivocal backing of Israel or Hamas for a three-stage deal proposed by the US president, Joe Biden, that would lead to the release of all the remaining hostages in return for Israel accepting steps towards a permanent ceasefire and the eventual withdrawal of its forces from Gaza – two key Hamas demands.

A vote is expected later on Monday, following the US finalising the text on Sunday after six days of negotiations among the 15-member council. It was not immediately clear whether Russia and China would veto the draft, which needs nine votes and no vetoes to pass. The US, an Israeli ally, has previously vetoed draft resolutions calling for a ceasefire.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is visiting the Middle East this week, his eighth trip to the region since the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, to make a further push to nail down support for the deal, focusing on his demands for Hamas to back it. “My message to governments throughout the region, to people throughout the region, is if you want a ceasefire, press Hamas to say yes,” he told reporters before departing Egypt for Israel.

“If you want to alleviate the terrible suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, press Hamas to say yes. If you want to get all the hostages home, press Hamas to say yes.”

After months of failed peace efforts, Biden went public on 31 May on a plan for an initial cessation of hostilities that would turn into a permanent ceasefire and the full withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from Gaza.

The draft UN resolution backing his proposal suggests the move to phase two and the permanent end of hostilities will occur “on the agreement of both parties”, but says if the negotiations to reach that stage take longer than six weeks, “the ceasefire will continue as long as the negotiations continue”.

It says the US, Qatar and Egypt will work to ensure the negotiations keep going until all the agreements are reached and phase two is able to begin.

The US assumption behind the proposal is that Hamas is no longer a military threat to Israel and the best route to secure the release of more Israeli hostages is through diplomacy and not through the kind of violent weekend operation that resulted in four hostages being rescued but killed hundreds of Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Sunday’s resignation of the centre-right former defence chief Benny Gantz from the Israeli emergency war cabinet and continued demonstrations by hostage families is putting pressure on the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to accept the resolution and the diplomatic path underpinning the plan.

In a bold effort to show negotiations with Hamas can produce results for Israel, NBC News has reported the Biden administration is considering entering into a deal with the militant group that does not include Israel.

Citing two current and two former US officials, the American broadcaster said a deal to free five American hostages would be hammered out through Qatari mediation if the effort to reach a comprehensive agreement failed.

The officials did not know what the US could offer Hamas in return, but argued there was an incentive for Hamas to drive a deeper wedge between Biden and Netanyahu. Parts of the Biden administration would like to see the Netanyahu coalition government collapse, leading to fresh elections and the formation of an Israeli government more willing to seek an understanding with the Palestinians. They believe the complete obliteration of Hamas militarily is a mirage and say Netanyahu has no realistic plan for Gaza’s future governance.

Full details of the Biden peace plan have not been publicly disclosed, but controversy has centred on whether the proposal provides the guarantees that Hamas says it needs that Israel will be forced to accept the transition from stage one to stage two of the deal.

The senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri urged the US on Monday to pressure Israel to end the war in Gaza. “We call upon the US administration to put pressure on the occupation to stop the war on Gaza and the Hamas movement is ready to deal positively with any initiative that secures an end to the war,” he said.

The Israeli envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, has told the US delegation that Israel is opposed to language iin the draft resolution referring to the hostage deal as one that will bring about a “ceasefire”, as opposed to an earlier version that described the end goal as a “cessation of hostilities” that Israel regarded as less permanent in nature.

Israel also objected to the updated draft’s call for both sides to fully implement the latest hostage deal proposal. The earlier version only called on Hamas to accept the proposal; the updated draft does the same, but also notes that the latest hostage deal proposal is “acceptable to Israel”.

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Ukraine reconstruction agency chief quits day before recovery conference

Mustafa Nayyem says he has been undermined by Kyiv government and stopped from attending event in Berlin

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The head of Ukraine’s reconstruction agency has resigned a day before an international conference on the country’s long-term reconstruction, saying he had been prevented from attending after being systematically undermined by the Ukrainian government from doing his job.

Mustafa Nayyem announced his resignation in a Facebook post on Monday after previously sending a strongly worded message to a number of foreign partners criticising the Ukrainian administration for a wide range of mistakes.

Nayyem said the final straw was when his permission to travel to Berlin was revoked.

The two-day Ukraine recovery conference starts in Berlin on Tuesday and is due to be addressed by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The German government has described it as sending an important signal to Ukrainians about the long-term future of their country. Critics have called for a refocusing to increase Ukraine’s current resilience, by for instance preventing prolonged energy blackouts this winter.

The conference will include the launch of 95 investment projects for which it is hoped western funding will be secured, as well as a range of reform targets. The country’s future accession to the EU will also be discussed, in what organisers have referred to as a “fourth dimension” of the conference agenda.

Hosted by the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, attendees are to include a range of senior international diplomats and foreign ministers, from Dmytro Kuleba of Ukraine to the UK’s David Cameron. Several Ukrainian mayors from big cities including Kyiv and Lviv are expected to attend.

In Nayyem’s letter, obtained by the Guardian, and in his posting to Facebook, he was deeply critical of the style of governance around Ukraine’s reconstruction while stopping short of criticising Zelenskiy directly. He said effectively his job, which he described as “the most challenging work of my life”, was made impossible to carry out.

Included in a long list of complaints, Nayyem expressed regret at:

  • The lack of “government approval for the payment of $150m (£118m) borrowed from the European Investment Bank for critical projects including water supply and energy protection”.

  • Being “plagued by inexplicable bureaucratic delays”.

  • A “significant reduction in salaries” at his agency (a senior expert now earns the equivalent of €320 [£270] a month) leading to a loss of a quarter of staff since January.

Nayyem said the “persistent opposition, resistance and the creation of artificial barriers” his agency had faced had “rendered it impossible to effectively fulfil my duties”. The delays and hold-ups had resulted in “loss of trust from the market, local authorities and citizens”, he said.

While admitting “mistakes and shortcomings” that he said were “inevitable in implementing projects of such complexity and under such conditions”, he said the agency had delivered a wide range of valuable successes, was now coordinating work on 353 construction sites across the country and had restored nearly 1,300km of roads and 330 bridges damaged in the conflict as well as building 155km of main water pipeline in the Dnipropetrovsk region, after the Russian military destroyed the Kakhovka dam.

Nayyem’s resignation follows the dismissal last month of the minister of infrastructure, Oleksandr Kubrakov, under whom he was appointed, and with whom he said he had worked closely.

In recent months, Ukraine’s foreign allies have become increasingly concerned over what they describe as centralising tendencies in Zelenskiy’s administration. Kubrakov’s firing has added to those concerns.

Kubrakov was widely respected by international partners. One diplomatic source in Kyiv described his firing just before the Berlin conference as “a bit of a disaster, image-wise”. This will be compounded by Nayyem resigning on the eve of the conference.

Nayyem said in his letter that Kubrakov’s dismissal had made the work impossible, and “the government’s recent decision to cancel my official participation in the Ukraine recovery conference in Berlin confirmed this”, he added.

As western diplomats expressed concerns over the dismissal of Kubrakov, not least the embarrassment of the conference taking place without him, Josh Rudolph, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund thinktank, said Kubrakov’s dismissal was regrettable, as he had been regarded as an innovator in fighting corruption and building transparency. “Central power has come to wipe out the team that was building a transparent system of national restoration and replaces it with loyalists,” he said.

Nayyem, who was born in Afghanistan but moved to Ukraine as a child, became one of the country’s leading journalists. In November 2013, he called for street protests against a decision by the government of Viktor Yanukovych to back out of a trade agreement with the EU under Russian pressure. The protests eventually became the Maidan revolution that toppled Yanukovych and his government.

After the revolution, Nayyem became an MP. In 2021, he was appointed deputy minister of infrastructure, and in early 2023 was made head of Ukraine’s state agency for reconstruction, tasked with dealing with the destruction wrought by the Russian invasion even as it continued. The job involved “planning with short-term horizons”, Nayyem told the Guardian last year, as it was never clear what Russia could strike next. But it also involved drawing up longer-term plans for when the war ends.

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New York probation officers to interview Trump prior to his criminal sentencing

Ex-president will reportedly talk to officials via video call from Florida, with his lawyer, for hush-money conviction

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Donald Trump is scheduled to be interviewed by New York probation officials Monday, a required step before his July sentencing in his criminal hush-money case, according to three people familiar with the plan.

The former president will do the interview via a computer video conference from his residence at the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, the people told the Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to disclose the plans publicly.

One of Trump’s lawyers, Todd Blanche, will be present for the interview. People convicted of crimes in New York usually meet with probation officials without their lawyers, but the judge in Trump’s case, Juan Merchan, said in a letter Friday that he would allow Blanche’s presence.

The usual purpose of a pre-sentencing probation interview is to prepare a report that will tell the judge more about the defendant, and potentially help determine the proper punishment for the crime.

Such reports are typically prepared by a probation officer, a social worker or a psychologist working for the probation department who interviews the defendant and possibly that person’s family and friends, as well as people affected by the crime.

Present reports include a defendant’s personal history, criminal record and recommendations for sentencing. It will also include information about employment and any obligations to help care for a family member. It is also a chance for a defendant to say why they think they deserve a lighter punishment.

A jury convicted Trump of falsifying business records at his own company as part of a broader scheme to buy the silence of people who might have told embarrassing stories about him during the 2016 presidential campaign. One $130,000 payment went to adult film actor Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had a sexual encounter with Trump, which he denied.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, says he is innocent of any crime and that the criminal case was brought to hurt his chances to regain the White House.

Following Trump’s historic conviction, a New York Times/Siena College post-verdict analysis of nearly 2,000 interviews with voters found that Trump’s advantage over Joe Biden narrowed from three to one point.

Trump’s campaign spokesperson, Steven Cheung, said in a statement Sunday that the president’s Democratic party allies “continue to ramp up their ongoing Witch-Hunts, further abusing and misusing the power of their offices to interfere in the presidential election”.

“President Trump and his legal team are already taking necessary steps to challenge and defeat the lawless Manhattan DA case,” he said.

Merchan has scheduled Trump’s sentencing for 11 July. He has discretion to impose a wide range of punishments, ranging from probation and community service to up to four years in prison.

In his first rally earlier this week following his conviction, Trump, who is appealing his conviction, issued foreboding threats.

“Those appellate courts have to step up and straighten things out, or we’re not going to have a country any longer,” Trump said at a Turning Point Action event in Phoenix, Arizona.

Meanwhile, reports have emerged of New York police planning to revoke Trump’s license to carry a gun as a result of his conviction.

Speaking to CNN anonymously, a New York police department official said that it will complete its investigation “that will likely lead to revocation of his license”.

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Good morning US politics readers. Donald Trump is scheduled for a pre-sentencing interview with New York probation officials today, according to reports.

The former president will hold a virtual interview from his home at the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, alongside his lawyer Todd Blanche, sources told the Associated Press. It comes after Trump was convicted last month on all 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

The probation interview is used to prepare a report that will include a defendant’s personal history, criminal record and recommendations for sentencing. It is also a chance for a defendant to say why they think they deserve a lighter punishment.

Trump is also expected on Monday to address a Christian group that calls for abortion to be “eradicated entirely” and calls the procedure “child sacrifice”. Trump is scheduled to speak virtually at an event hosted by the Danbury Institute, an organization that also seeks to ban same-sex marriage and use the Bible to guide public policy.

Here’s what else we’re watching:

  • Antony Blinken returned to the Middle East today as a proposed Israel-Hamas ceasefire hangs in the balance. The US secretary of state met with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, in Cairo earlier, and is scheduled to meet with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and defence minister Yoav Gallant later today.

  • Hunter Biden’s lawyers are expected to wrap up arguments in his federal gun trial in Delaware today, with jury deliberations potentially to begin at the end of the day.

Marjorie Taylor Greene compares Trump to Jesus at Las Vegas rally

Republican extremist tells crowd ‘The man that I worship is also a convicted felon’

Donald Trump has been compared to Jesus Christ by the far-right Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene at a campaign rally for the former president in Las Vegas, a city more renowned for evoking images of gambling than biblical scenes.

Greene, who makes frequent references to her Christian faith, cited Trump’s supposed Christ-like qualities to challenge the Democrats’ efforts to capitalise on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s status as a convicted felon following his recent conviction in a case involving hush money paid to an adult film actor and falsified business records in a New York court.

“The Democrats and the fake news media want to constantly talk about ‘President Trump is a convicted felon’,” she told a crowd that waited in soaring early-summer temperatures. “Well, you want to know something? The man that I worship is also a convicted felon. And he was murdered on a Roman cross.”

In some parts of the political ecosphere, Greene’s comparison did not go over well.

“Did Jesus pay off a pornstar and cover it up,” read one comment on X left below a clip of Greene’s remarks on Sunday.

California’s Democratic congressman Adam Schiff sarcastically added: “Definitely not a cult.”

It is not the first time Greene has drawn parallels between Trump and Christ – whom Christians consider to be the messiah and son of God – as well as other historical martyr figures.

When he was arrested in New York on corruption charges in April last year, she likened Trump to Jesus and Nelson Mandela, who became South Africa’s first post-apartheid president after being jailed for 27 years by the racist regime.

“Trump is joining some of the most incredible people in history being arrested today. Nelson Mandela was arrested, served time in prison. Jesus was arrested and murdered by the Roman government,” she told the Right Side Broadcast Network.

“There have been many people throughout history that have been arrested and persecuted by radical, corrupt governments … I just can’t believe it’s happening, but I’ll always support him. He’s done nothing wrong.”

Comparisons with Christ have also been pushed by Trump himself as he has sought to exploit his popularity among white evangelical Christians – and despite apparently struggling to identify his favourite passage from the Bible.

When he went on trial in a civil case over business fraud last year, supporters circulated an image depicting him sitting in the courtroom alongside a Christ-like figure.

Trump, in turn, disseminated the faux sketch on his Truth Social site, writing: “This is the most accurate court sketch of all time. Because no one could have made it this far alone.”

He has pressed matters further in his fundraising appeals, invoking a metaphor of himself as a saviour in a headline on his campaign website reading: “They’re not after me. They’re after you. I’m just standing in the way.”

One of Trump’s celebrity supporters, the Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight, has also stressed the messianic theme, citing the Book of Joshua and the New Testament to assert that the ex-president “has been targeted for his information that can knock down the corrupt swamp”.

Voight added: “The one man that was ridiculed, destroyed as Jesus, Trump, can come back and save the American dream for all.”

Trump’s personal allusions to Christ are a marked contrast to the messaging of Joe Biden, who has frequently told voters to refrain from comparing Biden with the Almighty, but rather to compare him with the alternative in Trump.

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Valencia fans who racially abused Vinícius Júnior given prison sentences

  • Conviction for hate crime is first of its kind in Spain
  • La Liga hails ‘clear message’ racism will not be tolerated

Three Valencia fans have been sentenced to eight months in prison for hate crimes against Real Madrid’s Vinícius Júnior, in what La Liga described as the first conviction related to racist abuse at a football match in Spain.

The ruling goes back to a match in May last year during which several Valencia fans hurled racist slurs at the Brazilian footballer. The match came to a halt for several minutes as Vinícius pointed to a Valencia fan in the stands, telling his teammates that the man had called him a monkey and made the gestures of an ape.

Images of Vinícius on the Valencia pitch, tears welling in his eyes, swiftly made headlines around the world, recasting a spotlight on Spanish football’s longstanding failure to tackle racism. While Valencia moved to ban the fans from the stadium, Vinícius vowed to fight on. “I will go up against the racists until the very end,” he said.

On Monday, more than a year later, La Liga said that three individuals had been convicted over the racist abuse. They had been sentenced to eight months in prison, handed a two-year stadium ban and ordered to pay the cost of the legal proceedings. They had also been made to read a letter of apology to Vinícius, La Liga and Real Madrid, the league added.

An agreement struck during the investigation cut their sentences by a third; if the individuals had not cooperated, they would have faced imprisonment lasting 12 months and a three-year stadium ban, according to La Liga.

The defendants may not have to actually serve any time in prison; in Spain, a prison sentence of less than two years for nonviolent crimes does not usually lead to any time behind bars unless the offender has a previous criminal record.

On Monday, La Liga described the ruling as “great news,” and said it “sends a clear message to those people who go to a football stadium to insult that La Liga will identify them, report them and there will be criminal consequences”.

The conviction came after La Liga, Real Madrid and Vinícius brought the case to the court, it said in a statement. “This is the first conviction of its kind to be handed down in Spain.”

La Liga said it had repeatedly requested that Spanish law be amended to give the league power to sanction clubs, fans or players for hateful conduct, rather than rely solely on reporting such conduct to authorities. In the last two seasons, La Liga has reported 16 incidents of racist abuse against Vinícius to Spanish prosecutors.

The president of La Liga, Javier Tebas, who came under fire for initially failing to criticise the racism in Valencia, on Monday reiterated the demand for sanctioning powers in order to “speed up the fight against racism”.

He said: “I understand that there may be some frustration at the length of time it takes for these sentences to be handed down, but this shows that Spain is a country that guarantees judicial integrity.”

Esteban Ibarra, who heads Spain’s Movement Against Intolerance, Racism and Xenophobia, described the conviction as “great news” for the country. “The message is loud and clear,” he said. “This is a crime and perpetrators will have to face justice.”

The conviction comes months after Vinícius laid bare the personal toll exacted by years of racist insults, telling reporters that the systematic barrage of abuse he had faced at more than 10 Spanish grounds was steadily chipping away at his desire to play football.

It was a stunning admission from a player who was named the league’s player of the season and is one of the favourites to win the Ballon d’Or later this year.

Ibarra described the convictions on Monday as a start and pointed to several other pending investigations, including that of four people accused of hanging an effigy of Vinícius from a bridge in Madrid last year in a gesture Ibarra described as reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan. “I hope to see an even more severe sentence in that case,” he said.

“But today’s news is good for football. It’s good news for the fight against racism and good news for the defence of human rights.”

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Post-Brexit ‘mess’ as Italian driver’s lorry held for 55 hours at UK border post

Antonio Soprano says he was told to walk to a McDonald’s for food as there was none at Sevington

An Italian lorry driver has described the UK’s new post-Brexit controls as a “mess” after his lorry was held at a government-run border post for more than two days.

Antonio Soprano, 62, who was stopped while bringing plants into the country from central Italy, said he was offered nothing to eat during his 55-hour ordeal and instead was told by border officials that he should walk to a McDonald’s more than a mile away to get a meal.

After eventually being released from the Sevington facility in Ashford, Kent, in the early hours of the morning, he was then clamped and had to pay a £185 fine after difficulties finding a place to park in the middle of the night.

It comes just over a month after the government brought in new post-Brexit rules on 30 April, which require some lorries transporting plant and animal goods from the continent to be checked at designated border control posts along the British coast.

The checks, which have been put in place to stop diseases coming into the UK, are supposed to take place within four working hours but some lorries can be held for longer if inspectors identify a potential risk.

Soprano, who drives for the Italian haulage company Marini, was taking a lorry full of plants from Italian suppliers to companies across Britain when he was ordered to drive the 22 miles from Dover to the Sevington border post for inspection.

He says that when he arrived at the facility he was immediately ushered to a waiting area and ordered to wait, with border officials taking his keys.

Soprano, who speaks no English, said no efforts were made to explain to him what was happening, claiming he was just repeatedly told by officials to wait. The waiting facilities for drivers consist of a small room with a few tables, with only water provided and no food.

He said: “They told me to go and eat at a McDonald’s, which was 2km away, so by foot. In the end I found a supermarket but we had no services apart from a toilet.”

The lorry was held because of concerns about 10 Prunus lusitanica plants in the load, which border officials thought could be carrying harmful pests.

The concerns were raised hours after the lorry arrived at 6.30pm on 26 May, and officials said the delays occurred because the plants could not be unloaded because of health and safety concerns.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the initial inspection of the lorry was delayed due to the driver having to take an 11-hour rest break, known as a tacho break, while at Sevington. It said the absence of a load plan, and problems with the way the lorry was loaded, meant extra measures were needed to safely check the plants.

Officials eventually signed off the plants and allowed the vehicle to be released just after 1am on 29 May, about 55 hours after it arrived.

Prohibited from spending the night at Sevington and having to find a place to rest due to EU driver regulations, Soprano had to park in the McDonald’s car park as the nearest lorry park was full. He woke up to find that his lorry had been clamped and could only be released once he had paid a £185 fine.

He said: “I understand they need to do the controls but this behaviour is not normal, it was a mess. I don’t know why we had to wait for so long. I have to go to England for work, I have no choice, but this was not normal.”

The incident comes weeks after the Guardian reported that some lorry drivers were held for nearly 20 hours at Sevington border control post after an IT outage caused huge delays for perishable items coming into the country.

Vicenzo Marini, the chief executive of Marini, which sends 15 lorries a week to the UK, said the incident was “surreal” and the new checks and custom requirements since Brexit had made sending goods to the UK much more problematic.

He said the company, which has been transporting goods to the UK since the 1980s, was now considering abandoning its UK routes due to the new controls, as well as fears among drivers around migrants entering their lorries.

The incident comes after repeated warnings from horticultural trade bodies about the practicality of checking plant products at the border, and the ability of border staff to load and unload lorries.

Speaking to the Guardian in January, James Barnes, the chair of the Horticultural Trades Association, raised concerns over whether border control posts had the infrastructure and ability to handle the “diverse horticultural loads” coming from the continent.

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Post-Brexit ‘mess’ as Italian driver’s lorry held for 55 hours at UK border post

Antonio Soprano says he was told to walk to a McDonald’s for food as there was none at Sevington

An Italian lorry driver has described the UK’s new post-Brexit controls as a “mess” after his lorry was held at a government-run border post for more than two days.

Antonio Soprano, 62, who was stopped while bringing plants into the country from central Italy, said he was offered nothing to eat during his 55-hour ordeal and instead was told by border officials that he should walk to a McDonald’s more than a mile away to get a meal.

After eventually being released from the Sevington facility in Ashford, Kent, in the early hours of the morning, he was then clamped and had to pay a £185 fine after difficulties finding a place to park in the middle of the night.

It comes just over a month after the government brought in new post-Brexit rules on 30 April, which require some lorries transporting plant and animal goods from the continent to be checked at designated border control posts along the British coast.

The checks, which have been put in place to stop diseases coming into the UK, are supposed to take place within four working hours but some lorries can be held for longer if inspectors identify a potential risk.

Soprano, who drives for the Italian haulage company Marini, was taking a lorry full of plants from Italian suppliers to companies across Britain when he was ordered to drive the 22 miles from Dover to the Sevington border post for inspection.

He says that when he arrived at the facility he was immediately ushered to a waiting area and ordered to wait, with border officials taking his keys.

Soprano, who speaks no English, said no efforts were made to explain to him what was happening, claiming he was just repeatedly told by officials to wait. The waiting facilities for drivers consist of a small room with a few tables, with only water provided and no food.

He said: “They told me to go and eat at a McDonald’s, which was 2km away, so by foot. In the end I found a supermarket but we had no services apart from a toilet.”

The lorry was held because of concerns about 10 Prunus lusitanica plants in the load, which border officials thought could be carrying harmful pests.

The concerns were raised hours after the lorry arrived at 6.30pm on 26 May, and officials said the delays occurred because the plants could not be unloaded because of health and safety concerns.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the initial inspection of the lorry was delayed due to the driver having to take an 11-hour rest break, known as a tacho break, while at Sevington. It said the absence of a load plan, and problems with the way the lorry was loaded, meant extra measures were needed to safely check the plants.

Officials eventually signed off the plants and allowed the vehicle to be released just after 1am on 29 May, about 55 hours after it arrived.

Prohibited from spending the night at Sevington and having to find a place to rest due to EU driver regulations, Soprano had to park in the McDonald’s car park as the nearest lorry park was full. He woke up to find that his lorry had been clamped and could only be released once he had paid a £185 fine.

He said: “I understand they need to do the controls but this behaviour is not normal, it was a mess. I don’t know why we had to wait for so long. I have to go to England for work, I have no choice, but this was not normal.”

The incident comes weeks after the Guardian reported that some lorry drivers were held for nearly 20 hours at Sevington border control post after an IT outage caused huge delays for perishable items coming into the country.

Vicenzo Marini, the chief executive of Marini, which sends 15 lorries a week to the UK, said the incident was “surreal” and the new checks and custom requirements since Brexit had made sending goods to the UK much more problematic.

He said the company, which has been transporting goods to the UK since the 1980s, was now considering abandoning its UK routes due to the new controls, as well as fears among drivers around migrants entering their lorries.

The incident comes after repeated warnings from horticultural trade bodies about the practicality of checking plant products at the border, and the ability of border staff to load and unload lorries.

Speaking to the Guardian in January, James Barnes, the chair of the Horticultural Trades Association, raised concerns over whether border control posts had the infrastructure and ability to handle the “diverse horticultural loads” coming from the continent.

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Michael Mosley almost certainly died of natural causes, inquest finds

Initial investigation says there were no injuries to suggest a crime after body discovered on Greek island of Symi

An initial inquest has determined that the TV presenter Michael Mosley, whose body was found on the Greek island of Symi, almost certainly died of natural causes.

A coroner in Rhodes on Monday ruled out foul play, saying there were no injuries to suggest the 67-year-old, who was discovered five days after disappearing during a walk, had fallen victim to a crime.

“It has emerged there are no injuries that can be linked to a criminal act,” reported Greece’s public broadcaster, ERT.

A forensic scientist, Panayiotis Kotretsis, ordered further toxicological and histological tests in the hope of being able to pinpoint the precise cause of death. The results are not expected for several months.

Mosley’s body was transferred on a Hellenic coastguard vessel to Rhodes within hours of being found close to a beach bar an estimated nine miles (15km) away from the spot where he had said goodbye to his wife, Clare Bailey, and the friends the couple were visiting on the island.

Monday’s postmortem reflected growing consensus among Greek officials that Mosley probably died of exhaustion after taking a wrong turn and climbing through the rocky hills of Symi, a landscape as unforgiving as it is rugged.

The day Mosley set out on his walk the local temperature exceeded 37C (98.6F) – prompting an alert by the meteorological service – with the searing heat being at least 10C higher on the rocky promontory he traversed.

A Greek police spokesperson and the island’s mayor said the position in which the Briton was found – face up with his left hand placed over his chest – in addition to the lack of injuries played a decisive role in the coroner’s conclusion.

“He wasn’t found face down, he was found face up which suggests he may have felt dizzy or simply unwell and laid down,” said Symi’s mayor, Lefteris Papakaloudoukas. “I think that says a lot.”

CCTV footage now in the possession of Greek police but not seen so far by any media outlets also supported the growing consensus that Mosley was exhausted by the time he neared the beach bar about two hours after he set off from St Nikolas beach to Symi’s port town where the couple were being hosted.

He and Bailey, who paid tribute to her “wonderful, funny, kind and brilliant husband”, had arrived on holiday the day before.

Mosely’s body is expected to be returned to the UK this week escorted by his wife and their four children, who accompanied their mother to Rhodes.

Mosley rose to fame on British TV popularising intermittent fasting and the 5:2 diet. His disappearance triggered one of the biggest search and rescue missions in Greece in living memory with police, firefighters, volunteers helicopters, drones and a sniffer dog taking part.

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Biden supporters mostly back him in 2024 election because they oppose Trump, poll finds

Poll comes as the Biden campaign has ramped up its rhetoric in attacking Trump directly in recent weeks

More than half of Joe Biden’s supporters are primarily motivated to cast their vote for the president in order to prevent a return of Donald Trump to the White House, according to a new poll.

Opposing Trump is the main reason to back Biden for 54% of the Democratic incumbent’s voters, the new CBS/YouGov poll found, up from 47% in a similar survey conducted in March, which was prior to the presumptive Republican nominee being found guilty of business fraud by a New York jury.

A further 27% of Biden voters are supporting the president because they like him – down from 31% in March – while 19% say that they are backing him because he is the Democratic nominee for president.

The poll comes as the Biden campaign has ramped up its rhetoric in attacking Trump directly in recent weeks, pointing to the former president’s felony conviction and string of past controversies. Last week, Biden said his predecessor is “reckless and dangerous” for complaining that his New York trial was rigged and claimed that he had been driven “crazy” by his 2020 election loss.

The outcome of this year’s presidential election remains in the balance, with the new CBS poll finding Biden and Trump are essentially tied nationally and in key swing states. Trump is on 50% of support among likely voters, and Biden is on 49%, with these figures switched for likely voters in battleground states.

Trump has enjoyed an edge over Biden in most polls taken in recent months, although there is some evidence of a slight shift towards the president in the wake of his predecessor’s felony conviction. Trump, who faces three other felony trials for hoarding classified documents and for trying to subvert the 2020 election, is tentatively scheduled to be sentenced in the New York case on 11 July.

However, the CBS poll found that 55% of likely voters say that Trump’s conviction is not a factor in their choice for president, with 28% saying it will be a major factor. While Trump has enjoyed a fundraising surge from supporters following the trial, the poll found that just 14% of his voters are backing him because of his conviction, with the vast majority saying it isn’t a factor for them.

Eight in 10 Trump voters believe, wrongly, that the former president was charged due to the actions of the Biden administration rather than local prosecutors, the poll found.

Overall, the main motivating issues for voters are the state of the US economy, inflation, the health of democracy and crime, according to the poll.

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Sudan: last hospital in North Darfur capital closes after paramilitary attack

MSF says hospital in El Fasher, last state capital not under Rapid Support Forces control, stormed and looted

The last functioning hospital in El Fasher, Darfur, in western Sudan, has been closed after an attack by paramilitaries trying to seize the key city, the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has said.

War has raged for more than a year between the regular military under the army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

El Fasher, the capital city of North Darfur state, is the only state capital in the vast western region not under RSF control, and a key humanitarian hub for a region on the brink of famine.

“On Saturday, MSF and the ministry of health suspended all activities in South Hospital, El Fasher, North Darfur, after RSF soldiers stormed the facility, opened fire and looted it, including stealing an MSF ambulance,” said MSF in a statement posted late on Sunday on X.

There have been sporadic clashes in El Fasher since war broke out in April 2023, but fierce fighting reignited on 10 May in what the UN secretary general, António Guterres, has called “an alarming new chapter” in the conflict.

Since then, “at least 192 people have been killed and more than 1,230 wounded” in the city, according to a conservative estimate by the medical charity.

MSF said “intensified fighting” around the hospital earlier this week had triggered its evacuation, and by the time of the paramilitary attack “there were only 10 patients and a reduced medical team” there.

“Most patients and the remaining medical team … were able to flee the RSF shooting,” MSF added. It noted that “due to the chaos, our team was unable to verify if there were any killed or wounded” in the latest attack.

Michel-Olivier Lacharité, the head of emergencies at MSF, said it was “outrageous that the RSF opened fire inside the hospital”.

“Warring parties must halt attacks on medical care,” he added. “Hospitals are closing. Remaining facilities can’t handle mass casualties.”

The war across Sudan has killed tens of thousands of people, including up to 15,000 in a single West Darfur town, UN experts say. Nearly 9 million people have been forced from their homes.

Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid. Rights groups and the US have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

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Teen survives Florida shark attack but loses hand and leg: ‘I made it’

Doctors and other medical professionals vacationing on the beach helped save teen’s life after a shark bit her

The mother of a Florida teen who lost her leg and hand in a shark attack recently said the girl’s first words after waking up from her brutal ordeal were: “I made it”.

Lulu Gribbin, from Mountain Brook, Alabama, was one of three people who were injured in a spate of shark attacks Friday at Rosemary beach in Florida’s Walton county, in the western part of the state.

Lulu’s mother, Ann Blair Gribbin, provided details about the attack, the aftermath and the teen’s medical condition in a post on the website CaringBridge.

Gribbin said she and Lulu were on their first mother-daughter trip along with the teen’s twin sister, Ellie, as well as friends. Lulu was with friends on a sand bar in waist-high water, looking for sand dollars, when a shark bit her hand and leg on Friday afternoon.

A man and a boy who noticed Lulu was hurt pulled her out of the water, carrying her to the shore.

Gribbin said she was at another part of the beach, heard there was a shark and saw a group of people standing over someone on the shore. She discovered it was her daughter after running down.

“I saw her wounds on her leg and started to scream,” Gribbin wrote. “She was lifeless her eyes closed mouth white and pale. The wound on her leg or all that was left of her leg was something out of a movie.”

Gribbin said first responders airlifted Lulu to a hospital in Pensacola, Florida, and she was immediately brought into surgery.

Doctors connected the teen to a ventilator which helped her breathe as she recovered in the hospital.

The attack not only cost Lulu two-thirds of the blood in her body and her left hand, Gribbin wrote. Doctors also amputated a significant part of Lulu’s right leg.

Gribbin said doctors expected her to be on the ventilator for about a week. But Lulu began breathing on her own Saturday, and doctors removed her from the ventilator.

“This was a first big step,” Gribbin wrote. “Once she was settled her first words to us were, ‘I made it.’ And boy she did.”

The teen is scheduled to undergo multiple surgeries in the coming weeks as she continues recovering physically from an attack her mother described as life-changing.

Meanwhile, the local news outlet WKRG interviewed a pair of doctors and longtime friends who were vacationing together with their families at the time of Lulu Gribbin’s attack – and ultimately helped rescue her.

Mohammad Ali and Ryan Forbess recounted boogie boarding with their children in the water, hearing people panicking on the shore and heading toward the commotion. Forbess said he grasped the magnitude of the situation when he “saw cloudy red water” from the shark attack after getting back to the shore.

The two physicians said their medical training kicked in immediately, and they joined some emergency medical technicians and trauma nurses who were also on vacation and had gone over to help. “When I looked down at her and saw the severity of the injury, I realized that anybody with any kind of medical knowledge needed to help,” Ali told WKRG.

Ali, Forbess and the rest of the group tied tourniquets as well as applied pressure on Gribbin’s leg and hands in a measured but urgent effort to save the girl from dying.

“We might’ve as well worked with them for years,” Forbess said. “It was amazing. Kind of – it was God’s will that everyone was there to help at the same time.”

Forbess and Ali said they spoke to Gribbin’s family after she had been admitted to the hospital and were relieved to learn Lulu had survived.

Gribbin wrote that she was “eternally grateful” for Ali, Forbess and the others who gave vital first aid to her daughter.

Despite the disproportionate amount of media coverage that they generate when they do occur, shark attacks are relatively rare, according to experts.

There were 69 shark bites across the world in 2023 that were considered to be unprovoked, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File. Most were in the US and in Florida.

Ten of those 2023 shark attacks were deadly, which was higher than the recent annual average of six but was still lower than the number of fatalities reported in 2011, the file’s data showed.

The shark which attacked Lulu also bit her friend’s foot. The friend was treated at another local hospital for what was characterized as a flesh wound.

The third shark attack victim Friday was a 45-year-old woman who was bit while swimming at Walton’s Watersound beach.

Emergency responders airlifted the woman to a hospital after suffering “significant trauma” to her mid-section, according to a Walton sheriff’s office spokesperson. Part of her left arm was amputated following the attack.

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Early morning frost spotted on some of Mars’s huge mountains

Thin dusting of water ice appears to form overnight in summit craters and evaporate after sunrise, scientists say

Early morning frost has been spotted on some of the largest mountains in the solar system – the colossal Martian volcanoes that rise up to three times the height of Mount Everest near the planet’s equator.

In colder months the fine dusting of ice, thinner than a human hair, appears to form overnight in the volcanoes’ summit craters, or calderas, and on sections of their rims and then to evaporate a few hours after sunrise.

While the frosty layer is exceptionally thin, it covers an enormous area. Scientists calculate that in the more frigid Martian seasons, 150,000 tonnes of water, equivalent to 60 Olympic swimming pools, condense daily on the tops of the towering mountains.

“It’s the first time we’ve discovered water frost on the volcano summits and the first time we’ve discovered water frost in the equatorial regions of Mars,” said Adomas Valantinas, a planetary scientist at the University of Berne in Switzerland and Brown University in the US.

Spacecraft in orbit around Mars have previously beamed back evidence for frozen and liquid water on the red planet, with substantial amounts of ice seen at the north and south poles. Patterns on the landscape suggest the planet was once a far wetter, and perhaps even habitable, world strewn with giant lakes and meandering rivers.

“What we’re seeing could be a trace of a past Martian climate,” Valantinas said of the frost-tipped volcanoes. “It could be related to atmospheric climate processes that were operating earlier in Martian history, maybe millions of years ago.”

Valantinas spotted the frost-capped volcanoes in high-resolution colour images snapped in the early morning hours on Mars by the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO).

With colleagues, he confirmed the discovery using a spectrometer on TGO and further images taken by the agency’s Mars Express orbiter. The frost appears as a bluish hue on the caldera floors and is absent from well-lit slopes.

The Tharsis region of Mars is a vast volcanic plateau near the planet’s equator. It is home to a dozen large volcanoes, including Pavonis Mons and Olympus Mons, which at nearly nine and 16 miles tall respectively are nearly two and four times as tall as Everest. Olympus Mons is far wider than it is tall, covering an area the size of France.

Scientists thought it was unlikely that frost could form on the Tharsis volcano tops because sunshine and the thin Martian atmosphere keep daytime temperatures relatively high, both at the peaks and at ground level.

But, writing in Nature Geoscience, the researchers describe how Martian winds may blow up the mountainsides and carry more moist air into the calderas where it condenses and settles as frost at particular times of year. Modelling of the process suggests the frost is water ice as the peaks are not cold enough for carbon dioxide frost to form.

John Bridges, professor of planetary sciences at the University of Leicester, said the work showed the ongoing success of the TGO mission and its Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) camera.

“Understanding the present day water cycle on Mars in the atmosphere and near surface will be important for future exploration missions including human ones where water will be the key in situ resource,” he added.

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