The Guardian 2024-07-08 04:12:07


IDF used protocol that may have risked civilian lives in Hamas attack – report

Haaretz shows Hannibal directive employed at three sites to prevent kidnapping of soldiers during 7 October assault

In the initial chaos of the Hamas attack on 7 October, Israel’s armed forces employed what is known as the Hannibal protocol, a directive to use force to prevent the kidnapping of soldiers even at the expense of hostages’ lives, according to a report.

The Israel daily Haaretz reported on Sunday, nine months to the day after the assault in which about 1,200 people were killed and another 250 abducted to the Gaza Strip, that the operational procedure was used at three army facilities attacked by Hamas, potentially endangering civilians as well.

Another message given to Israel’s Gaza division at 11.22am, about five hours after the attack began, ordered: “Not a single vehicle can return to Gaza.”

A southern command source told the paper: “Everyone knew by then that such vehicles could be carrying kidnapped civilians or soldiers … Everyone knew what it meant to not let any vehicles return to Gaza.”

Haaretz said it was still unclear whether civilians or soldiers were harmed as a result of these orders, or how many, but documents and testimonies of soldiers, as well as mid-level and senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers, suggested the practice was used in a “widespread” manner on 7 October amid a lack of clear information as the IDF struggled to respond to the attack.

In response to the report, an IDF spokesperson said internal investigations into what transpired on 7 October and the preceding period were under way. “The aim of these investigations is to learn and to draw lessons which could be used in continuing the battle. When these investigations are concluded, the results will be presented to the public with transparency,” the statement said.

The Haaretz investigation is the latest reporting by Israeli media shedding light on failures in military intelligence and operational responses around the Hamas offensive, the deadliest single attack on Israeli soil since the founding of the state in 1948.

Israel’s ensuing campaign in Gaza has still to achieve several of its stated objectives, leading to fears the conflict is on the brink of morphing into sustained insurgency-style warfare. More than 38,000 people have been killed by Israeli operations in the Palestinian territory, according to the local health ministry, and almost all of the 2.3 million population have been displaced from their homes in a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

Allegations first surfaced in January that the IDF may have used the Hannibal protocol to prevent Hamas fighters from returning to Gaza with hostages. While the directive has only ever been used in relation to soldiers, a high-profile incident at the Be’eri kibbutz, in which a brigadier general ordered a tank to fire shells at a house with Hamas militants and 14 Israelis inside, killing 13 of the hostages, has raised questions about operational procedures causing civilian casualties.

The Israeli military probably killed more than a dozen of its own citizens during the 7 October attack, a UN investigation found last month.

Also on Sunday, Israel’s Channel 12 reported that a sophisticated early-warning system on the Gaza border developed by Unit 8200, part of the IDF’s military intelligence directorate, had not been properly maintained and was known to frequently malfunction. A dossier presented by Unit 8200 officers before 7 October detailed Hamas’s elaborate invasion plans, including raids on Israeli towns and military posts, hostage scenarios and potential outcomes, the report said.

In November, members of the women-only “spotters” unit deployed at two points along the Gaza perimeter said they had tried to warn their superiors on numerous occasions about unusual activity along the border fence before Hamas’s attack, but had been ignored. Fifteen spotters were killed on 7 October and another six taken hostage.

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Israeli government accused of trying to sabotage Gaza ceasefire proposal

Mossad chief gave mediators list of new demands and it was not clear whether Hamas would accede to them, reports say

The Israeli government has been accused of attempting to sabotage a US-backed ceasefire proposal, according to Israeli media, by introducing new demands despite previously accepting the plan.

Hopes for a ceasefire in Gaza had risen in recent days following reports that Hamas had given initial approval for a new proposal for a phased deal, after ninth months of war since the attack on 7 October.

Egyptian officials and representatives of Hamas said the Islamist militant organisation had dropped a key demand that Israel commit to a definitive end to the war before any pause in hostilities, Reuters and the Associated Press reported.

Two Hamas officials told Reuters they were now waiting for a response from Israel, where protesters took to the streets on Sunday to press the government to reach an accord to bring back the hostages still being held in Gaza.

However, David Barnea, the chief of the Mossad foreign intelligence service, who was dispatched over the weekend to Qatar, where talks are being held, was reported to have provided the mediators with a list of new reservations, according to Israeli media.

The Haaretz newspaper cited a source familiar with the details as saying Israel’s new demands were expected to delay negotiations, and that it was not clear whether Hamas would accede to them.

“Hamas has already agreed to the latest position presented by Israel,” the source told Haaretz. “But in Friday’s meeting, Israel presented some new points it demands that Hamas accept.”

Negotiations with Hamas were expected to last “at least three weeks” before the deal could be carried out, Haaretz reported.

Once again, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is facing criticism from opposition parties, media and families of Israeli hostages, who accuse him of undermining efforts to reach a ceasefire and secure the release of the hostages, for his own political survival.

“We appeal to the heads of the security agencies and the negotiating team – all eyes are on you. Do not let Netanyahu sabotage the deal again. We must rescue all the hostages,” the families said at a news conference near the defence ministry in Tel Aviv on Saturday.

As a potential agreement draws near, Netanyahu has shown a pattern of retreating from hostage negotiations. On multiple occasions in recent months, he has been accused of obstructing progress that could bring an end to the conflict, whether through public pronouncements, covert communications, or by limiting the negotiating team’s authority.

There are concerns over the substantial influence wielded by the far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, whom Netanyahu relies on for his ruling coalition and who are opposed to a ceasefire.

A few hours after Netanyahu sent Barnea to Doha to study the proposal, Ben-Gvir threatened to quit and collapse the governing coalition. In a post on social media on Saturday, Smotrich said he would “not be part of a government that agrees to the proposed outline and ends the war without destroying Hamas and bringing back all the hostages”.

On Sunday evening, Netanyahu echoed the positions of his far-right ministers by stating that any Gaza ceasefire deal must allow for Israel to keep fighting until it achieved its war objectives. He added that the deal must prohibit weapons smuggling to Hamas via the Gaza-Egypt border, and should not allow for thousands of armed militants to return to northern Gaza. In a statement, Netanyahu also said Israel would maximise the number of live hostages returned.

Netanyahu’s popularity plummeted after the 7 October attack by Hamas, which exposed serious flaws in Israeli security. Most political observers say Netanyahu would lose elections if they were held now. At an anti-government protest in Tel Aviv on Sunday, Orly Nativ, a 57-year-old social worker, joined the hundreds of flag-wielding demonstrators. “Enough is enough,” Nativ said.

The head of the National Unity party, Benny Gantz, who in June quit the emergency government in a sign of divisions over Netanyahu’s post-conflict plans for Gaza, said: “Netanyahu, not everything depends on you. But you must show commitment, determination and sincere intentions this time as well. You know as well as I do that since the previous proposal, we have lost many of the hostages, who died in captivity.”

Pressure is mounting on Israel, as a Gaza ceasefire could also allow for de-escalation between Hezbollah and Israel. The Lebanese group took responsibility on Sunday for a rocket barrage on the Lower Galilee, claiming to have targeted an Israeli military base near Tiberias. An Israeli man was seriously wounded by shrapnel from a rocket impact, medics said. Hezbollah has declared its attacks on Israel to be in support of Hamas and indicated its willingness to halt its assaults if a ceasefire is reached in Gaza.

In Gaza, Palestinian health officials said at least 15 people were killed in separate Israeli military strikes across the territory on Sunday.

The conflict was triggered on 7 October, when Hamas-led fighters attacked southern Israel from Gaza, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostages.

At least 38,153 Palestinians have been killed and 87,828 injured in Israel’s military offensive on Gaza since then, Gaza’s health ministry said on Sunday.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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Labour to seek joint declaration with EU on wide-ranging security pact

Exclusive: Foreign secretary says deal would allow UK work more closely with bloc on issues such as defence and energy

Labour is seeking a sweeping joint declaration with the EU to usher in a wide-ranging security pact covering defence, energy, the climate crisis, pandemics and even illegal migration, the foreign secretary, David Lammy, has said.

As part of the new government’s plan to reset its relations with the EU and bring “an end to the Brexit era”, Lammy told the Guardian that a broadly defined security deal would not undermine Labour’s commitment to remain outside the EU’s single market and customs union.

Under Labour plans, the pact would see the UK work more closely with the bloc on a slew of areas related to security, ideally without the need for a legally binding deal, which could take years to agree.

Lammy has also accepted an invitation from the EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, to attend the September meeting of the EU foreign affairs council – something that was rejected by the previous Conservative government.

It is rare for non-EU states to attend the foreign affairs council, and Labour thinks it may be possible to go on an irregular basis if the planned security pact develops.

In an interview during his first trip to Europe as foreign secretary, Lammy said: “We said in our manifesto we wanted an ambitious security pact, and that’s because we have been speaking to Europe about this for the last few years, and I think there is an appetite, particularly following the war in Ukraine and the challenges that EU faces in relation to energy and climate, to go broader than just defence.

“So you have to obviously get into discussions with Europe and find those issues of mutual interest. My hope is that once, of course, the new European leadership is in place, we can progress this with a joint declaration of some kind. Obviously, underneath that would be buckets of work streams.”

Labour is said to be leaning against a legally binding joint document that, as well as taking years to negotiate, could also start to conflict with separate work on reviewing the UK-EU Trade Cooperation Agreement, a negotiation that may last until 2026 and is unlikely to begin until a new EU Commission has been appointed.

Labour thinking in relation to a security pact is to see if it can establish something similar to the EU-US technology council that has a number of subcommittees, and holds an annual summit. The UK is one of the few external partners with which the EU holds no annual summit.

Asked whether the security cooperation could extend to issues such as cybersecurity, illegal migration, pandemics, decarbonisation and access to critical minerals, Lammy said: “Yes, it could.”

He added: “Particularly on critical minerals, we do need to cooperate with our European partners. And post-pandemic, we are very aware of our capability in health, in pharmaceuticals and in higher education. So there, I think we are talking about things that Europe wants to talk to us about.

“I’ve said that I’m very keen for us to get to a place where we’ve got structured dialogue with the EU, so I hope we can arrive at that.”

After Labour won a landslide victory in Thursday’s election, Lammy embarked on a trip to meet his counterparts in Poland, Germany and Sweden.

He said: “I’m serious about a reset. I sensed in Poland and Germany they were delighted to have a new [UK] government. We are absolutely clear that we want to look to the future. I think there’s a lot of issues that we have to coordinate on, but it is all a matter of negotiation and discussion. But I’ve set the direction of travel.”

The broad issue was raised by Lammy with the Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who said they had discussed “some creative ideas” on future cooperation.

Poland holds the presidency of the EU next year, and is likely to be a key ally in persuading other EU states that the UK is not seeking a back-door way into accessing the single market without taking on its responsibilities.

Within the EU, the need for greater defence cooperation alongside Nato has normally been championed by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the UK is aware that Anglo-French bilateral defence cooperation is in a period of flux, as Macron fights for his political survival.

Lammy was reluctant to commit on whether he would revive plans for a EU-wide youth mobility scheme. Both the previous government and Labour had rejected EU plans to make it easier for 18- to 30-years-olds in the bloc and the UK to study and work abroad. Under the scheme, UK participants would be able to stay only in the first EU country that accepted them.

But he said the German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, had raised with him the issue of school visits.

“There’s lots of concern in Germany, for example, about the fall-off in our young people meeting one another. If this goes on, you can have a generation of people that really have no contact. She herself was a student of LSE. I hope we can fix that school visits issue, but issues about mobility are broader issues that do raise more complex issues.”

He insisted that Labour remained clear that it was not going to return to a system of free movement of labour. He said there were problems with the European Commission proposals, but added: “In the spirit of openness, I am very happy to hear what they have to say.”

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Democrat Adam Schiff says Biden has to win ‘overwhelmingly’ or ‘pass the torch’

President hits campaign trail in Pennsylvania and vows to ‘unite America again’ but makes no mention of health

Joe Biden hit the campaign trail in the swing state of Pennsylvania on Sunday as he tried to weather his campaign crisis after a bad debate against Donald Trump – even as a prominent House Democrat said Vice-President Kamala Harris could beat Trump and the president should “pass the torch” to someone else if he can’t win “overwhelmingly”.

The US president made no mention of his health and fitness when he told a loudly supportive Philadelphia church congregation in the morning: “We must unite America again … that’s my goal. That’s what we’re going to do.”

But Adam Schiff, a high-profile House Democrat who is likely to become California’s next senator in the November election, said he thought Harris could decisively win the election against presumptive Republican party nominee Trump, if Biden drops out.

He warned that the US president either “has to win overwhelmingly, or he has to pass the torch to someone who can”.

The concerns voiced by such a respected congressman in the party came as the Democrat House minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, planned to convene an unusual Sunday meeting online with some House Democrats to discuss Biden’s candidacy, according to multiple reports.

Jeffries will meet with the ranking members on committees in the House, which is currently controlled by Republicans, the New York Times reported.

As the chaos continued, Biden was on a two-stop swing in Pennsylvania, first addressing the church service in a majority Black neighborhood in north-western Philadelphia before expecting to head to the state capital of Harrisburg about 100 miles away in the afternoon.

He was introduced by hosts at the Mount Airy church of God in Christ in Philadelphia as “our honored guest” senior pastor Louis Felton told the congregation that if they stand together “there is no election that we cannot win”, adding, “We love our president. We pray for our president.”

One demonstrator outside the church underlined the conflicting views within the party and even normally loyal Democratic voters, carrying a sign that read: “Thank you Joe, but time to go.”

But Felton said: “God knew Biden needs some love.” He described Biden as a president of vision and integrity and said: “President Biden is coming back. He’s a comeback kid. He’s a fighter. He’s a champion.”

He concluded: “Never count Joseph out,” as congregants chanted “four more years” when Biden finished speaking.

Meanwhile Mark Warner, another prominent Democrat and US senator for Virginia, reportedly is wrangling Senate Democrats to ask Biden at the White House on Monday to step down as the presumptive nominee for re-election. This after the president’s stumbling debate performance against Trump last month threw the campaign into crisis, with fresh doubts adding to months of growing concern about Biden’s age not quelled by his stronger but underwhelming performance in an interview with ABC TV two days ago.

On Sunday morning, Schiff told NBC News’s Meet the Press show: “The interview didn’t put concerns to rest. No single interview is going to do that. And what I do think the president needs to decide is, can he put those concerns aside? Can he demonstrate the American people that what happened on the debate stage was an aberration?”

Schiff then weighted Harris’s prospects if she became the party nominee not Biden, as her profile rises fast.

“I think she very well could win overwhelmingly, but before we get into a decision about who else it should be, the president needs to make a decision about whether it’s him.”

Bernie Sanders, the independent US senator from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, signaled his continued support for Biden.

He told CBS in a Sunday interview: “What we are talking about now is not a Grammy award contest for best singer. Biden is old. He’s not as articulate as he once was. I wish he could jump up the steps on Air Force One – he can’t,” Sanders admitted, while adding a challenge to the president to continue to run on policies that help working-class voters.

“Whose policies will benefit the vast majority of the people in this country, who has the guts to take on corporate America?” Sanders asked, saying the Democratic nominee needed to fight for health insurance coverage, selectively higher taxes and benefits.

“Those are the issues he’s talked about. He’s got to bring them up in the fall. He’s got to promise the American people that if they give him a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House, re-elect him, he’s going to do that in the first 100 days. That’s what I think the American people want,” Sanders said.

Democratic US senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said “the clock is ticking” for the president to quell doubts about his fitness to continue to run for re-election and this was a critical week for him.

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Brazil apologises after three diplomats’ Black teenagers searched at gunpoint

Ministry of foreign affairs forced to say sorry to Canada, Gabon and Burkina Faso embassies after incident

Brazil’s ministry of foreign affairs has been forced to apologise to the embassies of Canada, Gabon and Burkina Faso after three diplomats’ teenage children – all of whom are Black – were searched at gunpoint by police officers.

The incident emerged when the mother of a Brazilian boy in the group posted a security camera video online, prompting outrage – but also a weary recognition that such experiences are all too typical for Black youths in Rio de Janeiro.

The three diplomats’ children were in Rio for a five-day holiday with a white Brazilian friend, celebrating the end of the school year. All attend the same school in Brasília, where they live. It was their first trip without their parents.

Late Wednesday, they were returning from a day at the beach and were about to enter a building in the wealthy neighbourhood of Ipanema when a military police patrol car drew up. Two officers jumped out, ordered the boys to face the wall and searched them at gunpoint.

Rhaiana Rondon, the mother of one of the Brazilian boys, said the Black teens were singled out by the police officers during the search.

Rondon, who posted the video, said the footage made it clear that her son and his cousin were treated very differently from the Black foreigners.

“The officer guided my son much more gently because he is white, while the three Black youths had guns pointed at their heads,” she said.

In a statement to a state parliament committee, the teenagers said the officers “even demanded that they showed their private parts to check if there was any drugs underneath”.

One of the boys wrote to his parents saying that “when the agents left, they told us not to walk around, or we would be searched again”.

Rondon said: “The footage, testimonies, and the children’s accounts are clear: the search was racist.”

The three foreign boys are the sons of the Gabon and Burkina Faso ambassadors, and the other is the son of a Canadian diplomat.

Julie-Pascale Moudoute-Bell, the wife of the Gabonese ambassador, expressed her indignation to TV Globo, saying: “The police are there to protect. How could they point guns at the heads of 13-year-old boys? … We trust in the Brazilian justice system and we want justice, that’s all.”

On Friday, the ambassadors of Gabon, Burkina Faso and Canada were invited the foreign ministry in Brasília, where they received a “formal apology” from the Brazilian government.

The ministry stated that it called on the Rio state government to conduct a “thorough investigation and ensure appropriate accountability of the police officers involved in the incident”.

Amnesty International Brazil’s executive director, Jurema Werneck, said: “There’s nothing besides racism to explain the attack these Black teenagers suffered.”

But she added that such incidents happen daily in Brazil “in the favelas, outskirts, poor and Black communities”.

“Unfortunately, the brutality suffered by these teenagers is not the first and, sadly, won’t be the last. … In Brazil, no young Black person is safe”.

A recent report found that, in 2022, of the more than 1,300 people killed by the police in Rio, 87% were Black, a figure far above the proportion of Afro-Brazilians in the state’s population, which is 58%.

Rio’s military police, which is responsible for patrol duties, said that body camera footage from the two officers involved will be analysed to determine “if there was any excess”. The separate civil police, which handles investigations, said that two of its units – tourist assistance station and racial crimes – are probing the case.

Rondon said that the teenagers had been left badly shaken by the incident.

“On Thursday, they saw the same patrol car passing by, got really scared, and hid in an ice cream parlour,” said the Brazilian mother. “When they hear a siren now, even if it’s from an ambulance or the fire brigade, they get scared.

Rondon said she had given her son all kinds of guidance before the trip because she was worried about violence in Rio.

“I warned him to be careful with his phone on the street, not to leave his backpack on the beach chair,” she wrote. “But I never imagined that the police would be the biggest threat.”

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Viktor Orbán’s rightwing group hits quota for recognition by EU parliament

Patriots for Europe gets Danish and Flemish nationalists as latest members, amid EU anger over Hungary PM’s latest unauthorised foreign policy foray

Viktor Orbán’s rightwing political movement attracted enough parties on Saturday to achieve recognition from the European Union parliament in a boost for the Hungarian prime minister’s self-styled effort to “change European politics”.

The nationalist and pro-Russia leader announced on 30 June his intention to form an EU parliamentary grouping called “Patriots for Europe”.

The Danish People’s party and the Flemish nationalist pro-independence Vlaams Belang announced on Saturday that they would join, giving Patriots for Europe 23 MEPs – enough to meet the EU parliament’s threshold for formal recognition.

Other parties involved are the Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), the centrist ANO of former Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, the Party for Freedom (PVV) of Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, Portugal’s far-right Chega party and Spain’s Vox.

Orbán said the parties would meet on Monday in Brussels. France’s National Rally could become another ally after the second round of the French legislative elections on Sunday. Italy’s League, led by Matteo Salvini, has also expressed an interest in the new movement but has not confirmed its participation.

With the formation of Patriots for Europe, Orbán is bidding to become the dominant hard-right force in the EU parliament. As well as campaigning for conservative family values and against immigration, the group would push to end European support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion.

Orbán, meanwhile, drew a fresh rebuke from the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, on Saturday after attending a meeting of the Organisation of Turkic States in Azerbaijan.

Hungary took over the EU’s rotating presidency this month and Orbán on Friday appeared to try to carry its imprimatur into a surprise meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow about the Ukraine war.

EU leaders quickly blasted the visit as not authorised by them and stressed that Orbán was not representing Brussels.

Orbán’s participation at an informal OTS summit in Azerbaijan on Saturday was the latest event where he represented Hungary alone and not the EU, Borrell said.

“Hungary has not received any mandate from the EU council to advance the relations with the Organisation of Turkic States.”

Orbán has sparred with Brussels over his travels. “Are we allowed to have dinner, or do we need a EUCO mandate for that too?” his political director wrote on X/Twitter after the Moscow trip.

The EU also rejected OTS attempts to legitimise the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus by admitting it as an observer, said Borrell. The island of Cyprus has been divided for decades between the internationally recognised, Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus, an EU member, and the Turkish-speaking TRNC, recognised only by Ankara.

The OTS is an international organisation bringing together countries with Turkic languages, founded in 2009 by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Hungary became an observer of the group in 2018.

With Agence France-Presse in Belgium

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Viktor Orbán’s rightwing group hits quota for recognition by EU parliament

Patriots for Europe gets Danish and Flemish nationalists as latest members, amid EU anger over Hungary PM’s latest unauthorised foreign policy foray

Viktor Orbán’s rightwing political movement attracted enough parties on Saturday to achieve recognition from the European Union parliament in a boost for the Hungarian prime minister’s self-styled effort to “change European politics”.

The nationalist and pro-Russia leader announced on 30 June his intention to form an EU parliamentary grouping called “Patriots for Europe”.

The Danish People’s party and the Flemish nationalist pro-independence Vlaams Belang announced on Saturday that they would join, giving Patriots for Europe 23 MEPs – enough to meet the EU parliament’s threshold for formal recognition.

Other parties involved are the Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), the centrist ANO of former Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, the Party for Freedom (PVV) of Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, Portugal’s far-right Chega party and Spain’s Vox.

Orbán said the parties would meet on Monday in Brussels. France’s National Rally could become another ally after the second round of the French legislative elections on Sunday. Italy’s League, led by Matteo Salvini, has also expressed an interest in the new movement but has not confirmed its participation.

With the formation of Patriots for Europe, Orbán is bidding to become the dominant hard-right force in the EU parliament. As well as campaigning for conservative family values and against immigration, the group would push to end European support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion.

Orbán, meanwhile, drew a fresh rebuke from the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, on Saturday after attending a meeting of the Organisation of Turkic States in Azerbaijan.

Hungary took over the EU’s rotating presidency this month and Orbán on Friday appeared to try to carry its imprimatur into a surprise meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow about the Ukraine war.

EU leaders quickly blasted the visit as not authorised by them and stressed that Orbán was not representing Brussels.

Orbán’s participation at an informal OTS summit in Azerbaijan on Saturday was the latest event where he represented Hungary alone and not the EU, Borrell said.

“Hungary has not received any mandate from the EU council to advance the relations with the Organisation of Turkic States.”

Orbán has sparred with Brussels over his travels. “Are we allowed to have dinner, or do we need a EUCO mandate for that too?” his political director wrote on X/Twitter after the Moscow trip.

The EU also rejected OTS attempts to legitimise the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus by admitting it as an observer, said Borrell. The island of Cyprus has been divided for decades between the internationally recognised, Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus, an EU member, and the Turkish-speaking TRNC, recognised only by Ankara.

The OTS is an international organisation bringing together countries with Turkic languages, founded in 2009 by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Hungary became an observer of the group in 2018.

With Agence France-Presse in Belgium

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Man who spent 45 years on death row in Japan hopes for chance to clear name

Iwao Hakamada, 88, who spent longer than anyone in the world awaiting execution, awaits murder retrial verdict

In the early hours of 30 June 1966 a fire swept through the home of the managing director of a miso maker in Shizuoka, central Japan. After the fire was put out, police found the bodies of the executive, his wife, and their two teenage children. They had all been stabbed to death.

Iwao Hakamada, who had worked for the firm as a live-in employee, was arrested on suspicion of murdering the family, setting fire to their home and stealing 200,000 yen (£973) in cash. Two years later he was found guilty of murder and arson and sentenced to hang. He maintained innocence throughout his 45 years awaiting execution – the longest any prisoner worldwide has spent on death row.

In a country where condemned prisoners can spend long periods awaiting execution, Hakamada’s case took a critical turn in 2014. The court that had originally convicted him ruled some of the evidence unsafe and ordered his release. A higher court later ordered a retrial.

The lower court said evidence presented at his trial by the police “may have been fabricated”, while his lawyers said DNA tests on bloodstained clothes retrieved from a vat of miso proved the blood was not his.

Hakamada has always contended that he was forced to confess during interrogations that typically lasted 12 hours a day. Almost six decades after he was condemned to die, prosecutors continue to call for his execution in a case that has become a cause célèbre for opponents of Japan’s use of the death penalty, even as other countries abolish capital punishment.

The former professional boxer, now aged 88 and battling physical and mental illness, will learn his fate in late September when the Shizuoka district court rules in his retrial, which started in March 2023. He has not appeared in court, having been declared mentally unfit to give credible evidence. His long incarceration has exposed what campaigners call inhumane treatment of death row inmates in Japan.

In most cases, people sentenced to death have been found guilty of multiple murders, often committed with other crimes such as robbery, rape or theft. Condemned prisoners typically spend years – even decades – in solitary confinement on death row while appeals slowly make their way through the courts. When their conviction is finalised, they are given just hours’ notice of their execution, and no opportunity to speak with lawyers or families. Their final conversation is usually with a Buddhist priest.

Japan, the only G7 country along with the US to retain capital punishment, has drawn international criticism of its “secret” executions, with campaigners using Hakamada’s case to accuse it of driving prisoners insane and subjecting them to “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment.

Hideko Hakamada, the condemned man’s sister, is optimistic, although lawyers believe the prosecutors could appeal a not-guilty verdict. “Now the goal is in sight,” she told reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday. “This has felt like a neverending process. I’m doing this not just for the sake of my brother but for other people who have been falsely accused and imprisoned.”

Hideko, who has spent decades protesting her brother’s innocence, added: “I never used to give much thought to the death penalty as it has always been there, but because of what happened to my brother I am now opposed to it.”

Hakamada’s defence lawyer, Hideyo Ogawa, said his client’s ordeal had only hardened his opposition to capital punishment. “Seeing Iwao-san over the past 10 years has shown me what the death penalty does to a person … it is like he is not here with us, but in a world of his own. That is the impact it has on someone when there has been a false conviction, and that should not be allowed to happen in today’s society.”

Japan is one of only 55 countries including, China, North Korea and the US, that retain capital punishment, while more than 140 others, including all members of the European Union, have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, according to Amnesty International. Japan has observed de facto moratoriums on hangings, but there is little political appetite for abolition that would spare the 106 people currently on death row. Opinion polls have consistently shown strong support for the death penalty – a sentiment that strengthened after a doomsday cult carried out a fatal sarin gas attack.

Hakamada has always faced near-impossible odds. Around 99% of criminal cases that go to trial in Japan end in convictions, and retrials are rare. He is one of only a handful of death row inmates to secure a retrial, although precedent suggests he has cause for optimism, as the other cases ended in acquittals.

In November 1973, in one of thousands of letters he wrote from prison, first to his mother and then his sister, Hakamada protested his innocence. “I am a prisoner on death row who has been wrongfully convicted,” he wrote. “I am forced to live with enduring grief that permeates my body. My heart grows cold beyond description out of unending fear of the unknown … execution. My whole body trembles as if being hit by a cold winter blast.”

Speaking at the final hearing in his retrial last month, Hideko told of her brother’s last chance to clear his name. “I am now 91 and my brother is 88,” she said.

“We are close to the end of our lives. I would like to ask the court to let Iwao live out his remaining days like a human being.”

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Alec Baldwin heads to trial for manslaughter over Rust shooting

Actor to face court more than two years after death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins

Alec Baldwin is heading to trial on Tuesday on involuntary manslaughter charges in a case that will be closely watched by the entertainment industry, the news media, tabloids and legal experts.

It has been a long road to trial since the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot during production of the movie Rust on 21 October 2021, a rare deadly tragedy on set. Prosecutors in Santa Fe will have to overcome numerous hurdles to convince a jury of Baldwin’s criminal negligence in the complex and unusual case, but criminal law scholars say the 66-year-old actor’s previous comments could come back to haunt him.

Baldwin, a lead actor and co-producer on the western film, was rehearsing on the Rust set at a ranch in Bonanza City, New Mexico, when he pointed a firearm at Hutchins. The revolver fired a single bullet that injured the director, Joel Souza, and killed Hutchins, an accomplished cinematographer who was born in Ukraine and considered a rising star in the industry.

Baldwin has argued that he pulled back the hammer of the gun, not the trigger, and that the gun malfunctioned and inadvertently fired. Baldwin had also been told the gun contained no live ammunition, investigators reported.

This is the second time Baldwin has faced criminal charges in the case. Prosecutors dismissed a first involuntary manslaughter charge in April of last year, saying they needed more time to investigate. The case was refiled after prosecutors said a forensic analysis of the gun concluded Baldwin must have pulled the trigger for it to fire, contradicting his key defense claim.

Lawyers for Baldwin pushed for the case to be dismissed last month, arguing that FBI testing of the firearm had damaged the weapon before lawyers were able to examine it for possible modifications. The defense team alleged the gun was damaged at the time of the incident and accused prosecutors of withholding potentially “exculpatory evidence”.

Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer rejected the dismissal request, saying Baldwin’s lawyers had not proven prosecutors acted in bad faith. But the judge also said prosecutors would have to disclose to the jury the “destructive nature of the firearm testing, the resulting loss and its relevance and import”.

In March, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, Rust’s chief weapons handler, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, sentenced in April to 18 months in prison. In her trial, prosecutors argued the armorer had failed to follow basic safety protocols and had put dummy rounds and at least one live round into the prop weapon.

“You alone turned a safe weapon into a lethal weapon,” Sommer said at sentencing. “But for you Ms Hutchins would be alive, a husband would have his partner and a little boy would have his mother.”

The conviction was a major victory for prosecutors, but it could also make it harder to win a second guilty verdict against another defendant, said Anna Cominsky, director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at New York Law School.

“She was the one designated as being responsible for the firearms on set, and a jury found her guilty,” the law professor said. “I foresee Baldwin is going to point the finger at her – this was the professional who was supposed to be checking the gun. I think it’s going to be difficult for the prosecutor to overcome that.”

There’s no question the fatal shooting was unintentional, so prosecutors will have to make a compelling case that Baldwin’s negligent actions led to the death, said Joshua Kastenberg, criminal law professor at the University of New Mexico and a former prosecutor: “If you’re going to find someone guilty of criminal negligence, you have to prove the [defendant] owns the negligence almost in its entirety, and that’s difficult in a case where there was more than one participant. And a jury already found someone else guilty.”

Baldwin’s past comments and his reputation, however, could cause him trouble. In an April filing, the prosecutor Kari Morrissey accused the actor of being reckless during filming, writing: “To watch Mr Baldwin’s conduct on the set of Rust is to witness a man who has absolutely no control of his own emotions and absolutely no concern for how his conduct affects those around him. Witnesses have testified that it was this exact conduct that contributed to safety compromises on set.”

Baldwin’s producer role could also help the prosecution build its negligence case. Records released by the local sheriff’s department revealed Baldwin made dismissive comments to a detective, saying that all film productions seek to cut costs and that it’s not the job of actors to check guns.

Baldwin also tried to clear his name in a national television interview with George Stephanopoulos, but the prosecutor Mary Carmack-Altwies told the New York Times that he appeared unrepentant and dishonest, implying the media appearance motivated her office to move forward with its case.

The attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Hutchins’ parents and sister, said they could not leave Ukraine due to the war and would not be attending the trial: “They want to know the truth of what happened to their beloved daughter and sister. And they do believe they will learn more in the upcoming trial. They also believe that everyone who had a role in causing Halyna’s death should be held responsible.”

At Gutierrez-Reed’s sentencing, Allred shared a statement from Hutchins’ father, Anatolii Androsovych, who said: “I do not wish for revenge but believe that each person responsible for the death of my Halyna needs to carry the punishment that is equal to their guilt. Maybe, just maybe, this might prevent the same types of tragedies in the future to others and spare other parents from such a heart-wrenching catastrophe.”

The prosecutors and Baldwin’s lawyers declined to comment.

Last month, Baldwin and his wife, Hilaria, announced a new reality show following their family for TLC.

Baldwin faces up to 18 months in prison. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

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Tropical storm Beryl expected to make landfall as powerful hurricane in Texas

Storm roars across Gulf of Mexico, and is forecast to continue gaining strength as it heads towards the US

A reconstituted Hurricane Beryl is expected to come ashore in south Texas early Monday, possibly slamming into land as a powerful category 2 hurricane, with the heavily-populated greater Houston area anticipating wind, heavy rain and possible tornadoes.

The storm was roaring across the Gulf of Mexico, gaining fresh strength and was forecast to continue strengthening as it heads towards the US, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Temperatures near the Texas coast are forecast at above 90F (32C) in the coming days, including heat indices as high as 108F on Sunday. Parts of eastern Texas were on flood watch ahead of the storm, which had maximum wind speeds of 60mph as of Sunday morning.

“Preparations should be rushed to completion in Texas,” the NHC posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday afternoon.

More than 120 counties were under disaster declaration on Sunday, following statements from the Texas lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick. On Saturday he urged Texans in the region to make final preparations.

“Beryl is a determined storm, and incoming winds and potential flooding will pose a serious threat to Texans who are in Beryl’s path,” Patrick said.

He added: “Texans need to take heed, watch their local officials, and prepare today and tomorrow before the storm makes landfall early Monday morning.”

The US NHC has been issuing frequent updates as the storm approaches, after Hurricane Beryl hit the Caribbean causing devastation as the earliest category 5 hurricane to form in the Atlantic on record. The climate crisis continues to fuel hurricanes and an above average season is projected to be in store this summer.

“Anybody living within this storm surge watch area, if you live in the storm surge evacuation zone, please start making preparations in case you are asked to evacuate by local officials,” National Hurricane Center director Michael Brennan told the Houston Chronicle. “Get ready to potentially leave your home, especially in those barrier islands.

On Sunday, the port of Corpus Christi was closed because of gale force winds expected and other ports along the Texas coast, principally serving the oil industry, also started to close or restrict vessel traffic.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has its launch site Starbase on South Padre island, said via a Nasa post on Instagram that cranes had lowered and Ship 31 had been rolled back to the production site in preparation for the storm’s arrival.

Over the past week, Beryl has smashed into the south-east Caribbean as a category 4 hurricane, killing 10, wrecking buildings and displacing hundreds of people before coming ashore again in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula as a category 2 hurricane, then moving north-west across excessively warm sea waters as a tropical storm. On Sunday it was expected to reconstitute itself again as a hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico before coming ashore on the middle Texas coast between the US-Mexico border and Houston.

Once Texas has been drenched, the storm is expected to disperse as a post-tropical cyclone, bringing rain and flooding to the US midwest and upper midwest.

The US national hurricane center said early Sunday that although Beryl had not intensified in the past 24 hours, vertical wind shear was in the process of decreasing and would provide the storm the opportunity to start intensifying again as it mixes with dry air.

“The fastest rate of intensification is likely to occur right before landfall, and the latest intensity forecast still shows Beryl becoming a hurricane again in 24 hours, with some additional intensification possible right up until landfall,” the center said.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 109 tropical systems have made landfall in Texas since 1850. The most recent was Hurricane Nicholas, a category 1 hurricane, that killed two and did $1bn in damage.

Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area in 2017.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed reporting

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UK urged to protect Ukraine from legal action over private debt default

Kyiv shouldn’t have to fight ‘shameless bondholders’ as repayment deadline nears, say campaigners

Campaigners are urging Britain’s new Labour government to prevent Ukraine being sued in the UK courts if the country defaults on its debts to private creditors.

Debt Justice said a two-year suspension of Ukraine’s debt payments was scheduled to expire on 1 August, and that action was needed to protect Kyiv from the possibility of legal action from its creditors.

Ukraine is in negotiations with bondholders and is seeking a debt writedown of 60% on the $24bn (£18.7bn) it owes to private creditors. Bondholders – which include big investment groups such as BlackRock, Pimco, Fidelity and AllianceBernstein – have said they are willing to take a 20% loss.

Ukraine’s official bilateral creditors, including the UK, have agreed to continue suspending Kyiv’s debt payments until 2027, but there has been no agreement to extend the arrangement with private creditors. The relief offered by private creditors is worth around 12% of Ukraine’s annual national output (GDP).

Unless a deal is struck or an extension to the two-year moratorium is agreed by the end of this month, Ukraine will formally default on its debts in September.

Kyiv fears that once the 1 August deadline expires, asset managers will sell their bonds to hedge funds, which will then sue. Ukraine’s bonds are all governed by English law, so any legal case would be brought in the UK.

Debt Justice said Ukraine’s bonds were trading at 28-31 cents on the dollar, closer to Kyiv’s suggested 60% haircut than the 20% bondholders have proposed.

Heidi Chow, Debt Justice’s executive director, said: “Ukraine is resisting an invasion. It should not have to fight off shameless bondholders at the same time, who are trying to squeeze every ounce of profit out of Ukraine.

“These loans were given at high interest because of the supposed risk. That risk materialised the day Russia invaded.”

Ukraine’s bonds “are governed by UK law, so an incoming UK government could pass a law to support Ukraine by making it clear that no lenders can sue the country while the war carries on”, she said.

The Commons international development select committee called last year for legislation that would force private creditors to take part in debt relief, and in opposition Labour expressed support for the idea.

Debt Justice is urging the government to change the law so that a debtor country negotiating in good faith with its creditors could not be sued. It says this would give Ukraine the political and legal protection to maintain the current debt suspension until bondholders were willing to accept the scale of debt restructuring required.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Ukraine will just about manage to balance the books if there is a 60% debt writedown.

The IMF says Kyiv and its private creditors are working hard to reach an agreement, and that a deal is possible by the end of the month despite the rapidly looming deadline.

Chow said: “Lower-income countries are facing the worst debt crisis in 30 years. An incoming UK government can show leadership by introducing new legislation to ensure private lenders take part in debt restructuring in a swift and comprehensive way.”

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Judy Murray insists comment about Raducanu’s withdrawal was sarcastic

  • Andy Murray’s mother said withdrawal was ‘astonishing’
  • Raducanu pulled out of Wimbledon mixed doubles

Judy Murray said she was being sarcastic when she suggested that Emma Raducanu’s withdrawal from the mixed doubles with Andy Murray was “astonishing”, saying their late scheduling would have played a part.

Raducanu announced her withdrawal on Saturday, saying she had felt some soreness in her right wrist. Having had surgery on both wrists last year – and with her fourth-round singles match on Sunday to prepare for – she decided it was safer to pull out.

Judy Murray had responded to a post from broadcaster Marcus Buckland, saying: “Yes, astonishing.” Her post caused a furore on social media, with some saying that Raducanu had ruined her son’s Wimbledon farewell.

However, on Sunday, Murray suggested she’d been misunderstood. “Not sure anyone understands sarcasm these days,” she wrote on X. “Pretty sure the scheduling (4th match court 1 with a singles following day) will have played a major part in any decision making.”

Eyebrows had been raised when Raducanu and Andy Murray were placed last on Saturday’s schedule. Initially, it had been anticipated they would be the first match, at 1pm, also to avoid any potential clash with England’s Euro 2024 quarter-final against Switzerland.

Then, with a poor weather forecast and with one of their opponents, Marcelo Arévalo, also having a men’s doubles match to complete because of the rain, they were put fourth match on instead. As it turned out, Arévalo did not even get on court for the completion of his men’s doubles until 1pm.

If Andy Murray needs someone to chat to about it all, then perhaps he could seek out John McEnroe. The former world No 1 came out of retirement in 1999 to partner Steffi Graf in the mixed at Wimbledon that year and the pair thrilled the crowds.

McEnroe and Graf beat Venus Willams and Justin Gimelstob on their way to the semi-finals and looked for all the world as if they would win the title, only for Graf to tell him that she was pulling out to save herself for the final of the singles the next day. “It’s too much, and it’s too late in the day – I’m defaulting”, McEnroe recalled, in his book, Serious. McEnroe was furious and still rues the missed opportunity. Graf then lost the final to Lindsay Davenport in straight sets.

Murray pulled out of the singles because of injury but was treated to a touching farewell on Centre Court, including a video tribute from Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Venus Williams following his doubles defeat with brother Jamie Murray on Thursday.

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