The New York Times 2024-07-09 16:10:53

2 Russians Found Guilty of ‘Justifying Terrorism’ in Their Play About ISIS

A Russian military court found a playwright and a theater director guilty of “justifying terrorism” on Monday, sentencing them to six years in prison each in a case that critics say is the latest chilling example of the crackdown on free speech since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

The playwright, Svetlana Petriychuk, 44, and the director, Yevgenia Berkovich, 39, are both acclaimed members of the Russian theater world and have been in custody since May 2023. In addition to the six-year sentences, exactly the time frame requested by prosecutors, both women will be banned from “administering websites” for three years following their release.

The play Ms. Petriychuk wrote and Ms. Berkovich staged, “Finist the Brave Falcon,” is an adaptation of a classic fairy tale of the same name, interwoven with the stories of women baited online by men into joining the Islamic State. It is loosely based on the true stories of thousands of women from across Russia and the former Soviet Union who were recruited by ISIS terrorists. The main character of the play returns to Russia feeling betrayed and disappointed by the man who lured her there, only to be sentenced to prison as a terrorist herself.

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Middle East Crisis: Statements From Netanyahu and Hamas Narrow Hopes for a Truce in Gaza

Top News

Despite the setbacks, negotiations over a possible cease-fire deal continue in Cairo.

Hopes of a cease-fire in Gaza ebbed on Monday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Hamas both issued statements that narrowed the chances of reaching a compromise about the territory’s future.

In a statement on Sunday night, Mr. Netanyahu said he would agree only to a deal that would “allow Israel to resume fighting until all of the objectives of the war have been achieved.” The comments reiterated his long-held position that the war must continue until Israel has destroyed Hamas’s military and governing abilities.

Hamas, which opposes any cease-fire unless it is permanent, said on Monday that Israel’s continuing military operations across Gaza risked returning “the negotiating process to point zero.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s insistence on being able to resume fighting drew widespread criticism on Monday in Israel, where there is growing support for a cease-fire deal that would involve the release of at least some of the Israeli hostages still held in Gaza.

Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition depends on support of ultranationalist leaders opposed to a permanent truce, and the backlash on Monday revived accusations that he was putting his personal interests above the nation’s.

Mr. Netanyahu insists that Hamas’s total defeat is in Israel’s strategic interest. But others say that the hostages’ freedom is a higher priority and that the prime minister’s main motivation is to avoid the collapse of his government.

The claims exemplify a wider dispute about Mr. Netanyahu, whose decision in 2020 to remain in politics, despite standing trial for corruption, worsened deep splits in Israeli society and prompted years of political instability.

The country’s military leadership believes that a cease-fire deal would be the swiftest way of releasing some 120 Israelis, some alive and some dead, who remain in Gaza. Recent polling also suggests that a majority of Israelis see the return of the hostages as a higher priority than continuing the battle against Hamas in Gaza.

Still, negotiations over a deal continued on Monday in Cairo, where Ronen Bar, the head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, gathered for talks mediated by the Egyptian government. More discussions are scheduled for later this week in Qatar, another mediator between Israel and Hamas. Some officials and analysts said that the comments from both Mr. Netanyahu and Hamas could be construed as an attempt to drive a hard bargain, rather than a rejection of the negotiating process.

Along with reaching a compromise over the length of the cease-fire, the sides need to agree on the number and identity of the Palestinian prisoners to be exchanged for the hostages. They also need to agree about the extent to which Israeli troops should withdraw from Gaza; Hamas seeks a total withdrawal, while Israel hopes to retain control over some parts of the territory that it has captured.

After months of failed negotiations, hopes for a deal were revived last week amid reports that Hamas had become more flexible on critical points, prompting Mr. Netanyahu to send negotiators to Qatar.

But Mr. Netanyahu’s grip on power relies on the support of two far-right parties opposed to any agreement that would leave Hamas in power in Gaza. Critics say this has made him wary of committing to a hostage-release deal that could lead to the collapse of his coalition and prompt early elections that polling suggests he would lose. Mr. Netanyahu is currently standing trial on charges of corruption, accusations he denies, and his political future would be at stake if he lost power for the third time in his career.

“The simple truth is as follows: Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want a hostage deal,” Ben Caspit, a biographer and prominent critic of the prime minister, wrote on social media. “He might be willing to get the hostages back, but not at the expense of his coalition’s well-being.”

An influential minister in Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition, Bezalel Smotrich, underscored the coalition’s fragility on Monday by hinting on social media that his party could leave the coalition if the prime minister struck a deal that kept Hamas in power in Gaza.

“We will not be part of a deal to surrender to Hamas,” said Mr. Smotrich, a far-right firebrand whose party holds the balance of power in Mr. Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

“This deal is a defeat and humiliation for Israel,” Mr. Smotrich added.

Some analysts believe Mr. Netanyahu may not personally be opposed to a deal but wants to maximize its chances of success by delaying it until the end of July, when Parliament goes on recess.

Without a sitting Parliament, lawmakers would find it far harder to bring down the government, giving Mr. Netanyahu more room to strike a deal that his coalition partners might resist, according to Nadav Shtrauchler, a former strategist for the prime minister.

“He’s trying to create room for maneuver — and for that, he needs time,” Mr. Shtrauchler said.

Mr. Netanyahu may also be using hardball negotiating tactics in order to force bigger compromises from Hamas. With each passing day, Israel’s military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah further weakens Hamas’s position there, Mr. Shtrauchler said.

“The efforts of the military in Gaza may help him get more from Hamas,” Mr. Shtrauchler said.

However, the leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, working on the assumption that Mr. Netanyahu’s resistance to a swift deal is mainly political in nature, on Monday offered to help keep the prime minister in power if the government collapsed over a hostage deal.

“It is not true that he has to choose between the life of the hostages and the continuation of his tenure as prime minister,” Mr. Lapid said in a speech. “I promised him a safety net, and I will keep that promise.”

Mr. Netanyahu did not immediately respond to Mr. Lapid’s offer, but analysts and allies of the prime minister said he was unlikely to accept it because he does not trust Mr. Lapid’s intentions.

“Lapid will give him a parachute for this specific deal, but 24 hours later he will vanish,” Mr. Shtrauchler said.

“It’s not something that Netanyahu can consider reliable,” Mr. Shtrauchler added.

Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.

Key Developments

A departing Israeli general condemns violence by Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and other news.

  • Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuks, the outgoing chief of Israel’s Central Command, on Monday condemned rising “nationalist crime” among Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and criticized the Israeli government for efforts to financially cripple the Palestinian Authority, which administers some areas of the occupied West Bank. At a departure ceremony, he said that Israel’s security relied on a “strong and functioning” Palestinian Authority and expressed dismay over the settler violence in the territory, which is home to about 2.7 million Palestinians. An extremist minority, he said, was undermining Israel’s reputation internationally. “That, to me, is not Judaism,” he added, “at least not the one I was raised upon in my father’s and mother’s home. That is not the way of the Torah.”

  • William Burns, the C.I.A. director, went to Cairo for talks this week about a cease-fire proposal between Israel and Hamas, as did the White House’s Middle East coordinator, Brett McGurk, according to the White House national security communications adviser, John F. Kirby. While Israel and Hamas have both indicated that the latest proposal is stalled, with each side blaming the other, Mr. Kirby said at a White House news briefing on Monday, “We’re trying to close those gaps as best we can,” adding that the Biden administration would not have sent Mr. Burns and Mr. McGurk to negotiate if it didn’t believe there was a chance of success. Speaking of Israel’s and Hamas’s assessments of the latest cease-fire proposal, Mr. Kirby said, “On both sides you see public comments with respect to the text that aren’t necessarily reflective of the conversations we’re having privately with them or their interlocutors.”

  • The Israeli military said on Monday that its troops were back in Shajaiye, a neighborhood in Gaza City that it has returned to repeatedly during the war. In a statement, the military said soldiers had raided and destroyed a Hamas “command and control center” in Shajaiye that was located in converted schools and a clinic, and said that it found mortars, machine guns, grenades and Hamas intelligence documents alongside equipment and UNRWA school uniforms. UNRWA is the main U.N. aid agency for helping Palestinians. Shajaiye has seen fierce fighting throughout the war. In December, nine Israeli soldiers were killed there on what Israel’s military said was one of the deadliest days of the war for its forces. Later, with Shajaiye ravaged and the Gaza City appearing pacified, Israeli forces moved on, but returned in late June, forcing Palestinian civilians to flee again. More than half of UNRWA’s facilities in Gaza have been hit by Israeli forces during the war, Philippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA head, said in a post on social media on Sunday, calling for independent investigations into claims that the facilities were being used for terrorist activities.

  • A cross-border strike by the Lebanon-based armed group Hezbollah wounded a 31-year-old U.S. citizen in Israel on Sunday, according to a spokesman for the American Embassy in Jerusalem, who said that the man did not work for the U.S. government. The condition of the man, who has not been named, has since worsened, Israeli news media reported on Monday, citing hospital sources. Israel and Hezbollah have for months traded cross-border strikes, leading to concerns that the war in Gaza might ignite a second conflict.

  • Canada’s government condemned the Israeli government’s decision to legalize five Jewish outposts in the West Bank last month and to financially weaken the Palestinian Authority. “We strongly urge the Government of Israel to reverse this decision and not go down this path,” the Canadian government said in a post on social media on Monday.

The Israeli military returned to an area of Gaza City where it said Hamas had re-established itself.

The Israeli military said on Monday that it had started a new ground operation in Gaza City overnight, the latest in a series of raids targeting areas where it says Hamas militants have re-established themselves since Israeli forces turned their focus to other parts of Gaza.

Palestinian news media reported heavy bombardment and the presence of Israeli troops as thousands of Palestinians evacuated the area.

The ground operation was prompted by “intelligence indicating the presence of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist infrastructure, operatives, weapons, and investigation and detention rooms,” the military said in a statement.

It added that the area it had moved into included the headquarters of the main United Nations agency that assists Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA. Juliette Touma, the agency’s communications director, said it did not have any information about the military’s actions, but she noted that the agency had left its headquarters in October.

Israeli forces have repeatedly found themselves returning to parts of Gaza that they had previously left, especially in the north, which they invaded in October, as Hamas regroups amid the chaos of the nine-month war. The fighting has flared even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken of a new, less intense phase of the war.

The operation shows that Israel is still struggling to achieve one of its stated objectives in the war: wiping out Hamas, which organized and led the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel that set off the war in Gaza.

The military said it had warned civilians about its activity and opened a “defined route” for their evacuation. Wafa, the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency, reported “a massive exodus of thousands” of Palestinians from the area toward the northwestern neighborhoods of Gaza City.

The agency said Israeli military vehicles had entered areas in southwestern Gaza City, including the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood and the southern outskirts of the upscale Al-Rimal neighborhood. It added that residents reported heavy aircraft and artillery fire that killed and wounded dozens of people.

Ahmed Saleh, 44, who lives near Al-Rimal with 13 family members, said in a phone interview that the strikes began suddenly, “all kinds of strikes — tank shelling, artillery and aircraft.” He said they began receiving calls and text messages from the Israeli military telling them to evacuate, but only after the bombardment had begun.

Mr. Saleh said he managed to grab a bag with important documents and some clothes before fleeing with his family, including his 70-year-old mother, whose wheelchair broke on the way because of the bombed-out roads.

After borrowing another wheelchair, the family walked for another hour amid continued strikes, until they arrived at the house of Mr. Saleh’s sister outside the evacuation zone.

Mr. Saleh said that while fleeing his neighborhood, he saw “dozens of people” who had been killed or injured. He told people along the way to move west, “but they had to go east to collect their stuff and rescue their families,” he said. Many were caught in the bombardment, and “no one could reach them for help,” he said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said in a statement that its emergency and rescue teams had evacuated at least 30 wounded people from a hospital in the Rimal neighborhood to the Indonesian Hospital, which is outside the evacuation zone.

France Learns a New Word: Ungovernable

Instead of waking up on Monday to a country dominated by the far right, France awoke to becoming Italy, a country where only painstaking parliamentary negotiation may eventually yield a viable coalition government.

France said no to Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Rally party in legislative elections, another demonstration of its deep-seated resistance to nationalist adventures. It voted a resurgent left into a first place that fell far short of giving the left power, and it shifted the political heart of the country from an all-powerful presidency to the Parliament.

With the Paris Olympics set to open in less than three weeks, and an August exodus to the beaches or mountains a sacred feature of French life, talks to form a government may stretch into the fall, when France will need a government to pass a budget. The election, which might have provoked an uprising, produced an impasse.

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Russia Strikes Children’s Hospital in Deadly Barrage Across Ukraine

Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital was destroyed by a Russian missile on Monday, shaking Kyiv, the capital, with images of bloodied and injured children, and sending hundreds racing to the scene to help clear twisted metal and smashed concrete in a desperate search for survivors.

The hospital strike was part of a barrage of bombings by Moscow across the country, including one of its deadliest assaults on Kyiv since the first months of the war. At least 38 people were killed across the country, including 27 in Kyiv. More than 100 people were injured. The Ukrainian air force said it shot down 30 out of the 38 missiles launched by Russia during the attack, which began in the midmorning.

“The attack was massive, combined with the use of aerial, ballistic and cruise missiles,” said Serhii Popko, the head of the Kyiv military administration. “The missiles flew at the capital in waves and from different directions.”

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