The Guardian 2024-07-11 04:12:56


First F-16 jets heading to Ukraine after months of training and negotiations

Dutch and Danish leaders say Ukraine will be ‘flying operational F-16s this summer’ as Kyiv seeks battlefield wins

  • Nato summit – live updates

The first F-16 fighter jets are on their way to Ukraine and will be flying sorties this summer, according to a statement from the Dutch and Danish governments that was released by the White House at the Nato summit.

Dick Schoof, the prime minister of the Netherlands, and Mette Frederiksen, his counterpart from Denmark, said the “transfer process” of F-16s to Kyiv was under way after months of pilot training and political negotiations.

The two leaders said that “Ukraine will be flying operational F-16s this summer” – the first of about 85 of the combat aircraft that have been committed to Kyiv to turn around its fortunes on the battlefield, and Ukraine signalled more may be to come.

The long-awaited supply of F-16s is part of what Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said would be “a substantial package” of support for Ukraine, which includes the donation of four Patriot air defence systems, Nato-led training for Ukraine’s troops – and a commitment that Kyiv’s eventual path to Nato membership is “irreversible”.

Allies are also expected to directly criticise China, with stronger language than used before, for assisting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling it a “decisive enabler” of the war by supporting Moscow in its “no limits” partnership, and supplying components for military equipment and chemicals for explosives.

An announcement on F-16s had been expected at the same time as the summit, and the hope is that the fighters will be able to stifle Russian glide bomb attacks launched from warplanes operating up to 43 miles (70km) away that have been devastating frontline positions.

But it remains unclear how far Ukraine will be able to use F-16s to attack targets in Russian territory or airspace. The US had previously been concerned about the potential for escalation but partially relaxed its position to allow the bombing of targets inside Russia by long-range artillery.

Keir Starmer, the UK’s prime minister, said he was happy to see Ukraine use Storm Shadow missiles to attack targets inside Russia as long as they were used to defend itself – and in accordance with international law. “It is for defensive purposes, but it is for Ukraine to decide how to deploy it for those defensive purposes,” he said.

It ends a lengthy wait for Ukraine, whose president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has been lobbying for at least 18 months for western jets to complement its small and ageing Soviet standard air force, which is no match for Russia’s.

Zelenskiy said he was grateful to Denmark, the Netherlands and the US for taking what he described as practical steps of assistance – and indicated that he was hopeful of more donations to boost numbers to a target of 130.

“F-16s will also be used to bolster Ukraine’s air defence. I am confident that they will assist us in better protecting Ukrainians from brutal Russian attacks, such as this week’s strike on the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital in Kyiv,” the president said.

Norway and Belgium have also committed to supplying F-16s in the future, but Zelenskiy went further and said: “I anticipate that our air force capability coalition will be strengthened even further through the joining of new participants.”

It remains unclear how effective the F-16s, a combat jet designed in the 1970s, will be in the war against Russia. Particularly important will be how they are concealed and protected when on the ground, at a time when Ukraine’s air defences have been stretched.

This month, Russia said it had destroyed five Ukrainian Su-27 jets in an Iskander missile attack on an airbase in Myrhorod. Ukraine acknowledged some losses amid criticism that the planes were lined up on the tarmac in daylight within range of Russian missiles.

On Tuesday night, Joe Biden, the US president, announced that Nato members would supply four Patriot anti-missile batteries, while Italy would supply a similar Samp-t, which could be used to protect airbases from Russian attacks.

Confirming the development, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said: “As we speak, the transfer of F-16 jets is under way, coming from Denmark, coming from the Netherlands”.” It should, he added, “concentrate Vladimir Putin’s mind on the fact that he will not outlast Ukraine”.

Ukraine is not expected to become a member of Nato until the end of its war with Russia, as several countries, led by the US, believe that immediate membership would in effect lead to a war between Moscow and the military alliance.

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Joe Biden closes his remarks by saying that the Nato-wide push to strengthen defence manufacturing “sends an unmistakable message to the world:

Every Nato member is committed to doing their part to keep the alliance strong. We can and will defend every inch of Nato territory, and we’ll do it together.

He says Nato leaders will ensure that the alliance will always be ready “for whatever threats we will face”.

Biden thanks every Nato member for their commitment in their shared security.

UK will be ‘leading European nation’ in Nato, defence secretary pledges

John Healey acknowledges likely shift of US focus to China and says Britain and EU must raise military spending to counter Russia

Britain will be “the leading European nation” in Nato under a Labour government, the new defence secretary, John Healey, pledged in an interview at the Nato summit in Washington DC – though spending may have to rise significantly if the UK is to remain ahead of Germany.

The cabinet minister, appointed last Friday, acknowledged that European countries within Nato would have to take on more of the burden of defending the west against Russia – regardless of whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump won the US presidential election in November.

“Whoever is elected to the White House, we have to recognise that American priorities are likely to shift to the Indo-Pacific,” Healey said at the Nato summit in Washington, suggesting that the US will inevitably redirect its military focus to China.

“The consequences of that are that European nations in Nato must do more of the heavy lifting and some of the leadership that traditionally we have been able to look to the Americans to do.

“So Keir Starmer’s commitment during this summit, [is] that under the new government, Britain will be the leading European nation in Nato,” Healey said. “We recognise the responsibilities that with other European nations we must pick up.”

Labour has promised to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP from its existing level of 2.32% but it has not said when it will do this. On Wednesday, Healey said a review of budgets would part of a strategic review that would be launched next week by the prime minister.

The new defence secretary promised that the review would take place “in less than a year” and in such a way that “we can get to grips with difficult decisions that need to be taken early”.

Britain has traditionally been the leading European nation in Nato, as measured by defence expenditure, outspending Germany and France. But since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has led a dramatic change in policy.

Figures released by Nato showed that in dollar terms the UK spent $77bn (£60bn) in 2023 compared with $73.1bn for Germany and $59.3bn for France. But, next year, Germany’s budgets are expected to soar past Britain at $97.7bn – compared with $82.1bn for the UK.

Before the summit, Downing Street said Starmer would use his trip – his first international engagement after becoming prime minister last Friday – to call on Nato countries to increase defence spending further. The intention, a spokesperson said, was to send “a strong signal” to Russia as it continues to attack Ukraine.

European Nato allies have principally worried about the impact of a fresh Donald Trump presidency. The Republican challenger to Biden threatened to leave the alliance in 2018 when he was last president, and has threatened that any member spending less than 2% of GDP on defence would not be protected by the US.

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Analysis

European leaders use Nato summit to sell military alliance to US voters

Andrew Roth and Julian Borger in Washington

Issue of burden-sharing threatens to become major stumbling block should second Trump administration come into power

  • Nato summit live: latest updates

European leaders at the Nato summit in Washington are focused on explaining to ordinary American taxpayers that the military alliance is worth the money, as the issue of burden-sharing has become a political football for both parties in the US – and threatens to become a serious stumbling block for the alliance should a second Trump administration come to power.

“There is a debate in the United States that the US are doing a lot to support Ukraine and Europe is not doing enough. If you look at figures, it’s actually a different picture. Europe is doing more than the United States: the financial support, military support we all have provided so far has been enormous … We are taking the security and defense seriously,” said Edgars Rinkēvičs, the president of Latvia, during a speech on Tuesday alongside the former CIA director Leon Panetta and the Estonian defense minister, Hanno Pevkur. “It’s also very important to explain to the American public.”

In background briefings, European officials have said they have been concerned with political turmoil in the US and Europe. The US was among countries that pushed back against a multi-year financial pledge for military aid to Ukraine – in part because of the bitter fight in Congress over the Ukraine supplemental bill.

“We think that this is essential to signal that Europeans are taking a greater burden of their own security,” said another European official ahead of the summit. “And it’s an important message to Ukraine, to Russia – but also for domestic audience. Here in DC, we are aware of the sensitivity of that topic, and I think you can expect a lot of strategic communication on that next week.”

European officials are balancing concerns over the growing Russian threat in Ukraine and the political sensitivities that could further divide the alliance.

“We also understand that the ordinary people, in Latvia or the United States or somewhere else, sometimes do care more about economy, social issues, internal security, and we should take those concerns seriously and address them in the same manner that we are addressing the high geopolitical issues,” said Rinkēvičs.

Polling has shown that views on Nato are subject to a partisan divide in the US, and that the alliance has become steadily less popular among Republicans in the past year. According to the Pew Research Centre, just 43% of Republicans have a positive view of the alliance, down from 49% who said the same in 2023.

European leaders have taken different tacks, with some talking points seemingly tailored toward the Republican candidate as well. “Nato is a club, and when you have a club rules, then you respect the rules, and you expect that everybody will also respect the rules,” Pefkur, the Estonian defense minister, said on Tuesday. “So Trump is a golfer, so when you pay your fee, in the golf club, you can play. Doesn’t matter how big is your wallet. So when you pay that fee, you can go to the golf course and play.”

In a speech at the Hudson Institute on Tuesday, the Republican House speaker, Mike Johnson, said that he supported Nato but that he would press European leaders on fulfilling a pledge to spend 2% of GDP on defense. He also tied national security to US border security, once again reinforcing how Nato policies have become subsumed to domestic US politics.

“Nato needs to be doing more,” he said. “Not all Nato members have reached their current commitment. It may even need to be closer at a level during the cold war. But if we’re all going to enjoy a future of peace and prosperity, we all need to have skin in the game.”

Critics have said that the US is going through a period of isolationism. “On a tectonic level, our allies should understand that there is a usually isolationist instinct in this country,” said Representative Jim Himes, a senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee. “And it emerges from time to time, when economic conditions here are not good,” or after moments of disenchantment like the Iraq war. “We are in that isolationist moment and it’s not just Donald Trump.”

Others describe it as restraint. Trump is not the only one calling for the US to withdraw forces and resources from Europe, leaving Europeans to take on the burden of defending themselves. Several liberal foreign policy analysts have been calling for years for a switch to American restraint when it comes to US military projection, especially in Europe.

“It is in the interest of a transatlantic alliance to shift the burden toward Europe and transition over, a decent period, maybe about a decade, toward European leadership of European defense with the United States moving to a supporting role,” Stephen Wertheim a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a leading advocate for restraint.

Wertheim was one of dozens of foreign policy experts who wrote an open letter published in the Guardian urging Nato leaders not to invite Ukraine to become a member.

“It could also be counterproductive insofar as Russia believes that Ukraine is advancing down this bridge to Nato membership, Russia gains an incentive to prolong the war so that that moment never arrives, so that Ukraine never crosses that bridge on the other side.”

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Suspect found with injuries after triple crossbow killings in Bushey

Kyle Clifford, a British Army veteran, found in north London and taken to major trauma centre following manhunt

A British army veteran wanted in connection with the death of three women in a suspected crossbow attack has been captured after being found with injuries, police have said.

Kyle Clifford, 26, who is understood to have served in the British army for about a year, was named as a suspect by Hertfordshire police after the deaths of Carol Hunt, 61, and two of her daughters, Hannah, 28, and Louise, 25, at a property in Bushey.

Ch Supt Jon Simpson from Hertfordshire police told reporters earlier on Wednesday the suspected murders were believed to be targeted.

Later on Wednesday, a statement from Hertfordshire police said Clifford had been found in north London and received medical treatment for injuries. Police emphasised no shots were fired.

London ambulance service confirmed a man was treated at Lavender Hill Cemetery before being transported to a “major trauma centre”, which could be one of four hospitals in the capital.

On Wednesday afternoon, there was a significant number of police officers at the cemetery, 16 miles from the crime scene and near a property that was searched earlier in the day as part of the manhunt.

Paramedics and ambulances were also at the location. Footage captured from a helicopter showed a man being stretchered out of the cemetery.

Police believe the suspect was known to the victims and no one else is being sought in connection with the investigation.

Sources said that Carol Hunt was found in the hallway of the house with a crossbow bolt in her chest, while evidence of ligatures were found near the victims. One of the victims is understood to have texted her partner, urging them to call the police.

Clifford is believed to have served in the British army for a year, sources have said. The Ministry of Defence has been contacted for comment.

The women are understood to be the family of the BBC’s racing radio commentator, John Hunt. As part of a note sent to BBC Radio 5 Live staff on Wednesday, the organisation described the incident as “utterly devastating”.

The Hunts have another daughter, Amy, who is thought to live in Birmingham.

Police said a crossbow or other weapons may have been used in the attacks, and they are investigating what relationship any of the victims may have had to Clifford.

The home secretary, Yvette Cooper, is urgently considering the findings of a Home Office review launched in 2021 to see if tougher crossbow laws need to be introduced.

A source said the victims were not gagged and bound when found, but there were ligature marks around their wrists and face, suggesting they had been and that these were removed. The source added that all of the victims had injuries to their knees.

The Guardian understands that one of the victims called 999 and alerted the police to the incident before the perpetrator fled.

Detectives have appealed for information or video footage and asked the public to report anything suspicious they saw in Ashlyn Close from midday on Tuesday, about seven hours before they found the women.

One source said the women may have been held hostage for hours before police were called.

On Wednesday morning armed police raided a property not far from the cemetery in Rendlesham Road, Enfield, which is understood to have been linked to Clifford’s brother, Bradley, who was jailed for life in 2018 for murder.

Schools in Enfield were placed in lockdown.

DI Justine Jenkins from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire major crime unit said: “This continues to be an incredibly difficult time for the victims’ family and we would ask that their privacy is respected as they come to terms with what has happened.

“This investigation is moving at pace and formal identification of the victims is yet to take place.”

She added: “Following extensive inquiries, the suspect has been located and nobody else is being sought in connection with the investigation at this time.

“We have had an overwhelming number of calls and would like to express our gratitude to the members of the public who have contacted us.”

Cooper, said she was being kept fully updated on the inquiry into the “truly shocking” deaths.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We keep legislation under constant review and a call for evidence was launched earlier this year to look at whether further controls on crossbows should be introduced.

“The home secretary will swiftly consider the findings to see if laws need to be tightened further.”

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Tributes paid to three women killed in ‘devastating’ Bushey crossbow attack

Neighbours of Carol Hunt and her daughters express shock as racing community sends John Hunt sympathy

  • Suspect found with injuries after triple crossbow killings in Bushey

Tributes have been paid to three women killed in an “utterly devastating” crossbow attack.

Carol Hunt and her two daughters, beautician Hannah Hunt, 28, and dog groomer Louise Hunt, 25, were found injured at a home in Bushey, Hertfordshire on Tuesday and died shortly after at the scene.

It emerged on Wednesday that they were the family of John Hunt, the BBC racing commentator.

Glyn Nicholas, 77, retired, who has lived on the same road as the victims for 50 years, said: “They were a private family, all very nice, a private family. They all did their own things. Louise started a business a couple of years ago, and it was a thriving business – we all took our dogs there to be groomed.”

He added: “A very close-knit family and they used to love the street.”

Su Kehinde, 60, who lives nearby, spoke after laying some flowers at a makeshift tribute at the end of the police cordon.

Kehinde said: “They were the loveliest, gentlest family. They were the meekest human beings. They did not deserve this. They were beautiful souls.”

Her daughter April, 32, said that Hannah “always had a smile”.

She added: “She was hard-working, a hard grafter and really gentle.”

As tearful residents around the scene in Ashlyn Close started to lay flowers, Hunt’s colleagues offered their love and thoughts.

A note sent to staff at BBC Radio 5 Live on Wednesday said the organisation would provide the commentator with “all the support we can”.

It read: “The news today about John Hunt’s family is utterly devastating. Our thoughts are with John and his family at this incredibly difficult time and we will provide him with all the support we can.”

The BBC racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght said: “There are no words. Like everyone else I feel numb and sick on John’s behalf at such incomprehensible evil.

“Everyone who knows John knows he is the absolute archetypal family man, so proud of them, so it’s impossible to know what he can be going through.

“But I know I’m speaking for the whole racing community and the whole wider sports media community as well, both of which he’s been part of for so long, when I say everyone is sending sympathy, love and support to him. It’s just awful.”

The ITV and Sky Sports racing commentator Matt Chapman said: “News like this is shocking enough but on a personal level even more so when it involves a friend and colleague you totally respect.

“There are no words here. Just the wish to let John know we love him and racing loves him. There are loads of us who he can talk to should he need or want to.

“John is an outstanding commentator and broadcaster – but he’s also just a lovely bloke.”

A statement from Sky Sports Racing read: “Everyone at Sky Sports Racing is deeply saddened by the tragic deaths in Hertfordshire and our thoughts are with our colleague John Hunt, his family and friends at this awful time.”

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50 min Incidentally, that deadweight Harry Kane is now joint top-scorer, although he’s two assists behind Dani Olmo in the Golden Boot race.

In other news, how good is Dani Olmo? The brain is the biggest erogenous zone, especially when you’re in the opposition’s penalty area. His goal last night, understandably overshadowed by the kid, was a thing of quick-witted beauty.

George Clooney implores Biden to step aside in opinion article

The actor says he talked to Biden at LA fundraiser and concluded: ‘We are not going to win with this president’

The Hollywood actor George Clooney, one of the Democratic party’s biggest fundraisers, has called on Joe Biden to step aside to save democracy from Donald Trump.

In an opinion article in the New York Times, Clooney expressed deep affection for the US president but said that personal interaction with him at a recent fundraising event in Los Angeles – the Democratic party’s most successful ever, raising more than $30m – suggested that the stumbling performance in last month’s debate in Atlanta was not an aberration.

“It’s devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe ‘big F-ing deal’ Biden of 2010,” the actor and longtime Democratic party member and fundraiser wrote.

“He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.

“Was he tired? Yes. A cold? Maybe. But our party leaders need to stop telling us that 51 million people didn’t see what we just saw,” he said, referring to explanations from the White House and Biden himself for his bad debate performance.

More bluntly, he said explicitly that Biden could not prevail in an electoral rematch with Trump: “We are not going to win with this president.”

Stressing that his call was made reluctantly, Clooney paid tribute to the political battles that Biden had won throughout his career but said his age represented an insurmountable adversary.

“But the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time. None of us can,” he wrote.

Clooney’s plea came as Biden continues to insist on staying in the race while senior Democrats agonise about how to apply pressure on him to change his mind, and serious questions continue over Biden’s health and viability for re-election.

The actor called on leading party figures to come off the fence and make the case to Biden, while dismissing as “disingenuous” the president’s argument – stated in a letter to Democrats in Congress this week – that the party’s membership had already chosen the nominee in the primaries.

‘Most of our members of Congress are opting to wait and see if the dam breaks,” he wrote in remarks clearly critical of continuing inaction. “But the dam has broken. We can put our heads in the sand and pray for a miracle in November, or we can speak the truth.”

He concluded: “Joe Biden is a hero; he saved democracy in 2020. We need him to do it again in 2024.”

Clooney’s intervention comes weeks after a disagreement with the White House over Biden’s criticism of the international criminal court’s move to issue an arrest warrant for Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over allegations of war crimes in Gaza.

The actor’s wife, Amal Alamuddin Clooney, worked on the case. Clooney called Steve Ricchetti, the president’s counsel, to complain about Biden’s labeling the warrant as “outrageous”.

Warrants were being sought for the arrest of Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, and three leaders of Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Shortly afterwards, however, Clooney appeared at a huge fundraising event in Los Angeles for the campaign, which headlined with Biden and Barack Obama.

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George Clooney implores Biden to step aside in opinion article

The actor says he talked to Biden at LA fundraiser and concluded: ‘We are not going to win with this president’

The Hollywood actor George Clooney, one of the Democratic party’s biggest fundraisers, has called on Joe Biden to step aside to save democracy from Donald Trump.

In an opinion article in the New York Times, Clooney expressed deep affection for the US president but said that personal interaction with him at a recent fundraising event in Los Angeles – the Democratic party’s most successful ever, raising more than $30m – suggested that the stumbling performance in last month’s debate in Atlanta was not an aberration.

“It’s devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe ‘big F-ing deal’ Biden of 2010,” the actor and longtime Democratic party member and fundraiser wrote.

“He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.

“Was he tired? Yes. A cold? Maybe. But our party leaders need to stop telling us that 51 million people didn’t see what we just saw,” he said, referring to explanations from the White House and Biden himself for his bad debate performance.

More bluntly, he said explicitly that Biden could not prevail in an electoral rematch with Trump: “We are not going to win with this president.”

Stressing that his call was made reluctantly, Clooney paid tribute to the political battles that Biden had won throughout his career but said his age represented an insurmountable adversary.

“But the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time. None of us can,” he wrote.

Clooney’s plea came as Biden continues to insist on staying in the race while senior Democrats agonise about how to apply pressure on him to change his mind, and serious questions continue over Biden’s health and viability for re-election.

The actor called on leading party figures to come off the fence and make the case to Biden, while dismissing as “disingenuous” the president’s argument – stated in a letter to Democrats in Congress this week – that the party’s membership had already chosen the nominee in the primaries.

‘Most of our members of Congress are opting to wait and see if the dam breaks,” he wrote in remarks clearly critical of continuing inaction. “But the dam has broken. We can put our heads in the sand and pray for a miracle in November, or we can speak the truth.”

He concluded: “Joe Biden is a hero; he saved democracy in 2020. We need him to do it again in 2024.”

Clooney’s intervention comes weeks after a disagreement with the White House over Biden’s criticism of the international criminal court’s move to issue an arrest warrant for Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over allegations of war crimes in Gaza.

The actor’s wife, Amal Alamuddin Clooney, worked on the case. Clooney called Steve Ricchetti, the president’s counsel, to complain about Biden’s labeling the warrant as “outrageous”.

Warrants were being sought for the arrest of Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, and three leaders of Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Shortly afterwards, however, Clooney appeared at a huge fundraising event in Los Angeles for the campaign, which headlined with Biden and Barack Obama.

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Democratic senator says Trump is on track to win as Pelosi says Biden must ‘decide if he’s going to run’

Michael Bennet said Trump may win ‘by a landslide’ while actor George Clooney urged the president to step aside

A Democratic senator has predicted Donald Trump will defeat Joe Biden in a “landslide” while the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, said it was up to Biden “to decide if he’s going to run”, in remarks that will intensify the pressure on the president to reconsider his determination to stay in the race.

In an impassioned interview with CNN, Michael Bennet of Colorado said he believed Biden could no longer win November’s election and said his campaign needed to assess the decision of whether he steps aside in “moral” terms based on the importance of saving the country from the “American tragedy” of a second Trump presidency.

“This race is on a trajectory that is very worrisome if you care about the future of this country,” Bennet told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. “Donald Trump is on track, I think, to win this election and maybe win it by a landslide, and take with him the Senate and the House. It’s not a question about politics, it’s a moral question about the future of our country.”

Pelosi, who was speaker of the House until the Republicans regained control of it in the 2022 midterm elections, told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “it’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run” and said of House Democrats: “We’re all encouraging him to make that decision. Because time is running short.”

The Hollywood actor and Democratic fundraiser George Clooney on Wednesday added his voice to the growing number of calls for Biden to drop out. In an opinion article for the New York Times, he expressed concern about the president’s showing at a recent fundraiser in Los Angeles, where he “wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.” Clooney called Biden a friend but said “the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time”.

Bennet’s and Pelosi’s comments followed a lunch meeting of the Democratic Senate caucus in which Bennet and two other senators, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana, reportedly said they believed Biden was no longer able to win after the 27 June debate failure, in which he appeared repeatedly confused, lost his train of thought and failed to counter a spate of lies from Trump.

While no senators have explicitly called for Biden to step aside – in contrast to seven House members who have appealed to him to abandon his re-election bid – the debate fallout has plunged the Democrats into paralysis as the campaign approaches a key phase.

Biden has emphatically refused to yield to pressure to bow out, writing to the party’s congressional contingent en masse to emphasise that he is there to stay and throwing the gauntlet down to doubters to challenge him at next month’s convention in Chicago.

He has secured crucial support from the Congressional Black caucus, although on Wednesday one of its members, Marc Veasey of Texas, became the first to break ranks by telling CNN that Democrats running in tight races should “distance themselves” from Biden in an effort to “do whatever it is they need to do” to win.

Bennet, while stopping short of an all-out call for Biden to withdraw, said that defiant posture was unfitting to the moment – even while voicing empathy for the position of a president who had served his party and country for more than half a century.

“I’m sure President Biden has a different view of his prospects in this election than I do, but we should be having a discussion,” he said. “The White House in the time since that disastrous debate has done nothing to really demonstrate that they have a plan to win.

“I have not seen anything remotely approaching the kind of plan we need to see out of the White House that can demonstrate that he can actually beat Donald Trump, which is not going to be about the accomplishments that we all had, you know, three and four years ago. This is something for the president to consider.”

Bennet’s comments came after a meeting of House Democrats yesterday that failed to produce an expected groundswell of calls for Biden to stand aside but instead saw some previously sceptical members back down in the face of his resolve to continue. Rumbles of discontent among House members continue, however.

The president himself held a virtual meeting from the White House on Tuesday evening with about 200 Democratic mayors in which he restated his determination to remain and reportedly won their support.

The 40-minute meeting consisted of Biden talking for the first 20 minutes and taking just three questions – chosen by a moderator, Kate Gallego, the mayor of Phoenix – the New York Times reported.

Participants could not see who else was on the call or add comments to a chat screen but they were able to show their feelings by adding emojis, with many contributing smiley faces in response to Biden’s words.

The president reportedly called the debate “a lousy night”. He promised to prioritise housebuilding in his second term and warned the mayors about the consequences of another Trump presidency, focusing on the ex-president’s pledge to be a dictator “only on day one” and stressing the Project 2025 rightwing blueprint for government, which Trump has recently, though unconvincingly, disavowed.

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‘What we’ve been saying all along’: where do critical voters stand on Biden dropping out?

Critics were chastised as radical when bringing up Biden’s age before the debate – now it’s the center of discussion

Concerns about Joe Biden’s fitness for re-election on the left may have been muted over the last year. But they were not absent.

“There’s a lot of people, especially on the left, that have been talking about this,” said Alex Johnson, an IT worker in Atlanta.

Democrats in the center of the party would chastise critics on the left as ageist or radical when bringing up the president’s age before the disastrous debate, he said. “They’re telling everybody that they were crazy. And then one thing happened, and all of a sudden, all of the people who have been calling progressives crazy, they’re like: ‘You know, maybe they were right.’”

Biden has repeatedly reiterated that he will not withdraw from the race. Democratic party leaders are locking arms behind the president, instructing their ranks to be circumspect in conversation with news reporters and are strategizing ahead of the Democratic national convention.

The conversation about Biden’s fitness ratcheted up after his debate performance last month. But they did not begin then, even among Democrats. Editorials from David Ignatius at the Washington Post and Mark Leibovich at the Atlantic last year called for Biden to refrain from running. Cenk Uygur, progressive co-creator of The Young Turks program, wanted Biden to give up re-election for more than a year and has been more than vocal about it, describing Biden’s supporters on the left as dead-enders.

“At this point, eight out of 10 Americans think that Joe Biden’s mental health is not sufficient to be president,” Uygur said. “That’s what we’ve been saying all along. That number was already sky high before the debate.”

Uygur has been arguing that it’s more than Biden’s age; no president with poll numbers in the 30s at this point in the election cycle has won re-election. Uygur tried to run as a candidate himself, despite being born in Istanbul – a constitutional disqualification for the office – simply to make the point.

Karl Olson in St Louis Park, Minnesota, generally votes for Republican candidates. In 2020, “to save democracy”, Olson made the maximum possible legal contribution to the Biden campaign, he said. He voted for Biden in 2020, but has been calling for Biden not to run for re-election for years.

He voted for Nikki Haley in the 2024 primary. Now he is considering a vote for Trump.

“I have long held that [Biden] should quit while he’s ahead,” Olson said. “I have concluded that if the Democrats insist on renominating Biden and Harris, they deserve to lose.”

“Here’s the thing,” he added. “If Donald Trump is a political antichrist who will destroy democracy, then why are Democrats insisting on renominating Biden-Harris when he’s too old and she’s not enough of a leader to win?”

Much of the anger today is being directed at the media, both for ignoring the substance of concerns about Biden’s age before the debate, and now the seeming pile-on after it.

The headlines may be overdue, said Blue Tannery, a radio engineer in Atlanta. But they are not helpful.

“The age thing in particular; yes, it’s an important problem. I’m really, really, really sick of seeing headlines about it,” Tannery said. The one thing that Biden said that makes any sense: you should all shut up about how old that I am and start talking about what I’ve done over the last four years.”

Tannery said he had wanted Biden not to run, but also said the standard the media applies to Biden is unfair. “This is eight years of being in this country, watching Trump just open his mouth onstage and exhale a horde of locusts and the headline is about Biden,” Tannery said. “Because that’s what Trump does every time. That’s not news anymore. It is exhausting.”

Samantha Ruddy, a comedy writer in Philadelphia, may be typical of reluctant Biden voters. She’s still voting for Biden. But now she also thinks he’s going to lose.

“I have wanted Democratic candidates more politically aligned to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders during the past two election cycles,” Ruddy said. “In 2020, I felt Biden was better than Trump. I still feel he’s better than Trump. However, I don’t think he can win in 2024. I believe the best move is to replace him on the ticket. That being said – much like Donald Trump – I’m an entertainer who looked at the eclipse, so what do I know?”

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Palestinians told to leave Gaza City as Israel steps up offensive

Evacuation order follows deadly airstrikes on locations including schools and shelters in past few days

The Israeli military told all Palestinian civilians to leave Gaza City and head south on Wednesday as it stepped up a military offensive in the territory that has killed dozens of people over the past 48 hours.

The evacuation order, carried out by dropping leaflets urging “all those in Gaza City” to take two “safe routes” south to the area around the central town of Deir al-Balah, came after a series of deadly strikes over the past two days in other parts of Gaza.

On Tuesday, an airstrike on the entrance of a school turned shelter in southern Gaza killed at least 31 people, including eight children, according to officials at the nearby Nasser hospital. Footage broadcast by Al Jazeera showed children playing football in the school’s yard when a sudden boom shook the area, prompting shouts of “a strike, a strike!”

The Israeli military said it was reviewing reports that civilians were harmed. It said the incident occurred when it struck with “precise munition” a Hamas fighter who had taken part in the 7 October raid on Israel that precipitated the Israeli assault on Gaza.

The area hit was crowded at the time of the attack, according to witnesses who spoke to the BBC.

Wednesday’s attack was the fourth on or near schools sheltering displaced Palestinians in four days. Israel has said that in every instance the sites were targeted because they were being used as bases by Hamas fighters, police officers or politicians.

Further Israeli strikes in the early hours of Wednesday morning killed at least 20 Palestinians. Associated Press reported that 12 people had been killed in the Nuseirat refugee camp and eight at a home in Deir al-Balah, an area that is located within the “humanitarian safe zone” where Israel has told Palestinians to seek refuge.

In a visit to central Gaza on Wednesday, Israel’s military chief, Lt Gen Herzi Halevi, said forces were operating in different ways in multiple parts of the territory “to carry out a very important mission: pressure. We will continue operating to bring home the hostages.”

Israeli ground troops have advanced into sections of Gaza City in the recent days, prompting a mass exodus of thousands of Palestinians seeking to flee the barrage of shelling and airstrikes. Last week, the military directed Palestinian residents to evacuate from the eastern and central areas of the city. Despite the directive, an immediate large-scale departure from the city did not materialise.

Many civilians told the Guardian they have concluded that there was no refuge in war-stricken Gaza and that they lacked confidence in the safe corridors set by Israel. Residents said they also feared that if they left they would not be able to take belongings or return.

This is the first time that all residents of Gaza City have been asked to evacuate since the evacuation orders released by Israeli during the first week of war. Large parts of the city and urban areas around it have been flattened or left as a shattered landscape by previous Israeli assaults.

The last few days of airstrikes have been some of the fiercest since the war broke out. Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, described the fighting as “the most intense in months”.

The intensified offensive could be aimed at increasing pressure on Hamas in ceasefire talks.

The new fighting has unfolded as international mediators led by Egypt, Qatar and the US make a renewed effort to push through a proposed ceasefire deal. Talks are due to continue in Doha and Cairo this week, attended by the CIA director, William Burns, and the Mossad chief, David Barnea. “There is an agreement over many points,” a senior source told Egypt’s Al Qahera news on Tuesday.

However, Hamas has again accused Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, of deliberately trying to thwart the truce talks.

Netanyahu told a US envoy on Wednesday he was committed to securing a Gaza ceasefire deal provided Israel’s red lines were respected, his office said in a statement.

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s office issued a document entitled Principles for a Hostage Release Deal demanding that “any deal enable Israel to resume its offensive operations until it achieves its war goals”, to “prevent Hamas from smuggling arms from Egypt”, and to prevent “thousands of terrorists from returning to northern Gaza”, Haaretz reported.

Pressure is mounting on Israel as a Gaza ceasefire could also allow for de-escalation between Hezbollah and Israel.

On Wednesday, the Hezbollah chief, Hassan Nasrallah, speaking at a memorial event for a senior Hezbollah official who was killed in an Israeli strike last week, said that his group would end hostilities against Israel as soon as a ceasefire had been achieved in Gaza.

Reuters, AFP and Associated Press contributed to this report

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MS-13 leader pleads guilty in New York case involving eight murders

Alexi Saenz pleads guilty to racketeering and firearms charges in case including killings of two high school girls

A leader of an MS-13 gang clique in New York pleaded guilty on Wednesday to racketeering and firearms charges in a case involving eight murders, including the 2016 killings of two high school girls who were hacked and beaten to death as they strolled through their leafy, suburban neighborhood on Long Island.

Alexi Saenz entered the plea in federal court in Central Islip. Prosecutors previously withdrew an attempt to seek the death penalty in his case.

Among the deaths he was accused of ordering are the killings of Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15, lifelong friends and classmates at Brentwood high school.

Their deaths focused the nation’s attention on MS-13 gang violence during the administration of Donald Trump. The Republican president called for the death penalty for Saenz and others arrested in the killings.

The girls’ deaths led to questions about whether police had been aggressive enough in confronting what was then a serious threat of gangs developing inside area high schools.

For months in 2016, Hispanic children and young men had been disappearing in Brentwood, a working-class community 40 miles east of New York City. After Cuevas and Mickens were killed, police discovered the bodies of three other young people in Brentwood, ages 15, 18 and 19, who had vanished months earlier.

Police and federal agents arrested dozens of suspected members of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational criminal organization believed to have been founded as a neighborhood street gang in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by people fleeing civil war in El Salvador.

Cuevas’s mother, Evelyn Rodriguez, became an anti-gang activist after her daughter’s death but was herself killed in 2018. Rodriguez was fatally struck by a car during a dispute over a memorial marking the second anniversary of her daughter’s death. The driver, Annmarie Drago, pleaded guilty in 2024 to negligent homicide.

Saenz’s lawyers did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Saenz, also known as “Blasty” and “Big Homie”, was the leader of an MS-13 clique operating in Brentwood and Central Islip known as Sailors Locos Salvatruchas Westside. Charges are still pending against his brother, Jairo Saenz, who prosecutors say was second-in-command in the local gang.

Kayla’s father, Freddy Cuevas, said outside court that he was disappointed that the death penalty had been taken off the table.

“He’s an animal. He’s inhumane,” Freddy Cuevas said of Saenz. “Hopefully justice will be served soon and we can put this all behind us as far as the families are concerned.”

Nisa’s mother, Elizabeth Alvarado, expressed relief that she and other families of the victims would not have to go through the trauma of a trial.

“All I want is my daughter to be at peace,” she said through tears as she wore a black shirt with her daughter’s name on the back. “The more time we have out, she is never going to be at peace. At the end of the day, she is going to be happy because it will all be over.”

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Widow of Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi given death sentence by Iraqi court

Judgement deems one of Baghdadi’s widows complicit in crimes against Yazidi women

An Iraqi court has issued a death sentence against one of the widows of the late Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, alleging that she was complicit in crimes committed against Yazidi women captured by the militant group.

The ruling comes weeks before the 10-year mark since IS launched a series of attacks against the Yazidi religious minority in the northern Iraqi region of Sinjar in early August 2014, killing and capturing thousands – including women and girls who were subjected to human trafficking and sexual abuse. The UN said the campaign against the Yazidis amounted to genocide.

A statement by Iraq’s judicial council said the Karkh criminal court sentenced the woman for “detaining Yazidi women in her home” and facilitating their kidnapping by “the terrorist Isis gangs in Sinjar district”, the state-run Iraqi News Agency reported. It also said the ruling was issued in accordance with Iraq’s anti-terrorism law and its “Yazidi survivors law”.

The statement did not name the defendant, but two court officials
identified her as Asma Mohammed, who was arrested in 2018 in Turkey and
later extradited. A senior Iraqi security official told the Associated
Press that another wife of al-Baghdadi and his daughter, who were also
extradited from Turkey to Iraq, had been sentenced to life in prison.

The sentences were handed down a week ago but were announced by the judicial council on Wednesday, he said.

Survivors of the IS attacks in Iraq have complained of a lack of accountability and have criticised the decision – made at the request of the Iraqi government – to wind down a UN investigation of IS crimes, including the alleged use of chemical weapons.

At the same time, human rights groups have raised concerns about the lack of due process in trials of alleged IS members in Iraq and have particularly criticised mass executions of those convicted on terrorism charges. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said the convictions are often extracted under torture and urged Iraq to abolish the death penalty.

On 29 June 2014, al-Baghdadi, known as one of the most ruthlessly effective jihadist leaders of modern times, declared the militant group’s caliphate in large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

In 2019, he was killed in a US raid in Syria, dealing a big blow to the militant group which has now lost its hold on all the areas it previously controlled, though some of its cells continue to carry out attacks.

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Widow of Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi given death sentence by Iraqi court

Judgement deems one of Baghdadi’s widows complicit in crimes against Yazidi women

An Iraqi court has issued a death sentence against one of the widows of the late Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, alleging that she was complicit in crimes committed against Yazidi women captured by the militant group.

The ruling comes weeks before the 10-year mark since IS launched a series of attacks against the Yazidi religious minority in the northern Iraqi region of Sinjar in early August 2014, killing and capturing thousands – including women and girls who were subjected to human trafficking and sexual abuse. The UN said the campaign against the Yazidis amounted to genocide.

A statement by Iraq’s judicial council said the Karkh criminal court sentenced the woman for “detaining Yazidi women in her home” and facilitating their kidnapping by “the terrorist Isis gangs in Sinjar district”, the state-run Iraqi News Agency reported. It also said the ruling was issued in accordance with Iraq’s anti-terrorism law and its “Yazidi survivors law”.

The statement did not name the defendant, but two court officials
identified her as Asma Mohammed, who was arrested in 2018 in Turkey and
later extradited. A senior Iraqi security official told the Associated
Press that another wife of al-Baghdadi and his daughter, who were also
extradited from Turkey to Iraq, had been sentenced to life in prison.

The sentences were handed down a week ago but were announced by the judicial council on Wednesday, he said.

Survivors of the IS attacks in Iraq have complained of a lack of accountability and have criticised the decision – made at the request of the Iraqi government – to wind down a UN investigation of IS crimes, including the alleged use of chemical weapons.

At the same time, human rights groups have raised concerns about the lack of due process in trials of alleged IS members in Iraq and have particularly criticised mass executions of those convicted on terrorism charges. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said the convictions are often extracted under torture and urged Iraq to abolish the death penalty.

On 29 June 2014, al-Baghdadi, known as one of the most ruthlessly effective jihadist leaders of modern times, declared the militant group’s caliphate in large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

In 2019, he was killed in a US raid in Syria, dealing a big blow to the militant group which has now lost its hold on all the areas it previously controlled, though some of its cells continue to carry out attacks.

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BP predicts global oil demand will peak in 2025, bringing to end rising emissions

Outlook says use of wind and solar power will surge – but forecasts for gas point to slowing in energy transition

BP has predicted that the world’s demand for oil will peak next year, bringing an end to rising global carbon emissions by the mid-2020s amid a surge in wind and solar power.

The energy company’s influential outlook report has found that oil use will increase by about 2m barrels a day to peak at about 102m in 2025 across both of its forecasts.

The first forecast scenario shows the world’s current energy transition trajectory and the other shows the pathway to meeting global net zero targets by 2050.

BP predicts in both scenarios that carbon emissions will reach a peak in the middle of the decade amid a rapid expansion of wind and solar power as technology costs continue to fall.

However, the report sets out starkly different pathways for the future demand for gas, which has emerged in recent years as key growth area for energy companies including BP.

Under the report’s net zero scenario, gas use would peak around the middle of this decade before halving by 2050, compared with 2022 levels. But the current trajectory suggests gas demand will continue to grow throughout the forecast, expanding by about a fifth by 2050.

In the scenarios, demand for liquefied natural gas, which is cooled to be transported on ships, climbs by 40% and 30% above 2022 levels respectively.

The report also suggests higher-than-expected oil consumption in the 2030s compared with BP’s previous forecasts, which would pose a serious threat to the world’s climate targets.

The oil company said its forecasts for the current global trajectory, which included climate policies already in place, showed the world would breach the carbon budgets keeping global temperatures from rising above 2C above preindustrial levels.

Under the current trajectory oil demand is expected to fall to 97.8m barrels a day in 2035, which is 5% higher than last year’s BP forecasts. The net zero model predicts demand will remain at 80.2m barrels in 2035, up 10% on last year’s outlook.

BP said oil would continue to “play a significant role in the global energy system for the next 10-15 years”.

The company attracted anger from environmental campaigners after watering down a pledge to cut oil and gas production by 40% by 2030, compared with 2019 levels, to a 25% decline after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ignited a surge in global energy market prices.

The outlook’s findings are likely to stoke fears that the global shift away from fossil fuels towards clean power may be slowing, in part due to rising energy demand in developing economies.

Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist, said the world was in an “energy addition phase” during which the consumption of both low-carbon energy such as renewables and fossil fuels was increasing.

In order to keep a cap on rising emissions, low-carbon sources would need to roll out at a pace that matched the increase in global energy demand, Spencer added.

BP’s outlook predicts wind and solar power capacity will increase eightfold by 2050 under the world’s current climate policies and by a factor of 14 under its net zero scenario, compared with 2022 levels.

Expansion in renewable energy projects is expected to be concentrated in China and developed economies over the next decade, accounting for about 30% to 45% of the increase in new capacity across BP’s two scenarios.

The rapid expansion in wind and solar power will enable further declines in technology and energy costs that will in turn support more renewable projects, the company said.

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Elon Musk beats $500m severance suit over mass Twitter layoffs

Judge said court lacked jurisdiction for case, in which workers argued they didn’t receive proper compensation

A US court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit claiming Elon Musk refused to pay at least $500m in severance to thousands of Twitter employees he fired in mass layoffs after buying the social media company now known as X.

US district judge Trina Thompson in San Francisco ruled on Tuesday that the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Erisa) governing benefit plans did not cover the former employees’ claims, and therefore she lacked jurisdiction.

The decision marks a legal victory for Musk, who still faces numerous lawsuits over his business practices at companies including X, Tesla and SpaceX. The cases range from allegations of gender discrimination and defamation to engaging in retaliatory firings.

The case is one of many accusing Musk of reneging on promises to former Twitter employees, including the chief executive Parag Agrawal, and vendors after he bought the company for $44bn in October 2022.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. Musk’s lawyers did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Musk, one of the richest people in the world, was accused of failing to pay Twitter employees appropriate severance after claiming to have fired about 80% of the company in the months after his takeover. Plaintiffs alleged employees received only one month of severance pay with no benefits, instead of the far more generous package they were entitled to as part of a 2019 severance plan.

Thompson said Erisa did not apply to Twitter’s post-buyout plan because there was no “ongoing administrative scheme” in which the company reviewed claims on a case-by-case basis, or offered benefits such as continued health insurance and outplacement services.

“There were only cash payments promised,” she wrote.

The judge said the plaintiffs could try amending their complaint, but only for claims not governed by Erisa.

Musk’s lawyers were also in court this week for the latest legal battle over his contested multibillion-dollar pay package as CEO of Tesla. A judge must rule whether lawyers who successfully argued for the court to invalidate Musk’s payment should be awarded $7bn in legal fees, a sum that would be the largest of its kind in the history of US courts.

Reuters contributed reporting

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Russia bans Moscow Times in crackdown on independent media

Move leaves anybody who cooperates with ‘undesirable’ news outlet liable to prosecution

Russia has classed the Moscow Times as an “undesirable organisation”, outlawing its activities inside Russia and leaving anybody who cooperates with it open to prosecution.

The Kremlin has escalated a campaign against independent media and reporting since Russia launched a military offensive on Ukraine in February 2022.

“A decision has been taken to declare the activities of the Moscow Times, a foreign non-government organisation, undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation,” the office of Russia’s prosecutor general said.

The outlet was “aimed at discrediting the decisions of the leadership of the Russian Federation in both foreign and domestic policy”, it added.

The Moscow Times, which publishes in English and Russian and has reported on the country since the early 1990s, relocated to Amsterdam in 2022.

The “undesirable” status forces organisations to shut down in Russia and means Russians that work for, fund or collaborate with them can also be liable to prosecution – including up to five years in jail for some activities.

“We will continue with our work as usual: independent journalism. That’s a crime in Putin’s Russia,” the Moscow Times founder, Derk Sauer, said in a post on X.

Russians had previously been fined for reposting web links and articles published by so-called undesirable organisations, the independent Mediazona site reported.

The online outlet, which for years published an English-language paper in Moscow, is popular with Russia-watchers abroad. It also served as a training ground for several journalists who went on to be high-profile foreign correspondents.

The US reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested last year on espionage charges rejected by him and his employer, worked in Moscow for the outlet at the start of his career.

Russia has used the undesirable organisation label to target media outlets and NGOs that it says fund opposition and oppose the Kremlin.

Critics have described the law as a repressive tool used to quash dissent.

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Nasa astronauts from Boeing’s Starliner may be stuck in space until August

Engineers working on problems preventing return of Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore, who are on the ISS

Two Nasa astronauts from Boeing’s troubled Starliner capsule might have to remain in space until the middle of August as engineers continue to work through technical problems that prevented their return in June.

Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore have been aboard the international space station (ISS) since 6 June after the first crewed docking of the next-generation spacecraft. The test mission was scheduled to last about a week, but Starliner’s undocking was delayed several times as faulty thrusters and then a series of small helium leaks raised safety concerns.

On Wednesday, Nasa announced that it was still performing tests to ensure the capsule would perform as expected, and although the space agency was confident the craft would be safe for an emergency evacuation, mission managers were not yet ready to schedule its departure.

“Some of the data suggests optimistically, maybe it’s by the end of July, but we’ll just follow the data each step at a time,” Steve Stich, Nasa’s commercial crew program manager, said at a lunchtime press conference.

“We’re going to work methodically through our processes, including a return flight readiness review with the agency, before we get the go to proceed towards undocking and landing. This is a very standard process.”

He added that a routine ISS crew rotation in mid-August was “kind of a back end” to the mission to avoid overcrowding in orbit.

“Obviously, a few days before that launch opportunity we would need to get Butch and Suni home on Starliner,” he said.

But he noted that the space station, currently occupied by a regular crew of seven in addition to the two Starliner astronauts, had sufficient supplies and resources, and there was no risk to anybody aboard.

That, he said, gave engineers time to perform ground fire evaluations of replica thrusters at Nasa’s White Sands test facility in New Mexico, and close out the helium leak issues he believed could be signed off by the end of this week.

Mark Nappi, vice-president and program manager of Boeing’s commercial crew program, told reporters that he was confident the Starliner program would emerge stronger because of the issues.

“All this information is going to go in a big bucket, and all the engineers are going to review it and try to see if it doesn’t point to root cause or point to some additional testing that we can do in the future to eliminate this problem once and for all,” he said.

Although Boeing’s space operations are separate from its aviation wing, the ongoing problems with Starliner have added to the company’s recent public relations crisis, sparked by the crash of two 737 Max airliners and a number of other safety related incidents.

Despite being years behind schedule and more than $1.5bn over budget when it launched from Florida on 5 June, Starliner was intended to restore some of the company’s lost luster and offer Nasa a second private commercial crew alternative for the transportation of astronauts in lower earth orbit to SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

If the current test mission concludes successfully, Starliner capsules, known officially as CST-100 (crew space transportation), will operate six further astronaut rotation flights to the space station as part of Nasa’s commercial crew program.

Wilmore, speaking from the ISS earlier on Wednesday, said he and Williams were enjoying their “extra” time in space, and were unconcerned by the technical problems.

“This is the world of test. This is a tough business that we’re in, human spaceflight is not easy in any regime, and there have been multiple issues with every spacecraft that’s ever been designed,” he said.

“We are very close friends with those that are making these decisions, and we trust them. We trust their integrity, we trust their technical acumen, and we trust that the tests that we’re doing are the ones that we need to do to get the right answers to give us the data that we need to come back.”

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