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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
As rockets and airstrikes persisted overhead, violent mob clashes intensified between Jews and Arabs across multiple Israeli cities. Patrick Kingsley reports for the New York Times.
Israel deployed ground troops along the Gaza border Thursday and is in “various stages of preparing ground operations,” military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said. “The Chief of Staff is inspecting those preparations and providing guidance,” he added. Reuters reporting.
Israeli is weighing a potential ground invasion of Gaza, said Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman, a Hebrew spokesperson for the army. The details are being drawn up by Gaza Division and Southern Command and will be sent to Israel’s political leadership for sign off. Bel Trew reports for the Independent.
Israel yesterday killed 10 senior Hamas military leaders and crushed a pair of high-rise buildings apparently housing Hamas facilities in airstrikes. “Israel carried out an intense barrage of airstrikes just after sunrise, striking dozens of targets in several minutes that set off bone-rattling explosions across Gaza. Airstrikes continued throughout the day, filling the sky with pillars of smoke … Gaza militants continued to bombard Israel with nonstop rocket fire throughout the day and into early Thursday,” reports AP.
Over 70 people have so far been killed and hundreds more injured during the clashes. Paul Goldman, Lawahez Jabari and Alexander Smith report for NBC News.
The U.S. has refused to engage in U.N. Security Council negotiations on a statement criticizing Israel’s evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem. “The U.S. stance has effectively rendered the 15-nation council mute, as all statements from the body must be supported by consensus. The United States has told other countries that it is trying to calm the violence through direct diplomatic outreach and believes U.N. Security Council action at this stage could jeopardize that effort, according to sources at the international body,” reports Colum Lynch, Robbie Gramer, Jack Detsch, and Allison Meakem for the Foreign Policy.
Hady Amr, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs, yesterday made his way to the region to “to urge de-escalation and to bring calm,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Lara Lakes reports for the New York Times.
The clashes pose President Biden’s first major foreign policy challenge, while exposing divisions between Democrats over criticism of Israel and offering Republicans the opportunity to criticize the president’s approach.Anne Gearan and John Hudson report for the Washington Post.
Biden expresses optimism that the clashes should end quickly after speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later,” he said at the White House. Reuters reporting.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin also offered “ironclad support” for Israel’s right to self-defense during a conversation yesterday with his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
De-escalation of the violence is “an absolute must … to protect the lives of civilians that are now dying in totally unacceptable circumstances,” Guterres said during talks in Moscow. UN News Centre reporting.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calls for an urgent meeting of four international mediators – Russia, the U.S., U.N. and E.U. – to address the clashes, during a joint briefing with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Moscow. Reuters reporting.
“Washington has enabled Israeli extremism [and] failure to condemn anti-Palestinian violence will only further it,”writes Khaled Elgindy in an op-ed for Foreign Policy.
Live updates are provided by Al Jazeera.
About 100 former senior U.S. officials have urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to do more to ensure Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) are offered to Afghans who have worked with the U.S. before it withdraws its troops, a letter reveals. “The letter said more than 18,000 Afghans, including former interpreters, are awaiting visa adjudication and said the U.S. should aim to clear the backlog before U.S. troops withdraw … They also proposed increasing quotas when U.S. troops pull out and asking Congress to create a pathway to admit ‘additional Afghans who will be especially vulnerable in the post-withdrawal period,’” Reuters reporting.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee urged the Pentagon to ensure SIV are given to Afghans who worked with the United States. During a committee hearing with David Helvey, the acting assistant defense secretary for the Indo-Pacific, Reps. Jason Crow (D) and Michael Waltz (R) warned of the risks poses to Afghan partners. Michael Conte and Ellie Kaufman report for CNN.
A three-day ceasefire comes into force Thursday in Afghanistan after the warring Taliban and Afghan government agreed a temporary deal for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. Al Jazeera reporting.
Those responsible for the Saturday bomb attack near a school in the district of west Kabul in Dasht-e-Barchi that killed mostly girls “must be heldaccountable” for their “heinous crime,” the U.N. Special Representatives for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, and on Violence Against Children, Najat Maalla M’jid, said in a joint statement. UN News Centre reporting.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines visited the Demilitarized Zone along the border with North Korea during her visit to South Korea on Thursday, the Yonhap news agency reported. Reuters reporting.
Russian-founded Space start up Momentus could be assisting Moscow in gathering U.S. technological secrets, a U.S. official briefed on the matter said. “The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive investigation, said government agencies are particularly concerned about the water plasma propulsion system onboard Momentus’s space transportation vehicle that could help make satellites less detectable in space. If the Russian government obtained the technology, it could be used to improve the ability of Russian satellites to tail and destroy their U.S. counterparts, the official added. The U.S. Defense Department believes that Russia began testing technologies last year that could be used to destroy other satellites already in orbit,” reports Jack Detsch for Foreign Policy.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet next week with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov at the Arctic Council ministerial in Iceland, the State Department said. During a call between the two officials, “Blinken repeated his call on Russia to release detained Americans in the country and he provided Lavrov with an overview of U.S. policy toward North Korea, the Department said in a statement,” Reuters reporting.
China could replace Vice Premier Liu He as its top economic envoy with Washington, according to officials with knowledge of the matter. He would be replaced Hu Chunhua, a younger vice premier who has little experience in U.S.-China relations. Lingling Wei and Bob Davis report for the Wall Street Journal.
More than 130 U.S. spies, diplomats, soldiers and other personnel overseas are thought to have brain injuries from mysterious episodes, many more than initially thought, with new reports within the past two weeks, according to current and former officials. “The number of cases within the C.I.A., the State Department, the Defense Department and elsewhere spurred broad concern in the Biden administration. The initial publicly confirmed cases were concentrated in China and Cuba and numbered about 60, not including a group of injured C.I.A. officers whose total is not public. The new total adds cases from Europe and elsewhere in Asia and reflects efforts by the administration to more thoroughly review other incidents amid concern over a spate of them in recent months,” reports Julian E. Barnes, Edward Wong and Eric Schmitt for the New York Times.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin qualifies for a longer prison sentence after District Judge cites four aggravating factors: abusing a position of trust and authority as a police officer, treating George Floyd with “particular cruelty,” committing the crime as part of a group with at least three other people, and that children were present during the commission of the offense. Holly Bailey reports for the Washington Post.
Donald McGahn, former White House counsel to Trump, is expected to testify “as soon as possible” in a closed session before the House Judiciary Committee about former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, according to court filings, after House Democrats sued to enforce a subpoena for his testimony about whether Trump obstructed justice in the Mueller probe. “A transcript of the interview, which will be closed to the public and the media, will be ‘promptly provided to all involved parties’ for review before it is released publicly, according to the court filing,” reports Ann E. Marimow for the Washington Post.
The chief prosecutor overseeing the Rudy Giuliani probe is stepping down, a person familiar with the matter said. Edward Diskant, chief of the public corruption unit at the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, will be replaced by Rebekah Donaleski, one of the prosecutors already leading on the Giuliani investigation, the person said. Erica Orden reports for CNN.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) was yesterday ousted by House Republicans in retaliation for her criticism of Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and his future in the Republican Party. More on what happened in a vote that took just 16 minutes by Daniella Diaz and Annie Grayer for CNN.
JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK
Former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller has backed away from previous comments blaming Trump for the Jan. 6 attack. During his testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Miller appeared unwilling to commit to a view on Trump’s culpability, instead saying that the Jan 6. attack involved “an organized conspiracy with assault elements in place.” Aron Blake reports for the Washington Post.
The Biden administration’s top law enforcement officials, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, have pledged to dedicate their resources to combat domestic violent extremists during evidence given to the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Domestic violent extremists pose an elevated threat in 2021 and in the FBI’s view, the top domestic violent extremist threat we face comes from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, specifically those who advocate for the superiority of the white race,” Garland told the Committee. Harper Neidig and Rebecca Beitsch report for the Hill.
The Architecture of the Capitol (AOC) Inspector General Christopher Failla has said that AOC was sidelined in the security planning leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, despite his latest review offering changes that “could have hampered or prevented a breach from happening.” The statements were made by Failla in a hearing before the House Committee on Administration. Rebecca Beitsch reports for the Hill.
Body camera footage showing the moment that D.C. Metropolitan Police Office Michael Fanone was assaulted while defending the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack has been released by CNN, Zachery Cohen reports.
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) has claimed that the footage of the attack resembled a “normal tourist visit.” The statements were made during his testimony, made along with other Republicans loyal to Trump, to the House Oversight Committee, where he called the entire attack a “bold faced lie.” Adam Edelman and Garrett Haake report for NBC News.
PIPELINE RANSOMWARE ATTACK
Colonial Pipeline has resumed operation following the ransomware attack, but panic buying and resulting fuel shortages are continuing in southeastern U.S.. Will Englund and Ellen Nakashima report for the Washington Post.
Colonial Pipeline is not intending to pay a ransom for the data stolen by the hacking group. Instead, the cybersecurity firm Mandiant has been able to trace the stolen data to a server owned by a New York-based firm, which quickly shut it down, and Colonial Pipeline is working with Mandiant to restore the data from the backup system. Olafimihan Oshin reports for the The Hill.
Biden has ordered an overhaul of the federal government’s approach to cybersecurity. The executive order, which has been in development for months, addresses “the software that agencies buy to the security measures that they use to block hackers, as his administration continues grappling with vulnerabilities exposed by a massive digital espionage campaign carried out by the Russian government,” Eric Geller reports for POLITICO.
The executive order would not however have applied to Colonial Pipeline. The executive order addresses federal computer networks and not critical infrastructure operated by private companies. The White House has therefore acknowledged that “more will need to be done to prevent the type of hack that affected the Colonial Pipeline,” Kevin Liptak reports for CNN.
Coercive policies in China’s Xinjiang region have led to an unprecedented decline in birth rates for Uighurs and other minorities. The report by an Australian think tank “adds to mounting evidence of coercive fertility policies in Xinjiang,” Helen Davidson reports for the Guardian.
Uighur imams are being targeted in China’s Xinjiang crackdown. Research compiled by the Uyghur Human Rights Project has found evidence that China has imprisoned or detained at least 630 imams and other Muslim religious figures since 2014, and that 18 clerics have died in detention or shortly after. Joel Gunter reports for BBC News.
China has turned its far western region of Xinjiang into an “open-air prison” for Uighur Muslims, said Daniel Nadel, the director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedoms. The statements come as the United States released an annual report on the state of religious freedoms worldwide. Al Jazeera reports.
The U.S., Germany and the U.K. clashed with China at the virtual U.N. event on China’s treatment of the Uighurs and people from other mostly Muslim groups in Xinjiang. “We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the event, attended by about 50 countries. Beijing had lobbied U.N. member states to not attend the. event, but a Chinese diplomat did address the accusations at the event, saying that “China has nothing to hide on Xinjiang,” and that “Xinjiang is always open. We welcome everyone to visit Xinjiang but we oppose any kind of investigation based on lies and with the presumption of guilt.” Al Jazeera reports.
Luxury business jets are increasingly being converted into high-tech spy planes. There is a growing market for corporate jets turned spy planes, which is estimated to be worth $3 billion for the handful of corporate jet specialists and the Israeli, European and U.S. arms firms that supply advanced intelligence systems. Reuters reporting.
Peace is “the only way” to resolve the crisis in Yemen, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, has told the U.N. Security Council. Lowcock called for a nationwide ceasefire, saying that the war in Yemen is “ultimately behind the risk of famine, the spread of disease and economic collapse” and “more violence is the last thing Yemen needs.” UN News Centre reports.
The U.N. Security Council has called for an immediate cease-fire in Yemen. The press statement follows a briefing by U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths who said that the more than yearlong Houthi offensive “has caused an astonishing loss of life, including children who have been mercilessly thrown into the battle.” Edith Lederer reports for AP.
A Myanmar military court has sentenced a reporter for the now-banned Democratic Voice of Burma to three years in prison for his reporting. The journalist is reported to be first “since the army’s February takeover to be convicted under a recently revised provision in the Penal Code that critics charge criminalizes free speech”, AP reporting.
Powerful militia in Iraq are continuing to assassinate protesters. Across Baghdad and southern Iraq, the militia network is attacking and assassinating activists and journalists who have protested against Iraq’s U.S. molded political systems and the Iran-linked armed groups that prop it up. Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim report for the Washington Post.
The Saudi-coalition has said it intercepted a Houthi missile and drone attack on Saudi targets. Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group has said “its forces had launched 12 ballistic missiles and drones towards a site belonging to the Saudi state oil company Saudi Aramco, Najran airport and other targets in Najran, in southern Saudi Arabia,” Reuters reports.
Freedom of expression in the Kurdistan region of Iraq is being increasingly curtailed. According to a U.N. report, over the least year “criticizing the authorities publicly has led to intimidation, movement restrictions and arbitrary arrests, while some citizens there have been charged with defamation and others prosecuted under national security laws,” the UN News Centre reports.
South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has descended into infighting again as it tries to suspend top officials facing corruption charges. A bid by the ANC to hold senior members, including party Secretary-General Elias Sekgobelo Magashule, accountable to corruption allegations has resulted in public infighting between different factions of the party. Lynsey Chutel reports for Foreign Policy in its Africa Brief.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 32.8 million and now killed over 583,600 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 160.40 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.33 million deaths.
The Secret Service have helped recover close to $2 billion in fraudulently obtained Covid-19 relief funds and seized over $640 million from suspected fraudsters, the agency said yesterday. “One year into the pandemic, the Secret Service has opened 690 cases regarding unemployment insurance fraud, on top of another 720 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program fraud investigations and inquiries,” reports Whitney Wild for CNN.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel has recommended the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine be given to 12-15 year old adolescents, paving the way for the vaccination program for the age group to begin. Scott Neuman, Laurel Wamsley and Tamara Keith report for NPR.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and global leaders in China, Europe and North America could have avoided the Covid-19 catastrophe, according to a scathing report by the, WHO appointed, Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. The report states that “a swift international response could have stopped the 2019 Covid-19 outbreak in China becoming a global catastrophe in 2020” and “sets out lessons for preventing future pandemics and makes dozens of recommendations for reform, including more surveillance power for the WHO,” Clive Cookson reports for the FT.
The WHO appointed panel has also urged bold action to end the Covid-19 crisis and called for the U.N. agency to be given greater authority to respond more quickly to future threats. UN News Centre reporting.
A map and analysis of the vaccine roll out across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.
U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.
A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.
Latest updates on the pandemic at the Guardian