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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news.
Israel jets launched a barrage of airstrikes on Gaza early Monday morning, targeting several senior Hamas commanders and around 10 miles of the militant group’s underground tunnels, the Israeli military said hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled that conflict with Hamas rulers would continue with “full force.” The strikes lasted for approximately 10 minutes and were heavier than strikes on Sunday, with one Palestinian reported to have been killed, medics said. “The operation led to a lull in Hamas rocket fire, which resumed a few hours later, according to Israeli media,” reports Steve Hendrix and Michael E. Miller for the Washington Post.
Sunday saw the deadliest single Israeli airstrike on Gaza, killing at least 42 people, including 10 children, and flattening buildings. Reuters reporting.
As of Sunday night, close to 200 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli strikes, including 92 women and children, Gaza’s health ministry reported. Israel has reported 10 deaths from Hamas attacks, including two children. Mehul Srivastava reports for the Financial Times.
The U.N. Security Council held its first virtual open session on the crisis Sunday, and although a unified statement was not agreed and issued, members urged a ceasefire and the need to address the conflict. The session was attended by several foreign ministers and ambassadors. Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said, “There is no people on Earth that would tolerate this reality. Israel keeps saying, ‘Put yourselves in our shoes,’ but they aren’t wearing shoes, they are wearing military boots,” and Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan said, “Israel has made its choice. We will take all steps necessary to defend our people … Now, you must make yours. The world is watching.” Dustin Jones reports for NPR.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres opened the Security Council meeting by appealing to both warring sides to “stop immediately,” suggesting that the only way forward is to return to talks on a two-State solution. “It has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole, potentially creating a new locus of dangerous instability,” he said. UN News Centre reporting.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed the U.S. for the Security Council’s lack of joint action, calling for the council to seek early de-escalation of violence in the region. “Regrettably, simply because of the obstruction of one country, the Security Council hasn’t been able to speak with one voice,” the minister said during the virtual meeting. “We call upon the United States to shoulder its due responsibilities of taking a just position.” Brett Forrest reports for the Wall Street Journal.
During the virtual session, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki accused Israel of committing “war crimes.” Al Jazeera reporting.
President Biden has remained relatively silent on the escalating conflict. “Biden did not issue any hastily arranged remarks on the Middle East violence, or even bring up the topic himself when he appeared in public. The times Biden spoke publicly on the matter came when reporters specifically asked about it. And when he talked, the president appeared to weigh every word very carefully, and spoke in muted tones … This low-key public approach, the White House says, is by design. The Biden administration is prioritizing behind-the-scenes diplomatic outreach by Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and others,” Scott Detrow reports for NPR.
Biden’s uncommitted approach to the conflict has prompted Democrats to question his commitment to human rights and demanded he pressure Israel to stop its attacks. Zachary B. Wolf reports for CNN.
Blinken has discussed the violence with Qatari, Egyptian and Saudi foreign ministers, the State Department said yesterday. Reuters reporting.
28 Senate Democrats yesterday issued a statement calling for Israel and Hamas to reach a ceasefire. “The statement, led by Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff (D) was also signed by Dick Durbin (D-IL), the No. 2 Senate Democrat in leadership, but was not signed by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has remained firm along with President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in their assertion that Israel’s military is carrying out defensive military action to which it is entitled.,” reports John Bowden for The Hill.
Yesterday saw the first bipartisan call by senators for a ceasefire in the region: Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Todd Young (R-IN), chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, respectively. Rebecca Falconer reports for Axios.
Israel destroyed a 12-storey building in Gaza housing the media offices of the U.S.-based Associated Press (AP) and Qatar-based Al Jazeera on Saturday, saying the building housed “Hamas military intelligence assets.” The building “contained numerous residential apartments. Journalists and other tenants had evacuated after receiving a warning an hour before the missiles struck, and no casualties have been reported,” report Antonia Noori Farzan, Loveday Morris and Karen DeYoung for the Washington Post.
AP’s chief calls for an independent inquiry into the strike on the outlet’s office: “We’ve heard the Israelis say they have evidence,” Sally Buzbee told CNN yesterday, adding, “We don’t know what that evidence is. We think it is appropriate at this point for there to be an independent look at what happened.” Reuters reporting.
E.U. foreign ministers will meet tomorrow to discuss the escalating violence, the bloc’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said in a post on Twitter Sunday. Laurens Cerulus reports for POLITICO EU.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister condemned Israel’s “flagrant violations” of Palestinian rights and urged the international community to push for an urgent end to Israeli military operation in the Gaza region. “Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud made the televised remarks on Sunday at the start of an emergency virtual meeting of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) following a week of intense Israeli bombings of Gaza – an enclave of two million people – which has remained under an air, land and sea blockade imposed by Israel,” Al Jazeera reporting.
Iran’s High Council of Human Rights of Iran has written a letter to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to act on “genocidal acts” and “racial cleansing” being committed by Israel, saying the U.N. and Muslim nations must step up to stop “apartheid” Israel from attacking Palestine. Al Jazeera reporting.
Jordan is involved in intensive diplomacy to end what Jordanian King Abdullah said was an Israeli military escalation in the worst Israeli-Palestinian conflict in years. Reuters reporting.
Protests took place throughout the Middle East and Arab nations, including Iraq and Qatar. Protesters in the U.S. and Canada also joined calls for violence to stop. Al Jazeera reporting.
Six rebels have been killed by the Myanmar military after days of intensified fighting. An anti-coup defense force, the Chinland Defense Force (CDF), made up of civilians reported the deaths, as the United Kingdom and the United States condemned the military’s violence against civilians. Al Jazeera reports.
Anti-coup fighters have pulled back from the northwestern town of Mindat after days of assault by combat troops backed by artillery, a member of the group said on Sunday. Reuters reports.
Activists from the CDF said that they retreated from Mindat to spare the town further bombardment, BBC News reports.
The U.S. and U.K. embassies in Myanmar have expressed concern about reports of fierce government attacks in Mindat. “The military’s use of weapons of war against civilians, including this week in Mindat, is a further demonstration of the depths the regime will sink to to hold onto power,” the British Embassy said on Twitter. “We call on the military to cease violence against civilians.” Grant Peck reports for AP.
An international monitoring group has concluded that Myanmar’s election last year reflected the will of the people and the army was unjustified in using alleged flaws as a reason to seize power. The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), one of two accredited foreign election observer missions, said voting was not as free and fair as it had been in the previous ballot in 2015 – in part because of the coronavirus outbreak. “Nevertheless, it is ANFREL’s informed opinion that the results of the 2020 general elections were, by and large, representative of the will of the people of Myanmar,” the report said. Reuters reports.
Myanmar’s military have detained, disfigured and killed a 44-year old poet and political activist Mr. Khet Thir. “The circumstances surrounding Mr. Khet Thi’s death have heightened fears among families and human rights advocates about the fate of thousands of people being held in custody by Myanmar’s military regime,” Feliz Solomon reports for the Washington Post.
Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces resumed in the Helmand province as a three-day cease fire ended Sunday. Taliban fighters reportedly attacked security checkpoints on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah and other districts, while the militant group said Afghan forces “started the operation.” Al Jazeera reporting.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack on a mosque in the Afghan capital Kabul which killed 12 people. Nasheer news agency said on Telegram on Saturday. Reuters reporting.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow will temporarily resume some of its consular services. The embassy had halted most its services, other than emergency U.S. citizen services and a very limited number of immigrant visas in case of life-or-death emergencies, due to a Russian ban on hiring local residents, which the embassy said last month forced it to reduce its consular workforce by 75%. AP reports.
Japanese, U.S. and French troops have conducted joint military drills in southern Japan. “The three nations’ first joint drills on Japanese soil — dubbed “ARC21” and which began Tuesday — come as they seek [to] step up military ties amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the region,” Richard Colombo and Mari Yamaguch report for the Washington Post.
Space diplomacy is urgently needed given the increasing amount of “space junk,” falling rocket debris and unregulated resource competition. “These incidents underline the urgency of building out international norms and regulations addressing the dynamics unleashed by the growing list of government and commercial players active in both deep space and low earth orbit,” Robert Pearson and Benjamin Schmitt contend for Foreign Policy.
The U.S. will grant Tunisia $500 million in aid to finance infrastructure and other projects. Tunisia’s finance minister Ali Kooli has also told Reuters that talks are advanced on a loan guarantee.
The E.U. has agreed a partial truce with the U.S. in a dispute over U.S. metals tariffs imposed by former President Trump. The E.U. Commission has said that it will suspend a proposed hike in its retaliatory tariffs and the two sides have started discussions on addressing global overcapacity in steel and aluminum. “In a joint statement, Brussels and Washington said that, as allies, they could promote high standards, address shared concerns “and hold countries like China that support trade-distorting policies to account”,” Philip Blenkinsop reports for Reuters.
China will extend a tariff exemption for 79 products imported from the U.S. that is due to expire on May 18, the finance ministry has said. The products originally received exemptions from retaliatory tariffs China imposed on U.S. goods as counter measures to U.S. Section 301 action, and the exemption will now be extended until Dec. 25. Reuters reports.
Lone wolf actors pose the greatest terror threat to the U.S. as incidents of domestic extremism steadily rise, concludes a joint report by the FBI and he Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “The greatest terrorism threat to the homeland we face today is posed by lone offenders, often radicalized online, who look to attack soft targets with easily accessible weapons. Many of these violent extremists are motivated and inspired by a mix of socio-political goals and personal grievances against their targets,” the report from the two agencies states. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.
DHS has warned that terrorists may attack as coronavirus restrictions ease in the United States. DHS, in a press release on Friday, warned that “today’s terrorism-related threat landscape is more complex, more dynamic, and more diversified than it was several years ago.” The U.S. is facing threats from domestic terrorists, individuals and groups that are influenced by foreign terrorist organizations, DHS advised, referring to social media platforms and online forums used by perpetrators to spread their violent rhetoric. Olafimihan Osin reports for The Hill.
The push to reform sexual assault in the military has reached a turning point with increasing bipartisan support. Several bills put forward in the House and Senate now have the support of lawmakers. This includes legislation to change who decides whether to prosecute sexual assaults and other serious crimes, taking it out of the hands of military commanders and giving it to specially trained military prosecutors. Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) also “added to the renewed optimism for action on Friday when he announced he would lead a House push to revamp how military sexual assault claims are handled,” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.
Senior Trump Air Force official Will Roper, who was in charge of purchasing military hardware for the U.S. Air Force, suggested slashing the total number of Lockheed Martin F-35 jets for the service by more than half late last year. There is increasing Congressional criticism of the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history. According to two former defense officials involved in the discussion, “Roper questioned the cost of the jet, even after former President Donald Trump touted it as ‘invisible’ and the greatest fighter jet in the world,” Oren Liebermann reports for CNN.
A Space Force lieutenant colonel, Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeie, has been removed from his command after appearing on a conservative podcast criticizing the U.S. military. Lohemier joined The Steve Gruber show to discuss his new book, “Irresistible Revolution: Marxism’s Goal of Conquest & the Unmaking of the American Military,” which alleges that Marxist ideologies are becoming widespread within the military. Kristen Holmes and Barbara Starr report for CNN.
Biden’s administration discussed using military fuel stockpiles or mobilizing the National Guard to mitigate the crisis arising from the Colonial Pipeline attack. Carol Lee, Courtney Kube and Kristen Welker report for NBC News.
A former U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer admitted on Friday that she brought a Mexican woman into the U.S. illegally. The former officer allegedly wanted the woman to work as her nanny in her home and signed a guilty plea deal for conspiracy to encourage or induce a foreign national to enter the United States, acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery said in a statement. Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
80% of Asian Americans say they are discriminated against, according to a recent survey. The survey, commissioned by the new nonprofit Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change, also found that a significant portion of respondents of multiple races said they were unaware of an increase in hate crimes and racism against Asian Americans over the past year. Dustin Jones reports for NPR.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has compared allegations of sexual misconduct and sex trafficking involving a minor to earmarks, a congressional process by which spending measures beneficial to representatives’ districts are attached to legislation. The remarks were made to a crowd of Republican activists on Saturday at the Ohio Political Summit, a gathering sponsored by the Strongsville GOP in suburban Cleveland, “I’m being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors,” Gaetz said. “Yet, Congress has reinstituted a process that legalizes the corrupt act of exchanging money for favors, through earmarks, and everybody knows that that’s the corruption.” Henry Gomez reports for NBC.
China is using the detention of Uighurs in Guantanamo and claims made by Washington about an alleged Uighur militant organization, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), during the “war on terror” as a justification for its ongoing crackdown in the Xinjiang region. The last Uighur detainees in Guantanamo were released in late 2013, however “even though America declared we were innocent, that we hadn’t done anything, China continues to say we worked with the Taliban and al Qaeda,” said Abu Bakeer Qassim, a former Guantanamo detainee now living in Albania. James Giffiths and Gul Tuysuz report for CNN on the experiences of the Uighur detainees.
Ethiopia has delayed its national election again amid security and logistical challenges. The election was previously scheduled for June 5, 2021 and the delay comes “after some opposition parties said they would not take part and as a conflict in the country’s Tigray region means no vote is being held there, further complicating Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s efforts to centralize power,” Al Jazeera reports.
Iran’s judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric who is linked to mass killings in 1988, registered over the weekend to run in the Islamic Republic’s presidential election next month. AP reporting.
The U.N. chief António Guterres has said that foreign fighters and mercenaries remain in Libya in breach of the ceasefire agreement last year. Guterres has called for an end to violations of the U.N. arms embargo and for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters. Al Jazeera reports.
A Greek neo-Nazi with a seat in the European Parliament has been extradited back to Greece to serve a 13-year prison term. Ionnais Lagos was convicted for his part in running the extreme-right criminal organization Golden Dawn, which rose to prominence in 2012 at the peak of Greece’s financial crisis and was once the country’s third-largest political party. Niki Kitsantonis reports for the New York Times.
Independent human rights experts appointed by the U.N. and the Organization of American State are calling for an impartial probe by the Columbian government into the violent crackdown on protests in the country. “We are deeply distressed by the excessive and unlawful use of force by police and members of the ESMAD (Mobile Anti-Riot Squad) against peaceful demonstrators, human rights defenders and journalists across Colombia”, the rights experts said on Friday. UN News Centre reports.
Tunisia has killed five suspected militants in the mountains near the Algerian border. A Tunisian security official has told Reuters that the operation carried out by joint police and army forces is still ongoing. Reuters reports.
France, Germany and Spain have reached a deal over the next steps of the development of a new fighter jet. The joint combat jet is “Europe’s largest defense project at an estimated cost of more than 100 billion euros ($121.4 billion),” Reuters reports.
The novel coronavirus has infected over 32.9 million and now killed over 585,900 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 163.00 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.37 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky yesterday defended the agency’s sudden reversal on mask recommendations, stressing that the decision was not spurred by public pressure. “If you are vaccinated, we are saying you are safe. You can take off your mask and you are not at risk of severe disease or hospitalization from Covid-19,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.” Aubree Eliza Weaver reports for POLITICO.
Refugees from virus-devastated Brazil, Cuba, India and Venezuela have been travelling for miles to reach the U.S., with gaps in the border wall used to access the country, including a crossing point in the Arizona desert. Miriam Jordan reports for the New York Times.
The E.U. plans to back measures to expand vaccine production capacity in Africa, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expected to offer support to establishing strategic manufacturing hubs in African countries at a global health summit in Rome on Friday, officials said. Sam Fleming, Michael Peel and David Pilling report for the Financial Times.
Excess Covid-19 vaccines must be shared with developing countries if we are to reduce the likelihood of another India situation, warned head of UNICEF Henrietta Fore. “UNICEF is a partner in COVAX, the global vaccine equity mechanism, which is set to deliver its 65 millionth dose this week. However, Ms Fore said ‘it should have been at least its 170 millionth.’ The shortfall will be closer to 190 million doses by the time the G7 meet, she added, and as a deadly second wave of COVID-19 will likely continue to sweep across India and many of its neighbors,” reports the UN News Centre.
European nations have greatly expanded their powers during the pandemic, with few having “exit plans” to hand back rights to citizens, write Luke McGee and Saskya Vandoorne for CNN.
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