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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Axios that during his visit to Israel he warned Israeli officials against “evictions of Palestinians from their homes where they lived for decades and generations, the demolitions of housing as well … and of course everything that took place on and around the Temple Mount,” saying that further conflict would lead to renewed “tension, conflict and war.” “He would not characterize the responses of either side to those warnings, saying he’d let them speak for themselves about “how they’re taking all that on board.’” He did say that “the most important aspect of his trip was that he heard directly from Israel and indirectly from Hamas, through Egypt, that both want to maintain the ceasefire. ‘But it’s also important that we avoid various actions that could unintentionally, or not, spark another round of violence,’” reports Barak Rabvid for Axios.
The U.N. Human Rights Council voted 24-9 to establish a Commission of Inquiry to look into possible crimes during the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas. The resolution was first brought forth by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Palestinian delegation to the U.N., receiving 14 abstentions. Reuters reporting.
The commission appears to have an unusually broad remit and is different to previous commissions in two ways: It is ‘ongoing, meaning the panel can pursue the inquiry indefinitely. That gives it a degree of permanence akin to investigative bodies documenting atrocities in Syria and Myanmar … And the commission is not limited to looking just at hostilities in Gaza and the West Bank, but instead has been charged with examining ‘all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity,’” Nick Cumming-Bruce reports for the New York Times.
The U.S. mission in Geneva said the U.S. “deeply regrets” the move to create an “open-ended” commission. AP reporting
Egypt has invited Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for separate talks focused on advancing the reconstruction process in Gaza, an Egyptian intelligence official said Thursday. AP reporting.
Lynn Hastings, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Gaza, launched an emergency appeal Thursday for $95 million for Gaza for the next three months, which she said will target one million people for assistance. AP reporting.
The World Health Organization has called for access to patients in the Gaza strip and the possibility to be able to evacuate around 600 patients for medical. Reuters reporting.
The E.U. is weighing a package of sanctions directed at Belarus’s potash exports as well as its oil and financial industry. “Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the EU should consider hitting the oil sector, while Germany’s Heiko Maas spoke of measures to target financial transactions, which diplomats said would probably involve preventing the EU from lending to Belarusian banks,” Reuters reports. The move follows a ban on national airline Avia flying to Europe as well as EU airlines directed to avoid EU Belarus air space.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Sochi, Russia today. “On May 28, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko will hold talks in Sochi. Relevant issues on the further development of bilateral ties, the fulfillment of joint projects in the trade, economic, energy, cultural and humanitarian spheres, as well as issues of promoting integration within the Union State are on the agenda,” the Kremlin press service said, reports Russian News Agency TASS.
Swiss email provider ProtonMail said Thursday that the email Belarusian authorities claimed contained the purported in-flight bomb threat was sent after the plane was diverted. “We haven’t seen credible evidence that the Belarusian claims are true,” ProtonMail, said, adding. “we will support European authorities in their investigations upon receiving a legal request.” Mary Ilyushina and Isabelle Khurshudyan report for the Washington Post.
Russia denied two European flights from landing in Moscow. The decision comes after Air France and Austrian Airlines avoided Belarusian airspace following a recommendation by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). “It is unclear if Moscow’s retaliation is temporary or signals a more lasting standoff, which could in turn lead to countermeasures against the Russian national carrier Aeroflot,” Daniel Boffey and Luke Harding report for the Guardian.
The Kremlin said Friday that it was working to rectify technical issues it says resulted in the flights being grounded. Reuters reporting.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is “slightly” ahead of schedule, speaking before a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing meant to focus on the $715 billion Pentagon budget being released today. He offered no further details of the pace of the withdrawal. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.
The Biden administration is “rapidly” developing plans to evacuate Afghans who worked for the American military ahead of the September deadline, Joint Chiefs Chair Gen Mark Milley said: “not just interpreters but a lot of other people that have worked with the United States.” BBC News reporting.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov that the U.S. has decided not to re-enter the Open Skies Treaty. “The United States regrets that the Treaty on Open Skies has been undermined by Russia’s violations,” the department said. “In concluding its review of the treaty, the United States therefore does not intend to seek to rejoin it, given Russia’s failure to take any actions to return to compliance. Further, Russia’s behavior, including its recent actions with respect to Ukraine, is not that of a partner committed to confidence-building,’” reports AP.
If “immediate” progress is not made on the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Tigray then the U.S. “will be imposing additional sanctions,” Assistant Secretary of State Robert Godec said on Thursday, saying the administration is reviewing whether war crimes have been committed. Al Jazeera reporting.
“The United States is concerned by recent developments along the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the detention of several Armenian soldiers by Azerbaijani forces. We call on both sides to urgently and peacefully resolve this incident,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. “We also continue to call on Azerbaijan to release immediately all prisoners of war and other detainees, and we remind Azerbaijan of its obligations under international humanitarian law to treat all detainees humanely,” he added. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.
Price’s statement came after six Armenian service members were detained by Azeri troops near the countries’ border. AP reporting.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to Central America next week, attending a meeting in Costa Rica of the Central American Integration System, a regional organization including seven Central American countries as well as the Dominican Republic. “But while a senior State Department official said Thursday that Blinken would meet with top Costa Rican officials, she declined to specify whether any other bilateral meetings had been confirmed,” Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have been investigating whether several Ukrainian officials tried influence the 2020 election by spreading unsubstantiated claims of corruption about Biden through a number of conduits, including Rudy Giuliani, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The Justice Department-FBI investigation has not previously been reported and apparently started in the final months of the Trump administration. Giuliani is not a subject of the Brooklyn investigation, although subject to a long-running Manhattan investigation. “At one point in the investigation, the authorities examined a trip Mr. Giuliani took to Europe in December 2019, when he met with several Ukrainians … At least one of the current and former officials Mr. Giuliani met, a Ukrainian member of parliament named Andriy Derkach, is now a focus of the Brooklyn investigation, the people said,” William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess, Kenneth P. Vogel and Nicole Hong report for the New York Times.
The Manhattan District Attorney is weighing a criminal charge against the Trump Organization known as “little RICO,” a New York law resembling the federal racketeering statute known as RICO, former prosecutors and defense attorneys said. “New York’s enterprise corruption statute … can be applied to money-making businesses alleged to have repeatedly engaged in criminal activity as a way to boost their bottom line … and can be invoked with proof of as few as three crimes involving a business or other enterprise and can carry a prison term of up to 25 years, along with a mandatory minimum of one to three years,” reports Josh Gerstein and Betsey Woodruff Swan for POLITICO.
The Pentagon budget will “divest and decommission platforms that are in high demand,” warned Rep. Ken Calvert, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel during a hearing yesterday with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley. Austin said the budget will spend more on advanced technologies such as hypersonics and artificial intelligence, and divest from “older ships, aircraft, and [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] platforms that demand more maintenance, upkeep and risk than we can afford.” “The testimony came amid friction with Capitol Hill over emerging plans from the Navy to decommission two littoral combat ships and buy only eight vessels, and from the Air Force’s plans to curtail procurement of the C-130 airframe and the MQ-9 Reaper drone. It’s a sign of the difficult politics surrounding divestitures from weapons platforms that carry weight for national security as well the communities where they are made, based and maintained,” Joe Gould reports for Defense News.
Attorney General Merrick Garland yesterday directed the Justice Department to expand funding to states and municipalities to help tackle the nation’s growing hate crimes record, and ordered prosecutors to ramp up both criminal and civil investigations into hate incidents. “In a memo to Justice Department employees, Garland said that Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta will assign someone to coordinate and serve as a central “hub” on hate crimes by working with prosecutors, law enforcement and community groups to ensure there are adequate resources to investigate and track hate crimes,” Al Jazeera reporting.
Lawyers for a Pentagon police officer charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted second-degree murder after fatally shooting two men in a Maryland parking lot said in court yesterday that he was acting in self-defense because the men drove directly at him. David Hall Dixon, 40, appeared in court for a bail hearing, where “prosecutors said … that Dixon, who was off-duty at the time and not in uniform, fired his service weapon only after the men were driving out of the parking lot and did not represent any danger to him.” Dan Morse reports for the Washington Post.
Three officers will face charges for second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter over the killing of Manuel Ellis, the first time in history Washington state has criminally charged police officers for the unlawful use of deadly force. The Washington state attorney general’s office said it “charged Tacoma Police officers Christopher Burbank and Matthew Collins with second-degree murder and officer Timothy Rankine with first-degree manslaughter. The charges were filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) in Pierce County Superior Court … The office said the second-degree murder charge for persons with no prior criminal history can carry a standard prison sentence ranging from 10-18 years. The standard sentencing range for the first-degree manslaughter charge with no previous criminal history is 6.5 to 8.5 years,” Aris Folley reports for The Hill.
The San Jose shooter who killed nine people was detained and questioned by Customs officers in 2016, according to a Department of Homeland Security memo. Customs and Border Protection found “books about terrorism and fear and manifestos…as well as a black memo book filled with lots of notes about how he hates the VTA,” when arresting Samuel James Cassidy Rachael Levy reports for the Wall Street Journal.
JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK
Four former Homeland Security secretaries yesterday urged the Senate to “put politics aside and create a bipartisan, independent 9/11-style commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol.” The secretaries are Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge, who served in the George W. Bush administration, and Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson, who led the Department of Homeland Security under then-President Obama. Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.
The self-proclaimed leader of the “Maga Caravan,” which led a fleet of vehicles to Washington, DC, to a rally held by Trump, has been charged with allegedly being one of the first insurrectionists to assault law enforcement at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the Justice Department announced. “Kenneth Joseph Owen Thomas, 38, of East Liverpool, Ohio, was arrested in Alabama this week for federal charges that include assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers; obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder; and engaging in physical violence on Capitol grounds. Thomas made his initial court appearance in the Northern District of Alabama Wednesday, prosecutors said. He has not entered a plea and information about his attorney was unavailable on Thursday,” report Christina Carrega and Katelyn Polantz for CNN.
The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved an Iraqi request for a U.N. political mission to monitor its October parliamentary elections, as well as U.N. special representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert to “provide a strengthened, robust and visible U.N. team, with additional staff, in advance of Iraq’s forthcoming election, to monitor Iraq’s election day with as broad a geographic coverage as possible.” AP reporting.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was re-elected Thursday. “Syria’s parliament speaker, Hammoud Sabbagh, announced the final results from Wednesday’s vote. He said Assad garnered 95.1% of the votes. He said turnout stood at 78.6% of the voters, in an election that lasted for 17 hours on Wednesday with no independent monitors,” AP reports.
Assad’s two challengers, Abdullah Salloum Abdullah and Mahmoud Ahmed Mari, gained 1.5% and 3.3% of the vote respectively. BBC News reporting.
Somalia’s federal government and leaders of most of its regional states announced an agreement Thursday on the long-delayed national elections. “The agreement laid out a path for parliamentary elections to begin within 60 days, with the selection of the president to follow,” Max Bearak reports for the Washington Post.
France “was not an accomplice” in the 1994 Rwandan genocide but ended up siding with Rwanda’s “genocidal regime” and bore an “overwhelming responsibility” in the slide toward the massacres, French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday at the genocide memorial in the Rwanda capital, Kigali. AP reporting.
The foreign ministers of Ireland, Hungary, Poland, and Serbia will visit China this weekend, the Chinese foreign ministry said. Reuters reporting.
The coronavirus has infected close to 33.22 million and now over 593,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 168.66 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 3.507 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.
The Food and Drug Administration and Johnson & Johnson expect to announce as early as next week that contamination problems at coronavirus vaccine plant Emergent Bayvie in Baltimore are resolved, clearing the way for millions of more doses to become available. Thomas M. Burton reports for the Wall Street Journal.
President Biden said that he would publicly release in full findings of an intelligence community (IC) review into the origins of Covid-19 that he ordered to be completed within 90 days. Assistant Director of National Intelligence for Strategic Communications Amanda Schoch said in a statement that the IC had coalesced around two likely scenarios of the virus’s origin: that it emerged naturally from contact between humans and infected animals or from a lab accident, but that “the majority of elements within the IC do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.” Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Most of the broader IC, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, take the view that there is not yet sufficient information to draw any conclusions, even with low confidence. “So far, according to three officials, there has been no intercepted Chinese communications that provide any strong evidence of a lab leak. Collecting so-called signals intelligence — electronic communications or phone calls — is notoriously difficult in China,” Julian E. Barnes for the New York Times.
Intelligence officials told the White House that they still have large amounts of unexamined evidence to get through which requires additional computer analysis that might provide further insight, according to senior administration officials. “The officials declined to describe the new evidence,” Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger report for the New York Times.
“The U.S. does not care about facts and truth at all. Nor is it interested in scientific truth. But instead wants to use the pandemic to politically manipulate and to stigmatize,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian. AP reporting.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called for “structural” reform to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention’s (CDC) due to “mistakes” the agency made in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. “Structural and cultural reforms at CDC are needed to ensure the organization is modern, nimble, mission-focused, and able to leverage cutting-edge science so that the United States is better prepared for the next threat that will come our way,” Burr wrote in a five-page brief. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.
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.