Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.
A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend. Here’s today’s news.
AFGHANISTAN – TERROR THREATS
Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan has warned that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) poses a threat to the U.S. evacuations efforts in Kabul. “The threat is real. It is acute. It is persistent. And it is something we are focused on with every tool in our arsenal,” Sullivan told CNN on Sunday when asked whether crowds at the Kabul international airport are vulnerable to terrorist attacks. President Biden speaking from the White House also acknowledged the risk of ISIS attacks at Kabul airport, saying that “we know that terrorists may seek to exploit the situation and target innocent Afghans or American troops. We’re maintaining constant vigilance to monitor and disrupt threats from any source.” Andrew Restuccia reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a security alert on Saturday cautioning Americans seeking to evacuate Afghanistan about going to Kabul airport, citing “potential security threats.” “Because of potential security threats outside the gates at the Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so,” the alert said. Caroline Vakil reports for The Hill.
Biden said yesterday that access around Kabul airport has been extended to facilitate the safe evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from Afghanistan. “These troops and innocent civilians at the airport face the risk of attack from ISIS-K from a distance, even though we’re moving back the perimeter significantly,” Biden said in a speech at the White House. Kelly Hooper reports for POLITICO.
Potential Islamic State threats against Americans in Afghanistan are forcing the U.S. military to develop new ways to get evacuees to the airport in Kabul, a senior U.S. official has said. The changes come as the U.S. issued a new security warning Saturday telling citizens not to travel to the Kabul airport without individual instruction from a U.S. government representative. “The official said that small groups of Americans and possibly other civilians will be given specific instructions on what to do, including movement to transit points where they can be gathered up by the military,” Ahmad Seir, Rahim Faiez, Kathy Gannon and Lolita C. Baldor report for AP.
The U.S. military are establishing “alternative routes” to Kaul airport because of the threat that ISIS-K poses to the airport and its surroundings. “There is a strong possibility ISIS-K is trying to carry off an attack at the airport,” a U.S. defense official told CNN. A senior diplomat in Kabul said they are aware of a credible but not immediate threat by Islamic State against Americans at Hamid Karzai International Airport. “Two US defense officials described the military effort to establish “alternative routes” for people to get to Kabul airport and its access gates, with one saying these new routes will be available to Americans, third party nationals and qualified Afghans. The Taliban are aware of the new effort and are coordinating with the US, one of the officials said,” Barbara Starr, Oren Liebermann, Ellie Kaufman and Nicole Gaouette,
Sullivan has acknowledged the growing terrorism threats in Afghanistan. Sullivan said yesterday that the threat of ISIS regaining a foothold in Afghanistan was of growing concern to security experts. Zach Montague reports for the New York Times.
Sullivan on Sunday reiterated that the U.S. is taking threats of a potential ISIS attack in Afghanistan “absolutely deadly seriously.” “It is something that we are placing paramount priority on stopping or disrupting, and we will do everything that we can for as long as we are on the ground to keep that from happening. But we are taking it absolutely deadly seriously,” Sullivan told guest host Brianna Keilar on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
AFGHANISTAN – KABUL AIRPORT
A firefight at the gates of Kabul’s international airport killed at least one Afghan soldier earlier today, German military officials have said. The shooting occurred near the military side of the airport. “The German military tweeted that one member of the Afghan security forces was killed and three others were wounded by ‘unknown attackers.’ It later clarified that it was referring to ‘members of the Afghan army’ involved in securing the airport. The U.S. military and NATO did not immediately acknowledge the shooting. There was no comment from the Taliban,” AP reports.
At least seven Afghans, including a toddler, have died in a panicked crush of people trying to enter Kabul’s international airport, the British military said yesterday. “Others may have been trampled, suffocated or suffered heart attacks as Taliban fighters fired into the air to try to drive back the crowds. Soldiers covered several corpses in white clothing. Other troops stood on concrete barriers, trying to calm the crowd,” Ahmad Seir, Tameem Akhgar and Jon Gambrell report for AP.
A firefight at Kabul airport involving German and U.S. troops has erupted today, when Afghan guards who exchanged fire with an unidentified gunman. Three wounded Afghan guards were being treated at a field hospital in the airport, the German military said. Two NATO officials at the airport said the situation was under control after the firing. Reuters reporting.
The situation at Kabul airport s growing increasingly dire for the thousands of Afghans trying to flee the Taliban. The surging crowds around the airport are turning deadly and there is an increasing threat of potential attacks. Dan Bilefsky reports for the New York Times.
The two-year old daughter of a former interpreter who worked for an American company in Kabul was amongst the casualties trampled to death by a crowd outside Kabul airport on Saturday morning. David Zucchino reports for the New York Times.
President Biden has said the U.S. military is “executing a plan” to move stranded American citizens to Kabul airport in greater numbers, including through an expansion of a safe zone around the facility and by creating conduits for people to access the compound “safely and effectively.” “The president would not say how the plan for “increased rational access to the airport” is being carried out or whether U.S. troops have expanded their perimeter outside the airport and further into Kabul, which could put them at heightened risk of attack from Taliban factions manning security checkpoints and Islamic State operatives who, U.S. officials warn, pose a serious threat,” Karoun Demirjian, John Hudson, Dan Lamothe and Adela Suliman report for the Washington Post.
The U.S. military have used helicopters to evacuated Americans from a hotel near Kabul airport, according to a Pentagon spokesperson. “The 169 Americans were retrieved after another country informed US commanders that citizens had gathered at the Baron Hotel near the airport, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday evening. Three CH-47 Chinook helicopters flew from the military side of the airport to the Baron Hotel, just off the southern side of the airport, to collect the Americans and bring them onto the field, Kirby said,” Oren Liebermann reports for CNN.
AFGHANISTAN – EVACUATING U.S. AND ALLY CITIZENS AND AFGHANS
The Department of Defense is mobilizing commercial airline flights to help with the U.S.’s evacuation efforts in Afghanistan. The Pentagon announced in a statement yesterday that “Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the commander of U.S. Transportation Command to initiate stage one of its Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) to assist with flying U.S. citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other vulnerable individuals out of Afghanistan. Austin’s directive will activate 18 commercial flights to help with the evacuation efforts: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines,” Ellie Kaufman, Oren Liebermann, Veronica Stracqualursi and Alexis Benveniste report for CNN.
The commercial aircrafts will assist with transporting Afghan evacuees from locations in the Middle East and Europe to other areas of the world. “CRAF activated aircraft will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul,” Defense officials said. “They will be used for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases. Activating CRAF increases passenger movement beyond organic capability and allows military aircraft to focus on operations in and out of in Kabul.” Orina Pawlyk reports for POLITICO.
Dozens of U.S. military transport jets were expected to land at Kabul’s international airport today, as about 20,000 people remained at the facility awaiting evacuation, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. “Plans called for 33 U.S. Air Force C-17s to head to Hamid Karzai International Airport in the next 24 hours, said the source. Each of the large four-engine jets has the ability to take 400 passengers out of Kabul…But the source said Washington was changing its policy on who would be admitted into the airport and, from Monday on, only American citizens and green card holders and citizens of NATO countries would be allowed past the airport’s gates,” Nick Paton Walsh reports for CNN.
Afghan staff at U.S. Embassy are “deeply disheartened” by U.S. evacuation efforts and have expressed a sense of betrayal and distrust in the U.S. government, according to a State Department diplomatic cable. “The cable, which was sent Saturday, said memos were sent Wednesday inviting Afghan staff members at the embassy to head to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. It told them to take food and to prepare for difficult conditions. ‘However, no one anticipated the brutal experience that occurred,’ the cable said. Staffers reported being jostled, hit, spat on and cursed at by Taliban fighters at checkpoints near the airport, it said, adding that criminals were taking advantage of the chaos while the U.S. military tried to maintain order ‘in an extremely physical situation,’” Abigail Williams and Yuliya Talmazan report for NBC News.
U.S. officials have announced a major expansion of countries that will help transit or temporarily host people fleeing the Taliban. On Friday for several hours no flights left Kabul because of the central destinations in Qatar neared capacity. “Bahrain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tajikistan, Turkey, the UAE, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan have been or will soon be transiting Americans or in some circumstances, others, through their territories to safety,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said Friday. “Albania, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Qatar, Rwanda, Ukraine and Uganda have also made generous offers regarding the relocation efforts for at-risk Afghans,” he told reporters at the daily briefing. Nicole Gaouette, Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood and Oren Liebermann report for CNN.
Biden emphasized yesterday during his speech from the White House on the evacuation effort that Afghan refugees will be vetted before entering the U.S. “Planes taking off from Kabul are not flying directly to the United States. They’re landing at U.S. military bases and transit centers around the world,” Biden said. “At these sites where they are landing, we are conducting thorough … security screening for everyone who is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Anyone arriving in the United States will have undergone a background check.” Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.
Biden’s administration has been unable to provide confirmation of the number of Americans waiting to be evacuated from Afghanistan. Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan has estimated in an interview with NBC that “roughly a few thousand” Americans were trying to leave Afghanistan, and in another interview with CNN said that it was not possible to give a “precise number.” “American officials had estimated on Tuesday that 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. citizens were in Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. William Taylor of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff said on Saturday that about 2,500 Americans had been evacuated since Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban took Kabul, the Afghan capital,” Thomas Kaplan reports for the New York Times.
AFGHANISTAN – EVACUATION NUMBERS
The U.S. evacuated approximately 10,400 people out of Kabul over 24 hours on Sunday, and 61 coalition planes helped evacuate approximately 5,900, a White House official has said. “Since Aug. 14, the U.S. has gotten 37,000 people out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, or helped with their evacuation, the official said,” Reuters reporting.
The Pentagon said on Saturday that 17,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan during the past week. “Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor of the Joint Staff said there have been around 22,000 people total evacuated from Afghanistan since the end of July, including approximately 2,500 Americans. The majority of the evacuations have taken place since Aug. 14,” Lexi Lonas reports for The Hill.
AFGHANISTAN – PROTESTS, RESISTANCE AND CASUALTIES
Taliban fighters over the weekend have battled local militia in northern Afghanistan, in some of the first significant armed clashes since the Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country. Members of a local militia in the northern province of Baghlan province attacked Taliban forces on Friday, and fighting continued Saturday, both sides said. Three districts in the Baghlan province were under the militia’s control, said Ahmad Yasin Zia, who stepped down as the Afghan army’s chief of staff earlier this year and has left the country. The Taliban termed the militia’s gains a “distraction.” Saeed Shah and Jessica Donati report for the Wall Street Journal.
The Taliban have now said that they have retaken the three northern districts seized by Afghan militias over the weekend and are established near to the Panjshir Valley. Taliban forces have cleared the districts of Bano, Deh Saleh, Pul e-Hesar, which fell to local militia groups over the weekend, and are established in Badakhshan, Takhar and Andarab near the Panjshir Valley, according to the Twitter account of spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid. Reuters reporting.
Local anti-Taliban commanders claimed in interviews that they had killed as many as 30 Taliban fighters and captured 20 in the takeover of the districts in Baghlan province. Former Afghan service members were joined in the fight, they said, by local civilians. Abdul Rahman, 53, a former commander at Baghlan prison, said he mobilized hundreds of local forces and pushed the Taliban out. Ezzatullah Mehrdad and Sudarsan Raghavan report for AP.
The Taliban have said that hundreds of fighters are heading to Panjshir Valley, one of the few parts of Afghanistan not yet controlled by the group. “Since the Taliban overran Afghanistan, flickers of resistance have begun to emerge with some ex-government troops gathering in the Panjshir, north of Kabul, long known as an anti-Taliban bastion. ‘Hundreds of Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate are heading towards the state of Panjshir to control it, after local state officials refused to hand it over peacefully,’ the group wrote on its Arabic Twitter account on Sunday,” Al Jazeera reports.
Resistance forces in the Panjshir Valley are “surrounded” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement today. Mujahid added that the Taliban want to “resolve the issue peacefully through negotiations.” Among the anti-Taliban leaders reportedly in the valley are Amrullah Saleh, vice president of the now-fallen government, and Ahmad Massoud, son of a renowned military commander who fought the Soviet Union and, later, the Taliban before he was assassinated in 2001. It is not clear how many anti-Taliban fighters have amassed in the Panjshir Valley or how significant any resistance may be. Rachel Pannett, Ellen Francis and Haq Nawaz Khan report for the Washington Post.
Massoud, the leader of the last major outpost of anti-Taliban resistance in the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan, said yesterday that he hoped to hold peaceful talks with the Taliban but that his forces were ready to fight. Massoud told Reuters by telephone that “we want to make the Taliban realize that the only way forward is through negotiation,” however his supporters were ready to fight if Taliban forces tried to invade the valley. “They want to defend, they want to fight, they want to resist against any totalitarian regime,” Massoud said. James Mackenzie reports for Reuters.
Massoud has said that he will not surrender to the Taliban, after the Taliban gave him four hours to give up Panjshir Valley Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV channel cited him as saying on Sunday. Reuters reporting.
The Taliban asked Russia to convey an offer to negotiate with a group of Afghan leaders holding out against militants in the Panjshir Valley in northern Afghanistan, the Russian ambassador in Kabul has said. The group in the Panjshir Valley is trying to rally a military force and is claiming to be a continuation of the U.S.-backed government that collapsed in the capital. The Taliban “asked that Russia convey to the leaders and the residents of Panjshir the following: right now, the Taliban have not made any attempts to enter the Panjshir with force,” Dimitri Zhirnov told a Russian television interview on Saturday. “The group is counting on a peaceful path out of the situation, for example by reaching a political agreement,” he added. Andrew E. Kramer reports for the New York Times.
AFGHANISTAN –TALIBAN TAKEOVER
The Taliban is undergoing political negotiations on a broader government and pursuing consultations with major Afghan politicians who have remained in Kabul, such as former President Hamid Karzai, former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and former Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The head of the Taliban’s political office, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, also arrived in Kabul on Saturday after first stopping in Kandahar, the Islamist movement’s birthplace. Yaroslav Trofimov, Saeed Shah and Ehsanullah Amiri report for the Wall Street Journal.
Karzai, who led the first Afghan government after the Taliban were ousted in 2001 and served as president until 2014, is seeking to cast himself as the leader of his people. After President Ashraf Ghani fled the country following the Taliban’s takeover, Karzai is trying to instill calm in Afghanistan as well as aiming to prevent fighting and negotiate some kind of power-sharing agreement between the Taliban and other Afghan political forces. Sune Engel Rasmussen reports for the Wall Street Journal.
The U.N. has said that it is becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of roughly 3,400 Afghan U.N. staff members in Afghanistan, especially women. Some of the staff members have expressed fears that the Taliban and its extremist allies will target them simply because of their foreign affiliation, with increasing accounts of threats, coercion and harassment, despite the public assurances of Taliban leaders that the U.N. and other international humanitarian groups in Afghanistan can work unimpeded. Rick Gladstone reports for the New York Times.
AFGHANISTAN – TROOPS WITHDRAWAL
President Biden has said that the U.S. is considering extending the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan beyond his Aug. 31 deadline as the evacuations continue. Speaking to reporters at the White House, Biden said there were discussions “among us and the military about extending. “Our hope is that we will not have to extend,” he said, adding that the U.S. evacuated about 11,000 people in 30 hours over the weekend. Allan Smith reports for NBC News.
The Taliban has said that the U.S. must depart by Aug. 31 or face a “reaction.” The Taliban said that the U.S. would be crossing a “red line” if the troops did not depart by the deadline. “If they extend it, that means they are extending occupation. … It will create mistrust between us,” Taliban spokesperson told Sky News in an interview from Doha, Qatar, that was aired today. “If they are intent on continuing the occupation, it will provoke a reaction.” Ellen Francis reports for the Washington Post.
The U.K. is preparing to appeal to the Taliban to extend the Aug. 31 deadline for western forces to leave Kabul. U.K. armed forces minister James Heappey has also confirmed that U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was intending to try and persuade the U.S. to stay longer in Kabul in the upcoming Group of Sven (G7) meeting tomorrow. “Whether or not the US can be persuaded to stay is a matter for the prime minister tomorrow at the G7 meeting, the conversation with the Taliban will then follow,” Heappey said during an interview with Sky News. Matthew Weaver and Andrew Sparrow report for the Guardian.
Biden said he remained optimistic that all necessary evacuations would be completed by Aug. 31, but he acknowledged the difficulties the evacuation efforts faced. Biden left open the possibility of extending the troop deployment, while seeking to underscore how the U.S. evacuation effort was ramping up. Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.
AFGHANISTAN – BIDEN AND HIS ADMINISTRATION
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in an interview yesterday that “nobody predicted” the Afghan government “would fall in 11 days.” “Austin said assessments he reviewed prior to the insurgent group’s takeover estimated it could be several months or one to two years before the Afghan government fell. Austin maintained that he considered that the U.S.’s planning for the withdrawal was acceptable and appropriate but criticized the previous administration for providing a situation in which “there were no good options.” Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
Biden assured key allies in June at the Group of Seven summit that the U.S. would maintain enough of a security presence in Afghanistan to ensure U.S. allies could continue to operate in Kabul following the main U.S. withdrawal according to a British diplomatic memo. The vow, made before the Taliban’s rapid final push across the country, meant that British officials determined the U.S. would provide enough personnel to ensure that the U.K. embassy in Kabul could continue operating. “The British document also showed that the U.S. was privately briefing allies that they should be prepared for a Taliban offensive before any settlement that might have allowed former President Ashraf Ghani to remain in power. U.S. diplomats said that the Taliban would ‘test the Afghan government militarily’ before they started taking seriously peace talks that were taking place in Doha, the note said,” Alberto Nardelli reports for Bloomberg.
Biden insisted yesterday that the evacuation of thousands of Americans and their Afghan allies from Kabul would have been “hard and painful no matter when it started or when we began.” Marin Pengelly reports for the Guardian.
Vice President Harris has said that there “will be, and should be, robust analysis” of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The comments were made during Harris’s trip to Singapore today. Harris however maintained that the Biden administration’s focus is on evacuating Afghan nationals, particularly those who are vulnerable and those who worked with Americans. Shibani Mahtani reports for the Washington Post.
AFGHANISTAN – GLOBAL RESPONSE
The group of Seven (G7) leaders will meet virtually tomorrow, amid pressure from the international community over the evacuation of armed forces and civilians from Afghanistan. “The leaders will discuss continuing our close coordination on Afghanistan policy and evacuating our citizens, the brave Afghans who stood with us over the last two decades, and other vulnerable Afghans. They will also discuss plans to provide humanitarian assistance and support for Afghan refugees,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement yesterday. Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to urge G7 leaders to consider adopting further sanctions against the Taliban during the G7 virtual meeting tomorrow. According to officials, the U.K. wants the G7 countries to consider adopting punitive action, possibly including withholding aid or imposing sanctions, against the Taliban if the insurgent group allows the country to foster militants or violates civilians’ human rights. Andrew Macaskill and Andrea Shalal report for Reuters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday rejected the idea of sending people evacuated from Afghanistan to countries near to Russia, saying he did not want “militants showing up here under cover of refugees,” Russian news agencies reported. Reuters reporting.
E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Saturday that while E.U. leaders have held discussions with the Taliban to evacuate citizens and Afghan refugees, there has been no formal recognition of the insurgent group. During a press conference von der Leyen emphasized that it was “important to differentiate between” talks to ensure evacuees’ safe release, and official recognition of the group as the legitimate leaders of Afghanistan. Celine Castronuovo reports for The Hill.
Gunfire erupted yesterday in Portland as a Proud Boys and other far right groups rally descended into violence and clashes with anti-fascist demonstrators. “The two sides eventually clashed in Northeast Portland after remaining separate for hours, leaving a spree of violence that stretched blocks. After the violence ended in Northeast Portland, an unidentified man fired a handgun at what appeared to be a group of anti-fascists downtown. Portland police moved in and arrested the man. Video posted online also appeared to show someone shooting back after the man opened fire. Information was not immediately available on what led to the shooting,” Ryan Haas and Jonathan Levinson report for OPB.
The State department was reportedly hit by a cyberattack in recent weeks. It is unclear if the attack, which prompted the Department of Defense’s Cyber Command to send out notifications warning of a possible serious breach, affected any State Department operations. Mychael Schnell reports for The Hill.
The Capitol Police officer who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has been exonerated for use of force after an internal investigation, according to a memo from the commander of the Capitol Police’s Office of Personal Responsibility. The memo said that “no further action will be taken” against the officer, whose name has not been released. Ken Dilanian and Rich Schapiro report for NBC News.
President Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, has today urged North Korea to return to stalled nuclear talks. Kim said that he is ready to meet his North Korean counterparts “anywhere and at any time,” as he held discussions with South Korean officials in Seoul. After meeting with senior South Korean diplomat Noh Kyu-duk, Kim reiterated that the Biden administration has no hostile intent towards North Korea and that the joint drills between South Korea and the U.S. which have angered North Korea are routine and defensive in nature. Kim Tong-Hyung reports for AP.
Vice President Harris today pledged the U.S.’s dedication to an open South China Sea, during her trip to Singapore and Vietnam. “I reaffirmed in our assembly America’s dedication to working with our allies and companions across the Indo Pacific to uphold the principles primarily based worldwide order, and freedom of navigation, together with within the South China Sea,” said Harris. Nandita Bose reports for Reuters
A fighter jet with the U.S.-led coalition shot down a drone in eastern Syria on Saturday after the unmanned aircraft was deemed a threat, U.S. military officials have said. “Coalition aircraft successfully engaged and defeated a UAS through air to air engagement in the vicinity of Mission Support Site Green Village,” said coalition spokesperson U.S. Army Colonel Wayne Marotto. Linda So reports for Reuters.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy yesterday signed a decree imposing sanctions on Andriy Derkach, the Ukrainian lawmaker accused by the U.S. of being a Russian agent and interfering in U.S. elections, the presidential office said. Derkach, who has previously denied wrongdoing and said he was being targeted for exposing corruption, is being sanctioned by Ukraine, along with members of the Russian military and Russian judges. Reuters reporting.
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
Israel bombed Palestinian weapons sites on Sunday in response to violent demonstrations that took place around the territory’s perimeter fence to protest an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. In a statement the Israeli army said that fighter planes hit “four weapons and storage manufacturing sites” belonging to Gaza’s Hamas rulers, and that the military deployed additional troops to the region near the border with the Palestinian enclave. There were no immediate reports of injuries in the airstrikes. AP reports.
Clashes on the Gaza-Israel border have wounded at least 24 Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head, health officials have said. An Israeli policeman was also critically wounded by Palestinian gunfire during the clashes. “The violence erupted after hundreds of Palestinians took part in a demonstration Saturday organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers to draw attention to a stifling Israeli blockade of the territory. The demonstration grew violent after dozens of people approached the fortified border fence and threw rocks and explosives toward Israeli soldiers from behind a black smoke screen spewing from burning tires,” Wafaa Shurafa reports for AP.
Israeli airstrikes that demolished four high-rise buildings in the Gaza Strip during the war in May apparently violated international laws of war, a leading international human rights group said today. Human Rights Watch highlighted the “serious, lasting harm for countless Palestinians who lived, worked, shopped or benefited from businesses based” close to the high-rise towers in Gaza City and called on the Israeli military to produce evidence justifying the attacks. Josef Federman reports for AP.
Lebanese hospitals are at breaking point as everything runs out amongst serious fuel and medical shortages in the country. “The country’s health sector is a casualty of the multiple crises that have plunged Lebanon into a downward spiral — a financial and economic meltdown, compounded by a complete failure of the government, runaway corruption and a pandemic that isn’t going away,” Sarah El Deeb reports for AP.
The U.S. has warned that food aid to Ethiopia’s Tigray region was going to run out last week for millions of people under a blockade imposed by Ethiopia’s government on the embattled region. Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said in a statement late Thursday that less than 7% of the needed food aid has been reaching the Tigray region of some 6 million people, and USAID and other aid groups “have depleted their stores of food items warehoused in Tigray” after nine months of war. “This shortage is not because food is unavailable, but because the Ethiopian government is obstructing humanitarian aid and personnel, including land convoys and air access,” Power said. Cara Anna reports for AP.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reiterated that further sanctions may be imposed on Russia if it uses the Nord Stream 2 pipeline against Ukraine. The pipeline will run under the Baltic Sea and double Russian gas exports to Germany; however Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky opposes the pipeline, which he says threatens Ukraine’s security. In her final visit to Kyiv before leaving office, Merkel told Zelensky that she understood his concerns over the Nord Stream 2 project. Merkel said that Berlin has agreed with Washington that Nord Stream 2 should not be used against Ukraine and sanctions could be used against Moscow under an agreement between Germany and the US, if gas was “used as a weapon.” BBC News reports.
Russia, Iran and China will hold joint maritime exercises in the Persian Gulf around late 2021 or early 2022, Russia’s ambassador to Tehran has said, the RIA news agency reported today. Reuters reporting.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has called on Japan to release Iranian funds frozen in the country because of U.S. sanctions. Iranian state TV reported that Raisi made the call on Japan following a meeting yesterday with the visiting Japanese foreign minister. “The improvement of ties with Japan is of great importance for Iran … Any delay in unblocking Iranian assets in Japanese banks is not justified,” Raisi said in his meeting with Toshimitsu Motegi. Reuters reporting.
Russia has said that it has detained a Ukrainian man who was caught “red-handed” trying to steal state secrets about its small arms industry in Tula, a town that hosts a military weapons factory. Reuters reporting.
The coronavirus has infected over 37.7 million and has now killed over 628,500 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 211.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 4.43 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report 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.