As donors suspend critical funding to UNRWA, allegations against staff remain murky

From our UN correspondent in New York – The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) announced on January 26 that it had terminated the contracts of several employees pending an investigation into Israeli allegations that they had been involved in Hamas’s October 7 attacks in Israel. The move prompted several nations to suspend vital funding to UNRWA while the inquiry proceeds, deepening Gaza’s already acute humanitarian crisis. But Israel refuses to share either its evidence or the intelligence dossier – a summary of which was seen by FRANCE 24 – with UNRWA, posing a challenge for the UN agency to complete its inquiry.

A senior Israeli diplomat surprised UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini during a routine in-person meeting in Tel Aviv on January 18, informing him that Israel had evidence UNRWA staff members were involved in the October 7 massacre in southern Israel that left more than 1,100 dead.  

“We were shocked, we took this seriously because these were very serious allegations,” UNRWA director of communications Juliette Touma told FRANCE 24.    

Lazzarini travelled to New York four days later to brief UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and then to the US State Department in Washington to warn UNRWA’s top donor, the United States, Touma said.

Lazzarini also “had a series of phone call interactions with several of our largest donors before the UN went public in the morning of January 26” with the decision to let some staff members go.

“We took the decision to put out the information first and not to respond to leaks,” Touma said.  

She added that the Israeli information was given to Lazzarini verbally but that no evidence was shared. 

UNRWA acted quickly and “cross-checked the information and the names they were given,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told a press briefing last week.

The UN ended the contracts of the accused staff members and said it was launching an investigation into the Israeli claims. Touma said this unprecedented step was taken because the allegations “put the reputation of the agency and humanitarian operation in Gaza at serious risk”.

But despite the UN’s announcement of an immediate investigation, key UNRWA donors suspended funding to the agency pending its findings, as millions of Gazans go desperately hungry, are at risk of disease, and are forced to sleep in crude shelters or even on the streets amid continuing Israeli bombardment. 

The accusations against a handful of staff in an agency of 13,000 employees operating in Gaza alone have already had a devastating effect on civilians. UNRWA provides essential government services in Gaza, including running 278 schools for 280,000 children and 22 primary healthcare centres, while also providing food to the approximately 2 million people who have been under siege by Israel since early October. 

The ‘suspenders’ 

At least 16 donor countries, including the top two contributors – the US and Germany – have frozen funding to UNRWA over the allegations and have been dubbed the “suspenders” in the corridors of UN headquarters in New York.

About $440 million in funding is at risk, Touma said, adding that UNRWA will run out of money by the end of February if donors continue to withhold money. 

The United States and other donor nations as well as the European Union have made it clear they will not resume funding until they are satisfied with the UN’s investigation. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement that there must be “complete accountability for anyone who participated in the heinous attacks”.

Guterres has urged donor nations to resume funding to UNRWA immediately, reminding them of the “swift” action the UN is taking to address the accusations. He also asked Lazzarini to task an outside organisation with conducting a separate, independent assessment of the agency’s operations in addition to the internal UN review.

The UN announced on Monday that it had appointed Catherine Colonna, France’s former minister of foreign affairs, to lead the Independent Review Group to “assess whether the Agency is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they are made”. The group will begin work on February 14 and will submit an interim report to the secretary general in late March with a final report – which will be made public – expected by late April 2024. 

France, UNRWA’s fourth-biggest donor, has not suspended its voluntary contributions to the agency. France increased its funding in 2023 to  €60 million, out of concern over the “disastrous humanitarian situation in Gaza” and its impact on civilians. France’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying it will be “waiting for the investigations launched in recent days” to decide how to proceed regarding its contributions for 2024.

‘The dodgy dossier’  

Israel has not yet shared its full intelligence dossier with either UNRWA or the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the UN legal body tasked with carrying out the internal investigation.

“I don’t think we need to give intelligence information,” said Lior Haiat, a spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry. “This would reveal sources in the operation. We gave information to UNRWA about employees that worked for UNRWA that are members of Hamas.” 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated, “We haven’t had the ability to investigate [the allegations] ourselves. But they are highly, highly credible.”

Haiat noted that the very nature of the allegations makes it impossible for Israel to share all the evidence it has with UNRWA.

“They think that we can give them intelligence information, knowing that some of their employees work for Hamas? Are you serious? Why don’t we invite Hamas to our headquarters and have them sit at our desk and have a look at all the information we have?” he asked.

A six-page summary of the Israeli dossier leaked to a handful of media outlets and seen by FRANCE 24 provides the names of the 12 UNRWA staff members accused of participating in the Hamas attacks, ranging from kidnapping Israelis to helping to carry out the massacre at the Be’eri kibbutz. Two of the accused are dead and another is unaccounted for. 

The dossier alleges that the first man on the list of the accused, an UNRWA school counselor, entered Israeli territory to kidnap an Israeli woman with the help of his son.  

The accusations say they are drawn, in part, from “intelligence information, documents and identity cards seized during the course of the fighting”. The dossier estimates that there are around 190 Hamas or Palestine Islamic Jihad terrorist operatives working for UNRWA. 

The Israeli foreign ministry told FRANCE 24 that evidence of UNRWA staff involvement includes phone tracking that shows where the employees were on October 7 as well as video footage gathered by the Israeli Defence Forces.

Yet this documentation has not been provided to UN investigators. 

“They received some type of evidence to terminate the employees, obviously they would not have done that if they did not receive some type of evidence,” said Joshua Lavine, the spokesperson for the Israeli mission to the UN.  

Lavine said that he was “not surprised that there are members of UNRWA who are also members of terror organisations” and that there have been meetings in the past between the Israeli mission and UN officials discussing the issue.

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan escorted a delegation of nine UN ambassadors to Israel on January 31 where they met with the president, the foreign and defence ministers, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. UNRWA was discussed at length. 

In a February 1 briefing, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told the ambassadors that UNRWA had “lost its legitimacy to exist”. Malta’s UN Ambassador Vanessa Frazier, who took part in the delegation, told FRANCE 24 that Gallant told them that UNRWA is “an internationally funded organisation paid to kill Israelis”.  

The ambassadors had a clear message for Israel, Frazier said: “Support the SG’s (UN secretary general’s) investigation; anyone involved must be accountable, but the collective punishment only hurts the Gazans more.”

Inquiry will take time

Donors are demanding a speedy inquiry before resuming funding, but UN sources say this could take up to a year.

Former senior OIOS investigator Vladimir Dzuro, who led a major probe into top management UNRWA, said the OIOS aims to complete investigations within six months but that a realistic timeframe is more like six to 12 months, depending on the complexity of the allegations.

“I do not believe that any professional investigation into allegations of this nature, in a quality that is required under the circumstances, could be conducted in four weeks,” Dzuro said, before UNRWA’s funding runs out.

It is also unlikely that UN investigators could conduct a thorough inquiry in an active war zone, he noted.  

The OIOS director of investigations, Suzette Schultz, was tight-lipped about the investigation, saying in an email only that her team is “pursuing various avenues of enquiry” and that it has “approached multiple member states that may have information relevant to the investigation”. 

Donor nation Norway has refused to cut aid to UNRWA. The country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide urged other donors not to turn their backs on UNRWA, saying: “We should not collectively punish millions of people. We must distinguish between what individuals may have done and what UNRWA stands for.” 

Chris Gunness, former chief spokesperson for UNRWA from 2007 to 2020, accused the donors who have frozen funding of “illegally weaponising” UNRWA, thus violating the International Court of Justice ruling calling on Israel to prevent genocide in Gaza and the Genocide Convention itself. 

“If these donors have made a decision without cast-iron evidence, they need to be investigated for a move which humanitarian experts say will cause mass starvation,” he said. “It’s time for serious pushback against the dodgy dossier, bad donorship and the betrayal of the UN, UNRWA, its staff and the people of Gaza.”

Gunness noted that the dossier illustrates “perfectly why the donors must ring-fence humanitarian decision-making from politics”. 

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, an organisation named after Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer of Jewish descent who coined the term “genocide” in 1944, also sounded the alarm on the withdrawal of funds. “This is a serious escalation of the crisis in Gaza and follows the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) first ruling in Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel), which many hoped would slow the genocide.” 

“It is possible that at least some of the allegations are true. This is why UNRWA’s leadership has reacted swiftly, and an investigation has been launched,” said Matthias Schmale, UNRWA director in Gaza from 2017 to 2021.

“It can also be legitimately asked why these allegations surfaced around the time of the ICJ judgment that, amongst other things, articulated the need for immediate and massive delivery of humanitarian aid, which cannot be done without UNRWA,” he said.  

UNRWA in Israel’s crosshairs

Even before October 7, there was a long history of Israel questioning UNRWA’s credibility. And yet Israel relies solely on the UN agency to provide essential services to civilians in Gaza that it might otherwise have to provide itself. 

The agency is almost as old as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself. Created by the UN General Assembly in 1949, UNRWA was set up to provide critical social support for Palestinian refugees throughout the Mideast. Its mandate was renewed for another three years by the UN General Assembly in 2023.

Schmale, the former UNRWA director in Gaza, said that despite Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip since 2007, the group has no involvement in the UN administration in the enclave.

“During my almost four years in Gaza I had to fire only one staff member for direct involvement, as we discovered that he was an active member of the Al-Qassam Brigade,” he said. “This was the exception, not the norm.”

“Hamas de facto authorities are NOT involved in UNRWA’s core services which include education and health,” Schmale said in an email. Hamas leaders “unsurprisingly from time to time make their views known on what UNRWA does and how, and express expectations of what should be conducted differently”.  

But Schmale said that, during his time in Gaza, “Hamas mostly respected that it cannot interfere in the running of the Agency, and we were able to conduct our work in conformity with UN standards and norms.”

UNRWA has 30,000 staff, mostly Palestinians, who provide essential services for millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East. In Gaza alone, the agency has played a crucial role, especially since Israel imposed a blockade on the strip when Hamas took over governance in 2007. UNRWA is also the second-biggest employer in Gaza; 80 percent of the population of the 360-square-kilometre enclave relies on humanitarian aid.

Nevertheless, the UN agency has aroused Israeli suspicions.

A copy of a classified report written by Israel’s foreign ministry with a plan to dismantle UNRWA in Gaza in three stages was leaked to Israeli media last month. The first stage involved revealing cooperation between UNRWA and the Hamas movement. 

Haiat confirmed the existence of the foreign ministry report but said that it was a “non-paper” that had not been “approved by anyone”. 

An earlier Israeli government plan made public in 2017 outlined a process for dissolving UNRWA and transferring its responsibilities to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.  

When a Palestinian journalist and writer, Yasser Al Banna, who works in Gaza, read the allegations against UNRWA staff, he immediately recalled the leaked foreign ministry report and the 2017 Israeli government plan.

The accusations against UNRWA staff should be “taken in context,” Al Banna said, noting that the accused account for just 0.09 percent of UNRWA employees in Gaza. 

“Logically speaking, it is not strange that 12 people out of 13,000 employees [in Gaza] could get involved in illegal activities,”  Al Banna said. “Those involved should be punished legally and professionally. We should not punish an entire agency, an entire people.” 

Under pressure 

Lazzarini is now travelling to Gulf states to seek alternate funding for the agency. Despite facing intense pressure from Israel to resign, his spokesperson said he has no intention of doing so.

“This is a very serious crisis for the United Nations,” Touma acknowledged. “It’s probably one of the largest we’ve had to go through, involving the oldest and one of the most critical agencies of the UN. It’s important that the truth comes out.”

Touma was moved as she recalled her visits to UNRWA schools. “I have seen how they can be a sanctuary for children in a place like Gaza that is riddled with poverty, unemployment, despair, a blockade,” she said. 

She described meeting with young teenagers at a “children’s parliament”, an initiative run by UNRWA. It was a place “where refugee children can come together and learn about human rights, critical thinking and how to debunk” falsehoods.

“I ended up cancelling all my other engagements because I enjoyed speaking to these 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds so much,” Touma said. “They told me about their dreams, their hopes, what they want to be. They spoke about their love for Gaza, their dreams to travel, to be like any teenager … and that’s UNRWA.”

This article was produced in collaboration with PassBlueDamilola Banjo, reporter for PassBlue, contributed reporting

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COP28 nations adopt first-ever climate deal to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels

The COP28 climate summit on Wednesday approved a deal that would, for the first time, push nations to “transition” from fossil fuels to avert the worst effects of climate change.

  • Biden hails COP28 climate deal as ‘historic milestone’

US President Joe Biden hailed a deal secured on Wednesday at UN climate talks in Dubai as a “historic milestone” in transitioning away from fossil fuels but said there was still work to do.

“Today, at COP28, world leaders reached another historic milestone – committing, for the first time, to transition away from the fossil fuels that jeopardize our planet and our people,” Biden said in a statement. 

“While there is still substantial work ahead of us to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach, today’s outcome puts us one significant step closer.”


THE DEBATE © France 24

 

The deal asks for greater action this decade and recommits to no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in hopes of meeting the increasingly elusive goal of checking warming at 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels.

The United States is the world’s second biggest greenhouse gas emitter after China.

Biden skipped the Dubai summit and sent Vice President Kamala Harris to attend the start instead.

  • Russia warns against ‘chaotic’ fossil fuels exit

Russia on Wednesday warned against a “chaotic” exit from fossil fuels, while welcoming the “compromise” deal reached at the COP28 summit in Dubai on transitioning away from them.

“We have at every opportunity stressed the consequences of a chaotic exit without the backing of science,” Ruslan Edelgeriyev, Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s special envoy for climate issues, was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.

“We cannot ignore the diverse needs of people around the world, including the need for affordable and reliable energy,” he said.

“The final deal will probably not satisfy everyone but that only shows it is a compromise.”

Russia is one of the main gas, oil and coal producers in the world.

According to many experts, Siberia and the Russian Arctic are some of the regions in the world most affected by climate change.

  • OPEC secretary-general says oil sector in jeopardy without adequate investment

OPEC+‘s Secretary-General Haitham Al Ghais said in a statement on Wednesday that the oil industry is in jeopardy without adequate levels of investment.

He also congratulated the UAE for the positive outcome of COP28.

  • US climate envoy John Kerry addresses COP28 after deal on fossil fuels

US climate envoy John Kerry said that no side can ever achieve everything in negotiations and praised the deal as a sign a war-torn world can come together for the common good.

“I think everyone has to agree this is much stronger and clearer as a call on 1.5(°C) than we have ever heard before, and it clearly reflects what the science says,” Kerry said. “We will continue to press for a more rapid transition.”

“The Paris agreement and the global stock take both stress the importance of developing and updating long-term strategies in order to reduce emissions and enhance resilience,” he added. 

US climate envoy John Kerry at COP28.
US climate envoy John Kerry at COP28. © FRANCE 24

Seeking to avoid the geopolitical tensions that have strained cooperation on other issues, Kerry met ahead of COP28 with his counterpart from China, leading to a joint call by the world’s two largest emitters to step up renewable energy.

  • Almost 200 countries adopt first-ever climate deal on fossil fuels

Nations adopted on Wednesday the first ever UN climate deal that calls for the world to transition away from fossil fuels.

“Together we have set the world in the right direction,” COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber said at the UN climate summit in Dubai, prompting delegates to rise and applaud.

Al-Jaber hailed a the deal approved by almost 200 countries as an “historic package” of measures which offered a “robust plan” to keep the target of 1.5°C within reach.

SCIENCE
SCIENCE © FRANCE 24

 

“We have delivered a paradigm shift that has the potential to redefine our economies,” he said during the closing session of the COP28 summit, shortly after the deal was approved.

He added a note of caution for nations: “An agreement is only as good as its implementation. We are what we do, not what we say.”

UN climate chief Simon Stiell urged countries to turn pledges into action after the agreement was passed.

“Now, all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes without delay,” Stiell told delegates in Dubai.

  • New UN climate draft calls for ‘transitioning away’ from fossil fuels

A draft agreement unveiled early Wednesday in talks in Dubai toughens language by calling for “transitioning away” from fossil fuels, although it does not use the term “phase out”.

The text, released for consideration after another full night of haggling, would also call for “accelerating action” during “this critical decade” – providing more urgency than an earlier proposal widely dismissed by green-minded countries.

The previous draft also drew fire for offering a list of options that “could” be taken to combat the dangerous warming of the planet.


 

The new draft explicitly “calls on” all nations to contribute through a series of actions.

The actions include “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”, the new draft says.

It calls for phase-downs of “unabated coal power” – meaning that coal with carbon capture technology to reduce emissions, panned by many environmentalists as unrealistic, could continue.

It also calls for “phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible”.

But it does not call for a “phase out” of fossil fuels.

Discussions during the 14 days of talks in Dubai, a metropolis built on oil wealth, had revolved around how far to go and whether to make a historic call to wind down oil, gas and coal, the main culprits in the planet’s rapid warming.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

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Essequibo referendum: Is Venezuela about to seize part of Guyana?

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is organising a referendum on Sunday to decide whether to create a new state in the Essequibo territory, an area currently under the control of neighbouring Guyana. Does Caracas have the means for its territorial ambitions, or is it just political grandstanding?

On December 3, Venezuelans vote for or against the creation of a new Venezuelan state in the Essequibo region. In the eyes of Venezuelan authorities, it is a “consultative” referendum designed to put an end to over 200 years of territorial conflict. 

However, there is one big problem: the land Venezuela wants to potentially extend control over is recognised by the international community as a part of neighbouring Guyana – a sparsely populated country with some 800,000 inhabitants.

The issue has become an obsession for populist President Nicolas Maduro, who often repeats the phrase “El Essequibo es Nuestro” [The Essequibo is ours] in his speeches.

Among four other questions, the referendum asks citizens whether they favour “the creation of the Essequibo state and the development of an accelerated plan for comprehensive care for the current and future population of that territory”.

The outcome of the vote is hardly in doubt according to French daily Le Monde, which reported Thursday that the referendum “will take place without observers” and that no one dared to campaign for the “no” vote.

This situation is causing concern for Guyana’s leaders. Caracas is threatening to deprive its eastern neighbour of more than half of its territory and to make the approximately 200,000 inhabitants of Essequibo Venezuelan citizens.

“The long-term consequences of this referendum could be Venezuela’s de facto annexation of a region which covers 160,000 square kilometers, a significant portion of Guyana [215,000 km²],” says Annette Idler, associate professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford and a specialist in international security.

On top of significant gold, diamond, and aluminium deposits, the Essequibo has become an offshore paradise for oil and gas interests. Since Exxon discovered hydrocarbon deposits off the coast, black gold has given an unprecedented boost to the economy, raising Guyana’s GDP by no less than 62 percent in 2022.

© Guillermo Rivas Pachecor, Paz Pizarro, Jean-Michel Corbu, Patricio Arana, AFP

Writing in 2015, an American specialist in Latin America, Jose de Arimateia da Cruz, argued the discovery of these underwater oil reserves “strengthened Venezuela’s determination to support its territorial claims on this region”.

The Venezuelan government has been particularly angered by Exxon’s choice to negotiate exclusively with the Guyanese government, suggesting that the US oil giant recognised Guyana’s sovereignty over these waters and the Essequibo region.

A territorial dispute dating back to 1811

The territorial dispute over Essequibo dates back to the colonial era. In 1811, when Venezuela proclaimed its independence, it believed the region was part of its territory. Despite the claims, the United Kingdom, which occupied the territory of present-day Guyana, placed the region under the authority of the British crown. In 1899, an arbitration court ruled in favour of the UK, even though the United States had supported Caracas.

The dispute resurfaced in 1966 when Guyana gained independence. The Geneva Agreement, signed by the UK, Venezuela, and British Guiana, urged countries to agree to a peaceful resolution through dialogue, but Guyana has since sought a resolution through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – a procedure which Venezuela rejects. 

If the Venezuelan government is pushing for a referendum now, it is partly “because the International Court of Justice declared itself competent in April to settle the dispute”, says Idler.

Maduro does not want to recognise the ruling of the ICJ – a branch of the UN with nonbinding legal authority. He even called on United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to mediate between Venezuela and Guyana.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro casts his vote during a consultative referendum on Venezuelan sovereignty over the Esquiba region controlled by neighbouring Guyana, in Caracas on December 3, 2023
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro casts his vote during a consultative referendum on Venezuelan sovereignty over the Essequibo region, controlled by neighbouring Guyana, in Caracas on December 3, 2023. © Venezuelan Presidency via AFP

There is also – perhaps most importantly – a domestic political element to the referendum. “We must not forget that the presidential election takes place in a year, and Nicolas Maduro is trying to rally support around him by playing to the national sentiment of voters,” explains Idler.

By presenting himself as the champion of nationalism, “he puts the opposition in a delicate position”, she adds. What’s more, “some observers believe he could escalate the situation with Guyana to declare a state of emergency and cancel the presidential election if necessary”.

Faced with the Venezuelan threat, Guyana is relying heavily on international law. A case was referred to the ICJ on October 3 to prevent Caracas from proceeding with its referendum. 

On Friday, the ICJ called on Caracas to take no action that would modify the disputed lands – but it did not mention the referendum.

Is Maduro bluffing?

The risk is that Venezuela may want to take advantage of international attention being focused on two major conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. Venezuelan troops are already on the border with Guyana “carrying out anti-illegal mining activities”, reports the Financial Times.

If Venezuela were to genuinely attempt to annex Essequibo, “it could destabilise the entire region”, says Idler. Countries like Brazil or Uruguay could be forced to choose sides in this territorial conflict.

But the annexation threat could also be a bluff. Venezuela may not have the means to seize the territory, says Idler. “The authorities exercise limited control over the border regions from where Caracas would need to launch troops to take possession of this region.”

Venezuela’s president knows that such a move would prompt the United States to reimpose the sanctions that Washington has just lifted on oil exports, says Idler. Economically very fragile, Venezuela may think twice before taking such a risk.

Regardless of how the roughly 20 million eligible Venezuelans vote, little will change in the short term – the people of Essequibo are not voting, and the referendum is nonbinding.

Either way, says Idler, Maduro can hardly afford to act on his nationalist impulse.

“He will then have to choose between discrediting himself in the eyes of voters and facing new American sanctions.”

This article was translated from the original in French.

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France’s Macron calls on G7 nations to ‘put an end to coal’ by 2030 at COP28 summit

French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the COP28 summit on Friday as world leaders gathered in Dubai for the second day of UN climate talks. Attendees are under pressure to step up efforts to limit global warming even as the Israel-Hamas conflict casts a shadow over the agenda. 

  • Spain to contribute 20 million euros to climate disaster fund

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Friday his country will increase its contribution to the climate disaster fund by 20 million euros.

Sanchez made the announcement during the United Nations climate conference, dubbed COP28, held in Dubai.

  • France’s Macron urges G7 nations to ‘put an end to coal’ by 2030

French President Emmanuel Macron urged G7 nations at UN climate talks on Friday to set an example to other countries and “commit to putting an end to coal” by 2030.

Speaking at COP28 in Dubai, Macron said investing in coal was “truly an absurdity”.

  • COP28 advisory board member resigns over reports of UAE fossil fuel dealmaking

A member of the main advisory board of the COP28 climate summit has resigned over reports that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) presidency used the meeting to secure new oil, gas deals, according to her resignation letter seen by Reuters.

Hilda Heine, former president of the low-lying, climate vulnerable Marshall Islands, said reports that the UAE planned to discuss possible natural gas and other commercial deals ahead of UN climate talks were “deeply disappointing” and threatened to undermine the credibility of the multilateral negotiation process.

“These actions undermine the integrity of the COP presidency and the process as a whole,” Heiner wrote in the letter she sent to COP President Sultan al-Jaber.

She added that the only way for Jaber to restore trust in the process was to “deliver an outcome that demonstrates that you are committed to phasing out fossil fuels”.

  • With 80,000 attendees, COP28 is largest UN climate summit ever

COP28 is officially the largest-ever UN climate summit, with 80,000 participants registered on a list that – for the first time – shows who they work for.

Until this year, those taking part were not obliged to say who they worked for, making it tricky to detect lobbyists and identify negotiators’ potential conflicts of interest.

Some 104,000 people, including technical and security staff, have access to the “blue zone” dedicated to the actual climate negotiations and the pavilions of the states and organisations present.

That largely exceeds the previous record at last year’s UN climate summit in Egypt, COP27, which had 49,000 accredited attendees, and where oil and gas lobbyists outnumbered most national delegations, according to NGOs.

This year, there are nearly 23,500 people from official government teams.

Among the host country’s guests are Bill Gates and Antoine Arnault, the son of LVMH boss Bernard Arnault, the second richest man in the world after Elon Musk, according to Forbes magazine.

  • Iran delegates quit COP28 over Israeli presence

Iranian delegates walked out of UN climate talks in the United Arab Emirates on Friday in protest over the presence of Israeli representatives, state media reported.

The Iranian side considered Israel’s presence at COP28 “as contrary to the goals and guidelines of the conference and, in protest, it left the conference venue”, Energy Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian, who headed the Iranian delegation, was quoted as saying by the official news agency IRNA.

  • UAE president announces $30 billion fund to bridge climate finance gap

United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed announced the establishment of a $30 billion (€27.5 billion) climate fund for global climate solutions that it hopes will lead to $250 billion in investment by the end of the decade.

Dubbed ALTÉRRA, the fund will allocate $25 billion towards climate strategies and $5 billion specifically to incentivise investment flows into the Global South, according to a statement by the COP28 presidency.

In collaboration with global asset managers BlackRock, Brookfield and TPG, ALTÉRRA has committed $6.5 billion to climate-dedicated funds for global investments, including the Global South, the statement said.

ALTÉRRA was established by Abu Dhabi-based alternate investment manager Lunate, and COP28 Director-General Majid Al Suwaidi will serve as ALTÉRRA’s chief executive officer.

  • Britain’s King Charles III praying that COP28 is ‘turning point’ for climate

King Charles III has told COP28 climate talks in Dubai must be a “critical turning point” in the fight against climate change, with “genuine transformational action”.

“I pray with all my heart that COP28 will be another critical turning point towards genuine transformational action,” Charles told assembled leaders including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, French President Emmanuel Macron and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

“The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth,” said the king, a lifelong environmentalist, who missed last year’s COP27 in Egypt reportedly due to objections by then UK prime minister Liz Truss.

  • UN chief says ending fossil fuel use is only way to save ‘burning planet’

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told world leaders that the burning of fossil fuels must be stopped outright and a reduction or abatement in their use would not be enough to stop global warming.

“We cannot save a burning planet with a fire hose of fossil fuels,” Guterres said in a speech to the COP28 summit in Dubai. “The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate.”

He urged fossil fuel companies to invest in a transition to renewable energy sources and told governments to help by forcing that change, including through the use of windfall taxes on industry profits.

FRANCE 24’s Valérie Dekimpe from COP28 in Dubai


Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, president of this year’s COP28, makes opening remarks during the opening conference in Dubai on November 30, 2023. © Karim Sahib, AFP

  • COP28 draft calls for fossil fuels to be reduced or eliminated

Negotiators released the first draft of a UN agreement on climate action Friday calling for fossil fuels to be reduced or eliminated, setting up a fierce fight at the COP28 talks in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.

Divisions over the future of fossil fuels have already surfaced at the COP28 talks and proposals for their “phase-down/out” contained in the draft prepared by the UK and Singapore will be highly contentious.

Calls for the inclusion of explicit curbs on coal, oil and gas in a final agreement have gained momentum, but any effort to limit fossil fuel use will encounter strong opposition.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters, AP)

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‘We are failing again’: UN, US resignations highlight splits over Israel’s Gaza assault

While many Western leaders and officials were quick to express their support for Israel in its war against Hamas, there have been signs of dissent in senior US and UN circles over the West’s unwavering backing of Israel’s massive retaliatory bombardments on Gaza. Some have even quit their posts.

When Craig Mokhiber, director of the New York office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, quit his job in protest over Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, his resignation letter citing the West’s “complicity” in a “genocide unfolding before our eyes” immediately went viral on social media sites.

Mokhiber’s resignation followed that of US State Department official Josh Paul, who was the director of congressional and public affairs for the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs for more than 11 years.

In his October 28 letter to Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mokhiber explained that he was stepping down in protest over the “genocide unfolding before our eyes” in Gaza.

“The current wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people, rooted in an ethno-nationalist settler colonial ideology, in continuation of decades of their systematic persecution and purging […], coupled with explicit statements of intent by leaders in the Israeli government and military, leaves no room for doubt or debate,” wrote Mokhiber, a US human rights lawyer who joined the UN in 1992 and has served in several conflict zones, including the Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan and Sudan.

Read moreExperts say Hamas and Israel are breaking international law, but what does that mean?

Citing the UN‘s failure to prevent “genocides against the Tutsis, Bosnian Muslims, the Yazidi and the Rohingya“, Mokhiber added a stark warning to the UN’s top human rights official. “High Commissioner, we are failing again,” he said in a letter that did not mention the October 7 Hamas attack that marked the start of the latest cycle of violence.

At least 1,400 people, the majority of them civilians, were killed in the Hamas attacks, while Israeli bombardments have claimed almost 10,000 lives in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave. 

Mokhiber also mentioned the “complicity” of Western governments in Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

“Not only are these governments refusing to meet their treaty obligations ‘to ensure respect’ for the Geneva Conventions, but they are in fact actively arming the assault, providing economic and intelligence support, and giving political and diplomatic cover for Israel’s atrocities,” he said.

Distancing himself from the UN

Mokhiber is a human rights lawyer who lived in Gaza in the 1990s. He has been frequently criticised by pro-Israeli groups, particularly for his support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and for denouncing Israel’s policies in the Palestinian Territories.

When contacted by the Guardian, the UN distanced itself from the content of Mokhiber’s resignation letter. “The views in his letter made public today are his personal views […]. The position of the office on the grave situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel is reflected in our reports and public statements”, said a UN statement sent to the Guardian.  

Read moreIsrael-Hamas war tests Western unity as Global South slams ‘double standards’

Mokhiber’s resignation reveals the deep divisions within the international community, which became more apparent after Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip in response to the terrorist acts perpetrated by Hamas on Israeli soil.

Since the bombardments began, protesters have been taking to the streets across the Arab world, as well as in London, New York, Washington, Paris and Berlin, in support of the people of Gaza. Demonstrators have been protesting against the “double standards” of the West, which was quick to condemn Russian war crimes committed in Ukraine but is hesitant, in their view, to do so when Israel bombards Palestinian civilian infrastructure.

A matter of conscience

Mokhiber has not been the only senior official to throw in the towel since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas. A top US State Department official in the bureau that oversees arms transfers resigned last month, citing concerns over the consequences of arms deliveries for Palestinian civilians and the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

“I am leaving today because I believe that in our current course with regards to the continued – indeed, expanded and expedited – provision of lethal weapons to Israel, I have reached the end of that bargain,” wrote Paul in a public letter of resignation. 

Since his resignation, Paul has been speaking with various news outlets to explain why he made this decision after working for 11 years in the State Department’s military bureau.

Read moreFrom 1947 to 2023: Retracing the complex, tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict

“This isn’t the first time we’ve been confronted with complex moral issues […]. In Ukraine’s case, for example, a debate was held about sending cluster bombs […]. In Israel’s case, we just had to respond to requests,” said Paul during an interview with Radio-Canada, Canada’s French-language national public broadcaster. 

In the past, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has pushed other Western officials to resign from their posts, citing their conscience. In early August 2014, Sayeeda Warsi, the UK’s first female Muslim secretary of state, announced her resignation, saying she could no longer “support the government’s policy” under Prime Minister David Cameron.

A month earlier, Israel had launched Operation Protective Edge on Gaza, its third major offensive against Hamas since it took power in the Palestinian enclave in 2007. In the space of a month-and-a-half, more than 2,000 Palestinians, mainly civilians, were killed, according to local health services. In Israel, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed during this operation. 

This article has been translated from the original in French

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United Nations warns Gaza blockade could force it to sharply cut relief operations as bombings rise

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees warned on October 25 that without immediate deliveries of fuel it will soon have to sharply cut back relief operations across the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded and hit by devastating Israeli airstrikes since Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel more than two weeks ago.

The warning came as hospitals in Gaza struggled to treat masses of wounded with dwindling resources, and health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory said the death toll was soaring as Israeli jets continued striking the territory overnight into Wednesday.

The Israeli military said its strikes had killed militants and destroyed tunnels, command centres, weapons storehouses and other military targets, which it has accused Hamas of hiding among Gaza’s civilian population. Gaza-based militants have been launching unrelenting rocket barrages into Israel since the conflict started.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said the airstrikes killed at least 704 people between Monday and Tuesday, mostly women and children. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death tolls cited by Hamas, which says it tallies figures from hospital directors.

The death toll was unprecedented in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even greater loss of life could come when Israel launches an expected ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas militants.

In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters the U.S. could not verify the one-day death toll. “The Ministry of Health is run by Hamas, and I think that all needs to be factored into anything that they put out publicly.”

Israel said on Tuesday it had launched 400 airstrikes over the past day, an increase from the 320 strikes the day before. The U.N. says about 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now internally displaced, with almost 6,00,000 crowded into U.N. shelters.

Gaza’s residents have been running out of food, water and medicine since Israel sealed off the territory following the attack on southern Israel by Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

In recent days, Israel allowed a small number of trucks filled with aid to come over the border with Egypt but barred deliveries of fuel — needed to power hospital generators — to keep it out of Hamas’ hands.

The U.N. said it had managed to deliver some of the aid in recent days to hospitals treating the wounded. But the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the largest provider of humanitarian services in Gaza, said it was running out of fuel.

Officials said they were forced to reduce their operations as they rationed what little fuel they had.

“Without fuel our trucks cannot go around to further places in the strip for distribution,” said Lily Esposito, a spokesperson for the agency. “We will have to make decisions on what activities we keep or not with little fuel.”

Meanwhile, more than half of Gaza’s primary healthcare facilities, and roughly a third of its hospitals, have stopped functioning, the World Health Organization said.

Overwhelmed hospital staff struggled to triage cases as constant waves of wounded were brought in. The Health Ministry said many wounded are laid on the ground without even simple medical aid and others wait for days for surgeries because there are so many critical cases.

The Health Ministry says more than 5,700 Palestinians have been killed in the war, including some 2,300 minors. The figure includes the disputed toll from an explosion at a hospital last week.

The fighting has killed more than 1,400 people in Israel — mostly civilians slain during the initial Hamas attack, according to the Israeli government. Hamas is also holding some 222 people that it captured and brought back to Gaza.

The conflict threatened to spread across the region, as Israeli airstrikes hit Syrian military sites in the south on Wednesday, killing eight soldiers and wounding seven, according to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency.

The Israeli military said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, its jets had struck Syrian military infrastructure and mortar systems in response to rocket launches from Syria.

Israel has launched several strikes on Syria in recent days, including strikes that put the Damascus and Aleppo airports out of service, in an apparent attempt to prevent arms shipments from Iran to militant groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Israel has been fighting the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah across the Lebanese border in recent weeks.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah met on Wednesday with top Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in their first reported meeting since the war started. Such a meeting could signal coordination between the groups, as Hezbollah officials warned Israel against launching a ground offensive in Gaza.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran was helping Hamas, with intelligence and by “whipping up incitement against Israel across the world.” He said Iranian proxies were also operating against Israel from Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. Fighting also erupted in the West Bank, which has seen a major spike in violence.

Islamic Jihad militants said they fought with Israeli forces in Jenin overnight. The Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank said Israel killed four Palestinians in Jenin, including a 15-year-old, and two others in other towns. That brought the total number of those killed in the occupied West Bank since October 7 to 102.

Across central and south Gaza, where Israel told civilians to take shelter, there were multiple scenes of rescuers pulling the dead and wounded out of large piles of rubble from collapsed buildings. Graphic photos and video shot by the AP showed rescuers unearthing bodies of children from multiple ruins.

A father knelt on the floor of the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah next to the bodies of three lifeless children cocooned in bloodied sheets. Later, at the nearby morgue, workers prayed over 24 dead wrapped in body bags, several of them the size of small children.

“Buildings that collapsed on residents killed dozens at a time in several cases, witnesses said. Two families lost 47 members in a levelled home in Rafah,” the Health Ministry said.

In Gaza City, at least 19 people were killed when an airstrike hit the house of the Bahloul family, according to survivors, who said dozens more remained buried. The legs of a dead woman and another person, both still half buried, dangled out of the wreckage where workers dug through the dirt, concrete and rebar.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the proportionate response to the October 7 attack is “a total destruction” of the militants. “It is not only Israel’s right to destroy Hamas. It’s our duty,” he said.

On Wednesday, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, said his country will stop issuing visas to U.N. personnel after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Hamas’ attack “did not happen in a vacuum.” It was unclear what the action, if followed through with, would mean for U.N. aid personnel working in Gaza and the West Bank.

“It’s time to teach them a lesson,” Erdan told Army Radio, accusing the U.N. chief of justifying a slaughter.

The U.N. chief told the Security Council on Tuesday that “the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” Mr. Guterres also said “the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

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G20 Summit showcased India’s commitment to fostering global togetherness: Ruchira Kamboj

India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ruchira Kamboj on October 10 (local time) said that the G20 Summit held in New Delhi showcased the country’s commitment to “fostering a sense of global togetherness.”

Editorial |India’s moment: on the G-20 Summit outcomes 

She highlighted various instances when India practised ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, which means the world is a family. In her opening remarks at the ‘International Conference on ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ held at United Nations Headquarters in New York, Ms. Kamboj said, “The recent G20 summit is an event that showcased India’s commitment to fostering a sense of global togetherness. Our leadership, marked by inclusivity and collaboration, saw the participation of 20 member states, nine invitee nations, and 14 international organisations. What is more, it witnessed the historic inclusion of the African Union as a permanent member, amplifying the voices of nations often left unheard,” she added.

Notably, the theme for India’s G20 Presidency was ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or ‘One Earth One Family One Future’. The G20 Leaders Summit hosted in Delhi from September 9-10 drew the highest-ever contingent of world leaders and dignitaries in the event’s history, including U.S. President Joe Biden and the Prime Minister of the U.K. Rishi Sunak.

Ms. Kamboj recalled PM Modi emphasising the significance of women-led development at the G20 Summit. She stressed that ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ finds expression in the empowerment of women. She also recalled PM Modi’s remarks regarding India’s model of financial inclusion in leveraging technology.”

At the G20 Summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised the significance of women-led development, highlighting that nearly 45% of STEM graduates in India are women. And indeed, ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ finds expression in the empowerment of women, who now play pivotal roles in India’s space programme, business landscape, and various fields,” she said.

“Again, the Indian Prime Minister also highlighted India’s model of financial inclusion in leveraging technology to make development increasingly equitable. Using this model, India has transferred 360 billion dollars directly to the bank accounts of those in need over the past decade. As the World Bank has acknowledged, this model has successfully achieved a financial inclusion rate in six years which would have taken 47 years to achieve,” she added.

Citing industry estimates, Ms. Kamboj said the costs incurred by banks for onboarding customers in India due to the use of its digital public infrastructure decreased from $23 to $0.1. Emphasising that yoga embodies the concept of unity, Ms. Kamboj stated that the International Day of Yoga, celebrated annually at the UN Headquarters, “brings people from diverse nationalities together in a harmonious union of body and mind, emphasising our shared humanity.”

“This year yoga day held a special significance as we were led by Prime Minister Modi himself, achieving a remarkable feat by setting a Guinness World Record for the largest number of nationalities participating in a single yoga session,” she said. Ms. Kamboj stressed that India consistently extended a helping hand in the face of global challenges, adding that the country’s abiding commitment to ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ was evident even during the COVID-19 pandemic as New Delhi provided vaccines and medicines to more than 100 countries through the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative.

Highlighting India’s assistance to the international community during natural calamities, Ruchira Kamboj said, “’Operation Dost’ saw India extending life-saving humanitarian medical assistance to countries such as Turkey and Syria, reinforcing the belief that the world is indeed one family, and in times of need, we stand united.”

She stated that PM Modi’s launch of ‘Mission LiFE’ emphasises the importance of mindful and deliberate utilisation of resources to protect the environment, demonstrating India’s dedication to a sustainable global family. In her opening remarks at the ‘International Conference on Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,’ Ms. Kamboj spoke about India’s friendship with nations of the Global South, saying that New Delhi has offered training to 2,00,000 individuals from more than 160 countries, considering the unique needs of its partners.

“India’s friendship with the nations of the Global South is no less exceptional and inspiring. Our development partnerships have extended to encompass 78 nations across diverse regions. Within these collaborative efforts, we have initiated 600 projects, illustrating our goodwill and capacity,” Ms. Kamboj said.

“At the heart of our approach is the belief that progress should be inclusive and borderless. We have also offered training to 2,00,000 individuals from more than 160 countries, always considering the unique needs of our partners. Our journey has been guided by the Kampala principles enunciated by Prime Minister Modi in 2018, which serve as the compass steering us towards our partners’ needs,” she added.

She called for educating young about diverse cultures, promoting cross-cultural dialogues, and celebrating shared humanity. She said, “Let us focus on our shared dreams and values, rather than the differences that divide us.” In her remarks, Ms. Kamboj also quoted Mahatma Gandhi, saying, “The greatness of humanity is not in being human but in being humane.”

She added that ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ is a call for action and recognising the shared destiny to come together in the face of adversity. “I would like to emphasise that “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” is more than a lofty ideal. It is a call to action, urging us to recognise our shared destiny, to come together in the face of adversity, and to build a world where every individual, no matter where they come from, is treated as part of this grand, global family,” Ms. Kamboj said.

She said the phrase — ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ — has travelled through millennia, reminding people that beneath the apparent divisions of nationality, religion and culture everyone shares the same human essence. ”Our fates are intertwined, our dreams interlinked, and our challenges interconnected,” she added.

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Injury of 16-year-old Iranian girl not wearing headscarf in Tehran sparks anger

A mysterious injury suffered by a 16-year-old girl who boarded a Metro train in Iran’s capital without a headscarf has reignited anger just after the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini and the nationwide protests it sparked.

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What happened in the few seconds after Armita Geravand entered the train on Sunday remain in question. While a friend told Iranian state television that she hit her head on the station’s platform, the soundless footage aired by the broadcaster from outside of the car is blocked by a bystander. Just seconds later, her limp body is carried off.

Geravand’s mother and father appeared in state media footage saying a blood pressure issue, a fall or perhaps both contributed to their daughter’s injury.

Activists abroad have alleged Geravand may have been pushed or attacked because she was not wearing the hijab. They demand an independent investigation by the United Nations’ fact-finding mission on Iran, citing the theocracy’s use of pressure on victims’ families and state TV’s history of airing hundreds of coerced confessions.

Geravand’s injury also comes as Iran has put its morality police – whom activists implicate in Amini’s death over her alleged loose hijab – back on the street, and as lawmakers push to enforce even stricter penalties for those flouting the required head covering.

“Girls are subjected to violence on the streets, and then their families are compelled to protect the government responsible for that violence,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.


For observant Muslim women, the head covering is a sign of piety before God and modesty in front of men outside their families. In Iran, the hijab – and the all-encompassing black chador worn by some – has long been a political symbol as well, particularly after becoming mandatory in the years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran and neighboring Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are the only countries where the hijab remains mandatory for women.

Since Amini’s death and the large-scale protests subsided, many women in Tehran can be seen without the hijab in defiance of the law.

Geravand suffered her injury Sunday morning at the Meydan-E Shohada, or Martyrs’ Square, Metro station in southern Tehran. Rumors about how she suffered the injury quickly circulated.

By Tuesday, the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, which reports on abuses in Iran’s western Kurdish region, published a photograph it said showed Geravand at the hospital, her head wrapped in bandages as she remains in a coma.

Geravand “was physically attacked by authorities in the Shohada station at Tehran Metro for what they perceived as noncompliance with the compulsory hijab,” Hengaw alleged, citing reports it said it received. “As a result, she sustained severe injuries and was transported to the hospital.”

The Associated Press has not been able to confirm the exact circumstances of what caused Geravand’s injuries.

Late Wednesday, Iranian state television aired what appeared to be nearly all the surveillance camera footage covering the 16 minutes Geravand spent inside of the Metro station before her injury. She entered at 6:52 a.m., then went down an escalator. The sole gap, about a minute and a half, occurs before she reaches the turnstile gate where she uses her Metro card. The footage includes her shopping for a snack, then walking to and waiting on the platform for the train.

In the mute footage, Geravand, whom activists describe as a taekwondo athlete, appears calm and healthy. An AP frame-by-frame analysis of the footage showed no signs of the aired video being manipulated.

At 7:08 a.m., Geravand enters the No. 134 train car – the last on the train and likely a women-only compartment. A new conductor for the train walks up as she enters, his body blocking the view of door she walks through. Within four seconds, a woman steps backwards out of the train and just a sliver of Geravand’s head can be seen as she lies on the floor of the train. Women then pull Geravand’s limp body out and run for help as the train moves off.

Iranian state TV’s report, however, did not include any footage from inside the train itself and offered no explanation on why it hadn’t been released. Most train cars on the Tehran Metro have multiple CCTV cameras, which are viewable by security personnel.

“Refusing to publish the footage only increases doubts about the official narrative,” the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights said.

Emergency medical technicians took Geravand to Fajr Hospital, which is at a Iranian air force base and one of the the closest medical facilities to the station. In the time since her injury, security forces have arrested a journalist for Shargh newspaper who went to the hospital, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Shargh, a reformist newspaper, helped lead reporting surrounding Amini’s death as well.

Already, Geravand’s injury has drawn international attention, something Iran’s government has sought to dismiss. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote online: “Once again a young woman in #Iran is fighting for her life. Just because she showed her hair on the subway. It’s unbearable.”

U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Iran Abram Paley also wrote that he was “shocked and concerned about reports that Iran’s so-called morality police have assaulted 16-year-old Armita Geravand.”

Iranian authorities likely worry about this incident escalating into popular anger like in Amini’s case. Women continue to ignore the hijab law despite the growing crackdown. That includes what Shargh described as Tehran’s city government hiring of some 400 people as “hijab guards” to give verbal warnings, prevent uncovered women from entering subway cars and hand them over to police.

(AP)



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Bill Richardson, a former Democratic governor and UN ambassador, dies aged 75

Bill Richardson, a two-term Democratic governor of New Mexico and an American ambassador to the United Nations who also worked for years to secure the release of Americans detained by foreign adversaries, has died. He was 75.

The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which he founded and led, said in a statement Saturday that he died in his sleep at his home in Chatham, Massachusetts.

“He lived his entire life in the service of others — including both his time in government and his subsequent career helping to free people held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” said Mickey Bergman, the center’s vice president. “There was no person that Gov. Richardson would not speak with if it held the promise of returning a person to freedom. The world has lost a champion for those held unjustly abroad and I have lost a mentor and a dear friend.”

Before his election in 2002 as governor, Richardson was the U.S. envoy to the United Nations and energy secretary under President Bill Clinton and served 14 years as a congressman representing northern New Mexico. 

But he also forged an identity as an unofficial diplomatic troubleshooter. He traveled the globe negotiating the release of hostages and American servicemen from North Korea, Iraq, Cuba and Sudan and bargained with a who’s who of America’s adversaries, including Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. It was a role that Richardson relished, once describing himself as “the informal undersecretary for thugs.”

“I plead guilty to photo-ops and getting human beings rescued and improving the lives of human beings,” he once told reporters.

He helped secure the 2021 release of American journalist Danny Fenster from a Myanmar prison and this year negotiated the freedom of Taylor Dudley, who crossed the border from Poland into Russia. He flew to Moscow for a meeting with Russian government officials in the months before the release last year of Marine veteran Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap and also worked on the cases of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star freed by Moscow last year, and Michael White, a Navy veteran freed by Iran in 2020.

Armed with a golden resume and wealth of experience in foreign and domestic affairs, Richardson ran for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president in hopes of becoming the nation’s first Hispanic president. He dropped out of the race after fourth place finishes in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Richardson was the nation’s only Hispanic governor during his two terms. He described being governor as “the best job I ever had.”

“It’s the most fun. You can get the most done. You set the agenda,” Richardson said.

As governor, Richardson signed legislation in 2009 that repealed the death penalty. He called it the “most difficult decision in my political life” because he previously had supported capital punishment.

Other accomplishments as governor included $50,000-a-year minimum salaries for the most qualified teachers in New Mexico, an increase in the state minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.50 an hour, pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds, renewable energy requirements for utilities and financing for large infrastructure projects, including a commercial spaceport in southern New Mexico and a $400 million commuter rail system.

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., called Richardson a “giant in public service and government.”

“In his post-government career, he was trusted to handle some of the most sensitive diplomatic crises, and he did so with great success. Here in New Mexico, we will always remember him as our governor. He never stopped fighting for the state he called home,” Lujan said in a statement.

Some of his most prominent global work began in December 1994, when he was visiting North Korean nuclear sites and word came that an American helicopter pilot had been downed and his co-pilot killed.

The Clinton White House enlisted Richardson’s help and, after days of tough negotiations, the then-congressman accompanied the remains of Chief Warrant Officer David Hilemon while paving the way for Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Hall to return home.

The following year, and after a personal appeal from Richardson, Saddam Hussein freed two Americans who had been imprisoned for four months, charged with illegally crossing into Iraq from Kuwait

Richardson continued his freelance diplomacy even while serving as governor. He had barely started his first term as governor when he met with two North Korean envoys in Santa Fe. He traveled to North Korea in 2007 to recover remains of American servicemen killed in the Korean War. 

In 2006, he persuaded Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to free Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Paul Salopek.

Richardson transformed the political landscape in New Mexico. He raised and spent record amounts on his campaigns. He brought Washington-style politics to an easygoing western state with a part-time Legislature.

Lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, complained that Richardson threatened retribution against those who opposed him. Former Democratic state Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell once said Richardson was “beating people over the head” in his dealings with lobbyists on a health care issue. Richardson dismissed criticisms of his administrative style.

“Admittedly, I am aggressive. I use the bully pulpit of the governorship,” Richardson said. “But I don’t threaten retribution. They say I am a vindictive person. I just don’t believe that.”

Longtime friends and supporters attributed Richardson’s success partly to his relentlessness. Bob Gallagher, who headed the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said if Richardson wanted something done then “expect him to have a shotgun at the end of the hallway. Or a ramrod.”

After dropping out of the 2008 presidential race, Richardson endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. That happened despite a long-standing friendship with the Clintons. 

Obama later nominated Richardson as secretary of commerce, but Richardson withdrew in early 2009 because of a federal investigation into an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving his administration in New Mexico.

Months later, the federal investigation ended with no charges against Richardson and his former top aides. Richardson had a troubled tenure as energy secretary because of a scandal over missing computer equipment with nuclear weapons secrets at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the government’s investigation and prosecution of former nuclear weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee.

Richardson approved Lee’s firing at Los Alamos in 1999. Lee spent nine months in solitary confinement, charged with 59 counts of mishandling sensitive information. Lee later pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling computer files and was released with the apology of a federal judge.

William Blaine Richardson was born in Pasadena, California, but grew up in Mexico City with a Mexican mother and an American father who was a U.S. bank executive.

He attended prep school in Massachusetts and was a star baseball player. He later went to Tufts University and its graduate school in international relations, earning a master’s degree in international affairs.

Richardson moved to New Mexico in 1978 after working as a Capitol Hill staffer. He wanted to run for political office and said New Mexico, with its Hispanic roots, seemed like a good place. He campaigned for Congress just two years later — his only losing race. 

In 1982, he won a new congressional seat from northern New Mexico that the state picked up in reapportionment. He resigned from Congress in 1997 to join the Clinton administration as U.N. ambassador and became secretary of energy in 1998, holding the post until the end of the Clinton presidency.

(AP)

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Counteroffensive ‘failed’ claim, as Ukraine vows revenge for Odesa

All the latest development from the war in Ukraine.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis denounced “the serious security risks in the Black Sea” on Monday after Russia bombed port facilities on the Danube, on the border between Romania and Moldova.

“I strongly condemn the recent Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure on the Danube, very close to NATO member Romania”, Mr Iohannis wrote on Twitter.

Earlier in the day, images on social networks showed the Ukrainian port of Reni on the Danube being hit by a drone attack.

Ukrainian authorities later confirmed a four-hour blitz by Russian drones on port infrastructure in the Odesa region in the south of the country. The Ukrainian port city of Reni, which faces Romania, also borders Moldova.

“This recent escalation is also affecting the transit of Ukrainian grain and therefore global food security”, said Iohannis.

The Odesa region, strategic for Ukrainian exports, is regularly targeted by Russian strikes.

Tensions increased in the Black Sea after the expiry last Monday of a grain agreement, which was crucial for maintaining world food security as it allowed for Ukrainian cereals exports.

‘Ukraine has regained half of occupied land’ – US official

Ukraine has recaptured half the territory seized by Russia in the initial phases of the war, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday. 

In an interview with  CNN, Blinken added the counteroffensive, still in its early phases, will get harder for Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his troops. 

“It is tough. It will not play out over the next week or two. We’re still looking I think at several months,” he said. 

Zelenskyy has previously termed the counteroffensive’s progress as “slower than desired,” asking for more aid in arms and ammunition from its allies. 

Such requests come to fruition, with the US supplying cluster munition, and a group of 11 nations agreeing to provide F-16 fighter jet training. 

Blinken said he believes Ukraine will eventually be able to secure F-16 jets if the air force is “properly trained” and is able to “use them in a smart way.” 

Kyiv has not been guaranteed the delivery of F-16 jets, since none of its allies have committed to sending warplanes.

Zelenskyy vows Odesa cathedral attack retaliation

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised to strike Russia for a deadly attack on Odesa that wounded 22 people

“Missiles against peaceful cities, against residential buildings, a cathedral,” Zelenskyy said. “There will definitely be a retaliation against Russian terrorists for Odesa.”

The attack destroyed the Orthodox Savior and Transfiguration Cathedral under UNESCO protection in the historic city centre, which Kyiv called a “war crime that will never be forgotten and forgiven.”

Andriy Palchuk, the archdeacon of the cathedral, told AFP that both people in the cathedral at the time of the attack survived.

Moscow said it had hit all its intended targets in the Odesa strike, claiming the sites were being used to prepare “terrorist acts” against Russia.

Odesa has been bombed several times since the start of the invasion. In January,  the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO designated the historic centre of the city as a World Heritage in Danger site.

‘Counteroffensive has failed,’ claims Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko that the Ukrainian counteroffensive had failed on Sunday. 

The two met for the first time since Lukashenko helped broker a deal to end a mutiny by Wagner fighters last month.

Putin told the Belarusian leader that an ongoing counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces to push back his country’s troops had “failed”.

“There is no counteroffensive,” Lukashenko said, according to the Russian TASS news agency before being interrupted by Putin: “There is one, but it has failed.”

A video posted on Sunday by Lukashenko’s press service showed the two longtime leaders arriving at Saint Petersburg’s Konstantinovsky palace together ahead of scheduled talks, which Putin has said will last for two days.

Russia blames Ukraine’s cluster munitions for journalist’s death

Russia has blamed US-supplied cluster munitions for the death of a Russian war correspondent in the southern Zaporizhzhia region. 

RIA news’ war correspondent Rostislav Zhuralev was killed on Saturday with three other journalists injured in the frontline, following an artillery attack. 

Zhuralev died on the way to the hospital, the Russian defence ministry said, adding the others were mildly injured. 

“As a result of a strike by the Ukrainian army using cluster munitions, four journalists were wounded,” the Russian army said in a statement.

The Russian foreign ministry reacted angrily to the incident, calling it a “heinous crime” and “criminal terror” committed by Kyiv, on the back of Western support.

“Those responsible for the brutal reprisal against a Russian journalist will inevitably suffer well-deserved punishment,” foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said. 

Zakharova echoed the defence ministry’s sentiments, hinting at a possible retaliation for the killings done by cluster bombs. 

Reports of Ukraine’s use of cluster munitions came from Russia’s Belgorod region as well. with Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov claiming a civilian village close to the Ukrainian border was targeted. 

“21 artillery shells and three cluster munitions from a multiple-launch rocket system were fired at the village of Zhuravlevka,” Governor Gladkov said.

Russia’s claims could not be independently verified.

Russia thwarts Ukrainian drone strike on Moscow

Russia said it foiled a Ukrainian drone attack on Moscow in the early hours of Monday. 

The Russian Defence Ministry said a “terrorist” attack from Kyiv was prevented by the air force, without significant damage in the capital. 

“A Kyiv regime attempt to carry out a terrorist act using two drones on objects on the territory of the city of Moscow was stopped,” the statement said. 

One of the two drones landed near the defence ministry, according to Russian news agency TASS. 

Drone attacks in the Russian capital have been a concern, despite it being far from the front. One drone hit the Kremlin in May, provoking an increased air defence around the city, though some suggested it might be an inside job. 

The attacks followed Zelenskyy’s vow to “retaliate” against the attack on the Odesa cathedral. Ukraine has not commented on the incident yet.

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